Unusual

“Are you even listening, Mark? I’m beginning to wonder why am I here? Why?”

Mark’s mother is not scolding, not really. Chiding, teasing, though there is an edge to the mother’s voice- “Why me?

In the dining chair beside the mother, her child has been immersed in an interactive topology game on his iPad for the last thirty minutes. Very solemnly the child speaks in a thin voice to his mother as one might speak to a classmate who is having difficulty with a homework assignment. “Everything has been decided, from the beginning of the universe.”

“What do you mean?’

“This is the time you are supposed to be with me the mother and child moment.”

“O’ sure, that is it.” His mother does n’t know whether to laugh at the answer or be impressed or annoyed. “It is my free will that I decided to stay with you at home, instead of running errands.

Mark is not persuaded. “Mom, no. There are not accidents in free will.” He persists: nothing could be accidental, for all things are determined there’s no chance of something just swerving off on its own.”

Her mother laughs. “ You are too smart. But there are plenty of accidents in life. Really.” No one except the parents could know the secret of their child, the beginning of his life. The unexpected pregnancy was a nightmare, when she was going through the chemotherapy but decided not to abort. She had strong faith and belief,that there is a super power or something like God, who will take care of the life that is growing inside her. Mark was a premature baby and fragile. They had to visit the doctor in every month to check his health, to make sure that he will be a normal baby. And he turned out to be an exceptional child, very wise for his age. It is sometimes hard to understand what he says; a lot more like his philosophical father.She loves her deeply and now without him could not imagine her life. She glances at him before getting up to make some ginger tea. Mark has returned his attention to the damned iPad in his lap. There is an air about Mark’s intense curiosity which feels like he is a fairy caught in a net.He has grown, but has remained small for his age, late in speaking, but when he started to speak it was in phrases, vocabulary flourished with long words. She wonders if, gazing at her, Mark might see something in her, unknown to her, unfathomable. Last time Mark told one of her friend that she was an old soul and it will be easy for her to find her ways out in this universe. Her friend was surprised to hear this from a small child and out of courtesy, did n’t say anything, except she pushed her chair and kissed Mark’s forehead. “ You are astonishing!”

One day Mark asks her to participate in a game of hide and seek but in a different way.

“What do you mean by a different way?” Mark’s mother asks.

“Just come and look for me in my room.” he says before walking away.

His mother counts to ten and knocks at Mark’s door several times. Impulsively she opens the door. “Mark? Where are you?” She looks in the closet, stoops to peer beneath the bed, and even lifts the bed cover and the pillows. “Mark!This is not funny…?” She laughs nervously. The child is certainly in the room somewhere, but where? There is only one glass window which is shut tight. If he crawled through the window to go to the lawn outside not have shut the window behind him! Was it possible, Mark has the power to create somehow or something, may be a miracle, a way to make himself invisible. She sits down at the edge of Mark’s bed. He cann’t just vanish from his room! Or is it possible! She thinks. desperately she opens all the drawers in his dresser. “Mark? Please don’t scare my..” It feel like the vivid presence might vanish from the world as you switch off a lamp and be plunged into darkness. It seems like the stories her grandmother used to tell her-the stories of Gods and their super powers. But it can n’t possible in this era! Or it is possible?

Out of nowhere Mark appears, behind her, on the farthest corner of the room,smiling at his astonished mother.

“Oh, Mark! You frightened me…”

She embraces him without asking him any more questions. She does n’t want to know how or where he was hiding. She is glad to have him back in the house, with her.

 

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Puzzle

Laughter too depends  upon memory a memory of previous laughter.

“Grace – not Gracey?” – That is your name?”

At first she can’t comprehend this. He takes out a little notebook from his pocket and painstakingly inscribed in it what appears to be a diagram in logic. “My days of mastering symbolic logic seem to have abandoned  me,” he says pleasantly, “but I think the situation is something like this..”

Grace is uncertain how to respond. It is fascinating to her that Dave has language skills, mathematical abilities  but he can’t retain new words, concepts or facts even if they are embedded in familiar information. Like many brain-afflicted individuals he carries with him word books, crossword puzzles. His knowledge of world geography is still impressive.Grace is speaking carefully to him: “Mr Dave- let me explain to you again that I am a Professor and has been working with you for a while. You have met me before.”
Dave  nods vehemently, even little impatiently. “ Grace- yes, doctor Grace.”

“I ‘m not a doctor I’m a professor. Please just call me -”

“Professor Grace.” Yes..” Well that makes two of us. I’m not a clinician either.” he laughs. He listens to Grace as she explains to him on the tests they will be doing on him. He listens politely at first, then becomes bemused and beguiled by her. She is wearing a pink wrap around skirt with black tights beneath, a black jacket over her thin frame tightly and not the crisp white lab coats of the medical staff, there is no laminated ID on her jacket to inform him of her name.

“ Why you are here, doctor and why am I here?”

Grace stares at him and then says, “ We are hoping to establish some facts containing memory.” Dave is eager and hopeful, cooperative but as the tests become more complicated and accelerated, he is thrown into confusion. He seems to be failing about like a drowning man. Restless, exhausted, without knowing why, he stands at a window and stares outside. He may be trying to determine where he is. But he is a proud man, he will not ask any questions. Like an athlete too long restrained in a cramped space or like a rebellious teenager, he begins to circle the room. He stretches the tendons in his calves, reaches for the ceilings-stretching vertebrae, mutters to himself.Grace would like to clasp his hand to comfort and encourage him

Grace walks toward him. “ Would you like your sketchbook?” She hands him one. He is pleased to see his sketchbook. He pages through it growing, holding the book in such a way to prevent anyone else seeing its contents. Then he discovers his little notebook in his pant pocket.He opens it eagerly, records something in it and slips it back into his pocket. Grace glances at Dave and thinks how sad, how exhausting, the amnesic can’t remember anything. His brain resembles a colander through which water sifts continually and never accumulates; those years before his illness, resembles a still, distant water glimpsed through dense foliage as in a hallucinatory landscape.

