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CALL ME SARAH

CALL ME SARAH

18 mins 18.6K 18 mins 18.6K

It was a dark and stormy night…”

Sarah paused and stared blankly at the laptop screen. These 7 innocent words stared right back at her. She tried hard to think of ways to begin the story more interestingly, this time by avoiding any cliches.

After all, her story would be an entry in a corporate-wide contest. Expecting to win an award might well be far-fetched; but she would really like her story to be read by hundreds, if not thousands. And all she ever wanted is to tell one story that is hundred percent original; neither copied, nor inspired. Therefore obviously she cannot afford her story to have even the slightest trace of cliches.

To Sarah’s dismay, not a single original thought occurred even in the next 30 minutes or so. She sighed and looked out of her apartment window. It was really a dark and slightly stormy night. Cool breezes and intermittent lightening across the northern sky did promise a drizzle. And a brief downpour would appear even more climactic. Sarah did not feel perturbed at all at the thought of it. She was all alone in her apartment. But she was not planning to step outside any sooner and nor expecting anyone to come meet her that night. A hot cheesy pizza would be just a phone call and 30 minutes away. That and a hot cup of ginger tea would be all that she would probably need. It might just do OK; though not in the close vicinity of the comfort of her mother’s delicious alu-paratha with raita. But where was she going with the story? She thought about how her grandfather used to help her in school homework. How bad she missed it in days like this! But it was more than a decade ago. She was 21 now for God’s sake and must act like one!

Now Sarah was at her laptop keyboard again when something made her pause, yet again. Sound of a soft thud at her door. Was it really a knock or sizeable rain drops had already started to patter down the rooftop? If it was really a knock, she wondered who would pay her a visit at such an unearthly hour. She remembered how her father used to have this strange thinking: “People from the family knock at your door; strangers use the doorbell.” You see, our Sarah had a really bad case of drifting away on vague thoughts too often like this. Just then there was that sound again. This convinced her to hurry up to the door to answer the knock with a sense of faint anticipation.

Sarah opened the door half-way to find a stranger. There stood a somewhat older looking lady clad in a silver-white robe, with the right hand half-raised and half-clenched as if about to try another knock at the door. Sarah looked closely. The stranger appeared oddly familiar to her. She stood there with a half-smile as if frozen timelessly in frame. But Sarah did not find any other sign to connect to her stranger. After a split second of awkwardness, the stranger eventually enquired if she was talking to the right Sarah which she was! She softly asked Sarah if she could come in for a just few minutes. In her voice, there was a certain sense of reassurance that made Sarah feel somewhat mesmerised and she could say no. The stranger quietly followed Sarah into her guest hall.

Once inside the well-lit hall, Sarah gave another second glance at her unexpected stranger of the night. She appeared neatly & decently dressed, but not in an exuberant way. She had this beautiful fragrance of a strange scent that Sarah could not place anywhere. All this and her gestures made Sarah vaguely remind of someone she used to know once very closely but had become out of touch lately. Like a distant aunt or a close friend’s mother. But again Sarah did not have anything worth a second guess at recognizing.

Now feeling comfortable inside the apartment, the old lady started some casual chat about seemingly random stuffs like the stormy night, internal decor of Sarah’s apartment and so on. Sarah pleasingly entertained her incessant queries. But somewhere deep in her heart, Sarah could feel a sense of purpose in the lady’s words. Even though the stranger had not yet provided a self-introduction, somehow she did not seem to be just any random stranger taking shelter during this storm and just making idle chat to pass the time. Sarah felt it would be rude to ask her who she was straightaway as she felt unsure herself if she really turned out to be one aunt. That would be such an embarrassment!

“So… Sarah, can I ask you one question? I’m hoping you do not find me intrusive.” The lady continued the conversation with a smile. It was already almost one hour since they first met and the initial awkwardness was over by now.

“Yes of course!” replied Sarah hoping it might take her mind momentarily away from the frustration of failure at the story writing.

“OK, all right! Hope you do give me your honest answer. Otherwise I would recognize it in an instant! The lady spoke with a wink.

Sarah just smiled and nodded affirmatively in response. “Things are perhaps about to get interesting.” She murmured to herself.

