Will I ever be able to live alone?

by Antara Telang

Description: A person with long hair, wearing a yellow top and necklace, looks forward. In the background there are skyscrapers in shades of yellow and blue, a train and an airplane. Credit: Alia Sinha.

I’m 25, disabled, and terrified. My life plans include realising a lot of dreams, including living in a foreign country and getting a Master’s degree. But sometimes, on days like today, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do it.

I wear a prosthetic leg. As far as prosthetic leg situations go, it’s a best case scenario. I wear a German leg that costs two months’ salary in yearly maintenance, I have a below knee amputation (which is far easier to live with than an above knee one), and I live in Bombay with my family, which means that healthcare is much more accessible to me than it is to many others.

But every few months, I meet The Boil. It recurs in the same place on my leg. It remains there, stubborn as hell, refusing to go away, only changing in size and in the intensity of the pain it causes. It renders me unable to walk even a few steps to the bathroom to take my morning dump, to get out of bed despite the disgusting taste in my mouth after a night of sleep, to mask the limp when I can see my grandmother looking at me worriedly out of the corner of my eye.

Most days, I’m fine. I live a privileged life; I have a specially modified car I can drive, but I don’t usually take it out unless I’m going somewhere that has guaranteed parking (a rare gift in Bombay). Like most people in this city, I use public transport to get around — I usually climb several flights of stairs at railway stations or stand through long, bumpy bus rides to get to where I need to go. I’m acutely aware that if I did not own this state-of-the-art prosthesis, this would have been impossible.

But since it is possible for me, I leave home at 7.40 am, brisk walk to the railway station in 8 minutes, and catch the 7.51 train to my office. I stay at work till nearly 7 pm, after which I take the train back home. I usually use the public transport to get around, much to the surprise (nay, shock) of neighbourhood aunties and uncles, who constantly say that ‘someone like me’ should take a cab instead.

And then, out of nowhere, comes The Boil. No ointment, tablet, doctor, or prosthetist has been able to get rid of it. The pain is unbearable and arrives overnight. A few days later, it leaves just as unexpectedly. There is no correlation I’ve been able to identify between my activity levels and the arrival of The Boil. It gives zero fucks about my work or party plans. It makes me completely dependent on people around me to bring me food, to fuss over me, and to successfully make me feel like crap.

I have understanding colleagues who don’t question my taking leave when I tell them about it, but even bringing it up with them makes me cringe. Bringing it up with my friends makes me cringe. Bringing it up with my boyfriend makes me cringe. It makes me feel like my whole independent woman act is, in fact, just an act. That, every now and then, The Boil will show up and show me my aukaat — I’m a disabled woman, and I’d better not forget it.

Everyone is sympathetic, but I don’t know anyone I can really talk to about it without getting sad emojis or hugs in response. Advice pours in from every corner — I’ve massaged it with different oils, kept my leg off for days at a time, and my family doctor once even tried cutting it open with a blade. Nothing is more than a (very) temporary solution. The Boil is an unstoppable force of nature.

And all this really makes me wonder — will I ever have the courage to go live abroad on my own? To do my Master’s in a different place, where I don’t have supportive friends and family I can count on? I cannot imagine finding myself in a studio apartment a few years down the line, having to crawl to the bathroom because it’s too painful to walk. Or having to hide my pain from other people by telling them that I have a fever and won’t be able to make it for our dinner date.

It’s okay here in Bombay, where I have a support system that knows and understands me, but I feel an inexplicable sense of shame telling strangers about it. It’s probably because few things bother me as much as pity does. I don’t know if I’ll be able to deal with the pressure and pain when my mom isn’t there to help me get over it.

It’s easy for you to slap me on the back and say, ‘Of course you’ll do it, you’ve dealt with much worse!’ But I’m not sure I will, and I know it’s going to cause as many sleepless nights in the future as it has in the past.

Antara is a freelance writer and illustrator. In her spare time, she backpacks, illustrates, and leaves feminist comments on Facebook posts.

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