The Only Tree on a Hill

After what feels like centuries a story has been brewing inside me, earnest to be put on paper. Enjoy. 

My grandfather housed a distinct fondness for trees. A love he happily passed on to me after failing to do so with my father. Being a reclusive child I seldom ventured outdoors, fearing human malice for, as a kid I was once pushed in a muddy ditch for committing the innocent crime of being the new girl in town.

The cucoon into which I invariably recoiled in grew into a home. I turned inwards for respite and befriended books and nature to ward loneliness. But the queer claws of time germinated an odd upheaval in my bosom. A longing for something so elusive it prevented me, at times from getting sleep.

Perhaps, my grandfather sensed this turmoil within me, an utter restlessness and angst for desiring something farther from my reach, and invisible to the eye- like friendship but not with a human form. Humans repelled me.

Thus, one cool April morning when the sun was tepid enough to cake us in its warmth and the air still tasted of dew my grandfather took me to a nearby hill, where I often previously went for walks. I noticed the clatter of a shovel tied to his waist against keys dangling from a belt loop, and a small plastic bag full of what seemed like dirt; but didn’t say a word.

We stopped at the highest crest the hill could afford. A few gulls croaked in the distance and a warm breeze swept the fields. Far East, I could see our little house, a tiny dot within a green pasture, a muddy road snaking its way into it.

“Do you know why we’re here?” my grandfather asked with a twinkle in his eyes, breaking my reverie.

I shook my head. Even at the usually stimulating age of fourteen, my heart somehow was always too tired to speak.

“I’m here to introduce you to a friend. Who will stay with you throughout your years and will stay further for your posterity and perhaps further for more generations to come.” 

With this he dug a small pit in the heart of the earth and handed me the bag of dirt, which upon closer observation, bore a tiny sapling. I placed the sapling in the ditch gently and pat it shut.

My grandfather passed away shortly after and I found respite in the sapling when my heart ached too much for him. Its existence became my purpose. I spent my youth watering, nurturing and at times even talking to it.

Time flew past like gusts of wind and ten long years later, I sit under what grew into a magnificent, sentinel, behemoth tree- lush and green, watching over me like a silent guardian. The distant longing inside me quelled with the tree’s pristine, watchful presence- quiet and sincere. The tree taught me stillness and how to give without expecting.

My grandfather gave my restless ship an anchor. He gave direction to my rapid thoughts. The tree embodied his own spirit, omnipresent but never holding you back.

Today, sitting under its shadow I brood over my life so far. Remember those who left and bemoan those who never arrived. I hope the tree will remain, if nature permits, perhaps for centuries,  and will continue granting stillness to those running from the future’s chaos. I pray it assuages their inner wounds too, doled out by a callous world.

A warm breeze tussles my hair and makes the leaves above rustle with delight. I’m pulled back to the present.

‘I know friend’, I muse looking up, ‘you too like the breeze as I do.’ 

 

Love always,

Your blogger.

 

Her

Part-I

The day he broke the news, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him very soon. Not the next year, not in a few years, maybe not ever. The December sky had already given me a foreboding that the time had come. Things were quieter than usual and the days were colder ..than usual.

Sombre grey always hung low in the horizon and the mornings were never fresh or tepid. Just frostbiting cold and the fields dotted with sluggish cattle, clumsily grazing with drooping eyelids. Christmas was not very far and I saw little kids skedaddle their way from school; blissful for the inception of the Christmas holidays. Occasionally when I peaked from my window I saw a few seagulls visiting our little town, and each time they flew my heart leapt at the thought of the lands they’ve visited and the people they’ve met.

Nights were freezing cold and our old fireplace did a poor job in warming up the house. It had snowed heavily that year and our streets were flooded with enormous cascades of pearl white snow. People were busy shoveling and clearing their jammed doors and pathways, steams of warm breath emerging from every shove.

All this while nature always informed me whenever something wrong was going to happen, in secret and subtle ways only I could understand. In codes and language only I could decipher, like an old scholar rummaging through an ancient manuscript. Of course the hints were nature’s own self-creation from all the resources it could possibly conjure.

The wind would blow stealthily that day, like a gory murderer slowly crawling towards his victim’s bed. The leaves would rustle frantically, in tuned chords and rhythms. The woods would appear deeper, like there’s some dark secret hidden somewhere in their heart. And the sky would have a gloomy grey spread across its bare chest, like a painting made by a solitary lover. Heavy clouds laden with rain would always hover above, like a distant warning, yet they’d never downpour.

As I tried to figure out what was wrong, I walked towards the most snug, warm and perhaps the only cafe selling the best cocoa in town. My steps were slow, almost hesitant, the image of the hot cocoa mug did not succeed in tantalizing me, something else was troubling me and I guess I already knew what it was.


Part-II

Pushing the door open my entrance was followed by a slight tingle from the bell above, few heads turned my side and then turned away. After a brief scanning of the arena, I saw him. He flashed a half grin and waved at me, I got instantly pulled towards it, like I always had been. Pulling out a chair, I made myself comfortable. The dense aroma of coffee lingered in the air.

“How have you been?” He said, taking a sip of his coffee. I took a moment and breathed him in, blue eyes, slightly copper skin, light brown softly tussled hair. Although he wasn’t swooning handsome, he was the one man I’d felt ridiculously drawn towards in my entire life, right since 2nd grade.

“Lyla?” he called out. I snapped out of my reverie, “Oh, I’ve been great, better actually,” I lied. “I’ve been thinking about the holiday project and have managed to come up with a splendid idea,” I grinned. 

He nodded in approval and said, “It’s good to see you Lyla.” His eyes grew deeper, like an intense suppressed emotion struggling to reach out. It was interrupted by Bernard who placed my cocoa on the table, sweet little freckled boy always knew what I ordered.

School was coming to an end and pretty soon we’d all be on our separate ways. While this blue eyed boy in front of me had been with me since 11 long years, I could never summon the courage to tell him how I felt, out of fear that it might not be reciprocated back which, in my opinion, stood a very fair chance.

