The Window By The Street
The Window By The Street
'Ma'am, how may I help you?' asked the pretty young assistant at the supermall to a particularly old lady, who seemed lost and bewildered among the rack stands.
'Ummm... give me a moment please' came her brisk answer.
The old lady seemed worried and began looking at her surroundings.
She then moved from one aisle to another, searching for something. But it seemed she was getting more and more distressed by the moment.
Finally, she approached a boy, seemingly in his twenties, wearing a ‘May I help you?’ badge, whom she said in a low voice
'Young man, I can't find the Flocky section anywhere in your shop'
'Which section Ma'am?' the helper boy was sure he had misheard the old lady.
'The one where the little birds are kept for sale' she replied.
'I'm sorry Ma'am, but I think there must have been a mistake. We don't sell birds, nor does any other outlet in this town, as far as I know.'
‘How stupefying! It was just there; I wanted to collect a few of the nymphies. I don't understand!'
‘Pardon my ignorance Ma'am, but what are nymphies?’ the young man was at a loss on what to make of such a claim. He had joined the store just the previous week and any mistake on his part might be costly. He might as well lose his job.
'The violet-colored yellow beaked tiny birds of course! They're all over the shops. The ones over here looked spectacular from the window and I thought I must step in to buy some... where's the window by the street young man?' the lady was getting distracted even while conversing, maybe searching for the elusive window by the street.
And the young man had no idea what to make of it. The worried old lady did not look like someone randomly messing about on a supermall, on a stormy Monday noon like this. Neither did she seem out of her senses. She was dressed impeccably, although with a large hat shaped with an elegant bow, propped on her head. This was unlike something anyone would prefer to wear on a windy day. Her shoes were shining and the purse in her hand revealed that she was quite a well-to-do lady.
'You are standing on the third floor of a supermall in Schellenberg town of Liechtenstein Ma'am, and unfortunately, this mall has no windows’ he finally said. ‘My sincere apologies, but I don't think any violet-colored yellow beaked birds were ever seen here, leave apart selling them.'
The lady’s eyes seemed to widen in disbelief. Even as the man spoke, he pinched his hand sharply at his back, just to make sure he wasn't napping or seeing things. But it didn't work. Maybe I should call someone, he thought. Effects of too much alcohol over a lazy weekend, perhaps.
‘If you could just excuse me for a moment, Ma’am’ he said politely, ‘maybe I can call someone over to help you.’
‘That will be much appreciated’ said the old lady.
Soon, the store manager and the young assistant lady she had met earlier, approached her. By then, she had already moved from the bread and flour section to the dairy section, scanning for the lost window.
‘Good day to you, Ma’am! How may I help you today?’ said the store manager with a radiant smile.
The old lady re-iterated her story, but this time, the man listened patiently. When he had heard her portion, he said
‘Would kindly accompany me to the store office? Perhaps I can figure out something’
The old lady was beginning to get impatient now and started fidgeting about, but the store manager said
‘Just relax. I think we’ll find out what exactly is happening, no worries Ma’am’
And they took her to the office to sit on a comfortable sofa overlooking a large television, which was playing something on a history channel.
Meanwhile, the lady assistant approached her, as the store manager went about making some phone calls.
‘Ma’am, I’m Natalie’ and she shook hands with her. 'Since you have visited our store and a heavy storm is brewing outside, would you so kindly share about where you live and from when you live there?’
‘Oh my, is it stormy? When I last looked outside, it was shining so bright’
‘When was that?’
‘An hour ago, maybe...’
‘So where do you live? Is it near this market?’
‘Not very far. I took a taxi to this restaurant, the one that makes delicious shrimp avocado salad, and then I went shopping for the nymphies. Did I get lost in some way, young lady?’ asked the old lady, creasing her eyes and inspecting the girl in front of her.
‘Seems so, Ma’am’ Natalie nodded, while thinking which restaurant sold seafood salads in this town. None, as far as she knew.
‘Are you still carrying the restaurant bill?’ she asked kindly.
‘Oh yes!’ said the old lady and eagerly brought out a large pink pamphlet from her purse.
