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Lose Yourself

Sept. 1, 2015
Sita opened her eyes. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m here.” Sunlight filtered through the curtains. She eventually got off the carpet. We went to work.

Sept. 2, 2015
Sita still likes to read, even at the supermarket.
“Didn’t you already finish Parable of the Sower?” I asked.
She shrugged.
There isn’t much to do. The supermarket is like a convenience store. It’s inside a strip mall. Like all the other businesses in East Brunswick.
Sita continues to live a few blocks away with her boyfriend. We don’t talk about him when we’re outside the apartment.
Customers appear, mostly teenagers buying packs of potato chips and oversized bottles of soda. Stuff that can give you diabetes.
Sita punches in the purchase, and hands them their change. During our break, she chews on a turkey sandwich.

Sept. 3, 2015
He made coffee, and asked if we’d like some. I told him “No,” and he raised an eyebrow. Sita quickly answered, “I can take it in the thermos.” He beamed. Sita held a smile.

Sept. 10, 2015
Mr. Singh told Sita she needed to work an extra shift. He hung up before Sita could reply.
Sita stopped eating her sandwich, and took a deep breath.
When there were customers, I’d help manage the register, and even speak to them, making jokes about the weather, like how the rain was warm like piss. Often, they wouldn’t know how to react. Some would pause and chuckle.
Later that evening, as we returned to the apartment, Sita walked to the closet to get her sleeping bag. The lights were switched off, and she had trouble finding it, even as we dug deeper.
Suddenly, there were footsteps. Sita turned around and froze.
He asked why she was late.
She began to explain, and he interrupted.
Before I could say anything, he edged forward, and muttered how Sita was looking down on him, and putting her job before them. His voice grew louder and louder, until, he stopped, like a switch was flipped off. There was a lull. We held our breath.
I did my best to calm her down, as we lay on the living room floor, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Sept. 15, 2015

Oct. 15, 2015
It was cloudy, and Sita was drinking her third cup of coffee. Customers bought lotto tickets.
Hours plodded on.
A young girl was in the store too. She wore thick-rimmed glasses, and avoided eye contact, but commented that Octavia Butler was her favorite.
At first, Sita didn’t react.
The girl, however, was purchasing a copy of every major newspaper we had. Sita looked up. The girl lowered her gaze.
Soon, more people hovered about, pointing to the tickets. The girl left, getting back into her car and driving away.

Oct. 19, 2015
The girl bought more newspapers. As Sita popped open the register, the girl asked Sita if she had a favorite part in the book.
The girl was smiling but not looking up.
Sita told her the  part she liked, and the girl exclaimed it was her favorite too.
She realized how loud she’d gotten, and became quiet.
Sita didn’t know what else to say. The girl thanked Sita, and rushed out.
“Looks like she’s a student,” Sita said, which wasn’t far-fetched since Rutgers was a few miles away.
“She’s weird,” was my assessment. “As if she can’t speak her mind the way she needs to.”
“She’s young,” Sita said, and went back to reading.

Oct. 20, 2015
The girl’s name is Afeni. And as Sita guessed, she is a freshman. Her major is in engineering.
She’s originally from Virginia.
Afeni knows plenty about Butler and sci-fi and comic books in general. She even has Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.
Sita asked how Afeni got interested, and Afeni explained that although her parents are computer programmers, they’d always take her to the library as a little girl. Her mom, who now stays and takes care of Afeni’s younger brother, would read bedtime stories every night. Afeni became transfixed by the plots and characters, and oftentimes opted to stay indoors and devour page after page.
Afeni sometimes speaks at a fast pace. She catches herself doing this, and apologizes. Eventually, Afeni also had a series of questions, and Sita answered what she could. For instance, Sita explained that she grew up in East Brunswick, but her parents were from Bangladesh.
At one point, Afeni asked if Sita went to Rutgers too. Sita was hesitant. Afeni saw this, and apologized.
Sita cut her off, however, saying that she had also been to college. In Connecticut. Sita was just a few years older.
I could tell Afeni wanted to know more. Fortunately, Sita said she needed to focus on work.
“She’s a weirdo,” I whispered once Afeni was gone. “Probably doesn’t have any friends.”
Sita didn’t respond.

