Something of a fiction. Part 2

by Gabriella Sonabend

‘You sound like you’ve changed’

‘I’m sorry, what do you expect me to say? I’m not going to sugar coat this, it’s not going to be easy for us to relate. You don’t have to talk to me if you’d rather not’

Subject change – I bring it back around to the beginning. Yes, I did see what I saw and yes a veil has slipped yet again and I am falling further and further into some strange reality, into some strange fiction.

I begin to wonder if I made it all up, if exhaustion and fear and everything else just created those scenarios in my mind. Is this what it is to go mad? To convince yourself you have seen something terrible, to see something terrible and convince yourself it has not been seen. We become like Cassandra, us women who stay and sit and walk on these streets unaccompanied. We look at things, which we shouldn’t be looking at and over time we begin to speak. When we speak our words are shunned; woman, idiot, whore, either, any and all. Sometimes we bump into each other, we find each other in cafes, us women who have chosen to come to Varanasi alone and it is immediately clear what we are – we recognise each other immediately. Not a hippy, not a traveler, someone who has come to stay and discover something. We begin to talk and we are amazed that each of us has seen the same terrible things and we have come from different places and we are different ages and bring different perspectives but still we build the same image of a place, we exist in the same incomprehensible insanity. In some ways it is comforting to find each other, to sit with sweet chai and slices of cake talking intensely about our experiences, trusting one another and believing – but in some ways I am saddened to find others who feel the same hopelessness as me, we each know there is no simple or short term solution to the problems in this world. This is certainly another world.

Every time I pick up the phone to call a friend from home it is with the naive hope of finding some comfort in familiar sounds and familiar ideas. I do not judge what my friends are doing, we are in different worlds, and theirs are equally real, equally intense and important to them. Every time I am hungering for something, I am not sure what. There is the endless question – ‘have you changed?’ – as if there is an ‘I’ in this world. Have ‘I’ changed? I can’t even identify where my ‘self’ is here, let alone tell what change it has undergone. Yes, of course I have changed, it is inevitable, yet I feel no sense of the ‘me’. I am a pair of eyes, feet that move me from one experience to the next and then the rest of me is what the Indian people project on me. The women continue to shower me with warmth and love, the men continue to touch their genitals and say ‘hey baby – woooow’ in low creepy voices as they walk past me. The tourists do not bother approaching me but I see them wondering why I am alone as they walk passed me on the ghats.

At night I can’t sleep, I stay up until early hours stretching canvasses and painting. I have not painted for years and now I remember the thrill of painting, I remember that it is a refuge, it is a safe house. I fill my studio with colour; I use every ounce of my energy, my frustration, my fear and my excitement – as creative fuel. My hands shake from exhaustion, my brain is still wired – I am split between so many contrary emotions and thoughts. I am amazed that I am still functioning. I fear returning home. I fear the silence that will follow the endless horns, the shouts, the clashing of symbols carried by the passing wedding bands.

I wonder who will read this writing, whether they will get a better sense of my ‘self’ then the murky image I fail to grasp as I sit here and write or walk in the streets. I wonder if they will feel my loneliness, whether it will make them feel uncomfortable; will my honesty eventually become unbearable – or will it simply become something of a fiction?