How was I to know this was a wrong turn? Of course, I didn’t know and like always, I refused to take any responsibility for my actions. The car had stopped on its own.
I looked around but wasn’t able to recognize the dark street in my inebriated state. My eyes wouldn’t stay open. “Let me get out,” I mumbled and tried to unlock the door. Nothing happened. I groaned, “Damn, Sneha! She forced the last drink on me but where am I? How could I miss my turn? Why can’t I unlock?” I shouted in frustration at the empty road in the middle of the night. A lone street lamp sneered at me. I glared at it in annoyance and decided to focus on more important issues.
The car coughed a bit as I again turned the key in the ignition. My mom’s words echoed “Everything demands maintenance Aaru. Stop taking things for granted.”
“Not now, mom. Stop lecturing me.” My hands involuntarily moved to my ears. The voice stopped.
Instinctively, I searched my pocket. There it was, my super cool gadget. Relieved, I took it out. My feeling was short-lived as it seemed I was holding some dummy phone. The battery was dead. I helplessly groped in every corner though I knew I never kept a charger in the car. My frustration was on the rise.
In my mother’s words, all I had done my entire life was to invite trouble. I knew I had been doing that. Living on the edge had always been my motto. What people called recklessness; I called life. Being the product of a broken home, I was completely disenchanted with much-hyped ‘love’. I had no faith in relationships. People saw me as Brilliant, bold and of course arrogant and rebellious. At thirty-five, I had everything except stability. “What do I want?” I had been asking this silly question in sobriety but hadn’t received the answer. Breaking all the rules and getting away unscathed at the nick of time was something that was close to happiness for me. Friends and lovers never lasted more than a month for intimacy was suffocating and strangulating. Boredom would soon replace the charm.
“Aaru, who lives like this? Look around you. Don’t you want to be happy?” It is on rare occasions that I heard her these days.
Stranded in unfamiliar territory on wintry midnight, I suddenly missed grandma. She too had abandoned me. She no longer spoke or responded. Does she even remember me? I had locked her memories in a remote corner of my heart that still had some warmth left. Earlier, I would go and sit beside her, sometimes to feel her presence but she tried to mislead me. I heard her whisper, “Don’t give up on yourself, Aaru.” I had stopped visiting her.
I opened my eyes. There wasn’t a soul around. I tried to unlock the car’s door once again and it opened effortlessly. Ice cold waft greeted me as I got down. I pulled my leather jacket closer and decided to walk a few steps.
It was weird that I had never been to this part of the town. Nothing was familiar about that road and the stranger was that in this overpopulated country, there was not a soul to be seen. I moved past the street lamp and decided to cross the road.
The rhythmic click-clack of my stilettos was breaking the eerie silence and I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder. My hands felt cold and numb. I shivered involuntarily.
“If only I could get a phone or a charger. Yes, mom, you are right sometimes. I should have checked my phone’s battery. Don’t say anything please for I will find my way out of this mess.” I was ranting. I didn’t want to admit even to myself that I was feeling a bit uneasy. A dog barked somewhere close by and I decided to follow the sound.
As I moved ahead, I felt my nervousness melting, for I could see in front of me a neat row of houses. They looked oddly familiar. Still, no sign of human race.
“What the hell is this?” I heard my shocked voice and stood still. In front of me was the house that I had known since my childhood. My grandma’s house!
“Am I hallucinating? My drinking issues have reached another level, it seems.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and then opened them again. Nothing had changed.
Brain doesn’t accept what goes beyond one’s reasoning and my brain too refused to accept the reality that stood in front of me. My grandma’s house was demolished many years back. I had seen a Mall coming up in place of this row of houses. How can it be possible? It is a dream as always.
It was exactly the same lane. All the houses had the same exterior. Red brick houses, with white gates and front lawns. I moved ahead to the third house. As I opened the gate, I heard his intense bark. Roofus.
The cobbled pathway leading to the front door wouldn’t let me walk straight in those high heels. Hurriedly I removed the shoes and left them there. Lush green grass, flowerbeds laden with marigolds, roses, and dahlias were the same as I remembered them. I stepped into the garden. The grass was damp. Was it dew or someone had watered it?
For a reason unknown, I plucked a yellow rose. I was still caressing it when the lawn lit up with a bright light and the front door opened.
