That year I had banged my head against imaginary walls. It hurt more than real walls would, for when you imagine things they get magnified. The walls were made of stone, grey and cold and weathered. They knew pain.
It was end of December, when there was a nip in the air and I'd walk through the familiar streets holding myself tight like a stranger afraid of taking a wrong turn. Upon reaching the main thoroughfares, my frozen smile would melt. The store windows were dressed with stars and balloons, there were Santa caps, clothes, shiny stringers, cribs, baby Jesuses, and often tableaux with the Magi.
These were scenes I had seen every year. That year it looked different. As though the walls had broken and I was in a manger, born again. It was the serenity on the face of the Virgin Mother, a part I had ached to enact in a tableau at school. Too shy to register my name, I watched someone else become 'me'.
That year again. Christmas was over. These window dressings would stay until the New Year. Two days were left. Melancholia was seeping in again. The walls were back, barricading me. I looked in the mirror and saw a yellow tassel over my head. It looked like a halo. Yes. Birth. Rebirth. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I twirled on the slippery bathroom tiles as though it were a powdered wooden floor and I was dressed in a tulle gown.
I could not wait for the new year. I brought out the fruits, whatever was there, and chopped them finely, the juice dripping on my palms like a psalm. I recalled the fruit punch at a friend's place. It had given us a pleasant high as we filled up glasses with it, spiked with rum.
There was no alcohol at home. I put the water to boil and just when the bubbles started to burst I put in a few tea leaves, waiting for it to turn just dark enough to look like rum. Till it cooled in the deep freezer, I squeezed lime into the fruit, a dash of pepper, a touch of mint. My punch was ready with the colour of fake rum.
I was happy but something was missing. Should I start the year with make-believe?
The answer was a golden wrapper, roughly scrunched. There was just one piece of chocolate hidden inside, a liqueur chocolate. I bit off the top and slowly emptied the liquid into the bowl of punch. Amaretto. Two drops of it made it all so real.
Two drops that saved me from imaginary walls.