The fragile dream, the one that had shattered when life took over, haunted him constantly.
A dream of becoming a writer, of travelling to lands faraway, of finding inspiration in little known places.
For years, as he sat in a tiny cubicle in a big office, his desk cluttered with paper and post-its, the fragments of those dreams still haunted him. In meetings, in coffee shops, in malls, the remnants of the dream followed him.
At home, in the lonely evenings, the shadows chased him.
Till he could take it no longer.
He had to bring the dream back to life in order to escape its ghost.
People thought he was crazy.
Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.
He packed his bags and travelled to faraway lands, wrote stories, made friends, found inspiration.
No more ghosts.
He had oozed life into his dead dream.
And the dream, in turn, now, made him feel alive.
One fine Saturday, she did not go out to party.
She stayed in, cooked up mom’s signature dish( nah, not as good as mom’s), finished a book, called an old forgotten friend, put on the fairy lights, dived into a tub of ice-cream, munched on popcorn and watched her favourite movie.
To unwind, to feel content, sometimes we just need to stay home and do our favourite things.
The glow of the fairy lights on her face was ethereal as she fell into a deep slumber. Joy. Peace.
It was indeed a Saturday to remember.
“I am going out to the bakery”, said the old man to his son, who was basking in the sun, reading a newspaper.
“Dad,just tell me what you want, I will get it for you”, replied his son.
“No, I will get it myself”, said the father.
“Please Dad…”, urged his son.
“Why do you keep me cooped up, son!, I m going, don’t stop me. And anyway, the shop is just round the corner”, insisted the old man as he headed out of the gate.
“Fine, do whatever you want to”, exasperated, angry, his son replied, going back to his newspaper.
It felt good to be outside. He did not remember how long it was since he had been last out. He walked round the block, past the grocers and the chemist. He felt buoyant. He was fine, he wondered why his son had made such a fuss. He was just going to buy a loaf of bread.
Ah! There was the Bakery across the road as he turned round the corner.
As he stepped down from the walk to cross the road, it happened.
Where was he? Who was he? Confusion. He dropped to the ground. A car honked and screeched to a halt.
“I am here, Dad, I am here”, someone said as strong hands lifted him up.
The son. Who had followed his father all the way.
Early Alzheimers, bouts of forgetfulness. His father’s condition. He had not been angry, just worried when his Dad had insisted on going out.
“Let me get you home”.
As they walked back together, the old man leaning on his son, the latter whispered.
“I might sound harsh sometimes, Dad, but I will always be there for you. Always”.
Melancholy clung to him like skin.
An abusive father, a difficult childhood.
Into his cloud of sadness, she walked in. His silver lining.
In the years of bliss with her, the sun was just breaking into his cloud, when death snatched her away, at childbirth.
A new cloud of sorrow. The tiny baby in his arms, his new silver lining.
She gently runs her finger across the scar in her abdomen. A long, dark, distorted aberration.
Scars are always ugly, grotesque. A result of pain and sadness.
But this one is different.
It is beautiful.
She looks at the tiny,sleeping baby and blows a kiss.
A scar to be cherished. A scar to be proud of.
My parents made a long journey to witness the birth of my child. But they had to leave soon after and it broke their hearts.
So after seven months, I made the long journey with my baby to spend a few months with them. Just so that they could see her grow a little, so that they could love her in person, hold her, hug her, kiss her. Everyday, the joy they bring to one another amazes me.
Now I have to leave and it shatters my heart.
There will be video calls, virtual hugs, flying kisses.
What will be missing is the halo of happiness that engulfs her, them when they are together.
But what will remain is their remarkable love, the ardour of which will be enough for my child to bask in, inspite of the distance.
And to my husband, who never complained even if he missed seeing his baby’s first crawl, first word, first wobbly step, but whose love reflected off the screen in the video calls each day.
This is my story. An ordinary story of ordinary people, ordinary lives, of extraordinary love- a constant flow of it. And indeed, isn’t love all that matters?
Shilpi looked at the frail little girl sitting on the couch, the daughter of her next door neighbour she hardly knew. She had been killing yet another evening of loneliness,when the bell had rung. Her agitated neighbour had cited an unavoidable emergency before thrusting the girl inside and disappearing.
There she sat,hugging a shabby old teddy bear, wearing a dainty little dress and a flowery cap so fitted on her head, not a single hair could be seen.
