She would hear voices sometimes. Not always. Just often. They only came out when the lights were out. As if they knew that she would be looking for them, and they were not ready to be found. She never actually saw anything. Sometimes she thought she did, but she didn’t really see anything. She would just hear them, soft sometimes, loud others. Sometimes there would be only one, mumbling about something or other. Other times it sounded like Kenyatta market on a Saturday, complete with drunk street kids and a Safaricom promotion at the car park.
They didn’t speak to her, just around her. Sometimes they talked to each other, sometimes they talked to themselves. Sometimes they just talked to the universe. Leaving thoughts any which way for whichever wanderer could be bothered to stop and pick them up. And the things they said! Shocking things. Things she had thought sometimes but had never said out loud. Could never say out loud. Things.
Sometimes she got the odd feeling that they were talking about her, making suggestions about her life. But she never asked. See, she never did want to hear to find out who those voices were or how they knew what she was thinking or why they chose to carry on their conversations in her presence whilst totally ignoring her. Ignorance may not be bliss, but she found it peaceful.
More than anything she wished they would go away and stop suggesting things.
“Maybe you should leave them alone.”
“I don’t know why she even bothers talking to him, he doesn’t hear a word she says. In one ear out the other.”
A subtle reminder that her reality was not always quite realistic.
She couldn’t tell anyone. Well, she could but then with her history that wouldn’t end well. It’s not like she wanted to hurt anyone. But she’d already scared her people too much. Mentioning voices would be stamping her one way ticket to the looney bin and then who knew what would happen?
She’d read about schizophrenia which is basically hearing voices in your head, but this was different. These voices did not come from within. When they spoke it was like being at a party where you didn’t know anyone but somehow everyone knew you. No one spoke to you but you could tell they knew you were there, they just couldn’t be bothered to introduce themselves. She hadn’t been to any parties in a while. Her people were a scared of what she would do if she went. The last time had been a minor disaster. That’s what they said anyway. A family friend’s daughter had just graduated from Catholic university cum Laude. Music had filled the air and she was immediately on her feet twirling to the music. She couldn’t help it that at that same time, her friend’s grandmother was making a speech. Why was the old bat talking over the music anyway? Probably senile in her old age. Anyway, parties were a bit of a no-no since then. It could have been worse, it definitely could have been better.
One day she woke up and as usual the party was still buzzing around her. Everything was the same and yet everything was different. She had not consciously made this decision but she knew today she would introduce herself.
“About time” snickered a lady in the distance. There was a time when she would have turned around to see who was speaking, now she just got out of bed to wash her face. She didn’t use make up. Large eyes, button nose, full lips and skin more coffee than milk- she had nothing to hide. She looked up from the sink into the mirror and stared deeply, was she really going to go through with this? Did she want to? Why today? Tired of questions she couldn’t answer she wiped her face on the peach towel by the sink and walked slowly back to her room.
“The mind thinks thoughts that we don’t plan. It’s not as if we say, ‘At 9:10 I’m going to be filled with self-hatred.” creaked the hoarse old one.*
She almost laughed. Her room was pretty. Pretty disorganized. Her walls were a cheerful yellow. She had a large queen size bed that stood in the middle of the room and next to it was a large, oval, red rug. It was very thick and the kind that had stringy things sticking out so you could feel them in your toes. It was thick and nice and sometimes after it had just been cleaned, she would roll around in it in just her underwear. The tickling sensation was marvelous. But it was too early in the morning and she was on a mission.
She opened her wardrobe then sat down on her bed and tried to pick a confrontational outfit. Something, well, confrontational. She settled on a short green dress with red detailing, on it’s hem. She liked short dresses. Somehow exposed knees boosted her confidence and made her feel, confrontational? Anyway, this dress made her feel like a rose. Her body a thicker than usual stem leading up to her long dark dreadlocks. A black rose. She could face the world now.
“If your enemy slaps you on one cheek. Turn the other one and man up!” the general threw in his two cents.
