Category Archives: Of Friendships and Friends

Of Almosts

..pulling her hand, to the tune of the rustling autumn breeze, he runs to the crooked, little wooden bench and they both sit. smelling the enticing taste of roasted apples that waltz past them. he almost says it, almost. the words are right at the tip. and almost out there. slowly slipping off the edge. staying a while. threatening to spill.

she tugs at his shirt and his eyes burn into hers as she looks up at him. her dark pupils gleam with curiosity as he studies her, gulping, lingering a while and slowly breathing out.

as the noises come closer, his breaths become more frantic. he pushes past the words threatening to flow out, dreams glistening in his radiant blue eyes that never fail to amaze her. they hold a sincerity, so profound that she can feel herself live the stories that his eyes hold.

“that’s all you wanted to tell me?” she mumbles, her eyes holding hope. she tastes hope. and anxiety. and fear. sweet and sour and a million things more.

and he almost says it, but doesn’t.

“yes, that’s it. it was nothing.”

isn’t there more? she wants to ask almost. but, doesn’t.

and he turns away and looks at the sun. purple and orange and darker tones. and she looks away and watches the sunset too. a sunset of a million hopes and the one story she was almost sure of. almost.

(Image credits – Siddharth Mohanty)

Of Things Left Unsaid

I looked at him, my eyes pricking with heavy tears. A blinding headache was slowly making it’s way, and I sat there with throbbing temples and an almost breaking heart.

“You- you’ll leave?” I spoke slowly, holding on to the slightest hope that he might just laugh it off and say that he’d been kidding.

He shrugged and looked at me.

“I have to,” he muttered.

“But-,” I shouted. He waited for me to say something but suddenly, I could find no words to fill in where I left.

“Say something?” he pleaded. “Please, anything. But just don’t sit silently.”

I nodded. Pushing myself up from the bench, I stood facing the withering autumn forest and the sunset that slowly approached. With every shade of orange that turned darker, I broke a little more inside, because time was flying by.

“I told you,” I whispered. “I told you not to apply for that freaking program because heck, I knew you’d get through. You’re a bloody genius! I knew you’d ace the exams and then you’d have to go! That is why I told you not to apply for it!”

“But,” he interrupted, “you had mentioned some other reason! You told me not to apply because you wanted us to apply for some other program!”

“I lied!” I spoke. “I lied. Would it have stopped you from applying had I said I didn’t want you to leave? That I was afraid of losing you? That I just can’t imagine a day without you? And that would have stopped you? No! We’re grown ups now! We’ve to take decisions for our own lives! And no, no matter how great a reason I’d have given you, you’d have left anyways! You do that! You leave!”

Falling back on the bench, I buried my face in my hands and cried. Shoulders heaving, my hair plastered against my cheeks in a mess of sweat and dirt, I cried because I knew he was leaving and that he’d never return back. What hurt even more was he didn’t even try to console. He had always been there to hold me when I cried. But today, even when he sat only inches away from me, somehow it seemed like he was so far away. Like he was slowly moving away from me.

“You’re being too immature,” he retorted.

I shook my head and between brimming tears, I laughed.

“See, I knew you’d say this!” I said, looking up at him and smiling. “There was a time when you were the immature one! And you’d come running to me for advice! And now, here you are, leaving in a couple of hours and I’m suddenly the immature one?”

Taking a deep breath, I continued.

“Yes, you’re probably thinking now as to why I’m acting like this. Things will be totally fine, won’t they? There’s phones and internet and Skype. Heck, what could even go wrong? But you don’t know my stories! I’ve been through a whole lot of situations like this! People change. They change. Time and place changes them. I know! I’ve changed. My old friends say so. And you’ll change too. I don’t want that. I don’t want you to leave.”

“But we’ll be fine!” he said.

“How?” I cried. “What about the Sundays? What about our plans? What about the parties? I can’t imagine a single one of them without you! But does it even matter to you? No! Because you’re going to a new place! There you’ll meet newer people, may be a few who are better than me. You’ll forget. And then one day, we’ll meet somewhere and there’ll be nothing to say! And no, no matter how many times you say me that is not going to happen with us, I’ll not believe you.”

