The 8th house

by Namira Hossain

The 8th House in astrology is the House of Scorpio. It is the house of sex, death and taxes. This house describes the monsters in all our closets – the unspoken contracts, the irrational fears, the obsessions and the compulsions. It is by facing the monsters in our closet that we can learn how to banish them once and for all. To do this is to experience transformation – through death. And rebirth.

2014
eid5‘You’re a worthless liar, just like your father’, she screams.
Rohan stops at the doorway and turns around. He cocks his head and uses his most polite, sarcastic tone which really riles her up.
‘Don’t you get it Ma? This is your karma. You chose to get married to a drunk, you chose to have a child with him, you chose to stay in that thankless marriage. All your so-called sacrifices and long hours you spent away ‘working hard to support our family’ were mostly so that you could escape the miserable reality which you chose for yourself.’
‘How dare you?’
He puts his fingers to her lips and switches to his menacing tone. ‘Let me finish! Between genetics and your complete negligence of motherhood duties, I didn’t stand a chance. All those good doctors you entrusted to “cure” me at all the rehabs you shuttled me around to — didn’t they tell you that I am irrevocably damaged?’
‘You can’t keep on blaming me your whole life Rohan. This is your life.’ Despite her words, all he sees is the slump in her shoulder. His cruel words had fallen on her like a whip on a oft-beaten horse. Encouraged, he continues with his tirade smiling disdainfully, ‘you tried to eschew motherhood, and got saddled with a 27-year-old unemployed drug addict for a son who is a college drop-out and has zero qualifications to boot.’
‘Yes, the truth can be hurtful for everybody.’ She knows there’s no point continuing down this path of conversation now. Once Rohan got started on his famous character assassinations, he would keeping coming at you like a freight train.
‘I’m sorry for bringing such embarrassment upon yours and your husband’s “good name” and you can go on telling me how much of a disappointment I am till you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change a thing ’cause you are and have always been a terrible mother. But hey, at least you have a chance to make amends with Rimla, if you mess her up too, you should just kill yourself.’
Rimla is Rohan’s younger half-sister. Rimla is old enough to realize that her older brother badly needs help, but young enough to have remained unsullied by the urban decay of youth, unlike him. She is usually the voice of reason during these fights, but was missing in action now for her basketball practice.
The tears glistening in their mother’s eyes make him think of black jewels — hard and unforgiving. He had learnt from her visceral verbal attacks, after all.
‘Why could I not have died instead of your father? Why did God have to punish me with a son like you? I wish you’d never been born!’ It’s things like this that she says, that would drive even a saint over the edge.
Rohan’s voice turns icy cold as he tells her ‘I wish you had died instead of my father too. He may have been a drunk — but I’m sure he’d still show more understanding than you! Now if you excuse me, I have things to do.’
He slams the door behind him, walking out while taking his cell-phone out of his pocket. God, she’s dramatic. No wonder he has to be high all the time just to put up with her, he thinks to himself while scrolling down his call log to find his dealer’s number.

