In fact, she was the first person to come forward when I stepped into the new environment. The others, with friendly smiles, stayed behind, promising themselves that they will make friends with me “in due course”.
I accepted her, and was grateful for her companionship. When I saw others mock her, I realised there was more to her than I suspected.
I was right. And in the years that followed, I would see her, hear from her, and more often, hear about her. Everyone was delighted to talk about her – because there was so much to laugh at. I confess I fell in with them too, for some years. Until one incident opened my eyes to who she really was.
And as though a switch was flicked on, it became clear to me why she behaved as she did, where she stood right now, and what had brought her there. Some part of her attitude was deeply ingrained in her, some of it came from her upbringing, but most of it was thanks to the lack of support from the people around her.
After that, I could only feel a dull ache when I heard them speak of her, heartlessly. I could do nothing without falling into their trap myself. Yes, I was – I am – too weak to speak out and support her. Perhaps one of these days…
She behaves like a child often, laughing and talking and getting upset at little things. Then all of a sudden she becomes an adult, managing the house, juggling several things, taking care of herself as well as the others with an obsession that was mildly unsettling. Sometimes she sulks, and I fear she knows what’s going on, and I feel her depression.
I don’t think anyone spares a thought for her unless it is to spread nice, fresh, juicy gossip about her. Which is probably why she chose to take up the most insane (seemingly) tasks, piling up her plate with things to do all day and night - to keep herself from thinking and worrying. And she turned to God with a kind of zeal that was borderline alarming.
For the longest time, I believed that she did not know she was being laughed at. She behaved well with the others, friendly, concerned, involved. If I were in her place, I would have withdrawn and put on an ice cold front to demonstrate my disapproval. But she would go on and on, and I would wonder if she was putting on a show for our benefit, or she actually didn’t know that her audience was gathering material to laugh the moment her back was turned.
The truth is clear to me now: she is each one of us. But a magnified, louder, uncontained version. We know what she is, why she is, and what she endures. Because we’re there too: putting on a show, clutching at crazy ideas to keep ourselves alive, struggling to keep ourselves from falling into the abyss of loneliness and meaninglessness. We laugh because we find in her what we conceal in ourselves. She is all of us. We try to hide who we are. She doesn’t. So we laugh at her. Mercilessly.