We the children had been asked to come over for a lunch feast on the river bank, on the other side. There were six or seven of us, me being the eldest, including cousins and some neighbors. It was winter, days were short. We had taken baths, gotten dressed and walked in the mild sun crossing the kilometre or so long bridge on the swollen river to the other bank. The fires had been lit, the cooking had started. Some of us helped chop tomatoes and coriander. Some of us went to the backyard of our host and uprooted some pineapple shrubs. The pineapples were then peeled and served on leaf plates with black salt as a pre lunch snack of sorts.

It was already afternoon by then. Soon the sun would set and it would get chilly. Someone lit a fire and the children sat around it and sang songs. Somehow the lunch was getting delayed further and further. Nobody knew why though. Either some spice would go amiss and someone had to be sent to the market to buy it. Somebody would spill the rice on the mud. Stuff like that. Totally random. But all working in tandem to keep us hungry longer. Soon the children got irate. Also we ran out of songs, silly games and gossip. 

From time to time someone would come and tell us that it won't take much time now. It was almost done. There weren't many people anyway. Including the children, there would be about a couple more than a dozen. The river meandered by swiftly under the bridge. Someone suggested the children go and see the cabbage and tomato fields, just to pass the time. So we went to inspect the cabbage and tomato plants. It felt eerie. The host was a friend of our father. His house was the only house for miles around it seemed. Or may be the trees covered everything so well, it was difficult to figure if you were alone or there were houses nearby. But there was not much noise. Only a blanket of tremendous silence and solitude. 

When we returned from our sojourn, the cooking had finally been concluded. We sat down in rows like a disciplined lot and ate rice and curried chicken with lots of potatoes off banana leaves. The curry had a strong flavour of coriander leaves. The flavour of the coriander mingled with the dry odor of winter and created a concoction that time cannot erase.

It was dark out by the time we finished eating. We began walking home. The water shimmered in the moonlight from atop the bridge, the children strayed and started leaning on the bannister to stare at it. They returned only after stern warnings. After we walked out from the bridge and started walking on the bank of the river, home wasn't that far away. I breathed some relief. But for something instinctive inside me, my feet won't let me slow down. I held the hands of the youngest kids in the group and asked the rest to stay together. 

Then suddenly something really strange happened. I must have turned back to talk to someone or shout out to someone who was lagging behind. Suddenly a breeze got caught in my hair. I felt a cold gust on my face and when I opened my eyes, there was an old man whizzing past us on a cycle. Now it feels even comical. But then I froze. I am not sure if the others saw him or if it was just me. But his face was white, his teeth protruding. He said something to me while laughing, almost gaffawing. Probably something about the feast, or if I was  afraid of getting home late, or simply just how I was doing. I don't really remember. I can't actually hold a memory that long, it has been decades. But I remember his eyes, so bright in that moonlight, so brazenly unafraid, that ghost. 

My first impulse was to scream bloody hell and run. And that's what I did. I left all the hands I was holding and ran. Ran like I never would again with eyes closed. Thank goodness nobody fell into the river and everyone stayed on the road. I reached home sweating and panting with my cousins intact, only assuming that the neighbour's children reached their homes too. Realised the next afternoon that they did when all of them came out to play. 


I had to travel, suddenly. Usually all my trips are planned before hand. That way I stay calmer. But this trip, sudden and unexpected, I simply couldn't get out of. It was November. The beginning of winter.

My return flight landed at 1 in the morning. I decided it would be safer to sleep at the airport instead of taking a cab home in the middle of the night. I would rather take one of those buses in the wee hours of the morning. So I tied all my luggage to my hands with my scarf and slept on one of those uncomfortable airport chairs in the arrival hall.

It was a strange night. Each time some flights landed and the conveyor belts started running, there would be a crowd and I would wake up. I would check if my bags were alright and try to sleep again. There was nothing precious in the bags except some cards and some cash. But they were all I had so I was obligated to stay alert.

