Author’s Note: The following was left unedited so that means, what you’ll be reading is a very rough first draft. I will edit the entirety of the novel in the coming months and will post that too when it’s completed. Enjoy and thank you for the support!
She jumps on me for sharing pain with the living, but she tries to share it with the dead.
“Dr.Shaheed, are you ready?” the nurse approached her, and she acknowledged the name. She was led through the hallway to a room at the end. The nurse explained that the patient was discovered in the bath tub with both wrists slashed. Loss of blood was significant.
She went to the patient’s bedside, and asked for some time alone. All she could think about was being in her apartment with her patient on the couch, sleeping peacefully.
. . .
I didn’t like them when I heard them. I liked them even less when I met them. They look at us as though we smell and they don’t. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether I like them or not. There are other people in the neighborhood whom I don’t like.
Farida stopped. A part of her wanted to keep reading. But her mind wandered. Shahnaz called.
“What happened? Are you still coming to Boston?”
She explained to Shahnaz the situation.
Shahnaz sighed. “That’s terrible, obviously,” she said, “But you’re supposed to be on vacation…”
Farida didn’t respond.
“I’m sorry, but you know I’m right,” Shahnaz added.
“I need to get some rest.”
“Just please take some time for yourself. Did you at least get that book you wanted?”
Farida glanced at the copy in her hand, the words Parable of the Sower on the cover.
“You always said you wanted to read something different,” Shahnaz said.
“I’ll try to keep going,” Farida replied, “but it’s not up to me.”
In the afternoon, Farida went to her clinic which was a few blocks from the saree shops and Indian supermarkets in downtown Edison. Since it was the weekend, no one else was around, as she went into her space and began searching files for patients, past and present, scattering them across the floor.
Sophiline was her first patient. Frida spent hours reading Sophiline’s folders and background, scavenging for clues. Over the past year, Sophiline seemed to be improving. She was reconnecting to her family and old friends, and was set to be promoted at work. She even visited relatives in Cambodia for the first time and posted pictures of the historic temples on Facebook. So, what triggered the attempt? Was it stress or something sudden? Was it her ex? Farida had no way of contacting him since all Sophiline said about him was that he made her feel “powerless.” Farida took some files home.
. . .
She focused on former patients, finding those she instantly recognized as ones who needed the most help to recover. There were a few who she hadn’t seen in months, including one who had survived a gunshot to the chest and after spending time in a coma, suffered reoccurring nightmares. She made him write a journal of his thoughts, which he shared with her initially. He mostly described the scenes that repeated in his head, of his fist ramming against another man’s jaw, and then being chased by others in his life, all of whom were naked from the waist down. Another had problems eating food that was round and this bothered him since he was a fan of pizza. This became a reality when he lost his job and subsequently, unable to pay rent and became homeless. Since then, he would always feel nauseous around pizza and donuts. Farida surmised that it was possibly linked to his feelings of being emasculated. He didn’t believe her and also, stopped showing up for therapy.
Jamal was one who displayed the most progress in a short period. Since his teens, he dealt with OCD, preventing him from sometimes attending classes to locking himself in his bedroom for days. After graduating college and getting his first full-time job, he would avoid interacting with co-workers and doing anything else but work. He realized his symptoms were out of control when he skipped another happy hour and instead, cleaned his fridge, bathroom, microwave, sofas, and blinds, until his fingers bled. Still, he listened to Farida’s instructions and made an effort to talk more and to go outside to places he felt comfortable, like the local coffee shop or to the library.
Farida knocked on Jamal’s door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
She told him and the footsteps stopped.
“Did I do something?”
“No, I just wanted to see how things were.”
He opened and stood before her, skinny and short. They had coffee in the living room and she listened to him update her on his life.
“I don’t worry too much about what bars we go to,” he said, “But when I do feel like I don’t want to be there, I remind myself that I’m safe and that I’m with people who care.”
Farida said she was pleased but remained skeptical. His eyes darted, and he looked jumpy at times.
She told him how glad she was that he was being honest and open with her and understanding how important that was to the process.
He mumbled, “Thank you,” and snatched their empty cups to wash them in the sink. As she was leaving, Jamal said he had to get something off his chest. Farida pretended she was surprised. Jamal, however, looked at the ground, as he explained he was dating again.
“I met this person a few weeks ago,” he said, “And I’m not certain if I am ready or not. Even though I do like her.”
Farida waited for more. But Jamal finally looked up at her, and she smiled and told him to do what made him comfortable.