“Lyla, I’ve been thinking a lot and last night I made a decision and that’s why I wanted to see you,” he continued, “I think I’ll be leaving for the city very soon. My parents had already been wanting this for me, my cousins are settled there and have been prospering so I’d have no trouble adjusting.”

He sounded disturbed and had been this way for a while. He was always a mystery, like a part of him was always hidden away, stored and somewhere far for the right person to discover.

“Bu..but why?” I mumbled.

He sighed, “To tell you the truth, I’ve been very very alone Lyla. I don’t have any friends and you know I’ve been in seclusion my entire life. Sometimes I feel I’m destined for great things but this town is eating me away. We’re all stuck here and I feel even though Christmas is all about love and cheer, yet I won’t find any, as long as I stay here. 
Look around Lyla, there’s no cheer. Just a bunch of sick people dragging another Christmas in poverty and beers. And there sure as hell no love here. At least I couldn’t find it, but I also know that it won’t happen unless I get out and grab her, whoever and wherever she is. 

Sometimes you’ve to break all the boundaries and let the winds sweep you away, so they’d land you on the right ground.”

I took a deep breath and fought away the tears. “That’s wonderful Pete. I’m glad you realized your dream and I’m incredibly happy for you.” 
“Thanks,” he said, “You know I’ll keep writing to you, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” 


Part-III

As his train slowly melted away in the distant fog, I waved him a final goodbye. The spark in his eyes had no regrets but just a measly dab of guilt that I could see. Nature had been right after all, I brooded as the train crawled towards the distant woods, Pete’s coach far in front, already marching through the jungle.

What I was to him, if neither a friend nor a love, I guess I’ll never know. The letters came every week, and after an year became less frequent. Telephones were a luxury we couldn’t afford.

I have no idea where Pete is today.

girl-in-the-snow

 

Photo Courtesy: www.memoirmode.com

Father of a Firefighter

It has been 1 month, 7 days and 2 hours since that day. I still remember the picture of it. Every image, every second was like a knife pierced into my heart. I couldn’t bear it. I gaped for fresh air. I wouldn’t necessarily expect you to understand how it felt, the heart wrenching pain. Maybe you’ll listen to it like another one of the tragedies you hear during the course of your life and then forget. I won’t blame you. But even as I type with these trembling old fingers of mine, I still think my son deserves this. He deserves to be heard. He deserves to be known. People need to listen to his story. And if while finishing the last line you’re filled with remorse, I wouldn’t blame you either. I still shiver at the thought.

 

Back in 1968, we lived in the bustling town of Estbush, a small town with a welcoming air. We had our home just a few miles away from the street market. A small cottage with a comforting essence, it was the shade of red. Red because my wife, Holly loved it. And during the construction I had made sure that it was a perfect present for her, furnishing every detail about her choices and reflecting every little thing she loved. Jim was born in this very cottage. It feels like yesterday when I used to watch him play in the backyard. The sounds still echo my head when Holly used to thunder on Jim for covering the floor with prints of his muddy feet. I used to sparkle when I saw him play. I waited anxiously to come home from work to get embraced by his eager felicity to see me.

 

Funny how I abhor the sight of the backyard now. How the once blooming daffodils are a pile of dried petals. How during the bleak winters the ground is enveloped in a cascade of snow and there’s no one to take care of it.

 

Time flapped its wings too fast. I couldn’t tell when I was watching him toss his toy-firefighter he adored, and the next day he’s standing in the church, watching his wife come down the aisle. Janet was a very sweet, loving and a respectful daughter-in-law. I couldn’t ask for a better wife for my Jim. She understood him way more than I did. Jim grew up to be a handsome young man. Tall, well-built, and of course, the exceptionally unique emerald eyes he got from his mother. Janet was equally beautiful. The people in town often called it a match made in heaven and tried to be as modest as I could.

 

I take a glance of the empty room I’m sitting in. In the corner of the room, there’s a dusty piano covered in white cloth. My room is dark and dingy most of the time. Except for the daily hour when Janet comes to draw the shades for some sunlight to sneak in. Rest of the day, the room is dark, rather it always has an air of staleness.

 

Jim was an ambitious man, right from the beginning. He was good at everything he did. Whether it was helping Holly and Janet in the kitchen or fixing the old rusty second hand truck he had bought. Whether it was fishing or a game of cards, he was the best among us. We sure didn’t have a sumptuous lifestyle, or wealth to be pompous about, but what we did have was happiness, contentment and peace. And of course, a family which is a privilege denied to many. One specific thing that Jim was always passionate about, since childhood, was becoming a firefighter. He had something in him that always urged him to help people. Get them out of hopeless situations. Bravery and valor was always his forte. But unfortunately, he couldn’t become one. He did not tell us the exact reason and never really talked about it. And we never raised the topic.

 

In the summer of 1994, the weather conditions went really bad. There was a thunderstorm almost every alternate day. A tornado had hit close to our town. The weather reports claimed that it was the most violent of tornadoes in the past 5 years. At the time the tornado hit the outskirts of our town we were returning from a local carnival. Jim was driving. We were aware of the unrest and complete disorientation that prevailed all around by the news on the radio. It was raining heavily. We were passing by the town hospital when there was a blast behind us. It shook our car and it went screeching in every direction. The window had broken and rain entered our car blocking Jim’s vision. Fortunately, we were safe, as Jim had hit the brakes on time.

 

We stepped out of the car and witnessed a blazing and luminous ball of fire emerging from the hospital building. We could see several fire trucks and police cars. Numerous jets of water being injected in the building, but the fire seemed inevitable. Sounds of sirens and wailing could be heard. Ambulances carrying people away. I had not seen a more deadly and horrifying sight in my life. Suddenly, Jim started telling us to leave. He ordered us to get back in the car. Since Estbush was a small town there were less firemen and the situation demanded more. He had decided to help. We cried and pleaded him not to go. But he had made his decision. I wonder if he had even heard me in the constant claps of thunder and the loud noise of rainfall and the utter confusion.