1995
Rohan or Ronnie was a perfect child till he was eight years old. He was a bright, curious child full of questions, worked diligently at school, was always respectful of elders and never stepped a foot out of line despite his parents never being around to keep an eye on him. Or, that’s what he was told.
He alternated between the days he would stay at his Nana-Nani’s house and at home with his Dadi — all three of whom doted upon him but mostly left him to his own devices.
Then after one fateful day, everything changed. Ronnie was sitting alone in the garden, on a rock, under his favorite tree — a huge banyan. He was feeling very worried about his Dadi. She had shared with him earlier that day, that she was able to hear voices that were inaudible to anyone else. And that these voices were telling her that they would be coming to kill her. Ronnie was contemplating to himself the best mode of protection for his grandmother.
‘You’re too young to be frowning like that Ronnie.’ He looks up to see the welcome sight of their gardener’s face. ‘Hi, Mali Bhai. I feel a bit sad today.’
‘Why don’t you tell me about it? And I will climb up the tree and fetch you a daab (green coconut) so you can drown your sorrows.’
‘Oh it’s nothing Mali Bhai. I’m just worried about the science project you helped me with — the worm farm. Amma’s coming to the science fair for the first time to see me tomorrow, so I really want to win the medal this time and make her feel proud of me.’
He lies glibly with a convincing smile. Despite his young years, Ronnie has already learnt how to guard his secrets.
‘Oh Ronnie! Of course you’ll win the medal. And your mother is already proud of you. Now why don’t you go sit in the shade while I get your coconut?’
Ronnie sits down and as always is amazed at the speed at which Mali Bhai shimmies up the trees, deftly sticking his axe in and using that for support. He cuts off a nice green coconut and flashes Ronnie a huge smile. Then in a split second, he swings his axe to hook onto the tree, misses, and crashes all the way down, hitting the circular mound of rocks below — his skull making the exact same sound upon impact with the rocks of a coconut being cracked open.
Ronnie runs over to the heap of flesh and bones that looked nothing like the smiling man whom he had grown to love. In his child’s mind, Ronnie could understand that Mali Bhai would never be waiting for him after school with the crunchiest guavas, nor would he ever tell him stories about the frogs’ secret meetings where they sat on toadstools that would magically crop up after it rains.
He suddenly doubles over feeling a blinding pain in his stomach — unlike any other pain he had ever felt before. He passes out on the grass where Mali Bhai’s blood had trickled down creating red, miniature streams on the ground and seeping onto his shorts and T shirt.
When Ronnie wakes up, he is in a strange white room, in an unfamiliar bed, wires coming out of his hands, a strong smell of disinfectant in the air and a wheezy, rasping noise coming from his right. He turns to see a body on the next bed with even more wires coming out of it. Ronnie instinctively knows that this amorphous, ageless form that was lying next to him is that of a man’s. He looks terribly old and yet strangely young like a stillborn baby. There is a huge hole in his throat which was making that deathly sound with his every breath. Clearly, in shock, Ronnie completely ignores the magnitude of the situation and congenially offers an introduction, ‘Hi, I’m Ronnie. Who are you?’
The man opens his mouth which causes a most unpleasant gurgling whistle to come out of his throat as the air passes through it and somehow whispers, ‘I’m just a man waiting for his last breath now. You don’t need to know me.’
‘Why not? You know that I’m Ronnie. Why won’t you tell me who you are?’
The Wheezy Man turns his head and looks Ronnie straight in the eye. This would not be the only time that Ronnie would get to look death straight in the eye.
‘You ask too many questions boy! My time now is measured in how many breaths I take, and I don’t want to waste another one on you!’ Ronnie jolts in the realisation that he had clearly heard that voice in his head. He also felt certain that for some reason, the Wheezy Man did not have a single person in his life who cared whether he lived or died.
Ronnie turns his head away and shuts his eyes.. He pretends to be asleep and finds a strange comfort in the machine-like raspy whistling and wheezing of the man as he lay in the next bed, counting his last breaths.
Ronnie counts them, too. 144. His breathing got slower and more laborious and the pauses between each breath grew longer and more pregnant with morbid anticipation. Finally, there were no more breaths and the spiky lines on the TV screen attached to him grew flat and the time pulses became one steady beep. He could hear voices entering the room, and somehow amidst all the chaos, he drifts off to sleep and had many strange dreams.

