Wednesday 25 October 2023

Short Story 2023 Longlist, Tarun Chakraborty

Unforgettable Summer Vacation

I am running downhill on a slope. As I am losing altitude I am accelerating effortlessly. My strides are automatically getting longer and longer. I do not know how to stop. Pine trees are fleeting past on either side of the grassy trail, fortunately, free from exposed roots or stones that save me from tripping. My run catches such a speed that if captured by a movie camera and projected on a screen in a manner as to make the sloping trail seem level ground, then I who never in life had taken part in any field or track event would look like a champion sprinter! Suddenly the thought of throwing myself on the ground for rolling down flashes through my mind, but fear of breaking a bone or two deters me. Instead, the very thought of slowing down makes me lean backward instinctively. How nicely these laws of mechanics are programmed inside our head- that while running down a slope, a backward lean would cause the weight of the body to pull it back like a leash and that a forward lean would unleash! My backward lean slows me a bit but that is not going to prevent me knocking over a boulder visible hardly ten feet ahead of me. A deep gorge occurs hardly a yard away to the right of the boulder and to its left almost touching it stands a thick trunked pine tree around which the trail takes a sharp turn. I feel like a motorist driving a car whose brakes have failed. Like a motorist on a head-on collision course, I have only a split-second to decide which way to swerve. Would ‘between the devil and the deep sea’ best describe my dilemma? Adrenaline rushes have soared. Reflexes have peaked. Time seems to have a higher resolution than normal. Even fragments of a split second have become perceptible. Heart pounding, forearms pressed on chest and neck stiffened on shoulders, head tilted back with face turned away, I thud against the tree. That was a terrible jolt! All this happens in the blink of an eye and without thinking. But these were the right things to do. Then a drowsy numbness overtakes my sense; everything darkens and I collapse on the ground…

It is not a dream sequence, but a real event unfolding on Shillong Peak- known as the Scotland of the East.

"Wake up Peter, wake up" I heard Mom's quavering voice on regaining sense after how long I did not know. Even through my hazy eyes, I could discern that she was shaken up. It was so intense. I was the reason and I felt sorry about it. Anxiously she kept on rubbing her palms on my chest.

Then as the haze cleared a bit, I could figure out my little sister innocently wiping my face with blades of grass soaked with morning dew- the coolest wipes on Earth imaginable! My younger brother came into view who in a state of shock tried to check my pulse.

"When shall you grow up? When shall you stop doing weird things without realizing what you are doing ... Like you did while dancing on the railway tracks" she reproached lovingly digging out a ten-year-old incident. That level of agony was something she never wanted to go through again. Yet she had to because of me.

“And he came out with some odd theory. You missed that mom” brother reminded.

“This time I felt like driving a car. I had a strange realization as though forward and backward leans are like the accelerator and brake pedal of a car during downhill running. But you won’t understand that Mom” I said struggling not to make an outward show of the pain searing through my arms which bore the brunt of the collision. But I couldn’t hide that fully.

“To hell with that! One who reads and writes, rides in his car later on” Mom rebuked throwing out a Bengali proverb reflecting a pretty middle-class aspiration.

Priscilla, seated at a little distance, was all praise “You are so brave, that you were not even afraid to risk your life and limb to illustrate the principles of Mechanics on yourself. For me, that would be akin to facing a tiger or crocodile for the sake of a better understanding of my subject.”

“Don’t worry Mom. Nothing has happened to me. God is with me!" I jumped up with euphoria surging within me. This was the third time that Priscilla had mistaken my weakness for my strength. When the first two such occurrences in succession seemed to defy logic, this third one seemed a Godsend. That also stalled my downslide on a path of glumness the way that tree halted my mindless downhill run.

“Thank heavens, you were spared from disaster. Truly, God is with you” Priscilla said making the sign of the cross, though she had no idea why I had spoken as I did.

Priscilla was born in the same Military Hospital as me but two months earlier, which otherwise would fall around the same time, had I not prematurely peeked into this world two months earlier.

In a military life where transfers or postings occur at regular intervals of three to four years, it is not uncommon for cantonment kids to get separated and reunited randomly at different stages of life ranging from infancy to early adulthood.