 

I dropped Holly and Janet home, and made my way back to the hospital. I saw Jim gearing up in a yellow suit and without wasting any minute he went inside the building. My heart leaped and beat rigorously against my chest. He was assumed to be an official as he wore the uniform. In the absolute chaos, no one got to know he was a civilian. Black smoke came out of the fiery building. Every second was like an year. Despite the rain the fire was ablaze. The smoke was choking and the air around was damp but it hurt the lungs like needles piercing through.

 

Jim came out with a man half-burnt on his shoulders. He was screaming with pain. The sight was terrifying. He handed the man carefully to the officials and again went inside. I almost felt like pulling him back but I was helpless. As soon as Jim went in, there was another blast. A strong wave of heat swept the area. I was appalled. I swear to God, I couldn’t have been more frightened. More fire trucks came. More jets of water. Another man was rescued from the second floor. The Head of the team ordered the firefighter’s to recede. Several of them came out. But the one who rescued the man from the second floor could not come out. The building was going down. People shouted for him to jump, but he couldn’t. There was no escape. The building collapsed. The fire was brought under control. It had finally extinguished. I ran further too see where Jim was. But I couldn’t see him. I was blanched with fear.

 

I ran up to every face. Questioned every person. Yelled. Cried, and almost died out of remorse. I was unwilling to accept what had happened, still incredulous. I hoped he would be among the countless firemen I saw. But he wasn’t. I fell down on my knees, almost out of breath. I wailed at the top of my lungs, his image in my mind. People came running towards me, helping me to regain my posture, trying to comfort me. But where was comfort now? They didn’t even know the man that was inside.

 

When the storm passed and situations normalized, every firefighter that died was given a proper, respectable funeral. But there was no grave for my son. Jim. My Jim, who didn’t even have second thoughts before risking his life for others. He who could have easily gone home and watch the scenario on television, chose to fight and help people. No one came to know about the sacrifice of my son. No one recognized it.

 

You may now understand the pain I have residing inside me. This intense lump in my throat. Janet, who was once the Goddess of cheer, barely speaks now. She has lost all her spark. And sometimes, I hear her quiet sobs as she weeps at night. I’m writing this for the local newspaper as I need the people of Estbush to know this story. I need them to know, that my son was a brave man, who saved the lives of many. Whose death deserves to be respected or at least be known.

 

It’s almost dusk, and the crickets can be heard now. My tired eyes and old fingers have done their job of telling you the story. I don’t ask you to drop by flowers on his grave everyday but I can only pray now, and hope that when you hear of Jim, you realize his worth or at least have a small notion of the pain and anguish of this helpless, hopeless and proud Father of a Firefighter.

Superheroes.

There’s this band called ‘The Script’ I don’t know if you all have heard of it, but please do listen to their songs, they’re incredible. So last night, I came to know about the new album they are launching this month. As I had been following them for a while , I couldn’t stop myself from listening to their very first single from this album- ‘Superheroes.’

Wait! Stop right there! NO! Stop thinking of Spiderman or Superman!  Better. Reason why I’m specifically writing about this song is that finally, after what feels like centuries and in this alarmingly increasing era of ‘twerk’ and ‘swag’ there is a song that is euphonious and makes sense. Both the video and the song are intertwined, leading the listener and the viewer towards the beautiful conclusion it carries.

I’ll explain the message of the song (or at least what I took out from it) in the form of a story-:

Yet another morning, my alarm clock blazed a neon 4:00 am. I woke up hearing the fresh chatter of birds. Still sluggish and tired I crawled out of my sheets. Opening my cupboard I made the choice of what to wear between the only two suits I possessed. I went for the grey one and was about to leave but stopped mid-way after seeing that he was awake. “Hey Brandon.” I said to my 7 year old son “I’m going to work, take care of yourself and be the good boy you are.”

He nodded. Brandon never really knew what I did for a living. I guess he only knew that I worked hard and with insurmountable honesty. I saw it in his eyes and in the gleam of pride he felt every time I brought a toy for him from work (if I found one). He traced my steps outside and waved once, I smiled.

And then everything was the same. I reached my area of work. Found a clean spot and changed to a plastic suit. The last thing I wanted was my few possessions getting spoilt. I jolted my way to the heap I was assigned to. And after a few minutes, I was there. Between large stacks of garbage. I was not exactly a garbage collector, my job was even worse. I had to find all the re-usable objects from that stinking pile of trash. Everyday in the early morning the cranes unloaded their filth on us, and we worked till evening, trying to procure the most, after all the garbage was where the bread came from.

I sometimes find something that my son would love. Perhaps a toy soldier with a broken arm or a missing head. That’s all I could manage for a present. And every evening while returning home I find my son waiting for me on the bridge and I sway him up in the air. We laugh and we giggle and talk about how each of our days went. For awhile we forget about everything and walk our way home. Sometimes even buy an ice-cream. It’s always the same. And every night when I crawl in my bed I’m once again struck by the realization of things that lie ahead. What lies for my son. But I close eyes with the final thought that I’m not giving up. Not until I’m alive.

This is exactly what the song explains. A superhero doesn’t necessarily require a red cape or a flying car, he can be anyone. He can be a little girl who helps someone cross the road. He can be a friend who helps tutor you. He can be your teacher who’s chidings make you tough as a marble. He can be a brother protecting his sister or a grandfather teaching his granddaughter to ride a bike.

A superhero can be YOU yourself. When you rescue yourself from something hopeless or you learn to  find a way. You become a hero. You teach yourself and you understand your soul, your very existence. You find your true self and start living with a new zeal. You give a present to yourself.

And lastly, the superheroes who brought you to this world. The people who’s soul existence lies in your happiness and the people who’d work their best to give you the life you want and deserve- your parents. They are the real superheroes. The ones truly worthy of claiming the title. The one who deserve WAY more than they get.

“When you’ve been fighting for it all your life,
You’ve been struggling to make things right,
That’s how a superhero learns to fly.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting the song ‘Superheroes’ by The Script.

Golden Jasmine.

