He had already stumbled across to another faceless woman by the time Rhea straightened up. But she wasn’t disappointed. In fact, she was very satisfied. She had been standing in the smoke filled corner, when he walked up to her, a slow smile on his lips. He smelled of grass and whiskey. Glazed, bloodshot eyes sized her up. She gave him an inviting nod. It had been a quick thing, so quick, that it had hurt. Precisely what she had wanted. She took a long drag, smoothed her dress, picked up her satchel and walked out.
Long ago, Rhea had heard a story. A teacher once drew a line on the black board and asked the students to shorten it, albeit, without erasing it. A boy drew a longer line below it, effectively making it shorter. She had taken the story literally. At home, her brother was like the first line. The apple of everyone’s eyes. The star performer at school. She paled in comparison. So she worked harder at pleasing her family. She completed all errands before time, she studied till she drooped over her books, she learnt salsa while her brother played quarter back and she joined university while he dropped out of high school. She had drawn the longer line.
College was in the nearby metro. For the first time Rhea realized how different she was from the people around her. She had strived for excellence all her life, because uptil now, excellence had guaranteed acceptance. Not anymore. She tried to fit in, but found she couldn’t. Whenever she was with the other students, she felt like that dot which was on the circumference and therefore, on the circle, but still not a part of the circle. At first she started living in denial. There was nothing wrong with her, so she needn’t change. She just needed to maintain her hard work and only partially shroud her conscience. It seemed to work. They all seemed to be in awe of her unique personality. She managed to get the highest paying job too. Again she was able to draw the longer line or so she thought.
The look of awe always gave Rhea a high. But, it actually threw her out of the circle and placed her on a different plane. She was an alien to her family. Men either adored her or loathed her. All that excelling had made her incapable of leading or even envisioning a normal life. Now it felt like standing on the pinnacle. If you want the pinnacle, you stand there alone, but if you value company; you need to step down. She could do neither. Her lonely nights seemed to be getting longer. Her throat ached with the lump in there. She was reminded of the longer line. That was when she started visiting Night Lights; defeating all those years of abstinence. If you want the aching lump to feel small, it should be shrunk. The drinks did that for her. She always gulped them down quick, so that they could burn her throat and shrink the lump. When the ache settled in her chest, she sought to punish those hopes of a normal life filled with love. And just like tonight; there was always some bloke available at Night Lights. The physical pain eased her heart. If fate dealt her a blow, she punished herself twice as hard. She had to draw the longer line, after all. Only she never felt she had succeeded in drawing it. As she walked along the deserted lane, Rhea resolved to beat fate at its little game. Dawn seemed to be descending on the eastern sky. Soon it would be another day, another rival, another bottle, another bloke, another black board and another line to shorten.