Home – a short story
It was nine in the morning when I reached the playground near my home. The roads were empty, with most people in the residential area having left for office already. The playground was empty too, but for a few stray dogs trotting towards the other gate.
I was last here twenty three years ago. But I still remembered how soft the grass had felt under my feet, how Ramya and I would sit on the swings and then slowly try to touch the sky, and how our laughter would make everyone around us smile. We were seven years old then. She was my best friend, my partner for anything. We would go together to Iyer uncle’s bakery to buy ice lollies, and play pranks on our mothers when we were at each other’s house. She would be the one sitting on the other end of the see saw when we played on it. It was empty today.
I sat on the swing, alone. It still managed to hold my weight. I had been alone the last time too. Ramya had gone to school. I had said goodbye to her the previous day. We had held each other’s hand and smiled. When she had left, the tears had taken her place. I would be gone by the time she returned. My father had been transferred abroad, and my mother and I were going with him.
As I swung myself now, slowly, the weight of my life slowly seemed to lift. I could accept that Appa was gone, that I had come back after all these years to scatter his ashes in the Kaveri, and do the final rites that would aid his rise to heaven. I didn’t understand those beliefs, having been raised abroad, but it had been his final wish, and I wanted to fulfill that. The weight of my divorce lifted too. She had wanted her freedom, only her freedom. But I knew that it was her ambitions that had chained her. The weight of expectations from my career lifted too. I had been at the helm of an MNC for seven years. We had saved enough, and I accepted that it was now time to return back to India. As the weight lifted, I felt the tears return.
I heard a sound and turned to see her sitting on the swing next to me. We had grown up, but we hadn’t changed so much that I couldn’t recognize her. She took my hand and held it tightly.
“It will be okay, Chinnu,” she said.
We had said that to each other the last time as well. We had been two seven year-old kids trying to pretend that they could act mature. For the first time in two weeks, I smiled. It was a watery smile, there yet not there.
“Not at office?” I asked her.
It was a strange thing to ask my best friend the first time I was seeing her after twenty three years. It felt absurd the moment after I had said it. But she laughed at it, the same ringing laughter that she had had then.
“I work from home itself,” she replied, wiping away my tears.
The question felt even more absurd than the earlier one, but it was like I had traveled back in time, and we were children again. We would ask each other the most silliest of questions.
“No. The horror scope doesn’t match properly,” she told, not beating around the bush. “Enough stupid questions for today, Chinnu. Lunch is at our house today, and we’ve two decades worth of news to catch up on. Come on.”
She pulled me up from the swing. Holding each other’s hand, we walked toward our houses. There was hope again. After all the years living in the US, at that moment, I felt free. Holding her hand tightly, I whispered to no one in particular, “I’m home.”
(© Vinay Leo R. @ I Rhyme Without Reason,
30th July, 2017)