“Let’s play a game; something akin to a Q & A, but not quite. Let’s assume you woke up a fine morning and suddenly found you had been blessed with a super power. The super power is that you could go back to your past for a very brief period of time. What would you do then?” The lady asked.

Sarah laughed aloud and shot back, “OK, that’s like the dumbest question this evening. Sorry, my apologies to you. But don’t you see the pointlessness in that? What would I do? I can think of a thousand things right away. For example, I could go back to the day before my school board examinations started and tell myself about all the questions that would be coming up the very next day. Why even think that far? Just in the yesterday evening, I walked past one ice-cream parlour in the neighbourhood and left there after debating much whether or not to have that new flavor of chocolate ice-cream. Now I would love to go back and just buy that one without a second thought! My evening yesterday would have felt so perfect with that one.”

The lady listened to this sudden outburst patiently and then smiled drily. Sarah could now notice a tinge of sadness and longing in her eyes for the first time that night. Sarah started to dread whether her unchecked words had touched a raw nerve in her or triggered an avalanche of suppressed memory. She suddenly felt remorseful for something she did not quite fathom.

“Sarah my dear, I fully understand what you mean. Probably my question was not clear and you assumed it to be frivolous. Let me rephrase it in another way.” The lady spoke a bit sombrely this time and paused. “What is life ever gave you a chance to go back and correct just one mistake? What is that one mistake that cost you a lot in life and changed things forever? Then what would it be and how would you correct it?”

A sudden silence engulfed the house and all that Sarah could hear now was the sound of soft patter of raindrops across the window-pane. Thunderstorm of the night had given way to rain finally. This triggered something within her heart. It seemed as if a perfect cue to break open the floodgates of the suppressed memories of some past tragedy; buried deep within heart, but not forgotten yet. She stared at the lady for quite some time and started slowly in a somewhat shaken voice.

“I am not sure whether I should be telling you this or why. But something tells me that I must. May be it will be therapeutic to me at least. Who knows! It happened one day when I was just about to turn 17 years old. I had this huge unfortunate fight with my loving mother. It was about choosing the university where I would go pursue my graduation studies. My mother was suggesting me to study somewhere not very far from home, whereas I had set my eyes on somewhere else already. Slow arguments soon snow-balled into flying tempers. I lost my cool and rebuked her for having retrograde thinking. In a fury I went on to even say that I could no longer trust her with my life’s decisions. My mother who had been steadfastly countering all my arguments till that time, suddenly felt silent with my very last accusation. She left speechless looking devastated…

… For days, she did not have any words for me. At first I had thought that she was giving me this silent treatment just to get even with me and to make me change my mind. The day finally came when I was ready to leave my home and join this university of my choice. The night before that I had surreptitiously seen my mother shedding tears silently. She even helped me pack my luggage as I was always such a bad packer! I left home seeing my mother look normal, but something seemed to bug me forever. I felt like I had broken something within her permanently….something delicate like glass, which one may piece together using glue, but never be able to erase the fractured lines. Nothing was same after that, even if both my mother and I pretended to.”

Sarah paused to take a long breath and looked downwards. This long monologue was a bit unnerving for her. For years, she had wondered a lot what went wrong between her mother and her and what created that void chasm between them. She had spent sleepless nights thinking and re-thinking what could have possibly go wrong and what could have been different.

The lady, who had been listening to all this patiently, broke her silence. “So you now do realize that what your mother argued with you that day was because of her unconditional love for you and not because of her retrograde thinking. She was just feeling protective just as she had felt the hour you were born as a baby totally helpless. Anyway, so what do you think you would have done...if you happened to re-visit that day?” She asked.

Sarah hesitated for a moment and then looked up to reply. “If it were possible, I would just do one thing. I would face my mother; look into her eyes and say sorry. I would say that, “Sorry, forgive me for what I have just said. You know I did not mean any of it. Of course I trust you. I have trusted you with my life and everything in it the day I was born and in every moment afterwards. I would just say that much. God knows how much I would like to do that. I would happily bargain anything, just about everything that I have now to get back that moment.”

The lady looked at her and smiled. She put her hands inside the small bag that she was carrying and took out on small writing pad. Then she tore out a blank page from it and handed to Sarah and told, “Sarah, my dear. Do a favour to me please. Why don’t you just write that down in this paper? The same words that you have been dying to tell your mother for years.” The lady spoke as if this act carried some personal meaning to her!