Dave looks worriedly at her as if he can read her thoughts. Grace feels her face burn like one who has dared to touch another intimately and has been detected. With an uplifted finger, to retain Grace’s attention, he leafs through his little notebook in search of something significant. In his bright affable voice he reads: “ There is no journey, no path, only emptiness.” He pauses to add, “Maybe this is the wisdom of Buddha.” he laughs with inexplicable humor. Grace smiles with him remembering how he used to explain to her the views of different teachings. He is always good in teaching and explaining. It is almost seven-thirty in the evening when she leaves.

Next day the test is on counting ability count as high as you can without stopping. He begins counting and continue for an impressively long time, then suddenly stops,distracted by Grace’s earrings.  “Looks like a pyramid upside down or may be pineapples?” he laughs.

“Please continue counting.”

“Counting’- what? What was I counting?”

“You don’t remember the count?”

Dave stares at the illustrated cards. His finger twitch. He looks blankly.

Grace leans forward. “You are doing fine, please continue.”

Dave looks at her again. She is a pretty woman with light brown skin, straight black eyebrows, dense wavy hair. The dimple on her cheek deepens while she smiles. Who is she? He has seen her somewhere? He thinks in a school where he used to teach? He extends his hand and shakes the woman’s hand.

“Hel-lo! I think we know each other we met in a school-did we? In a high school?”

Grace hesitates. Then gracefully she slips her hand into his with a smile.

“Hello, Mr Dev I’m Grace- whom you have never met before today.”

 Just after the rain,Grace knocks at the door before entering the room. “Good morning!” she smiles. “ I’m, Grace.”
“Yes, welcome.” Light coming up in his eyes, a slight leap of hope emerges.

“Welcome, Grace!”

Her hand grips in his, a clasp of recognition.

Grace thinks He does remember me. Not consciously but he remembers. Well there is no scientific data to prove. The amnesic will discover ways of remembering sometimes it bypasses the conscious mind altogether.

Suffused with happiness, Grace feels like a balloon rapidly, giddily filling with helium. Eagerly he smiles at her, leans close to her  to shake her hands. In his strong hand,Grace’s small hand. “We have met before?” he smiles gallantly.

“ Do you have an idea how long we’ve been working together?- Grace asks.

His smiles wavers. He speaks thoughtfully, gravely. “ May be two weeks a month? May be less?” He is still gripping her hands; gently she detaches. Grace has volunteered to take Dave to downstairs to the first-floor cafeteria, for lunch, sometimes for his medical tests or to the garden downstairs.She has become lonely. Work has become her addiction, her salvation. In human relations you never know where you stand.She is determined to help Dave in each step of his recovery. She has high hope.

It is a bright, sunny day when Grace returns to Dave’s room. “ We have some very interesting tests for today, Dave. I think you will like them.”

“Tests- yes. I’m good at them.” His smile is anxious and hopeful. Grace shows him the brainteaser puzzles consist of numbers, varicolored squares of plastic which you move around your thumb until there is an ideal conjunction of numerals and colors.Dave takes it from her with a bemused chuckle “Excuse me! Like this.” And within seconds, he has lined up the squares to perfection. His smile is that of the triumphant. Grace laughs – he used to teach the children the same way, the tricks to solve the puzzles.  After two days Grace returns to check on Dave.

“ Hello!”

“Yes- do I know you?” Dave asks, “I can hardly remember you.”

Grace is little frustrated. “Yes, we are.”

He gazes at her plaintively.

“ Are you my wife?” he asks anxiously, “ Or may be a lover?”

A twinge of excitement sparks in her. She wants to say yes I’m your wife, but she stops. He walks over and takes her hand in his strong dry fingers. She has been anticipating this she doesn’t pull her hand away from his grasp so quickly. They stand their clasping hands.

“Do you remember me?” Grace asks.

“I think I met you in your school am I correct?” Dave asks carefully. His hairline is receding from his forehead and his dark hair is fading to a beautiful shade of gray, his forehead is slightly creased with bewilderment or worry that quickly eases away when he smiles. He looks handsome in a neatly pressed khakis, a striped shirt.Grace still loves him dearly.

 

His memory is like a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces that has been overturned, but these countless pieces might be fitted together again into a coherent and illuminating whole.

Dave drops her hand and moves back to his chair.  “ I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you Nobody – Too? ”He recites the lines with a chilling sort of merriment, the poetry of Emily Dickinson…

Falling

In the late afternoon,as he crosses the bridge, he sees her. Almost, he lifts his hand in greeting. But it may not be appropriate, so he lifts his hand and stops in the midway, his hands fall to the side. In his vacations, he spends his lunch hours roaming the mountains, lakes taking photographs.Today he hasn’t brought his camera with him. It may be a mistake, he thinks. Leaning just a little too far over the railing, as a reckless child,the woman is staring down at the water rushing below the walkway. The bridge is crowded and it isn’t a great idea to approach her in this way, suddenly. Even a smile is risky. He continues to walk and as he passes her, her thin white silk skirt lifts in the wind, almost touching his legs. May be he is walking too close.

Next day he takes a walk earlier, could not resist to see her again. She is at the same spot. He stops. “Hi!”

She turns her face toward him. “Hi!” She has a beautiful almond color skin,bright exciting eyes. A stranger can make another stranger happy, so quickly!