Living through infancy in family units under the same row of barracks unaware of each other, two toddlers got separated by a posting even before awareness began to form. Then another chance posting made our roads cross again at that stage of life which can be best described as ‘on the verge of adulthood’ after bypassing the stages that lie in between. I had just completed my first year in Engineering and she was studying Science at a premier college in the hill station as a day scholar. I had come here from my hostel to spend summer vacation and she would have to move into one upon her dad's eventual posting. Such mobile was the life of military kids even. However, the exponential growth rate of adolescence would often bring about a change in the way cantonment kids looked at each other if reunited all of a sudden in that mysterious stage of life during the later postings; credit: estrogen and testosterone. Though I didn't understand how exactly Priscilla looked at me even halfway through the vacation, I looked at her 'differently'.

I had been struggling for words with Priscilla who had morphed from a cute baby into a beautiful babe during the phases of life we bypassed until our second meet. Had we grown up naturally side by side until then as our kids did like 'industrial cousins', living an immobile life within the confines of an industrial township then would things would be any different for a dude like me?

When I tried to talk to her for the first time, the words seemed stuck in my throat.

I just couldn’t be myself. That ‘first time’ in those settings has been something difficult to forget ever afterward…

The Indian Airline Fokker-Friendship morning flight from Dum Dum airport Calcutta, soaring through the skies had just touched the grounds of Borjahar Airport Guwahati. As I exited the ‘aeronautical womb’ and descended the stairs, I saw Mother waiting behind the railings of the visitor’s gallery at the edge of the runway. I felt a surge of joy and gratitude with a tinge of sadness though. Sadness for the time we spent apart for the first time in life; joy for getting together again; gratitude for those pains she had endured during the second phase of our life that had ushered in this third phase much in the manner the pains and sufferings she underwent during my birth had brought me into existence in the first phase.

The life of a cantonment kid is generally divided into phases. The first phase is infancy to junior school when kids can move with their parents on postings and switch schools and even mediums. The second phase begins in higher classes when kids have to stay behind for studies while their father is posted elsewhere. It happened to us during the late sixties. I had just moved into the final year of school then. Father was abruptly transferred from Kalaikunda AF Station to Shillong Peak where he moved away alone. Mother along with me, a brother who was a year younger than me, and a little sister who was still in primary shifted to a small rental house on the outskirts of Kharagpur town.

My Mother took on all the family’s responsibilities when we moved to a new place. She did all the household work by herself so that we could focus on our studies. We also struggled financially, as my father had to support two households in different locations. I gave up private tuition and relied on self-study instead. We were not exempt from episodes of illness, nor was Mother entirely unsusceptible to ailments. Rather, her awareness of the reality that she was like the central pole supporting the canopy that protected our future, made her resilient. She was overwhelmed by the burden of responsibility and isolation. She spoke very little. Her low mood kept her from enjoying anything enjoyable. She lost interest in pastimes that she used to enjoy previously. We could sense her slipping into a state of depression.

About a year and a half of hardships finally paid off. I aced both the board exams and the IIT-JEE. Also, my board exam results entitled me to a scholarship that would give some respite to my father’s financial burden. Brother did well and moved on to the final year of school. The family now stood at a crucial juncture with three cantonment kids in three different phases of their respective lives. I had just gained entry to the third phase and was free to pursue a fully residential professional course, with periodic visits to parents during vacations. Brother was still stuck in his second phase and sister a free bird still in her first phase. But Mother had become the source of anxiety for all of us. Her depression didn’t justify staying back for another year till my brother’s board exams. Father came down all the way to settle the uncertainties.

At first, Mother was hesitant to leave us behind, but we finally decided that I would move to the institute’s hostel. The situation at home was not suitable for me to study for a career as a day scholar. My brother, who was more independent and self-sufficient, would stay with a distant relative as a paying guest until he finished his board exams a year later. Mother and sister would accompany father to Shillong. The military man’s small family of five already fragmented into two split further into three separate units. We all disliked this arrangement but felt that there was no better option.

The evening was rainy and gloomy, the last one before their departure to Shillong. Mother sobbed while she packed my bag and hold-all.

“So, you are also entering life as I did at a very younger age,” Father told staring at my luggage intently. Though he appeared sad, I could see the pride in his eyes. He accompanied me to the college hostel, which was just about half an hour away by cycle-rickshaw. By the time we reached the hostel gate, he had finished narrating to me his version of my miraculous birth story to cheer me up when my spirits were sinking low.