The rest of the things were a blur. All I remember was him standing up and muttering a goodbye while I got into my car and cried. He left. He never called me once. And I never did too. It was surprising because never had I thought I’d get over him so quickly. It felt strange. It felt bad. But somewhere, it felt better.

Then one day, we met again. He had come back to the town during his vacations and we ran into each other at the ice cream parlour.

“Hey,” he greeted me.

“Hi,” I smiled back.

Then, both of us turned away and placed our orders.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“I’ve been great,” I replied. I lied again. Somehow, even though I had convinced myself that I had gotten over losing my best friend, it hurt ten times more, standing in front of him, seeing him all changed.

“And you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I’ve changed.”

“We all do,” I smiled. “When are you leaving? I thought if you’re in town for the next couple of days, we could may be hang out?”

“I’m not going back,” he said.

“But it’s only been three months!”

“I’m not going back.”

“Why?”

“Because, I don’t want to. Yes, we’re grown ups, but I don’t want to go anywhere without you. There’ll always be better chances in life. But this place, you people, you’re worth every missed chance. I’m back. I’m back for you,” he said. “And no, there’s never going to be a moment when we meet somewhere and have nothing to say.”

Over melted scoops of butterscotch ice cream and heartbreaks, we talked like there’s never going to be a tomorrow.

Of Heartbreaks

It felt cold. Almost numb and unfeeling.
There he stood, chatting away with my friend, staring down at her with a shine in his eyes I’d never seen. And to a corner, I stood, clutching the straps of my bag, biting my lips and looking down at my worn out red sneakers.

I heard them laugh. I watched them hold each other’s hand. And somewhere in that moment, a silent tear slipped down my cheek. Why, wasn’t it the very same guy I had been pining for since the last month, dreaming like a typical teenager, falling trap to his charms. How did I miss out the fact that every time he talked to me, his eyes never met mine, for he kept looking for somebody else? How did I not see the tiny little hints my friend left with me to tell him, and yet I hopelessly fell in love with somebody who could never love me?

Bringing a hand to my cheek, in the pretext of wiping my nose, I wiped away the stray tear and smiled.

“Why are you standing there?” he called, his voice so happy that it made me cringe.

“Yes! Come here, you idiot!” she called too.

A part of me kept breaking and the other part silently picked up the pieces. I felt like turning around and walking away, but I knew I’d cry. So, I walked closer to them and flashed them a grin that hurt me so much to tell.

“See,” she proudly declared, “She is the reason why we both are together now! Had she not helped, I’d have never met an amazing person like you.”

He looked up and laughed, his knees slightly bending and his hands in his pockets. I fell in love with that too.

“Well, there’s always this angel,” he gave me a grateful smile and I smiled back.

With each smile I managed to put up that was not so real, a part of me withered away and I realized it would never be the same.

“Seriously, you’ve been such a great friend to both of us! We can never think of ways to thank you enough,” he said again.

I shook my head and despite myself, I laughed.

“You’re making this so awkward! You both are in love with each other! So, celebrate! I’ll leave you alone now,” I said and the corners of my lips quivered. “I’ll meet you people tomorrow.”

Ten minutes later, I sat on the empty tennis court, clutching my jacket tight and breathing in too deep. It felt numb. I wanted to cry, but I only managed to cough.

Somebody came around and hugged me close.

“How does it feel?”

“Like shattered pieces of glass that can never be put back.”

Of Childhood and Notebooks

I remember a time, back when I was barely twelve, and we lived in a small house with breaking mosaic patterned tiles, Mom never bought us those ruled notebooks. Instead, she’d buy us sheets of plain, white paper and stitch them up to make it look like a notebook.

I was always fascinated with those hardbound or paperback notebooks, though, for they had pictures of superheroes and superstars and unicorns on them. But Mom never bought us those. All I had were sheets of bright, crisp paper divided into two halves, with a taut white string holding the pages together.

With time, I learnt to make it look better. I’d paste little stickers on it or cut out pictures from magazines and old newspapers and decorate the front page with them. But no matter how much I tried, the cover page of my notebook was never as glossy or gorgeous as the ones they sold in shops. But I never gave up. I started sketching and drawing on the front page to make it look the way I wanted it to be. Often, somebody in school would stop by, steal a glance at my weird, little notebook and ask me if I had designed it. A part of me would be scared to answer because there’d always be this lingering fear in my mind whether it’d be laughed upon or appreciated. My friends would compliment me and shove their notebooks into my hand and ask me to design one for them.