Crazy smiles. You feel your face rearranging itself in such smiles.

“It is a gorgeous day!”

She nods her head with an enchanting smile and with her slender hand, swipes her long bangs from her face. In the light wind, her tangerine-colored scarf blows languidly over her face.When he was away from her, he found himself thinking of her obsessively. And in her presence that is hot, humid, close-up and magnified, he feels that he cann’t breathe.

“What’s your name?” he finally asks.

“Isla.”

“Lovely!” he smiles and extends his hand toward her, “Steven.”

“Nice to meet you.” she says with a smile. Her teeth are not perfect teeth, but her smile is a prefect teasing smile. Her eyes are very dreamy. What does she dreams, he asks himself. Then she hears her voice. “ Are you visiting the town?” He opens the mouth then stops halfway as she continues hers. “ I can guess from your camera. Love photography?”She smiles. “It is very beautiful town with lakes, mountains.People come from different cities for sight seeing, hiking.” She stops and glances at him. “If you want then I can show you a good hiking trail and scenic places to take photos.”

“Sure,just the fact of lifting the camera, fitting my eyes to the lens is very exciting to me. May be tomorrow.” They walk, their hands touching, brushing together like tiny whips.

Love, a secret love it seems quaint, precious. The small gemstone, you have found by the shore, valuable,slipped into a court pocket and fingered, held in the hand, secretly, from time time as if a good luck stone.

If someone asks, what do you have there,  in your hand?- you open your hand to dismay, on the palm, the small gemstone, precious to your heart and you say: “ just something I found by the lake.”

Love is that sensation of something on the back of your neck, or it may be what happens when you’ve been looking another way.

 

A year has passed.Towards the end of October, Steven returns to the same town in his vacation with a high hope to meet Isla. But he could not find her. She didn’t give her any contact number to reach.On the pedestrian walkway, he lingers, hungrily his eyes searching for her, but in vain. But the story should end properly, he thinks. On the last day of his stay he walks impulsively on the trail by the lake, looking for Isla. After four miles,the narrow trail winds down at one corner and stops at a  gravel road.He takes the gravel road and in half a mile he spots a house of brick, stucco as if built by untrained hands. Scattered in the front yard are beautiful metal sculptures; some are rusted and others are brightly painted.Who lives here, so far from the town? His heart contracts Does she live here? Here. He stands there. A figure emerges from the front door; a thin lady in a long beige dress. The sleeveless top falls loose from her shoulders and even at a distance he could see the hollow at the base of her throat. Seems like Isla,but so much different from the day he met, she can’t be Isla. He turns around and leaves.

Isla has not seen him on the front of her house.She has no desire to know. The shock and exhaustion of  chemo has ravaged her life. Her bones fell lighter as if the marrow has been sucked out. The coppery taste of chemicals at the back of her throat has grown sharper. She leans on the wall and thinks of the man, she met last year. Steven was a nice person to fall in love with. She is thinking – the first kiss on her cheek, faint as a feather, had taken her breath away. The random love! His side glances startled her so many times in the trail, as if he touched her intimately. That day the lake was so calm and so tranquil. She wanted to clasp his fingers and grip tight, so he can’t pull loose. Oh, she misses him! It is almost a year! She should have given her phone number or address.Her heart is beating painfully. It is so hard to breathe. She wants to call him, “Come back Steven, come stay with me.” but her voice is getting weaker, even it is hard for her to hear her own voice. Her eyes glances upward, in alarm. Somehow, without her awareness, the sky has darkened overhead. The temperature is rapidly dropping and the wind is rising.

Cheer Up A Lonely One

It is a  Saturday afternoon.  A few white clouds suspend idly over the horizon.Outside it is still warm and a few bees drone in the honeysuckle that run wild over the side of the house.Peony is almost done with her sketch. She decides to take a break and walk in the nearest trail. After one mile, the path huggs a ravine, and she trotts to the edge of the embankment to look down the stream below. The water move sullenly; only the light coming through the trees and glancing off the stream’s surface indicates the direction of the current. She inhales the moist, spoiled odor of the rotten leaves. A rustle in the dry grass makes her turn her head to check the sound. A black dog stands there, wagging its long tail.The dog barks at her and its face seems so familiar. Now she remembers that she has seen this dog last week in the school playground chasing the squirrels. The playground was full of parent and children so she assumed that the dog belongs to one of them. Peony crouches down on the grass. “Come here! Come!” The dog wags its tail slowly at first, then faster as if something long held motionless inside it has gained momentum enough to break free. The swing of her tail rocks its chest. The dog leaps toward her and licks her face.

“You are friendly! Aren’t you!” She tries to keep the dog still to check its collar. But the dog doesn’t have a collar. “What happened to your collar?” she pats her. “ Are you lost? Are you?” The dog licks her again and follows her to the embankment. Suddenly the dog jumps down. She screams. “No!” It is too late. But there was no rustle in the bushes to alter the dog to a skunk or gopher, no distant bark to set her hair on the end. There was no food below emitting its siren scent. Well now she can’t leave her there. She looks down in bafflement. The dog tries hard to stand up, but could not. She looks around and there is nobody to help her.It is a quick judgement to leap to. She slides down the embankment on her backside to rescue the dog and carries it to her car, straight to a vet’s office.

While the doctor operates, she sits in the waiting room, paging through limp pet magazines, inhaling the ammonia scent mixed with disinfectant. A steady parade of sick animals and solicitous owners come in and out of the office. She knows she should coo at the pets or inquire after their maladies but she is worried about the stray dog. Two hours later, the vet appears from surgery and informs that the dog has broken her one back leg and cracked a rib but she would cover fully, and return to her ‘old dog self’ in four to six months.

