An intriguing story of a person’s life with values.
Have you ever loved, or hated? Or have you experienced the two together?
I’ve mostly found myself in the latter category. While most people adorn their wrists with bracelets and bangles, you’d find a trusty rubber band around mine. And while it might have something to do with our finances after dad left, we weren’t exactly left wanting.
Mummy says dad isn’t coming back, so she got a new father, but I liked my old dad better.
I pulled the band back a bit and let it impact the red inflamed skin underneath.
The pain that came with a resounding snap shook away the hazy cobwebs around my thoughts and allowed me to concentrate on the task of convincing my sister to return Aunt Savita’s bangles. The ones she wore yesterday when she visited us.
It was shiny, oh so shiny, and how that hurt me, I can’t describe. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have this urge, this slight shiver in my worry lined palms and the oily sweet voices that whispered and cajoled. I wanted to get rid of this anxiety, and I stole them, took them off her hands, unnoticed. My sister agreed to return her bangles; an unknowing affirmer of my lies and excuse. Vices, a pack of sniggering hyenas never do visit alone. You indulge in one, and the others become much more enticing. A boundary once crossed is no boundary at all.
My birth father was the only person to discover that I steal compulsively, things were difficult after that. He never really understood the reason behind the urge; scolding was routine after that. I still remember my dad’s orders, that if I’m unable to give up stealing, I must return the stolen goods and I should never steal money. Dad’s long gone, but I still find it difficult not to obey his words. Thankfully, mummy didn’t know.
But that made things difficult sometimes when I waited for her near the jewelry shop while she bought vegetables nearby or when I accompanied her to the marriages. I could not tell her. How would I? She was the only parent left and I can’t afford to lose that connection with her. In these cases, sometimes I won against my urges, sometimes I failed. Thankfully, my sister was always there to quietly return everything, without attracting attention.
Life sustained this way for years, till the day I repent the most. My sister’s wedding arrangements were being carried out since the past week. I was feeling a plethora of emotions, I was genuinely happy for her, and I was a little sad too, that she’ll leave us. But, the feeling that troubled me the most was the urge to steal. During that week, we would frequent jewelry shops, and that day, my eyes were blinded by the gleam of a necklace. I lost control. The wedding night passed in pomp and show.
The flair and the sparkle left soon enough, enticing us with the royal lifestyle (I had never felt the urge to steal food before, but Silver Work Ladoos hadn’t really been a thing before that!) to our average middle-class lifestyle. The house never felt this silent before. Who knew that this silence heralded an oncoming storm?
And just like that, one nostalgic morning, I woke up to the fact that the necklace was still with me and my sister was nowhere to be found to cover up this time. I started convincing myself to go and return the necklace myself, but the fear of getting caught held me captive. I decided to ask my stepfather for help.
My stepfather was resting in his room when I entered. He looked at me and again closed his eyes. With shivery hands, I took out the necklace from my pocket and stretched my hand towards him. “Sir, I found this necklace in my room. I think it must have been accidentally left. Could you please return it to the jewelry shop?” I asked. Mockingly he said, “How do you know this is from that shop, have you stolen it from there?” It was only after a while; I realized that I was standing numbly in his room, while he was gazing at me, repeating the same question. “Have you stolen it?”, he asked sternly. I put in all my effort to shout, and deny, give a long patently honest exposition. All my traitorous throat managed was a high pitched ‘EEP’ that might have resembled a “NO” to some species of bats and dolphins.
I did shout quite a loud denial after getting my breathing under control, but in my blind panic, I had given the game away, the charade was up. Step Dad left in an apoplectic rage.
I ran to my mother, she would understand me. I told her that I had accidentally picked this necklace, and that father was angry when I told this to him.
Mum pampered me and took the necklace. She accepted it to be a genuine mistake and agreed to return the necklace.
With my sister gone, I had no other option but to control myself. But sometimes, no matter how hard I tried, I had to succumb to the urges. For the few times I did, I made up some story for my mother, and she used to return the items.
Those days, I was preparing for endless, successive job interviews, when calamity hit our family. My sister fell horribly ill while her husband and in-laws were out of town. Father rushed to the city, brought my sister back home. She was critical and had to be hospitalized. Later I came to know, that my sister was suffering from hemophilia and was admitted to the ICU. It was a hard time for us. She showed no sign of improvement, until one fateful day, when the doctor announced the requirement of an immediate surgical operation, much outside of the limited medical capabilities of the town medical center and much outside our carefully proportioned budget.
I had just returned from an interview when father confronted me at the door. He rushed me into his bedroom and asked: “You have never been caught for stealing, have you?” I was silent, trying to figure out the happenstance when he broke this news to me. My sister was dying and father was not ready to invest in her anymore. I was left struck and shivering, with no job and no close friends to speak of, who could lend me aid. My kleptomania and the secrecy I had built around it, had seen to an effective social isolation. My mother was a housekeeper. If father won’t pay up, my sister would die. That’s when he told me “You’ll have to arrange money and you know how to get it.” “But I never steal for benefits, sir. It is just the urges I can’t suppress.” I said. “I don’t care. You are capable of getting money, you get money.” “But I never steal for personal gains. It’s against my morals.” I revolted. “Your morals, or your sister, you decide.” With these words, he turned tail, and I was left alone, me and my empty morals.
There I was, standing in a dark room, with a war raging inside me. “My sister or my morals, what to let die?” I’d like to say, that I did the right thing, that the thought of wrongdoing never entered my mind. I would fool no one, I had never made an easier choice. At once I had the answer and I left for the jewelry store. The shopkeeper was busy showcasing his best bridal collections when I entered the store. I asked him to show me a simple necklace, and while he was at it, I found a perfect time to take off with the ostentatious bridal set. “This one set and all my problems will be solved. This one set and I’ll repay its price over time. This one set and I’ll never visit this shop again. This one set for my sister’s life.” “This one set and I won’t be able to live guilt free again.” I dropped the set and left.
I came back home to find my father waiting at the gate. “Show me, have you brought enough” he demanded but I all I had to show him were empty hands and emptier morals. He was furious. He told me that my sister will die and that is just because of my inability to sideline some self-made rule. I wanted to zone him out, to not listen to him, as I had done many times in the teenage rebellion phase. However, he had never played to my insecurities, never had I been laid bare so, faults of my own choosing and otherwise, became his blades and those scrapes, never truly healed. Tears wanted to jump out of my eyes, but whom for? For the sister, I can save but I chose not to?
I was about to crash when my mum came out. She looked at us and asked me, what was happening?
The father huffed and was about to leave when I blurted out everything. My affliction, my misadventures all came out, and I cried on the porch in my mother’s arms. The neighbors peeked out and looked on with abject pity, just as useless as my impotent rage and wasteful morality.
She told me to go to my room, my father was in a towering rage, and I realized that he had bluffed, he had the money, he was always going to pay the money to save my sister, now he’d just have to pay up from his own pockets.
However, father’s anger didn’t subside I heard some shouting from their room, and for the first time, I feared for my Mother’s safety. Their relationship was never violent, however, the anger in his tone made anything seem possible. I sneaked down to their room. They were standing in front of her Almirah when she opened it and took out a bag. She opened the bag, with some trepidation, a golden glow spilt onto their faces.
It was full of ornaments! Ornaments, which I had given her to return. She gave the bag to father and told him to get the money for sister’s operations. He left a bemused expression on his face. Like for once, the opinionated bastard couldn’t decide, what to feel. And just for once, we were united under the same instincts.
I actually saved my sister. But I did not steal this time. I was no longer a victim of my own doing, I remained a victim though.
My values were stolen if I had any.