Living or just shovelling through?

Fiction Apr 16, 2020

I once had this dream. It was a chilly afternoon in the season of fall. I was in a cemetery, all by myself, sitting on a bench, holding a bunch of mark sheets that clearly showed I wasn’t meant for engineering. I got up and started walking back home, almost as if I was forcefully dragging my lost and hopeless self. While making my way to the gates of the cemetery, I started wandering from grave to grave, reading epitaphs on tombstones. One that really stuck with me was “Here lies the body of a tramp who gave up on a lavish lifestyle and lead an absolutely non-material life.” And among the other graves, there was another one I somehow couldn’t forget about. The intriguing thing about it was unlike all other graves, this particular one seemed like there was no maintenance ever done on it, no flowers, nothing. Just an abandoned old grave.

Anyway, as I wondered who put it there, I moved on to read the name on the tombstone when out of nowhere, an old lady, whose face I couldn’t see for some reason, came up to me and asked me to help her pick some flowers up which she seemed to have dropped. So I helped her out to which she kept her hand over my head and said “God bless you, beta.” I suddenly felt nauseous after that encounter with the old lady, kind of like there were butterflies as well as hurricanes in my belly. So I went back to the bench in order to bring myself to my senses before leaving for home. And in all that chaos, I forgot that I was yet to read the name.

I sat there on the bench under the cherry blossom tree, contemplating about how wasteful my life was and how I was unwillingly entangled in the strings created by society; about how I could turn my life around if I could just give up on everyone and everything around me and leave just like the tramp might’ve done. But I wasn’t brave enough.

While I was deep into my thoughts, my phone rang to my mom calling me to ask me where I was, which made me realize that I was supposed to head back home. And that in turn made me realize that I’d forgotten to read the name on that tombstone. So I walked up to it and as I reached there, as I looked at the name, I went weak at the knees and my heart started racing. Everything that I’d witnessed from the time I’d entered the cemetery started flashing at the back of my head as I constantly kept rubbing my eyes in shock. The tombstone had my name on it. I looked around and realized not just that tombstone, but every tombstone in that cemetery had my name on it. It was a yard full of different endings to my life. And amidst the traffic of chaotically deranged thoughts in my mind at that moment, one thought suddenly popped out as the voice of that old lady faintly saying “beta” kept playing repeatedly inside my head. The thought that the old lady was my mother. And just with that one thought, it all started to make sense. Why I got nauseous, why I couldn’t see her face, what she was doing in a cemetery where all the graves were mine, every question started answering itself.

As my thoughts started getting heavy on me, started voicing themselves loudly inside my head, the voice of that old lady saying “beta” repeatedly started getting more and more perceptible. I open my eyes and see my mom trying to wake me up, calling me “beta” repeatedly, and telling me that I had an exam to appear for.

Ever since, I have had a weird hiraeth for cemeteries because of the dream I’m homesick for but cannot revisit. Ever since, every time before making an important life-decision, there is a voice that always pops up in my mind which asks me “Will this choice lead you to the abandoned grave?”

-Tanuj Mehta

Writing Competition 2020

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