Over the years, plain notebooks without factory-made cover pages didn’t bother me anymore.

Even when I had a chance to buy myself those notebooks I had once envied, it didn’t feel that great as it was supposed to. Rather, the notebooks felt too ordinary when I pulled them out from my bag and saw the rest of the class of forty students pull out the same kind of notebook too. That is when I realized how beautiful those barren, plain notebooks that Mom brought for us, were. My designs on it were unique. Yes, there was no cellophane covering on it, so whenever it rained, I had to go back home, tear away the cover page and make another one, but it was all worth. For they stood out. Stood out from the rest.

Over the years, many other things changed too. Mom stopped buying us those sheets of paper and instead bought us those hardbound, ruled notebooks. I didn’t draw on them. They looked too perfect already. The cover pages were waterproof. So I didn’t have to bother when it rained. In fact, I never bothered at all. I let them lie on the study table, collecting dust. The other notebooks carried a piece of me in them. I’d keep them locked up in cupboards like they were some hidden treasure. And my heart would swell in pride every time somebody would praise them.

I don’t know why I suddenly remembered about them. The thought arrived like a little flash of memory, bringing along with, a fountain of nostalgia.

Years have gone by. I’ve moved on from those “weird”, little notebooks to factory-made, custom designed notebooks to spiral bound ones and more. But I haven’t moved on from those memories. Be it the awkward squirming on seeing a friend pull out a proper notebook to waiting for the class to look at the teacher so that I could pull out my notebook without becoming a laughing stock to garnering appreciation for the same doodles, it’s been a crazy little ride.

A part of me wants to go back in time and find my treasure cove. I want to call Mom up and ask her if they sell those loose sheets of paper anymore. But I know the answer, they don’t. Just like me, they’ve moved on to better technology and better ways. Mom probably wouldn’t make me those notebooks if I asked her to. She is too busy. Yet, a part of me wants that and only that.

It makes me wonder of how we remember so much about the things we shouldn’t have bothered to remember. Perhaps, it is because though the moment had seemed very insignificant once upon a time, it made us into the person we are today. The miles we’ve come; the miles we’ve yet to conquer, we owe it to these tiny, beautiful memories.

Of Sad, Lonely Days

Curled up in the bed, her face plastered against the mess of her own hair, clutching the pillow, she peeked out from the duvet and looked out of the window.

Drops of rain lazily trickled down the frosted windows, blurring the world outside. Only flashes of red taillights were all she could see.

Sighing, she buried her face into her hair again, smelling the faint aroma of her shampoo and for a moment, her eyes fluttered close. The very next moment, she woke up, fumbling for her phone under the sheets; found it, and sighed again as she stared at the screen.

Wasn’t anybody bothered, she wondered. Would anybody ask for her if she disappeared the other day?

Curled up in the bed, her face plastered against the mess of her own hair, she waited a little longer. Up until another dawn.

But there were no calls. There were no voice messages.

Curled up in the bed, her face plastered against the mess of her own hair, all she wished for was somebody to whisper her words of joy; somebody to call her up and ask her how she was; somebody to tell her that they are there and that she is not alone.

But the evening sky merged into inky darkness and darkness faded to give place to the sunshine and yet, her phone never rang. Nobody called her up to tell her that they’ve got her back. Nobody called, bothered about her. Nobody called.

Curled up in the bed, now in a pool of her tears, her face plastered against the mess of her own hair, she waited only to realize she was all alone. So, she stood up, and went out for work, sad and tired..

Of A-Table-For-One

He had been asked to manage the reception counter for the day. Sitting lazily at the plywood desk, he answered the calls from excited, impatient people, asking for table reservations and the special menu for the night. He hated the task. He was better off serving customers in his oversized T-shirt and his brother’s baseball cap. Somehow, the tightly fitted blue shirt with its crisp collars and intricately tailored black pants made him feel suffocated and out of place.

The evening was setting in and the buzz of crowds could be heard outside.

