“Allison, come on!”
“Mom, do I have to? I mean I am sure you can do it by yourself” Allison grumbled and looked at her mom.
“Allison, we have spoken about this before. Yes, I really do need you to come. This is the one time I could do with some help. It’s not too much to ask, really!”
“Ok, fine. You don’t give me much choice here!” saying so, Allison walked out through the front door.
Megan shook her head and gave a wry smile. Teenage was tough, she had heard from her friends. But Allison was another story altogether. When teens hit, she went from a lively, vivacious child to one who was prone to mood swings at the drop of a hat. She withdrew into her shell, hating to interact with family and friends alike and uncomfortable and awkward around strangers. And being an only child, Megan missed her company the most. Richard was away most of the time, traveling on business and Megan didn’t know how to draw Allison out. She really wanted to bridge the gap. Hence, this Christmas shopping expedition had been planned.
It had taken a lot of coaxing, but somehow Allison had agreed. And now they were off to the largest mall in town, called The Big Shop.
Allison wore her headphones all the while in the car, while Megan concentrated on the road. Suddenly, Allison threw her headphones down in disgust and said, “Damn! The left one stopped working a while ago and the right one now has sound echoing through it. Mom, I really do need a new one you know! Can we please look for it while we shop at the mall?”
Megan smiled and nodded. Whatever it took to make her baby girl happy. Parking the car, they walked in and spent the next hour on some serious retail therapy.
As they walked out of H&M, where Megan had bought Allison some clothes on a whim, they looked at their hands laden with bags.
Megan sighed and said, “That’s it, I think. We have picked up gifts for your aunt and grandfather, your father. Oh, I think we forgot one for grandma. Allison, we will need to head to the curio shop we passed a while ago, the one around the corner. You know how your grandma loves old items. Come on, let’s finish this. Christmas shopping always stresses me out.”
“Okay…not that I have any choice here,” Allison grumbled.
Sauntering into the curio shop, Allison looked at the items in disdain while Megan gushed over the artifacts on display. Large clocks adorned the wall, ceramic hand painted plates and plaques filled corners. There wasn’t much space to move as cabinets sprung in the middle of the floor, crammed with wares from around the world. The tables were laid out with silverware – trays, goblets, spoons and knives. Mild instrumental music was playing in the background and felt very eerie and surreal at the same time. There was even a water fountain in one corner which seemed to be emanating smoke and adding to the effect. Allison’s mom finally chose an enameled trinket box for her mom and while the woman at the counter was packing it, Allison reminded her, “Mom, my headset! We do need to get that…”
The lady behind the counter piped in, “What kind of headset are you looking for? We have some older variety and they are earphones, not headphones. But they all do have excellent sound.”
Knowing that Allison was about to bite the poor woman’s head off, Megan gave her a look. Allison acquiesced and headed to the counter where they were on display.
“There are some here from Pioneer, Sennheiser and yes, Sansui too. But I personally recommend these ones from Philips. Simple to look at, yet their sound is great.” Saying so, the lady pulled down her glasses to the bridge of her nose and looked Allison up from head to toe.
Allison didn’t know what to make of her. Her mom tilted her head, encouraging her to try them on. She looked at the pair of metallic grey earphones with skepticism. They were quite drab in her opinion and she had been eyeing the latest bluetooth ones for a while now. But knowing her mom’s eyes were on her, she connected them to her phone and tried them on. Small and a snug fit they were, yet seemingly comfortable. She hit play on her phone and felt the music reverberate in her ears. The sound was so loud and clear. It almost felt like the singer was crooning to her in person. She enquired about the price and was amazed that for that price, they were quite a steal in fact. Allison decided to go ahead with the same and hugged Megan in glee. The woman behind the counter tried to hide her smile.
Megan was glad that she managed to bring a smile on Allison’s face. She counted these as small victories and couldn’t wait for teenage to officially end.
As soon as they reached home, Allison grabbed her earphones and disappeared into her room, only surfacing for dinner. Megan and she had a quiet dinner and once the table was cleared, Allison disappeared again. Megan thought, Ah, well! I guess I will have to get used to this.
Morning dawned and rushing through her chores, Megan got a sandwich ready for Allison to take to school. Allison was fourteen now and was studying a few miles away at a private school. She preferred to travel by the Metro and Richard and Megan didn’t object, because they felt it would make Allison more independent. Also, the Metro station was just a few blocks from their home.