It’s a bumpy ride. A rather funny one, I suppose. I see heads swaying in various directions in perfect synchronization, as the bus roars it’s way through the crowded market, unsuccessfully trying to dodge the potholes and the badly constructed road (I’m not sure if it was even close to being called a road). I glance a look outside the blotted window, men carrying herds of goats, hoping to find a good pasture for grazing. And sluggish goats trying to make way, still drooping from the morning laziness. Rich men negotiating a deal for a proper slave. I see ladies in fancy gowns, with a matching umbrella (probably protecting them from the sun that never shone in these parts) eyeing us cautiously as the bus passed the market.

I closed my eyes and breathed the damp air. The sky was overcast (which was a common affair here) and it was really soon when there was a downpour. I closed the window to protect my sweater which Mother had so firmly sewn. She had stitched a jasmine in the center and green stalks protruded out of it in the direction of both of my arms. Father once told me that the day I was born thousands of Jasmines had blossomed in our garden. “It was magical,” he had said.

Although living in a foster home wasn’t something I’d expected since the day I came to know the meaning of the term Foster. But it all happened too fast. Father never returned from work and mother hurriedly packed my things in a small jute bag and while she helped me hop into the cart, I felt the very last sensation of her lips on my forehead, and then she was gone. We reached a street, not very far from the market. The houses were all the same. Brown roof and cream walls. It all looked like one big chain of perfectly aligned squares. Walls were moistened from the rain, people trying to cover their roofs with plastic  sheets to prevent dripping in the rooms.

The jasmines in this town changed colors. Every season marked a different color and to my fascination-this season they were golden. Not the neon and sparkly one  but a soft yellow glow like that of a firefly, only lighter.

We were each led to our assigned houses. Mine was the same as the rest. A lady in her early 40’s, yelling and cursing the children to work. The man of the house oblivious to the miser condition in the home. On my first day to the local school, while my teacher recklessly took the attendance, something else caught my attention. “Jasmine” No response. “Jasmine!”

Startled by the hysteria, I called for my presence which was just physical, for my mental self was far away in the fields. In the recess, I skedaddled my way towards the other side of the pastures, near the oak tree; jumping over the hill and the ridges till I was finally standing over him, overshadowing his enormous body. He was a man in his late 60’s. He wore a brown coat which looked worn out and a grey hat covering his left eye. The lines on his face signified he worked hard and his hands were covered in dirt. Streaks of  ripe gray hair resting in the unripe brown ones.

Popularly called Mr. Tuberk, he glanced his way up, “What are you doing here little one? Shouldn’t you be at school?”
“Yes, but I ..”

Perhaps he understood why I had come when he noticed my attention towards his Mouth Organ. Not a very fancy one, but it was a wooden rectangle, polish withering out from the corners where it was carefully and skilfully carved  ‘T&G’.
“You like it?’ he said with an amusing smirk. I nodded. Apart from Jasmine’s I had a fascination for music. In my previous town I used stand outside the sumptuous bars just to listen to the music they played in the evening.  It had hardly been a week when we became from strangers to friends. Every day I  anxiously waited for the school to get over to see my friend while Mr. Tuberk never failed in welcoming me with open arms.

He used to play his Mouth Organ and I listened and waltzed around. The tune permeated my soul, lifting it above. Occasionally I used to save the sandwiches from recess while he brought some chestnuts and we used to eat them in the evening breeze, saving some of the leftover chestnuts to munch later. I sometimes  wondered if Mr. Tuberk ever had any family. Or why did he prefer being alone under an oak with a 10 year old girl rather than drinking and laughing in a bar.

I saw a sad face with a defeated smile when I asked him the reason for his solitude. “You ask why I like your company? Do you know that a jasmine soothes the air with it’s perfume and removes the stench away. Who wouldn’t want to be around the scent of the pacifying jasmine.” I looked down towards my sweater confused. Did my sweater had a scent? Maybe mother cast some magic spell.

Mr. Tuberk laughed briefly. “I had a daughter just like you. Gemma. (T&G – Now I see) She used to love my Mouth Organ. And every evening we used to sit here and I played while she read a book or sang along. It was our favorite part of the day. Sadly she came with a little time on earth. That’s why I still come here every evening, reliving her presence, maybe the soft breeze or the shade of the oak bring me some refuge. Ease my pain a little. Clean the stench of her absence, mend what’s broken.”

It was very soon when I realized what he meant. My sweater certainly did not smell, but it was ME. I WAS THE SCENTED JASMINE OF HIS DRY GARDEN. I was the rainbow in his clouded sky. I was the sunshine in his foggy street and I was the thread he was holding on to. I did not respond, but we continued to meet up in the evenings and played and danced until the moth hour of eve. Or sometimes even after that, when the little white pearls peeked out of the black velvet sky. Like dazzling diamonds carefully mounted over a black elegant cascade. We gazed at those selfless friends above, while a soft wind swept the arena- making the oak leaves above rustle.

Begin Again.

Honey, did you finish your breakfast?” said Skylar. Skylar Brown. A lady in her late 30′s as she fumbled across the kitchen counter, trying to close the lid of that new cookie jar she had recently bought. Looking at her, one could barely believe that she had long passed her prime of youth. Raven Black eyes, lips always glossed with that shade of Crimson she adored, curvy body, and golden and radiant skin that always glowed. Hair neatly tied in a top bun. One could easily say she had everything. A husband that loved her more than dear life itself.

The day she had transformed herself from Skylar Martin to Skylar Brown was (as she put it) one of the days she’d always be thankful for. David was the man she had fallen in love with, the first time he had bought him a chocolate ice-cream in the senior year of college. It had rained heavily that night, and they had stayed awake till the morning talking about each other, their likes, their family, their ambitions and even their differences.  They had both held on to each other even after 16 years of marriage. Both of them had got what they wanted. David was a Businessman and owned his own firm. It was what he and his dad always wished for. And it was this passion and future plan that he had told Skylar about, the night it had rained and also the night they had kissed for the first time. Skylar was a  writer. Or more like a novelist. Not a very famous one, but this was what she loved doing. She had always wanted to become a writer, because for her it wasn’t about money or fame, it was about the inner peace and serenity she got after finishing every piece of writing she ever wrote.  Two of her book’s had been published so far, and they were quite in demand at the local book stores.

