THE RUNAWAY – A STORY
‘So kids where do you want to go now?’ I ask craning my neck to look at my children who are seated on the rear seat of the new car. ‘First to the Temple and then at the mall.’ My 15-year old daughter replies. My 12-year old son nods in agreement. I smile. I look at my husband who is seated beside me, driving, who nods at me too and smiles in a way which says,” don’t worry, too much; you’ve brought up our kids well.” I smile back. I look out of the windows and absent mindedly feel the wind on my cheeks. I gaze at the random houses, shops and the city blowing past me. Suddenly, I see a billboard. Tears crack up in my eyes and I start laughing my head off, much to the alarm of my children.
My husband looks in the direction in which I am look, smile and shrugs. He knows the story. How he loves billboards as much as I do. Otherwise, he wouldn’t ever had known me, much less married me. And worse, I don’t even know what was to happen to my life if a couple of billboard hadn’t saved my life. I still remember those days as if it were yesterday. A wave of painful nostalgia crept over me and the winds of past as breezy as the winds outside sweep me away to the time when I had foolishly attempted to ruin my life.
It all started the day the exam results were declared. As, usual my grades were nothing but average, whereas unsurprisingly, my unidentical twin sister, topped the class. I could already see what was coming next. That day, my sister would be going out with her friends, but would make an awkward attempt to take me with her. As usual I would refuse her. Not that I don’t like my twin, but it’s her friends that make me uncomfortable. I barely talk to anyone. They think I am a looser. I think I’m starting to believe I am. I am an introvert and people think I am boring. Well, they never say it out loud, but they just put on a fake smile and reply in monosyllables to the small attempts I make to talk to them. It seems to me that they don’t even realize they are hurting me. They don’t know that behind my demure surface, they hurt they cause, pierces out the aggressiveness in me. Do they even know the actual me? I head home quietly, not quite ready to encounter what was waiting for me. ‘Tulika! I heard they announced your results today.’ Mummy appeared from the kitchen.
I quickly searched her face. Her big brown eyes expressed nervousness which flecks of hope mixed. I sighed. I declared my dreadful results which my head sunk. I had failed in two of my main subjects. I looked up just in time to see the look of pure and utter disappointment change quickly to the façade of a fake cheerful cover on my mother’s face. ‘I guess it was my fault. I should have paid more attention to your studies.’ She mumbled and left. I fled to the bedroom which I and my sister, Dekvi shared.
Just as I banged the door shut, the trophies in the achievements cabinet clanged and made an awful noise. I opened the cabinet to check if something had broken or not, and happened to glance at the trophies and medals. All of it was of my sister’s. None was mine. I sighed. No one likes you; you can’t even achieve anything, I thought. Another horrible thought crept up that seized my heart ‘even mother has given up on me.’ tears flowed down my cheeks. I cried in solitude for a long time. I didn’t realize when time had passed away. Mother called me down for dinner.
A menacing yet urgent idea materialized in my head and made me freeze. ‘Why not run away?’ it screamed. No, no, no, no. what was I thinking? I could never do that. Mom and dekvi would be crushed. And dad? He would become wild and regulate search parties all around. But wouldn’t their lives be more blessed without me? They wouldn’t have to face all that humiliation and disappointment that I give them. And it would even give me a chance to start over all again. With this thought still lingering in my head, I quietly ate dinner and went to sleep. Within a few weeks of watching, observing, scrutinizing and deducing the behavior and the possibilities, the thought went on to become conviction.
The idea seemed to become more realistic day by day rather than being superficial. The more I thought about it, the more the eagerness to do it, bit me. The actual day of action turned out to start on a bad note. As the whole day progressed, the bad became worse. On returning home, mom and dad’s thrashing turned out to be the last straw. I raced to my room, packed all what I ever possessed as fast and discreetly as I could, got out of the back door and raced down the familiar streets until I was out of breadth and could no longer see the place where I once lived. i searched my pockets.
I had some of my and Devki’s pocket money which could fuel my needs for sometime at least. But first I had to get out of this alluring street forcing me back to the place which I once called home. As I crossed the busy bazaars and loitered streets, I felt memories flood through me. Shopping trips, dance classes, buying four toffees for one rupee all played a very little role in my childhood although, remembering it now made me cry. Be brave, I said to myself. I started walking slowly, reading all the banners and billboard as I passed.
One struck me. It was about some cement company which said, “they can because they think they can.” I sighed. I can’t even do that. But it was too late to think about that. I read another one “don’t try too hard to fit in; you were born to stand out.” I smiled. I felt proud and dignified all of a sudden. Another said “the more the man judges, the less he loves” for a housing complex. My conscience pricked me. Hadn’t I always judged other people and stayed away from the start? I bit my lip when I saw the other, “if your parents can help you take the first steps of your life, why can’t you help them take the last steps of their life?” stop it; I said to myself. Why are you letting these commonplace billboards affect your decisions?
You made the right choice. I stopped looking at the billboards and jumped into my own train of thought. I reached the bus stop bought a ticket for the next bus and sat on the vacant bench. A drop of water fell on my blouse. I looked up. Another fell. I suddenly remembered a poem which had a line ‘Water droplets so beautiful; fell from the sky with the promise to present a new beginning.’ Oh yes, a new beginning all right, I thought. I give a laugh and look sideways too see if anyone has just seen the act of my very own absurdity. Apparently, no one noticed me. I was about to turn when something caught my eye. A billboard. I read it and it took me just one second to register what was the message. But I still sat there, reading the message and wondering what on Earth was I even doing? I read the billboard again; and this time, I smiled. I returned home with great resolutions and promises to myself. But I had to work hard for it, after all Rome wasn’t built in one day. I tried, conquered, studied, made friends, made my parents proud and in turn, made myself happy.
What a gorgeous day it is! And I still have to study’ my daughter Aisha, whined. I agreed to her on that. The sky was blue, the air was crisp and the sun was shining gloriously. Students should not have homework on these days. I was sitting in the veranda with Aisha who was trying too hard to solve the problem. I felt sorry for her. ‘Say, do want a break?’ I asked. She jumped up and down and then, suddenly became serious. Her reply to my questioning gaze was, ‘Mom, you know, when I tell my friends that you passed from IIT, I feel very proud. But tell me something, why do you always get so happy when you see that ‘”right to vote” ad? ’ I kiss her on the forehead and reply, ‘don’t you ever underestimate small things.
They can have the biggest role in your life.’ She shrugs and flops away. I recollect the quote once more and breathe deeply. ‘If you won’t ask for it, you’ll never get it.’ It said. Such a simple and commonplace quote helped me in such a dangerous and confusing situation. I had learnt a big lesson. I had learnt to ask. Ask for friendship. For forgiveness. For time. For understanding. And as I sit here, looking out at the beautiful panoramic view of the city, I realize that I have yet learnt another great lesson. That all glory comes from daring to begin.