“Carry an umbrella! It’s going to rain!” mother was shouting from the kitchen.
Looking outside from the window, the sky was clear with a few black clouds scattered here and there. Paying no heed to her advice, or rather a command, I decide to trust on my stars and continue out without responding. “Where are you off too without carrying one” I could her voice approaching me as I closed the gate behind.”I’ll be fine” I reassured her. She was now at the entry. Her eyes filled with uncertainty, refusing to give up before ensuring my safety. My smile must have calmed her down a bit, I see her enter the house again.
After three-quarters of an hour, I find myself standing in front of the building. Originally, I didn’t set off to come here. But somehow I find myself here now.
I re-read the board at the entrance to confirm that this was the same school I had spent most of the childhood at. It was nothing like the one captured in my memory. Fifteen years. A lot of time for change indeed. Anxiously, I enter the premises. The neem tree under which we always found a perfect shelter, be it a sunny afternoon, a rainy evening or a hideout for escaping the morning drills-was still standing tall and proud. The playground where I spent most of my day. The swings, slide, carousel and the see-saw were still intact. Fighting back the urge to step on one of them forgetting everything around, I turned away. Afraid of getting caught enjoying them at this age.
Entering the lobby was quite ill-fitting. The same one which used to be crowded and loud was now mute. Not a single soul in sight. Classes must be on. Comforting myself with this thought, I climbed the stairs in silence. Unless it had been moved somewhere else, the Principal’s office should still be on the first floor of the five-storey building. Moving along the corridor, the chattering of young boys and girls grew fainter from the classrooms which were in the opposite direction. The only right at the dead end. That’s the place where I’m headed to. Running my fingers along the cold walls, all the memories of my yesteryears spent there were rejuvenated at once.
The walls which witnessed our laugh, cry, frown and what not. The place where I spent thirteen years of my childhood. My friends, teachers and classmates, their faces constantly running in my head. Stinging feeling at the back of my eye and a tear escapes. I wipe it off instantly. I miss all of it. I want to go back to those days. Carefree and joyous. The only horror of those ecstatic days. THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE. Being summoned there would definitely mean a painful memory for someone. Mr.Sharma. A sturdy yet cheerful person. He loved children. That was a giveaway. But he never forgave someone for disobedience. According to him discipline and excellence were the only mantras for success. Seems fair enough to me now. Having said that, the twelve-year-old myself would still prefer being more mischievous and end up in his office over remaining my old self. After all, these small little things are the ones that linger for a lifetime. Not that Mr.Sharma was someone terrifying. It was hard enough to be in his good books. A little mistake and you are just out of the picture altogether. The eye-catching trait of his would be the way how he used to treat all of us. We were more of his children than students. Bending down to reach our height while he spoke to a student, he became one of us. His laugh was one in a million. His droopy belly that vibrated vertically while he laughed his heart out was enough to bring about a smile on a crying face.
Shaking my head and clearing all the thoughts, I finally gather the courage to knock the door. Few seconds passed silently. Another knock with a little more intensity. Looking around, I could not find someone whom I could ask for help. Hesitantly, I turned the knob on the door. To my surprise, the room was empty. My eyeballs searching for someone or rather something at the very least so that I could calm myself. But in vain. Added to the emptiness was the fact that it was totally different. The trophies that had occupied most of the racks, were gone. A beautiful scenery hanging on the wall in its place. The dense scent of fresh flowers was filling the room. The big fat books which I failed to understand were replaced by all kinds of stuff like small flower pots, a small coffee vending machine and a big glass jar with office supplies. I knew it for sure now. The owner of the room is changed. On a closer look, the triangular plate on the desk read Mrs.Kulkarni, Principal. It does ring a bell somewhere in my head.
Devi. Devi Kulkarni. I finally recognized her. She was our social teacher. A boring subject. Yet she made an appreciable effort to convey the subject in a lively manner. There was a small photo frame facing the opposite direction in which I was standing. I picked it up. It must be her. An unfamiliar yet friendly face beams at me. She seemed a bit different. The thick long braided hair was now shoulder length. Pepper and salt, instead of jet black. Her spectacles acknowledging her weakening eyesight. Her old-fashioned frame, resembling two full moons was comfortably perched just below her nose bridge. Threads hanging on both the sides, coming with the provision of hanging them around the neck when not in use. The bindi she wore in those days, which I thought was the biggest one I had ever seen was now smaller. Owing to the years, wrinkles surfaced over her face. She was not the same. She was older.
“Priya!” I heard my name being called. Swiftly putting the frame down, careful for not breaking it. My brain immediately associates the voice that I just heard to one of them. The stuck-up girls of my class. Those evil little things who always bullied other people as they pleased. Them being here, not even a sliver of a chance, my heart tells me. Nevertheless, I went out. The corridor was pretty much the same. Nothing breaking the peace of the place. Except for the strong winds outside. Strong enough to bend the moderately lean branches of the neem tree. Giving a hint of heavy downpour. Mothers are always right.
As I turned back to return and wait in the room, I saw a girl. She was about ten. Wearing the same uniform that I had worn fifteen years ago. She waved at me. In a reflex, I lifted my hand to wave back. But stopped in mid air. Something was not right. She wasn’t smiling. Neither frowning. Not even an ounce of emotion. Startled by the sudden call on my phone, I fished it out of my bag. Looking in that direction again, the girl was gone. She disappeared. Back to the phone in my hand, an unknown caller id flashed on the screen. While my head battled whether to receive it or not, my finger moved faster to touch the ‘accept’ button. “Priya!”. It was my mother. My breathing was finally under control. “Your Dad is in the hospital. I need you here right now”. Her voice cracking a bit on the last bit. That’s when my world came down shattered. Before I could respond, I could hear the beeping tone. Confused and aghast, I ran towards the gate. Keys in my hands and my car standing right in front of me. But, I didn’t know where to go. Sweat drops on my forehead. Opening the call log on my phone, I was left staring at the screen for a good two minutes. Last call: Sneha, time: 11 pm yesterday, duration: 2mins 56secs. Unaware of what to do, I decide to retrace into the school. Turning back, this time I was dumbstruck beyond words. The spot where a huge building existed moments back was now covered with huge clouds of dust. The tree, playground everything was gone. My hands turning slimy and my phone crashing on the ground. The silent cloudburst left everything around me drenched.
Was it a dream? Or just an illusion?