Short Narratives

January 7, 2008

As I wrote these I did my best to keep myself to the 10 minute time limit.

One Place

My bags were loaded onto the bus and a sat next to a good friend from my hall. We were headed home for the first time since coming to college. Looming assignments and deadlines, not the weekend to come, filled my mind. I shared jokes about school. We listened to music. We napped. The long weekend was an opportunity to rest and catch up on school work. Sure it would be relaxing to go home, but I had seen my parents two weekends before.

We’re at South Station, don’t forget 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon we head back.

Smiles and hugs from my mother and father greeted me. As I expected, I was happy to be back. Navigating through Boston and driving on the highway presented me the perfect stage to tell my parents infamous college stories. I had made this drive to my house hundreds of times before. Nothing had changed.

Twenty five minutes later my father started the car’s left indicator as he turned into Carter Lane. The drive that looked so familiar for so long suddenly changed. The street where I grew up lay before me. Where I first biked. I made some of my best friends. I played as a child from dawn to dusk. I practiced driving my father’s stick-shift car. Memories of my eighteen years raced as our car calmly pulled into our driveway. On the drive from school to the bus station, my contentment to come home was incidental. As I walked into my house, which I had not been in nearly two months, it became overwhelming. The dimly lit family room. The smell of South Indian cuisine. The methodically organized pantry.

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

For some things, you don’t know what you have until you get it back.

World Beyond Me

My father, mother, sister and our guide stood at the designated viewpoint, 10,000 feet above sea level. I wandered a few hundred feet from them, to catch a glimpse of the incredible Himalayan Mountain Range. All that the eye could meet were mountains. The sun reflected a red hue off the near mountains, as the snow capped peaks prevailed in the distance. I would describe the smell if I had any reference point, but I had never smelled anything so pure or clean.

But mummy, I think we should do this trip another time. I would’ve just graduated a week before. People will be having graduation parties and it’s a time to spend time with friends who I may not see for a while.

I reflected on the plea I gave my mother six months before as she began planning our trip. I didn’t want to go. The days after graduating high school ought to be spent at graduation parties and with friends. Trips like these demanded a mental and physical commitment. Hiking with poor nutrition for two weeks was no easy feat. As I said, I had no interest.

But since I was there at that moment, I thought I would make the most of it. The Himalayan Mountain range is the biggest in the world. I literally stood on top of the world. But I had never felt more humbled. I stood in the midst of mammoth structures of nature that surrounded me for thousands of miles. At that moment I realized, neither my high school diploma nor admission to college meant nothing. Any accomplishment paled in comparison to nature’s prowess. Whatever force created this incredible range is what has graced this human race with a place to live and grow. At this moment, it struck me that nature isn’t simply a problem to be taken care. But rather I and all other humans are living in the world of nature.

With A Group

Go play with them, Abhishek! It’ll be fun.
No ammamma, I don’t want to. I don’t know them.
I’ll introduce you, don’t worry.

My three-month stay in India as a seven year old was a unique experience. But with this, it created a problem for my mother. What could she occupy me with? My sister and I could only play so many games of American board games and watch so much Cartoon Network before engaging in sibling warfare. On my grandmother’s street there was a park where at 4:30 every afternoon, a group of boys ranging from ten to twenty years gathered to play cricket and sometimes soccer. My grandmother and my mom determined it would be best for me to meet these kids and spend my afternoons with them.

My grandmother brought me to the park and introduced me. I felt like hiding behind her as I had come with squeaky-clean white Nike sneakers while most of the kids were in tattered flip-flops or no shoes at all. I am Indian and was born in India. But I grew up in America. How would this group treat me because of this difference? These thoughts raced through mind, and before I knew it my grandmother was hugging me goodbye and the next thing I saw was a semi-circle of strangers.

The next few minutes felt longer than the next three months. But I slowly became comfortable with the group, who from the start greeted me with open arms. Months passed and it was time for us to come home. But it hit the mind of an innocent seven year old: where is home? As waved goodbye, I finally understood that the group that stood before me treated me as another brother. The genuine spirit of a group can make anyone feel at home.

Being Alone

Business Executive jabbering on his Blackberry, donned in a three-piece suit, fancier than the one I wore to prom. Commuting college student studying for perhaps is a pivotal midterm exam with jeans and a hooded-sweatshirt. Homeless man muttering to himself in the corner with white hair and a beard, with a worn-out plaid shirt and ripped jeans. The sights and sounds of a subway train. I found myself riding in one during a winter break in my 10th grade year.

Twenty-five minutes outside Boston, my family uses the public transportation system often. Let’s go to the Fourth of July fireworks! We would park at the Wellington Station, and then take the subway into Boston. How about a nice Italian dinner? Wellington to the Red Line to Harvard Square. Let’s show our guests Boston? We followed the same pattern.

As I sat on the train, there was no we. For the first time I rode the subway by myself. After all, there is no subway service offered in Andover, Massachusetts. So as outlandish as it sounds for this to be a lonely experience, it was this suburbanite’s first time taking the subway into Boston in order to see a friend. It was 11 am, and thus there was no imminent threat of kidnapping, mugging, murder that my mother incessantly warned me about, and for which she equipped me with a cell phone.

But I was still scared. For what reason? The business executive was probably not going to pull a knife out and demand my money. Neither was the mother or the three baby triplets sitting next to me. Being alone can be one of the most compelling of fears, especially being alone in unusual circumstances. It wasn’t that I was literally alone on the train, because it was full. Absence of familiarity breeds the illusion of loneliness, not a lack of people. The experience taught me that it’s natural to feel the initial fear of being alone, even in the safest situations…even on a subway train on a Wednesday morning.

One Person

It was only three days ago. Flo Meiler visited Middlebury’s track practice in preparation for an upcoming meet. The pole vault is an event that requires participants to run full speed, plant their poles and invert upside down.

Flo does it at seventy-plus years of age. At world record heights.

Greatness does not come frequently, but those who are around it are blessed to be in its presence. Greatness takes the form of a five-foot women whose age manifests itself in appearance but not in spirit. Withering hair. Wrinkled skin. Cannot stop Flo’s thrilling personality. Her humble laugh seasoned through grand accomplishments lit up our practice. Her laugh is unique. The type of laugh that makes you feel like you are the only person she is talking to at that time.

Humility can often be elusive for the accomplished, but accomplishments are not so difficult to find for the humble. Flo embodies this ideal and it is evident in everything she does. For the two hours I spent with her, I saw the purest of passion, innocence and simply put, greatness of a woman. To see anyone in the stratosphere of Flo is to be honored.


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