“Old dog self?” she asks.

“You know,” the vet says, smiling a beat too late as though she has to remind herself to do it.

“This is not my dog.” she says, “She followed me in the trail.”

“Well, pick her up in two days and keep her until she recovers. Then we will help you in finding a new home for her.” he says, “ Or, if it is a lost dog, then we will take a picture of her and leave it on the front desk,for the people to see. If someone recognizes the dog, then we will call you immediately.” He smiles. “Does it sound alright?” He asks again.

“Sure, I will keep her until we find the owner or if someone decides to adopt her.” she says. The vet walks back inside to his office. She calls her husband at his office to tell the surprise event. “What?” her husband says, adjusting his voice.

“She followed me and suddenly jumped up the cliff,” she says.

“You mean she fell?”

“She leaped, Carter. She just leaped!” When she said the words, she felt something open up inside her. “ I followed my heart Carter. It is not fair to leave the dog in that condition.”

“I Don’t understand,” he says carefully. He is silent for a moment. “We will talk about this when I return.” He says finally.

“Of course,” she says putting the phone away in her pant pocket. She walks into a room to see the dog. She has splints on her hind leg and lays in one cage. “ Oh, I’m sorry sweetie.”

“It is normal,” the vet says, “Not to worry. Pick up the medicine from the front desk, and she will be fine in a couple of weeks.”

“She just looks so helpless,” Peony says.She feels great affection to this poor dog.

For the first two weeks after the surgery, the dog couldn’t move. Still she tries, staring at the hysterical yips of the neighbourhood dogs greeting passing trucks or the sound of mailbox squeaking open and closed, her instinct trumping the pain of her broken body. Peony has to lift her and carry her outside to do her business. Afterwork,she returns home and sits on the floor next to the dog bed and stares into her large, wet eyes, wondering what has drawn the dog to her.In the meantime she has named the dog ‘Destiny.’

 

Peony loves volunteering in the Senior Care home. Mrs Smith is same age as her grandmother yells at a ghost. “Get out of here right this minute!” Her accent is always thicker when she is torn from her dreams. She hurries into the bathroom to turn off the faucet. Peony walks behind her. “What happened?” she asks.

“The ghost is running up my water bill.It has to stop.”She shakes her head ruefully.

“Peony smiles. “I don’t see anyone or if the ghost comes then he may be thirsty.”

“He’s a she, and ghosts don’t drink, darling.They have no bodies. She just plays with me.” She yells, shaking her fist in the air, as if the ghost is hiding just out there. Her upper arm wavers and Peony remembers how she had played with the loose skin as a child. And her grandmother used to laugh at it. Peony walks closer toward mrs Smith.”Would you like me to sit here with you?”

“Sure.”

Peony looks at Mrs Smith’s hands. Arthritis, that devious sculptor has taken its shape and it must be painful for her to do anything in her hands. Mrs Smith brings a two cups of green tea and sets them on the small coffee table. “ I’m tired of waking up in the middle of the night. I’m too old for it.”

“ You shouldn’t.” Peony says sipping the tea. “There is no such thing as ghost.”

“How dare you say that?” Mrs Smith screams and Peony almost spills the tea on her dress. She puts the cup back on the table. “I’m sorry, it is just my believe.” Mrs Smith changes the subject. She pushes the chair back and walks toward her closet. She brings out a small sewing machine to the table, with it a ivory silk material and a pair of scissors. “ You are coming to give me company so as a gift I will make a nice dress for you.” She shows her the material. “Do you like this one?”

Peony touches it. “O’ I love it.But you don’t have to do anything. I just come to spend time with you, that’s all.” she smiles.

Mrs Smith doesn’t say anything. She takes her measurement, cuts the material. He hands shake as she cuts. She struggles to thread a needle with fingers that are beginning to bend at odd angles like old trees.

“Want me to do it?” Peony offers.

“I can thread my own needle, thank you. Been doing it more than half my lifetime.” She is stubborn.” She is watching me again.” she mutters.

“Who?”

“The ghost.”She gestures at the empty room. “Honey, I’m still trying to figure out the reason people do what they do when they’re alive.” She finishes ripping out the stitches, sighs audibly and fits the material to the machine again. The stitches are uneven but she continues. Peony feels her heart rises in her face as she watches Mrs. Smith’s awkward, determined work.

“Who is this ghost who bothers you all the time?” Peony asks gently.

“ She doesn’t bother me. I don’t have patience for her.”

“For her?”

“Yes, she is my darling friend, used to be my neighbor. It has been a few years that she passed away.” A deep sigh. But she loves to come here everyday to bother me.” Mrs Smith lifts her eyes from the sewing machine. “ You know how friends are.” she smiles. Peony sits there nodding her head and listening to Mrs. Smith.

It is almost September when Destiny returns to normal self, bouncing and happy. Her hair has grown back in the places where she’d been shaved for the surgery. She goes for a long walk in the trail; Destiny with her gimpy legs and peony with her heart. And nobody called her to get Destiny, so now they are enjoying each other’s company.

Assumption

Assumption

The astrologer, a new age woman who sounds like the type to wear crystals and carry tarot cards, asserts that the people themselves have created the problem out of a need to get in touch with their places in the universe, their spiritual selves. The person standing next to her doesn’t agree. “ It is linked to spirituality, yes, but not the kind you speak of.” he shrugs his shoulder. “This is a wake up call for us. Soon we will be doomed.”

