A Friend in Need

Graphic by Surya dev Yadav

Tears stained her pillow as her hollow screams were silenced. She turned and looked around her room looking for something that would occupy her mind and stop her from crying. She lay down on her now moist pillow and clutched her bed sheet tight and gritted her teeth, willing herself to stop crying. Slowly, her body relaxed and she took a couple of deep breaths as she realised she’d stopped crying. A few gasps escaped her lips as she steadied her breathing and sat up at the edge of her bed. “Tasha!” called out her mother’s cheerful voice from downstairs, “Dinner’s ready.” She sighed, wondering how her mother was never aware of what she was feeling, “Coming!” cried out her hoarse voice in reply.

She staggered to her feet and walked towards the bathroom switching on the light; her eyes squinted from the glare as she stood looking at herself in the mirror. Dried tears stained her pale face and her lips quivered, tears threatening to flow again. Pinching the bridge of her nose she steadied her breath, but a few tears escaped her before she gained control of herself. Slowly, she turned the tap on and let the cold water flow through her fingers for a moment before she cupped both her hands filling them with the cold water and splashing her face. The cold water seemed to soothe her soul and she continued to splash her face a couple more times. She straightened herself and stared at her face and noticed she looked paler now, sighing she grabbed the hand towel hanging from the hook and wiped her face dry and replaced the hand towel back on the hook and stood leaning on the counter and staring at her own face. With her eyes closed she pinched her cheeks a couple of times to bring in some colour to her face. She opened her eyes and saw her face get a little less pale, then she proceeded to plaster a smile on her face that did not reach her eyes.

Tasha headed downstairs for dinner even though she wasn’t hungry; she hadn’t felt hungry in a while if she was being honest. Begrudgingly, she walked slowly down the stairs, surprised at how bright the rest of the house seemed. Upon entering the kitchen she saw the table laid with some of her favourite food because unbeknownst to her, her mother had noticed her drop in appetite lately. She saw her parents seated at the table with wide grins on both their faces with expectant gazes fixed at her, her plastered smile seemed to falter for a moment but she took a deep breath and plastered it right back on her face. “Food looks good, ma.” she said, hoping she sounded cheerful enough. Her mother beamed and beckoned to her to join them. Guilt surged through her as she realised she won’t be able to eat even though her mom worked hard to cook the food that lay in front of her. She took tiny portions of the pasta and the ravioli and ate reluctantly. When she looked up she didn’t notice the fleeting looks of disappointment on her parents’ faces caused by her tiny portions. Her mother asked her if she wanted something else to eat, perhaps fries or some cheese nuggets and she simply shook her head indicating she didn’t want anything else. Crestfallen, her mother nudged her husband to lift the cloche that was covering a plate in the middle of the table. Tasha looked up from her plate suddenly aware that her father had moved, her eyes fell on the scrumptious looking plate containing mini caramel tarts. Unenthusiastically, she reached out to take a tart, they had always been her favourite dessert and she knew for a fact that if she didn’t eat at least one she would have to answer questions that she didn’t feel up to answering. She slowly nibbled on it, barely even registering how delicious it tasted. Her parents sighed with relief and continued with their dinner. They finished their dinner almost at the same time that she was done with her tart. She stood up immediately to clear the table out of habit. As she was placing the plates in the basin, her mother called out to her asking her to not wash them and asked her to join them back at the table. Surprised, she looked at her mother questioningly and she responded saying that they could be washed a little later and that she and her father had a surprise for her. At these words she moved towards the table while her father got up and left the room only to be back within two minutes with a tiny carrier in hand. For the first time in months a genuine smile appeared on her face as she looked at the tiny black and grey kitten in the carrier. Her father placed the carrier on the table and she eagerly opened it.

The kitten cautiously walked out onto the table looking at the three of them. She stood in the middle and took her time staring at the three of them; not wanting to startle her, the family didn’t make a move till they were sure that she was comfortable. She let out a quick meow and dashed towards Tasha. As she got close enough she rubbed her tiny little head against her palm and purred quite loudly for such a tiny kitten. Grinning, Tasha picked her up and booped her nose against the kitten’s pink cold nose. She noticed that the kitten was black and grey but her toe beans and the nose were very pink. Looking at her parents she thanked them and told them that this was the best surprise they could’ve given her. She looked back at the kitten and wondered out loud, now what should I call you? And almost immediately the kitten placed her paw on Tasha’s nose and she smiled and said aloud, “Fine then, we’ll call you Pawsy.” The kitten purred as soon as Tasha said Pawsy and she giggled at the kitten’s response.

