I reached home late in the night and entered the darkness of the flat, filled with the void resounding in the long, unfurnished corridors. The girls were away. I had quite a day and the only wish I cherished for the time being was to land on my bed, let my heavy head touch the pillow, press my fluffy moose against my belly and escape for a few hours from this vain world of which I had enough for that day.
I walked in the bathroom and glanced at the ceiling. There I saw a pair of little eyes like black berries looking at me. I yelled! I found myself face-to-face with a great fear of mine. It was a 20-centimeter-long lizard.
Before coming to India I had two major concerns about my stay the country: the troubles I would inevitably run into as a woman, and the reptiles I will certainly get to see. It had been half a year since I arrived. Being a woman in India had become my daily routine, so I had learnt to manage. As for the reptiles, I had seen quite a few lizards that stay up on the walls of the buildings and at times get inside. Yet they tended to be small and our meetings occurred at places I could easily leave without being bothered.
This time a lizard had invaded my habitat! I was scared to death, and irritated and… numb. When I realized I could not simply ignore the creature and I had to initiate a sort of interaction with it in order to eventfully scare it away, tears came to my eyes. For a minute I could clearly picture myself as the focus of the world’s suffering. At that moment you feel that all the miseries of the world have accumulated in you, in poor helpless you… and you actually feel like indulging this misery, hugging yourself and stroking your head. Poor and helpless me. I ran away from the bathroom and locked the door so that the creature did not sneak into my room–chances of a peaceful sleep would be very much illusive then.
My thoughts were doing a frantic round dance in my head. I thought of the first two months in India, when I slept wearing a hat and a woolen pullover and still felt cold—they appeared not to have central heating in this otherwise warm country. For the next three months I faced an average temperature of 45C with no air conditioner in my room, as I could not afford it on an NGO salary. I thought of the three months that followed. Monsoon in Delhi did not bring much rain, but humidity was at its peak, therefore you sweated without moving even a bit. I thought of the catcalls on the streets and the comments made to my face by teenage boys. I thought of the rickshaw drivers and fruit vendors trying to rip me off on every occasion. I thought of the time when the ringtones on my cell interrupted every night and I could not decide whether to go for a coffee with Prakash, a movie with Ramesh, or dinner with Amrit, or send them to hell altogether before I had to explain that I do not go to bed after a coffee, a movie—not even a dinner. I thought of the open tops and see-through skirts I left back home and about my new shabby salwar kameez style as the ultimate cultural immersion that I proudly demonstrated on the government busses, three of which I took every morning on the way to work. I thought of my ridiculous lifestyle where, by the virtue of being white, I got the warmest reception at the poshest places, where I was not allowed to pay for even a glass of juice. I had become totally comfortable with all this by now. No hassle at all. But the lizard!
My mobile rang. It was Rahul, whose “Hi Dear, how have you been?” got reciprocated with my cry “Oh, my God, I’ve got a big lizard in my bathroom!” His reaction did not belittle his merits as a friend, yet was completely inappropriate for the occasion—he burst into laughter.
“You are scared of a lizard! Ha ha ha!”
Ya, right, lizards are almost like pets in this country. They are totally adorable, so people give them milk and let them run back and forth between their feet. And it is only me—a stupid foreigner—who is scared of this nice, little lizard!
People in India tease each other a lot. But when you are a foreigner and someone tries to make fun of you facing your little challenge, like the first time you try to tear a piece of chapatti and grab some chicken with it, or it being the one-hundred-and-twenty-third time you tell the rickshaw driver “Baisab, patchis rupia, bas,” you tend to get offended by the teasing. Because even at the one-hundred-and-twenty-third time those chapatti and conversations with a rickshaw drivers remain a challenge for you. Even if the challenge is now one-hundred-and-twenty-three times smaller than in the first instance.
So, instead of the moral support I needed most at that moment, I had to face this “ha hah ha.”
I could vividly picture them both, Rahul and this lizard, laughing at the easily-scared foreign girl. I could not even show my arrogance to them—so scared was I and totally helpless. I kept describing the situation in detail to Rahul—how I spotted the creature, how it looked and h-o-o-o-o-o-o-w miserable I felt.
Rahul did night shifts; he was calling from the office and obviously had just a few minutes to spare for the chat. It had been a long time since we had heard from each other last, and now I was clearly wasting his time with my lizard troubles. He kept laughing and teasing me, yet I could hear annoyance in his laugher.
“I called you at last and you are so preoccupied with your lizard, stupid girl.”
He tried to give me some suggestions like “Scare it away,” right! Thank you! I was hopeless. He hung up quickly.
I was standing in the middle of my room completely clueless and scared. I could not—absolutely could not—even look at the lizard and its anguine motions. I burst into tears. How would I scare it away? And I had to, I had to. Me, poor me, again and again, had to handle the situation I would not even need to bother with if I had been with someone else. Why is there no one else around? I had people—acquaintances, good buddies, close friends and relatives—all at varying proximity. Yet, no one here with me at the moment when I needed them most. How many more times in my life would I have to face these hurdles myself? How much stronger do I have to become to live happily? Would I still need someone around once I get that strong?
I opened the door, walked into the bathroom and locked the door. I looked around and could not find the invader. Disappeared? That would have been too easy an escape for both of us. I glanced at the walls again and saw it, almost on the floor, and I yelled “stay up on the wall, you miserable thing!” It crawled up. I seized a mop and started splashing it on the walls with the cries of a warrior. I hoped to scare the lizard away with the sounds and the danger of being splashed. I did not plan murder though. The creature was way too big for me to kill without feeling serious guilt later. I had already got enough thrills.
Responding to my actions, the lizard started feverishly fussing back and forth in the hope for an escape. I was getting more and more annoyed with this stupid animal that could not comprehend the commonality of our goals. It just had to leave! It was not safe for it to stay at the place where a mad woman swings a mop in the air and yells. It was not safe for my mental heath to carry on that way either. Yet, the lizard was running back and forth, back and forth without a plan in its mind. If only it had a plan, or a mind.
I was getting more and more frustrated and therefore, more and more desperate. I lost all hope when the lizard snuck behind the gazer as if thinking it might be a good compromise for us. But, I was not about to compromise. I kept splashing the mop and yelling, and finally the lizard snuck out of the ventilation window.
I locked the window—had to tie it with a rope in fact, as the window did not close properly. I could not risk the chance of any more visiting creatures finding their way in. I exhaled with a clear realization that my work was done! I was standing in the middle of my bathroom trying to comprehend the fact that lizards, the horrifying lizards, are not any scarier than the heat, or monsoon, or pushy admirers, or sneaky market vendors, or government buses, or no makeup for ages, or being white and single in India. Definitely, not.