Freelance: The invisible third

My hostel is a mini-prison where three girls stay in each cramped room. The prison-cells are spread over two storeys. For someone in the second storey, escaping would involve navigating two whole flights of stairs. In the sweltering heat of the ancient town of Tiruchirapalli, this can be quite a task. So most times, there aren’t too many people going up or down and the second floor is a semi-haunted, secluded place. And in a secluded corner of the secluded floor of this god-forsaken place is my room. Room 318.

This degree of seclusion has meant that we spend a significant proportion of our time in the cramped place with two tables, three chairs and three beds with three girls sitting atop them. Why the asymmetry in the number of tables is a matter for another time. Point in focus is, there are two faces each of us stares at for a disproportionately large segment of our life. Of course which two each one sees, varies.  Since the two faces belong to our much-loved cellmates. Oops. Roommates.

In my room, however, two of us stare at one face notably more often than we see the other. From atop our beds in two ends of the room, we have intellectual debates on topics varying from whether watermelon is a fruit to why vampires must exist. The unseen face, belonging to our other roommate, moves from side to side, a vacant expression fixed upon it. This silent moderator usually goes unnoticed by us. Not that we mind her joining our cerebral talks; she just doesn’t. Perhaps she would prefer banters on who died in the latest soap opera or who went out with whom. But since the other two (being the majority in this diminutive population) are as concerned about these as for bacteria in Neptune’s atmosphere (do they exist?), the unseen’s choice goes unheard. A tyrannical majority we make. But it isn’t as bad as you would think. The undetected face often goes AWOL. She prefers faces in the idiot box to their real-life counterparts. What effect her neglecting roommates have had on this preference, I know not. That is another topic we choose not to debate on.

But I have often wondered, in my rare solitary reminisces: how would it be if there was no third face? What if the unseen didn’t exist? Would our debates be as fulfilling without the silent moderator? Would the room feel more secluded if the population dropped by one (33.33 percent!)? Would life be more lonely if there was one less face to see (however less often), one less voice to hear (however silent)? I think it would. For sometimes, silence speaks louder than all words. And the invisible can make their presence felt.

– Ashwini Petchiappan

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