Cradling and petting Pawsy, Tasha headed up to her bedroom while she purred happily in her arms. Upon entering her bedroom she headed straight for her bed and lay down, the pillow now mostly dry. She placed Pawsy on her chest and played with her for about an hour without any other thought entering her mind. As this realisation dawned on her a flood of thoughts crowded her mind and her body tensed. She looked towards her table knowing that she needed to study for her upcoming finals, she had wasted enough time that evening crying and panicking. And she wouldn’t be able to study the next day owing to the regional tennis finals she knew she had to win. She looked over at the canvas resting on the easel that remained half painted for a week and her heart quickened as she remembered the final day of submission for the national competition was in a week. She could barely breathe when she realised that Pawsy was licking her face, her warm breath seemed to calm her down when she realised that Pawsy was quietly licking the silent tears streaming down her face. She hadn’t realised that she was crying. Surprise filled her when the kitten let out a meow that sounded suspiciously like ‘don’t worry’. She nuzzled her face into Pawsy’s warm body and then looked up at the painting. Worry and panic seemed to be leaving her body as she realised how much she missed painting just for fun. She got up, startling Pawsy momentarily. She placed the kitten on her shoulder and headed to the easel; tonight she didn’t care about being first in school or winning her tennis tournament or the art competition, tonight she simply wanted to paint. And so she did, she poured her heart out onto that canvas; she created something that was as dark as her mind in the last week yet so beautiful. Taking a step back she stared at the painting only slightly aware that Pawsy was on her shoulder staring at the painting as well. Pawsy meowed and she thought she’d said ‘beautiful’. Startled she picked her up and stared at her and feeling foolish asked her can you talk? And the kitten meowed yes. Curious about what she was hearing she said off handedly, “You understand me, don’t you?” Yes, meowed Pawsy happily. Genuinely intrigued at this point, she sighed and commented on her losing her mind and Pawsy looked straight into her eyes and meowed no.

A strained smile teased her lips as she was flooded with everything she had been feeling and thinking over the week. Terror of failing her parents’ expectations had flooded her mind but now she was sure that she was completely losing her mind. She knew something was wrong when she couldn’t keep her emotions in check for the last few months. She had never really felt a lot of pressure from her parents but she knew she was expected to be the best and she had delivered. She was top of her class and won every competition she entered and now she felt as though there was no way out, like she had to keep delivering and being her best self because she had set herself up for it. Now, after years of being the best she couldn’t slack off and that if she did everyone around her would be disappointed. This terror drove her to ne irritable and anxious almost all the time and she often wondered if she was losing her mind. But now, now that she was sure that her new kitten was talking to her, it was a sure sign that she was losing her mind. She looked at Pawsy with tears in her eyes letting the weight of her emotions back on her shoulders. Loneliness engulfed her and she let it as she sat down with her back against the wall and set the kitten down. She sat on the floor with her knees up to her chest and her face buried in her hands. At this point, neither a tear nor a scream escaped her. Her body felt heavy and she knew that even if she wanted to she couldn’t have moved and somehow this thought seemed to be pushing her further down towards the floor even though she couldn’t move. She felt something soft touching her foot and she wanted to see what it was and she gathered up all her strength to look up and saw the Pawsy’s paws on her foot and her eyes staring right into hers. Pawsy meowed and said, “Not alone.” Somehow these words seemed to lift some of the weight off her shoulder and she stared at the kitten and wondered how she could talk but that didn’t matter now, she wasn’t alone.

A few days passed by where she went through phases of feeling the emotional weight lift and being replaced again and again before she realised that she wasn’t the only one who understood Pawsy. She heard her mother commenting on how unique Pawsy was because she could talk and understand everything her mother was saying. As the realisation that her kitten could actually talk dawned on her she felt less and less alone. Her emotions overpowered her too often for her to be able to fight them every time. Sometimes, she gave in and cried and screamed into her pillow for hours but when she could muster her strength to face her emotions it was always with Pawsy next to her. One day after she had screamed into her pillow Pawsy trotted up to her and meowed ‘Tell family’. Tears welled up in her eyes as she said that they wouldn’t understand and would be disappointed, perhaps even angry with her. But Pawsy simply placed her paw on her nose and meowed that she should tell them.

Next morning, she gathered up all her courage and went down to talk to her mother. She changed her mind about a hundred times before she finally called her mother to the sofa to sit next to her. She grabbed a cushion and started fidgeting with it before her mom came and sat down, a worried look on her face. She stroked her hair and asked her what was wrong and if she could help with something. These words made Tasha’s lips quiver but steeling her resolve, she slowly started to tell her mother how she was feeling, how she had been feeling for a while now. Her mother did not interrupt her as the words started escaping her lips faster as if she wouldn’t be able to breathe till she had told her mother what was on her mind. Still fidgeting with the pillow, not daring to look up at her mother’s face Tasha finally stopped talking. Her mother asked her to look at her as she heard her voice catch like she was crying. Her eyes snapped up at her mother’s and she saw tears streaming down her eyes and she simply didn’t know what to think. Her mother reassured her that she was neither disappointed nor angry, she said that she was glad that she finally felt comfortable enough to talk to her. She told her that she simply wanted Tasha to be happy, she wanted her to do her best but that didn’t mean that she needed to overwork herself to be the best. Tasha smiled, all the weight on her shoulders seemed to disappear and Pawsy jumped on to the pillow that Tasha had been fidgeting with and started to lick herself. Both mother and daughter started laughing and enjoyed this moment of peace together. And then Tasha said something she hadn’t said in months, “I’m hungry.”

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