After making a mental note to check on Jamal in the coming weeks, she went to the next person, a man she knew from the South Asian American neighborhood they grew up in at the heart of Iselin. Prior to being a patient, she barely spoke to him, apart from sometimes, bumping into him at their high-school or when she’d be done praying at the local mosque and him at his Hindu temple nearby. However, once he experienced a mental breakdown and went missing, she joined the community in finding him, updating each other over Facebook and Twitter, and calling the police as much as possible.
The man now lived by himself but explained to Farida that he enjoyed the time alone and how it allowed him to process life at his own pace. They went to the local temple, where he sat cross-legged in front of the deities and uttered mantras with his eyes closed. Priests rang bells and blessed parishioners, as Farida stayed by the man’s side, glancing at his face and observing the creases under his eyes.
. . .
Farida continued to visit more patients. Many were working again and some started families. Most were glad Farida would drop by since they wanted to share all the positive news. But there were a few who behaved strangely and Farida placed them on her list of people to keep an eye on.
Whenever Farida’s body slowed down and she would read more or take walks, she’d picture Sophiline. While on a date, she struggled to listen to the person across the table, telling her about his job as a dentist, and how “fun” it was to “clean teeth and make people smile.” Farida ate and smiled, but afterwards, when strolling, she spotted a woman scavenging for food in a dumpster, and immediately, Farida let go of her date’s hand. He asked what was wrong but she went to her car and drove away. She blocked his number and stopped answering calls, including from Shahraz.
. . .
Raziyya crossed her arms.
“I finished my sessions with you,” she said, “I’m not going back.”
“And you don’t need to,” Farida replied, “I’m only here to see how things are going.”
“Are you working now?”
“Have you gotten to know your roommates better?”
Farida smiled, as Raziyya glared.
“Like I said, everything is perfect.”
“Are you making more music with the band?” Farida asked.
“We finished our EP.”
“That’s great! Will it be on Soundcloud?”
Raziyya nodded and Farida continued to smile even though she knew it was time to leave.
That night, she searched for the EP online and uncovered links to the band’s Facebook page. There seemed to be a following which was good to see since Raziyya had always wanted to play music and have people care. But after some more digging, she noticed a recent post: COME SEE US LIVE @ CASPER CLUB SATURDAY NIGHT!!! Farida’s eyes widened. She rushed to Raziyya’s again but one was answering the door. The next day, Farida did the same and still, no one was home.
She knew the only option left was to go to the show in New Brunswick. The venue was a new bar downtown, which would convert into a stage and a dancefloor on weekends. Farida made sure to stay in the back of the crowd once the music started. Raziyya was behind the drums with her two friends trading vocals and playing guitar and bass. It was loud but rhythmic. People cheered. For a brief moment, Farida felt at ease and stopped watching Raziyya’s face. Instead, she felt the drums and the melody in her feet and hands.
At intermission, everyone ordered more drinks and cleared the main floor. The guitars and drums remained on stage. Farida had fries and although she didn’t speak to anyone, kept herself engaged in their conversations, overhearing parts of who they are. After a half-hour, the second half of the show was set to begin. People converged and the lights dimmed.
Only the drums were illuminated by the spotlight and the guitars leaning against the speakers. The crowd murmured and the owner of the venue apologized and promised they’d start soon. After another fifteen minutes and with no one showing up, the crowd began to jeer. Some started to leave. Farida slipped between and peeked behind the curtains. She went down a long hallway and through the back door, revealing the tiny parking lot. There she saw the two guitarists standing over Raziyya who was perched on the back of their van, heaving and coughing.
“Do you need help?” Farida asked.
Raziyya looked up and snapped, “Just get away from me.”
“I understand you’re hurting, but we can deal with this,” Farida said, “Remember that anxiety can be managed. You are in control.”
“Fucking leave me alone!” Raziyya screamed.
Her two friends agreed, blocking Farida’s way.
Farida didn’t know what else to say so she got back to her apartment instead. After a few days, she went to Raziyya’s and was told by her roommates to get away too. She tried to explain that she could help but they wouldn’t listen.
For days, Farida didn’t know what to do. She tried walking more. She tried exploring places she hadn’t been in yet. No matter what though, she always felt weighed down as if wearing armor or chainmail.
Freedom is dangerous . . . but it’s precious too. You can’t just throw it away or let it slip away. You can’t sell it for bread and pottage.
The words escaped the din of the heart machines and wheels screeching through the hallways.
Sophiline blinked and placed the yogurt on the table beside her.
Farida asked if she wanted something else and she hung shook her head.
“Do you want me to keep reading?” Farida said.
Farida turned the page and kept on reading.