16 January, 2020
Story by Anannya Shetty has won the best story award in 999 Not Out – a story writing competition organized by IGenPlus.
I collapsed on the creaky bed my grandparents had set up in the attic with an exhausted sigh. I was mad at the world and it did not help that my parents had forced me to come on this trip to our remote native village. I was stuck in a place without any wi-fi and restricted contact with my friends! Being a teenager, even if I was made to do something I detested, showing rebellion wasn’t an option. Even if I did, I had better look sorry, listen to the whole sermon, apologize and then quietly go to my room and god forbid the door closed a bit louder than expected, I might as well sit down and await hell. I know that sounds dramatic but welcome to an Indian teenager’s life. So there I was in the attic wallowing in my exaggerated misery and hating the world around me. I must have slept off doing just that. Somewhere in the middle of the night a loud sound that I wasn’t able to place must have been the reason I woke up. It was still dark. I saw my father going towards the paddy fields. The air was dry and the sky, cloudless. I got up to go towards him.
Letting curiosity get the better of my fear I continued my pursuit. I didn’t know what to expect really and this was beginning to feel stupid. So I decided to call out to my father. “Dad?” I said not knowing what reaction to anticipate. He turned around and for a second it looked like he was going to yell at me for being out of bed. But his expression changed suddenly and his face broke into a smile. “Come jaan” he said, “If you’re up you might as well accompany me.” “Where are we going?” I asked the curious side of me had a million questions, but something about that smile that my father gave as an answer and the serenity around us told me to just keep quiet and see where it led. So I did, and it led me to one of the most memorable nights of my life. After a while of walking through the fields we reached some sort of watch post. It had a raised wooden platform with the skeletal structure of a hut without a roof or walls. We climbed a few rungs on a makeshift ladder and sat with our backs against some bales of hay stacked there. We didn’t talk for a long time, lost in the moment. I stared at the night sky speckled with stars and the sky stared back at me in all its vastness like an open book waiting to be read. It was better than any graphic image that I had ever seen, the perfect midnight velvet. I remembered the imitation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night hanging in our school hallway and wondered if it was a night like this that had inspired him. The sky above was a fascinating mystery, unknown and beautiful. The stars seemed to be strung by some invisible string. The patches of faint and bold light more mesmerizing than words could say. It conveyed beauty, fragility and strength at the same time. It felt like the sky was talking to me in whispers about the mysteries of many bygone eons, talking in whispers that ears couldn’t hear. Lost in the world above me I forgot everything. The fact that I was upset about a lot of things was simply pushed out of my mind…..forgotten. The glistening blanket above was just a glimpse of the universe beyond. I was snapped out of my reverie when my father spoke again. I could see that he had a fair idea of what was going on in my head right now. Something told me that he had had similar moments in his childhood, when the world suddenly came into a new perspective.
My father looked at me with a knowing smile. “The sky has had its effect on you hasn’t it?” he asked me his eyes lit up with memories from days of yore. “I always used to come here as a boy in the nights. Your grandfather never knew this, but your grandmother, she knew alright. She was quite a sport about it too” he said with a laugh. “As a small child this was my secret hideout, a place I could pretend to be whatever I fancied without any of my siblings taunting me. As I grew up, it became my getaway from the world. A place to come to when I wanted to be at peace with myself, to be one with nature” he said, his voice forming a mental image forming in my head. “I know your mother isn’t always the easiest on you, but she loves you darling. But the problem is that while your mother will still hug you at the end of the day, life isn’t always going to do the same. So you’re going to have to remember what a wonderful thing family is even when the people might not always be the way you want them to be. You have to remind yourself that holding grudges is a perfect waste of happiness. Laugh when you can, apologize when you should and let go of what you can’t change.” His familiar voice hit home. Normally like any other teenager I would have rolled my eyes at this and wished I could walk away, but here, under the stars, it meant something different and I took it to heart. We walked back to the house together later that night and as I slipped back into bed I locked away the memories of that night in my mind. I slept like a log, more content than I had been in a long time and ready to wake up as the new me