Chapter One

Dr. Shahdin Farid

He didn't speak much. He was the doctor, I was the patient. In fact he was not a doctor like the ones who cut open hearts or sew up bladders – he was a psychiatrist. He looked inside people's heads and told them what to think. He prescribed medicines that made people act funny or sit still like stones but he told me I was too healthy to need any of that. I was a 'therapy case'. Since I was uncomfortable around theTall People, he would simply teach me how to communicate with them. ‘Tall People’is what I as a child, called the adults ofSamicada,this country that I live in. It is named after its most treasured natural possession -the mottled gold and whiteSami –a kind of precious stone that springs up from deep within the black loamy soil that covers most of the Southern Peninsular regions near theSea of Gerai.It is a rather vast country, in fact, it is the biggest landmass known to man and I'll get into a detailed rambling upon the subject later, if you so fancy it dearXenakalibut for now this should suffice.

A yellow school envelope had been dropped off at home one eventful afternoon, and it changed my existence forever. I could no longer go out unaccompanied, neither to watch the stars, nor to feel the silver breeze on my face. I was to attend 'holistic therapy' sessions at Dr.Shahdin Farid's clinic and he would help me get better.

I saw Dr.Faridfor the first time when I was sent to his office for my evaluation after the incident atMacharan Missionary. I must have been in the IInd standard I think. I am still stuck here inMacharanand will soon be entering the XIIth standard. All these years I've been visiting him thrice a week for my therapy, rather I was...up until a few months ago.

He was a bald bespectacled man with a fleshy, oblong nose. It was as if a dollop of cartilage, skin and tissue had been pasted to his face and the other end had been left dangling mid-air, as a joke. His comical nose, however, did not take away from his surliness which coupled with his glasses, gave him that grim air of a person who couldn't not be taken seriously. If you ran into him on the street you'd be obliged to bend down a little or clear the path for him, such was his aura.

From all who gathered about him, he commanded an unobtrusive bow, a nod or a subtle salute of admiration for his sincere depiction of a medical man – head pointing up, fingers smelling of the gentle concoctions he had procured at the local dispensary, his white coat immaculate and his hair non-existent.

Though old people inMacharanare rarely visible to the rest of us, Dr.Faridenjoyed the privilege of not being utterly unnoticeable. He was not easy to dust off to those crannies occupied by the other relics and antiques of the city such as our venerable elderly pedants - thePlumecaps.

Thus Dr. F. remained for us, the townspeople ofMacharan, somewhat of a mystery. Be it Councils of bungalow-dwellingPlumecaps(originally known as the Pundbacks) or groups of street-squattingPlatbacks(originally known as the Thronebacks),the entire city could be heard gossiping about the mystical powers of his oblong nose and the wrath of its dangling end, which was widely believed to not have been created simply for comedic relief.

I couldn't tell whether the joke was on him or them. One could only pray that one wouldn't have to meet his gaze directly. An unwilling bending of the spine was rather uncomfortable, especially if the object of your greeting was a funny-nosed gent who referred to you as 'the deluded girl'. In fact during those days the entire town thought I was a tad abnormal.

I definitely was not deluded. I only let him think I was, since I had been too overwhelmed to say anything at the beginning. At our last session I told him, "Dr. F. you know I think I am one of those people who can go insane from imaginary trauma." He nodded in agreement.

I like it when he agrees with me, it makes me feel understood. I normally never disagree with people who read a lot. They appeal to my rational side and manage to make partial sense almost always, unlike those without the reading habit– their bare minds attached to mouths that only throw up jumbled nonsense, like the kind of nincompoopish juice that would come out if you threw your finished sentences into a big blender with chopping blades. But why would you do that!

Not Dr. F., no he makes sense nine times out of ten. He is an unpredictable sort of a fellow.

Once my evaluations were over, and I walked into his office for the first session I had a hunch I'd be merrily surprised. I hadn't known what to expect. TheTall Peoplehad refused to tell me why I needed to get better, nobody but Dr. F. had the courage to slowly let me in on the truth. I have realized that I was there to receive a message, a string of messages actually, that I have now managed to decipher in my own half-baked kind of way. I am all nerves about the journey toBandi-Basti, to finally hear the heartbeat of theSea of Gerai, to get all the answers I've been looking for most of my life! I am seventeen now and Dr. F. has been missing for the last 2 months and 11 days to be precise. It was just as he had predicted, rather hinted at.

