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Two Stories on Choice

by Anupama Krishnakumar

Anupama Krishnakumar writes two flash fiction pieces on how small choices sometimes end up giving so much warmth and joy.

#1 One Night More

By about five in the evening, a strange uneasiness began to seep into the minds of Radha, Gayathri and Kalyani. Radha was at her athai’s, her dad’s sister’s house at Trichy, over a long weekend. Radha and her twin cousins, Gayathri and Kalyani, were having the time of their lives, laughing, playing and sharing things that brought much joy to their teenaged minds and hearts that they didn’t realise how the Saturday and Sunday had flown and it was already time for Radha to leave along with her parents to Madras. The three girls sat quietly on the porch outside staring at the cycles that occasionally passed by their house. “If I had the choice, I would stay back, like forever,” sighed Radha, at which both Gayathri and Kalyani turned to look at their dear cousin’s face with moist eyes. They didn’t want her to go this Sunday night. They didn’t want the fun to end so soon.

“Wish mama and mami would consider changing their minds. Shall I speak to them?” asked Gayathri pensively, starting to get up from her place on the porch, when Kalyani pulled her by the hand and shook her head, “Don’t act too smart. You know they aren’t going to listen.” Radha wished that all three of them could go and convince her parents, somehow. But she also knew that her father was not the kind who changed his mind easily. If anything, she would be met with a stern “No” in his deep, booming voice and an even sterner look that could send her cowering to a corner.

Kalyani had an idea. “Let’s stop sulking, girls, and spend whatever is left of our time together more meaningfully,” she declared. And in a minute, she ran into the house and came back with her grandfather’s Philips portable transistor. “Let’s tune in and listen to some wonderful Illayaraja music,” she suggested. “Before they call us for dinner and it’s time for Radha to leave,” she added in a somewhat subdued tone. “Yes,” chorused Radha and Gayathri. Soon beautiful Tamil songs from the 80s including the latest hits began playing on the radio. The girls, in no time, immersed themselves in the music that flooded their beings, forgetting that they had little or no chance at all in defying their parents’ choices in matters both big and small.

As they laughed and danced around, swaying gently like slender tree branches in the breeze, the sky had turned from a mellow orange to a deep bluish-black. Soon they heard Radha’s mother’s voice in the background. “Gayathri, Kalyani, Radha…” she called out, “come over for dinner.” Gayathri reluctantly turned the radio off and began heading inside. Kalyani and Radha followed her with sullen faces.

“And oh, Radha…”  began Radha’s mother. She paused as the girls looked on expectantly. “Guess what…” she paused again, this time the silence really pushing them to the edge of their patience. “Here’s something for you to rejoice. Appa has sudden plans to meet his school friends tomorrow, so we aren’t leaving tonight. We will take the bus tomorrow night instead,” she announced with a smile playing on her lips. Radha shrieked in delight and Kalyani and Gayathri pounced and wrapped her in their embrace. The change of plan meant a night plus a day more of fun.  “Unbelievable!” cried Radha in joy as her cousins laughed out loud. A small choice that somebody else made had made all the difference to three girls, ushering in a world of unmatched joy.

Pic from https://www.flickr.com/photos/vinothchandar/

***

#2 A Conversation for the Night

Siddharth walks into his bedroom post a routine conference call with his US colleagues, gulping down a bottle full of cold water. His bedside clock shows that it is half past ten in the night. Katyayani, his wife of sixteen years is fast asleep and he notices the tired smile on her face. He feels like reaching out and ruffling her hair and giving her a tender kiss.

Just as he is dwelling in a moment of transience, there is a tinkling sound that emerges from his mobile phone. He knows it’s a WhatsApp notification. He is not sure if he should pick up the phone right away and look at it. He sets up his pillow, leans over Katyayani’s face and gently pats her cheek. Then, adjusting his blanket over himself, he looks into his phone. There are a couple of WhatsApp messages from his college friend Sanjana.

She has sent some pictures and then there’s a message, “You awake?”

As he scrolls up, he realises that it’s been six months since they had caught up, even on WhatsApp. They had of course been chatting as part of their college WhatsApp group but a one-to-one conversation had been months ago.

“Hey, yes, awake…just finished a con-call. What’s up?” he messages back.