“Hi sweetheart, what was your name, again? How old are you?”, asked Shilpi.
“I am Tanya and I am seven.This is Mr. Ted”, holding up the teddy bear.
“Hi Tanya, hi Mr. Ted”.
“Why are you sad?”
“Me? Why do you think that?”
“I don’t know. I just feel you are sad”.
Children can sense things adults cannot. She thought.
“I am just a bit tired”.
“Who is that man in the photograph?”.
My ex-husband. Who left me because I could not bear him a child.
“Where is he? Office? My dad also works late sometimes.”
Before Shilpi could answer, the little girl continued.
“Hold Mr. Ted for sometime. He can make you happy.”
She handed the teddy to Shilpi. Not knowing what to do, Shilpi hugged Mr. Ted.
A few minutes passed. The little girl was watching intently.
“Feels better, no?”
The warmth of the teddy and the honest eagerness in the child’s voice broke her. She felt tears streaming down. Tears that she had held for long, since the night her husband left a month ago. Tears for a future that could have been and that now could never be. Failed IVFs, doctor consultations, medicines, nothing had worked. Motherhood was a distant dream now. The love of her husband she had lost, the home she had built was now as barren as she was.
She felt the little girl’s arms wrap around her.
“My mom says we can stop tears if we say five magic words”.
“Oh, whats that?.”Shilpi asked, between her tears, hugging the girl back.
“I choose to be happy.”
“I wish it were that easy, Tanya”.
“It is, really, it has worked for me!”
“You are a child, it will work for you because you have not a thing to worry about, dear.”
“No, really. Look, I wanted that Princess dress that Elsa wore in the movie Frozen. Mommy said that I can only have it when we have enough money. I was still happy, I chose to be happy even if I did not get it”.
The sincerity with which the girl said this made Shilpi smile.
“Haha, there, you smiled! My dad says I can make anyone smile!”
“You sure can”.
As the evening melted away, the home and the heart where loneliness lurked filled with joy with Shilpi listening to the bubbly little thing chattering away.
“I choose to be happy”, those words had struck a chord in her heart.
As she watched Tanya dig into a bowl of ice-cream, all of a sudden, out of the blue, realisation stuck her. She could adopt a baby! Barrenness was an ugly word she had labelled herself with. She could always be a mom. Everyone could be a mom. And she needed no man in her life to become one.The more she mulled over the thought, the happier and more hopeful she felt.
Tanya’s mom arrived.
“Thank you so much for looking after her. I simply had to get this thing done today as tomorrow we have Tanya’s chemotherapy session.”
Seeing Shilpi’s look of shock, Tanya took off her cap.
“Oh, I talk so much, I almost forgot to show you this! Bald is beautiful, Aunty, no?”.
Words failed her. She nodded and bent over to hug the happy little girl, sobbing, shocked.
There was too much sadness in this world, her own worries now appeared trivial.
“There is a parcel for you, Tanya”, said her mom.
Excited, she opened the package.
In it, was the most magnificent princess gown she had ever seen or imagined. Layers and layers of blue and aquamarine and sequin beads.
“Who is it from,mom?”
“No name, dear. The note just says-To a Brave Little girl- I chose to be happy…because of you.”
A difficult childbirth, a foreign country with no family. That is how our parenthood journey began. All nights when I soothed my colicky baby, it was my husband who stood there with me late till morning came; everyday when he came back from a high pressure job, he took over everything- dinner, baby, errands and pushed me to relax. He played with our baby, cleaned her, bathed her- effortlessly slipping into the role of a doting dad. Office, shopping, household chores-he looked after everything. He was tired, but all he saw was my tiredness and selflessly, gently made my life smoother, easier each day; without complaint. Now our baby is 11 months and a cheerful, happy kid, all thanks to my husband as he continues his role cheerfully. Adoring his daughter is another thing he does beautifully 🙂
I have loved my husband for so long that I had forgotten the reasons for my love-that he is so caring, so kind and so giving. Embarking on this journey together has made me fall in love with him, again.
“Dani, tell your mom, its been a long time since I had scrambled eggs”, said her father at the breakfast table, winking at her.
“Mom, Dad says its been…”, started Dani.
“Dani, tell your dad this is not a restaurant, he has to eat what he gets, even if it is a boiled egg.”, pat came her mom’s reply as she clonked her own plate onto the table and sat down.
