SHORT STORY | THE GLIMMER – Part One

(I)

She felt her brain glimmer as it always did before she lost it.

Found yourself Gula had said from behind her hippocampus when she had been whisked into the inner spaces of her mind in those early days. Zoya had smiled her bright smile at her in cheerful confirmation of her sister’s mental wisdom. Gula was always foremost in telling it like it was. When she and the rest of the world were trying to make it right, make it all normal, Gula would put a spanner in the works … tell the truth. In a strange way, having the truth set free, always made Zainab feel better. Of course she never articulated out loud all this straight talk that was strewn more and more in her neural pathways by Gula. But she was secretly relieved that there was someone else to reassure her that she wasn’t alone .. that she wasn’t mad.

Little Zoya and Gula lived inside. In Zainab’s mind.

Zainab put away the ironing, deliberately, slowly and then sat down and began to rock back and forth gently, almost imperceptibly. She stared at the switch on the wall; she needed to focus on something to let the episode pass. She had to let it wash over her gently and without her full participation. She had things to do.

Today she couldn’t walk around the house with the glimmer. That only made it brighter, and when she roamed the house in its throes, she walked also into the furthest spaces of her mind where she would then be lost for hours at a time. What were fleeting moments of rest and relief within, were protracted hours of a psychotic episode outside. It was a balancing act that she had performed for the last fourteen months, never mastering it, always just scraping by. On the outside.

She kept her eyes glued to the wall switch. Gradually it’s innocuous cream colour filled with texture, kinetic layers and a myriad other hues in the snow white to clotted cream spectrum. She absorbed the details as she slowly stilled her mind. When she could see fluid little fragments of the silver-grey railing, she knew she could relax; she was at the waning end of her episode. The railing was always there – stretching behind her, in front of her and alongside her; not always visible, but always reachable. Even at the throbbing, pulsing heart of her Glimmer, she knew that as long as she could keep her grip on it she could find her way out; get back to real life. The paling shimmered hazily, insubstantially now as it moved in and out of her sight.. her mind. She concentrated. After a while, it slowly forged itself into an unbroken, glinting beacon guiding her back into the real world.

It had taken half an hour of concerted effort to wrest herself away from Zoya’s pleading voice and Gula’s requests to look at her needlework; her brain stitching. She made lovely patterns. Sometimes she cross stitched when the world outside was not so ferocious, and then Zainab could sense in the faintest of tones, what was happening outside; she would remain hidden and protected but Gula’s weave would let in little speckles of outside light and with them silent, fuzzy, slow moving images that made Zainab think of how old sepia-toned movies without sound might have been like. At other times, Gula would do a precise filling stitch to block out everything from the outside. Sometimes she would hem when Zainab was feeling especially anxious about having left something important undone before being whisked in. Gula would then gently neaten the frayed edges of Zainab’s mind, tucking away her anxiety in horizontal spaces that were 0.75 inches wide. Zainab would watch the hypnotic action of the needle going in and out, in and out, in and out in Gula’s deft hands, and she would feel better. Sometimes, however, Gula would rip it all apart. Zainab hated that but Gula said it was necessary sometimes to restart. To forget and begin again. Sometimes Zainab did forget and was able to begin again. At other times, she remembered and the new stitches Gula put in felt like lancing pin pricks in her body. Tridents of pain would poke at her head and her chest throughout the rest of the day.

She had things to do. It was Zain’s parent-teacher meeting today. She had to get ready and look the part in less than an hour.

(II)

“How did the PTM go”, asked Tariq when they were all sitting around the dinner table that night.

“It was alright. Zain is doing generally well” said Zainab smiling at her eight year old from across the table.

Zain shifted uncomfortably in his seat but he was grateful for this little lie by his mother. A white lie because he was having problems only with Urdu and Islamiyat. White lies were not as bad as … black lies. He smiled suddenly at this turn of phrase that had suddenly popped into his mind. He was sure he had come up with something new. He would ask Miss Malik tomorrow.

“Did you go with the driver?”

“Yes … yes i went with the driver. We even stopped at Burger King for lunch”, Zainab looked again at her son who was now smiling widely. She smiled back at him. These moments were so precious when she was in the same room, in the same time and space with her son. He had seen her mentally disappear from his world a few times and had over the past year become somewhat withdrawn. She had explained to him as best as she could that her mind worked differently and sometimes she needed to shut down on the outside so she could rest. Most people went to sleep to rest. This was like her sleep. He had listened quietly and had then turned his face away. He was too young to understand what was happening, Zainab had reasoned with herself. She needed to be around him more when she was … herself and less when she was gripped in the bewildering throes of an epoisode.

Zainab had been a teacher at one of the leading schools in the city. She had taught the grade five curriculum for over ten years before resigning just over a year ago, in the wake of her first glimmer. Unfamiliar with the two people who occupied that new world and unversed in the fluid tapestry of her mind, she had been afraid and anxious as she had walked into it that first time. Outwardly she had just zoned out.

The damn stress nowadays can do that. Go home darling, they’d said.

Take some time out, the principal had suggested.

You need to slow down, the doctor had ordered.

And so she had complied on all fronts. She had gone home, tendered in her resignation as a teacher and focused on being a housewife. She was also given a rainbow of pills to take every day. Beautiful little things, with deceptive inclinations. They were supposed to make her feel better, to relax her highly strung nerves. But they just made her numb, emotionless. She didn’t even want to look at Zain when she was in their deadening hold. So three months in, armed also with a better understanding that the Glimmer was not her mind’s version of a wasteland for loonies but her secret refuge, she had just stopped taking them. Her world …. worlds had changed. With time and the subtle machinations of her mind, reality had become a shifting concept as the Glimmer became more and more substantial, burgeoning with a constant stream of experiences as she was whisked back and forth. She had no command over the forces that buffeted her in and out of her two worlds. She had only learnt through sheer necessity, to sometimes control the amount of time she was pulled away from the world where she was a mother. Zain still needed her.

Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/14/the-glimmer-part-2/

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