Short Story: Tree of Wishes

She left and three years later, I received a letter. After three years of no contact, I received a letter from her- one that told me why she left, why she gave up, why she never returned. I never understood her. She was my true love, my happily ever after and she left.

John. You will receive this letter long after I’ve been gone- where, I can’t tell you because I know you will never, ever forgive me.

The day she left, we hadn’t any electricity. The heating in the apartment was dysfunctional and the room had felt so cold and miserable. I made us coffee while she sat on the table, clutching her favorite pen. There was just enough illumination in the room for us to see each other, but we never did. We never saw what could have saved us from drowning. I never saw the abandonment in her eyes; she never saw death in mine.

I have to leave- she had said finally, once the silence had amplified all the words unspoken. I nodded.

I never asked why; she never ventured.

There is a tree on the other side of the river, north to the roundabout that we met on, on New Year’s Eve. It is believed that if you whisper what you want to the trunk of the tree, you get it. A superstition I never believed in. Until I met you.

On the sixth day after her departure, I looked up the tree she talked of. Turns out, they call it the Tree Of Wishes and it is a fairly popular tourist spot in the city. A week later, as chance would happen, I had to meet with a friend near to the place. We had Thai food and while returning, I walked past it. It was a huge wide-trunked tree, its foliage expansive and some roots emergent. By the river, it looked majestic.

I wondered if I would have known about it had she not left me. I was a person of reason. Wondering around in the other side of the city for pleasure was something I would never do. That day, sitting on a bench near it, I looked beyond the river, into the city, hoping that by some strange way of fate, she would walk past the tree, talking to it of her plans of coming back. But of course, she never did or I wouldn’t have let go of her.

Getting take-out from the same place that night, I returned to our home, but I have never been back.

You were a wish John, a dream come true. You gave me a reason to be happy. However, it never takes long for dreams to metamorphose into nightmares. Happiness is fleeting.

I remember the day I found her crying. I had barged into the bedroom. Curled up on the floor behind the bed, her eyes were puffed up and her chest labored as she shook. She didn’t ask me to stay, nor did she ask me to leave. She just looked at me, for one infinite second, and everything inside me moved. There was nothing I could so. I simply sat on the floor beside her and took her head in my lap. I asked her what was wrong. She didn’t reply. So I just sat there until she fell asleep and I fell asleep beside her that night.

This became a ritual- she would break down, I would sit beside her, and we would both fall asleep. She never told me why she cried, I learnt not to ask.

I realized that this was the only way there was- not talking about it.

The truth is- I was afraid. I had fallen in love for the first time. I had never found myself dreaming about someone before, looking forward to talk to them all the time, and sleep with them, and cook with them. I never felt that and suddenly I was feeling all of it. It was as if I just realized that there are infinite shades possible or that there numbers never end. I didn’t know how to control my feelings for you. All I knew what I felt was never ending. And I was so afraid. I was so afraid of the immensity of what I felt.

The day that we met, she was talking about her favorite book with her best friend at the cafe where I worked part time. She wore a white button down with cute light blue flowers and jeans. She had a black coat on and a smart scarf that tied around her neck. Her hair was tied in a high ponytail but a lock of hair framed her face on one side.

Her eyes were sparkling, her expressions was animated and her hands danced around in front of her. Never once did her gaze shift from her friend while they talked and they sat there for over two hours, both lost in conversation. She looked so passionate, so vocal, so in the moment that I was mesmerized. When she left, her server handed me a tissue paper she had asked him to, bearing her name and number. I was shook.

I called her that night and she invited me over. She took me to her roof where we drank beer and watched the stars. We were facing the immensity.

I was so overcome with emotion every time I saw you that I would cry myself to sleep for being so lucky so as to have fallen in love with you. But I guess that is where everything went wrong. I had dived headfirst in love with you that I didn’t realize how much it hurt me. Until slowly, the pain was all I felt, and then, nothing at all.

By the autumn of our relationship, we were just two people who shared a house. There was no conversation, no luster of the time passed by. We hid behind the ghosts of who we used to be, not once realizing that we’d have to shed that persona someday. I did long shifts at work and sat till even later at the bar while she stayed home, doing whatever she did all day.

Her breakdowns were much more frequent and prolonged, so were our silences. Perhaps, the only time that we talked and touched and bore the faintest resemblance to who we used to be was the time when she broke down. But what we felt for each other had long since vaporized. We were two actors in a play- we were playing the part but we had long ago emancipated from the character.

