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.

Close Watch by Signe Christensen

#BookReview
Thriller|Fiction|Suspense

Nobody likes the feeling of being closely watched or followed but it’s terrifying to know when somebody actually breaks into your house!

Close Watch by Signe Christensen is a fictional story about Amber, a normal person trying to live a normal life. After her recent breakup with her boyfriend, Sam, she feels like she is constantly being followed to a point where she feels creeped out in her own house. When she reaches out to the police, it leads nowhere because of the lack of information. However her two friends, Karen and Maya, are a great support. Amber relies on them the most, they are always by her side and try to keep her safe. But after Amber’s several attempts to ignore the feeling of being stalked and being threatened, she decides to escape from the city for a while and spend a few days in her aunt’s cottage in Dorset. What happens if this turns out to be a wrong decision?

Close Watch is a entertaining thriller that is easy to read. The story is well narrated, the element of suspense and character building is strong. As a reader I felt dragged into the story right from the start. The book is lighthearted and not too intense. Even though, you might get the feeling that you know who the stalker is going to be, it is a nice read right till the end.

Also, find my review on this website: Reedsy

By Her Side

I am not a dragon,
I do not have a horde.
I am trapped inside this empty dark cave
With no shiny heaps of gold.

I wander aimlessly in the darkness with no real goal.
I wonder what’s in my destiny,
Is there a purpose for this existence?
I curl up in a corner and sleep like every other day.
But, who’s here today?
A little boy has walked into the cave.

He stands in front of me fearlessly and smiles.
I snarl, smoke rises from my nostrils.
He steps forward cautiously, his hand reaching towards me.
I curl deeper into the cave.
He waits patiently, his soul emitting an aura of kindness.
I rise up and breathe fire.
The boy as small as a shrimp near my feet,
Watched me in awe with no fear.
The cave was no ordinary one,
The fire melted the layer of soot away and revealed walls of gold.
The cave shone like the sun in the darkness of the night,
With a mighty dragon queen and a little boy as a guiding star by her side. 

The Girl in the Tree by Şebnem İşigüzel

Book Review

Fiction|Trauma|Family Strife|Love

A Girl in the Tree written by Şebnem İşigüzel is a story of a girl who has given up on the world and decides to live in the trees. It is an emotional tale of a teenage girl who talks about Gezi protests in Turkey, constant war in Istanbul, bombing attacks, political realities, and violence in society. The harsh realities and the tragic events leave her with no hope of a better world. So, she runs away and climbs one of the tallest trees in Istanbul’s Gülhane Park. Here she reveals multiple reasons that have led her to take this drastic step of spending the rest of her life in the trees. But, a kind and helpful soul comes around like a glistening ray of hope and an unexpected love story unfolds.

The girl is disappointed and frustrated and does not want to reveal her identity. It all starts with the death of her favorite singer. As the story progresses she shares how she loses her two best friends in a bombing attack. Like her mind, which is in a state of disorder, the girl narrates the events in a disorderly fashion, transitioning from the past to the present.

The girl talks about her dysfunctional family and how she has grown up seeing her mother living a sad and lonely life. She is passionate about writing but is brutally criticized by her school teacher much to her despair. The girl shares all these memories while being perched in a stork’s nest. She hops, skips, and jumps from one branch to another, from one tree to another to avoid being seen by the people in the park.

A bell boy, Yunus, who works in a hotel near the park notices the girl and helps by bringing food, water, and warm clothes. He regularly checks up on her and protects her. They get close and share stories of their past. Yunus showers her with love and care, and even ends up losing his job while trying to protect her. He offers her to run away with him and start a new life but The Girl in the Tree is determined to live the rest of her life away from the emotional miseries of the world.

The Girl in the Tree is a Turkish fictional novel translated by Mark David Wyers. It deals with the struggles of the common people in Istanbul where there is no freedom of speech or women’s rights. All there’s left is grief, political strife and violence. Hence, the girl believes that living in the trees is the only way to attain spiritual freedom. This book has a unique and bold tone where the girl is directly interacting with the readers. The rage and unrest that she is going through is captured extremely well.

I recommend that you give this book a read if you’re intrigued by the offbeat story that is set in a violent political background.

Candle Girl

It was a silent dark night, the windows flew open and the candle flame quivered – an unexpected storm.

The grumpy old man had fallen asleep by the fireplace while reading a book and was disturbed by the storming wind. The wooden floor creaked in pain when he got up from his rocking chair. The dog lying beside his feet jolted up and whined in fear. The old man barked at him and asked the dog to shut up.