Pulling up his plastered smile, he greeted the first people who entered – an elderly couple with greying hair and wrinkled smiles. They walked to his desk and peered at the laminated sheet of paper displaying the reservation list. Then, the woman smiled and pointed at the sheet to draw his attention.

“This way, ma’am,” he replied with a polite smile, pushing open the huge oak doors to walk into the dimly lit room with its huge chandeliers and slow music. The forks and plates had been neatly arranged over the red chequered table clothes.

Walking out from the room to his desk, he felt the transition of the aromas. The other room had been smelling of the mystic roses while the waiting lounge smelled of lavender and his own, cheap deodorant.

People started filling in, some being escorted inside while some sat back in the plush leather couches, flipping through journals and waiting. The night had set in. The music in the hall was louder. And amidst the clink and clank of cutlery, he could hear the roar of lightning outside.

But it didn’t intrude the excitement of passionate souls. They ate their dinner, staring at the misted windows and murmuring and smiling all the same. They talked and for some reason, they were happy. While, he was not.

People had started moving out too. By the time the clock had struck nine, the crowd was dwindling. Perhaps it was the rain or maybe, they had other plans, the hall wasn’t as crowded as the other Saturday nights. There were no more calls. All the people in the waiting lounge had been accommodated. He took the time to lay back in his seat and breathe out.

Just then, there was an irritating creak as the door opened and a girl, drenched in rain, clutching her beige overcoat tight, walked inside. Her sneakers dragged, screeched against the marble floors in a painfully slow stance. A mess of wet hair, with trails of dirty rain water running down her cheeks, she was everything he had never seen.

“May I help you, ma’am?” he asked in a slightly irritated tone, mentally wondering if she had entered by mistake, perhaps seeking for shelter.

“Uh,” she stood in front if the desk, her eyes wandering. For one fleeting second, she peered into the hall through the slight opening of the doors and then sighed.

“Table for one,” she muttered.

“One?” he croaked, his voice embarrassingly loud and rude. It took him a moment to gather himself. Then, he spoke again. “If you’re waiting for someone, it’s all right. There’s not much of a crowd today. So you may as well ask for a table for two.”

“One,” she said.

A strange curiosity gripped him. Why one? Didn’t she have a family? Perhaps a circle of friends? Or maybe one old friend she wanted to catch up with on that Christmas night?

Despite the mental outburst of questions, he tore away a piece of paper from the notepad and set it on the table.

“Your name, ma’am?”

She took the pen from him and scribbled her name hurriedly.

“This way,” he spoke and pushed open the doors for the umpteenth time that night to lead her in. He spotted that one empty corner in the room where the lights were not too bright and the music not so loud. Often after the people would’ve left, the boys would huddle there and sing their miseries with bottles of whisky or rum. He was afraid that the table perhaps smelled of rotten bread and alcohol, but then she had asked for a single seater and that was the only one in there.

Yet, somewhere, he didn’t want her to sit there. That corner felt cold and lonely. The flowers were limp. The candles had burnt out.

As he pulled out the chair for her to sit, he couldn’t help but ask, “Will you be okay here?”

She smiled. A painful smile. He could recognize those. Hadn’t he smiled those almost every dawn?

“I’ll be more than fine.”

“And what do you want to order?”

“A cake. A big, chocolate cake. Maybe it could’ve those little flowers on it and lots of ice cream?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but a cake? A full cake?”

“Yes,” she snapped. “It’s my birthday! Am I not allowed to celebrate my birthday with a cake?”

“Indeed, ma’am,” he replied in a timid tone and scribbled her order on a piece of paper. “Anything else?”

“And can you just let me know if you see my group of friends arriving?” she said, almost hastily.

“But ma’am, you only told you are expecting nobody?”

She pretended not to here and pulled out her phone. Taking it as his cue to walk away, he slipped into the kitchen and passed the note to the cook.

“Who orders a full cake for one person?” the hefty man guffawed, but got down to work, nevertheless.

Though she had asked him to keep a check, he didn’t. For deep inside his heart, he knew she was living an illusion. He could see through her pretence. She was broken. She wasn’t happy. She was expecting people who’d never come. She was sitting in silence, yet her lips curled into a smile every now and then as if she was really happy. Even in the faint light, he could see her glimmering eyes. He could hear her breath hitching. He could see her trying to hold herself back when she was on the verge of breaking down.

