The purple tree at the end of the road

The bright lights were almost too much for Joan to handle. She almost closed her eyes before remembering that she shouldn’t. She remembered thinking to herself, this is the finish line then, this is where it all ends…

When she woke up, she felt strangely at peace. It was an unsettling feeling, for she had never known such peace, ever. She opened her eyes to what looked like a park. She was lying on what seemed to be grass which was rapidly turning white. She looked around, it was snowing. That threw her a bit, she could’ve sworn it was July. Funnily enough, she wasn’t cold at all, nor was she getting wet even though she were standing in the snow in what passed as summer clothes. She realised that she was standing halfway up a hillock. She looked up to see nothing but darkness on the path leading up. A little way down from where she was, she spotted a strange tree that emitted a purple glow. She wondered briefly, how she could tell that it was purple, for other than the ghostly white snow, all was dark.

She hesitated for a minute or two, then decided to make her way down to the tree. As she walked downhill, she became aware of the changing light. It became brighter, but not piercingly so. Bit by bit, her surroundings became clearer. It wasn’t night anymore. Nor was it snowing anymore. She was walking on a grassy path. There were tiny yellow and red flowers under her feet, peeking their heads up shyly, as if to say hello. There was a light, pleasant, breeze that reminded her of the late springs of her childhood. She walked until there was no path to walk on. She was at the edge of a pond with clear, glassy green water. She could see life underneath. There were plants in a variety of colours that looked as if they were lit within. There were schools of fish and other life forms, some swimming placidly by, others resting among the plants. She looked toward the tree again. She didn’t know why, but she felt that it is her destination, somehow, it was very important that she get there.

As she kept looking at the tree, the water that was lapping at her feet swept away to both sides it. There was a path of completely dry sand leading up to the tree. She hesitated for a moment, all of it seemed too easy, too good to be true. She made up her mind to take a chance and stepped on to the white sand. She walked right to the base of the tree. She looked up to the branches, there seemed to be no end to them. She couldn’t see where the tree ended and the sky began. She didn’t know what to do now. She looked up again, to see her mother smiling down at her. At her shoulder were everyone she had thought she’d never see ever again, all smiling down at her. She was at a total loss for words. She smiled through her tears as her mother took her in her arms and said, “Dearest, you’re home again”.

Presence

When the musty smells of Winter move over for the freshness of early Spring, I always think of you. When the dewy snow drops melt into nothingness, and trees stand proud wearing their crowns of new leaves and tiny yellow flowers, I feel your presence. I don’t know why this particular change of seasons reminds me of you, there are others during the year that do not. When I walk the empty roads, thinking about anything and everything in the light, refreshing rain, I often feel like you are watching me. Are you really, or is it just an echo of a wishful thought? As every new spring day dawns, I tell myself that I’m being silly, conjuring up these thoughts and moments and feelings, while I should be living out in the world rather than inside my head. And yet, and yet, I just can’t help thinking them and feeling you, all day, all around.

In the dark

Sophie’s life had been one filled with rash decisions. Being a life long advocate of ‘living in the moment’ had certain drawbacks. Being alone and scared in the darkness of her own home was just the most recent one. Ever since she had seen Dan on the street a few days ago, she had been seized by a nameless fear. It was irrational, she told herself, he hadn’t even seen her. Moreover, whatever had happened between them happened over a decade ago. It was way beyond water under the bridge. 

Try as she might, her fear refused to dissipate. She just couldn’t get his last words to her as he was being led away in handcuffs, out of her mind. He had said, “You’ll regret this, bitch. I’m coming back for you”. A shiver ran up her spine at the memory. It wasn’t so much the words that had unsettled her. It was the naked hatred in his eyes, the expression of a tethered wild animal, that set her teeth on edge. She heaved a sigh and closed her eyes. It was just a coincidence, she told herself. There was no way he could’ve found her. She had moved across the country and changed pretty much everything about her in an attempt to put that part of her life behind her. It was highly unlikely that his being in this city had anything to do with her at all. She was almost halfway through convincing herself that all was fine when she heard the sound of leaves crunching in her driveway. 

Moment

There was nothing dazzling about him. That was the first thing that she had noticed. He seemed rather normal. The tall erect form, the dark curly hair, the laugh that scrunched his nose up, they were all pleasant, but not extraordinary. That helped her relax a little bit, prone to severe social anxiety as she was. She always hid it very well, so that no one really knew about it. She breathed deeply and listened to him talk. He was so passionate about everything, and he actually knew quite a lot of things. Since he had arrived, he had had an opinion about everything. They weren’t the half-cooked opinions born of arrogance, but rather, well thought out reasonings that made one think. She slowly raised her eyes to his face. To her utter shock, his eyes locked on to hers. They were kind, so kind, and so far removed from his blustering manner.They were the warmest brown possible, sheltered by long dark lashes. She forgot to breathe. She felt as if this was the moment, the only moment that had ever occurred, the only moment worth living for.