She sends a string of smileys in response, followed by “Guess what, am in Bombay for a conference. Caught up with Bindu, Srujan, Laksh, Rishi and Jyotsna. See pics above!”

Sanjana and her infectious energy and enthusiasm, he thinks and smiles.

He looks through the images. “Wow, looks like you guys had lot of fun!”

“We missed you.” She sends and within five seconds adds: “I missed you.”

Her honesty and the way she chose her words makes Siddharth’s heart race and stop at the same time. He wants to say something and hide behind the veil of his words.

He puts a sad smiley, and types “Maybe next time.” And follows it up with “So, how are hubby jaan and the junior?”

“Oh, all good. Akash is twelve, and acts like my boss. :-D”

“Haha. Your son, what else can you expect? ;-)”

“Oye, shut up, ok. I’m sure your daughters are giving you the same treatment! How are my little angels? How is Katya?”

“Doing fine. The girls are grown up enough to have gotten their own room now. Katya is fast asleep! :-)”

“And you are awake….doing what, Mr? ;-)”

“Chatting with you,” he types back almost immediately. “and smiling. :-)”

Sanjana likes this. These words mean so much to her. She doesn’t understand why. But she likes it. This late-night conversation that is moving and taking turns in gentle yet unexpected ways.

“So, what else is up? How’s life?” she asks.

“As always. Work. Home. Family.”

“Not exactly happy. Not exactly unhappy. Right?”

“Well, yes, I suppose.”

“Symptoms of growing old…LOL” she types and puts a laughing smiley.

“Hey, 46 is not old, ok?”

“Oh yeah? So 40s are the new 20s?”

“Of course. You haven’t met me in a while, so you wouldn’t understand. Well, there’s my defence!”

“Aha, I see…so why don’t we meet for coffee?”

Siddharth feels his heart flutter. There’s something very relieving about this chat accompanied by a smile on his lips throughout. He could choose to end the conversation by saying “Bye then, Sanjana, gotta catch up on sleep. Need to give an early start to the day tomorrow.” But he doesn’t want to. He chooses to continue with it instead. He feels light, and young, like he hadn’t felt in a long time now.

“Coffee date? Yeah, right, with you in Delhi, and me in Bangalore!” he writes.

“I know. :-(, the good old days. I wonder if they will come back.”

There’s a brief silence on both sides but soon they go on, with the conversation meandering from funny to serious to practical to reflective.

Siddharth thinks of the late-night calls that Sanjana and he would have during the days they worked in Hyderabad and Pune, respectively, almost twenty years back. They were best friends who had to know what was happening in each other’s lives – office crushes, boss troubles, PG accommodation-mates stories…and of course college memories.

Even as Siddharth is lost in thought, Sanjana can’t get herself to stop this WhatsApp chat. She could pick up the phone and call him but she doesn’t do that – she doesn’t want to lose the warmth and intimacy that text chatting was bringing to their long-lost interaction. How much things have changed, she muses, since they chose their respective partners and the kids arrived into their worlds. They were now living in their own bubbles formed out of their personal choices.

It’s 12:30 in the night and both of them are still typing away furiously, glued to their mobile screens, their faces being mirrors to a whole gamut of emotions they are going through.

“It’s half past twelve, Sid,” Sanjana types. “We need to wind up.”

“Sigh, yes, but I wish we could talk more. Go on, you know.” He confesses.

She smiles as she responds, “Another time. But wonderful catching up. Will remember it for a long time.”

“Thank you, Sanju. I feel good. Bye. Goodnight. Take care.”

“You too,” she says and sends a waving smiley in return.

Siddharth sighs as he comes out of the chat. He feels like he has been to another world and back. He sees Sanjana’s DP and takes a closer look. He smiles as he sees the lines on her face and traces of grey on her head. He wants to trace a curve on her face with his finger – a strange and silly urge. But he chooses not to do it. Instead, he puts his phone aside, pulls the blanket over his face and waits for sleep to take him away into faraway and unknown worlds.

Anupama Krishnakumar is an engineer-turned journalist. She co-edits Spark and is also the author of two books, ‘Fragments of the Whole’, a flash fiction collection and ‘Ways Around Grief & Other Stories’, a short-story collection. Her website is www.anupamakrishnakumar.com.
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