I had a dream – a flashback.

It is strange how memories work. You believe that you will forget something over the period but in reality, all those memories are stored somewhere in the back of your head. They pop out of nowhere and take you back in time to the place you were once in. They say you cannot go back to being a person you once were. I believe you can, through those memories within you.

I had a dream – a flashback. I was twelve again. It was just another day to school. I packed my school bag checking twice for my tiffin and crossed over to the other street. Even in the dream, this street was still so familiar to my eyes, nothing had changed. The boardwalk was occupied by a long line of zopadpattis. The family members living in these houses made from plastic tents mostly dwelled on the street throughout the day. Their morning began with bathing from a hot water bucket on the street near a naala. Then the women would set up their portable kitchen in a corner and start cooking for the day.

I walked on this street everyday towards my bus-stop. I walked carefully, keeping my distance from the slums  that reeked of all sorts of garbage. I walked paying no heed to these dwellers who I thought had no sense of living. Then I crossed a woman who sat with her legs tucked together, blowing air through a long pipe into her temporary choola. She tamed the fire to heat the vessel filled with water. To her right was the main ingredient for their lunch – chicken feet. Surprisingly, she cooked the same dish every day.

I always almost puked at the sight of the chicken feet. Gross, I thought. How could they eat the same thing every single day? To top it all, the smell of it was worse than the garbage can just around the corner. I covered my nose, held my lungs and crossed the woman. I paced ahead. I wanted to get as far as possible. I wanted to run away from that filthy smell she called her lunch. I did not breathe till I had reached my bus-stop. Then I turned around to look at the woman who was now adding the chicken feet to the boiling water.

This little encounter of ours was a daily thing. She cooked the same thing at the same time every day. I ran past her holding my breath trying to get away every day. Of course, she had taken a note of our morning encounters. She would simply smile at me every time I walked past; her partly stained teeth beaming in some pride. I wondered why.

In the recess, I opened my tiffin. Mom had cooked bhindi for lunch. I hated bhindi, and the smell of it. I frowned at this sabzi in my tiffin and involuntarily, the woman’s smiling face flashed in front of my eyes.

When you are growing up, you forget things easily. We moved to a new place and I forgot all about the woman and her smile. Or so I thought.

Then I had a dream – a flashback.