In the midst of sadness and despair

Joy was nowhere to be found. Everywhere she looked, she saw only people in rags, crying, complaining about everything. It wasn’t their fault, really, she thought to herself, there wasn’t enough food or water to go around. She had lost count of how many days it has been since they have been stranded here. Death had been the only constant companion, arriving to claim someone every other day. She had lost count of the ones taken as well. She wondered if they might actually be at peace like all the religious books said. She hoped that they were, at least their misery has ended.

She walked to the edge of the clearing. Most of them were huddled in the centre, around the hastily concocted fireplace, relying on the dying embers and each other for warmth. She sat down by herself under one of the trees that lined the path to nowhere. She rested her back against its dense roots and looked back to where the others were. She wondered how many of them would survive this place. She wondered if she would. She wondered if any efforts were being made to find them. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She was hungry, cold and exhausted. She thought back to the day she left home, to the simple luxuries that she had taken for granted, like a soft bed and a hot shower, to the man she had met the night before who had seemed nice, to her parents who must surely be crazy with worry … It all seemed rather remote to her, almost as if they were images from another person’s life, which she seemed to be observing with mildly interested detachment. She sighed and turned her head to her side, as if the mild shake would dislodge these thoughts from her mind. All they would do was depress her further.

Her stomach growled, signalling the healthy appetite of a young woman. There was nothing to do about it. What food remained had been rationed and she had already had her share for the day. She decided to ignore her stomach. That had been her motto for the past few days, to blatantly ignore the things she can do nothing about, those phantoms that lurked above her head, above all of their heads, hunger, fear and death. She concentrated on her breathing, mimicking the breathing exercises she had seen in passing while switching channels on the television. She was drifting on that semi conscious bliss between sleep and wake when she was rudely interrupted by a light object falling on her face and then picking its way down her clothes. She startled awake and sat up, annoyed. She looked down to her lap and saw a tiny flower, yellow with a smattering of red freckles on its petals, still carrying the green vestige of its bud, delicate filaments poking through proudly almost like it was baring its teeth in a smile. A slow smile appeared on her face as she stared at the offending object. It widened and grew. She felt a relief that she hadn’t felt in days. It felt almost like a pleasant memory, of bright, warm, normal things. Amongst all this horror and death and ruin, in the midst of sadness and despair, here it was, one simple bloom, a tiny ray of light, a glimmer of hope, a testament to the fact that there is still life to be lived and beauty to be enjoyed. She felt as if a weight had lifted off of her shoulders.

The edge of forever

He started walking from the tree of knowledge. He didn’t want to see or think anymore. He hoped that the activity of walking and the associated fatigue will keep stray thoughts from invading his mind. It wasn’t until the needs of his body outweighed his need for no coherent thought that he stopped awhile. He looked around. He had reached the pond they called the sea. He sat down in the sand by its bank and tentatively reached out a hand to touch the water. But he couldn’t. As he reached his hand forward, the water seemed to recede. The further he extended his hand, the further the water receded. He sighed and gave up. He sat, staring at his reflection for a moment. His hair was matted, his eyes bloodshot and sunken, his face grimy and lined. He wondered, how long had it been that he had started walking, has it been days, months, years … He found that he didn’t mind having lost track of time at all. He raised his eyes to the horizon, the road lay spread out, far and wide. There was nothing of note to see around. He wondered, if it indeed was the way to go. He took a deep breath, braced his hands on the bank of the pond they called the sea, and thought to himself, perhaps this is it, the path to where he had set out for, the path to the edge of forever… He closed his eyes and dove in.

Circle in the sky

The circle in the sky was becoming bigger by the day. It seemed as if it was getting brighter as well. Minna wondered if she was the only one who noticed it. In all the old pictures and paintings, it had looked yellow. Her mother told her that it used to look like that back then. She didn’t know why it looked different now. So many things were different nowadays, her mother said that it is useless to worry about things that they couldn’t change.

The circle that appeared when it was dark hadn’t changed, though. The elders said that it was because the creatures who lived in it kept it safe. But the one in the light didn’t have that option, nobody lived there, although some people said that the creators used to. According to them, they had abandoned it right about the time everything started changing. Her grandfather said that even the climes were different now. When his grandfather was younger, the hot climes were shorter than it is now. Water from the sky was harder and whiter and lined the paths. He showed her a picture of his grandfather as a boy, holding a ball of the white stuff. The boy in the picture looked happy. It was difficult to think of him as her grandfather’s grandfather.