A bolt of lightning struck close followed by a loud thunderous, crackling sound. The dog howled and scampered around the house.

The power went off.

The old man cursed continually under his breath and began to walk slowly towards the kitchen to look for candles.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door.
“Who now?”, he thought.

It took him a good amount of time to reach the door. He opened it and saw a little girl with two braid plaits smiling at him.

“Who are you?”, croaked the old man.
The girl replied, “I live down the road. We moved-in yesterday. I.. uh, we need candles. Can I please borrow a few candles? One will also do.”
“You are soaked to the skin, girl! Come in.” said the old man and started walking, “There’s a dog inside, don’t get frightened. He will bark but he is a fool, never bites.”

The girl followed him, “Thank you sir, you are very kind. I am not scared of dogs, you see I have grown up playing with two massive hounds at my grandma’s place. Do you live alone? Where are your children? Why don’t you sit, it seems like you are finding it difficult to walk. I can help you light the candles. Point me to where they are and I will get them.”

“Chatty little prick, I am not kind. The candles are somewhere in the kitchen, go find them. Take one for yourself, light one for me and leave!”, said the old man and went back to his chair.
“Yes sir, I will be quick. Is there anything the matter with your back?”, asked the girl with a worried look.
“I slipped in my backyard and landed on my back. I was taken to the hospital for a surgery, those damned doctors placed two metal plates in my spine.” said the old man with great effort.
“Oh I am sorry to hear that, can I be of any help? My mother’s making vegetable broth I can quickly fetch some for you. Specially in this weather sir, I am sure the hot broth and some toasted slices of baguette will do you good.”, she said hopefully.
“Like I said earlier, there is no need for you to get pally with me. Take the candles and leave, girl”, he said dismissively.

The girl found the candles in a wooden box beside a pair of oven mitts. While in the kitchen she noticed its messy state, “Clearly he is finding it difficult to do things by himself, silly ol’ grandpa!

She lit a candle and placed it on a table next to him. While the rest of the house was still in darkness, she sneaked out quietly, leaving the door slightly open and ran out.

The girl returned in a few minutes and noticed that the old man had fallen asleep. She placed the hot food on the dining table and lit another candle next to the food. She also left behind a huge basket in the kitchen filled with bread, butter, strawberry jam, and some fruits.

A few days had passed. The old man woke up early in the morning and decided to go on a walk to look for the girl. He had recovered and was neither grumpy or hungry anymore. He searched long and hard but there was no sign of the girl. He asked the neighbours and nearby stores but none had heard or seen a little girl with two braid plaits around. He went back home feeling disheartened.

One night, there was an unexpected storm again, rain pelted on the roof, windows rattled, winds howled, lightning flashed and crackled in the sky. The dog whimpered and hid underneath the old man’s chair. The power went off and he heard a soft knock on the door again.

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Happily Alone Together

In this cold and miserable weather, all she wants to do is curl up inside a blanket and read books all day long. She makes a warm bowl of cream and mushroom soup and cups her palms around it. She dreads the winter.

Every year she feels she will get used to the cold, but every year she ends up saying, “I can’t do this anymore!” The uncomfortable feeling of cold hands and feet make her sad. At present, she is wearing three layers of clothing inside her home. A pink slip with a black T-shirt and a striped sweatshirt. A pair of unicorn printed fleece pants, a beanie, thermal socks, and yet her nose is cold as snow.

Sometimes, she looks at her neighbours, diligently taking their dogs for walks in the snow and feels sad. She feels sad for not being active like the others, for not having the courage to step out every single day. Sometimes with great effort, she goes out once in a week to shop for groceries. Due to COVID-19, she has to work from home and hardly meets any of her family and friends. So, she always ends up feeling lonely and low.

One day, an unexpected visitor shows up at her door. She fixes her curly hair, straightens her glasses and opens the door. At first, she finds nobody but when she looks down, there is a Mr. Pussycat looking up at her.
“Where did you come from?”, she asks surprisedly.
She steps outside and looks around but finds nobody on the street. Since, she cannot not leave him alone in the bone-chilling cold, she picks him up and brings Mr. Pussycat inside. She opens a can of tuna and watches him lick it all clean. “Poor lil one must have been really hungry!”