The tables were empty by now. People had left. Paid their bills. Had their food. And they had walked out, happy.

And then, there was her who didn’t know whether to stay or to leave. She wasn’t bothered about the cake. The rain didn’t matter. The people she was waiting for, did, but they had still not arrived.

“Ma’am,” he spoke, placing the little cake in front of her, dressed with chocolate florets and berries. She gave him a little smile and looked back at her phone again. “And ma’am? Your friends aren’t here yet.”

That made her lose it. Turning away, she took a deep breath but ended up coughing and crying.

“Ma’am?” hesitantly, he put his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, are you okay?”

“I wasn’t even expecting them,” she spoke in muffled tones. “Why would they be? I’ve visited them umpteen times. Been there when they needed someone. Talked to them for hours when they were down. But is that enough?”

She refused to look at him. So kneeling down, he offered her the crisp, white handkerchief that had been tucked inside his breast pocket.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered.

“No!” she laughed. “Why are you apologizing? It’s not even your fault! I’m just expecting a lot too much from people.”

He expected her to push him away but she didn’t protest. Instead, she continued speaking.

“I remember their birthdays. Be it New Year’s Eve or summer breaks, no matter how busy I am, I bake them a cake. I make them cute little videos. I send them handmade collages wishing them. I do everything that they never bother to do. But now I wonder, why I ever did so? Why did I ever take so much pain to bake cakes and cookies? To ping everyone in our friends’ circle and ask them to make cute birthday videos so that I can compile them into a movie? To travel miles to meet them, to be with them? When I’m here, empty and sad and there’s not a single one of them around?”

Though her voice kept breaking, he could feel the pain in her words. He could understand how lonely she felt.

“It’s Christmas. They have plans. They just forgot my birthday. No big deal. They’ve been doing this for years. I don’t get the sweet cards. I don’t get the midnight calls. I don’t get those long text messages. It is as if my place in their lives is not that significant at all. It’s more like they are important for me, but I’m not for them. I woke up late in the morning. I checked my phone, thinking about the hundred messages in my inbox, but there were hardly any wishing me a birthday. I waited for them to call, waited till late afternoon. I looked out at every random car on the road, secretly wishing for them to come over to my house and surprise me. Did I hope for too much?”

He kept quiet. He couldn’t form words. He didn’t know her. She didn’t know him. Yet, it surprised him of how loneliness made people bare their soul out to strangers. She clung to him like an old friend. She didn’t mind him seeing her messy hair and puffy eyes. All she needed at that moment was someone to be there. Someone beside her, so that she didn’t feel as lonely as she already was.

“Table for one,” she huffed. “It sounds like a dialogue from a bad movie.”

“It doesn’t,” he replied. “It speaks to me about a lot many things. I can understand.”

“Everyone says so.”

He nodded. Indeed, she was right. No matter how much he tried, he would never understand her pain. He would never feel the same. His story was different. So was hers.

“Happy birthday,” he said.

“Happy, indeed,” she mumbled and turned around to the table again.

“Why the cake?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious you didn’t want the cake.”

She pulled out her phone and turned on the camera.

“I’ll just take a picture and save it. So tomorrow when they do remember, I’ll show them this and make up a story of how great my birthday was and how much I enjoyed!”

Hours later, the staff had left and so had the cook. He quietly locked the doors and walked out into the dark, empty street and slowly trudged along the sidewalks.

Minutes later, he stood in front of a dilapidated house with a broken sheet of asbestos acting as the roof. Opening the old, tin gate, he stepped into the darkness, hoping for the one voice he knew would be never there. Yet, he smiled. In his head, he heard his little brother’s voice and it was enough delusion to make him live through the night.

Two people spent that one winter night, lonely, sad and empty.

Of Late Night Talks (III)

“Your life is pretty interesting enough,” he muttered. “You can write about that. I’d read it.”

I gave him a small, half-hearted smile.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write about my life; pen down the little happenings and the hundred people I come across everyday and write about my dreams and hopes. I can’t do that. It’s too-” I paused, searching for the right adjective. “Too difficult. The story will start to sound too mechanical. There’ll be no soul to it.”