“Remember you were pronounced dead before you are born. Yet you have come up this far. So you have got nothing to be afraid of. Don’t worry too much about your mother, she’ll be fine. College is the best time of one’s life which I missed out on for family reasons. Make the most of it” he said as he waved an encouraging goodbye with a smile. As I saw him leave I told myself that this was not a farewell, but a new beginning…

A year passed filled with fun, agony, new friendships, studies, and learning experiences on how to be independent. I completed the first year of my five-year engineering course. I longed to see my parents and landed at the airport nearest to Shillong situated at Guwahati, its twin town on the foot of the hills. Brother was already holidaying at Shillong Peak after board exams. So the family unit was reverting to one. Happy times once again.

As I approached the visitor’s gallery, she spotted me among the crowd and waved her hand with a bright smile. I walked towards her and observed a transformation in her countenance. The furrows of anxiety and doubt that had formerly etched her features were supplanted by an air of relief and repose. Her mood seemed to transition from depression to elation. I bowed down to touch her feet. To me at that very moment, she seemed to be like a Goddess- radiant, lively, and graceful.

“This day has come because of you Maa” I felt my voice choking.

She held my shoulders and looked at me with concern, “Peter you look so thin and pale. Are you eating well in the hostel? Do they give you good food there? And what about the ragging? Did your seniors torture you a lot? You never told me anything in your letters. But I can see that in your eyes. Don’t worry. You are home now. I will make you your favorite dishes and take care of you. You will regain your health and strength in two months.”

“But how at all did you reach here so early in the morning from Shillong Peak?” I asked out of curiosity ignoring what she had just uttered. In the eyes of a mother her son never looks healthy and strong.

“Just wait. There is a big surprise waiting for you outside” she led me towards the exit “I simply couldn’t wait any more to see you after this long. Of late your dad has been too busy with the erection work of two new wireless transmission towers on the peak. So he has no time”.

“But tell me what the big surprise is?” I was growing impatient.

“It is Priscilla waiting outside to see you. She offered me a lift on the van that was taking her zoology class on a field trip to the Guwahati Zoo when I had no means of reaching the airport so early and was longing to see you. I thanked her and got on the van that with some diversion brought me close to you on time.”

“Wow! Could it be Priscilla, the same one whose photo is tucked away in our family album? The baby who is seen sunbathing beside me in the courtyard facing our barracks? Is it that same baby born at around the same time as me under the watchful eyes of the same matron as I was told?” I felt a surge of excitement.

“Yes, that’s her. But we had left that place on posting when you were too small to form any lasting memories, and you would never get to see her again, had another posting not placed her family here” Mother said interrupting.

“Where is Priscilla?” I asked as we exited and stepped onto the wide terminal facade facing the driveway.

“There she is,” she said, pointing towards a passenger van standing beyond the edge of the wide taxi parking lot, “But I’m afraid my legs won’t enable me to walk that far. So you’d better walk down there to say hello. But be quick. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

She sat down on a bench on the facade. I had butterflies in my stomach. It was like taking the up the challenge of approaching a girl of my age whom I didn’t know. That was not my cup of tea at the least.

‘You never get a second chance to create a first impression’- An old tagline

I dashed across the driveway and the wide car parking area and headed towards the green passenger van. There, stood a young girl seeming to be on the lookout for someone and that was me! Her beauty and grace contrasted with the jaunty vehicle behind her bearing a placard marked ‘Zoological Field Trip’. She was the only one outside, while the rest of the boys and girls were inside the van, making a racket of grumbles and crap. They seemed impatient with the delay caused by Priscilla’s whims.

As I approached her with a nervous smile, I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I wanted to say something smart and witty but didn’t know what to say. She looked at me with a curious expression, as if trying to figure me out. Her eyes sparkled and I felt a surge of panic.

“Is that you, Peter?” she asked. I am Priscilla” She took the lead with a gentle smile. She seemed to be more confident and forward than me.

I tried to force a smile and say something, but words got stuck in my throat like a lump of coal. ‘Don’t let the silence ruin the first impression, come on Peter, speak up’ I urged myself and blurted out “You’ve grown so much since I saw you last time Priscilla”. I instantly regretted my words. They made no sense at all since we had parted as infants. I was so nervous and flustered that I had said something foolish.

Priscilla burst into laughter. I felt like a clown who had tripped on his shoes. What a frustrating encounter this was turning out to be!

“Oh! That was a good one… You have a good sense of humour Peter” Priscilla said laughingly.

‘Did I hear that right? What was she trying to say? Was she genuine or mocking?’ I was at my wit’s end.

“I wish we had you with us on this field trip to get over any boredom” Priscilla seemed to be impressed.