Mr. Pussycat turns out to have a friendly and cuddly soul. He jumps onto her lap, snuggles cozily and falls asleep, all the while purring. Stupefied by the cat’s behaviour, the girl wonders if she has a new companion. Both turn out to have similar personalities so it does not take them long to get along with each other. She plays with him, cooks for him, snuggles and watches movies with him. Mr.Pussycat takes up most of her time and the cold no longer plays on her mind. Now, they live happily alone together.

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Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

Time to Move

Somebody knocks on the ceiling. I look up in confusion. I wait for the knock again but there’s only silence.

I say, “Hello?”

Silence.

Then there’s a sudden loud thud on the door. I nearly jump out of my skin almost dropping my glass of milk.

I open the door and see a box of cookies at the doorstep.

I bring it inside and hear a knock on the ceiling again and this time it is accompanied by a voice, “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”, I ask

“Orange.” says the voice

“Orange who?”, I ask again.

“Orange you glad you’ve a box of cookies to go with that milk!”

Mind the Mud

I woke up to a loud emergency alert on my phone warning me about strong winds and flooding. It has been drizzling all day long since a few days. The weather report states a hurricane is expected to strike Central America. I sigh and get out of bed. The gloomy weather has made me lazy and dull. I drink a banana smoothie and decide to head out for a walk since all I have been doing is lying on the couch and whiling away time doing unimportant things, such as work. So, I decide to start my day by being a little more active even though it’s wet and cold outside.

I grab my rain jacket, plug in my earphones, and step out. I get engrossed in an episode of Radiolab about Time on Spotify and take several rounds around the park in the neighborhood. After an hour long walk, I grab a coffee and a sandwich from a nearby cafe and walk back home. On reaching the entrance to my place, I notice strange, muddy footprints near my front door.

The footprints do not look like shoe prints or animal footprints, they look different. Strange! I get worried and quickly check if I had left my door unlocked. Thankfully the door is locked, but I still do a quick check to see if there is anyone inside. I check the living area, under the couch for any animal, patio, bedrooms, bathrooms, under the kitchen sink, and find nothing.

The strange part is not about seeing the muddy footprints, it is about the unfamiliarity of the footprints and how they abruptly end near my front door.

These footprints kept appearing repeatedly outside my door for the next few days, which I found rather unusual and upsetting. I put in more effort and looked further to find out where the steps start and why they always ended near my door. My futile attempts only led me towards puddles near the entrance of the apartment with no other clue. After wasting a good amount of time, I would groan angrily and go back to doing my daily tasks.

It is Halloween today, my friend from work, invites me over to a costume party at her place. I wear a simple grey dress which has a furry tail and a hood with ears. It is a werewolf costume but it makes me look more like a cat. After a long night of chatting and drinks, I sober up and drive back to my place by 2 AM in the morning. Tiredly and sleepily, I hunt for the house keys inside my handbag without noticing that there is something near my feet. I realise this and pause for a second before looking down. I let out the loudest shrill scream upon seeing a wolf in front of my door.

Immediately, the lights in the neighbour’s house turn on and an old woman grumpily opens the door. She looks at my deeply shocked face, the animal, and starts laughing.

She starts apologizing for not informing me about her new pet, “I am so sorry dear, meet Hemlie!”, she says.

She pets the animal and continues speaking,

“My grand daughter wanted a husky before Halloween so she could dress him up as a werewolf and take him along for trick-and-treating. On her way back with her friends, she lost Hemlie and came home crying. She fell asleep an hour ago after crying all night long. Poor girl and look here he is, I guess he found his way back home. Smart one, this boy!”, she bends down to pat his head and grabs Hemlie’s collar.

“He must have scared you.”, she looks up at me and smiles in the dim light of the corridor.

I smile at her confusedly and look at the dog’s feet and see him wearing a weird pair of oversized boots. I tell my neighbour about the strange muddy footprints that I have noticed near my door.

For a while she looks confused but then immediately looks at me apologetically, “Oh dear, I had no idea about this. My grand daughter has been taking him out in those shoes and must have made Hemlie clean them up on your door mat before entering our home, because you know I am a stickler for cleanliness!”, she says sheepishly.

I crawl into the bed feeling relieved that the strange mystery of the muddy footprints is solved and also silly for worrying too much about little things.

Trapped

Today, a grey and red spotted moth got trapped in a gap between the glass and the mesh section of my window frame.

I tried to help but there’s no way I can without breaking the glass or cutting open the mesh. I sit down and wonder where the moth must have entered from. Then, I notice a slight opening outside, near the upper edge of the window. I feel relieved because there’s hope for the moth to escape. All it needs to do now is find its way, go back to the opening, and fly away. But sadly, all it seems to do is walk farther away from the opening, or fly and hit itself against the glass pane, and fall down. Sigh!