Megan returns from her morning walk and her way out of the trail she spots them at the side of road.Out of curiosity,Megan holds the dog leash tight in her hand and walks closer to check what is going on. On the edge of the narrow street, a pink bleeding heart, its soft fern like branches out stretched in five foot arcs. From the underside of each branch, the blossom dangle in perfect shape of hearts. It looks pretty big.The gentleman scratched his head. “We have a big problem!” He points at a seventeen foxglove Their blossom which ordinarily look like upside down thimble, large enough to find one’s thumb are now the size of small drinking cups. It is a strange sight, but without saying anything to them Megan nodded with a tiny smile and left. She thinks if God want to end the world, He should start from the regions that are notorious for sin. Well, all these may be totally superstitious.She could imagine the deep, measured voice of scientists, “ There is no evidence or real scientific explanation to these incidents.”

It is a pretty Saturday morning; bright and sunny! Her next door neighbor, Mrs Smith discovered something intoxicating. Megan waves at her as she is ready to open her front door of the house. She calls out, “Megan, have you seen these tulips?” She points at the plant.

Megan turns and walks into her front yard. She is standing next to a blossom that matches her in height and is roughly the same size as her head. Megan glances at it again.It is straight from a fairy tale; vines running here and there, foliage twisting around foliage, arching above the fence, the mailbox. And next to it, in a few feet the rose plant is almost dying. It used to be full of pretty white roses, but now the branches are deep brown and black, they are wilted and dry.Mrs Smith nodes in disbelief. She brushes her hair nervously from her face. “ Something strange is going on!” She wipes the sweat from her forehead. Humidity was hovering over. She continues. “It is a freak circus show! But clearly I think the universe is not happy at all.”

Megan glances at her face. “Why?”

Mrs Smith straightens her back and adjusts the straw-hat on her head. “ Soon something will happen, I can sense that.” She opens the cap of the water bottle and takes a few gulps. “This year it was not only Harvey, but so also so many devastating things going on around us!  Remember, how we use to see rabbit or a dog on the moon’s surface?” A deep sigh. “Yesterday,I noticed a completely different thing on the surface of the moon; A swiftly running lion, its mane flying backward with speed.It is terrible.”

Megan gives her a surprise look. But she does’t tell her anything. She must be watching the current news. Her dog started to pull, he is getting restless to go inside. It is the heat, gathering around tightly. A pregnant pause. “Mrs. Smith, it may be a mixed signal. There is always a mixture of both good and evil. We will be alright. Don’t you worry! Lucky is getting impatient so I had to go. Take care.” Megan leaves.  

That evening, she walked out to the deck still thinking about what Mrs Smith told her in the morning. Lucky follows her behind, waging his long bushy tail. Megan lifts her eyes to the sky. The face of the moon looks like the profile of a majestic woman. She could see her pointed chin, her salient brow, bright, omniscient eyes, nothing else.Megan smiled. The moon looks perfect to her eyes. This is so crazy! We are the silly, silly people.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, Megan has a strong sense of loss over something after a nasty stomach flu . A stab of Pain courses through abdomen and down her groin and she decides to visit the doctor. She is lying on a table counting ceiling tiles, when the doctor, a robust man in his mid fifties with dark hair, dramatically removes his glasses and tells her the facts. He kindly points at the telltale bean shape on the x-rays and says it is the kidney problem,and we have to do more tests. She feels like crying while she fills the saucepan with water and dumps the oatmeal for her husband, she sobs while moving her pots of marigold, each one just on the threshold of blooming, to the front porch.  She scrubs the whole kitchen counters, cleans all the drawers, she vacuums every floor of the house,knowing full well, too, that her husband would repeat the task.She wipes her tears and watches her daughter dancing around the room on her tiptoes, pretending to be a ballerina. She reads her favourite stories and colors with her sitting on the living room floor.After tons of x rays and doctor visits, she was lying on the hospital table eyes closed, cold and unmoved as bookends when she suddenly notices a smile on the doctor’s face that appeared at the end of his sentence. “Well, the good news is that you appear to be pregnant.” She kept her eyes closed, because behind them she could see what the doctor must be seeing on the screen: a shape, a pulse.

 

Their Gifts

Mentor

One bright Saturday afternoon in May, Hans leans over his desk, neck craned, eyes blinking and takes note of everything his teacher Ms Wilson says. Besides him friend Lora and Doug are staring straight, vacant eyes. Liz on the other side sits silent. Dan is nodding his head as if he understands everything that Ms Wilson says. In the middle of the lecture, Ms.Wilson stops at Hans’s desk, smiles. “ Only take note of the important points.”

Hans stares back. In his mind this is funny, in English everything is random. In the preparatory class sometimes his teacher would say, “Here are the rules about preposition,” and then,three minutes later, “But remember when it comes to writing there are no rules!”

The contradictions are slowly driving him crazy. He has to prepare for the fill-in the blank of the critical reading section, has to memorize the vocabulary list, make flash cards.Then Ms. Wilson walks over to the chalk board and writes, “Follow the grammar questions.”

Hans sits with his mother at the dining table and vocabulary swims in his brain, letter jumping in and out of line.

“What are you thinking.”his mother says. “Be in the moment.”

“I am too tired.”
“Why?” She lays the spoon on her plate. “ Hans, You are not doing anything wrong, wrong things or wrong crowd of friends? She asks pushing her loose curls out of her eyes.

Hans laughs.

“Be respectful!Do you know that you have to score real good to get into a good university?”

His father who was listing to the whole conversation in the living room appears at the dining table. He pulls a chair and joins them. “I studied hard, got scholarship to go to Standford. It is not that easy.” He takes a spoon full of lentil soup. “ So concentrate on your studies.So how is your practice classes going?” he takes a gulp of water from his glass.