What? Me in a field trip with half a dozen gals and about an equal number of guys! I knew she didn’t mean it- just empty words as a mere expression of appreciation, or else I would have simply run away from that place. However, I was more than sure now that she had mistaken my 'stupid utterance' for a ‘sense of humour'. I did not want to break her delusion about me by uttering another stupid thing and fall in her estimation. I waved her goodbye and turned back without losing time. The old van sputtered to life and was on the run.

On my way back to the terminal, I was filled with mixed feelings of delight, fear, and dejection:

I felt a surge of delight at being able to create a ‘good first impression’, be it by a fluke or whatsoever. That was a lucky stroke- like a nervous footballer accidentally kicking the ball into the goal with an awkward shoot. Nevertheless, at the end of the day only the goal matters. But such a thing does not happen every time. I feared that in my next meeting with Priscilla, my nervousness would get exposed and bring about her disillusionment. Dejection oppressed me as I introspected on my inability to connect with young maidens.

“Didn’t the meet go well?” Mother asked at seeing my face downcast and gloomy. There was no point in hiding my feelings or pretending otherwise; she could read me inside out.

“Did you have anything for breakfast? I had enough in the airplane” I avoided her question.

“Yes, I did. Now we have got to hurry to the bus terminus for Shillong” She got up and we made a move.

But by the time we arrived at the bus terminus, the seats of the starting bus were full, leaving us with a few minutes to wait for the next bus with open bookings.

“Don’t be disheartened. It’s natural to feel down sometimes at this stage of growing up. I can sense what’s troubling you right now. It is a passing phase. But you have not answered the question, the more serious one, the one I asked you just upon seeing you at the airport.” Mother said, her voice gentle and soothing, as we stood for the next bus.

“I am often made the target of their teasing and it’s not just the usual kind of freshman’s ragging whose unwritten tenure has been long over. I have to bear it all in silence, without a word of protest or defiance. I feel scared to speak up or assert myself” I admitted, feeling a surge of shame and resentment.

With her gaze full of empathy, she said “My dear son, you were born as a miracle. One doesn’t have to be ashamed of certain shortcomings one is born with. They torment at a younger age but disappear as one grows. One must have the willingness to get rid of them instead of regretting them.”

“I am curious to hear more,” I said presuming she would be coming out with her version of my incredible birth story as we boarded the bus. As the bus wound its way up the hill Mother unwound the reels of the touching story from the depths of the past.

As we spiraled up the hill we were greeted with a breathtaking view of the landscape. The green slopes were adorned with vibrant flowers, pine trees, and cottages. The sky was a clear blue, with fluffy clouds drifting by. The sun shone warmly on the earth, and the air was fresh. The bus followed the winding road, offering changing perspectives of the scenery, including waterfalls, valleys, and lakes. One such lake was Umiam or Barapani, a serene and sparkling blue gem that mirrored the sky in a manner mother’s narration mirrored our common past:

“As I saw you descending the stairs from the airplane this morning, a strange feeling overcame me” Mother continued, “You were still the same tiny bundle that I had first seen in disbelief in the hospital. For four days, I lay unconscious, unaware of the miracle that had occurred. You were so fragile and underweight due to the early advent that you had been fighting for survival in an incubator. But even that seemed unequal to the task. So Mrs Parker, the matron would hold you with nothing on in an upright position against her bare chest giving skin-to-skin contact under the cover of a hospital gown. She would go on doing this for long hours sitting on a chair while her watchful eyes would monitor the flurry of activities of the nurses in the ward. Her act stimulated your body functions or else you would not live” Her voice faded away.

“I can see now that this type of caregiving existed in the past without a name, though it was only recently named ‘Kangaroo Care’. I read in a magazine in our common room that the name comes from the way a mother kangaroo holds her baby in her pouch, similar to how an infant is wrapped against the caregiver’s chest” I said this to coax her, rather than to display what I knew, “What happened after that Maa?”

“When I regained consciousness, I saw the matron standing beside my bed, holding a tiny creature wrapped with a bundle of cotton in her arms. She gently placed the bundle on my chest and said that it was my baby and was alive. I looked down and saw a tiny face peeking out of the cotton wrap. A faint cry escaped its lips as if to say, ‘Hello, mother. I gasped and touched its cheek with trembling fingers to believe what I was seeing. It was so small, so delicate, and so precious new to this wide world. It was you.

The matron then told me everything that had transpired; how she had defied the doctors’ pronouncement; how you had been born too soon against all odds. I listened with tears in my eyes, feeling a surge of gratitude and love” Mother looked out of the window, her gaze fixed on something distant. A silence fell.

