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Short Story #2: Before My Time

“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” ― Oprah Winfrey

“Let’s clean the car today”, I said to the army of my cranial nerves.

There I was, outside the premises of my house, with one wet and one dry cloth in hand, each of which was diligently taking it’s turns to burnish the bright maroon surface, under the cozy sun of a winter forenoon. My mind was happy, I could tell. I was feeling content with what I have in my life.

And like it wasn’t enough for the mushy heart, in the distance, I heard mellow tone of a child’s voice. My hands paused their mechanical task and my head turned to swoon over the boy’s delightful presence.

I saw a boy probably 7 years old, in not-so-rare combination of clean yet unkempt uniform, comfortably sitting on the top tube of a cycle being rode by a decent man in his forties, who was apparently his father. The man was engrossed in the child’s narrative, who was unfolding new characters with his every breath. The boy’s uniform was telling volumes about his mother’s efforts who probably woke up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare his little boy’s lunch and made sure he wore a spotless, well ironed white shirt to school. And the boy must have been a free bird in school, creasing his shirt at every tiny opportunity he got.

In a matter of a few seconds, they were gone. I found myself smiling as my heart was saying goodbye to the two known companions. A man with his kid on a bicycle untroubled in this troubling world. I didn’t want to clean the car anymore. I didn’t want to have the car anymore. I wanted to have a bicycle. I wanted everyone to have bicycles.

“Just like the old days”, I thought to myself.

But wait. I was born in 1994. Long after a Bajaj or a Priya scooter would grace every house’s veranda and owning an Ambassador or a Fiat would be a pass to the elite club. I never saw my father, or his father ride a bicycle. Why was I feeling as if I have lost something? I never had it in the first place! How could I sense familiarity in something I have never known? And then I remembered.

My mother!

My mother has lived, no not lived, ‘cherished’ those old days. Where everyone had a cycle. Where in the name of technology, there was a fat black telephone. (That too, if you belonged to the affluent class). Where all the ladies of the neighborhood believed that they were all a part of an extended family. Where all the children dutifully arrived at the colony playground as soon as the sun went down. Where postmaster was eagerly awaited by every living soul. Where there was an essence in life.

Whenever my mother describes her childhood, I find myself drifting to the land I have never actually visited. She sketches out each event with such detail, as if slyly passing me a ticket to embark on a journey, that I could never be a part of. And I have visited with her, each house she has lived in, each school she was enrolled to and I have met her friends, her teachers with funny names and my grandparents in their young adulthood.

And today, seeing that child on a bicycle with his father, gave a fresh fragrance to the memories of those places that I have visited before my time. The days that were awarded to me by my mother. The Olden days. The Golden Days.

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About The Author Swati likes to observe things and tries to evince their essence on paper. Torn between what is and what was, she tries to weave nostalgia into ordinary everyday life.

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