She had a lovely house. A wooden cottage of two-storeys, with polished wooden floors. The walls were decorated with a galaxy of paintings of famous artists from around the world, thanks to David’s love for art. The furniture was made of dark ebony wood with curtains of a slightly lighter shade.

“Yes Mom”, said Lilly. A young brunette who had turned 15 last month. She had acquired all her beauty from her mother, as David often used to say. “I see you, when I see her” and Skylar used to melt a little more every time he mentioned this. Lilly was like a shadow of her mother in her yester-years. She was beautiful and attracted much of male attention, as one could see by the several number of boys with flowers that knocked every hour on birthday’s. Just like the boys who used to follow Skylar home after college, the boys who David hated from every nerve in his body.
This was Skylar’s life. A wonderful daughter. A loving husband. A perfect home. And a job that she loved.
“And mom, I’ll be a little late after school today, I’ve to attend Emma’s birthday party” said Lilly tying her hair in a pony tail.

“But don’t you have your tennis lessons, and what about tutoring the kids?” Skylar was disturbed.
“Mom? She’s my Best Friend. Didn’t you have any?”
And Skylar froze. She traced Lilly’s footsteps to the door and thud! The door was shut. Silence. She could hear her heartbeat co-inciding with the ticking of the clock. It was as if in this second, at this very moment, she had been awakened from a very deep slumber. As if she was stuck in between past and present. And the image of Natalie flashed in her head. She was shivering and perspiring at the same time. Slowly she gained control and sat down on the black couch near the Chinese yellow lamp, on the side table.

Natalie was her best friend since the time she couldn’t even remember. How could she have forgotten her?  She remembered the last time they had seen each other. The day Skylar had left New Jersey to follow her dreams. She had promised her she would call. But she didn’t. Skylar felt a lump in her throat as the guilt rose slowly from within her body.

She wondered if Natalie had become an Architect. She recollected how Natalie always expressed her love for Italian architecture. Did she ever made it to Paris? Or she ever got the chance to see the Indian Mughal Architecture she blabbered about? She remembered what a complete chatter-box she was, always on the height of excitement and forever giggling.

Skylar remembered how they had promised to stay together forever. How they had sworn to never let a guy come in between their friendship. How she had taken her stand when Skylar was accused of cheating in a test. She missed the warm christmas evenings they had spent together when her mother used to make hot soup and turkey while her dad narrated them old christmas tales.

A tear rolled down her cheek.  She couldn’t help but remember how Natalie used to proudly say, “One day, I’m going to plan your wedding”, and she hadn’t even invited her. It’s not that she didn’t want to, but time was not in her favor. Skylar felt extremely ashamed of herself. She had been so self-occupied and obsessed that she had forgotten all those who had loved her from the beginning and been there for her at every hour of her need. She remembered all her college buddies and how much she missed them. She missed being carefree. She missed her pranks and roguery . She missed running wildly in a game of ice and water. She missed pulling legs of people. She missed how she always became the princess in the game of “The Princess and the Frog” and lastly, she missed herself. She missed the old Skylar.

Slowly she got up, as she picked her purse and car keys. She took a glance of the empty house and went to the “Central Writer’s Publishing”. The same building she had been working in, from the day her first book got published. She knew it wasn’t too late, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to do this. She picked up her phone anyway and dialled a number she had obtained from her mother. Her heart beated rigorously against her chest as the phone rang, when someone picked up the receiver, and there was this positive, exuberant,dynamic and energetic voice , that said, “Hello, this is Natalie Palmer?”

And a smile flushed on Skylar’s face.

Dream.


“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” said the girl,  “It is my very first confession. These are my sins.” The priest crossed his heart, patiently waiting for whatever was next. “I killed 7 people in 7 days.” For a moment, he was silent. Such information was hard to consider when coming from a young girl’s mouth. He had heard worst, but this one shook him no less.  “I absolve you from your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”


She left the church at an instant. It was a bleak winter evening. Fog had spread around the isolated street blurring the golden light from the lamps. She walked straight to her house. Climbed in through her window from where she had escaped and lay in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to overpower and him to come. She was scared, but satisfied. “It all ends tonight,” she thought. She had done what had been asked of her. A little smile spread across her face.

She opened her eyes to see a stale new morning wrapped under a warm blanket. Mom must have been in her room. She was puzzled, scared, anxious. Not knowing what to make out of this.

Why didn’t he come? He had promised her on the seventh day he would let her touch him, maybe take her away with him. She decided to sleep a little more but found herself lost in thoughts. Questions. Doubts. But more importantly, Fear. “What would I do now?” She started shivering and it wasn’t soon when she found herself in a pool of tears.

The next day she was captured by the police and sentenced to 5 years in jail. She was yelling. Crying for people to help. People held her, trying to control the maddening body. “It was him! He made me do this! He came in my dreams every night and told me to kill someone!!  He promised he would then take me away!! It Was Him!!!” She cried! Cried so much her throat ached. Who would believe her? The Mad girl claiming to kill people because a boy in a dream told her to.

Everyone gaped with wide eyes. full of terror, disbelief and pity. No one willing to consider what she just told. People thought jail wasn’t a safe place for her. So she was sent to the city asylum.
She still yells every night. Who knows who she’s talking to? Maybe he did visit her after all.

Alan.

“I’m still not able to absorb it,” she said trying to ignore the lump in her throat.
I handed her the glass of water which stood on the table, patiently waiting to be acknowledged. It was a warm September evening. Quiet, except for the low rumble of the clouds. Just like there is absolute quiet before a thunderstorm. I turned around to see the sky overcast by dark grey clouds. The huge glass window right beside me gave me an awfully large view of the rain that was predictable. It was very soon when I could see large blots of raindrops racing their way across my windowpane. I took a deep breath.

During my career as a therapist I had gone through many cases. Cases like these weren’t new to me. But each time I hoped things wouldn’t turn out like my intuition told me they would. This time was no different. This girl in her young-adult age, sat on the black wooden couch facing me. She looked at my private library and office with awe. The trophies and not to forget my little ivory pen-stand that my brother brought from China. The golden-yellow light of the little lamp in the corner cast a sombre hue along with the sky overloaded with rain.

