The Last Light
Nisa shares with us her intimate thoughts in and around her therapist’s office in Bombay.
Here is an account of a few hours of my life, spread across two years. Every Sunday, for 56 Sundays, I walked the 1665 steps from my hostel bed to the bus stop, climbed the red BEST bus to Bandra, walked to my therapist’s office and lingered on the road in front of her gate until it was time for the appointment. I was always sharp on time and she always seemed to wait for me with a tender smile. I would sit down and keep quiet. She would offer me a glass of water. Such predictability was perchance a saving grace. During a time in life when all my waking hours overwhelmed me, I was thankful for sureness and routine. I wonder what I would have done, if not this, on my Sundays. I cannot seem to remember what my friends at the hostel did.
I cannot remember much of what we spoke either. I can recall how it stitched my weeks together and kept it from falling apart. I sometimes spoke to her about the week’s happenings, or events twenty years ago. I was sometimes satisfied by her replies and sometimes anguished but both of us persisted week after week. An anchor was erected for me in the middle of this big city. This was a space for me. This was also a space for me that I could barely afford. My therapist cut her fees in half for me. Even then, I spent Rs. 1000 every Sunday including my bus fares, lunch, and two short auto rides. I spent two-thirds of my monthly budget on therapy and did not regret it. It was a luxury I deemed necessary for my survival at that time. All spaces in cities charge liberally.
In a minimally furnished room nestled between trees and flowers in an uptown neighborhood, we spoke of dreams. When held down fervently by destiny’s unfortunate circumstances, it’s harder to dream than to die. She nudged me to dream with a belief that all magic of life rested there. “I want to be a writer”, I would say shyly, “or travel across India”, convinced of my silliness. She smiled at me as if she was impressed, but I doubted if my daydreams held anything praiseworthy. It surprised me that she did not scoff, after all. Therapists were supposed to liberate clients from make-believe worlds. This person rekindled my make-believe worlds and assured me to walk with me towards it. Looking back, I do not think she was successful but after each session with her, I resumed life with the high of limitless possibilities.
Whenever I felt small and useless, I used to think of her face — her affectionate grins even after I tried to convince her of my unworthiness. I did not have anyone else in my life to hold that place of kindness and consideration at that time. Her unshakable belief in my worth and her insistence that I deserve better remained as the last light when nights were tough. The fact that I paid her money in return for such good regard continued as a stain. I dismissed that thought by choosing to believe that she would have been kind to me even if I did not pay her. The state of affairs in this world is quite imperfect.
I once told her, clutching my handbag close to my chest, “I am, was, once in love with a woman”. I shook like never before and sat on the edge of the chair ready to rush out. Her face rose in a broad smile, eyes lightened up and she told me with urgency, “Tell me your story!” I spoke to her in bursts of words. I would not forget her reaction to my long-buried secret, as if I said nothing unusual. She shattered so many walls in me with one welcome expression. I stopped therapy with her later for many reasons, but I remember walking out of the therapy room that day, past fruit-sellers and flower-sellers on the road leading to the bandstand. The sun was in its golden hour of glory. I sat at Castella de Aguada between bunches of couples and watched the sunset. My life shone vibrantly at those times.