1995–2004
After that, things were never the same. The stomachaches grew more pronounced and frequent, baffling doctors all over the country. He started missing school and lost all his concentration and focus. He spent his days alone climbing up walls and trees up to great heights where he could sit on the edge, close his eyes, feel the wind against himself and imagine the fall. Then, when he was ready, he would jump. The adrenaline rush made him feel alive and it was addictive — daring him to scale and jump from greater heights. Along with his stomach pain, his daring led him to injure his back multiple times unbeknownst to any of the adults around.
That’s what led him to try smack for the first time with the older kids, one of the boys had said it makes all your pain disappear. Years later, when Ronnie moved back to Dhaka after dropping out of his college in Malaysia, one of the many shrinks he visited told him that stomachaches were very common in grieving children who had experienced some kind of trauma. That they taper out slowly over time, as the grieving child learns to cope with the loss.
For which reason it is imperative for the parents or caregivers to talk with the child and explain to them what they are going through. Given that the events of that day were never mentioned by his family in front of Ronnie only aggravated his cognitive dissonance — leading the pain to flare up without any warning. But that’s what the smack was for. He got news of his Dadi’s death and it flared up a little but immediately he chased some more heroin and a little yaba to give him the strength to keep him going throughout her burial. He even looked at her face before covering it with dirt.
He got taken away to a rehab for the first time a week after. He came out a month later, claiming to have learnt his lesson and making many promises. But when his Nana died two months after, he found out on the phone while he was lying down completely smacked out of his head in an unfamiliar bathroom where some kid he had just met ‘fainted’ him. He managed to make it to the burial, before the dreaded catching team came to whisk him away for a longer stint at another rehab. The second place was creepy. There was a guy there who was completely crazy. He’d talk in tongues and hiss like a reptile.
‘Screw my life’, Ronnie would say to himself , ‘I’m never doing drugs again.’
Within a month of his return, his Nani passed away while he was sitting with her in a tiny hospital room praying for it to be over quickly so he could smoke some his drugs. He had three tiny ziplocks. For three different highs. As the line went flat, he calmly walked to the toilet and took out his foil and the first zip and started smoking as all the nurses started to rush into the room. Downers now, uppers later. He splashed water over his face and calmly walked out of the hospital and went straight to his dealers, then went straight from there to the burial where he made a scene as he almost passed out.
Another six months at another rehab which was better known amongst the elite. This place was better. Until a well-known sociopathic older woman came in. She too hissed like a reptile. She sent succubi into their rooms at night that invaded their bodies and fed on their souls. Yet another death upon his return home in six months time. This time it was his father’s. It was Ronnie’s 17th birthday. He didn’t answer his phone. He didn’t even make it to the burial.