“But I won’t be able to help you if you don’t tell me distinctly.”, I said with my patient voice that I’d been trained in.

She closed her eyes as if trying to recollect the horror that I was equally frightened to hear.

“It was 4 months back, 28th of March.” she said. “High School was like our second home. Like every teenager we had our share of fun. We had all sorts of children. Gawky. Nerds. The “I’m the Best and I don’t care about the rest” kind. The “Little Own World” type. The “Social Butterfly’s”. “The Genius”. “The Bullying Gang”. Just like every other schools.

But there was one boy. One particular redhead with spectacles too large for his clumsy head, that was alone. ALWAYS.
I remember the minute details about him because he had been with us since kindergarten. His name was Alan. He had light brown freckles dusting all over his face. A Batman Backpack and a Green-Lantern Bottle that he always carried. He always kept his distance from people. Keeping himself aloof. I wouldn’t call him feisty or ambitious, but he sure was dedicated to his work. ”
She heaved a burdened sigh of grief.
“All these years, we thought of him as a freak. We gave him nicknames. Made fun of him. Hit him. Tore his homework. Some even threatened him. Made him do various kinds of activities and he did all of them out of fear.”

“I’m sorry, you said ‘WE’? Were you also a part of all this?” I asked already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” she hesitated.

A cold drop of tear rolled down her cheek. She fidgeted and sat in a more comfortable posture.

“We had our summer break and our school was taking us to this Annual Science Fair. It’s focus was on the practical application of science so it was held outdoors. A big ground in a huge  arena. There were too many stalls. All displaying their products to the fullest potential. We as usual weren’t interested. Our attention was more on the lake not very far from the area.  We decided to escape from that place and made our way to the lake. After getting very close to being caught, there we were all giggling and euphoric. Clicking pictures, some boys even swam in the lake. All of this turned out into a Sunday afternoon picnic. We had beers, sandwiches that we stole from the snacks section.

We were having fun when someone caught the boys’ eye. We saw Alan not very far from the lake. He was filling a beaker with some water. For some experiment or sample, perhaps. The boys didn’t wish to lose this opportunity. They marched towards him as if trying to grab a turkey. They surrounded him and started to nag him. Pulling his shirt. Pushing him. Hitting him, pinching him.

I sat on the side watching all this. To be honest I felt bad for him. A guy like him didn’t deserve to be treated like that. But I was too BOLD to do something like that. To STOP them.

One threw his beaker in the lake. He ran to grasp it. One of them held him while the other kicked him in his gut. He winced in pain.
‘You want that beaker, why don’t you go get it yourself?”
Saying this, they threw him in the lake. For a moment everyone was laughing, finding every struggle of that poor boy hilarious. But after a minute there was silence. We froze. We knew what had happened. The motionless body after a minute of failed struggle swam on the lake. Everybody ran away from the spot without caring to at least fetch the boys body. Like a coward, I ran too. It was today in the news that I saw the coverage of his demise. I haven’t been more guilty in my entire lifetime.”  she started sobbing.

I sat there still. Listening to this disgusting, gory tale of teenage. Only the clocked ticked in the paralyzed silence between us. The sound of rain audible hitting the glass of my window pane. A bright flicker of lightening struck above us. And I could hear the crickets in my backyard.
In my mind I wondered why people don’t see the right from the start. Why do they need experience for an obvious thing. I was succumbed to despair. I wanted to say a lot of waspish remarks. But all I could manage to say to her was,
It wasn’t your fault.”

The girl on the Beach.

Sienna Rose Murphy. Aaah! We’d finally come up with a name. I glanced inside that tender cradle, to see those lovely luminous eyes. This had become a routine. I couldn’t get enough of that clear night sky in her wide, scintillating eyes. It was as if all of a sudden, everything had changed. My faith in miracles had restored. And after what seemed like a lifetime, I was smiling again. But in all this exuberance, celebration and merry, I will accept, that a thought did strike my mind, no matter how much I denied it. I used to wonder, what will I tell her when she’s old enough and starts to question the obvious. Will she be a rebel, like those kids they show on tv? Pierced, tattooed. Short hair? Coming home late at night and scuttling straight to her room upstairs? A bunch of useless friends with probably no ambition. But one thought shuddered me. What will happen when she seeks for the answers. Answers I know I can’t hide for long. Will she come in terms with us? What if she runs away .. ? I felt a chill down my spine.
16 Years Later.
A cold wind brushed against my hair. My balcony was always a wonderful place to meditate. Harold always had a thing for plants. He’d sometimes tease me that he could marry a plant if he could. Not that I was ever jealous. I always knew he wouldn’t give me away for anything in this entire universe.
He had planted a Jasmine in our garden that had climbed and made it’s way to our balcony. It was a fresh fragrance. Exotic and sweet. It filtered the air around me and after a quite loud and stale hour inside the room, I was rejuvenated again. I decided to go inside as people had started to search for me. It was Sienna’s 16th birthday party.

And it was like magic how time had passed. I’m extremely delightful to say that Sienna didn’t turn out to be the Gothic, drunken teenager I warned myself about. She was a sweetheart. A beautiful brunette with a kind and warm embrace. She was adored by everyone. A lovely girl with no smell of arrogance, rebellion or disrespect for anyone. She left tokens of her cheer wherever she went. Her mellifluous giggles were a treat to people around her.

Sienna was 12 when I discovered what she had in her. I was cleaning her room when I saw one of her notebook’s. She had sketched almost whole of the city. Every building, every fountain on the crossroads. Students of her class, her teacher. EVERY DETAIL. Flowers, birds, and some absolutely impeccable work I couldn’t even understand.
“There you are?! I’ve been searching for you all around!”, said Sienna almost out of breath.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize, I’ve been here for that long”, I said with a slight shrug of guilt.
“That’s all right, it’s almost time to cut the cake, I need you with me Mom. Come’on let’s go” 
She took my hand and moved forward, but I stayed. She turned around and was puzzled to see the mixed emotions on my face. “What’s wrong?” I just stared at her with content, fear, love and pride. I couldn’t find the right words but out of God knows which of the trillion emotions, I managed to throw, “You know that we all love you right?”

