By Manreet Lachar
The descent into madness, he thinks, is a slow one.
It starts when he’s young, looking at the night sky while his mother tells him stories about the pretty stars and hums him lullabies to get him to sleep. Then, all of a sudden, his mother is gone and he tells the stories of the constellations himself. But it’s lonely, knowing that no one is there to listen.
Next come the lights. It will always be a source of morbid fascination, the fact that they creep up on him instead of being there all at once. Cameras flash at him from every which way and the light sticks to his eyelids when he closes them. He hopes for a moment to breathe, to see, but all he gets are spots in his vision and the feeling of being an outsider when he never asked for it.
Soon enough, the flashes are paired with the sound of people always yelling his name. They tell him what to do, where to go, how to be. If he tries hard enough, though, it becomes white noise. It comes in handy if he thinks too much about the empty house, a father’s disappointment, his own loneli–
Never mind. No one wants to hear that sort of thing from him, he knows. So he buries it all in a treasure chest in the corner of his mind. It’s not a dark corner, he tells himself. It has as many stars as the galaxy around him, and maybe one day he’ll let himself open it. (Maybe voicing the words will stop them from trying to stick to every crevice of his mind, release the tension between his shoulders that comes from carrying too much weight, coax the feeling of being safe out of wherever it’s hiding within him.)
Until then, he makes do with the comfort of knowing that he’s always looking at the same sky, no matter where he is.
Home is the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, the Trocadéro. It is walking through the dark streets at night, marvelling at the glittering of the lights and the twinkling of the stars. It is the “welcome back!” messages he receives and knowing every place in the city to get good cheese at strange hours of the night. He’s been to the prettiest cities in the world, but nothing is more exquisite than the smell of warm bread from the bakery across from his high school.
Home is the girl who meets him for late night rooftop rendezvous to talk about nothing and everything. The one who ruined the stars for him when he mapped out the constellations of the freckles on her face and realized they were the greater beauty. That was the day he realized his stories had a listener and, if forced to make a choice, he would refuse to tell her in favour of listening to every one of her stories for the rest of eternity.
Home is that girl, who waits for him on the darker side of midnight and lights up when she finally sees him. Her tired, drooping eyes are blue as the sky at sunrise, and she has a smile bright as the sun. And here, he can voice the words, ease the tension, let out the feeling of being safe, which became synonymous to being home and being with her at some point.
It is a slow descent into madness, he thinks. But if madness is waiting for him, it can wait a little longer still.