Sarah looked bemused. Why should she trust this lady whom she had met barely hours ago? She fiddled with the pen and blank piece of paper and hesitated.

The lady smiled and replied with a wink, “Just trust me on this one, will you? You can think of this as a new therapy session. You generation is already too fond of so called therapy sessions, to get rid of negative energy, to de-stress and so on. And mind one thing. You need write a message not more than 5 words.”

Sarah wondered at this idiosyncrasy, but chose not to question. It might just be another ritual of the so-called session! Anyway, she thought for a while and wrote on the paper and handed over to the lady. The words said:

“SORRY MOTHER. I TRUST YOU.”

The lady took the paper from Sarah’s hands, neatly rolled it and placed inside a small cylindrical box possibly made from silver or some other similar shiny metal.

Sarah felt as if a heavy burden was suddenly off her heart. She was already pondering whether she should indeed go ahead and call her mother the next morning… something that she had not cared to do for days. She had started to like this lady now. The lady seemed quirky all right, but now Sarah could not feel but a sense of gratitude towards her.

Sarah offered if she would like a cup of hot ginger tea, which she agreed almost instantly. Sarah found the lady glancing at her time to time, as if not able to take her eyes off. This she found a little bit awkward, nevertheless this spoke of some distant intimacy. After the tea, the lady asked whether Sarah would like a stroll outside. Sarah saw from the window pane that the rain had already stopped. She always loved to breathe in the fresh moist breeze that come a postlude to a rain. So in a minute both stepped out into the pavement outside Sarah’s apartment.

The streets looked deserted. Street lamps flickered like the perfect precursor to a noir-ish climax. Small puddles reflected the beautiful night sky where stars had now started to bloom again. There was this soothing serenity that seemed to pervade everywhere.

Both had been walking for several minutes when the lady broke the silence. “Sarah, I believe you are finding this to be a very strange night. You might have a lot for questions too. But you will get your answers. I assure you that much.” Sarah nodded in reply.

“I have one more question for you, rather the last one. Hopefully this one will not trouble you as much.” The lady continued. “If given a second chance, do you remember anything else that you would like to sort out?”

By now, Sarah had learned to think of it as a game or something more in the lines of a therapeutic session. So this time, it did not confuse her as much. She just smiled and tried to think hard. The lady meanwhile seemed very patient as she waited. Suddenly Sarah’s face lit up as if she just stumbled upon something of her lost in the dark.

“Let’s go back 10 years from where we had been. I had just tuned 7 years. For my birthday, my dear grandmother came to me with a present wrapped in her hands. Excited, I tore into the present to see it was just an old car toy, a simple model in maroon and white, nothing apparently special about it. So feeling uninterested, I tossed it into one corner where my old toys were rusting away and did not even give a second glance. I did not even say a ‘Thank You’ to my grandmother. I was more thrilled to try the new iPad that my grandfather had presented instead. From the corner of my eyes, I think I saw a look of slight disappointment on my grandmother’s face, but I was too young to understand or act on it…

…The next day, when all the celebration was over, my father came up to me and asked me what all gifts I had received. Then he specifically asked about the car toy that my grandmother had gifted me. After searching a lot, I found out that that toy was among a bunch of other older toys where were already donated that morning to a school for lesser-privileged children. The car toy seemed very insignificant, but now was irretrievable. I could not understand why my father looked a bit hurt when he found out that I had lost that toy.”

“So what was so special about the toy?” the lady interjected.

“That I found days later from my mother. When my father was my age, his father or my grandfather had gifted him that car toy from a trip in Haridwar. My father had prolonged sickness during that age and he thought of this car as his companion and a prized possession. He had got very attached to it. Probably the reason was that the toy came from a remote land that my father dreamt of visiting when he was older and healthier. When he grew older, his family shifted and he lost that toy. Years later, my grandmother had diligently searched for it and planned it to gift this to me…as the ultimate little invaluable piece of remembrance. But I never got a chance to say a proper thanks to her.” Sarah told with a hint of remorse.

