The wind cut on her face untraceable patterns as she walked a well-walked road. She paused for a breath on the sight of a familiar tree, then smiling to herself walked till she reached the house directly facing it. She raised her head and cupped her hands around her mouth to shout out a familiar name.
But no sound came out.
She tried again and again but only empty air passed through her fingers. The comfort of the words she was so well versed with, didn’t reach her ears. She stared at the house with almost a feverish longing, trying to place what had gone awry, why were things so different.
It was then that she saw her hands; a startled gasp escaped her lips on seeing the fingers that seemed so strange and yet felt like her own. They were longer, the palm attached to it wider and strewn with more lines than she remembered having. Her forearm was fleshier, as if someone had taken a few cotton puffs and stuffed it under her skin. On closer introspection, her hands seemed different altogether! As she raised her other arm to look more closely, she found an unfamiliar black object clinging to her palm.
A phone, her mind registered slowly. Similar to the ones she had seen on her parents. But what was she doing holding one? Then with a jolt, she realized, it was her phone. But since when did she start owning phones! Who owned phones in class 8!
Despite her bafflement, curiosity made her press a random few buttons on the object her mind suddenly claimed as ‘her’ phone. The contact list popped open. With growing horror, she scrolled down the names in ‘her’ contact list. Who were these people? How did she know them? How were they a part of her life?
Her fingers of their own accord opened the message section next. She felt a terrible sense of foreboding as she read the texts in her inbox and the replies ‘she’ had sent back. What was she saying? Why was she writing in a language she didn’t know properly? Hindi, Hindi was what she talked to her friends in wasn’t it? Then why was she conversing in something else?
A million questions rang in her mind in dull cacophony. She looked around her scared as all of them started coming towards her- the new names, the new language, and her hands that weren’t her hands anymore. She heard laughter then; a hollow, cynical laughter as if mocking over her current plight. She looked in all directions to spot the source of the laughter but there was no one in her vicinity.
It was disembodied. Just like her thoughts that had suddenly grown identities of their own and sprung up to haunt her.
The laughter increased and she heard new voices in it. They called her name but who did the voices belong to? She couldn’t recognize any!
Or, could she?
Terrified now, she started shuffling towards the one familiar house as all the new disembodied beings crawled towards her.
She looked up again to the balcony of the one room she had loved so much; she could almost hear the rocking chair creak inside, almost see a chest full of amazing things waiting to be marveled, almost hear the dull static of a radio perched on the window sill, almost feel the soft ink-stained fabric of the sheets.
Her eyes took her to the place inside that held all the wonder of the world, all the sunshine, two people whose head bent along with hers waiting for the laugh that was sure to come soon. She opened her mouth again to call out the familiar name but no sound came out.
Tears leaked from her eyes.
She saw her new being running towards her with determination bringing its scattered battalion along that seemed to cry in unison- “You are ours now. You are ours.” But she didn’t want to be theirs, she couldn’t be theirs.
She put in whatever force her new, unfamiliar body had, put in whatever strength it took to urge her new mind to run away. But what was she running from? How could you leave yourself behind?
She skidded to a stop in front of the potholes on the road ahead her. Cursing the drainage system and looking anxiously over her shoulder, she tried to find a way ahead.
As she searched frantically for a way out, her eyes fell on her reflection in the muddy puddle. She touched her face twice to believe it really belonged to her. It did look like her but yet, was so different! Everything about her seemed different. Her hair was swept back into single plait instead of her standard two ribboned ones; her brow was arched gracefully and her eyes were hidden behind glasses that she couldn’t remember possessing. Her arms and legs were longer and she herself seemed to be a bit taller. She was always whining about being short wasn’t she? Then why didn’t her taller being fill her with terror than elation?
And then, the mystery behind the entire thing dawned on her. All the complicacy had arisen from such a simple thing really. And the thing was that she had grown. She had grown in the inevitable way time demanded living creatures to grow.
And that is how everything had changed.
* * *
This one is for you Sushmita. And for you Arpita.
I don't know if it is just me who feels like running away back to the past sometimes. I don't know if the irrational feeling of being suffocated by the people around is something only I seem to have. You will your eyes to stay shut sometimes but when they open, you are blinded by that flash of sudden light.
These sudden flashes of painful light did not exist in the times when we were kids. And together.When 4 o'clock used to be the favorite time of our day and Tatasteel our favorite place in the world. When Arpelo running away from his leash was the only worry on our minds and books and Disney was all we could think about.
Uncomplicated lives. And such warm, amazing friends.
Whatever triggered this, I am thankful things worked this way. Sometimes, some things that pain you very much bring into light the people who never fail to make you happy.
You are two such people. I can't be grateful enough for having you in my life.
My childhood was awesome thanks to you. And my life would never fail to be awesome with friends like you. Having said all this, I still wish we could go back in time.
As I sit on my bed strewn with all the cards you people have so lovingly made for me over the years, I can't help but wishing for those times to come back. I want those times back. Why can't we have them back?