“But how long did you stay in the hospital?”I asked for the sake of breaking the silence.

“Both of us had recovered considerably in about four weeks and the day of discharge arrived, though with a shade of sadness” she sighed.

“It must be the parting scene” I guessed.

“Yes, you are right. The matron looked at the baby in her arms, feeling a surge of sadness. She had spent the last few weeks caring for this tiny miracle. She had felt his heartbeat against her chest, his breath on her skin, his warmth in her embrace. She had seen him open his eyes, smiling at her voice. She had become his mother in every way but one. She knew she had to eventually let him go. He belonged to the woman who had given him birth and was now sitting in a wheelchair, holding out her arms to receive her son. The man standing beside her was smiling joyously, eager to take his child. They were a happy family, ready to start a new life. The matron hesitated, clutching the baby closer to her heart. Tears rolled down her cheek. She wanted to keep him, to protect him, to love him. But she knew that was being irrational. She had no right to take him away from his real parents. She had only done her duty, and now it was time to say goodbye. She took a deep breath and walked towards us. She smiled and handed over the baby, gently placing him in my arms. Then she uttered some words of advice and stepped back. We thanked her profusely, telling her how grateful we were for everything she had done. She silently turned around and walked away, feeling a pang of emptiness in her chest. I could see her sobbing as she turned her head and cast a last look before entering her room at the end of the ward. We never saw her again; not even during our follow-up visits. Perhaps she was deliberately distancing herself to prevent the resurgence of old emotions, and your father’s subsequent relocation removed the possibility of coming across her once more.”

“She is my Godmother! What were her words of advice?” I grew curious.

“The main purpose of my lengthy narrative was to impart those words of advice to you. It pertains to the way you see yourself and the things that unsettle or frighten you and your self-development” she started revealing the crux of the story.

“Yes Mom, I have read that children born preterm or are at a higher risk of developing mental and social phobias. They may struggle to interact with others, and as adults, may exhibit more inhibitions, less assertiveness, and, introversion than their full-term peers. I am aware of my shortcomings Mom, yet I feel powerless to do anything about it. Did Godmother tell you anything new to you?”I exclaimed in a voice tinged with frustration that turned many heads.

“Indeed. She spoke of something that you won’t find in any book or magazine” Mother continued “The very fact that you were born alive in impossible conditions while she was praying before a crucifix, made her believe that you were a miracle, that you were the same Peter reborn, who was a member of her family, a near and dear one, a strong, bright, and loveable young man who had left this world too early and for whose return she prayed every day.”

I could only manage an “Interesting” in response, my mind reeling from her words.

Mother’s voice trembled as she went on, “Your godmother advised us to let you develop faith in yourself, but to always remember that ‘GOD IS WITH ME.’ With this mantra, she said, you would regain your original strength and even surpass it one day. And she implored us to keep a crucifix on the wall wherever we reside. Lastly, with tears in her eyes, she pleaded with us to name you Peter. We could not ignore her request and so we chose it as your pet name.”

“But why didn’t you tell me all this so long?” I asked in wonder.

“There is a right time for everything Peter. But have you brought any woolens with you?” she inquired, concern etched on her face as the bus climbed higher and the air grew colder.

“Oh yes!” I replied, rummaging through my small kit bag to produce the sweater. “Look here - it’s the very one you knitted and sent to me.”

“And what of the sweets and dry fruits that were packed in the same parcel?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted guiltily “They were snatched away and devoured by them before I could even taste them.”

She threw back her head and laughed heartily. “So it was the same ragging, the same leg-pulling with those sweets as well,” she said, still chuckling. Time ticked away.

The military transport that we boarded after alighting from the bus at the city bus stand spiraled up the final stretch of the hill and delivered us to our ‘sweet little home’.

The happy reunion was also a moment of realization that, had we not been separated into three units for a year, we wouldn’t have experienced the euphoria of reuniting as one unit again. The delicious meal was also a moment of realization that, had I not endured a year of tasteless hostel food, homemade food wouldn’t have tasted so tastier. The hardships of the past year seemed to fade away as we sat together in the living room of our temporary new home, sharing stories in animated voices. The conversation drifted from one place of a visit to another. Names of at least a dozen of waterfalls poured out with the force of a waterfall, followed by names of lakes, viewpoints and even names of several Churches came out as points to visit.