Sarah stopped to see the lady smiling with a vague sense of satisfaction. Without saying a word, she tore out another blank page from the writing pad and handed over to Sarah. Sarah knew exactly what to do. Once she had scribbled down the message, the lady rolled it and inserted into another silver cylinder. The message read:

“THANK YOU SO MUCH GRANDMOTHER”

By then, they had reached the cross-roads at the end of Sarah’s street. It was already late into the night. The lady halted and came to face Sarah. Sarah sensed it was the time for goodbyes. She hated goodbyes. And she hated unanswered questions and unresolved mysteries even more!

The lady looked deep into Sarah’s eyes and spoke. “My dear, it is time for me to go. You must be wondering who I am... whether we met by accident…whether all this was mere coincidence and perhaps hundred questions. I can tell you that you will get all your answers in time. Time will give you all answers. Also it gives you a chance to heal all the scars. Still ask me whatever question pops up first in your mind. Remember I will have answer for that one only and explain it. I am not supposed to explain anything else, for reasons that you will not understand right now.”

“So...who actually are you?” Sarah sounded breathless.

“Call me Sarah”. The lady paused to give one enigmatic smile.

Sarah looked dumbfounded.

The lady continued. “I am you 30 years from now. Look at me closely and think again why you had been getting that sense of déjà vu ever since we met. I am a traveller in time. To cut a very long story short, 20 years from your present time our dear Earth is to undergo a total apocalypse. This apocalypse would be man-made, the end result of a vicious cycle of global warming. While nations would be busy fighting their cold wars, the much anticipated nuclear third world war would never ever come. Because by then there would be no nation to defend for; all landmass would already be ravaged by solar flares and flash floods caused by glacial melt-downs. Human population faced mass extinction. Less than 1% survived and started to survive underground.”

The lady paused to give Sarah a moment to comprehend. But Sarah was too surprised to respond anything. So the lady continued.

“You see, Sarah, but it was not all over yet. Faint hope glimmered from beneath the earth’s surface. By accident or sheer luck, years later, remnant of the human civilisation stumbled upon some alien original technology which had been hidden beneath the surface thousands of years unnoticed, unexplored. We reverse-engineered some part of it that we understood and time-travel is one of the wonders we mastered. Time travel is risky business. A small change in past can trigger a ripple effect and end up changing the future very significantly. So time-travel was entrusted only on a select few who understood the risks involved. You see you are to become one of the chosen ones. That is your destiny.”

Sarah was thinking whether she was witnessing one science fiction drama unfolding before her. Just then to put aside all her doubts; the lady rolled up her left hand sleeve until the elbow to show something to her. Sarah looked closely and recognized the tattoo of her birth sign engraved. Sarah looked at her own left ankle. Yes it was a match! As incredulous as it may sound, but the lady was none but herself!

“We, the time-travellers, have certain codes to adhere to. We try not to meddle with the past without calculating all possible consequences. You must be wondering why I would choose to meet my younger version. The reason you too know already. Before helping the mankind in the time-travel mission, I wished to sort my life first. I wanted to have a conversation with myself and remind a few important things about life:

One: To be able to say ‘sorry’ when it matters the most and really mean it.

Two: To never miss saying ‘thank you’ whenever the occasion.

Three: To try and save our home called the planet Earth before it is too late!

I will now be off on my travel further into the past. With me, I’ve two cylinders containing one message in each. I intend to travel to 2 different points on the past when I was 17 years and when I was 7 years old and hand over these notes to my mother and to my grandmother respectively. This way, I will try to correct my 2 most regrettable mistakes in life. If you are still wondering, the 5 word per message limit is one of the rules set to minimize our impact on a different timeline. After this task, I will meet up with the other co-travellers on the original mission of finding a solution to save our Earth. That is my story. The story of Sarah, a time-traveller.”

Suddenly then there was brief lightening and lampposts at the crossroad started flickering even more abruptly. A vortex like formation appeared in mid-air out of nowhere and the older Sarah disappeared into it while waving goodbye. After a while the storm subdued and everything turned into normal again.

The younger Sarah stood perplexed for quite some time. Eventually she came back to her senses and returned to her apartment debating whether or not to believe all that happened before her eyes.

Whatever may be the reality, Sarah had a reason to smile now. She had found the perfect and original way to start her short story now. She started typing in the keyboard:

“Call me Sarah. It was a dark and stormy night when all this happened… and nothing was the same ever again…”



~ THE END ~


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