It was around this time I started writing- about what I felt or rather, not. I wrote about our past lives, our present selves. I wrote about who we used to be, about what made us work, about how we were two people who were stuck together out of habit and how we were two people who had lost themselves and were thus losing the other. I wrote about myself, of who I was now and who I used to be. I wrote about what I wanted and what I didn’t. I wrote about my day, my job, my breakdowns. I wrote about you.

It was by chance that I came across her journal. Hidden in the sock drawer of our limited, shared closet, I had asked her what it was when my hand brushed against its cheap plastic cover by accident. It was then, with a faint smile that she had told me, she had started writing. I had just returned from the bar and was a little buzzed; when she had told me that, I was so surprised that I kissed her roughly. That was the last night we ever made love.

The events of that night are still unclear. What stands out, as brightly as a summer sun, is the smile on her face when she told me that. It was magical, transporting me back to the time when we were in love, and I had remembered a little something of the first day that we met. On our first date, she had told me that all she wanted to do was write. I had asked why.

Words are the powerful tools, we as humans have, she had said. We can make someone, break someone, hurt and love someone, all with the power of words. If my words can change even a single person’s life, I shall be the most fortunate person in this world.

These words still echo in my ears sometimes.

John, writing gave me a purpose in life. It gave me meaning again. We had stopped talking long ago. Our relationship had died. We were just too scared to pick up the pieces and move on. We walked on those pieces every single day. And seeing those times killed me, they did. My world that revolved around us was empty because you weren’t there, John. And no matter how many times I called for you, you never came back. Maybe you weren’t the person I wanted. Maybe because you weren’t that person anymore. Maybe you never heard my cries for help. It doesn’t matter anymore. The truth is that writing made my world feel a little less lonely.

The day she left, we hadn’t any electricity. The heating in the apartment was dysfunctional and the room had felt so cold and miserable. I made us coffee while she sat on the table, clutching her favorite pen. There was just enough illumination in the room for us to see each other, but we never did. We never saw what could have saved us from drowning. I never saw the death in her eyes; she never saw abandonment in mine.

This letter will reach you long after I am gone. My moving out was step one in moving on, in learning to feel again the same way we felt when we first met all those years ago. It was finally collecting the pieces and storing them respectfully for they were memories of a life that I had loved, but lost. It meant walking on a path unknown. It meant learning to fall in love all over again.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t see people anymore. There was no one who looked at me the way you did when you first saw me. Or maybe, I didn’t have eyes for anyone anymore. My world was a perpetually hazy cloud that refused to fade away; it was the winter morning fog that never settled. I had lost myself, I had lost you, I had lost my life. There were few moments of clarity. In fact, the only time I felt clear, alive was when I wrote. So I tried to do that every day. And I started a novel. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. Until it finished and I stopped. And I knew that that was it. That was my end.

Her novel got published two years ago. It received critical acclaim and was the recipient of multiple awards last year. I never tried looking for her, she never tried to contact me. I continued living in the same house; the walls faded, the heating stopped working, the curtains fell apart. I lived in a place that had seen me fall in love and fall out of love. The memories of my past also faded, until I barely thought of her, but some days, I would encounter a piece of paper in her writing, or a book that she had bought, or scent of her favorite perfume and I would go back to visit those wonderful years that night.

Still, I came across her interviews many times in the newspaper, but there was no pang in her heart, until one day, six months ago, a newspaper reported of her death. Apparently, she had overdosed on some anti-depressants in a motel room not far from our house. All her earnings were bequeathed to multiple charities. She left me this letter and her pen, the same one that she was clutching when she decided to move out.

Many times, over the past two years, I’ve heard people talk about her book reverentially. I’ve read about how it has changed people and lives.

I’ve never managed to read it myself. I can’t.

So I carry it with myself. All the time. In the hope that one fine day, when the sun is bright and the day beautiful, I will go by the Tree of Wishes and read.

So dear John, all I want to say is that I hope you can forgive me. I like to think of you as my closest friend and whenever I am stuck, I think of what you would do. Right now, as I sit with these pills in my hand and a glass of wine on the bedside, I imagine you wary, coming closer to me as you try to talk me into abandoning these pills. But by now, I expect you to have learnt that I am not much for caution and that diving head first is more my style.

Ishmeet, Gayatri And Forever.

Glossary: 

Diwali, Holi- festival in the Hindu calendar, celebrated across India. 
Badaun, Uttar Pradesh- a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh
Bauji- father
Mausi ji- maternal aunt
Agra- a city in Uttar Pradesh
Ludhiana- a city in the state of Punjab ( predominantly Sikh community)
Chennai- a city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu

~

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We were born three hours, two minutes and twenty seven second apart, on September 23, 1939. We hit off immediately. Our mothers’ were best friends, and our fathers’ bonded over politics, and so, as far as I can trace back, we spent every Diwali at their house and Holi at ours. I was the elder, something I reminded her at least once every day, much to her dismay.