Oct. 22-23, 2015
Afeni’s favorite Marvel character is Peter Parker. She explained that Parker was nerdy but cool, in his own way. Sita agreed, although adding that Miles Morales was more accessible as a person. Even though there were many who were angry at the change. Afeni joked it was only racists who were upset, and that she probably knew some in her class who were like that.
Sita asked Afeni how she was getting along with other students.
Afeni admitted it was strange to be in settings that were mostly white and Asian, and that even though she was getting the best grades, she continued to feel distant.
Sita encouraged her to be engaged with the curriculum.
Afeni appreciated the advice, and after a short pause, said she didn’t mean to assume Sita had never left East Brunswick.
Sita was cautious. But, she didn’t want Afeni to feel like she did anything too horrible. Sita told Afeni that she attended classes at UConn sometime ago.
I left in my freshman year, Sita said.
I stared. Why was she saying all this? I wondered.
Afeni also looked at Sita’s face.
The next day, they continued their conversation, with Sita standing by the register and Afeni sitting on a stool.
All I know is that my parents think engineering is the best option, she said.
And is that you want too? Sita questioned.
I like work that’s useful, she answered.
“That’s dumb…” I muttered.
Sita made clear that Afeni should keep reading.
Afeni said she didn’t know of any comic book stores in the area, and made do with the campus library’s selection.
Afeni was grateful for the perspective, and said, You’re so wise.
Sita chuckled.

Oct. 31, 2015
Red and orange leaves were scattered along the road. We discussed which movies to watch for our annual movie marathon.
Customers bought bags of candy. Afeni wore a tweed jacket and had a glowing pen.
I couldn’t find a TARDIS in time, Afeni joked. I’ll be going to a party tonight to show off what I have, she added.
Sita smiled. They went to the Chinese restaurant next door for some General Tso’s.
While in the apartment, Sita kept smiling as she undressed. Even when brushing our teeth, she couldn’t stop.
However, the voice boomed.
The bedroom was shrouded in shadows.
Immediately, her throat was dry.
She closed her eyes. But could feel him next to her, his body pushing hers against the wall.
Do you even care about me? he said, If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.
She dropped her brush, and went to the living room, where she slid into her sleeping bag, and zipped up.
“Let’s pick a movie,” I said.
Her fists were clenched. Her breathing was shallow.
I offered some choices on what we could watch.

Nov. 1, 2015
Every time, he’d apologize. Every time, he’d place a hand on her back, and rub counterclockwise.
“No one knows me like you do,” he’d say, which was true to an extent. After all, Sita and he were friends since elementary school and after what happened to Sita at UConn and when she returned, he was there, ready to welcome her.
I was always mixed-up about him. Sometimes, he was entertaining. In other moments, he was lost in his own swamp of thoughts, angry at his parents, his friends, at everyone he said he couldn’t trust anymore.
“I need you, babe,” he whispered, his hand feeling warm and moist. “I need you…”
In the afternoon, we were in the supermarket.

Nov. 2, 2015
Went to supermarket. Later came back to the apartment.

Nov. 3, 2015
Went to the supermarket. No Afeni.

Nov. 4, 2015
No Afeni.

Nov. 5, 2015
It was our day off.
“Want to stay in and watch a movie?”
Sita rolled up the sleeping bag, and proceeded to wash dishes and clean the apartment.
She took a break at noon. Dust bunnies were everywhere, to be honest, but I didn’t utter a word, as Sita sat on the couch and clasped her hands on her lap. She yawned.
I repeated we should watch something.
“Why?” Sita murmured.
“Why what?”
“Why did I stay?”
“Let’s not. You had a bad experience, and no one believed you, and this was just expected.”
“But…it was the same thing…”
“Not exactly.”
“It was.”
“We should definitely watch Star Wars. That should be fun!”
Sita was quiet.
Star Wars! Star Wars! Star Wars!” I chanted and put it on, with the volume turned low.
I was relieved we could relax. For the first time in a while, though, I couldn’t tell what was on Sita’s mind. I asked her half-way through the movie if she was hungry, and she suggested I get some rest.
“Besides,” Sita said, “you’ve done plenty.”

Nov. 6, 2015
No Afeni.

Nov. 23, 2015
Sita and I handled the customers, and a new shipment of eggs. Sita even arranged the bags of potato chips, so that the list of ingredients would be facing the aisle.
During lunch, as we made plans about which movie was next on our list, Sita noticed someone sitting on the curb.
It was Afeni.
Without hesitation, Sita rushed outside, and asked Afeni how long she’d been there.
Afeni murmured. I repeated the question and instead of speaking with clarity, she looked up, her face wet.
Sita led Afeni into the store, and locked the door. She gave Afeni bottled water and wanted to know exactly what happened.
Afeni’s hands trembled.
At the Halloween party, she said, a friend grabbed her. He was someone she’d been studying with all semester. He wanted her to dance, and placed his hands on her hips, despite her telling him not to. He laughed, and got closer.
“I told him that I wasn’t interested, and he started to curse at me,” Afeni said, stammering. He called her a black bitch, and she pushed him away. Everyone blamed her for making a scene.
Sita clenched her fists, and told Afeni she could stay with us.
At the apartment, Sita gave Afeni the sleeping bag, and Afeni lay down, and shut her eyes. She woke up in the middle of the night, and saw Sita also on the ground.
Afeni asked why she wasn’t in her own bed.
Sita didn’t reply and Afeni stopped asking questions.

