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I: The Nightmare I Always Wished For
I had fallen asleep thinking about her. This, in itself, was nothing new. What was new, was that she wasn’t there when I reached Nayvair (the place I go to when everybody thinks I’m REM sleeping).
In fact, I stood in totally unfamiliar surroundings, something which hadn’t happened till date. I tried to wake up, and couldn’t. Also unprecedented.
Trying to control my rising panic, I looked around. I was on a rocky terrain, something like the Grand Canyon, leveled. A vast bed of rock with surprisingly little unevenness, sloping slightly up towards a buttress, seemingly small, in the distance. The sky was overcast with thunder clouds.
I felt inexorably drawn towards the hillock, and in no time, I was there.
It was no hillock. A giant sculpture of a Rishi in padmasana, exquisitely carved out of the red granite and looking very life-like. I wondered how I could have thought it to be small. Its eyes seemed to be looking directly at me.
“Three wishes.” A roaring voice in my mind.
“Who are you?” I shouted aloud, still looking at the eyes, which now seemed to be glinting with malicious intelligence. “And where am I?”
“Yes, it is I. Don’t ask questions. Time is running out. Three wishes.” The thunderous voice again.
“Why me? Why three wishes? And why is she not here?”
“You wish to know?” Had I imagined those huge eyebrows arching?
“Ye…no, leave it. Any three wishes?”
“Any three.” No, the cruel smile certainly wasn’t there on those stone lips a moment ago.
“Very well. I wish that she breaks up with her boyfriend.” Was this really me speaking?
“She chooses me to be her confidante, the shoulder for her to cry on.” Was I this depraved? I could only pray for my soul as my dream self blurted out my darkest desires.
“I’ll keep the third wish for when the first two come true. Is that allowed?”
“That is allowed. Your will be done.” There was a sarcastic note to the booming voice which matched the twisted smile and cold, cruel look on that stone face. I stared at it while the thunderstorm broke down with its fury and I was engulfed by a maelstrom of darkness.
II: A Dream Come True
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry
When I woke up to someone ringing the bell at the door, I had forgotten all about the dream. So, it was with genuine pleasure unadulterated with guilt that I opened the door and welcomed her inside.
“Wow! Today’s sure going to be a great day. First day in decades that the first face I get to see on waking isn’t mine.” I grinned at her.
She gave me a faint smile and then collapsed into a sofa in the living room of our bungalow. “Would you do me a favour?”
Insensitive as I was to other people’s feelings, I knew something was definitely not right.
“Anything for you, dear. Want some cake?” Cake? Ouch. Someone has to brush up on his conversational skills here.
“Nah, thanks, though. Look, this is a pretty big favour I’m asking and I’ll understand…I mean, it’s perfectly okay if you say no.” The way she fidgeted with her kerchief while she talked, screamed that it wasn’t perfectly okay.
“Just say it, will you?” I was a bit concerned.
“Could…could you, please, tell mamma, if she asks you, that I had gone with you to the theatre yesterday night?” She was almost begging. “You know, I had gone with him to the disco, and I don’t want mamma to know that.”
I was shocked, to say the least. Call me conservative, prudish, old-fashioned, call me what you will, from far away if you are clever, but I was never the discothèque-bar-night-long-party type. Neither was she.
She correctly interpreted my look, shifted her eyes to her toes, and said, “Forget I said that. I never should’ve asked you in the first place. You couldn’t carry off a lie to save your life.” She gave a nervous laugh and rose to leave. God, she sounded so beautiful even this close to a breakdown.
I masked my expressions in a blink, jumped to her and sat her down again. “Why don’t you try me out? I can be very persuasive, you know.” I tried to squeeze out some humour from the situation. “I never believed you could be dragged down to the level of discs, even by him, you know.” Mock horror on my face. An unreadable look in hers, as she locks her eyes unto mine.
She’s got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
As she locks her eyes unto mine, I know that my humour certainly didn’t have the desired effect. She had almost reached breaking point.
I knelt down before her. “Just give me the details I need to know to sound real, what time we went, what we did, what we drank, etcetera.” It sounded so unfunny. “Forget what I asked. I don’t need to know about yesterday.
Effect, once again, the opposite of that intended. She broke down completely, tears washing her angelic face as she dissolved into sobs.
I was shaken. I had never known her lose control over her emotions, even when extremely annoyed. Just a few well-spoken words to convey her anger, then comforting the guilty party (yours faithfully in the case stated) with caring words. That was about it. And get it, I wasn’t even, like, her third best friend, just a bit closer than an acquaintance, maybe; which made this outburst even more frightening to me.
“We…we broke up, A. He told me he’d had enough of me. After all this time…enough of me, exact words he said…”
I looked into her dark blue eyes, seeking to find words to comfort her, instead was met by a maelstrom…
III: Day Dreamer
The rough terrain looked even more rugged now. Forks of lightning touched the majestic landscape in celestial salutes, followed by crashing thunder which melded into a venomous laughter all around me.
“Isn’t that what you wished for?” The voice in my head again. Of the stone-hearted Rishi meditating before me. Rishi, or a demon in his guise?