“Yes! Of course” she said, almost sympathetic but still befuddled. I gave her forehead a brief kiss and we tagged along to the living room with the beautiful, majestic cake!
Sienna didn’t have many friends at school. This fact worried me a lot. Although she persuaded me that she was okay. But I couldn’t come in terms with it. I know I just told you that she was a lively and free-spirited girl, but somehow at school, she was different. Plus, when I had asked her to enroll for the art class, she had very kindly rejected the offer. I couldn’t understand. So I dropped the topic.


Next Morning. Monday, 15th of July.

Bye Mom” I waved at her putting my car into reverse. I always thought what went on in her mind. Why was she so worried all the time. And it wasn’t just the worry that bothered me. It was something else. Like she was scared of something she was keeping me ignorant from. I  parked my car and made my way to the most ugliest place on Earth. SCHOOL. If there’s any place I hated from my heart, it was this godforsaken place. I’ve spent most of my years alone on a bench in the cafeteria or library. I had told mom that I had 2-3 friends at school, but the truth is, I had none. ZERO.

It wasn’t because I couldn’t talk, I just thought these people were the most selfish people on the planet. You see, I have this ME inside my brain, I like to call it “The Observer.” This is my voice that helps me form opinions. I keep observing as I walk to my class. Plastic, skinny girls considering themselves to be the “Hot-Stuff”. Lame guys hitting on these plastic girls. Thinking themselves to the best. Assigning nick-names to people. Well, mine was “Weirdo Sketcher”. Not that it ever bother me. These people were too immature to irritate me anyway. Bullying. Random groups. God! I hated  this place.

I came and sat on the last bench. Unpacking my kit to sketch as the class hadn’t started yet. I began to complete the portrait of the Maple tree that caught my eye yesterday.
“Wow, that’s some really cool stuff” I almost dropped my pencil and stumbled upon my table. I looked up to see  a tall red-head with amazing brown eyes. “You know, you really should put this on display”
“yeah, thanks.” 
I replied, confused and a little nervous I don’t know why. “I’m Dean.” He sat down on the table next to me.
“Sienna.”

It dawned upon me, that I hadn’t seen this guy before. “You’re new here?”
“Yeah. Actually I got transferred from Carolina. You know. New Place. New Apartment. Moving on and stuff.” 
I noticed a slight discomfort in his voice. So I quickly changed the topic. “So ..you made any new friends?”, I asked hesitantly. “No, you’re actually the first.” I found a slight relief and pride to be his “First Friend” although I have no frikin idea why. “Yeah, you’re my first friend too.”
“Wait .. For how long you’ve been studying here?”
, he asked with an element of surprise that was expected.

“Since Kindergarten?”  I tried a failed attempt to hide my awkwardness. “What? You have NO FRIENDS and you’ve been here since 15 years?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s..well..WEIRD”
, he said with a slight amusement.
“Yeah, people usually call me that.”
I’m so glad our conversation was put to an end by the history class. As soon as the bell rang, within seconds I found myself rushing back home in my car. Daring not to bump into Dean.

That night, my mother was constantly forcing me to take part in the Annual Art Fest organised by my school.  And like every time, I was refusing. But I noticed this was something she really wanted me to do. Recklessly, I enrolled myself on our college website. The competition wasn’t until Friday, and I had a whole week. I started sketching my heart out. I don’t think I told you this before, but there’s a reason I never showed my work to people around me. I think they’ll never understand the true beauty of it. The peace it gives me inside. The cool and calm I breathe through my soul. I unburden myself through my sketches. Through this, I connect with myself. And a mere applause and monetary rewards will NEVER be able to balance it’s worth for me. I completed 15 sketches in 1 week. And while I stood on stage with a dead silence in the hall I looked above, beside, below but never in front.

As I returned home proudly with the winning trophy, I wondered if Dean was in the crowd. But the thought wavered away as soon as I reached my place. My mom hugged me but somehow, she didn’t seem as delighted as I thought she’d be. “Sit down, Sienna.” I couldn’t understand. “I think it’s high time we tell you the truth.” She looked exhausted, helpless. I had no idea what was in store for me.
“You’re not our daughter, Sienna.”
For a fraction of second, I thought I’d misheard. But she meant it. I hadn’t been more scared and surprised in my life. “You’re kidding right?” I said. Expecting her to change her answer.
“Do you possibly think I would?” she said with a lump in her throat.

I felt nauseous. I couldn’t breathe. I was numb with complete disbelief.  “And you’re telling me this..NOW?!”
“We were just waiting for the right time”

“And you thought, NOW was a good time?!!”, I yelled at her shaking her a bit.

That was it. I couldn’t think of anything else. A part of me knew it wasn’t her fault. But a part of me hated her for separating me from my real parents. I couldn’t endure this hysteria. I had to get back my posture. I burst open the door and staggered my way out. I could imagine my helpless mother behind me. I chose not to look back. I sat on the over-bridge. Alone. Tears drifting down my face, warming my cheeks. 
“You know you really shouldn’t be here all by yourself.” 
I recognized that voice. It was Dean! I was too weak and vulnerable to ask him how he got here. “I went to your place to congratulate you. Your mom told me I’d find you here.”

“So, I know this is personal, but you’re mad at your mom, for what?”
“She lied to me!!??”
“Okay, but did you consider it even once, that why she did it. Did you not notice that in all these years you couldn’t have a single doubt, that’s how much she loved you. She has supported you just like every mother should.  She has done all her duties towards you. She told you the truth when you were mature enough. You should think this through before making a final decision. But as for now, you should go home. It’s cold ..and dark.and well..I’m hungry”

I went home and saw my mother waiting for me by the fireplace. And sat down near her. There was a silence, not an awkward one. But a rather warm silence.
“You know you were just a little baby when we found you.” she said, her eyes fixed upon the fireplace. “You were so beautiful.”  she closed her eyes and a tear rolled down her wrinkled skin. “We were having a normal walk on the beach when we saw a small little thing rolled in white cloth under a bamboo tree. When we went near it we found you lying there. We were surprised as to how could someone leave a baby at an odd and dangerous place like this. You were so weak. And undernourished. We took you home and took care of you. We made you healthy.

