The play of numbers never really escaped me. I was the second child, the weakest, and blindest of all the puppies. Number 2.
I spent my child-brain in reading books that taught me language, but never numbers. No one ever said how quickly I learnt to decipher the numbers on a clock, nor how quickly I multiplied. These numbers stayed aloof and inconclusive of my intelligence. IQ points low enough to not make my parents proud. So while I memorized poetry and the art of language during dingy nights, the numbers began to win.
In 7th grade, I first found out that it was possible for some people to never be loved. On the day of result, I walked like someone had finally, after a year, shot me down. The report card was a frenzy of squiggling letters that defined my personhood. “Shy”, she had said, “I would like her to participate more in class. She is too shy.” Maybe she should have tried to get me involved in the hunch-back impression everyone did of me. Maybe she should’ve have put her hand on the mouth that said that I would not look good up on stage, which is why I should work my voice in the dark. Maybe then I would have been less reserved and more transparent. I would have seen the rank list outside of my classroom, and not realized that not only was I ugly and awkward, but that I had not half the brain that had been deserved by everyone else. My report card was a clutter of language and description. My father could only point at the number at the end of page – “66%”.
All my friends were a culmination of numbers; like neon signposts on their heads to tell me what they were worth. My teacher told me no one would ask me who I was if I did not rank above a certain number in the exam. I forget that number now. Meanwhile, the whirlwind in the crevices of my poetry got faster – 5 poems per month, 6 poems per month, and 12 poems per month. I read 1037 pages from my Chemistry textbook (and eventually Gone with the Wind), skipped 47 pages from the same, and wrote a 30 page report. I was a 239 from 240. That is my name. I was a 1%, I was a half-witted patient, stretched over the entirety of my school life. Valedictorian because that was the only number that mattered. Ashamed still, because that number did not matter.
So then, I had to apply for college. A school ranked 30, worse than a school at 15. Numbers whirling over the palms of people that held the same books for the past two years. I was ranked by how well I wrote a 3 hour exam. One tick, two ticks. 14000 from one, infinite for another. I scored 304 in the test of a college I badly wanted to go to, and for the test that mattered the most, I was flung in the back at 25000, trying to scurry my way back into competition. I was a rat on the inside of a sewage pipe, climbing faster only to know that the light at the end of the pipe is the illusion of a blind eye. They said I was at 13000 something when someone asked. They were actually telling me I ought to be ashamed of myself.
When I came to college, I wore glasses that saw everyone through that one number. Fifteen thousand four hundred thirty two, better than me. Twenty eight thousand six hundred thirty two, worse than me. I couldn’t help it even if I tried; the numbers followed me everywhere I went, clutching on my back afraid of falling off. Friends and their numbers more than mine; how could I let it happen? Numbers will tell me who is smarter, better, prettier, faster, nicer, and worthier. And I was none of those things. First semester grades were numbers hiding behind letters – BB, BC, AB. How on earth did I score 74.2%? The days in college began to pile on my heavy numbers, relentless and unforgiving. Number of words in my essay, number of essays, number of questions, number of answers… Number of people I began to dislike. Number of books I read that year, number of pages I filled with my handwriting, number of sentences I saved on the ink-blotted pages of my diary, and number of unfinished, numbered stories.
Numbers are not easy to fool and twist; but we are. This is how we have lived in our nation, and this is how we shall continue, much to my dismay. I put numbers, and people, in weighing scales of achievements and prizes, this side of me that is uncouth and unreasonable. I am here now, preparing for another number to save me. Maybe I can lie about it again.