While I watch this little moth try helplessly, I get reminded of the story of The King and the Spider. I sit by the window and narrate this story to the moth of how the spider never gives up and continues trying until it succeeds. Just to give the moth some company and a few words of inspiration. Slowly, the moth starts moving towards the center of the frame. It gets closer to the edge but again suddenly decides to fly straight towards the glass. Another fall! “Now, why would you do that? Stop flying and go towards the corner where you entered from.”, I say but the little one does not listen to me.

Thankfully, it gets up again and continues walking. It walks multiple times over the same path, starts flying, and falls down. Poor thing continues trying, sometimes it is super close to the opening but it mindlessly walks away or flies only to fall back down again. Now, I am not sure about the moth but I give up. I cannot watch the moth struggle to find a way out of its own trap.

Sometimes, we create these kind of traps for ourselves in our lives due to bad decisions or sometimes unfortunate circumstances make us feel trapped with no way out. What’s important is that the moth did not give up even when the end was near, it did not stop trying. I guess when we stop trying, we stop being alive. So, let’s hold on to dear life.

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All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

War|History|Fiction|Heartfelt

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Book Review

All the Light We Cannot See is a book about the tragedies of war written by Anthony Doerr. The tone of the book is melancholic yet hopeful. It is centered around two protagonists, a six-year old French girl, Marie Laurie, and an eight-year old German boy, Werner Pfennig.

It is a deeply moving story where the author wonderfully captures the difficult circumstances of war and its effects on the people involved. This book is not about what happened during World War II, nor is it about Hitler or the Jews. This book is about how war affects the lives of ordinary people by uprooting them from their homes. It is about people who do not wish to participate in the war and have no choice but to bare the consequences of it. At the same time, it highlights the strength of humanity where we can live through unimaginable situations. In the end, we can always find a reason to live and survive.

All the Light We Cannot See is a fictional war novel about many things. It is about the strength of a blind girl that survives through war. A confused yet an intelligent orphan boy who loves to learn but is captured in a terrible period of war. A father, trying to do his best for his daughter. A sister who is worried that her brother will get influenced by Nazi ideologies. A soldier from World War I who loses his brother and is haunted by the ghosts of war. A friend who loses his life because he is considered too weak to serve the country. This book highlights how individual choices and freedom do not belong to you, but to your country. Only by serving the country, can you survive. Moments of weakness, betrayal, shock, horror, and hope are what makes this book so special and real.

“Wherever her great-uncle is, could he have survived this?
Could anyone?
Has she?”

“Walk the path of logic. Every outcome has its cause, and every predicament has its solution. Every key its lock.  You can go back to Paris or you can stay here or you can go on.”


*Spoiler Alert* Below is a detailed summary of the book which reveals some of the plot points.


Marie Laurie is a blind girl who loses her eyesight due to cataract at a very young age. She lives in Paris with her father, who loves her dearly and works at the Museum of National History. Her father builds a miniature version of the neighborhood for his daughter so she can navigate through the area independently when the need arises. Marie regularly accompanies her father to the museum and this is where she learns about a valuable blue diamond, the Sea of Flames, and its legendary curse. When the German army invades France, Marie Laurie and her father flee from Paris and arrive at Saint-Malo to live with her great uncle Etienne.

Meanwhile, Werner Pfennig lives in an orphanage with his sister Jutta in a town called Zollverein in Germany. He is a brilliant kid with an exceptional skill in fixing radios. His talents and expertise with electronics capture attention. Soon, Werner is presented with an opportunity to study in a specialized training school in Berlin. Werner with a hope for a better future and thirst for knowledge decides to attend the school by leaving behind his sister. Only upon his arrival, he realizes that the fears of his sister were right all along – the boarding school is a place that teaches Nazi values. All the while at the boarding school, Werner does everything that he is expected to do but deep inside he is guilty and knows that he has made a wrong decision.

While the city is being bombed and attacked, Marie Laurie holds onto hope and ends up saving Werner’s life with her radio broadcasts. In turn, Werner saves Marie who is trapped in her house with a German officer. This story is about their journey, experiences and how their lives intersect during war.

“He says, “You are very brave.” She lowers the bucket. “What is your name?” He tells her. She says, “When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” He says, “Not in years. But today. Today maybe I did.”