How far you would go for your loved one? “Heavenly Journey” traces the story of a young man’s journey to reach out to his beloved one on the farther limits of the known world. His co-passenger on this amazing journey has a different story but shares the same destiny. Will the young man complete his journey and reach his beloved one? Read on…
(All characters appearing in this short story are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)
“Can you please move forward?” spoke an old man standing behind me.
I slowly blinked my eyes to get used to this strange atmosphere. Where was I?
One look around told me that I was not in any place I had seen or been before. I was standing in the center of a giant hall the size of a stadium with a huge dome at the top. The sun light streamed intensely through a large hole at the center of the ceiling with attractive pictures donning the ceiling. I looked back to find a serpentine line behind me. I looked down and suddenly felt my knees go weak. Instead of the floor, there was just an empty space with clouds passing beneath my feet as if I was suspended in mid sky.
“I said, move forward” reprimanded the old man again.
The people from the other serpentine queue as well as some in front of my line stared at me. I quickly took a couple of steps to move forward to join a young guy in front of me. Judging by his age, he should have been his early twenties. Suddenly I stretched my arm and looked at my clothes. I was wearing a white colored pyjama type cloth, the ones the patient would wear in the hospitals. One look around told me that everyone was dressed up in the same clothing. Where the hell was I?
My line moved up quicker than the other serpentine line to a huge grill shaped structure. I could see a young clerk with smoothly oiled hair sitting on an old rusty chair. He asked the young guy in front of me for his identification and asked him to pull out a card from his front pocket. The clerk then looked up curiously at the person in front of me and gave him a condescending look. He shook his head and clicked on the button in front of him and suddenly the person in front of me vanished in thin air.
Slowly recovering from the shook, I took a step forward and handed my identification card to the clerk.
“Ah! Another blue card” he spoke in a riddle. He looked up and gave me a gentle smile and then pressed on the button in front of him.
I could feel a strong hand pushing me on my back and I staggered on to a railway platform. I took a deep breath and looked around to find hordes of people lining up in front of an old train. It looked like a normal train but the only difference was that, the engine was replaced by eight sets of white horses ready to pull the locomotive. The horses neighed loudly, perhaps to announce that they are all set for the journey.
Suddenly I could feel a hand pat on my right shoulder. “Don’t sleep on the journey”, spoke an old man with a strange type of hat and cloak. Perhaps the ticket collector.
“I am not the ticket collector son” he replied reading my mind. He smiled gently at my stunned face, patted my back again and vanished among the crowd.
Suddenly I felt an invisible force pulling my right hand and I noticed that a blue band had suddenly appeared on my right hand. The invisible force guided me to a specific window-seat inside the so-called train and I happened to sit next to the young guy whom has stood in front of me in that serpentine line.
I quickly greeted my co-passenger but he looked away, perhaps in no mood to speak to a stranger. Suddenly a safety belt swung across my hip and shoulder. The other passengers were as curious as me to know what was happening around them.
Damn!! Where the hell is the train taking me?
“Welcome to the Journey to Heaven” spoke a person with deep baritone voice over the intercom type speaker as I sat stunned by the announcement.
The horses drawing the train neighed loudly and they tugged forward into mid-air. I quickly looked out and felt the pollution free air blow past my face. I tried hard to recollect how I had reached here and what had happened before my journey to Heaven. My head soon began to ache as my brain tried to search through my past memories for any clues. I soon gave up and stared blankly at the scattered clouds lined in the amazing back-drop of the clear blue sky.
Suddenly the train swarmed right into a huge white cloud and I could see no more. I felt a sharp tinge of the left side of my heart and head lightened up and before I knew I was into cozy dream.
“Amma” I let out a stifled cry. The wire meshed door separated my mother and me. Amma shot an angry glance at me.
“No” I screamed and closed my ears. Mom glared at me once again and then took a deep breath to regain her composure. She took an unwavering look at the target right in front of her and tightened her hands around her main weapon. She looked back at me once and gently smiled to remind me that all was well.
Hell no.. All was not well and I was the most scared kid in this world. “Amma..” I let out a stifled cry once again.
My mother being well prepared this time around was not going to be disturbed. She blew hot air at the top edge of her weapon lest it become any less useful. Her feet slowly inched towards her target and she lit the target and rushed back to me to cover my ears with her hand, over my little hands already had squeezed shut any relative sound from my ears. Five seconds later, I heard a meek blast.
She had successfully started the first Diwali I remember till date, with her bravely lighting up the traditional Lakshmi bomb. Amma gently kissed on my cheek and whispered “Happily Diwali”.
“What have you done to yourself?” screamed Amma.
The tears in my eyes flowed effortlessly like the various tributaries of river
Ganga. I just shook my
head and thrust the big piece of cotton wad out of the wound on my head. The
blood started gushing out in copious amounts.