Hans finishes his vegetables and raises his head. “ Ms Wilson is good in explaining everything. I am thinking , may be I should take a gap year first before going to college.”

His mother chokes on her food. “ Gap year! From studying?” she asks.

“I heard some of my friends take time off, like travel, or think, whatever.. He regrets of saying wrong words although he meant something different. He is waiting for his father to shout at him. But instead his face brightens. He laughs hard. “Your whole life is a vacation. You have not done anything like the other kids in your school. We have worked hard our whole life to provide you all the comfort,best education,tennis lessons, violin classes, boy scout..” His father pushes the chair and leaves.

Hans sits on his chair. He likes science, good in literature, history but he is the average student. His report card always stays on B-plus. He finishes his dinner and retreats to his room. The room has baby blue walls and the walls have pictures of him playing violon, or tennis.His desk is full with books and binders, papers tumbled, school pictures. His mother knocks at the door and walks in. “ Hans, what is going on?” She arranges herself on a chair, her knees towards the bed.

“ You are special kid.” She says carefully. “ If you try, you can do much better. You have all the talents in yourshelf.Confidence is very important!” her voice is now firm and emphatic.

“What do you mean? I am just an average student.” he asks.

“ It is fine but if you work hard, you can get good scores too! Now go to bed early and early morning you can practice for your test.” She pushes the chair back to leave.

In the following week, on saturday, Hans was the first one in the class. He approaches Ms Wilson’s desk. “Excuse me. Ms Wilson,” he says. “ I would like to know the tricks to master the SAT score.

“Tricks?” she puts down her pen and looks up, blinking behind her glasses. “ Well, you have to know all your stuff or at least try to memorize them or have a sense for it.”

“Like?”

She leans forward in her chair. “ Today after the class I will look at your practice answer shit and after that I will be able tell you how to proceed further.”

“Thank You.” Hans says.

He is happy to see his friend Meg next to him in the class.She has an oversize pink shirt and big hoop earring. She is always very confident. Hans decides to ask her on some tricks to improve his test score. “Sure, I will tell you if you come with me to our temple.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

Hans meets his friend at her temple.He removes his shoes, socks and sits besides Meg and watches as she places her palms on her knees and closes her eyes.

“There is nothing but this moment,”the guru said. “We will close your eyes and feel the universal love move through us. Let go of all your worldly thoughts, just observe them coming and crashing in your head one after another.”

Hans squeezes his eyes shut. The rug they sit on is old but has beautiful oriental patterns all over it. Hans listens to the silence. All his anxious thoughts on different subjects appear one after another in a long line, sometimes they even cut the line and appear on the front.He oserves them in his mind’s eyes. After twenty minutes he hears Namaste. He opens his eyes. The people bow and stand.

“What do you think?” Meg asks him as they walk into the open air.

“ Very relaxing! The thoughts of scoring high is still there, but it is not that stressful anymore.” he glances at Meg. “Thank you for the tip.”

 

Home

Elaborate

Annie is waiting outside of the George Bush Intercontinental airport for Mrs. Hall, her mother’s friend. Around 3.30 she finally arrives in her blue car. She leans over from the driver’s side window. “Annie! Get in.” Annie opens the door and gets inside the car.

“Thanks for picking me up. I was planning to take a ubar.”

“Not to worry. It is my pleasure. So how was the flight?”

“Good, no complaint.”

“I heard from your mother that your work is very hectic.”

“Yes, it is. But I like to stay busy so it is fine.” Annie glances at Mrs.Hall. Her hair is dyed an unnatural black and falls in tight springs around her face and down her shoulder. Her eyes hidden behind the big, round sunglass, but Annie knows they are dark brown and deep-set. She knows mrs. Hall when she was eight years old and used to visit her house with her mother. She remembers the fancy silk curtains in her house, always moved in breeze, fresh-cut flowers in clear glass vases, there was always sunlight everywhere. She had two cute and playful dogs;one Labrador and one pitbul mix.

Annie used to play with the dogs while her mother and Mrs Hall talked and baked together. In someweekends they volunteer together.

“ I remember that you used to love writing and your first story in the Houston Chronicle. A beautiful story on bullying, very brilliantly written! Are you still writing?” She asks.

Annie nods her head. “Sometimes.”

“Excellent! Keep it up.” She leans closer. “Here comes your home.Listen I have a meeting to attend so I will not go inside. But give your mother a hug for me,okay?” She smiles.

“I will, and thanks for the ride,” Annie says as she lurches out of the car. Annie opens the front door of her parent’s house.It has been a year, but to her surprise everything is the same.Inside the house the floors are covered with oriental rugs, her favorite is the bright blue kitchen, the one chipped tile on the floor with its corner cut like someone stole a piece of pie. Her mother is in the kitchen and has a khaki pant, a baby blue v’neck t-shirt, her favorite color. Her dark, wavy hair parted on the side and falls on her shoulder.

“Annie!, she closes the refrigerator door and runs towards her to hug. “ I’m so happy to see you!” She wipes her happy tears and smiles. “So she picked up on time.”

“Yes, it was nice to see Mrs. Hall. She has a meeting so she left.Where is dad?” Annie looks around.

“He is in the backyard, busy in planting.Go surprise him.” Excitement spills over from her voice. “In the mean time I will make tea for you.”

“That sounds perfect mom! I would love that. Please make the Assam tea with lots of ginger and cardamom.”

“I will.”

Annie  walks out to the back. In the backyard her father is busy in planting okra, eggplant, tomatoes and zucchin. His thin hair combed over his bald spot, his glasses smudged.
“Dad!” Her father takes off his eyeglass and looks up.