Something rushed towards me with a supersonic velocity and I fell down on the grass. I could hear his excited, heavy breathing. My face was all wet, where he was licking me so lovingly. Roofus, my sweet, wild pet. How much I missed you! If this was a dream, then let it continue forever. I completely submitted to his fervor and excitement until he felt satiated. Finally, he sat down beside me, his loving gaze wouldn’t leave my face. I kept on petting him till his breathing returned to normal. The front door creaked and then I heard the only voice that I yearned to hear on this earth.
“Aaru, what are you both doing outside? Come inside, otherwise, you will catch a cold, dear.” She stood there, clad in her white saree, her grey, silvery strands gleaming in the light and her beautiful, wrinkled face looking at me with the same affection as I remembered from my childhood. Roofus meekly went inside while I stood there, rooted to the ground, tears streaming down my eyes. “Come in, silly girl, have mercy on my old legs.” She smiled and I ran to embrace her. “What happened, dear. Are you afraid? Everything is fine.” She was mumbling softly and I was sobbing. She didn’t let me go. A sudden calmness gripped me as she kissed my forehead. “My sweet little darling, let’s go inside. Your parents will be home soon. Your mama will worry if you are not in your bed.” She said softly and I nodded my head. We went inside.
It was just the same as I remembered it to be. We entered the living room, a small cozy space. Its peach-colored walls were adorned with some framed pictures and a painting. It was my grandma’s portrait of her younger days. Her twinkling, lively eyes greeted me and I felt a sudden surge of happiness. “Grandma, is it real?” I asked skeptically. “Of course, it is real, dear girl. Why are you asking?” She was smiling.
We passed the hallway to reach the last room. She opened the door.
It was as I had left it when we moved out. This was undoubtedly a dream. It was my room. I looked at the pink walls with white polka dots. I looked at the ceiling. It still had the stars and the moon that glowed in dark. The doll house stood in the corner of the room.
And then I noticed it for the first time. A mirror in the middle of the room in which I saw my reflection. Thirty-five years old woman was replaced by ten years old girl. I looked at grandma. She was her usual cheerful self, refusing to acknowledge or notice the shock in my eyes.
I looked at myself. I was wearing a night suit. My hair was braided in two neat plaits. Mom liked my hair like this.
Dad’s laughter rang in that room as he entered and picked me up in his arms. Mom followed him, smiling. Grandma looked relieved. I was confused.
“Aaru, you naughty girl. You are awake till now! You didn’t let grandma sleep?” Dad said jovially as he waltzed around the room, holding my hand. I looked at mom. I noticed a shadow of pain around her eyes. My heart felt heavy. Suddenly dad stopped and made me sit on the bed. “Aaru, your mom and I have something to share with you. I know you are too young to understand this right now but we don’t want anyone else to tell you.” Dad looked at grandma and she quietly left the room. I knew what he was going to say and I felt the same old anguish stabbing me. “No, Aaru, you are a strong girl and we both love you but sometimes love is not enough. We both cannot live together anymore but we are always there for you.”
“Why?” I was sobbing uncontrollably. I looked at them and saw it for the first time. The distress of a failed marriage. I saw tears in mom’s eyes. “It is my fault, Aaru. I want to move out. Your father and I are not compatible but he loves you so much.”
“Why, can’t you try to be together for my sake? Please, I beg you both.” I pleaded. Dad came close and hugged me. “Aaru, please forgive us. We failed you but I promise to be just a call away.” I looked at him with sheer hopelessness.
Dad moved out of the room and I and mom were left alone. “Aaru, I know you cannot understand what I did and why. I just want you to forgive us whenever you can.” Her choked voice was hurting me. I hated her but needed her more than ever. We both kept on lying in my bed, crying, and finally fell asleep.
“Wake up, sleepy head.” I heard grandma. She opened the curtains and let the sunshine enter my room. Roofus was waiting near my bed. Mom was gone.
Grandma kissed my forehead and smiled at me. “How are you, dear? I know how hurt you feel Aaru, but your parents are not going to change their decision. They had long ago moved on in their lives. We, elders, are very strange creatures, sweetheart. Your parents are the best parents but not the best partners. You will have to accept this change, my dear, otherwise you will never be peaceful.” Her soft voice calmed me down. “Come, let’s go out into the garden.”
I washed my tear botched face and went out to look for grandma. As I was passing by my parents’ bedroom, I heard my father’s voice. He was speaking to someone on the phone. For no reason, I decided to peep inside. The bedroom had a small partition that dad used as his study. I realized then why I wanted to come here.