Mother interrupted at this point “Sightseeing visits apart, at least one Catholic Church needs to be visited once forgetting a St. Benedict Crucifix for the house. Not just any other crucifix from any curio shop which serves as home d├ęcor will do. The St. Benedict Crucifix is unique in that it features a St. Benedict Medal at the back of Jesus’ head on the cross and it is believed to provide spiritual protection and ward off evil spirits when blessed by a priest. I have explained it to Peter on the way. Priscilla will guide you along the trail to St Joseph’s Parish. I came to know this from them when our families met for a second time here in this cantonment.”

“Are you not being too liberal Maa?” my brother asked.

“Never. A mother can knock at anybody’s door breaking all religious barriers for the sake of her children” We saw the same resolve in her eyes when she decided to stay back with us while Father was moving out alone on transfer.

But to me, the very idea of trekking along a trail with Priscilla seemed very unsettling.

The next day, I bumped into Priscilla while entering the Canteen (a grocery and stationery store in the cantonment), as she was leaving with her bags full. All I could muster was a muffled hello to which she did not respond. Possibly that didn’t reach her. ‘Don’t let this awkwardness kill the first good impression you have already created Peter’ I urged myself and blurted out “Did you see Kangaroos in the zoo? I instantly bit my lips. That was a silly question I asked just for the sake of opening my mouth first. Kangaroo was uppermost in my mind as I had been reflecting on Mother’s narration on my way to the canteen. I looked at her face fearing rejection but her reaction surprised me.

“Wow! You have an amazing intuition Peter” She stared at me with wide-eyed amazement “Amazing! How of all things, Kangaroo comes to your mind first?”

I stood dumbfounded. How lucky! I had kicked the ball inside the goalpost merely by fluke in the first meet, and I had hit a sixer by chance with a blind swing of the bat in the second!

“But how?” I softly asked expecting her to do most of the talking.

“That was uppermost in my mind. I was curious to see a Kangaroo acclimating itself to our weather conditions. You must be aware that this creature is native to Australia where the dry climate and arid terrain suit them. This creature won’t survive the humid clime of India without conditioning. This poor creature was bred by illegal breeders somewhere in the southeast and smuggled into Assam. There are illegal traffickers of non-native exotic animals. Rescued from their clutches, it now resides in the zoo, tuning itself to its new surroundings” She lectured to which I nodded and then looked at my watch.

“Sorry, I won’t hold you up” she regretted and left while I entered the stores.

“On my way back, I pondered, ‘How could this be? Once again, Priscilla mistook my inaptness with young girls for the opposite. Had it happened only once, it could have been dismissed as a coincidence. But how do you interpret twice in succession? They seem improbable unless meaningfully intertwined. But it was still too early to perceive spiritual signs such as ‘God is with me,’ as my mother had tried to convince me on the way.”

Days passed in joyful bliss, surrounded by nature’s rampant beauty. We visited almost all the places on our list. Midway through my vacation, Mother reminded me about the crucifix. So, we decided to trek down on a trail issuing out from the rear side of our camp to a nearby Catholic Parish taking along Priscilla as our guide. A few meetings with Priscilla had somewhat eased my stiffness towards her, but not easy enough to reveal my innermost thoughts. On a beautiful, cloudless, and shiny morning, we set out on our trek. I was determined to reveal what lay deepest in my heart…

As we trekked down the hill, Mother lagged, her hand clasped tightly in my brother’s. Together with my sister, they trailed in our wake while Priscilla and I led the way.

Trekking through the lush greenery, I couldn’t help but steal glances at Priscilla. She seemed so confident and at ease, while I was a bundle of nerves. A part of me wanted to open up, but another part just wasn’t so sure. I felt my mind racing, frantically trying to come out with something from deep within, but all that escaped my lips was breathless ‘I am racing’ as I took off running which culminated in the third fluke. If the first fluke had been like kicking the ball inside the goalpost by a mindless nervous kick in a game of football and the second like hitting a sixer by a mindless blind swing of the bat in a game of cricket, then what was this third fluke like? Was it like a lucky moment when a boy’s mindless, foolish action miraculously wins the heart of his crush in a game of love?

Or perhaps something deeper still- an infusion of faith that ‘God is with me’ and instilling self-belief following my Godmother’s wishes through Priscilla as a medium, for she was not one to be swayed by cheap jokes or shallow impressions. What transpired during those three encounters? As summer vacation came to an end, we parted ways for a second time but as grown-up cantonment kids this time. Our paths never crossed again.

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