Amma screamed for an auto and rushed me to a nearby clinic. Our family doctor had gone out and would be back in a few minutes. His newly married wife had already earned a bad reputation for mistreating her patients. Amma looked around for magical streak of hope that our family doctor would arrive soon. Alas! That was not to be.
“What happened?” questioned the doctor’s wife on seeing my bulged up forehead. “Come in” she spoke softly as we followed her in to her room.
After nearly seven stitches on my forehead and a couple of painkiller injection that left me drowsy for the whole day, I returned home. Amma gently cradled me on her lap till I fell asleep. She did not ask one word about it and I didn’t care to reply.
“What happened?” spoke our neighboring house’s aunty who was always ready to poke into other business at the slightest drop of the hat.
Amma handed my tenth grade mark-sheet to her and started sobbing with renewed energy. The aunty put a hand around my mother’s shoulder and spoke “I still don’t understand the problem. Your son has scored good marks”
“You don’t understand” amma shook her head. “These marks will lead him no where in life. He missed out obtaining admission in a very good school because he got two marks less in Mathematics. How much ladies finger would I have fed him? How can he score just 93 in mathematics?”
The neighboring aunty had no words of consolation for she very well knew what marks her son had scored.
“Ashwik” spoke my mom and I sat beside her. She had been crying for me for the last two days and not a drop of tear glistened from mine, as I knew that these marks don’t matter anything in the real world.
“Promise me..” she spoke as she extended her right hand, “Promise me that you will not ever disappoint me in your studies and marks”.
I raised my hands and placed it on my mother’s hand. “I promise” I spoke quietly with the words barely audible. Like every caring mother, her tears dried up and a beautiful smile adorned her face once again.
But aren’t promises supposed to be broken?
I pushed open the first floor door of our ancestral home. Its bad condition clearly specified that it had not been used in a very long time now. The narrow steps leading to the first floor made sure that only one of us could stand in front of the door.
“Move on, my dear” spoke amma as she huffed and puffed her way to the first floor. She pointed the broom intently at my face asking me to move away while she swept the floor clean. Her name stood for cleanliness and she took great pride in that.
The late afternoon sun gently streamed in through the single window of the huge room. Amma sat down on the floor and I placed my head on her lap. She lazily ran her hand through her hair and spoke, “You have lost so much hair”.
“Amma…” I tried to half-protest trying to gently push her hand away. Her hand gently moved to the spot of the bulging stitched wound on my head. The wound looked prominent even after twenty years. She gently caressed the skin around the wound.
“You never told me what happened to you that day?” she spoke.
“Amma, isn’t it tea time?” I tried to change the topic.
“Ashwik” her steady voice was enough to make me realize that she would not bulge without getting her answer.
“You remember Bala?” I spoke. She nodded her head intently.
“He and I had some silly fight. Suddenly in the middle of the fight, he spoke bad words about you and dad. I got angry and pushed him away. He took a steel rod lying beside him and tried to thrust at it into my head. I just turned in the nick of time and it gently poked into my forehead.”
Amma just remained speechless. She hugged me as if I had recovered from a deadly attack.
“You are a big man now, Ashwik” spoke my mother suddenly turning a sweet moment into a serious one. “Perhaps..” she let the words wander off in thin air.
“Perhaps what?” I questioned impatiently.
“Perhaps, you need to settle down soon in your life” she completed her thought.
I immediately sat up and looked at my mom. “Amma, don’t tell me that you are serious about getting that girl married to me”
“Why? What is wrong with that girl?” she quipped nonchalantly. “You wanted an educated girl. She has done her under graduation in a decent college”
“Amma, does it ever matter to you that I should like the girl?” I shot back.
“Does it ever matter to you Ashwik, that we are getting older and want to see you get married? You are approaching your thirtieth birthday next month and you still act like a teenager, like in the college movies, where the elder-statesmen heroes are eternally young” she spoke agitatedly.
The room was filled with silence after her blast of words.
“Ashwik..” she ran her soft hands through my cheek. “All of us don’t get what we want in our life. Marriage is all about adjustment in life. Take the example of your dad and me. Have we not adjusted and lived our life happily?”
I laid back on her lap, gazing deeply into her eyes. My mom had immense love and affection for my dad which I believed staunchly, would never happen to me. My generation girls were completely different to my mom’s generation.
“Amma, what happened to the little finger on your left hand?” I questioned her knowing the story very well, as that was one of my favorite bed time stories.
“Oh! You don’t know about it, right?” Amma smiled gently.
“Long lone time ago, there was a kid named Ashwik” she started, as her talk took me to those golden times. “He loved his mother so much that as soon as he saw his mother stand on the steps leading to first floor, he jumped to hug her”
“And then?” I questioned with a sense of known excitement.
