All that is required to change life is sometimes just a truth.
Just… One… Truth…
1. Déjà vu
Déjà vu. That’s what I felt as I opened the broad rusty gate and entered the premises. With my first step on the steep path between the small park on one side and a garden on the other, a strange feeling of existing in some place between reality and imagination, between past and present, engulfed me. A blurred image flashed. Was it of people or places? Why couldn’t I make out? Everything was dark, shadowy, intense, and then, suddenly, I heard hollow and shrill whispers and the image melted away.
Discarding it as hallucination, I walked into the building. The place was beautiful, the weather and the setting complemented each other perfectly, yet, I was not charmed by it. As if on a whim, I wanted to run away for reasons unknown.
A sudden creaky sound from the corner of the park consumed my attention completely, leaving me with a strong but irrational, fear. As my gaze rested on the swing swaying in the angry wind, I found the explanation.
Yes, this was looking like a part of my dream where…
“You must be Noel.”
The soft voice drew me back to reality. As I looked at her, her motherly persona suddenly made me feel at home amid my turmoil. The strands of gray in her otherwise black hair and the slight wrinkles on her forehead added to her elegance.
“Yes,” I kept my luggage down. “And you must be Miss Simin?” She was the only person expected to wait for me in this huge place.
“Yes, please come.”
As I walked into the building a familiar aura enveloped me in some strange, uncomfortable way, as if slowly pulling me into a trance. Was it in that trance I saw a peach colour room with the big cartoon poster on one of the walls and something scribbled below it? Beds, one above the other, and a window on the right-hand side? Was it a trance or something else? I forced myself out of it and after a long, blank moment, I was finally able to see my surroundings. I could feel a headache build up as I took in the view. The interior of the building surprised me; the whitewash was peeling off the walls, the furniture was broken, and doors and windows in urgent need of repair. It was difficult to believe that the beautiful facade held such squalor within. Was this the harsh reality of every orphanage; beautiful on the outside, ruthless reality inside?
Simin showed me to my room on the first floor.
“Please freshen up and rest for some time. You can join us for dinner at 8’O clock. It will be a good opportunity to introduce you to a few other members you will need to work with.” Simin said.
Freshen up? How can anyone freshen up in a room like this? The room was no bigger than an office cabinet, with only a small table, a broken chair and an old cot with torn out bed sheets. I nodded. What else could I do at that moment?
After she left I looked at the broken mirror hanging on the wall. The tired reflection in the mirror was distasteful to me. Sam’s face flashed and filled me with envy. Why were we so different? After all, we were twins. We were both tall and shared the same almond complexion and sharp features; yet, his looks could mesmerize anyone, no one would give me a second look.
My hand reluctantly reached up to the scar on my forehead; the biggest difference between us. Ugh, the ugly birthmark I was born with. Our childhood photo hardly had any difference other than this scar, but as time passed, differences increased in personality and behaviour.
His disciplined routine and regular gym had given him a toned body; my irregular lifestyle had turned me bulky. My brown eyes were not as captivating as his hazel eyes. His brown hair inherited from mom was always combed well; my black, almost-shoulder length hair could be tied in a pony. I didn’t know why many disliked my hair, especially dad who had often, but unsuccessfully, tried to convince me to cut it short.
Poor dad. He could control thousands of men in his successful business but not me. It didn’t matter whether the topic was of cutting my hair or joining his textile business, his thoughts always clashed with mine. My inclination towards counselling was a secret to him till the time we had a heated argument about my future. He wanted to see me as his business partner, just like Sam, but I was determined to work as a counsellor. Other people’s lives interested me; their problems, their secrets, and their thoughts, everything interested me. I was a counsellor at Hyderabad, and though I was struggling, I was satisfied with the progress I was making.
It had been a tiring year and I wanted a break. When I declared, I would be going to an orphanage in Vadodara as a volunteer, dad was furious. Once again he tried all his weapons, from emotional blackmail to verbal abuse, to stop me but once again he failed.
“Have you lost your senses? What about your so-called counselling career?”
“This is the advantage of being an independent counsellor. I can live freely without the deadlines you pursue in your business.”
“Six months is a long time, it will affect your career.”
“What have I to worry for? If I fail, you will be glad. I will have no option but to join you.” I looked him in the eyes.
“Is this the way to talk with your dad? When will you realise your responsibilities? Look at Sam, he is so mature, learn something from him.”
I had left the room. I was fed up of this comparison; I had spent all my life hearing that.
I was the rebellious one and Sam, the perfect, obedient and sacrificing son. Not that I don’t care for dad’s expectations. I hope to join his business some day along with pursuing counselling on my own.
But dad was right. I could never become like Sam. As kids we had been the same. We fought like other siblings till he ran away complaining ‘mom dad only love Noel’. After missing for one day he was found. And then just one conversation with dad, just one conversation, changed his whole personality. The suspense often kills me. What was the conversation that had turned him unbelievably mature? He suddenly grew up faster than me, day by day, alienating our level of understanding and maturity. He was suddenly more caring but I was never sure why I often felt a tinge of pity in his affection.
The only person who never has any complaints about me is mom. Whatever I do, she is with me, the only person who doesn’t judge me, only loves unconditionally.
As my stomach rumbled, I saw it was dinner time and walked towards the dining hall. The dining hall was huge with a broken table at one end of the room occupied by large filthy utensils with food spilling out of them. Children sat in a row and the volunteers helped in distributing the food.
“Are you comfortable?” Simin sounded concerned.
“Oh, ya absolutely, just a bit tired.”
“I understand.” She paused before adding, “I was about to call you. I just realised that I forgot to show you the direction to the dining hall.”
She was right, and yet, here I was, at the right place, without getting lost. I shrugged away the déjà vu that hovered around my mind.
One look at the utensils and my hunger subsided but I had to be a part of the place and accept it the way it was. The dinner was simple; negligible oil and minimal spices; rather no spices, hardly edible. I was scared how I would eat the same tasteless food for the next six months but I consoled myself; it might help me reduce my weight.
“You seem to be very tired. Guess you should go and sleep after dinner. We will talk tomorrow.” Simin said.
“Thanks.” I was glad she had relieved me for the day.
On the way back to my room I was again drawn into a trance, as if someone was guiding my way; I had no control over where I was going. As I entered the room I saw children preparing their beds.
“Oops I am sorry, not sure why I came...”
My voice chocked in my throat and a shiver passed through me as I took in the view of the room. The room was peach, with the poster of a cat on one of the walls and the rhyme “Pussy cat, pussy cat” below it. A window faced the bunk beds on the right hand. The only difference from my imagination was that the paint had peeled off, the cat’s drawing was only half there, and a calendar was stuck next to the window.
I hastily returned to my room. I wasn’t psychic; neither did I want to be. Unsuccessfully, I tried to shrug off the uneasy sensation.
Finally, when I fell asleep, I had my unpleasant dream again, the acquaintance of my childhood, the trauma of adulthood. I woke up with a jolt. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and the thought that my dream wanted to say something.