A pink sheet for a bill noted Natalie. The name of the restaurant and the street looked unfamiliar. But there it was, billed for bread and shrimp avocado salad for a Mrs. Elwis, the lady who was sitting in front of her.
It also showed today's date and the phone number of the restaurant.
‘If you don’t mind, can I keep this for a while, until we sort things out’ asked the assistant to the old lady.
‘Oh yes, of course, my dear!’ she said. She was wondering whether she ought to go out on the streets and look for herself. Maybe all this fuss was in vain and she had mistaken something. After all, who could deny the fallacies of old age? And then she thought in surprise, why doesn’t she call her daughter or son? They lived in faraway cities, no doubt, but one of her grandsons lived very near her town and she could of course call him. Why didn’t she think of that earlier? As so she took out her phone to call him.
Natalie looked in surprise at the queer handset that the old lady, Mrs. Elwis, pulled out of her purse, but still, she said nothing.
After a few attempts, Mrs. Elwis could not get hold of her grandson, so she decided to call upon her children. But to no avail.
‘Is there any network problem dear?’ she asked the young assistant. ‘The calls are simply not going through.’
‘That happens rarely. Our connection here is deemed quite good. But why don’t you try our landline Ma’am?’ hinted back Natalie.
And she led her to the booth and left her to make her calls. Meanwhile, Natalie herself tried to call up the restaurant. The recorded voice on the other end said that the number did not exist. The name on the bill read ‘The Nook by the Brook’ and the address said, ‘6 Dover Lane, Ruthensia’. She eventually looked up the maps, searching for a place named Ruthensia. To her shock, there existed no place like that in the whole world!
Mrs. Elwis too did not seem to be having any luck.
‘The calls just won’t go through’ she complained.
‘If you do not mind, Ma’am, can I try out these numbers from my cellphone?’ asked Natalie.
‘Go ahead, dear. I’m getting tired and just want to go home’ the old lady was really getting a tad nervous now. Queer things happened at the oddest of times at the oddest of places, she had read. But never had she imagined that she would be experiencing anything like that in her own life.
Natalie tried all the phone numbers that Mrs. Elwis had given her. All of them said the same thing, the numbers were non-existent. The phone book showed no such numbers, the address book showed no such addresses that were given by Mrs. Elwis. She now spoke to the store manager and narrated her findings. The store manager had requested a doctor friend of his, to come and check in on the condition of the old lady. Was she sane? Was everything that she was claiming, that were not real, all made up by her? Was all this an elaborate joke? Puzzling him and his workers on a busy Monday noon!
The doctor came by in a friendly manner. He spoke and he checked the old lady, speaking just as a normal customer in a supermall would do. He finally left, saying that she was perfectly sane and did not seem to be lying. She did not seem to be forgetful either. Her sharp answers and sense of humor revealed that she was in a perfectly stable state. He asked the store manager to inform the police right away. After all, a lost old lady could not be left to the streets by herself!
But the assistant lady, Natalie, hated where all this was heading to. The old lady reminded her so much of her own grandmother, whom she had spent her entire childhood with, but who was no more. She ventured to offer her own home to the old lady, to spend the night. And the days thereafter. If she did not come up with something fruitful after a few days, then she would inform the police herself. The store manager agreed.
That night, Mrs. Elwis was teary-eyed. She had no idea what was happening to her. She had been staying alone for a long time by herself, in her peaceful cottage in the dreamy small country of Ruthensia. Her children were long ago settled with their families in different cities and came home on Christmas, once a year. Only a few years back had her smallest grandson and granddaughter come to live in her city, for the pursuit of higher education. They occasionally visited their long-forgotten grand mom’s warm home and chatted with her on lazy afternoons, read her a storybook, narrated exotic tales of their vacations, and tasted the delicious dishes that she specially prepared for them. Her lonely days were not so lonely after many years. But then suddenly, the granddaughter had met a tragic accident and died a few months back. Mrs. Elwis was heavily mourning the loss of this girl, who was growing up to be as beautiful as a fairy. But time didn’t stop. Slowly and slowly, she found solace in her books. The grandson came less frequently than before. She was getting used to her former days of utter loneliness. But some days, she yearned for a glimpse of her granddaughter, praying that she be united with her soon. She gradually started going out more often on the streets, window shopping, or sitting in the parks and watching children play. This morning, she had decided to buy herself some tiny chirping birds, to give her company in her silent house. She was wandering through the streets, scanning the marketplace when she had spotted those nymphies. On moving closer to the window, she realized that the young girl over the counter resembled her granddaughter so much! Out of curiosity, she had bent near the glass window from the street to get a better look, her nose almost touching the glass. And then she had stumbled hard on something.