I lived in a government colony that was separated from the rest of the city. Our area was actually green and clean as compared to the rest of the dusty and dirty countryside. Her house was next door. The accommodation that the newly formed Indian government had provided us was comfortable, on account of our fathers teaching at the Government College in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh.

Those days were amazing. There were no cell phones, no televisions or radios. One simply spent time living, not surviving. We did not live in a fantasy world warped with the idea that the number of likes on our picture and the friend we have on Facebook made us happy. We liked company of people. Ishmeet was the one person I always wanted to talk to. She was my best friend.

Our day would start by us meeting for our tuition that would happen at our houses alternatively, then we would have our lunch which we followed up by a walk. Sometimes, when we wanted to go out, bauji would send his driver and we would go for a drive in that old rattling Ford. In the evening, we had classes at the University where our fathers taught, and after that, we would go to the other’s house for dinner. Finally, at around eight, we would retire for the night, only to look forward to the next day. Where there was Ishmeet, there was Gayatri. We were friends’ forever. 

When we grew eighteen, Ishmeet’s father fixed her marriage with Gurvinder Singh. He was a nice lad of twenty four, practicing law under the tutelage of his father. He was an alumni of the university and had had his eye on Ishmeet for a long time. I liked him because I knew of him to be a respectable man. Besides, Ishmeet was happy, and so was I.

I, on the other hand, wanted to continue my education, an idea my father supported with gusto. He was way ahead of his time, and so he enrolled me for a Masters’ In English in the Agra University, very renowned back in the 1950s’. I left for Agra, where my mausi ji lived in the summer of 1957, after a tearful farewell by Ishmeet. We promised to keep in touch by exchanging letters. And we did, until I got the telegram in the fourth year of my education, by which I was been courted by a fine man with the name, Vikram Sanghwal, that Ishu had borne a child. It was a girl and she had named her Diljeet.

By then, Gurvinder had shifted to Ludhiana, where he had been appointed as a district prosecutor. I hadn’t seen her in over four years, I immediately booked a ticket to Ludhiana, with a stop at Badaun, to congratulate her. Vikram insisted that he accompany me, so I let him. I liked him, and it would mean that Ishu could meet him too. There was no awkwardness between us when we met. Pregnancy had done her well and she looked very beautiful. And Diljeet had literally won my heart. She was exquisite. Vikram and Gurvinder became good acquaintances and we spent a delightful two weeks there, during which Vikram proposed to me.

He told me how he had already talked to my father and how much he loved me. I said yes, and we got married on December 11, 1962. He was an amazing husband, we three years later, I gave birth to the most beautiful boy, who we named Anurag. I had been working as a professor in the Agra University by then, and was up for a transfer. Ishu and I were still in contact, but it was less frequent now that we had our own families to look after. Our letters had been exchanged with phone calls and our visits by photographs.

The next few years passed in a blur. I was busy with my family and my job and Ishu was busy with hers; I’d heard that she had started her own boutique. We sent some two three letters an year, rest all contact was sporadic, but we were happy. We met for some two three times during that period.

The year I turned forty two was an eventful one. Our small family of three had grown to a big litter of six, and I had been promoted to the position of dean in the Department of English in the Agra University. It was when I got my transfer. Be it luck of pure coincidence, it was to the University in Ludhiana. I was exhilarated at the prospect of my Ishu everyday again. When I called her, she was surprised to hear my voice but when I told her, she had screamed.

We shifted there in March 1982. Living at a distance that took some five minutes to cover, we met each other every day. We shared the same rapport now that our parents had shared back in the 1930’s. We were family. The kids mixed well with each other and the next year, we shifted from the University accommodations to our own house in the same block as the Singhs’.

Then came the fateful year of 1984. That morning started just as it did every day, with me going to the University early morning and the kids to school. Vikram had been in Chennai for a conference and Ishu had called me in the morning, “G, come over for lunch. Bring the kids too. I’ll make biryani.” I had replied, “I’ll be seeing you.

The day had been a hard one and I was wishing for lunch. On returning, I found the colony unusually quiet. I stopped in front of Ishu’s house and found the door ajar. It was unusual. On entering, it seemed as if the entire community was inside. Making my way inside, I found Gurvinder crying and Anurag hovering around nervously. I was shocked.

