Determination can rival steel, but when the day ends and reality hits, steel remains more determined. If only we had steel. Instead, we have hay for roof, too much pickle and even more determination that overflows our pockets. Tara says Hope is just around that bend and that we need only the courage to see her. “Patience, Dhruv,” she says. “One day, it will blossom to Goodness.” But my sister has never really been one to notice the cracks on the wall; the bruises adorning Hope’s neck. Yesterday, a thump and a groan too late, Mother and I found our neighbour, Ms Saavi, on the floor, reaching for her husband’s belt that he’d forgotten that morning before leaving for work; work that forced him to pummel wood; to throttle Determination’s neck and incapacitate it. Ms Saavi had chosen to fall into the heart of Death when she was only just on the verge of. Had Mother and I found her a second too late, she’d have already turned into a memory; already turned into our guilt. Desperation still has two fingers plunged into her. One impales her heart, the other her veins through which the doctors have been pumping her with glucose. I sit beside her bed now as Envy has a chokehold on my torso. She whispers Glucose is better than water.She’s getting better than water. I resist the urge but eventually end up coughing. Nothing comes out. Of course nothing comes out. I close my eyes and picture water. Desperation takes that moment to dance in front of my vision and blur it. It swells and swells ‘til it comes out. A single tear clears my vision and I stare at the wall in front of me. It has splotches of dirt and something that looks like Hurt. More Hurt than these walls can carry. More than we can carry. Ms Saavi stirs then and my eyes shift, wrenching me back from my stupor. I take her hand as her eyes find mine and hold. There’s regret that she wishes to hide, and relief that I wish to find. I squeeze her hand and bring it to my face. Her fingers are bony and poke at my cheeks. Rather, what was of my cheeks. When Pain stomps on Hope when the world falls asleep, Father cracks jokes that have seen better days. A week ago, he said I look like one of the brushes of a broomstick. What was supposed to make us smile, did make us smile. But, only for about three seconds and maybe two more. What followed was a reality check so jarring that it made my knees buckle. I slumped to the ground where I made acquaintances with my brother’s sewing kit, a piece of chapatti that had managed to sneak off and fall asleep on the cold floor, and Helplessness that twisted my ankle at an unexpected moment. I blink twice and realise Ms Saavi is still looking at me, through me, and I pull back my other hand that had gingerly begun kissing my leg brace. She looks like she expects me to say something. Little does she know that words have curled up in the far corner of my brain and what remains are feelings I’m too tired to string together to form more words. After all, they are bound to follow the words piled up in that far corner. I’ve been telling myself that unless that pile breaks open my brain, I shall not tidy up that corner. Even if Ms Saavi’s hand squeezes mine back. Even if Jagan accepts more of my heart than he already has. The Fates have other plans it seems, because a mere second later, when the door opens and Jagan enters, my heart opens of its own accord and out comes “Jagan.” His name sounds like relief on my tongue. There’s surprise there, too, but Relief lies on top of it and reduces Surprise to a fit of giggles. None of it makes it past my mouth though, because in this moment, all I wish to do is sob. He takes one look at me and Worry sits on his nose. I leave Ms Saavi to get air. With Jagan around, I know Pain has no chance of catching up with her. It’ll eventually rear its head, I know, but for now, Jagan will take care of it. Better than I ever could. I’m outside the hospital doors in a matter of seconds. The outside air smells of dirt, smoke from vehicles, and overall, like the colour brown. But I take in a lungful of it. As the good-for-nothing air enters my system, it gets settled beside my warring thoughts and dehydrated skin. A few more minutes pass and a hand finds mine. I don’t have to look to recognise the familiarity of the touch. But, I turn around nonetheless because I wish to trace his face with my thumb. Brown skin, brown hair, brown eyes, brown lips. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by the need to hold him. I don’t dare do it. The city knows why. The new dam outdid itself, and it also undid us. There’s enough worry as it is without water around and if we add more to it, this time, it won’t just be Helplessness that would inflict physical pain. I can take the wrath of our people; the shattered plea in their eyes that they would mask with loud fury and sharp sticks poised in their hands. But, I will not bear any of it if it is aimed at Jagan. More Worry and Hurt ravage my mind. They look me in the eyes and as they are about to pounce, Jagan tugs at my hand and leads us to a closet room inside the hospital. It is a space devoid of warmth; of cold; of anything. Then I’m reminded of Jagan’s hand in mine and Hope makes it something. He kisses me then. A gentle swipe of his lips against mine. My grip on him tightens. As he pulls back, he says “Nothing in this world is beyond hope, Dhruv. We’ll get through this. It may take more than forever, but we’ll get through this.” His words pierce a hole in my heart. There are many more there from all his previous ones. I nod and continue nodding, my smile turning to heady giggles ‘til he takes my head and forces it to stop. He laughs under his breath. A few moments pass in comfortable silence and we head back. As we reach the door to Ms Saavi’s room, we hear voices. They’re so potent, they drown out my thoughts; my pain; everything. Then I realise the reason for the potency. Ms Saavi lays still in her bed, too still, as a nurse covers her with white sheet. I’m frozen. A second passes. Then another. Then Helplessness slams into my mind with a force that tilts me off my axis. I shake uncontrollably and squeeze my eyes shut.
Author: Sanyukta Shiv Kumar
 ‘Chapatti’ is a flatbread consumed in the Indian subcontinent.