I wrote this story as part of Book Wednesday on the Tehelka Facebook page. The topic was to write a story that began with the words “It was a Sunday morning. I walked to the railway station.”.
It was a Sunday morning. I walked to the railway station. It was a walk I had done a thousand times before. But on that day it was different. The backpack felt heavier than usual as I shifted it from one shoulder to the other. I stopped at the cigarette shop at the corner as usual and bought a cigarette. I wouldn’t normally smoke on this road, but this early in the morning, it was safe to assume that no one from my colony would be on the street. After lighting the cigarette, I turned back and looked at the street I had walked almost every day I could remember.
It wasn’t a long street, but it was one that that had gotten progressively shorter as I grew up. I remember how as a 5-year-old the grocery store I was standing in front of seemed like the end of the world.
It was a Sunday morning when my mother let me go alone to buy some eggs. She gave me a ten-rupee note and explained how much change I had to bring back. I remember walking out of the colony and on to this street with my chest puffed out. I also remember dragging the bag of eggs back along the ground. I couldn’t understand then why mother was so unhappy, I had brought back the right change. Then she hugged me, kissed me and told me that it was all her fault for not telling me how to carry eggs.
I took a deep puff and blew the smoke out, watching the street through the haze of the cigarette smoke. I blinked to make sure that I didn’t see a 10-year-old cycling towards me.
It was a Sunday morning. I remember that day only too well. It was almost a month to the day after my tenth birthday, when I first rode my cycle on the street that led to the railway station. The gleaming red BSA cycle was the cynosure of all my friends. How can I forget my dad running behind me, his hands holding on to the seat, yelling to me to keep pedaling? I remember how my stomach sank low when I realized that on one of those runs, his voice seemed to faded away into the distance and then I was gone. It took a lot of begging, pleading and promising before they let me ride to school. What a moment it had been, as I rode into the school grounds, parked my cycle at the cycle stand and locked it.
I was getting into a flow here and I didn’t want to stop. So I took another puff and blew the smoke in front of me.
It was a Sunday morning. The young woman who stepped on out of the colony and on to the street that led to the railway station looked scared and worried. She turned back and looked to see her father join her on her walk.
“An examination is a part of life”, he said. “That is how you know that you have passed a milestone. Passing or failing an examination is an indication of whether you are ready for the next step in life. If you are, you will pass; if not, you will fail. Neither is a reflection of your personality, just a reflection of what you are and are not ready for. If you let your fear stop you, you will never cross over to the next big challenge in your life. Remember, passing an examination means there is a bigger challenge on the other side, so pray to pass only if you think you are ready to face it.”
I never ever judged myself or others by the marks they scored every again.
I bought my second cigarette and asked for a cup of tea to go with it. I blew another plume of smoke in front of me.
It was a Sunday morning. Two women were coming towards me on the street that led to the railway station. Mom and I huddled under one umbrella as we giggled to some silly story. I felt the tears well up as more memories broke through the walls I had built to contain them. If this street could talk, it could tell you the story of my life. The life of a girl who was loved by her family. One whom they kept at the center of their lives and gladly let their lives revolve around. They took equal pride when I crawled for the first time and when I rode a motorcycle for the first time. They taught me to read and to count. The taught me to walk and to run. They taught me to stay grounded while letting my thoughts fly.
It was a Sunday morning and I was on the street that led to the railway station, walking away from it all. Not giving them a chance to refuse me the person I loved but deciding for them that they would.
I felt a pat on my left shoulder and looked to my right. Ravi had done this enough times that it had become a habit now.
“Ready?” he asked.
I took one last puff from my cigarette and exhaled, “Yes. Are you?”
“Yes. Let’ go.”
I took his hand and we pulled in different directions – he towards the station and me towards home.
He stopped and looked at me.
“You were right”, I told. “I should give them the chance to refuse.”
He smiled the smile that still made my knees go weak, four years after the first time.
“Will you drop me home?” I asked him.
It wasn’t smoke that made the street hazy now. But I could clearly see two people walking hand-in-hand, confident in each other – just like my parents. I snuggled closer to Ravi.
I was glad that there would be a lot more Sunday mornings when I would walk this street to the railway station.