For the first time she realized that nothing was permanent in life – friends, circumstances, riches or parental love. She walked into her home and switched on the lights. Her friends were unavailable for various reasons and her parents temporarily engaged with sorting out their fears. All she had was the suitcase she had packed and brought along with her. The ride was lonely, and so was her home. She had nothing left to look forward to after the traumatic experience. Loss; an irreparable sense of loss pervaded her being like a violent shudder that she couldn’t shake off, as she watched the stillness around her and moved from room to room, wiping the dust that had settled on the furniture.
She spent the next few days in a deep freeze. Like she was in a retreat – a vacuum, where feelings took a break. As her face yearned for ruddiness and health. The bags under her eyes wanting to fill up and disappear into the fullness. She was reading a lot these days. Books are where you listen to another’s heart beat and forget yours. She was growing accustomed to the empty feeling now. Not reconciled to it yet, though.
One story was set in Japan, and about two girls, Sonja and Yuki, who used to be classmates in a school in Rotterdam. Yuki had moved back to Japan to help her parents with their family business of growing and selling green tea. Sonja was on a holiday there and spending time with Yuki at their tea plantation near Mount Fujiyama. Yuki’s family exported a variety of green tea leaves to the world-famous and largest wholesale market, Tsukiji Sagami, in Tokyo.
One day, Sonja was taken to the family’s favorite tea shop at Tsukiji, Jugetsudo, which stocked an amazing variety of teas, including mattcha, genmaicha and seasonal ones like sakura (cherry blossoms) tea. Sonja sat talking to the store owner who took her into his wonderland of teas and tea making. She watched and tasted every cup that was handed over to her. Green tea leaves were drenched in boiling water for 15 seconds to make a strong crisp tea, but a lighter, sweeter version was made with hot(not boiling) water. This meant that each cup offered a distinct taste of its own, as the water cooled down.
Riyaan suddenly realized that it was past her bed time. Making green tea was a nightly ritual for her, too, and one of the comforts that still remained. As she watched the glass teapot fill up and felt the hot mist waft around her palms, sleep beckoned. The silence seemed to settle in more easily today. The sounds — the pitter patter of feet walking on the floor above and the creaky, raspy sounds made somewhere in the walls when the lights were switched off, reminiscent of some circuitry that didn’t go right – all new friends, each with their own quirks.
Came dawn and she woke up to the sound of the roosting pigeons fluttering their wings as they stirred on her window sill. She stood up and drew the curtains aside to see one of them perched on one leg, looking like a furry ball on a stick, wet and cold. It cocked its head and turned around to look at her and then shook its body letting droplets of water sprinkle all around, making her smile.
She picked up her car keys and headed for work. As she drove past a makeshift temple (many such in India), she saw the old lady again. A chubby, dark skinned, toothless, round-faced grandmother, wearing crooked glasses and draped in a grey, old sari sitting on the sidewalk beside the temple, with her hands outstretched for alms. Very few people walked past her as this was a road frequented more by moving vehicles. Evoking a statuesque appearance, she sat there, eyes unseeing, palms together and outstretched, more like in prayer.
Riyaan had watched this lady every morning as she (presumably) waited for someone to drop something into her palms. Riyaan once made an attempt to connect the lady with a homeless shelter but couldn’t find a place that was genuine enough to leave the lady in. Who was she to decide someone else’s life without knowing the whole story, after all?” Revving up the engine, she moved on.
She saw stolidity there in that wrinkled old face, not a hint of unhappiness or desperation.