A Reason to Smile

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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.

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Where a Dream Splits

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“Why do two people fall in love?” It is not really a question with a definite answer. But it is a question that ought to be answered by two people in love. Because if they can’t; then they are just wasting their time together.

“Why are you asking me that?” The question takes her off guard. But I know she can handle impromptu scenarios very well. There is a confidence in her voice. The answer will come, I know it.

“Because I don’t understand the concept of love,” and that is true. “I mean, I saw you, my heart skipped a beat. I asked you out and you said yes. I asked you again and you never denied. We both just knew it from the beginning, didn’t we? That is weird.”

She leans ahead and rests her elbow on the table. “What is bothering you?”

There are these waves of questions hitting me every now and then. The irony is that you cannot separate one wave from the other.

“I had a dream early morning. You know that thing about early morning dreams? They often come true.”

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“I had a dream early morning,” a feeling of déjà vu takes over me. I struggle to recall if I have had this conversation before.

“I have some bad news.” He looks away from me. I can feel my heart throbbing in my throat. A bad news is even worse when they come from your best friends.

“She is seeing someone.” He says after a few tense moments. “I am sorry.” And then the déjà vu is gone, vanished.

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“You wanna talk about it,” there is a profound concern in her voice that cannot be ignored. I breathe deep and sigh.

“I had this dream. We were holding hands and walking down a long endless road. We were happily singing the true companion song,

So don’t you dare and try to walk away,

I’ve got my heart set on our wedding day.

I’ve got this vision of a girl in white,

Made my decision that it’s you allright.

The endless road did not seem to bother us. What mattered was that we were together, holding on to each other, and living our life together.

That was until the road split into two. We went our separate ways. Walking alone was a nightmare. No one to hold hand with, no one to dream along with, no one to sing for, no one to die for.

The roads will meet again someday, somewhere. I consoled my lonely heart every single moment. And when they finally did, you were there.

But you had found someone on your way. The path I chose was the same that we both started with. The path you chose was the one we split at. I continued to treasure our dreams. It was hard to see you with someone. There were mixed emotions, should I be happy for you or should I feel betrayed?”

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I look blankly in his face. He is waiting for me to say something.

“I am happy for her.” There is mixed emotion in my voice. The heart cries, feeling betrayed. There were no promises made, none broken. The roads have met again, and the dream has come true.

Song courtesy: Marc Cohn

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