“Dad, mom says this is not…”, Dani said.
“Dani, let your mom know I realised that this is not a restaurant years ago, because the food there is so much better.”, her Dad winking at her again.
” Mom, Dad says he knows…”, Dani said suppressing a giggle.
Her Mom glared at her and then at her dad.
Dani started sending a text to her best friend, her fingers deftly typing,
” Mom and Dad are at war again.”
” Haha, what fun! The reason?”, came the reply promptly.
“Dad, what did you do this time?”, she whispered into her father’s ears.
“Wet towel in bed, dear”, he smiled,whispering back.
She giggled and typed into the phone.
“Stop whispering and finish your breakfast and go off to office and school. I do not know what I will do with you two”, her mom said, glaring again at her dad.”Both kids, both impossible”.
Finishing breakfast, as they made towards the door, Dani’s father said, ” Dani, tell your mom, I love boiled eggs as well”
“And tell your Dad next time he leaves a wet towel in bed, I will go off to your Grandmom’s and never come back”.
“Now, now, we dont want that to happen”, said her dad as he stooped down to kiss his wife goodbye.
As they walked up to the car, her mom called out from behind, a hint of a smile on her face,
“Tell your dad I will make him his precious scrambled eggs at breakfast tomorrow”.
As they got into the car, Dani typed a text to her best friend again.
“I wish someday, I have a marriage like theirs”.
It is always the eyes that you notice first in a person.
That was what he noticed about her.
Her eyes, the pain in them hidden by a conjured up calm- false and fake.
A woman who had put up a fight with grief, but alas, had not won.
He was no stranger to pain himself. He had lost his wife a year ago but thanks to this support group,these meetings, his pain was numbing, still there, but he could now go days without letting himself feel it.
As they now sat in a circle, the coordinator asked the new member, the one with the calm eyes to share her story.
A loss of a young child, the aftermath – a broken marriage, a dissipation of love. That was her story, which she told with a detachment that surprised him.
Later, on their way out, he stopped her.
“You should have let them flow”, he said accusingly.
“What?”, she questioned, a defiance laced with anger
“Tears. This is what these meetings are for. So that you release the grief that is gnawing your very soul.”
“Its difficult, I have been grieving for too long and too alone”, she answered, all defiance gone from her voice,
“Sometimes, only grief can counter grief”, he said as he walked away.
“I do”, the vows taken, they kissed each other.
He looked at her, her eyes were devoid of the pain he had seen hidden in her eyes in their first meeting two years ago, in its place was a brightness that had only grown as they had come closer.
She smiled at him. He had been right, grief indeed had countered grief, love rising from the ashes of sorrow they had buried together in those meetings.
A little girl ran up to them. His child, now hers too.
A balance called life.
This time, her tears flowed easily as she bent down to hug the little girl.
As she lay on her fluffy pink bed, she felt happy, content, even a bit ecstatic. She had gone to the big park today. She had plucked flowers, zoomed down on the slide, hopped onto a see-saw. But it was the swing she had loved the most. She could still hear the creaking sound of it, she could still feel the sun and the breeze kissing her cheeks as she had whooshed to and fro. She had made a friend too. A girl who had come up to her and on being prompted by her mom, passed on two shiny marbles to her. Ah, she loved the park, the freedom, the glee, the joy, the friendships that she could make.
She let her eyes wander around the room- the huge soft, cuddly teddy bear, the huge collection of marbles in a gold rimmed jar, her favorite storybook, a big pile of rainbow colored dresses. The ceiling had a soft glow of a thousand tiny sparkly stars. She was one lucky girl, which is why she might make it to the park again. She smiled at the thought.
The last thing she saw before drifting off to sleep was her loving father coming in with a warm blanket.
Her father placed a torn rag over her as he looked around, wondering what she was smiling about. His eyes fell on a ragged old teddy bear with an arm missing, a torn magazine and two pieces of rags that were hers.
‘This kid’s got an over- imaginative mind, I’d better give her a beating tomorrow before she goes out to beg, just to make sure she looks desolate enough’, he thought as he came out of the makeshift tent under the bridge.
A thousand tiny sparkly stars pinned to the gaping hole in the tent looked down upon the girl; the moon suddenly glided its way inside and two marbles half hidden in a corner reflected a kaleidoscope of colors.