2014
Ten years on, thoughts of death on his mind as Ronnie was walking over to the street corner where he agreed to meet his dealer. He was wondering to himself what the point of it all was. Just to breathe? And whether he actually cares. About anything.
‘Ronnie?? Oh my god… I’ve been trying to get a hold of you forever! You blocked my number dude!’
Cursing under his breath, he turns around and forces a smile and says, ‘Hi Sam! How are you? You look great!’
She knits her brows in a frown, indicating her displeasure. ‘Well you look like shit. You’re about to score aren’t you?’ She checks her watch. ‘Listen, I’m kind of in a hurry. I’m teaching in the American School and my break is over in ten minutes. Do you want to grab a juice?’
As always she leaves him with no choice as she doesn’t even wait for an answer before grabbing his hand to walk along with her. Ronnie and Sam were old friends. They had saved each other’s asses, gone on many wild drug fuelled adventures and even been in the same rehab together. Known for her caprice, it didn’t surprise Ronnie even though it surprised everyone else, she suddenly stopped using overnight. She poured the same enthusiasm she had for drugs into yoga and began advocating different causes to help ‘heal the world’ like she always talked about. She kept trying to ‘heal’ Ronnie too, until he finally had no choice but to completely cut her off, blocking all calls and avoiding her completely.
As she hands over the money for their juices, she tells him, ‘I know you’re thinking I’m so naive still persistently trying to help you. You had helped me survive some of my toughest times — I can’t bear to watch you fade away into nothing, you understand that? Will you please do a meditation with me sometime? You’ll feel so much better.’ She hands him his juice.
‘I’ll think about it.’
She takes a sip and brushes the hair out of her eyes and looks straight at him. ‘Our lives are measured by the number of breaths we take. Focused breathing has been scientifically proven to alter your mood and thought-processes.’
‘Sam, I know you care about this stuff and about healing and helping me. But it’s useless, ok? Can I just go buy my drugs now?’
She sighed, ‘If only you could see what I see in you — what you could be. So much more than a hapless junkie going around in circles. I’ve been meaning to tell you something very important, but you had blocked me. I’d been thinking of your fall and why it happened.’
She knew he hated talking about it. He had been drunk and on a stupid dare tried to walk on the ledge of this balcony where they were partying. It was three floors up. He barely escaped with his life and everyone thought he’d finally start caring about his life, but instead it seemed to push him into darker realms. But he knows she’s not going to let him go till she finishes. ‘Go on.’
‘You couldn’t find balance. In yoga, you know how we do balancing exercises, right? Fix your gaze on a distant point and keep your mind clear and breathing focused. It’s only when your eyes waver that you lose balance. Find that distant point to focus on.’
‘Sure Sam. Can I go now?’
Surprisingly, she hugged him. ‘Bye Ronnie.’
Ronnie starts to ponder on what Sam said and wonders to himself whether he was waiting on his last breath. And why did that thought seem so familiar? Oh well. Who cares? The guy’s here. He hands over the cash and takes his drugs. As Ronnie walks back to his house, he’s already forgotten about Sam, or his mother, or breathing, or anything really. He just wants to go to his room, sit down, take a hit and light a cigarette. Then he’ll think.
His mom opens the door. ‘Where were you? I’m going out. Rimla’s dad is waiting for me downstairs. Something important came up, and there’s no one else around so I have to lock you guys in. Since you can’t be trusted with the keys.’ She just had to add that last bit. ‘Sure whatever. Bye.’
Rimla asks, ‘Can we play FIFA?’ ‘Not now, later.’ Ronnie ruffles her hair and saunters into his bedroom and before he can shut the door, she calls out, ‘Bhaia, don’t lock the door. Please.’ Ronnie registers the imploring tone in her voice and thinks to himself for a second whether he should play with her now and chase later. Na, let him chase first. He gives her a reassuring smile and gives her a thumbs up and closes the door. She glances at the clock on the wall and sighs. She knows those horrible men in dressed in black are coming again to take away her brother.
Ronnie enters his room and his dumps the contents of his pockets and onto his desk. He lovingly readies his foil. He meticulously pulls out a foot’s width, folds it over in half, then makes that into six folds — like a paper fan. He takes out his little blue scissors and cuts out a long strip. Then he straightens it with a note before burning it. Perfect. He places the contents of a little ziplock — golden brown powder. Glistening with promise. He chases a few lines and exhales and lights a cigarette. The world seems to make much more sense now, it seems more secure and not the hostile place it appeared to be moments ago. He places his cigarette on the ashtray and notices that it’s precariously close to the curtains, and moves the ashtray a few inches. He picks up his guitar and plays a few strings. He feels great, it would be a good time to record that melody that’s been going in a loop in his head. He plugs his guitar into his Macbook, as well as his headphones. He opens up a new file on Logic Pro. Then he takes a few more hits, holding his breath each time and releasing the smoke after taking a drag of his cigarette.
All you need in life are your guitar and your drugs, he thinks to himself. He takes a last drag of the cigarette before it burns his mouth and flicks it away. He puts his headphones on and starts jamming. He’s really feeling it. Like he’s channeling from other realms. His eyes are closed and he’s heating up — all his senses just focused on the music. He’s pulled out of his reverie as he feels someone grab his shoulder, and his eyes fly open in annoyance to see Rimla frantically yelling something. Why is it so hot? Is that smoke? She turns his head around and he sees his curtains are on fire, and the wires running down the length of the wall going into the next room are on the fire as well. ‘Bhaia, how are we going to get out?’
The fire is spreading fast to the rest of the apartment in a domino effect. The door is too heavy to break down. The only way out would be the balcony. ‘Come.’ There’s a thin ledge connecting his balcony to the balcony of the apartment next to it. The only problem is that it’s on the fifth floor. Two floors higher than where he fell from. He looks at Rimla, he sees tears of disbelief in her eyes — the shock that her older brother, dysfunctional though he is, could be so reckless as to put her life in danger like that. She was probably the only person left in the world that trusted him. And that was crumbling away before his eyes as well. All this time Ronnie thought he had been waiting for his last breath, so cavalier about casually flirting with death, but not tonight. Sam’s voice comes to him clearly as he lifts Rimla onto his shoulder. ‘Fix your gaze on a distant point and keep your mind clear and breathing focused. It’s only when your eyes waver that you lose balance. Find that distant point to focus on.’
He kisses Rimla’s forehead, fixes his gaze on an iron rod that’s jutting out of the wall on the other side, takes a deep breath and steps onto the ledge. 

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