Year in a Blink

#ShortStory

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and I get a notification that my order is ready for pick up. I’m already here, wearing a lavender-colored floral dress and an extra smile as I stand outside admiring my favorite place. I take a deep breath, push open the heavy oak doors, and re-enter The Willowvilla. The familiar aroma of freshly brewed tea and baked food makes me feel like I’m home once again.


I used to be a regular here but it has been almost a year since I visited this place, my place! I still remember the day on which I accidentally found Willowvilla eight years ago. I was feeling low and was walking around aimlessly without really thinking about where I was headed when I found a passage into a secret garden. I hadn’t noticed the hidden driveway before or the garden beside it. I was hesitant to enter at first but I decided to go in anyway.

I could hear busy murmurs at a distance, the pace of my steps increased. I curiously walked towards the noise and from behind the trees emerged this inconspicuous cafe. I don’t know what had gotten into me, I have never since been so brave — I walked straight in without thinking. Quite irregular for one as introverted as me.

I was immediately struck by its warmth and coziness; it felt almost magical. The enticing aroma of tea leaves, coffee beans, bread, and butter dragged me in. The wooden benches, wooden tables, and couches in the middle of the room encouraged open seating. Families shared benches with strangers in perfect harmony. Couples continued their love-smitten small talk without fear of eavesdroppers as another group of friends cackled loudly beside them.

I was so fascinated by this place that I ended up spending most of my free time at the cafe. For some, Willowvilla might be just another cafe, but to me, it felt like I had discovered a strangely unique place. The thing is I like blending in without attracting too much attention to myself and this homely place seemed perfect to me. I completed college assignments while munching on blueberry scones, read books late in the evening by the window, and worked on office presentations while drinking espresso shots to keep myself awake. I even made new friends here, it always started with a smile and the conversations just seemed to flow. It was easy to find like-minded people here.


Suddenly, my reverie breaks, and I find myself standing in front of a girl. Her eyes are smiling at me but this time everything feels different. She is wearing a mask and there’s a glass partition between us. I look around and my Willovilla looks rather dull and devoid of life. My heart drops and I feel as empty as the place. I quickly come back to my senses and say,

“I have an order for pick-up, my name’s Nina.”

“Sure, let me grab that for you. I will be right back!”, she replied.

Everything has changed, there are no benches, no couches, and no bar stools. This time, right at the front are sanitizers, brown paper bags, and take away orders which occupy most of the space. Posters on the walls read, “COVID-19 Safety measures: Please wear a mask for your safety and ours!”

There are only a handful of people in the cafe who are jumping between serving customers and preparing orders. The bakers are busily working in the kitchen wearing masks and gloves. I watch them work while waiting and a realization suddenly dawns upon me. They do not appear sad or overworked. In fact, they look like they are enjoying themselves, despite the added safety precautions. There are in-jokes between the bakers and the serving staff. My smile slowly returns. Yes, the place looks different but the hint of magic remains in the air.

We’re all trying to hold on to those good times even if things don’t feel the same anymore. So what, if I cannot spend time in the cafe I am grateful and relieved that it reopened after almost a year and did not shut down permanently. This time when I look around, I notice that the place is trying its best to still look inviting and beautiful. The space is filled with flower baskets and goodie bags. The bakers continue to dole out hand-crafted pastries and scrumptious cookies that look nothing less than pieces of art.

I walk out of Willowvilla with my parcel in hand feeling warm and fuzzy. In the end, it’s all about evoking emotions that help in building connections. This pandemic has taught me to support one another, to build a sense of community, to hold on, and to be patient. Things may or may not go back to how they were but together we can always make it better. I guess that’s how life is supposed to go.

Tell me a childhood story

#ShortStory

The other day at a story writing club somebody asked me this question, “Think of a weird, uncomfortable memory from your childhood. If it’s some kind of experience, make it sound fun.” I didn’t have to think for too long because this one in particular is the strongest memory that I have from my school days and this is the story that I told them:

I waited in line to use the restroom at school. I was always alone in school but I would act super cool and confident. Not that I chose to be alone, but I don’t know I never had any close friends in school. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty strange. None of the other girls came alone to the restroom, they would always bring along a friend or a group of friends. Like it was some kind of a fun group activity to go to the restroom.

For me the only reason was because I had to use it, given a chance I would never want to use the toilet in school. But I started looking at it differently. I started using that time to find peace. It became more like my happy place where nobody could see me. I would breathe out a sigh of relief, relieved to be away from all the noisy and wannabe kids. Here it was only me and my toilet seat.

