The sudden brakes of the bus jerk me awake. CREAKKKK!! I panic. When did I fall asleep? Where am I? What time is it? Did I miss my stop? Oh dear! I squint my eyes and peer out the window to look at the shop boards passing by, a habit I acquired after coming to Colombo, for fear of losing my way in the big city. Still in Dehiwala. Thank God I woke up. I look to my left to who was sitting beside me. A woman. I slowly ley out a sigh of relief. The drunkard from before must have got off. I slide back into my seat comfortably and take out my phone. 99+ messages from WhatsApp says the notification bar, and I groan to myself internally, as I open the application and proceed to go through the usual chats of the various clubs and subject groups that I am in. While skimming over the daily “Hi guys, this is your opportunity to apply for…” and the “Attention all club members. This is to remind you of the…” texts, I notice a different chat. Of course, my brain does not acknowledge the name of the person who was kind enough to send me this specific text, but it is rather focused on the text itself, and the fact that there is someone out there who noticed me enough, to send that text. The text was a mere question consisting of three simple words, but it was powerful enough to crack the wall I built around me, making me crumble. The question was, “Are you okay?”.
I stare at my phone, my fingers trembling over the screen, unable to decide what to reply, because I myself asked the same question over and over before, but could never get a proper answer.
“Yes! I’m totally cool. I’m oka-”
I start to type but stop. I look up. I stare out the window and wonder to myself again. Am I okay? Am I really okay? No. No, I, Sayuri, am not okay at all.
“University of Colombo! I got in! Ammi, Thaththi! I got selected to the University of Colombo!”
The words rang in my ears over and over as I got ready for the new life awaiting. The entire household was excited, there were clothes everywhere, two suitcases open and laid out in the middle of the living room to be packed with clothes and essential stuff to take with me to the hostel. After an entire semester online, I was finally getting to go to university physically. It was true that it was only the examinations that we were going to face in the coming days, but it was something new to look forward to after the long and boring days of lectures that we had had online. I was extremely hyped up about the fact that I was actually going to experience the “university life” for real, that I occasionally forgot I had exams to face as soon as I got there.
The day finally came and we all left home feeling uneasy but excited. My entire body was shivering with fear and curiosity for what awaited me 200 Kilometers away.
The hostel was huge. It was new. It was comfortable and the room was well facilitated. We all had our own bunk beds and all the thirteen roommates and myself got on pretty well. It was all very neat, and the new friends were fun, but right after day one I slumped. No matter how many words I try to come up with to describe what I felt, I fail to do so. The only word that comes even the slightest bit close, to what I feel every single day, as I get on to the 157-bus early morning to go to university and to come back in the late evening, is ‘empty’. I ate but felt no taste. I had friends but felt no warmth. I studied but gained no knowledge. I dressed up but felt ugly. Every day I felt like a wind-up toy as I went on with my monotonous lifestyle like clockwork. The small weekend visits back home were the only warm sun rays shining into my now dull life of emptiness.
Then one fine day, I knew I had to get over this miserable phase I was going through. I knew I had to find footholds to climb up the empty pit, in which I am sunk deep into. And so, I put myself to work. I reached out and registered for clubs that seemed interesting. I started to hang out with people who appreciate me for me and found new friends among all the acquaintances I had. I buried myself deep in work, be it education, extracurricular or even entertainment and social media and then I realised, life was not so empty after all. I found that I began feeling accepted in some of the clubs that I enrolled in. I felt the rush of adrenaline as I began engaging in new club activities that I had never experienced before. Friends that I made along the way turned out to be the coolest human beings to be alive. I found myself opening up to these new companions and making new memories with them. I even treated myself sometimes to things that could make me happy, instead of moping around in misery. I went out alone to small cafes and stores that I found interesting. I explored new places on my own, and the gushing feeling of accomplishment I felt in my gut felt really good. The darkness in my tunnel started to decrease bit by bit, as I found small footholds that I could climb.
Of course, some of the footholds turned out to be loose stones that fell away as soon as I stepped on them, pushing me further into the pit. Some people I encountered along the way were too overwhelming to associate and hang out with and others simply did not vibe with me. I did find some clubs where I felt rather pressured than relaxed. However, I gradually got rid of those unsuitable “friends” and kept my circle rather small and amiable. There was even a time where I had a serious crush on a guy, which ended in me finding out he was already in a relationship and making an effort to get over him.
Nevertheless, no matter how many of these loose stones make me fall away and leave me hanging, I never stopped looking for a stronger foothold to climb onto. I still feel the emptiness in me but I came to realise that it was I, myself who can fill up that emptiness.
Another step on the brakes snap me back into reality. I look away from the window and back to my phone, the unsent and incomplete text waiting for me to take action. I erase it and type anew.
“No, I am not okay. But I am getting better and thanks for asking.”
I click send and switch off the phone. A tear was falls down my cheek. I quickly wipe it and smile to myself. Life was indeed bittersweet, but I can wash away the bitter and add more sugar myself gradually.
Rtr. Sayuri Wijesinghe
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