Not Today (Part 3)
(A Short Story spanning a day)
The hedge was towering over her. The walls were rigid. She had no clue that what was beyond. She walked, slowly at first, in control. She was sure she would find a way. How difficult can a hedge maze be?
She walked on and on and found passages after passages which led on to more passages. But there was no exit. Her breathing grew faster. Her throat felt dry and she gulped her own saliva every so often. There was no exit. She was locked. Locked in a labyrinth with no one to her aid.
The colour of the day was fading fast. Somewhere, far away, the sun was creeping past the horizon.
There was no one. No one to her aid.
Then the birds started to appear. They were small, white birds. She was sure she had seen them before, but she could not place them anywhere. The little birds flew and flew in circles above her head at first. Their screeches grew louder, so she had to close her ears with her hands. And then, the birds broke the symmetry. They started spreading out like a tangent to the circle, and then flew in straight lines along the tops of the hedges. Instinctively, she followed them.
“Ma’am, your bill.” The voice was loud and hammering into her ears.
Adrija started like she had risen from underwater, breathless. It took awhile to focus on the waiter. Her ice cream had melted.
Quickly, she took out the hundred-rupee note from her purse and gave it to the waiter.
“Keep the change.”
She slid the strap of her handbag across her shoulder and got up of the chair. Before she left, she cast one long glance at the large poster on the opposite wall of the ice cream parlour: A hedge maze with a woman lost inside. The woman looked so tiny in the picture that you would miss her if you were not looking carefully.
Adrija ate a hasty dinner in her hostel room. The food was no different than other days, but Adrija had brought it into her room, unlike the other days. Usually, she preferred to eat with her hostel-mates, sitting on the table in the dining room, watching television and shouting on top of their voices in order to be heard over the noise. Not today.
After she was done with her dinner, she stood before the mirror and looked at herself. She touched her cheeks and lips with her finger and outlined her brow. She ran her finger lightly over her eyes. She looked just the same as yesterday. Only, she felt she had aged by years.
She wondered why the maze generated such images in her mind, because she had been to that ice cream parlour many times, without ever having such an episode. She still had goosebumps imagining the vividness of the incident. She could still feel herself locked inside the green jail of hedges.
The birds! She remembered now where she had seen them. The guy at the mall with the Peace tattoo! He had exact same birds on his wrist.
Adrija was more confused than ever. What did the boy have to do with anything? Nothing made sense. Then again, did anything make any sense the entire day today? First, no notifications on her social media. Then, her friends’ and juniors’ weird avoidance. She checked her phone again. But the gadget had never been more silent.
Adrija lay in her bed, toying with her phone. For some time, she played Angry Birds. When she was bored, she fidgeted with Talking Tom. It was good to hear someone speak, even if it was her own words twisted in a strange mechanical, cat accent. Couldn’t they make an app into which you could speak your mind and the app would listen and answer you like a human being, a friend?
The maze was a cage. The phone was a cage. The people around her were cages. Once she was inside, she had no way of getting out. No way not to feel bad about the lack of attention. About the lack of noise around her. About the stronghold of silence.
Yet, for the few hours when she was sitting on the stairs in the mall, watching people, as an observer, not getting involved, not interacting, she had felt a sense of peace.
Peace, written in black ink in a fancy font that you see in ancient books. Peace, with little birds circling around it. Peace, with finding a way out of the maze.
It is late and Adrija is asleep. She is dreaming but she will remember it no more when she wakes up in the morning. In her dream, she is seated in an open air restaurant. There are scores of tables around her. Each table is surrounded by four wicker chairs. A vase of freshly plucked long-stemmed flowers sits on each table. The flowers are white.
Adrija is sipping hot chocolate from a large mug. The guy with the Peace tattoo is walking on the other side of the cobbled street. Adrija does not see him. As she dreams, Adrija thinks that she has never visited this place. It is true.
But she will visit this place, in some years, of course. Because tomorrow, when she will wake up, she will shed her old skin. In six months, she will throw a few clothes in her back-pack and go for a mountain trek where the electromagnetic signals become feeble and feeble as your scale the altitude. There will be no more notifications on the phone.
Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick
This is the end of the 3-part story that started as an assignment for the Writing 101 blogging course. The goal was to write a story spanning about a day. I am thankful to everyone who followed the firsst two parts of the story and offered their feedback. I had not published a serialized story on the blog before, so when I found interest in the story rising among the readers, I also felt excited to write the next part. I must do more of these in future! What do you think?