It was still there, framed and covering the entire wall, a huge world map. Dad and I used to play our favorite game every day. He and I would find all the information on any country or city and then pin it as our discovery, aiming to visit it someday. He had rooted in me such a deep interest that I already knew what I wanted to be. A travel blogger and an explorer. How could I forget that? How could I take up this mundane office job when I had such a beautiful dream? If I am getting another chance to live my dream and rectify my mistakes, then why not? Is this the reason to travel back in time?
I came out to see her standing on her lawn, near the bed of roses. “Look here, Aaru, roses will never come without thorns but that can’t lessen their beauty and fragrance. I looked at her. She was holding a yellow rose, the one that I had plucked last night. “A closure is a must before you find recourse. Not everyone gets another chance. Isn’t it, dear?” I looked at grandma’s serene face and felt a longing. I don’t want to go. Let me be here safe and happy with you.
“No, Aarushi.” She read my expressions. “This is a parallel universe existing in some other timeline. Your visit was accidental. You consider it as a gift from the universe, but you cannot stay here. Now, go happily and embark on a new journey. Remember, your parents love you. Shrug off the baggage of anger and rebellion and let it go.”
I nodded and walked down the cobbled trail. My shoes were lying where I left them. I put them on and closed the gate behind me. It feels like a dream.
I walked down and crossed the lamp to reach my car and turned the key. Voila! it started without any trouble. As I reversed the car, my phone rang. Surprised, I took it out of my pocket. It was fully charged. “Hello,” I said. “Aaru, where are you? I was so worried. Your phone has been switched off since last night.” I heard mom’s frantic voice. “Relax, mom, Sneha’s party went on till late. So, I slept there. The phone’s battery had died. I am fine.”
“Aaru, your mom was so worried. You should have left Sneha’s number with her.” Dad sounded a bit annoyed and concerned. “Dad, are you with mom?” It was my turn to be surprised. “Yes, your mom called me when she couldn’t contact you,” he said. “Dad, wait for me. I am coming home.” I couldn’t hide my eagerness.
They were standing at the gate as I parked my car. Mom ran to hug me and I couldn’t hold myself back. If she was surprised, she didn’t let me see. I grinned at dad as he took a hesitant step toward me but I didn’t hesitate. I ran to hug him. Grandma was right. It feels good to let go. I felt lighter, happier.
We sat together to eat breakfast. I felt ravenously hungry. “Mom, dad, I wish to share something with you.” Mom looked excited. “You have finally found someone you love.”
“You are partially right. I have finally found, rather rediscovered something that I loved long ago.”
They looked confused. “I am resigning. I no longer want to waste my time doing something I never had any love for. Something happened last night to remind me of my dreams. Dad, do you remember?” I looked at him expectantly and he didn’t disappoint me. His eyes lit up and he nodded. “I am so glad that you realized your calling. I am here to help you in whatever way, you want. I mean, we are.” He looked at mom and she nodded her support.
Dad left after a short while. I dressed up and went to the office with my resignation. “Why, Aarushi? I thought you were happy here. You are due for a promotion. Have you applied elsewhere? My boss looked a little unhappy with this sudden news.
“No, nothing like that. You see, I always wished to travel. I have decided to do it now.”
“I don’t understand. You can always go on vacation. You don’t need to leave your job.” He retorted.
“No, this is the only thing, I had been wishing to do, all my life. Maybe I will start my own travel company with a few like-minded people.” I said quietly.
“Is this a plan even? Have you thought of the money involved? Aren’t you building castles in the air?
On some ordinary day, I would have lost my temper but not today. “Let’s see. And don’t worry. I will serve my three-month notice. By then you will find my replacement.”
I came out of his office and sat at my desk. Something was amiss. I couldn’t lay my finger on that nagging feeling. What was it?
Later, I remembered their curious faces, those who witnessed me running down the office corridor. I didn’t even wait for the elevator. The adrenaline rush made me climb five flights of stairs without much effort.
I reached home and shouted, “Mom, where is grandma’s old box?”
“In her room. Why? What happened?”
I rushed to her room. She was lying on her bed in that vegetative state as she had been for the past five years. The nurse was sitting on a chair, reading a book.
I looked inside her closet and found what I was looking for. In that ivory box, it was there. A Withered yellow rose! So, it wasn’t a dream. She never gave up on me. “Thank you, grandma,” I whispered.
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