The Devil’s Whisper
“Tell me, what does it feel like?”
“Having doors closed wherever you go. No road to journey on. No moments to savor. No afternoon Sun to bask in. No light to embrace in. No one to laugh or share stories with. Not being able to relate to jokes. No-”
“No life? I’ve been this way for 20 years and you’re only asking me this now?”
“Ali, I’ve been with you for as long as you can remember. You weren’t like this when you were younger. Now that you’re growing up, I see you’re diving deeper and deeper into the abyss.”
“It’s not like I have a choice.”
“Contrary to popular belief, people like you do have a choice; to be happy. As a matter of fact, they say your condition doesn’t even exist.”
“By happy, do you mean… normal?”
“I’m just quoting what the general public said.”
I reprimanded in a momentary silence as if he struck a nerve. But instead of going into a rage, I held it in long enough until the feeling disappeared. I’m used to this; people tease me on the regular. But sometimes their words cut so deep into my heart that I have to funnel my frustrations somewhere else in solitude.
“Hey Ali, look at the moon! It’s perfectly round tonight! And it’s shimmering! Look at all the silvery light radiating from it. It’s like a veil draping down from far above. Was it like this the other night I came to visit you?”
“The night you wanted to play with the scissors on your wrist.”
“Oh, not that I’m aware of.”
“Well, it’s especially beautiful tonight. A sphere of sheer radiance amidst the perpetual dark skies. It’s like the human soul. Without the light of guidance, humans are thrown into a void, into nothingness.”
“You’re one to talk about that,” I said in a sarcastic tone.
“Ali, I know you’re fond of art and literature. Don’t you want to grab your art supplies or a piece of paper and a pen and step out the window? We can gaze at the moon and let the feeling sink in. I’m sure it’s going to be awe-inspiring.”
“You know what the consequences of stepping out the window might be. I might fall to my demise.”
“Oh come on, when you’re at your lowest, you contemplate about it a lot, and all the other dark stuff you have going on in your head. Besides, I won’t let that happen. I’ll guide you on where you can step onto.”
“No thanks, even from here I can feel the moonlight and the ambiance it conveys. It’s uninviting for me for the time being.”
“If you say so. I’m going to sit here and look at it.”
The adhan for Isha prayer began in the distance. I watched my friend as he slowly faded away, unbeknownst to his knowledge. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
For years, people have given him a number of names. ‘No one’, ‘an unknown entity’, ‘voice in my head’, some even called him ‘the devil’. I call him ‘friend’. Based on my understanding of what friends are, he somehow fits the mold. He is always present by my side when I am feeling a little bit low, he talks to me, he listens to me, and he never treats me in a pitiful manner. Sometimes, he cracks jokes that I find funny. Funny enough for me to laugh at, which I do not do often. Although, I should laugh more at the jokes of other people because I understand that it is one way of establishing a bond with them.
I set out to the mosque.
After Isha prayer, I took an unconventional route back home. The same route where I encountered the neighborhood’s nosy elderly woman a few months ago telling me my condition is not a case for the doctors, but my ties with my Deen. And that all I need to ‘fix’ myself is to strengthen that tie. How I wish it was that simple.
“Ali! Ali!” said a somewhat familiar voice coming from behind and growing in intensity.
I continued walking as if I could not hear the calls. Why am I doing this? My heart started pumping faster, my extremities started shaking, my neck and back started sweating. I felt chills running down my spine. What do I do? Do I turn around? Do I have to engage in a conversation? Do I have to put on a well-composed face? Do I talk with the intention of getting it over with as fast as possible? Or do I pretend I do not know him? But how long do I have to be like this? Is it not time I actually face my fears head on? All this uncertainty I gulped down my throat as I slowly turn to face the source of the never-ending cries.
He attempted to hold my shoulder, which I evaded skillfully through years of experience. He was panting as if he ran a marathon.
“You could’ve at least let me hold on to your shoulder for running after you.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t really like people touching me.”
It was the class representative, Khairul. He has his usual garment on. A simple navy blue tee, slacks and a smile he never wears off. His outspokenness and leadership skills granted him the honor of leading the class for the year.
“I’m giving you a clarion call.” He said while still panting. At this point, I felt bad for not letting him hold on to my shoulder. But I cannot help it. I hate it when someone touches me.
“We have Cancer Awareness Week starting Tuesday, remember? And I want you to be one of the spokespersons.”
“You can choose to give a talk on anything related to cancer. Epidemiology, etiologies, different classifications, different ways of management, anything you like. But you’ll be rotating and working together with other spokespersons from our class.”
“Excuse me, but what?”
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen the devil.”
“I… um… I’m sorry… but… you see… I… can’t-”
“But we’ve narrowed down the selection already. We really need your proficiency on the subject at hand.”
Not only is he asking me to stand in front of a lot of people I do not recognize, he is also being adamant about it? And I have to work with other people too? I cannot possibly accomplish something of that magnitude. That is asking for too much. This is beyond my capabilities, beyond my comfort zone. But I cannot refuse, what if he hates me? What if he holds a grudge against me and I have to live with it for the rest of my life? But I cannot possibly accept that responsibility knowing full well that I am only going to bite off more than I can chew. I’d be out of my depth.
“I’m sorry Khairul… but… I just… it’s just that I-”
“You’re acting really weird.”
He said it. He said the magic word. The word that triggers multiple unpleasant and traumatizing memories.
I could not move a single muscle. Everything in the background faded into the pitch black. My body shuddered in fear and words I could not comprehend stuttered out of my mouth and out of my control. My senses went numb. The very situation I feared and tried so hard to avoid is now happening right before me, yet again. I thought I am finally able to manipulate a conversation well enough to not let this happen. Everything seemed to be in vain now.
“I’m sorry Khairul, but I’ve got to go.”
“But are you sure you-“
I sped off into the next alley so he would lose sight of me. I tried muttering something under my breath to shake off the shock. I couldn’t think straight. Everything is a blur. What is even right or wrong anymore? Before I let this progress any further, I hurried my way back home.
I shut my bedroom door and curtains closed and switched off all the lights.
It’s too late now. My consciousness spiraled deep into the inevitable abyss. No light, no hope. No one to fall upon. Everything is a rush, an internal agony. It’s almost all too much.
“It’s okay. Let everything out. You’ll be alright.” Said the voice of my friend. At least, I still have someone to accompany me through all of this.
My night-long laments eventually led to a clear mind, ready to perceive everything that has happened. Slowly, my senses are relinquished back to me.
“Can you think straight now?
“Can you remember everything that has happened?”
“Ali, you have a lot of demons caged up inside your head. How are you going to deal with all of this later in life? Are you going to stay this way forever?”
“I’ve told you before, it’s not like I have a choice.”
“Perhaps you should give it some time. As they say, time heals all wounds.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. The reflection of moonlight scintillated them as they fall onto my bed sheets. A sudden swell of emotions long locked deep within my heart started to burst at the seams.
“I have given it time, 20 years now! This is beyond time’s ability to heal. And this is no wound, it’s a parasite that feeds on my soul, fragment by fragment. It aches, by God it aches. Humans are in control of my heart. The slightest words they say goes straight to my head, rewiring it into a panic state. Every single time I share a part of me with someone, the look on their face is either of disgust, of pity, or of uncertainty. No one understands me or wants to be with me. That is the price I carry for my flaws. I fear that this will eventually lead to the end of me. I wish I can somehow learn to control or suppress it. I wish I can have somewhere to fall to. Someplace safe. A place where I can finally rest my head without having to worry about the consequences, a place like- ”
“A friend, perhaps?”
Lee Min Ho Zagazig