A tiny part of my mind says I've been here.
Its a thought, I think.
I walk with that heady sense of purpose with a very unusual emotion named 'determination' etched on my face. Unusual coz determination is not me. Two crease lines on my face reveal the mingled tension and feverish excitement frothing and bubbling inside the calm facade.
Today is just like any other day. Today, i walk around those desolate streets searching for that one face, that house, that small playground behind that building, that broken swing with S.T. scratched on its seat, that kulfi-waala who hypnotizes children to buy kulfis in his sing-song voice, that P.C.O. which swallowed thousands of coins in favor of shattering my dreams forever. Today, I search for all of these with just as much anticipation as I did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that and so on and so forth. Today is same in all terms. Today, my feet still want to turn back and run away from this creepy hell-hole and not look back again. Today, I still remember vividly why I left here and why its taken me such a long time to find my way back again. Today, I'm just as scared of rejection and ignorance and denial as I was when I first stepped on these grounds.
But today, I don't care as much about the fear or the creepy feeling or the past or anything which threatens to break the cords connecting me to this place. Today, I don't care whether its the last time ever or will always remain the first time of forever. Today, I'm purposeful. Today, I feel closer to destiny than I ever was in all this time. Today, therefore, is very different than all the other days. All the other days are irreplaceable, unchangeable. Today is happening and parts of it are still to happen. Today, I see hope. Today, I'm sure, is not gonna be like any other day. Today is going to be fruitful.
I no longer have to halt and think about where to go next. My feet are moving on their own accord, tracing the path which they have been taking everyday towards the same destination, leaving me free to dwell on things much more important. The deeper I go into this place, the stronger becomes the nostalgia, the guilt, the anticipation and the feeling that I'm there, at last.
The buildings and shops around me are thinning. The road starts curving upwards which leaves me to see nothing but the forget-me-not blue sky and the murky, dusty road ahead flanked by trees on both sides with nothing for company but loneliness and the dread of what's awaiting me at the very end.
I'm about to reach the very top of the road and claustrophobia is already making its way through my slowly numbing body. I realize I still have the chance to turn back and forget the horror that'll meet my eyes in just a few seconds. But I realize then that I suddenly don't have control over my feet or on any other part of myself. Try as hard as I may to stop and turn back, my feet seem to have developed a mind of their own and are still placing themselves one before the other in a synchronized way. The end has come. The upward slope ends at the very top and any time now I'll take the last mistaken step expecting a new path but will instead be greeted by a dead-end and one leg dangling in mid-air, I'll lose my balance and fall face forwards into the fierce and ultra-strong waves crushing into the stones some 100feet beneath where I'm standing. I'll let out a blood curling scream a nano-second before the fall continuing onto my bed and making me sweat all over until I realize its nothing but a dream and finally wake up. And that's how I'll greet my new morning.
But, surprise makes my mouth fall open and makes my feet take an unexpected halt. Coz instead of a dead-end, my eyes are scanning a little village far below from where I'm standing. The road I've taken is taking a downward slope leading me towards the place I've spent my whole childhood in. Greenery, pond, small houses, it hasn't changed a bit. I can see the orange flag over a white marble temple in the middle of a village soaring and dancing in tune with the wind. I see the lake at other side of the village, some ducks swimming in it, a girl sitting on one bank, splashing her legs on its cool surface and looking at the setting sun. It feels so serene. But it's just a tiny blur from where I'm standing. I have to go down there to actually see it for real, to touch it, to feel it.
Even though my instincts are shouting at me to not be foolish and turn back thinking that this could be a trap, my heart has swelled five times its size just by the sight of the village downhill. I take one tentative step [coz despite my resolve I can't help waiting for the road to dissolve into nothingness making me fall into darkness], then another, and when I'm pretty sure there's nothing to fear, I break into a swift run with anticipation shining brightly in my eyes. I realized I had left the claustrophobia and the numbness at the top of the bridge.
Finally reaching the temple, I run inside it and look into the eyes of the God whom I had abandoned just like I had abandoned my childhood, the people forming it and all the memories relating to it. I just stand there, looking at the statues of the most miraculous people in my life and feel calmness spreading through and brightening every fiber of my body. Ringing the bell of the temple, I see the birds take flight into the air and for the first time in so many years I feel light.
I reach a house at the very end of the village, its roof covered with creepers, some cows grazing in the backyard, the house has a neglected feel to it, but is still inviting. I walk towards it, memories of 16 years of childhood blurring my gaze and I find myself,forever to come, feeling euphoric.
The only question that punctures this happy moment is this wonder : Am I dreaming or is this for real?