Usha entered her high-rise apartment in utter darkness. As she removed her shoes, she saw a light trickling from under the bedroom door. She walked toward it. That’s when she heard it. The sound that would change her life forever. Her husband’s voice groaned as a name that was not hers escaped his lips. A woman’s voice joined his.
Usha froze. Tears rolled down her face. She began to remove her dupatta. It had been a gift from their trip to Srinagar. As she slid the scarf from her neck, a pain seized her chest. Usha wouldn’t—couldn’t—go into the bedroom. Her knees buckled and hit the carpet. She fell back and laid down like a corpse. Her arms and legs were fanned out like in shavasana. The silk weave felt cool against her skin. The ceiling fan whirred overhead. The clicking sound reminded her of a helicopter from a movie she’d once seen.
Now, she imagined her own personal apocalypse. The fan’s blades continued to whir and blur. She could still hear her husband and his lover. Their loud lovemaking echoed through the nearly empty apartment. The fan’s hypnotic rhythm was finally broken.
Usha pushed herself up. Pain weighed down her limbs as she switched off the fan. She went over to the dining room table and collapsed into a chair. Her shoulders heaved as silent sobs escaped her lips. She rose from the chair and moved it under the fan. She climbed onto the chair and draped the dupatta over the fan’s stainless steel blades. As she readied to tie the dupatta around her neck, the fan switched on. The dupatta flew out of her hand and on to the floor.
Usha continued to hold out her hand as if the dupatta were still within her fingertips. A full minute passed before she realized what had happened. Puzzled, she stepped off the chair and retrieved the scarf. She smoothed the crepe between her fingertips as she examined the fan switch. The dial was in the off position. The blades had stopped rotating. She returned to the chair and climbed it once more.
But, just as before, when she went to tie the dupatta around her neck, the fan switched on. The dupatta flew across the room. Farther this time. Usha growled at the fan’s malfunction. Even household appliances didn’t seem to approve of suicide. She stepped down again and padded softly across the room. She bent down and picked up the dupatta.
Exasperated, she checked the switch a third time. She flipped the switch on and off. The fan was definitely off. Usha climbed the chair for yet another attempt. But, this time, she didn’t even manage to throw the dupatta over the blade before the scarf flew out of her hand. Her frustration mounted with each failed attempt at her goal. She couldn’t even kill herself properly. Just as she had failed in life, she now failed in death. Tears streamed down her face.
The dupatta landed on the coffee table and covered Usha’s phone. As she reached for the dupatta, the phone’s screen glowed through the crepe fabric. A text message from a friend read:
I'm at Starbucks. Meet me for coffee.
Usha picked up the phone and stared at the screen. Relief poured over her as she realized she was loved and would be missed. If not by her husband, then by her friends at least. Kiran was a good friend, wise and full of joy. Usha often wondered where Kiran’s joy came from. Joy lit Kiran’s eyes and radiated from her face, spreading to anyone near her, including Usha. She replied to the text:
I'll be there in 10 minutes. Order me a mocha, please.
The Starbucks was bursting with the usual Friday night crowd. Happy couples chatted over coffee. A group of friends split a giant cookie five ways. Usha found Kiran sitting in the back corner. She had just gotten off her shift at Hiranandani Hospital. “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. was playing over the coffee shop’s speakers.
As Kiran reached to hug Usha, she pulled back and examined her young friend’s face.
“What happened? Tell me,” she asked.
Usha unloaded the whole sordid tale in a mixture of hysterical sobs and fragmented sentences. All Kiran managed to glean was “Varun…whore…fan…your text…” But it was enough. She reached out to pat Usha on the hand, but the gesture seemed so trivial. Instead, Kiran flipped her arm over on the table to reveal a semicolon tattoo etched into her wrist.
“Usha, I just met a young woman named Divya who tried to take her own life. I told her that I once tried to take my life because of a boy. This semicolon tattoo reminds me that my story is not yet written, not yet finished.”
Usha gasped. “I had no idea, K. You always seem so happy and content.”
“I am. But, that does not mean I don’t still struggle. We all do. Just like the song says, ‘Everybody hurts,’ but we should always try to take comfort from those in our lives.” Kiran now reached for Usha’s hand. “I am so grateful you are in mine; please don’t take the beauty of your presence away from me and those who love you.”
Usha broke down completely. Kiran handed her a napkin to wipe her tears. The napkin’s meager size couldn’t absorb Usha’s tears—or her pain. Only Kiran’s kind words had done that.
Gratitude overwhelmed Usha as she said, “You’re an angel, K. Thank you.”
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
For those contemplating suicide, please know that no matter how bad things might be, there is no problem so great that suicide is the solution. In September 2014, before we left India, I had suicidal thoughts. A text like the one in this story pulled me back from the brink. Many of life’s most amazing moments still awaited me after that day. I visited Middle Earth, learned the Korean alphabet, and even made a perfectly round chapati.
But, most importantly, I began writing fiction. People have responded to my stories with a tremendous outpouring of love. Love that I would never have experienced had I chosen to end my life. I am the author of my own story, and it is not yet written; neither is yours. Whoever you are, wherever you are, know that you are loved, and you are beautiful. The world is a much brighter place with you in it. In Hindi, the name Usha means dawn, morning, and sunrise. A new day will dawn, and the sun will shine on you just as it is shining on me now.