“What happened?” I had asked. Turned out, Ishu’s throat had been slit. The entire room was splattered with blood. Beside her body was a newspaper clipping that had screamed, “PM ASSASSINATED BY HER SIKH BODYGUARDS, Unrest in the city.”

I never saw her again. It was then I realized that forever is such and incorrect concept.

~

Five Word Challenge: August 2015

Set by David/Megan here, The Five Word Challenge consists of five words that are taken out of a magic word box having 500 words in it. The words for this month are:

  1. Book
  2. Lost
  3. Start
  4. Milkshake
  5. Werewolf

I would advise you to watch the performance in the above link. Also, play the music while reading the story for full effect.

Five Days Ago

I have always loved travelling. My dad and I, whenever we used to take trips, he always made me record all trips. That is one huge scrapbook now. I just counted yesterday, I have visited 102 countries till now. India is going to be my 103rd. I wish to become the youngest person ever to visit all the countries of the world.

My first stop in India would be Delhi, where I’ll spend four days, after which I will drive, in a caravan, to Rajasthan. From there, I’ll start along the coastline till Kolkata. There, I’ll drop my caravan and fly to Manali and travel to Leh from there. I’m gonna be in India for a month. After that, it’s China. So India, here I come!

Today

5:32 am

As I swallow my banana-n-milkshake breakfast, the steward gets my luggage and fills it in the hired RV caravan. The receptionist hands me a drive-to map from Delhi to Rajasthan and marks the best route for Alwar, my first stop.

4:51 pm

I exit the highway and started driving on the road to Alwar. Of course, the maximum traffic always diverted when an hour before I did because Jaipur here gets the maximum tourists.

6:27 pm

It’s been quite a while since then and I have hardly spotted a single person here.

8:14 pm

The road I had taken ended at a fort complex. I must have taken a wrong turn. Seems like I’ve lost my way. Ughh! I have to turn all the way back, find the highway and then drive to Alwar. I’m so tired now. It’s not easy waking up at four in the morning, packing up and driving. I am erect from driving and I can feel a mild headache rising. I think I’m going to just stay and spend the night here.

9:23 pm

I’ve had dinner. Beef cheeks, bread and cake. Lying on the stomach seems a little difficult now. There is not network here or I could have updated my blog and kept my readers busy. I think I might take a little walk around the fort, click some photographs, see where I am.

9:57 pm

I am back. The weird thing here is that the entire fort is uninhabited. Not even a security guard is here. There is utmost silence and it’s absolutely dark. And it’s cold. I was constantly shivering. I am more than happy to be in my caravan again. I don’t know why this place is giving me the creeps. On the other hand, I took some great photographs. One of which is a signboard. To bad I don’t have a network, I could’ve translated what this means.

ASI Sign board at bhangarh
For all my non Hindi reading readers, this sign proclaims that 1. It is forbidden to enter the area around Bhangarh between sunset and sunrise. 2. Entry of cattle is strictly forbidden. Legal action may be taken against offenders. 3. All the trees in the area are in government control. No harm should be caused to the trees. Legal action may be taken against offenders.

10:21 pm

I am reading my book but my mind keeps wandering to what my friend, Lisa told me while I was with her at the JFK Airport. She kept telling me how when she had heard from her friends that Rajasthan is the state of India’s most haunted place, Bhangarh. She told me all sorts of absurd stories about ghosts, phantoms, vampires, werewolves, doppelgangers and witches. I just laughed at them. I mean, the Winchester Mansion in California is supposed to be haunted. How many times have we been there? Seven. Did we see any ghost? No.

11:47 pm

I have finished my book. It was a sweet story. I, however, don’t feel very sweet today. I am irked and on my nerves. Maybe it’s just the long day unwinding on me. Outside, it’s pitch black. I don’t know what’s with this place. I’m going to get out of here the first thing tomorrow morning.

12:03 am

I’m drifting off to sleep. A light breeze starts somewhere and ruffles my hair. It feels misty outside and I can feel the moon’s gentle, shimmery light enveloping me. Somewhere, I hear something howl and with the tufts of winds outside, I sleep.

The Next Morning

The eagles fly high in the blue sky and the sun shines in all it’s glory. Some two thousand feet below, the area around the Bhangarh Fort is buzzing with activity. A local passing by found a fully mutilated body of an American woman recognized as Eliza Jonas, who had lost her way. The police claim the body has been in such a condition for the past seven days.

Two Tired.

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Yesterday was my birthday, I just turned twenty five. And the funny thing is that they made is special without even remembering it. They took me out for ice cream, after such a long time. And I was thinking all along how I can love this fool of a guy so much. To be truthful, from the day he started riding me, he’s been pretty much the apple of my eye.