Allison came rushing downstairs, delayed as usual. Grabbing her glass of juice, she picked up her sandwich bag and dumped it into her backpack, bid goodbye to Megan and was out of the door in a flash. Megan ought to have been used to it by now, but she wished if only she and Megan would sit together for breakfast and talk for a bit before heading out for the day. Megan was a realtor and usually started late, so she had a little spare time in the morning.
Allison hurried down the stairs of the underground Metro. The train pulled in right on cue and Allison plugged in her earphones and settled in her seat. She rarely looked up to see the people around her as she hated crowds and the Metro was usually noisy. Alicia Keys belted out ‘Raise a man’ and Allison tapped her feet to the music.
Suddenly, the words “I can’t take this anymore. I need to get away. What have I done? There is no other choice” and then the song continued to play. Allison stared at her screen for a moment and rewound the song. She had heard this song umpteen times before and there had never been any interruption. Maybe the file was corrupted, she thought. Then she would need to erase this song and download it again. Damn! As she replayed the song, there was nothing there. Maybe it had been her imagination. Shaking her head, she played the next song and Justin Bieber’s voice filled her ears. She was quite impressed with the quality of the music that these simple earphones were dishing out. And then, “I will send a message to Jazz before I jump off. My insurance will keep her comfortable for a few years while she gets back on her feet. I am so, so sorry baby!” and it was gone with music playing again.
Allison was shaken up. She had not imagined that, she was sure. There was something wrong here. She pulled her earphones off and glanced about. There was no one seated next to her. And there were only three other passengers in the car now. One was a woman, around forty and two other men. One of the men had his face buried in a newspaper and the other was a black guy, between 25 to 30 years. And the voice had been that of a man! There was nothing odd about either and she didn’t think anyone amongst them would have come close just to shout into her ears and scramble back to their seats. Maybe she was just imagining things.
The train pulled up into her station and she hurriedly slipped off her earphones and shoving them in her bag, got off. The rest of the day passed in a blur with school and studies. As she headed home, it was back to music while she travelled and she was back home before she knew it. She had an assignment that needed to be submitted the next day and the rest of the evening passed away buried in her books.
As she headed out the next morning, she dug into her bag and pulled out the earphones once more. The train was particularly crowded and the seat next to her was taken by an elderly gentleman. Busy listening to Justin Bieber once again, she barely paid attention. But one of the sheets of the newspaper he was reading, slipped and fell into her lap. She picked it up and was about to hand it over, when her eyes fell upon a small news article in the left corner. The face on it looked familiar. She took a closer look and was shocked.
The article read “Guy jumps off bridge and dies.” It was the same black guy who had been on the train yesterday morning. She could not be mistaken. The article also mentioned that he left behind a wife, Jasmine and a little boy all of two years. Jazz, she remembered. Oh lord, this couldn’t be true! Her hands started shaking and she was perspiring all of a sudden. The elderly man noticed her discomfort and asked her if she needed help. Muttering a “No” she got off the train at the next station which was hers anyways.
How she reached school, she didn’t remember. But the face haunted her for the rest of the day. At dinner too, she was unusually quiet and Megan inquired if she felt well. Allison said it was nothing and headed back to her room. Megan left her to her own devices.
Sleep eluded her and the rest of the night was spent tossing and turning. She thought of discussing it with her mom, but how would Megan believe her? She had nothing to prove that she hadn’t imagined it. It could be a coincidence, only Allison knew that it was not. She pulled out the earphones again and somehow knew that all this was connected to them. But how?
Groggy the next morning, she padded downstairs and after a listless goodbye to her mom, headed to board the Metro. As Ed Sheeran crooned ‘Perfect’, she looked about expecting another voice to interrupt. But strangely, nothing happened and before she knew it, she had arrived in school.
As she headed to the locker to lay down her coat and hat, before going to her class, she heard it again, “How do I get out of the date with Kylie? After a long time Allana has finally agreed to meet me tonight at the open air cinema. I will need to find an excuse to get out of the date with Kylie.” And Alicia Keys was back.
She looked around and saw Marshal in front of his locker, emptying half the contents of his bag. Marshal was Kylie’s boyfriend and she knew him very well. They had been carrying on steadily for the last year or so.
For a moment, she was flummoxed. Had she just read Marshal’s thoughts? It had seemed like he was directly talking to her. She shook her head in disbelief and glanced at her earphones. Pulling them off, she turned them around. They were so ordinary. There was nothing special in them, or was there?
