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Unchained - A Short Story

She was pretty. Of course she was pretty. She kept telling herself this every day. Often, it sounded hollow. But the truth is that the frequent affirmation helped her from falling into depths of desolation. When she was a child it wasn't quite like this. Children are nice that way. Acceptance comes naturally to them. Her best memories of companionship were from her early grades. Things changed somewhere between the fourth and fifth grades. Suddenly, the fact that she was of a darker skin and not a conventional beauty seemed to matter. Exclusion from cliques was the norm. Some, who were 'buddies for life' found her less interesting. And others, acquaintances of sorts, looked straight through her. It's a good thing she liked reading and being outdoors. Isolation from her friends had forced her to be more adventurous. Nature hadn't yet indicated to her that she did not belong. And a good book? A good book took her places that she couldn't otherwise visit. It was an arrangement she was comfortable with. But such complacency was too good to last.

High school was really hard. Even though she expected harsh times it did nothing to dull the pain. Even the boys, who generally ignored her seemed to get in on the incessant bullying. It was hard enough when a handful of them directed malice towards her but when the numbers grew, she felt broken. The silent tears at night on her damp pillow provided some relief. But the sun would rise again and bring with it another dreadful day. No amount of steely resolve helped her keep her chin up. What was once strides of strength, with her head held up high, were now listless drags of meek submission.

At first she just ignored the barbs. They will tire and stop she told herself. To her horror, her tormentors seemed to increase in number. Being compared to writing board, the very ground she walked on, unclean simians and villians from mythology slowly cracked her armour. She was a source of inspiration for novice poets who wrote glorious gems like:

"There she walks, sweaty and stinky,

dragging her butt, fat and bulky,

Oh she's not coming this way for sure?

Run!, save your senses from torture."

It takes a special person overcome taunts like these. And she felt special no more. Something had to give. Her 'friends' kept their distance for fear of being painted with similar strokes. They wouldn't get intentionally splashed with muddy water on rainy days by speeding cars. Or half eaten food thrown at them. Her sessions with the guidance counselor although helping in venting, did nothing to stop the tide. One can only hear 'be strong' so many times. And it was her word against the many. Perhaps she should have asked her parents to 'help' the school like many others did. But deep down she knew she couldn't burden her family to stop what they viewed as 'a little teasing'.

She had hoped that in the world of grownups, she would find acceptance or at least, left alone. When misfortune is your best friend, such hope is ill-placed. It is human nature it seems to thrill at the despair of others. Her workplace had it's own share of jerks. While in school, her achievements were her own. But here, credit-hogging and brown-nosing seemed rife. Being pretty and a glib tongue made a better case for getting raises as opposed to improved efficiency and results. And the name-calling, though hushed, continued. New paeans were being composed in her honor. She feasted on her lunches by herself. She walked home all alone, her books feeling heavier in her hand with each passing day. She missed the respite they used to provide. These days she lets out sighs of relief as she cuts her body to let out the pain. She is thankful for the long sleeved clothing that hide her scars. They are her prized possessions. The sight of which could make her tomentors close-in like on a wounded prey. Through the dirt stained glass in her tiny room she looks out. The dark hollows in her eyes glisten as she begins her sobbing. "Please stop.." she whimpers into the night.

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Here she stands today. On the ledge of a high bridge. Thinking of the steep ravine below her intensifies her breathing. She is terrified of heights. She couldn't bring herself to look down for fear of backing out. Deep down below she can hear the rushing waters encouraging her to take the leap. The wind was strong and kept blowing her hair on her face. She almost loses her balance in an attempt to tame them in place. She looks straight ahead into the distant horizon making out the silhouette of the mountains. Even the clouds seemed to have a message for her. What does one think when one does something like this? Besides the thought of not wanting to do it? She thinks of her mom. It was funny how she always thought of her during moments of extreme joy and sorrow. She missed her reassuring hugs now that the miles separated them. Her mom would have had none of this and would have tried to dissuade her from entertaining such audacious thoughts. "Oh mom" she thinks. "You would never understand. I have to do this". Then holding her breath, with the sounds of a thundering heart, she leaps.

The wind rushes past her face as she plummets through the ravine. She had her hands crossed across her chest, her fists tightly clenched. She hears a scream of terror and realizes it's coming from her. She can see the boulders down below, quickly rushing towards her with an open embrace. Just when she thinks her body's going to smash against the ground, she feels her legs being yanked from above. And up she goes, this time, whooping in joy. She lets it all out. A sea of frustration gushes forth from her lungs. And when the bungee cord finally brings her to a gentle swing, she finds herself with open arms rocking with nature. She finds herself thinking of the kind eyes and gentle smile of the instructor above. And then she knows. Everything would be alright.

Unchained - A Short Story