I still remember that small, young boy, who loudly exclaimed at the store, “Papa, ye scooter bohot acchhii haii.” Annoyed me a little, after all, he woke me up after a long day of test drives. Then he started fiddling with the gear, then the mirror, until his father said sternly, “Rahul, stop that! We’ll come back later,” he added politely to the attendant, and dragged the seven year old Rahul away.

Time passed and I gave up on ever finding an owner, when suddenly, one day, his dad marched in again, his hair greyer, and proudly said, “My son scored 75.8% in his Boards. I want to buy that scooter for him.” Of course, he wasn’t the old Rahul I had made acquaintance with, but he accepted me and took me in, under his wing. Since then, I ‘ve been with him in all the time, I’ve seen all his colors, and have known him as well as he knows me, or he thinks he does.

Because, I remember the time when he first rode me, the cold wind kissing his tousled, brown hair. He laughed and laughed and laughed and talked and drove, all at the same time. I remember the time when he sneaked out of his house to the party. Oh, what fun I had, when he tried to quieten the grunts with blankets, and the thrashing he received later. I remember when he took me to that college bike trip to Jaipur. When he and his friends rode pillion, two or three at the same time and they’d all shout themselves hoarse. I remember the time when he carried his sister at the time when she broke her leg. It was from that moment that he assumed the role of the protective elder brother. I remember how he collected money from his friends to cover that dent. I remember how he’d volunteer to bring late night ice cream when everyone was at home just so he could meet her, his girlfriend. I remember how hesitant he was when he kissed her that night, the melting ice cream in one hand and her face cupped gently around the other. I remember all the moments that they spent together in the summers he was home from his hostel. And I remember the day they got married.

But then, they bought “something they could comfortably seat them and their children, a long term investment”. A car. A big car. Despite my happiness on seeing them flourish, I felt sad. That little corner in my heart that said, “Your time is over.” But, miraculously, it didn’t. He took me and his wife to the haat to but vegetables. Took his daughter to ice cream with me. Took me when he needed space or needed to get away from the cacophony of the daily life.

And today, I heard a 47 year old Rahul saying, “Tomorrow, I’ll teach Raina how to ride that scooter, it’s been a faithful companion. Besides, it’s a little old. Some exercise will do it good.”

The Wedding Bells.

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Early morning madness. Men drinking cups of tea while laughing raucously. Small children running helter-skelter. Women scolding them and then laughing it off. Inside the room, the atmosphere of silence prevailed as the girl stared at her made up face in the mirror. “Didi, you’d have to wear you lehenga now, if you want to reach the parlor at time.”

“Diya, don’t forget your big gold necklace, okay?”
“Okay,” she whispers nervously. Her heart beats faster as she steps gingerly into the perfect red lehenga. She feels a thrill of excitement as she looks at herself in the mirror. Ajay will be star struck.

*

The afternoon sun shines magnificently above them as they rush their way on the rickshaw to the nearest court. She sobs quietly in his shirt and he pats her head soothingly. He knew that that it was her only option and that it hurt her. Her parents would never agree to her marrying a lowly office clerk.
“It’ll be all right, Ganga. Don’t cry, please, it’ll be all right,” he murmurs quietly in her hair.
She whispers back, “Don’t worry, Krishna. I won’t let his men get to us, our happiness, and our marriage.”
“I know you won’t. I trust you.”

*

“No sir, not my daughter,” she cries as she clings to his leg mercilessly.
“A deal was a deal. Five years ago, you promised, didn’t you?” he shook his leg. Not hearing a reply, grabbing her hair, he yelled, “DIDN’T YOU?”
“Yes sir,” she screamed. “But sir, she’s my daughter. My only daughter, you can’t just marry-“
“I can do. You didn’t pay you money, did you?” he said, suddenly quiet. “So, now you have TO LET HER GO.”
He wrenches his leg free from her grip as his men tackle her daughter, who was too little, too scared to understand what was happening. She lies on the ground begging, crying as they drag her daughter, her dreams shattering, and her hopes drowning. Only the flat truth before her, she’d never see her beloved daughter again.

*

The veranda air was silent and somber. The woman’s sob were disguised with quick motions. She hardly notices the quiet whispering as she efficiently removes her jewelry and puts it in the box, never to be used again. She hands her a grey gown and lifts her up. She carries her across the veranda, to reach the door that just escapes the morning sunlight. She pushes her inside, and shuts the door just as the banging starts.
“He was my husband mother. I can’t do this mom, please,” she shrieks from inside.
She replies, wiping her tears and turns back, “He was my son.”