I wasn’t blessed with a child of my own so I took immense care of you. Treating you like my own. When you were healthy enough we went to the childcare community to send you where you belong. But no whereabouts could be found about your family. So we decided to adopt you. I swear to you Sienna, there’s no one in this world I love more than you. I nurtured you and always thought of you as my own. And even if you choose to walk away from me today, I will accept it, because I don’t want to imprison you. And if leaving us makes you happy then I’ll let you go.”

I listened to every word. Remorse. Guilt. My eyes brimmed with tears. “I’m not going anywhere Mom.”

So, this is Me.  I’m Sienna Rose Murphy. Proud daughter of Jane and Harold Murphy.  I sketch stuff that I like.  I have a best friend/crush named Dean. I have started making friends now and I find that it’s not that bad. I love all the few friends I’ve made. But there’s no one in this world I value and love more than my parents.  And yes, I sketch quite often now and my works are displayed in the local carnival every spring.

The Cry.

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12 o’clock. The bird on the clock in the corner cooed. 12 times there was a sound. Then silence. The only vigilant sound she could hear was the thundering rain. She pulled the blanket a little more higher, almost covering her nose as she shook a little due to the deafening thunder. It was dark. She could see nothing, but feel almost everything around and within her. Every emotion on its peak. She felt as if someone was sitting on the couch in the corner and staring her or that this darkness would slowly engulf and swallow her.

            The rain hit the window hard. The noise was bone-chilling. She could hear the sound of the strong wind that blew as if someone was crying and howling in the air. She could see the street lamp that flickered, making the raindrops visible for a second. She imagined the streets flooded with water, as she could distinctly hear it’s unsteady flow. 
            Thunder again, and the shower continued. Her eyes constantly navigated the room, as though expecting a sign of life in the dark deadened room. And suddenly there was a knock on the door. She froze. Her heart beat was far beyond normal, and she was cold like a corpse. For a second she thought she was hallucinated, but then again came three consecutive knocks. She could hardly believe what she had just heard. Who could it possibly be? In the middle of the night? Slowly, she lifted the blanket she felt safe in. Her feet touched the icy floor.  
             She made her way through the blind room, fumbling over furniture, crashing over desks, trembling with terror. She could not even imagine what awaited her behind that wooden door. She climbed the steps down, her hand covering her uncontrollable breath. Another two consecutive knocks, and she burst open the door.

A loud cry pierced the thunder of the rain. It was as if everything was on a standstill. The cry was so painful, so blustering and so strident that it appeared as if the dead would wake up from their graves. It was hard to figure out whether one was imagining, or if someone had actually wailed. She was gone. A cold rush of  rain swept the floor and the furniture around. The grey curtains, witness to what had happened, swayed along with the wind.
               Helena Patrick Williams, born 21st July, 1989 was never seen or heard of again. The children of the little town of Burksville were forbidden from playing around the  “William Cottage”, and no one dared look through the window of the room in which she last slept. For some years, she was talked about by the people of the town, but till this day, every night 21st of July it rains heavily followed by a thunderstorm, and her shriek is heard wild in the midnight. The children are put to bed early and people shut their doors and windows every year on that horrifying night. 
                What happened to Helena Patrick Williams, no one can ever answer that, but if  you ever hear six knocks on your door, in the middle of the night, would you dare open it?

The Box.

The weather was unbearable. The sun glistened brightly and the scorching rays of the sun added fuel to fire. Exhausted and irritated I drove my scooter returning and cursed everyone and everything I found. Cursed my work, cursed the roads to be so bad and hated my life to have so much HARD WORK, as I put it.

As I returned, an old man paused my way in between of a slightly narrow road. I could not disrupt the traffic and cut the side. I had to drive slowly. Slower than usual. I was getting angrier and losing my patience. I was tired already and this man was stopping me from reaching HOME and giving my tired eyes some rest. I blowed my horn continuously and impatiently.

Whilst I push hard the button that blew that screeching horn, something caught my eye. And I stopped at once. I saw a metal box. A long cylindrical box attached to the rear of his bicycle. It was a lunch box. This lunch box acted as a splash of water to a ground burning from the heat of the sun. A tight slap and a lesson to a being who always complains.
Awed with guilt, I wondered, what this man did for a living?
This old man, in his mid seventies, rode his bicycle. Thin and lean body. Black with sunburns. Hair line barely visible. Spectacles hanging loose on his nose, drove without caring for the rest. His weakness was visible by the way he rode. Slowly, as if his shoulder’s  were tired of the same factory he has been working in for the past 35 years. As if he was all by himself and as if he missed his childhood days, when under the mango groves he used to play with his village friends, unaware of the responsibilities that were waiting for him. I thought where his children were? Or if he ever had any?

Wondered what this man took in that lunchbox of his? Dried stale chappati or something of a treat to his taste buds? I wondered when he got home if anyone was waiting for him? Or if he had the bliss of a Warm or Cozy bed? I wondered how many hours he worked daily and how much wage he got in return.

I wondered how many times he was disrespected and ill treated to not have worked properly and  yet he never said a word. These thoughts flashed my mind and in a flick of a second this incident turned out to be a life lesson. I drove home, brimming with guilt and grief, and slowly slipped in that WARM bed of mine.

Life, is unfair, they say. Life is harsh, they say. Life doesn’t ALWAYS treat you well, they say.
One is never satisfied, I say. Count your blessings, I say.  You have far more to be happy for, than that old man.
You ride a bike, he has most probably never even sat on one, let alone riding.
You know you have a HOME to rest, he probably has a hut which he calls a home. You are right now reading this blog with some electronic device and an internet, he can’t even pronounce internet.
Don’t always complain, live each second fully and realize, that you have so many blessings to be happy for and so much to give credit for.