What's in a name?

Neelima Chakraborty

My therapist sits a few feet away

reeling me in gentle swathes of practiced pleasantries.

I am told to be comfortable, to relax.

Unclip my tongue and say what it is dying to say.

She says I am stressed; she says I have a choice.

Let go of the worries that torment me.

I want to believe this good woman for a second

until she goes ahead and asks the dreaded question,

“What’s your name?”

I shift my feet nervously.

Bubbling and boiling in the cauldron of time,

the question echoes from the past.

The jeering faces make me squirm and shudder.

My sweaty palms don’t mask my fear.

It rings in my ears,

scalds my insides,

makes me want to implode and disappear.

The slithering syllables work its way

along the serpentine passage of nerves in disarray.

"I do have a choice," I tell myself, "just answer...ANSWER!"

The reply precariously dangles on the precipice

awaiting a chance to fall off, be free.

(If only I could say it all, how wonderful life would be!)

But no sooner do my lips part than I feel the brute force

throttling, choking, and obstructing its steady flow.

I…I roll out the words one lisp at a time.

In faltering sounds, in fits and starts.

In unintended hisses and pauses,

I squeeze out the syllables…my eyes downcast in shame.

Why? Because you asked for my name.


You see, I stammer.

I am miserable when made to utter

simple words like ‘public’ and ‘straight’.

I feel deflated when someone else

finishes the sentences that I birthed in my mind.

I feel gutted when you pull your face

away, and say, “I think I didn't get that right."

Hence, I have been hiding all my life.

Hiding behind tomes of verses.

Hiding behind average grades.

Hiding behind excuses

of sore throat and tonsillitis.

You sit there and judge me,

Offer me a choice so nonchalantly.

But this choice is my battleground,

my struggle to assert my identity,

my struggle to say all at once…

say it all, clearly and confidently


My name… my name…

My name is Neelima Chakraborty.

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