“Annie!” He wipes the sweat from his forehead and stands up straight. He has dirt all over his hand and on his gray pant. “I’ll be there in a minute. Today, your mom has been cooking all your favorite foods. We are so happy to see you after such a long time.”

“ I am glad to be home!”

Annie stands beneath a blooming tree and lifts her face upward where the birds perched high above her.

“It is a yellow-billed magpie, her father says from behind. “Very pretty! Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Annie walks back into the living room. The walls in this room are streaked at least a dozen different colors, from beige to buttercream. Her parents want a color that will suit them before they paint the room. Her father has washed and changed into a blue t-shirt and stands in front of the lightest streaks, the beige and antique white. But her mother is nearest the bright yellow, the one they already discarded as a silly color.Yet, that night, at least from where she sits, the yellow seems to illuminate her mother’s lovely face and she is confident that yellow will be a perfect color for that room.

Unique but Delightful Universe

Invisible

Life appeared to be vastly calm as they started the train ride. Toby loves the sway of cars on the tracks, the blur of trees and towns on the other side of the window. Lillian glances at her four-year old son; wide smile and bright eyes. Suddenly happiness bubbles inside her. Toby will love her friend’s farmhouse. The train arrives at Albarracin , a small town. They descend from the train. Outside her friend Jenna is waiting with a big stuffed bear.

“Welcome! How was the ride?” She asks as she takes the bag from Lillian’s hand.

“Wonderful! Toby loved the ride.” Lillian replies.

“Come, let’s get in to the car.It’s little bit of a ride.” They walked towards the car. Inside the car Lillian settles herself with her son in the back seat while her friend drives.  Toby insists Lillian to honk the horn.

“We don’t need to but I will do it for you.”Lillian smiles and honks softly. Toby claps his hands. “It sounds like the SeSame street blue monster bobbing its nose. Right mom?” He asks leaning towards her mother.

“Yes, it is.”

The house sits at the edge of an expanse of water, clear and blue like the robbin’s nest. Toby jumps out from the car as Lillian opens the car door. Lillian follows her son. Toby stands there mesmerized. His eyes follow the beautiful yellow ducklings as they waltz on the muddy shore. Toby sits there at the edge of the water, sticking smooth stones. He seems quite contented. Lillian chats with her friend as her son stacks the stones and stacks them again and his posture relaxed, at ease. Jenna watches Toby and looks back at her friend. “So how is it going with Toby?”

Lillian sighs. “ Well, you never know. Sometimes he is so calm and other times he turns everything upside down.”

“Did you check with the doctor?”

“Yes, last friday he had an appointment with dr. Robertson.” Lillian smiles. “It is funny when Dr asked him to draw a road runner from a picture book. Then he said “Beep, beep.” Lillian tries to remember the funny picture. “ Toby did. He is good with eyes but with bodies! Not that much. His roadrunner looked like feather duster attached to a gardening rake. But I liked it because he gave it a try.”

“ Does he have any friend?”

“ There are two boys of his age group. Sometimes they come to play with Toby.” Lillian glances at Toby. He has made a tall shape with the  wet rocks. Toby looks at her mother. “Mom, look they look like crispy double vanilla sugar wafers! Looks delicious! Can I lick to taste it?”

Lillian laughs. “ No, Toby. Don’t lick the rocks. They don’t have any taste but we will have a real wafer.” Lillian walks towards Toby. “Let’s go inside.”

 

In the living room Lillian sits with her friend on a couch. Two cups of green tea sits on a tray in front of them on the small table. Toby quickly gathers up all his cars, brings them to the couch. He begins lining them up in rows. But the rows are different than usual, the colors all mismatched . Yellow meets red meets green. He is trying to express something, he doesn’t know how to. Lillian leans over towards him. “Toby, would you like me to play with you?” She puts her hand softly on his shoulder. He ignores her and becomes more anxious. He rearranges the cars without any order and move them frantically so they are crashing into one another, tiny toy accidents.

“ Let’s go and play outside on the trampoline.” Lillian says with concern.Toby puts his thumb in his mouth and walks outside with her mother. A bright smile flashes in Toby’s small face. He bounces on the trampoline like an elephant crashing from side to side. Lillian laughs and giggles  with her son.

            

 

Fabric

Fabric

Bright and early Anna wakes up on her bed. She is determined to buy the book with her stored fortune. So, she brings her glass jar stuffed with dollar bills and coins, her saved money and spills them out onto the off white carpet.She is in the middle of counting when her father knocks at the door and before she answers, the door opens in a soft click. He glances at her counting the coins piled high.

“ Good morning Anna! How much have you got there?” he asks sitting at the edge of the bed.

“ Fifteen dollars and ninety two cents.” she keeps her smile tight to hold back her pride and sticks all her fingers between her toes for the low pull of pleasure. Her father takes his glasses off to polish them on the bottom of his gray shirt, the held them up for inspection. Still dirty- he never manages to get them completely clear. “What do you want to do with your money?” he rests his glasses on his face, pushing them up snug against his nose.

“ A book fair is going on in our school and I want to buy Winnie the Pooh, The story of Babar and books on Amelia Bedelia.”

“Wonderful! Wait, wait.” he disappears. Anna sits with her high spirit on hold. Her father reappears with two dollar bills and hands her. “ Go ahead and add this to your savings.Last week you helped me in walking the dog.” he says.

Next day after school Alina returns home from school and runs to see her father. In the living room, her father reads a newspaper on his favorite couch. Alina settles herself close to her father. He returns his gaze from the newspaper to Anna’s face.

“How was the school today” Did you buy the books?” he asks.