Nov. 27, 2015
Afeni is in Virginia.
Sita cleaned the hallway, and bathroom.

Dec. 1, 2015
We drove through East Brunswick.
Central New Jersey, Sita described, as diverse but can feel like one giant suburb with random racists sprinkled in.
Afeni laughed, as Sita pointed out the nicer parts where one can find a decent Afghan or Jamaican spot to eat at. Most of the county, however, were boxed houses, shopping malls, and strip clubs. Fortunately, Sita knew where we were.
“Turn here,” she said, as Afeni drove onto a narrow road.
Even I didn’t know where we were heading, although the mobile homes looked familiar.
We reached an empty parking-lot, where there were hardware stores and laundromats nearby.
It was Afeni who squealed and made me realize there was also a comic book store tucked between them. Afeni ran inside.
We spent the remainder of our day perusing the aisles, carefully picking up comic books wrapped in plastic sheets.
Personally, I was losing interest and was ready to leave, but I suppose it was nice to see Sita and Afeni in their element.
Sita asked Afeni, who was grabbing every new Miss Marvel she could find, if there was anything in particular they should look for.
Afeni said she had got most of what she wanted but she was interested to know if the graphic novelization of Kindred was available.
Sita went to the front desk to ask.
The person at the register was a man on his laptop.
“I don’t know what that is…” he said, clicking on his mouse.
Sita arched an eyebrow, and waited, as if maybe the rest of what she said hadn’t yet sunk in.
“So…can you look it up?” she eventually said.
“Look what up?” the man replied, eyelids half-open.
“What’s happening?” Afeni said in a low voice. The man looked up from his screen.
Afeni clutched the comics to her chest. He stared and smirked.
Sita stepped between them.
I moved to the side to give her more room.
“We would like to speak to your manager,” Sita said.
The man chuckled and returned to his laptop.
I wanted to tell Sita to be calm.
I wanted her to be happy, wear a smile, and remember that she was on an outing.
Sita’s veins throbbed, as she started to walk away. Afeni decided to place the comic books on the counter. Once she got close enough, the man placed his hand on hers.
Sita’s eyes widened. She punched him in the nose.
He tumbled.
Sita and Afeni hopped into the car and drove off. Sita glanced in the rearview, spotting the man staggering after them. He dwindled into the distance.
They stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and remained inside the car, watching trucks and vans along Route 18, buzzing past like brushstrokes.
Sita was the first to speak.
“You can’t let anyone push you around,” she said. “If you let one person get the better of you, it never ends.”
Afeni didn’t speak. The sky was peppered with stars.
Afeni dropped Sita off at her apartment, and Sita invited her in.
Afeni politely refused and said she’d see her soon anyway, and left.
Sita didn’t talk to me the entire evening.

Dec. 2, 2015
Afeni showed up today, even though I said she wouldn’t.
She didn’t say much but spent time sitting and watching Sita work the register.
When day turned to night, Afeni simply went to her car and drove away.

Dec. 4, 2015
Sita told me to stay home and rest today.
She went to the store and met Afeni.
For the first few hours, it was the same as usual.
Afeni on her stool. Sita at the counter.
Right before lunch, when the store was crowded, Afeni asked Sita how she was feeling.
That isn’t true. It wasn’t before lunch, and the store was empty.
I didn’t know what she meant.
Afeni said I had bags under my eyes all the time and that I looked skinnier each day. She said my sweaters hung from me.
I still didn’t know what to say.
So I resumed counting the nickels and dimes.

Dec. 5, 2015
Afeni said she got to know students at an organization dealing in social justice.
I was glad. I told her to be careful though.
In the afternoon, Afeni asked if I was getting enough rest.
I said I was okay, and that my shift was almost over.
Afeni paused.
“I’m worried about you,” she said.
I chuckled.

Dec. 6, 2015
Afeni was finished with her final exams, and was going back to Virginia.
She said she’d return mid-January.
I told her to drive safe.
She hugged me while we were in the parking-lot.
I watched her disappear into the traffic and a few minutes later, I too left.

Dec. 7, 2015
I took the day off and cleaned some more.

Dec. 8, 2015
The bed felt hard.

Sudip Bhattacharya is a doctoral student in Political Science at Rutgers University, where he researches on race, class and gender and social justice. With also a Master’s in Journalism from Georgetown University, he has written for CNN Politics, the Washington City Paper, Lancaster Newspapers, The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, The Jersey Journal, The Aerogram, Media Diversified (Writers of Colour), Reappropriate, The New Engagement, and AsAm News. Finally, he is a democratic socialist, a believer in having hope (but not in an annoying way), and an activist/organizer learning from the amazing people around him.