When she looked around, she was told that she was standing in a different country altogether! The people here claimed that her country, the lovely country named Ruthensia never ever existed. Instead, its exact location is the country of Liechtenstein. They had shown her maps. They had shown her address books and phone books. They had proved that all that she was saying made no sense. She did not understand any of it.
But this young lady, the assistant at the supermall, had shown her sincere love. She had taken her home. She resembled a lot like her granddaughter and the shopkeeper girl at the bird store back in her marketplace. Maybe all this was happening because of the last glimpse she wanted of her beloved grandchild, she mused before she left the world for good.
Natalie was reminiscing her days with her own grandmother, in her own room. She had spent the entire evening with Mrs. Elwis and she got vibes that this lady was a blessing in the form of her own grandmother. She wanted to cling on to her forever, for Natalie had no one else left in her family. But she knew that was not possible. All this would be over soon. The lady would find her way back home, to her family and she would remain alone as ever in her own house.
The old lady had fallen asleep in the warm bed that Natalie had arranged for her. Suddenly she heard a soft noise, the creaking of a pane. She sat up, rubbing her dreamy eyes. There, straight ahead, was a window with a full moon glowing with all its glamor and glory. She walked up to it, her thinning white hair rippling in the cool breeze of the night. And outside the window, she saw a young lady out on the gardens, watching the same moon, resembling Natalie. Natalie, it was perhaps. She was not sure as she could only see her backside. She called out to her. But the woman could not hear. She bent her head over the glass window and the cold glass felt soothing on her aging skin.
Natalie was in a state of panic the next morning. Where did Mrs. Elwis go? Not a note, not a document, not a single belonging of hers remained. Even the restaurant bill was nowhere to be found. It looked like the entire episode was either an elaborate dream or Mrs. Elwis had purposefully left. Both of which were unlikely. Natalie sat down on her sofa. Was she seeing things on grieving her grandmother's loss? Did she need to see the doctor, she wondered? Even the room which she had arranged for Mrs. Elwis' stay seemed untouched. She had wanted to let the old lady stay with her for as long as possible.
She quickly dressed up and left for her work. When she arrived, the store manager called her right away and asked about the old lady. It was then that Natalie really panicked. So, the old lady had really come. She had gone home with her. Where did she go away then? And why?
A police search was made. But over the last few days, nothing could be found. Not a single hint or trace that there ever had been a visit of an old lady from an unknown country called Ruthensia. Save the few staff members at the mall, none had seen her. Not a single person in the road had witnessed her entering the mall either. Finally, the case was dismissed, and eventually, all was forgotten.
After quite a few months, as, Natalie was cleaning out the closets of her guest room, she found a strange pink pamphlet. It was similar to the restaurant bill from the old lady. She scanned the paper here and there, hoping to find a clue to where the old lady might have vanished. In a tiny corner at the back, she saw something scribbled in fluorescent green ink. Bringing out her magnifying glasses, she tried to read what was scribbled obscurely. It read
The window by the street,
Shows where we’ll next meet.
Until you find me, illusory will be your world,
Seek me out, then it will be real!
– your loving granddaughter Natalie
The paper slipped off her hands.
Far away, Mrs. Elwis sat in a beautiful garden house at the foot of the mountains, tressing the shining bronze hairs of a beautiful young girl with little white flowers. She had finally found her granddaughter, her own Natalie, in a distant world, it seemed. Only, she had to pass through illusory worlds where neither of them had existed. Those looked like normal windows by the street, but transgressed her from one parallel world to another until she found what she was looking for! The most secret window of her heart opened the pane to reach out to her beloved granddaughter.
In the now, the charming place looked as beautiful as heaven.