Kylie was her friend and they hung out together sometimes. She managed to catch Kylie at lunch and got to know that Marshal had cancelled his date with her for tonight. Wanting to expose the two-timing cheat, she made a plan with Kylie to go out for a movie at the open air cinema as it was within walking distance of their homes.
Feeling good about herself, she rushed home. She breezily told Megan that she was going out with Kylie for a movie and Megan noticed the spring in her step and the liveliness in her voice. Although Megan would be home alone for the evening, she was happy that her daughter was finally going out with a friend.
Allison and Kylie reached the open air cinema and seated themselves. There were many older couples around, but there were some teenagers too. The movie was an old one, ‘Home Alone 3’ and as Allison looked about, she saw most couples were busy making out.
Suddenly, from the corner of her eye, she caught a movement. There he was, Marshal! And Allana was right there too, beside him. Allison tugged at Kylie’s hand and pointed in the direction. Kylie pulled her along and marched straight to Marshal.
“Marshal, what are you doing here? Didn’t you have to go out for a family dinner tonight?”
“Kk..ylie, yeah I did. I mean I had to, but dad cancelled at the last minute. And then Allana called….” he trailed off.
“What I called you? Didn’t you tell me today in school that we must catch a movie?” Allana jumped in.
“Kylie, I mean I wanted to tell…But I couldn’t.”
“Marshal, man up. We have been together for a year and I have never thought of anyone else. The least you could have done is shown some decency and told me yourself. I never knew that a simple movie outing with my friend here would bring me face to face with something like this.”
It was then that Marshal saw Allison. She held her breath waiting for the axe to fall, but there wasn’t even a flinch or a flicker. He looked at her but didn’t know that she had been the catalyst. Without waiting for an answer, Kylie walked away pulling Allison along with her. Allison turned around to see Allana give Marshal an earful and tried to hide her smile.
That night Allison was too excited to sleep. She now wore the earphones wherever she went. On the way to school, at school when she could, even at home. And then one night, she heard it again while she was helping her mom in the kitchen and they were working side by side. “How I wish I knew what Allison thinks. She had been such a happy child and was always telling me things. Now she barely glances in my direction. Even now as we are doing the dishes together, she doesn’t say a word. Her earphones are plugged in again. Even Richard doesn’t understand my concern. At times, I wish she had stayed a kid forever.” And Megan sighed, just like that.
Allison didn’t know what to think or say. She was herself shocked. She had never realized when she had withdrawn and to such an extent that she had stopped communicating with her parents especially her mom. Her mom who was by her side all the time, cheering on from the sidelines, catching her when she fell, wiping her tears, taking her shopping, doing countless little things for her when needed, without any questions and most importantly, loving Allison.
She spent the night introspecting and agreed that what her mom felt was true. And she also knew that the key to it was in her own hands. She decided to do something about it. And with this resolve in mind, she fell asleep.
The next morning Allison rose early and told her mom that she was hungry and wanted to eat breakfast before school. Megan was surprised, but she quickly rustled up an egg sandwich for Allison. Allison told her about her upcoming schedule at school and then grabbing her lunch and backpack, left for school. As Megan waved her off, she couldn’t stop smiling.
At school, Allison chatted with Aaron who was telling her all about the rough time he was going through as his parents were seeking divorce and were locked in a bitter custody battle. She knew it already all thanks to her magical friend and she boosted his morale, telling him that the judge would surely taking his feelings into account. Along the corridor, she bumped into many others who she had recently become friends with. To her the world seemed much brighter and happier. She felt the change in herself and her popularity had soared. But most importantly, she enjoyed helping others out, albeit through an unconventional route.
As days went by, she spent more and more time with her mom, seeking her help and advice whenever needed. The mother-daughter duo was complimented too when the family got together for Christmas and for the first time in a long while, Megan relaxed.
As they cleared up the kitchen, Megan asked, “Allison, are you really happy?”
“Mom, what do you think?” Allison grinned impishly.
“I think you are; you really are. But what happened that changed you so?”
Allison contemplated telling her the truth, but she knew her mom would never believe her. I mean who in the right mind would? So, she let that one slide and simply said, “Nothing Mom. I guess I realized what’s important to me. And I would never change it for anything in this world.”
As Megan hugged her daughter, Allison smiled thanking her magical friend. For now, it would remain a secret. Who knew what adventure awaited her next?
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