“The demons are within your head. How I appear to you is just a cognitive reflection of what you are.”
“I never wanted this, really, I didn’t want her to get hurt.” I pleaded.
“Well, you have already thought out the remedy too, isn’t it? You have a third wish. Wish that you become the man of her dreams and she lives happily ever after, with you. Go on. You are a natural performer, playing your part with absolute command.What are you afraid of?”
“We won’t know until you wished for it, will we?”
“I…I don’t know. I need some time. Will I have some time?”
“You have all the time in the world, Dreamer. But she hasn’t. Decide what you want quickly.”
“A little time, please…” The world became a haze in the storm.
IV: The Third Wish
“…And he said that I was the worst mistake he had ever made in his life. Can you believe that, A? After all we went through together? Hell, I had gone to the disc, lying to my parents about it. I’ve never, ever lied to mamma or pops before, A. Never ever. All because I refused to drink. How ever did I deserve this?” She seemed so tired.
I tentatively touched her hands. She was still looking into my eyes, searching for an answer that wasn’t supposed to be there. This was my moment. She was looking at me as the support she needed at that moment. She would take whatever I said very seriously. I could damage the thin string that still held their relationship together.
“You, of all people, didn’t deserve this, dear.” There. I had started the process.
“But maybe you should give him just one more chance. Just one chance, to let him explain away all that happened. We guys you know, are all very headstrong, fighting for all the wrong reasons, hardly knowing what we want, ignoring or destroying what should be most precious to us in a moment of impulsiveness. But we aren’t that bad on the whole, you know.” WHAT?
“He hasn’t even called me yet, after that. I hate him. He doesn’t even care about me, you know. Why should I give him another chance, if he should call?” A tiny bit of hope shined through her feigned vehemence. What would I have not given to have her love me that much?
I stood up, went over to the larger sofa where my guitar lay, picked it up and sat down, and started strumming a chord. Dmajor, in a down-downup-updown pattern, repeated twice. “Maybe he’s too ashamed too call you up. I certainly would have been if I made such an ass of myself. Wait for him to pick up his courage.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. Cadd9, down-downup-updown. Repeat twice. I was actually defending him. “I’d give anything not to be in his place when he calls you next.”
A smile had appeared on her face, the first rays of the sun breaking through a dark sky, the first breeze of spring wind dislodging snow from the dead trees. Gmajor, down-downup-updown, repeat twice. I could see that she was desperately trying to believe my words. Good. As the Rishi had said, I was a natural performer. Now for the master touch. The third wish. Back to Dmajor, down-updown-downup. Repeat twice.
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder and the rain
To quietly pass me by
I was back to the stormy world of my nightmare. Only it wasn’t so dark anymore.
“Your third wish?”
“Let everything be as it was between them before I made those stupid wishes. Let him call her up and apologize. Let her forgive him.” I said, trying hard to keep my voice stable and neutral.
“Are you sure? Can you bear to let her go away from you after coming this close? Because even if you do, they may not live happily ever after, you know. Human relations are the things that depend least on divine intervention, I’ve found. Your absurd heroics might be to no avail.” The voice defined cynical.
“One, no I am not sure. Two, but I have much more essential work than to ache my knees playing agony aunt to every silly little girl I know. Three, since she never was mine, the question of letting go does not arise. Four, a hero is, by definition, an idiot with no better work to do than to resolve other’s problems. I am just cleaning up the mess that I have made. Call it self-interest. Five, I don’t like the way your voice rumbles inside my head. So just do what I say and be gone from my dreams, haunt my nightmares no longer.” The last part with an elaborate flourish of my hand.
“Fine. It shall be as you wish for.” A belly laughter this time, so infectiously merry that I had to join in. The skies had cleared. The sculpture’s face now held a serene smile, and a contented far away gaze.
“You know, maybe you’re not as bad as you think you are. Just like the rest, you’re certainly not the worst, though you’re not the best.”
I managed to look scandalized. “How dare you? I’m the best human being you’re ever likely to meet, you virtual piece of stone. And don’t misquote Floyd at me, that’s blasphemy. Just do your thing and go. I have a world, or two, to save.”
“Sure.” Booming laughter. “Your will be done.”
She’s got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
“Please. Twinkle twinkle little star? How could you?” I exclaimed, as her cell rang.
She blushed and threw a cushion at me. Then breaking into a broad grin, she whispered excitedly, “It’s him!”
“Of course it’s him. Just go ahead and pick up the phone. This ringtone is hurting my sensitivities.” I feigned indifference and expertly deflected the second cushion. “Oh, and get out of the house before you do so. I’ve had enough of your whining for today.” The third cushion hit me square on the face, followed in quick succession by the last.
She raced out of the house before I could even get up from the sofa. “Don’t forget what you are to tell mamma.” She yelled back at me as she ran away, the sun’s rays defying all known laws of nature to shine on her alone, darkening everything else around.
“I won’t.” I whispered.
1. To Guns N’ Roses aficionados, don’t look at me like that, please. It makes me feel so guilty. I know the verses aren’t in order, but I had to put them where they fit. Very, very sorry.
