“Hi, I’m Rhea and I’m an addict.”
The room was huge and bright. The windows left hardly any space for walls. The garden outside was lush and breezy.
Rhea sat looking down at her half bitten finger nails, aware of the seven pairs of eyes boring down on her pale face and long black curls. It wasn’t her first time at Group Therapy. She had started it a year ago, the same time at which her Under-Grad course in Psychology had begun. In fact, she had made the therapy a part of her life. But something about the air that day made her uneasy.
She looked up at the expectant faces and smiled weakly. There wasn’t much she could say about herself. It was the same old story. Happy teenager, one terrible incident, depression, addiction, rehab… Did she really want to recount her story?
Her eyes focused beyond the people sitting before her, at a dark wooden table that stood against the wall. Atop the table rested an aquarium with colourful fish swimming about amidst artificially produced bubbles.
She had dreamt of the aquarium many times. As she stared at it, images from her past flashed before her eyes.
She remembered how that day had begun…
♫ Here I’m standing on the sea shore
She is gone, now she’s gone
All the angels praying for me
As I fall, As I fall ♫
Rhea slowly opened her eyes. She was lying in her tub. The bathroom was dimly lit with an orange bulb. She rubbed her eyes and drank thirstily from a water bottle. She set the bottle down and shut her eyes again. She was having a dream until then. What was it she was dreaming of?
She was at Anjuna Beach, playing ball with her girlfriend Alisha. Their high giggles echoed in her head.
Amidst a fit of giggles, Alisha said, “Rhea imagine your mum finds out we’re in Goa by ourselves! That’ll be crazy! Haha!”
“Stop trying to scare me! It isn’t going to work now,” she said, in a teasing voice. She splashed her way to Alisha and poked her in her waist.
“Aaaah stop tickling me!” Alisha screeched and laughed.
Rhea grabbed her by the waist and kissed her lovingly on her cheek.
With a smile Alisha hugged her and “Oh the ball! It’s going away! Haha I’ll get it!” she said.
She never came back.
She couldn’t remember anymore. She didn’t want to remember anymore. She threw her eyes around the floor and found what she was looking for. She picked up the plastic bag and sniffed at it for a long time, basking in the smell of Fevi Bond, until she was back in a daze.
She let go of the bag and it fell into the water. As she looked at it, the bag slowly turned into a shark, swimming around rapidly in the water. When the shark set its eyes on her, it flicked its tail angrily and charged towards her, bearing its gruesome set of jaws.
Rhea’s breathing got heavy. She paddled her legs violently, trying to swim away from the monstrous fish. She finally swung her hands and gave the shark a hard whack on its head. It lay there, dead in the water, a plain plastic bag.
A loud rap on the door brought her back to her senses.
Her mother’s worried voice came floating in. “Rhea! Open the door! Varun is here to see you!”
Rhea opened the door.
A blurry version of her dad and mum stood at the door, with a stricken-looking Varun.
“What the hell! You’re a mess you silly girl! Enough is enough!” her dad roared and splashed water from Rhea’s bottle on her face. That was the last thing she needed.
She fell writhing and screaming uncontrollably on the wet floor. Her long legs twitched and kicked hard. Her body was covered in goose bumps and sweat. Her eyes burned although they were tight shut. Her mouth was swallowing huge gulps of air.
“ALISHA!” she screamed helplessly. She cried and threw her limbs all around the place. She saw Alisha struggling equally hard but drifting away at the same time. The waves swallowed and threw her up in phases. Alisha’s chocolate eyes and short black hair kept bobbing up and down in the water.
“SOMEBODY HELP!” Rhea screeched in her loudest voice when she could see no more of Alisha. She looked at the shore and saw a life guard jump onto his speed boat and everything went blank.
When she opened her eyes, she was in her dad’s car, resting her head on her mother’s lap. Varun, her best friend, sat in front with her dad, speaking hurriedly over the phone.
“Whuzgoinon?” she groaned.
Before she knew it, her car had stopped and she was being helped out of the door and into a big grey building. She saw people in shades of green and grey walking about place. She caught a fleeting glimpse at a sign board that read ‘Dr. Ramesh Sarathy, Neurosurgeon.’
She suddenly felt fear surge through her veins. Every part of her body was shaking. She picked up a plastic chair and raised it above her head.
“I swear I will destroy this fucking place! Take me back home!” she screamed and pulled at wires and telephone cords and everything in sight. She threatened to send an aquarium that was set up on a dark wooden table crashing down.
She hardly felt it when a needle pricked her arms. Suddenly, everything went blank.
Rhea shook out of her reverie. Having seen the love of her life practically disappear before her eyes had scarred her forever.
Her therapy group waited patiently for her story.
“Oops! Sorry! I err… just remembered something,” she said sheepishly and looked to her right.
That’s when she realised what made her feel unsettled that day. She gaped in awe at the girl next to her. Her chocolate brown eyes and short chic hair-cut were ever so similar to Alisha’s. Her figure was perfect just like Alisha’s had been. She even wore the same red Converse shoes that Alisha used to wear.
“Err… I think I’ll pass,’ Rhea said to the therapist absent mindedly, never taking her eyes off the girl.
“Alright, moving on. You tell us your story,” the therapist said to Rhea’s neighbour with a kind smile.
“Thanks,” the girl said. Her voice was so similar to Alisha’s, Rhea could’ve sworn it was her girlfriend, back from the dead.
The girl looked around hesitantly. Clearly it was her first time at group therapy.
She fixed her gaze on Rhea. She said, “Hi I’m Anisha, and I’m an addict.”