“I don’t think I understand that. My bad I’m not a writer,” he said.

“Where do I start, in case I ever decide to write about my life? The problem is, there’s so much I could write about and yet, it feels so less! What do I write about? Of how I spend nights crying, wishing I weren’t alone? Of how I look at every person, trying to understand them only to have them push me away because they love their facades? I don’t go to parties. I don’t drink. I don’t have a huge social circle. You’d find me on weekends, curled up in my bed, stating at the ceiling fan and thinking nothing. What do I write about? That? That sometimes I feel like doing nothing? That sometimes I just want to sit on the edge of a cliff and spend my entire life there? That sometimes, I feel so empty it almost kills me? Will people read any of it?”

“I’ll tell you what will make then read it,” he said and turned to me. “Somewhere between the lines, down the few hundred pages, they’ll find a person like them.”

“No! We’re all so very different!” I cried almost immediately, but then, I paused again.

He sighed and leaned back. “I’ve gone through all that too, everything that you mentioned. Let’s accept it, each one of us is a little scared, a little confused and a little sad. We cry. We laugh. We fall. We are hopeless. We stand up. We live. We die. We are little miracles. Our lives can be wonderful. Why do you think nobody would be interested in reading about your life and seeing how much it resonates with theirs?! You should write your story. I’d read it.”

“Where do I start?”

“It’s your story.”

“I can’t,” I said and stood up. “My story seems so small, so insignificant than the stories of people I come across everyday.”

“They feel the same too, that your story could be so moving than theirs. But you know what, that is probably what makes each one of our stories so magical. In the midst of our busy lives, starting from waking up and travelling in crammed buses to returning late and spending sleepless nights, there hides this one beautiful story, struggling to be told. And yet, no one gives it a chance.”

Somewhere, I knew, he had struck a chord. The corners of my lips fell into a frown and my breath hitched.

“So, let’s start this another way,” he said and stood up. “What’s your story?”

“Average girl. Vibrant dreams. Too short a life. Confused. Writes not because she has a lot of ideas, but because it keeps her sane. Likes stormy days and moonless nights. As hopeless as others when it is dark. Finds solace in the dawn. Hopes to get somewhere in life. And I don’t know, that’s it. What’s yours?”

“Running scared. Running away from something I’ve no clue about, but I know one day when it catches up, it’ll shatter me. Lives happy days with a lingering doubt that it is the calm before the storm. Is hopeless most of the time. Doesn’t wish or dream much because he doesn’t believe in himself. Hopes to get somewhere in life too. Clueless most of the time. Likes to hear people. Likes to travel because somehow he feels that it gives him a chance to start anew. And yes, though there’s more to it, that’s all I can think of right now.”

“I’d read your story,” I replied.

“I’d read yours too,” he said again. “And you know why you’d read my story and I’d read yours? Because though are stories seem simple, they are beautiful in their own stand. We know our struggles. We know how we get through each day. Why wouldn’t someone like to know more about that? It is the simplicity of our stories that makes it so beautiful and so unique.”

The night turned a shade lighter.

Of Forevers And Faraways

“Promise you’ll stay in contact,” I muttered. “Call me twice a day and talk about anything. I promise I’ll be there to listen. Don’t hesitate.”

“Okay, I will,” he said. “But you’re not going faraway, are you? You can always return, can’t you?”

I nodded, unsure of the promises I kept making.

“No, it’s not that faraway, I promise. You can come visit me anytime. And then, there’s Skype too! We won’t lose contact even for a moment!”

“And you’ll be there, right, forever? You’ll have my back?”

“I will.”

“Will you miss me?”

A blaring horn cut us off and the train stood in front of us. For a second, I was relieved I didn’t have to answer that question.

Will I miss him?

No.

I’ll cry on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, wishing for him to be there. I’ll buy enough snacks for both of us, and then sit down and eat in silence because he won’t be there. I’ll bring his favourite chocolates from the l store and save them so that I can give it to him when I come back home next. I’ll do everything we did together, but I’ll never bring myself to cry and miss him ten times more.

“You didn’t answer?” he mumbled. “Will you miss me?”

I looked away, blinking back tears.

Of Dreams Small and Big

Having grown up in a middle class family in urban India, surrounded by doctors and engineers and teachers, it is no surprise when I tell people that I want to be a doctor.