Minna had only ever known the hot climes, and the occasional water season. She had always loved the water season. Everything looked and smelled so fresh, and the heat abated, at least for a little while. Her mother always warned her not to get her head wet, so she would sit at the top of the entry channel of her home, with her feet dangling out and draw on the wet, cool, soil. But they didn’t have that many water seasons anymore. The past hot clime had lasted for more than one light turn. Now they had to go farther than before to collect water. Minna didn’t mind it that much, she liked the walk, but even after getting there, there was no guarantee that they’d find enough water for even a day. That made things a little difficult.

Every night as she lay in bed, Minna looked up at the little blinking lights in the sky. Her greatest wish was to see one of them up close one day. As she looked up at them today, her thoughts were much closer to home. She could tell that the elders were worried about these changes. She had come upon them whispering about something or the other. They would hastily switch topics and paste a smile on their faces when they saw children. But she had caught a few words in between, enough for her to realise that perhaps these changes weren’t entirely for the good. She had never thought about them so much before. This was just how everything was, and she had accepted them as they were. Although she did think it would’ve been fun to have the little chittering, flying creatures around, of whom her grandfather spoke at length about, or the white water. No one knew why they were gone, or if they will ever come back. All they knew was that it was getting hotter and that there wasn’t enough water anymore, and that it was because of the circle in the sky.

  • In response to prompt 1 of February writing prompts, circle in the sky.

Fall

Everything ended last fall.  She remembered staring up at the mountains as it did. Their heads were bare, the snowy caps that normally tempered their appearance melted away in the afternoon sun. The early fall mist hid their torsos from the city, giving them a disembodied appearance. The periodic blinks from the lonely communications tower atop the tallest range stood out in a lacklustre red.

His limpid green eyes were always a mystery to her. Although she knew that the saying that a person’s feelings are reflected in their eyes to be a farce, she had always been good at reading people. Not so with him. They were always impassive, well, almost always. She had known them to transform into dark dilated orbs which convey more than words at times.

She watched as his mask slipped, as her words brought confusion and then hurt to his eyes. She wanted nothing more than to take him in her arms and kiss that look away. But she forced herself to stay stoic, balling her fists inside her jacket pockets. She forced herself not to look away, to let him see that she meant it this time.

Their goodbyes were little more than perfunctory. After a moment of weakness, the mask was back, more opaque than usual. As she walked away, she felt chilled to the bone. She doubted it had much to do with the weather. She turned back for a last look. He was staring at the river, hands in his pockets.

She lay back on the bed and stared at the meagre blue sky  visible between the roofs of the buildings around. The white clouds passed by, twisting into different shapes as they went. A horse turned into an apple and the apple into fire. Then an airplane flew by, scattering the fire, in its haste to land at the airport nearby. Other clouds took its place, floating by in an everlasting tango.

She turned her head to watch his sleeping form. His brown hair tousled and sticking up every which way brought a smile to her face. She reached out to touch the salt and pepper scruff on his chin. She quite liked the sandpaper feel of it. She ran her hand up his face,  through the dusting of freckles on his cheeks, to his crow’s feet, to his forehead wrinkles. She rested her hand on his forehead and really looked at him. He was almost never this peaceful. He was always moving, twitching really, pattering his feet along a tune in his head, doing one thing or the other. Even when sleeping, he twisted and turned so much so that it was nearly impossible for her to get any sleep until she got used to it.

She wasn’t quite sure how all this came to be. He was just an idea in her head for the longest time. Even in the cynical character that she projected for everyone, in some inner recess of her mind, she fervently wished and patiently waited for someone like him to  come along. And when he did, it threw her for a loop. Everyone talks about falling in love, but staying in love is a completely different beast. There was no rule book, no guidelines. You were left to wander without a map.

She had built these walls in her mind over the years. They were partly to protect her from hurt, and were partly born out of shyness. The tallest and strongest wall was the one she built between who she actually is and what she called her public face. That wall never came down in front of anyone, not even her closest friends. He was patient, he was so very patient. A reasonable man would have run for the hills. But he stayed, navigating through her tantrums and insecurities and general unsociability, tearing down that wall brick by brick, piece by piece.

As her mind was wandering on these musings, the object of these mental meanderings opened his eyes. They were azure as the sky, deep and steady even when languid. They softened as he looked at her, crinkling at the corners in a half smile. She leaned over and pressed her lips to his forehead. His smile widened. He pulled her to him, burying his face in her hair. She laid her head on the crook of his neck and inhaled his scent. As his arms tightened around her, she felt truly safe.