Also I wasn't the only person sleeping on those chairs. There were like a dozen other people. But each time I woke up that night, the set of people would have changed completely. It was like waking up in a new place.

Anyway, it struck 5 and I assumed it was then okay to venture out. I took a bus which moved unusually fast because there was no traffic. There was no one else, just us. A bunch of strangers, waiting to be home.

The bus dropped me near the lake which is about a mile from my place. So I took an auto. On the way, I saw the nursery owner opening shop. It was about 6:30 but still not totally lighted outside. The nursery owner was arranging a rack of potted blue hydrangeas on the outside. That image stayed with me. The hydrangeas looked like hundreds of tiny blue birds captured in a glass ball.

I got home and slept some more. Woke up around 10 and decided to take the day off. The trip had taken its toll and I wanted a personal day. I made noodles and coffee, sat on the patio and ate it all.

Then I went to the nursery and bought a potted blue hydrangea. I usually stay away from instant gratification. If I get used to it, it may get chaotic. But this time I took a chance and got myself just what I wanted and immediately.

It changed my mood totally. I was overjoyed to have it along with my other house plants. I had read about these flowers in a ghost story as a kid. Blood red hydrangeas in the middle of a damp forest, infested with a ghoul. And I had ever since been fascinated with them. Hydrangeas seemed mythical and magical and I had one of my own.

I just couldn't gather that truth inside my chest.


As a twelve year old, sometimes I got down from the school bus at her place. She got down some half an hour before me. On days when there was no homework, I would while away my time with her. Her house was like a palace. We would listen to songs on the roof, where she would occasionally dance. Or just hang out in her room. Her room was beautiful with a dozen stuffed toys, framed photographs, strings of artificial flowers and a nice fluffy queen size bed with ample number of pillows. Her mother served us lunch, which used to be quite simple, rice, dal, paneer or some vegetables with pickle. After that the maid would bring glasses of juice with ice cubes to her room. Sometimes there was cake too. It was always fun. Life wasn't this complicated, back then. Or so I am tempted to believe in afterthought.

At school of course, everyone knew us as best friends. Somehow we had become a jointed entity. It was comforting to know someone had my back. I think I had hers too. We grew up, too fast. Then, as is the usual case, things fell apart. Grew apart, more so.

Four or five years later, when I was cramming something in my engineering dorm room far away, I got a call from a common friend. Erstwhile best friend's mother had died. Death wasn't such a common phenomena then, it never is. Utterly shocked I dialed the landline number of hers that I had. Her father answered and in a sorrowful tone explained to me what had happened. I did not know what to say so I listened quietly.

I met her at a temple over the summer vacations when I was home next. I don't know who  picked the temple. There was a cafe right infront of it. Yet neither of us thought of sitting there and chatting. We chose the temple and its ample courtyard with guava trees all around. It all felt densely sepulchral.

She had moist eyes when we spoke. Yet there something inside her that had gone absolutely cold. I could never fathom that. I repulsed.

Years went by. Then I got her wedding invite. It was an email perhaps. Or a facebook invite, can't remember. But my mother who had been asking about her from time to time was overjoyed and  asked me to get in touch again. Hence I congratulated her. She asked me to come over.

Recalling now, that was some phase in my life as well. I needed some getting away. I had already decided to be somewhere else on the Sunday she was getting married. And nothing could be done about that. So before taking the train on Friday night, I squeezed in sometime in lunch hour to visit her house again. I drove to the gift shop and bought perfumes: His and Hers. I can even recall the brand, perhaps Nike. Then since I was already due back at work and had a terrible whoreface boss, I sped to her home just to handover the gifts and return.

But she kept me. We sat on the same dining table we did as kids. She had henna on her hands and hair tied in a bun like she had no more fucks to give. She was very perturbed that day due to all the wedding related stress. Yet she smiled and drank coconut water as I ate lunch, rice and dal and something else. A bowl of mango pickle sat in the middle of the table. And then ten minutes after there was juice with ice cubes.