Being fairly good at studies, with a distinct passion for pursuing the Biology stream, that is the very idea I’ve grown up with and if I bother to look away from it, I’d choose to be a diplomat any day.

In an one interesting conversation on a Friday evening, a family friend asked me why didn’t I choose my parents profession-banking. To which, the answer was very simple. Both of them being government employees have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. I’ve watched them work from 9 to 6, theirs eyes glued to computer screens, meeting people, signing documents and calling their head office every now and then. Though the benefits offered in a government job are aplenty, one thing that disappoints me is that they don’t have flexible hours and they don’t have many holidays too.

For most part of our lives, my brother and I have spent weekends watching the reruns of old movies on HBO, munching on junk food and waiting for Mom and Dad to return home. Though I’ve never “hated” their job, I don’t share that much of a liking for it. For I’d prefer a job with flexible working hours in which I can laze back awhile at home and pen down a good story or two. Plus, in the competitive country that I live in, engineering and medical studies are the most preferred career options and I’d be lying if I say that doesn’t have a slight influence on my decision.

In between light jokes and munching on snacks, I asked him what he wanted to become. He was then in his twelfth grade, pursuing the Science stream.

“I want to be a banker,” he replied, rather silently.

For a second, I found myself lost. I couldn’t figure out what to say. Even before he had answered, I had mentally told myself that he’s going for engineering, preferably involving the IT sector because that is what most students wanted to do after completing their twelfth grade.

“Banker? Really?” I found myself smiling. His reply ignited something in me. His reply was new. His reply was honest. It wasn’t like he was being dragged away by the wave. He stood far away from the shore, grounded and with a firm dream.

“Engineering, what about it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to become an engineer. I know I can’t.

“Oh c’mon, you can. It’s easy.”

“No. I know I’m not that good a student. I don’t want to be a bad engineer.”

His words stayed with me for long.

His simplicity overwhelmed me. The simplicity of the dream he carried. And I suddenly felt inferior.

I saw it everyday, in every home, in every class, students succumbing to the expectations of their parents and the society. One of my friends wanted to become a fashion designer, but she didn’t have enough courage to tell her parents about it. Though she did somehow, her parents still asked her to pursue engineering and then think about fashion designing. They told her that her job won’t pay as much as engineering. In a similar case, another friend of mine who wanted to become a journalist, found herself pursuing the medical stream because her family didn’t support her choice of a career.

It makes me sad to say but it has become the latest trend among students – pursuing engineering or medical studies. Anything less, then the society feels that you are not a good student. I’ve seen people become victims of depression because they couldn’t clear the competitive exams. Of those who clear them, not many have that much passion to pursue the stream.

Little dreams get lost among the complexity of it all.

They tell you to dream big. They tell you to dream about being a software giant or the head of an MNC. They never tell you to dream of being a good person. They never tell you to dream of being a good mother or father. They never tell you to dream your dream. Be it big, be it small, somewhere down the lane, many of our dreams get lost.

It pleased me to see him holding on to that dream when the people around him were dreaming even bigger.

The little, hungry child at the end of the road dreams of having a little cake in his birthday, while the teenager in his room, surrounded by gadgets dreams of having the newest phone launched in the market. To each one of them, it is a big dream. It is a dream that glimmers in their eyes and they wish to reach out and grasp it. To the teenager, the birthday cake may look like a small dream, but for the poor, little kid, it is like the biggest dream.

The beauty lies, not in the size of our dreams, but in the simplicity of it, in its uniqueness. The beauty is in sitting back and watching a little kid talk about how he dreams of flying someday. The beauty is in watching people dream – of how their dreams know no boundaries; of how they dream of owning a chain of hotels while some dream of only having a roof over their head. Dreams big and small.

“Hold on to that dream. Don’t ever let that go,” I told him. “Even if you see your friends talk about aiming for even better professions, don’t let that persuade you into believing that your dream is small and it doesn’t matter. Their dreams may be bigger. But yours is beautiful. Have courage to hold on to that dream.”

Since that day, each time I meet a person, I ask them about their dream. It inspires me. It amazes me to hear then talk about their dreams. And once upon a while, I hear a dream like that of his and I find myself feel happy about it.