“Then his mother lost footing and rolled through the steps with him and to protect his head she placed her left hand over his head.”
“And that’s how she ended with the bent little finger on her left hand” I ended the story.
My mother hugged me again and I felt that there was no bigger happiness in this world compared to a mother’s hug.
For the first time since I had started my journey to the
United States of America,
I saw my mother’s eyes swell up with tears. My hurried marriage followed a host
of temple trips across Tamilnadu had given my mother hardly anytime to talk to
She bade me to come closer to her. “Promise me that you will take care of your wife very well. I want her to be happy always”
“I promise amma” I spoke as she placed her hands on my head, blessing me.
“Ashwik, I think I will live for only a few more years. Please finish your project and come home soon.” She spoke with a deep sense of disappointment in her voice.
“Amma..” I spoke a touch worried about the words coming from her. She had always been my pillar of strength and had always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. “Why are you speaking like that?”
“I just feel..” she let the words hang in the air. The queue length started to increase near my Cathay Pacific flight counter.
“Take care..” she spoke and hugged me.
“I love you amma”, I spoke feeling dejected as I felt I won’t be seeing her in a long time.
Sars Calling.. buzzed my I-Phone.
“I am coming baby” I spoke to the unlocked phone. I was going to remember this day for a very long time. I weaved my way through the Friday evening traffic and stepped on the accelerator to meet my darling.
I was damn lucky! It was the greatest coincidence in this world and absolutely an unbelievable one, that Sars loved me as much as my mom. Saraswati was the heart and soul of my current life. I may not liked her from the word go, but her patience, her sense of humor, her amazing culinary skills and her love and respect for all the elders in the family had made me fall head over heals in love with her. I just didn’t know if I had kept my princess happy enough.
My I-Phone buzzed again. Sars wouldn’t usually call a second time unless it was very important. “What’s up buddy?” I spoke loud and clear. She was my best buddy after all.
“Where are you?” she spoke in a concerned voice.
“Why? What happened?” I spoke a little tensed up.
“It’s nothing. Just wanted to check with you” she tried to cover up.
“Sars..” I let my voice hang in the air and I swerved my car to the right, straight into my apartment. I quickly parked my car and closed the door.
Oh crap!! I opened the door and took out the parcel that had turned my day upside down. I quickly jogged up to my apartment where Sars was standing at the door. Strange…
I quickly pulled out the card and placed in it in her palm. “Green Card!!” she spoke unexcitedly.
“What is the matter?” I sounded a little dejected not expecting such a bland reaction from her. The card was the effort of all the blood, sweat and long hours of un-tiring work and it certainly was not being appreciated.
“Come inside and I will tell you” she spoke and placed the card back on my hand.
As I stepped inside she spoke, “Amma suffered a ..” the rest of the words hit me damn hard.
I felt a deep sense of nausea and my head swirled around as dropped my precious green card. I lost my footing and fell flat on my face. AMMA!!
Too many relatives outside my home could not have stated anything more explicitly. I removed my shoes and stepped gingerly in to my home. My teary-eyed cousin came running up to me and hugged me hard.
As I moved past her, I saw Amma placed in an ice-box. Her ever-smiling face wore a sullen look. The hordes of relatives moved away to make some space for me to sit near the ice-box.
“Am..ma..” the words would not just flow out of my mouth. I took a deep look at her.
No tears.. No Pain..
I just kept staring at her, for God knows how many hours, as I could see my father and other people convince me to leave the place a little while. It had been decided that my mother would taken out of our home in the morning.
I simply sat near my mother, while the relatives, friends and family quietly moved one after the other out of our house. In-spite of Saraswati’s repeated request, I just sat there looking at my mother placed in the ice-box. Soon night set in and the lone bulb hardly providing any light gave me the only company in the room.
“Sorry amma..” I spoke as tears gushed out my eyes. “I never took care of you. I was selfish enough to pursue my dreams.. my ambitions”, I sobbed heavily.
I placed my head on top of the ice-box. “Please don’t leave me amma. I just want to be with you all the time” I pleaded with her desperately wishing that she would push the ice-box glass over and hug me.
I stared deeply into her ghostly face, “Amma, I love you so much, please don’t leave me alone in this world.” I had not even completed the sentence, when I felt an icy dagger drill right through my heart. I could feel my heart pounding while beads of sweat ran down my cheek. I clutched my chest and could feel a strong hand literally pull the soul of my chest. I tried to resist hard but I was no match to strong hand and it ripped the soul from my body.
“Amma…” was all I could shout but the words hardly pouted from my mouth. Instead I heard a scream of my co-passenger as I suddenly understood how I had landed here in the train in the first place.
“SUNANDA…” he screamed as I woke up startled from my sleep.
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