The piece tries to interlace the narrative of Bertha Mason from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with that of a young, married woman. The latter is set in the present day.
“Here’s an old story so new that it’s still in the middle of happening, writing itself right now with no knowledge of where and how it’ll end.” – Ali Smith, Autumn.
I never believed in spirits. But the way I figure it now, my understanding of entities was absolutely flawed, always. Although it doesn’t matter now, I have learned several facts throughout my life; the most important of them being that it is almost impossible to fight the blaze. One may perceive this as a vague generalization, but that is how I see it, now. It’s so bizarre, the way I am weighing time – then and now. I don’t know why I acknowledge this distinction when nothing compels me to do so. The last moments are still very vivid – his shrill shout, my spring and the blaze that was everywhere. I jumped because of the blaze. I do not think I would ever be able to reconcile myself to the fact that it is something which developed in me over time or something which was just there. I feel like I had always owned it; willingly, or unwillingly? I cannot comprehend.
I shut the door, went to the bathroom, shut its door, braved the latch again, switched on the light, opened the tap, bent over the basin, and washed my face. I looked into the mirror and saw someone else. What I saw was a distorted form of myself, warped. He started banging on the door. I still remember that sound, one of uncontrollable rage. These moments come to me occasionally when I am about to fall asleep.
Grace Poole was not a bad woman. It was just me. I hated her, like I hated everybody else. It is strange how a man can make you hate the entire world. Whenever he came to see me, my memory and I forgot the uneasy truce we had reached. What emerged in those moments was a piping struggle. It rose from the wake of my memory – which made me recall all the happy moments – and spread itself unevenly throughout my body. I would lose control over my mind and memory would conduct my body. It made me grovel on all fours; I wanted to rip him to shreds. The struggle of my mind against memory was in vain and what it did, always, was surrender to its power.
He shuffled about the room. Red eyes, torpid face, an almost empty liquor bottle in his hand. “Water,” he demanded. My fingers trembling, I tried to pour it from the jug into the glass. The water had almost reached its rim when I saw him stumbling towards me. My heart palpitating, I handed him the glass. He emptied it over my head, smashed it on the floor and caught me by my shoulders. The stench of grog made me want to barf. “Why have your parents sent you empty-handed?” he bawled. I woke up at four the next morning and went to the balcony. It was dark. I held my head tightly and scratched it. Weeping was never an option. Just bleeding.
It was a clear day when the marriage ceremony took place. When I woke up that morning, I was remembering my first meeting with Edward Rochester at the ball. My thoughts were filled with light and joy. I was not madly in love with him – we had hardly talked – but I was happy, or thrilled at least, for a new journey. He had said that he loved me and wished me to be his wife. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. The thought of traversing the path with him induced a feeling. For the first time, I felt that the blaze could be blanketed, that it was blanketed, that it would never surface, let alone burgeon. I cannot even think about the happiness which had enveloped me that day – the mere thought of it feels like a burden now.
A spoken word begot and fueled his irateness, and wherefore I preferred writing. Though I never wrote anything for him, he was always in them. No matter whether I wanted to include him in my writings or not, he slipped through, in forms seldom decipherable to me. I was going to the market one day when I saw a boy of about fifteen spreading a jute sheet on the pavement and unpacking a pile of books on it. I used the same route everyday and I had never seen him before. He was arranging the books when I approached him. He saw me, and without deviating his attention from what he was doing, said, “Do you want to buy some? It’s my first day at work.” There was something remarkable about the way he spoke; his voice glowed with self-esteem and a refined, anodyne ignorance. After going through all the available titles, I picked up a worn copy of Jane Eyre.
A rugged mesh of grief, summoned by the strands of loss. I find it impossible to unweave it. Should I just leave it? Or should I tear it apart? Probably the latter. The room had been closing in on me for more than eight years; strange that I was able to keep an account of time. Every day, when I woke up, I felt like there was lesser space than there had been the previous night. When Grace Poole got used to my convulsed frame, she judged the whole matter banal. Initially, she got terrified whenever she heard a grunt or a scream. Gradually, it seemed like time took its toll on her and her ears were always filled with my screams. The screech was at its highest whenever I was given a glass of water. I flung it away, for I feared water. I saw the face of Rochester in it. I dipped my hand into it and he was never there, and out of all his iniquitous qualities, this dangerous artifice terrified me the most. The day he pushed me into this ghastly chamber, I did not realize that his action was under the sway of a firmly designed decision. As knowledge dawned upon me, I reciprocated. Whenever he entered the room, I wanted to take my revenge, rip him apart and die.
I decided to leave him. I do not know if it would be too operatic to say that it was all because of Bertha Mason and that I found my situation resonating with hers, but, to some extent, it was so, I guess. No doubt that this resonance brushed aside the magnitude of suffering, the frosty blaze and the fierceness of motion. But, what it did make allowances for were the helplessness and the claustrophobic senses. I had been reading the book every night. As soon as he slept, I picked it up and let go of what’s around me. The night I completed it, the first thing which I thought about was where and how I am living. I switched off the lamp, slipped out of the bed and went to the balcony. I sat in one of the cane chairs and held my head. I did not scratch it. Wound closed, I wept.
No use of ignoring what is around me. Translucent shadows in death throes. I don’t want to recognize myself. As soon as I jumped from the blaze, I wondered if I did the right thing. But then, the thought of him saving me filled me with self-hatred. As I fell, I saw the shadows of another world skulking, ready to claim me. I did not experience even a tint of pleasure when I tore her veil apart. It just felt like a flat task which needed to be done, which I had to do. I do not think I have or ever had anything against Jane Eyre. Although sometimes I could not help but think that her attitude was a mere affectation to lure Rochester, I think she was of an appreciable disposition. I would never forget the howl which came from inside me when I saw the party standing in the room – Rochester, Jane, Richard, and two other fellows whom I didn’t know or failed to recognize. I flung myself at Rochester and tried to cut through him. I failed. The woe shell is still hard, rigid. I have not broken out of it. I do not think I ever will. I cannot rest in this nefarious land. Here, cries for hush reverberate all the time. Here, they say, the wicked are denied sleep.
I could not stop thinking about her, not even when I had reached my parents’ place. I wished to see her, meet her, talk with her. I still do. I wait. The wait forms hope and I have got used to the waiting – hope fills me. What I cannot stop imagining is that someday, maybe, all of it would dissolve. All the borders would go porous and nothing would hold a distinct meaning. The waves of time and space, of hope and expectation, of reality and shadow, would collide, wash over each other, and we would meet. We would come to know what it means to be consoled. That day, I would be sitting on a white rock, waiting for her. I do not know if I would remember or recall what or how everything was or if I would wonder what it has come down to. I would stop thinking; my mind and memory would drowse, and then I would hear the ascension of steps, those of meaning, commiseration, justice and companionship. The hourglass is set.