Of Missing People

The little cafe downtown Larris Road, bears a deserted look. Even though the fog has still not cleared and cold winds brush past every now and then, people don’t stop by for a coffee. She doesn’t want to, as well.

But somehow, she does.

He is there.

The mist has settled on the window panes, painting a rather distorted image of the world outside. Beyond the window, people in their buttoned-up coats and tight scarfs, walk past. She wants to retrace her steps and go back to being one of those busy people trudging down the street, but she’s already inside the warm, little cafe and it feels good there.

With heavy steps, she walks to one of those corner tables and takes a seat.

Her face pulls up of pretence of carelessness. Inside, there is a storm raining down on her heart.

Her lips quiver as she hears a pair of sneakers squeaking down the hallway. A second later, he stands in front of her.

“What would you like-” he pauses awhile. “Ma’am?”

His words sting her. Yet taking a deep breath, she manages to look up at him.

His button-down black shirt is sticking to one side and his dark hair glows under the flickering lights in the cafe. His shoes are worn out, yet he wears them with so much pride.

He is not looking at her. Instead, his eyes are focused on the blank page of the notepad.

“Two coffee, please,” she mutters, with too much care.

He quickly turns around and walks to the counter, without bothering to ask her if she needs something else. It’s as if she has ceased to exist for him.

When he arrives with the two cups of coffee, carefully balanced on the tray, she doesn’t know how to ask him to stay.

As if he can read her mind, setting down the tray before her, he carefully pulls out a chair and takes a seat.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

Her fingers curl around the cup, and she breathes out a slow sigh as the warmth of it trickles down her skin. Bringing the cup to her lips, she gives it a slight blow.

“I miss people,” she manages to say.

Her fingers jerk tighter around the steaming cup as her eyes start to sting. She rubs at the them at the same stupid pretext that he’s grown accustomed to.

He pretends like┬áhe didn’t hear her.

Emptiness wafts around them. She can no longer hear the brisk footsteps of people outside. She can no longer hear the slight squeaking of shoes near the counter. It’s as if the whole world has stopped and is somehow looking right at them, waiting in anticipation to hear the next word uttered.

At the corner of her eye, she can see him fiddling with his cup, his head bent down, probably watching her the same way as she is watching him.

“Why are you here?” he whispers.

At that moment, she bites back her lip to hold the swell of emotion waiting to burst out.

“I miss you,” she finally says. “I miss people when they drift away. These days, it feels so empty. There are people around me, yet, I feel lonely.”

A drop of tear trickles down and she looks up to meet his eyes.

“Why can’t you just let go of things. Why do you have to cater your ego? Why can’t we just go back to being the friends we were?”

“Look-,” he starts to say.

“No,I’m not staying here to hear you push me away. It’s tough to live through everyday, knowing that the people you thought would be there with you forever, are no longer there! I miss you so much! Yet every time I pick up my phone to call you up, I’m afraid that you’d just push me away. I want to go back to the time where things were not so complicated!”

He places a hand on her shoulder, as if trying to calm her down, but it is not working.

“Think of the world we could build! With memories so beautiful! We could go back to being friends again! We could go back to the same old routine of meeting here for coffee everyday! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” her voice breaks.

Inside, his heart breaks into a million pieces on seeing her cry. He wants to hug her, console her and hold her till an eternity, but he knows that the scars will remain. That, things will never be the same between them as they were.

“We can still meet each other,” he says. “Look, here we are now. Everything will be fine again.”

She shakes her head and stands up.

“You don’t miss me. You don’t miss me like I do. And I know you are lying. You are lying when you say that everything will be fine again. For nothing will ever be,” she says and a moment later, she’s gone.

Through the misted glass, he watches her walk past hurrying people. A while later, she’s gone. Her shadow’s merged into the crowd.

He picks up the two cups, places them on his tray and stands up. For a second, he lingers there.

“I miss you too,” he finally says.

Only, she’s not around.

Somewhere, down the street, the girl stops and leaning against the metal lamp-post, slipping to the ground, she cries.

Somewhere, at the back of the coffee shop, against the rising vapours of the coffee mug, he sits and sighs.

Theirs could have been wonderful stories.

Stories that could have been..but never were.