“Oh hush up honey, no one’s even listening to you,” came the soft reply. It sounded like a bell whispered.
Downstairs she could smell breakfast cooking. Mum was making pancakes. This meant mom wasn’t going to work early. Which meant that she had to eat at the dining table like a normal person rather than carry up her toast and orange juice and curl up on her red rug while listening to a short story. Ugh.
“I may as well get this over with” She thought. And then tried to figure out exactly how this would work.
“In the interest of time, we often rush to our own destruction.” It was the emo teen. She could just hear the last chord trail off his acoustic guitar.
Of most importance at this time was where to look. I mean, if you’re going to confront someone you at least need to stare them in the face, right? She decided to lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling, Everyone at the party was decidedly taller than her. But that didn’t work too well. She sat up again. She thought about staring at the mirror but since the voices didn’t come from inside her that didn’t seem right. She started to feel anxious. She could feel her heartbeat quicken just a little and her breath catch in her throat. What was she doing? What happened to peaceful ignorance? She thought she saw something move but when she turned of course there was nothing there. At least nothing that wasn’t there to begin with. She laughed nervously. “Ok I know you’re trying to freak me out but stop it!” to no one in particular.
Silence. Silence so thick and loud accentuated by the fact that she didn’t even know what silence sounded like anymore. She was so used to some sort of humdrum around her that the absence of sound was more frightening than the whole Kenyatta market scenario.
“Okay now that I have your attention, what are you people always on about?”
“Hello… is there anyone there? I’m talking to you!”
“Look, it’s no use pretending. I know you’re there. All of you. Every single loud and irritating one of you! Answer me!”
Still nothing. She stood now, angry.
“You people won’t shut up for more than 5 minutes at a time, always jabbering about she this and they that and now you won’t talk to me? What’s wrong with you? Answer me!”
“Honey, are you okay?” It took her a moment to realize that it was her mother’s voice echoing up the stairs.
“I’m fine mom,” she yelled, “Just facing up to my tormentors with little success” she muttered under her breath.
She almost expected someone to laugh. It felt like they were hiding and watching her frustration with amusement. As if at some point one of them wouldn’t be able to hold it in any more and they would all burst out laughing. Just one snicker then everyone would set off. She wondered if she’d laugh too. Unlikely.
The room was starting to feel stuffy and she felt rather deflated at preparing to meet a foe so cowardly so she got up and opened the window. Then she stepped out onto the balcony and turned her face to the sun. Eyes closed. This was the part in the movie where the bad guy tapped the heroine on the shoulder or shot at her from across the street. She was taunting them. She could tell that they knew it. They were still holding their collective breath and she smiled.
Turning back into her room still smiling she heard a cool calm voice “I’m not scared of you any more” She laughed when she realized the voice came from her and now she said it more confidently, “I’m not scared of you any more.” Then one more time as if to convince herself this was true,”I’m not scared of you anymore! Lilly livered noisemakers. Unfleshly mashed potatoes! Spineless soggy cucumbers!” She went on and on, half the things she was saying made no sense but they delighted her and she could feel the presence of others disappearing in her room. They weren’t watching anymore. They weren’t holding their breath any more. They weren’t there any more. She stopped to catch her breath, they weren’t there any more. She’d won. She sat down, confused. They weren’t there anymore. No more running commentary on her life. Could she live like this? The answer came immediately, yes. This time the voice from within. She didn’t know she had a voice inside her. “How?” another said.
“Wait, what’s happening?'”
It seemed as if something within her was just stirring up and she wasn’t sure what was going on. To be fair, they didn’t seem too sure either. She was having none of that.
“Will you all just shut up!”
There was silence again, of the stunned kind” She could mentally see them pull the covers back over their heads and go back to sleep.
Bare foot she stepped out of her room and ran down the stairs. She kissed her mom good morning, put a pancake on her plate and smothered it in honey. They ate in silence
*This is a direct quote from Sharon Salzberg. Saw it online and couldn’t resist.