Time is elastic. Our first session seems, simultaneously, to have happened just yesterday and several decades ago. The year was 1903 A.D. I'd just spent a few miserable months at this new horrid school - Macharan Missionary. I was almost about to be expelled due to what had happened butPapadid his magic at the disciplinary parent-teacher meet and I could hear a lot of ‘responsibility’s and 'just a little girl's being thrown about. I took his lead and joined in with some 'sorry's and a few 'I'll never do it again's until the Principal and the grotesque mouse of a man, the then Dean of Discipline, finally looked at me and stood up. That must mean the meeting was over. The results of the evaluation test Dr. F had conducted were on the table and must have had something to do with what followed. I hope he didn't have to lie to protect me. No, how could I be so self-important to think that he was even aware of my existence before all this. I was let off with a warning on the condition that I get professional help and continue with the therapy till the problem was resolved.

Papaseemed pleased as he'd been trying to get me to do just that since the last couple of years and now he had the official letter signed by the Principal.Mummawouldn't offer to pull me out of this one if I was to keep attendingFrankenstein Missionary. Dr. F. knew that it was a tough school to get into and after he told me he felt I should stay, I decided to put up with it.

So old it seems in the mind's eye and yet feels fresh on my skin. I can sense it from here, that cold winter afternoon. I saw his moon pate shining up at me as soon as I filled out the forms and went past the reception. He was spread out in one of those cane-bamboo chairs that are quite comfortably commodious. From a distance it seemed like a fun chair, maybe if he cut off the legs he could jump-hop through the office all day. But Dr. F. didn't really strike me as the type who'd take to the fun side of things without being nudged with a spade.

Next my gaze moved to the floor of the room or the lack thereof, it was a mud-cake spread out in its entirety from wall to wall, this was all the floor there was. A couple of cushioned rugs were arranged in an L-shape in the corner opposite his chair and this is the corner he motioned me to sit in. I plonked down on the soft velvet feeling completely at ease, maybe his psychotherapy thing was already working. It was getting chilly, the half-drawn straw-blinds were shutting out the sun. I could see the cream-coloured walls flush a mellow orange as the sun yawned its last and called it a day.

Several minutes went by. My eyes were glued to a patch of sky visible from a gap in the blinds. He coughed loudly and my eyes shifted back to his glasses and wobbly nose, which to this day remains the most fascinating human feature I've ever encountered. It could also be indicative of my incapacitated state of existence- my lack of getting about. If I could, I would run away fromMacharan, it always goes drearily cold in the winters and blistering hot in the summers. I wouldn't be here if I could help it. I could already see Dr. F. wasn't much like the otherTall People, he was attentive yet aloof, taking his time, going about his own sweet business, sinking lower and lower behind his desk.

I watched as he pulled out a pen from the pocket of his maroon cardigan and rested it on his knee upon a leather-bound brown diary, thick and stiff with yellowing paper. It was no ordinary pen, it was one of those uppity fountain pens which were rare to come by, the ones with those swan-shaped nibs and slim golden caps. I recognized it from the TV commercials. The ink-flow was rumoured to be unpredictable but they say when held between the fingers thisIsles of Wog Pen felt like a silken roll.

Dr. F. looked at me, he didn't speak at all as his right hand went up in the air and between his knobby fingers I spied a small envelope. I recognised it immediately, the school's blue insignia of two handheld torches merging into a single flame was printed in the corner. Dr. F. must have read the letter. I looked down at my hands, the red nodes were still faintly visible on my pale skin. All I wanted to do was scream.

On second thought, no that might disturb his reverie. I decided to count the stars hidden in the shiny, maroon buttons of his cardigan. He finally spoke, eyes still buried in his notebook,

"Minoshka, do you know why you are here?"

I remained tongue-tied, reminiscent of my early childhood years when I'd find it impossible to speak to people who asked me questions about my life as if they deserved an answer. But I could sense this was different. Dr.Farid's noisy scribbling put me at ease and the fact that he let me be silent gave him the top spot in my heart at the time. Seven year old girls are impressionable as you may know, but seven year old girls who are completely cut off from reality, and barred from going about alone in the city are all the more so.

I truly admire Dr. F. My secret hope that he and I would become the best of friends finally attained fruition a few months ago. I am seventeen years old, the year is 1911 A.D. and I am trying to figure out a way to tell him that I really like him. But first I need to find him. And I might soon be able to find out exactly where he is, thanks toMatai– my paternal grandmother and, someone who was till quite recently my most favorite person in the world -Angel. Maybe everything is elastic not just time.