Anna opens her backpack and shows him the books. Then she holds her hands out, palms up. “ I spent all the money. Only a quarter left.”

His father laughs. “ Start saving again.” he says folding the newspaper.

“ I meant to say that there is another book fair coming before the school closes for summer.” She says with a candy filled smile. She opens her fingers and shows two fingers to her father. “In two months.”

“Well, we can always get books from the library.”

“But dad.” she protests. “ It’s not same as collecting books. I want to have my library like you have yours.”

“ Well, I understand that.” He thinks for a moment. “ You can help me in watering the plants in every week and I will help you in buying the books that you want.”

“Sure.” Anna claps with both hands with excitement.

Her mother’s room has a wooden multi tiered riser holding all her spools of threads, organized by hue, cotton, metallic and silk threads. The drawer is full of various notions: needle, thimbles, tapes, glue, yards of elastics and velcros. And fabrics! Big square wicker baskets lined up on deep wall shelves and full of solids or printed cottons, silks- you name it, she has some. Her mother loves quilting.Anna enters to her mother’s room. On her table there is a cobalt blue fabric with peacock prints at the edge,- standing still, some with their wings thrillingly outstretched.Her mother cuts the fabric, it sounds like symphony. It conjures an image of a head bent over a machine, the feel of fabric slipping through the fingers.

“Hi, mom! Look what I bought today.”

“What?” Her mother sits straight and glances at Anna’s face. Anna shows her three books.

“ Exciting!” she smiles leafing through the pages.

A huge smile flashes on Anna’s face.“Yes mom. Today I think my world is a beautiful Fabric!”  She says.

 

Wonderland

No way! Really! What a surprise!!”
Gabriella makes a 360 degree turn holding her cellphone.She leans against the dining chair and reads the current weather again “ Winter storm warning in effect until midnight..A strong arctic cold front has pushed through…Temperature will continue to fall across the area with most of Texas below freezing  already and freezing rain will turn into sleet and snow. University and most of the offices are closed today due to this inclement weather.”
Her overly excited legs pad on the cold tiled floor towards the kitchen window.  She opens the wooden blind.
“O,My!” Her voice an octave higher.
Outside, the flurries of snow has been roiling in the air and dancing in perfect synchronization, thudding against the ground. The morning light struggles through the murky cloud and dazzles on the snow. The tree branches hang low with the weight of snow. A thick white comforter of gorgeous snow covers the rooftops. All the  brown and golden fall leaves on the deck look exquisite.

“Is it a fairyland!”  A loud clap of laughter bursts from her mouth.Her eyes dancing now. They go wide and shiny and bright again. Her eyebrows are so high, the’re nearly hidden beneath the long bangs on her forehead and then, in an instant she takes a decision.

There is no point of wasting time. She loves winter and her favorite is a day in snow! Robert Frost’s poem A Winter Eden flashes in her mind
A winter garden in an alder swamp..

As near a paradise as it can be

And not melt snow or start a dormant tree….

So near to paradise all pairing ends:

Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,

Content with bud-inspecting…

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.

This Eden day is done at two o’clock…”

It is too exciting for Gabriella to stay inside. After bundling up in jacket, woolen hat, scarf and glove, she opens the front door and steps out to take a walk in the green belt trail. As she takes a turn towards the trail, from the trail of her eye she glances at the older couple standing on their  front porch. They wave their hands with a smile. Gabriella stops at the curb.

“ Good morning Gabriella!” Mrs.Bezos wraps her grey and white shawl around her exposed neck. “Are you going somewhere?”

“ Morning!” Gabriella waves her hand. She points at the trail. “ Yes, to take a small walk in the trail.”

“ Are you crazy?In this weather!” The small smile is still in tact on her face but her eyes widens for a moment and her mouth slightly ajar. She gives a quick shake of her head. Her husband steps in.

“ Sweetie, the roads are now very slippery so don’t venture too far.” He thrusts both his hands in his jacket pockets.

“I know.” Gabriella nods her head, “ You stay warm.” She continues her walk. The native Texans don’t like the snowy weather. They enjoy more of a clear, sunny weather.It is extremely cold with icy rain and slippery concrete sidewalk, but it is perfect for Gabriella.  Her breath is pale against the numbing air, she blinks as the ice perfectly touches her face and dust her eyelashes. The wind whispers as the snow falls like confetti on her deep blue woollen cap.It is almost forty-five minutes of walking, there is not a single soul in the trail and her mind is completely enveloped in Percy  Shelley’s poem on snow –

        The cold earth slept below;

        Above the cold sky shone;

            And all around,

            With a chilling sound,

From caves of ice and fields of snow

The green grass was not seen;

            The birds did rest

            On the bare thorn’s breast,

Whose roots, beside the pathway track,

Had bound their folds o’er many a crack

            Which the frost had made between…

Her cell phone lights up in her jacket pocket. She adjusts her footing on the icy road and stops.

Her husband is in the phone.

“ Where are you? In a venture?”

Before Gabriella answers he says, “ The roads are so slippery and it is extremely cold! You

should not have gone out.”
“ I am returning from my walk and not to worry. It is getting very slippery but I am careful.”

“You are really crazy! Who takes a walk in this type of weather? Okay walk slowly and come home.” He hangs the phone. Her husband likes the cold and snow, but he prefers to stay inside and enjoy scenes from the living room window with a cup of hot cocoa or read his newspaper sitting near the fireplace.

 As the icy rain falls harder and faster, Gabriella decides to turn around and return home continuing with Shelley’s poem on her head  
“The wind made thy bosom chill;

            The night did shed

            On thy dear head

Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie

Where the bitter breath of the naked sky

            Might visit thee at will.”