I heard a lot of gossip and scandalous stories while doing my business inside. The girls would rush inside giggling and start sharing who was dating whom, who kissed the most popular guy in high school, or who found a secret love note hidden in their classwork. Well it was school, what else can you expect from girls at that age? Sometimes girls would enter crying and discuss subjects in which they failed, the remarks written by the teachers, or whose parents were treating their kids poorly.

You know the kind of things, none of the girls would ever tell me but I was a kid too. I liked stories. I spent all my childhood reading stories, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Harry Potter, Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, Chicken Soup, Tinkle, Archies. I would even gobble up my English text books before the school year started. But I wanted to know what real people talk about, I wanted to listen to some stories for a change, silly that it had to be this way with my bare bum on the throne. Once the restroom was empty, I would come out feeling accomplished, stretch like a cat, apply lip gloss and walk back to the class like I know-it-all, flipping my pony-tail in style.


Thank you for reading my fictional short story. If you have a story too, then use the below line as a writing prompt and share the story with us. “Think of a weird, uncomfortable memory from your childhood. If it’s some kind of experience, make it sound fun.

A Lost Friend

#Short story

When I saw her for the first time, it felt like I had never seen anyone who looked so angelic. I stayed away from her, I thought pretty girls like her would not want to talk to me. We sat on the same bench in class but we never spoke to each other. Sometimes, when the lecturer dictated notes I would peek into her notebook, she would push her book towards me and smile. Even her tiniest gesture of kindness would touch my heart.

One day at a friend’s place we ended up being alone in the corner of a room. That was the first time she spoke to me and when she did, I was surprised by the speed at which she spoke. I don’t remember the conversation, all I remember is that she spoke really fast. If I had to describe her looks, then umm..she has innocent honey brown eyes, super chubby cheeks, clear soft skin, long black hair, and a sweet naughty smile. She is a beautiful girl, my girl!

We got close after the bike accident. She had fallen off the bike while riding so our group of friends had rushed to the hospital. I ran straight towards her because she was crying the loudest. She was not injured, she was just scared, really scared, and she asked me to stay by her side. Instead of feeling sorry, I found the whole situation amusing. But, it was also the first time I felt protective about her. I wanted to take care of her and keep her safe. I did not see her in college after the accident for a week. And then she was back! Her beaming smile made me feel warm and happy. I sat next to her and that’s how our friendship began. We were inseparable.

She used to talk a lot and as I mentioned earlier she talked really fast. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her. Every day I would look forward to seeing her. The level of comfort between us was unlike anything that I had with my other friends. We understood each other, cared for each other, and had fun like no one else. We could laugh for hours, we were silly, and we loved spending time together.

I remember she would always wait for me outside the college gate. I was always a few minutes late, but she would wait for me without ever complaining, and then we would run in together. When she missed her bus, it was my turn to wait for her. I would watch her walk hurriedly towards me, fixing her flying messy hair, holding onto her college bag clumsily, and fixing her clothes angrily. She always used to be annoyed, like she hated the world, but then she would end up laughing when she finally reached me. All her worries would fade away and we would get back to cracking silly jokes. Problems in life never got serious when we had each other.

After classes, we would spend a few extra hours hanging out in college and I would take the longest route so I could walk halfway with her. Sometimes I would even go all the way to her bus stop and wait with her until her bus arrived because I lived close to the college. Sometimes we would be lost so deep in conversations that she would deliberately miss her bus so we could talk a little while longer. After reaching home, we would send each other text messages and chat until late night. Friendship with her felt more like a relationship. I am not sure what we had, it was certainly more than love. I was scared that someday I would lose her, we had gotten too emotionally attached.

When college ended, we slowly started drifting apart. She got busy looking for jobs and I got busy doing my new job. We would meet once a week, soon it became once a month, and then once in six months. We even stopped talking to each other on the phone. I tried many times to maintain the friendship but she failed to reciprocate. It was difficult for me to understand the change in her nature. There was a period of time when I was angry with her, “How could she forget me so easily?” On days when I needed my friend, she wasn’t there and that would make me sad. I waited for her, with a hope that things will go back to being how they used to be before.

Soon, I fell in love with a guy, who is now my husband. She got married and moved to another country. We completely stopped talking, we had forgotten how to be there for each other. There was one time when our paths accidentally crossed, she was with her two kids. She spoke to me briefly and I realized she was nothing like the person that I knew before and our relationship will never be the same. I lost my dearest friend and losing a best friend is worse than a breakup.

I often think about her, wonder where she is, and how she is doing. I miss her, I miss laughing with her. But over the years I’ve realized that I need to be thankful for the time that I got to spend with her, people move on and I should learn to accept that. By trying to rekindle the relationship I might lose all the sweet memories that I have been holding onto. So, I guess it’s better this way.


Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com

Distant Together

At the crack of dawn, far across the river, Ahiya can sense the microphone turning on in a mosque near her village. Within seconds the Azaan will start, the early morning call to prayer.

She lightly rubs her eyes and leaps out of bed. It’s Eid today!

Ahiya goes out of her bedroom cheerfully, half expecting to see her parents in the living area. She gives herself a low-spirited smile when she finds no one in the house. It was her decision to move to a new country, not theirs.

She has set up a cozy home for herself in a faraway Western land. All her life, she was told to educate herself and be successful. Success was to move to a first world country to fulfill your dreams. This was considered to be the ultimate achievement in life. People who get a job and move to the West were revered by families in her home town.

Ahiya grew up with the same dreams and hopes that some day, she will make herself and her family proud by chasing those dreams. Now, her dreams have come true. Then, why is she not happy? Nobody told her that life would never be the same. Nobody told her that the sense of belonging would be lost. Nobody told her how lonely she would feel and that she would be thousands of miles away from her family.

Ahiya shakes her head and dismisses away the thoughts. Today the distance will not come in her way of celebrating one of her most favorite festivals. Eid is the day on which loved ones come together to pray and embrace each other. It is the day of charity, of being grateful, and of forgiveness. Also of course, it is the day of feasting on exquisite, delicious food.

Enthusiastically, Ahiya starts prepping for the day while eating her morning oatmeal. She glides through the kitchen, gathering all the ingredients that she will need for today’s elaborate feast. She turns on the radio, listens to songs and starts chopping vegetables recalling the pleasant childhood memories.

There is always incessant chatter and sound of music in the air during Eid in her hometown. Kids run around the house, grandparents talk loudly on the phones wishing relatives, ma is always busy in the kitchen preparing multiple dishes, and baba does all the other house chores while also entertaining and taking care of the children. In the background, the tape recorder fills the air with music from Sabri Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Ahiya’s fond memory of this day is peeling off mehendi from her palms. The first thing to do on every morning of Eid. A curiosity to find out how dark the color of the mehendi on her palm has turned out to be. Once all the mehendi flakes were off, she rubbed coconut oil on her palms and went up running to her amma and baba to show them her orange-colored palms. More than the color she enjoyed watching their faces light up with pride and joy.

Back in the kitchen, Ahiya hums along with the songs on the radio and marinates the chicken, roasts dry fruits in ghee for the dessert, and grinds spices in a mortal pestle. The rising aromas in the kitchen leave her grinning from ear to ear. Light on her feet, Ahiya is focused on getting all the flavours right.

After spending hours in the kitchen, Ahiya finally steps out feeling like a conqueror and rushes for a quick shower. She offers her Eid ki namaz, filled with gratitude and thanks the Lord for all His blessings.

It is time to set up the dining table with the lavish food, Chicken Dum Biryani, Kheema Kababs, Harira, Sheer Khurma, and Phirni. Ahiya dresses up in a traditional lehenga and kurti and sits down on the dining table to video call her parents.

“Eid Mubarak!” she says and beams happily upon seeing their loving, smiling faces. Excitedly she narrates the stories of her day and patiently listens to theirs. An hour long conversation and greetings leave Ahiya content.

Blissful.

 

On the Streets of Paris

‘Twas the wretched dream again.

Reminding me of a glorious day,

A time that my memory refuses to forget.

‘Twas a balmy summery day.

I wandered the streets of Paris again.

Where the trees bloomed decorously

Casting shadows on empty lanes.

There were bustling shops selling

Tiny trinkets and many souvenirs.

Parisian buildings were everywhere.

With the prettiest-looking artistic balconies

I stopped a moment to absorb the view

Then, ended up clicking just a photo of you

– A fallen abandoned leaf by my feet.

Kidding,

Mrs. Weatherbee..

Mrs. Long Weatherbee,

While rummaging through her old closet

Found her good-old pink lingerie.

With a smile on her face

Along came good-old memories.

 

In her teens, Mrs. Weatherbee,

Had stolen glances from nearly-naked chiseled boys

Girls ridiculed her, many laughed at her stupidity.

“Oh, how silly of me to wear this pink lingerie to the beach!”

 

To escape the humiliation,

Mrs. Weatherbee had dived into the sea.

She swam long and hard,

Suddenly the currents became strong.

Pulling her deeper into the sea.

That’s when she met the man of her dreams.

 

Mr. Weatherbee,

Saved Mrs. Weatherbee from drowning

& instantly fell in love with her in the sea.

Now, they’ve been married for many years.

But Mrs. Weatherbee still holds on

To her good-old pink lingerie

With all its bittersweet memories.