2. To guitarists, hey, give me some credit, I figured out those chords for myself. I know they are not accurate, but they sound good enough. To me. So scamper off before I set your tails on fire.
“Immortality, really! What a dreary thing to wish for!” I exclaimed.
“Oh? And what exactly would you wish for, were you granted that one wish?” P. asked, startling me.
No, it wasn’t actually the blinding brilliance of the question that startled me. It was just that I hadn’t heard her come into the room.
See, I have this rather exquisitely furnished room all to me at The Palace1.There are two guards stationed at the ends of the long corridor leading out from the room to the Winding Ways2 of The Palace. They announce nearly every visitor so that I get about five and a half minutes to prepare for whatever creature, or object was headed my way. I have a congenital dislike for nasty surprises before breakfast.
P., of course, had to be the exception.
“You know, just in case the beautifully designed brass knockers on my door are too heavy for you, you have been granted the gift of ten fingers with knuckles on them.” I grumbled.
“What’s your point?” P. asked.
“By an unfortunate series of totally unrelated and co-incidental events for which nobody can be held guilty, you know my point.” She had merited this tetchiness.
“Why let the minor problem, that I can read your mind, come in the way of a civilized conversation between us? Okay, I’ll knock before entering your room the next time. Happy now?” P. smiled.
“Yeah. Am positively struggling to stop my reservoir of mirth from brimming over. Isn’t this the seven hundred and thirty-fifth time you’ve promised me that?” I queried.
“Stop being such a baby and tell me what you would wish for.” Persistence, as always, the hallmark of greatness. And of P.
I had been reading the Ramayana, once again, you see. And I had just reached that part where Ravana asks Brahma for the boon of immortality, and is refused. This, somehow, had given me a brilliant idea. Which, like most of my brilliant ideas, was fundamentally flawed.
“Flawed? How?” P. once again invading my privacy. This time it was my mind, though. Far more intimate than my room.
“Stop that!” I burst out angrily.
P.’s smile evaporated rapidly and a film of tears formed over her eyes as she turned away, hurt, to leave my room. Damn. People couldn’t even afford to be angry nowadays if their privacy was encroached upon.
I leapt out of bed, and with another bound blocked her way. “Hey, don’t you dare to leave me crying. Both meanings intended.”
“What meanings?” She stopped.
“Figure them out for yourself. As I was saying, I have discovered, or rather invented, the most wonderful wish one could wish to wish for.”
“What…oh, right. What’s the wish?”
“Who’s the mind reader here?
I watched as P.’s hurt look slowly changed into a frown, then confusion, and then gave way to an expression of utter bewilderment. “Why don’t I know?” She asked, clearly surprised, and a bit frightened too, I could see.
“Don’t worry, it’s a little trick I figured out to protect my thoughts. Just checking if the theory could be put to practical use. Will explain it to you once I fully grasp it.” I said, trying to hide my ecstasy.
“Okay.” She was only slightly reassured. “The flaw?” She had, by now, stopped crying. Who says I’m not a PR egghead?
“Nobody to grant the wish, obviously.”
“Not even the Believer?” The smile had returned to her face.
“Nopes. This is a classic O-mighty-deity-grant-your-puny-devotee-a-boon scenario. The minimum apparatus required is a Santa Claus.”
“The problem with that is?”
“The problem with that is that dear ol’ Santa doesn’t exist.” I explained patiently.
“Says who?” P. arched her eyebrows.
“Says me and millions of other people, who, through the ages, have painstakingly gathered enough evidence not to believe…wait a moment…believe? Is that what you’re saying? I’ve got to make-believe3 a real Santa?” The penny dropped.
“Nah, wasn’t thinking of that. An interesting idea, though.” P. seemed thoughtful. The penny, which had recently dropped, leaped up, retracing its trajectory through my cognitive spaces in the reverse direction, and disappeared. And in a phenomenon which will continue to haunt the nightmares of physicists for the next millennium, the amount of entropy created by the fall of the penny, was restored as its potential energy.
“You mean you haven’t yet met the Saint of Clauses? Great, because today is his feast day, and the entire Hall4 will be at his residence. Come with me. He’ll surely grant the Believer’s one wish.” P. gave a bright smile.
Wow, I thought. If this works out, I’ll have the ultimate weapon that one could wish for.
As P. had unknowingly, but correctly stated, ‘The One Wish’.
The One Wish To Wish Them All.
1I am NOT calling it ‘The Palace’ without a reason. It was ‘The Palace’. You’ve got to hear about it from me one day. Remind me if I get a day off from saving the world.
2Same as above. ‘The Palace’ to be replaced by ‘Winding Ways’.
3For the uninitiated, ‘make-believe’ is a technical term indicating a P2C2E Grade 3 involving the creation of an object, organism, phenomenon, or internal/external effect by believing in it, and is the forte of the Believers. The placebo effect is a classic example.
4The Hall is the administrative organ, the second tier of the three tier system of Nayvair government. The Tower (legislature) and the Dungeon (judiciary) being the first and the third tiers, respectively.