Short Story: Home is Where the Heart is

Vatsala took one last look around the house. Every room, every corner had loads of memories and she wanted to savour each one of them before she left. She knew she will not return to this house and wanted to fill her head, heart and soul with the very essence of the house. She had entered this home as a blushing bride more than half a century back and now, it was time to leave the place where she had given birth to her children, brought them up and gotten them married. She could see her children as babies and then as adults and then her children’s children, her grandchildren laughing and playing in the house.

Hurry up Amma, otherwise we will miss the flight” This was from her son Arun, her firstborn who had come down from his important job in London to help her and Vasu, her husband move to a retirement community. Vasu’s fall a few months back had cemented the arguments the couple had with their children, Arun and daughter, Aruna who lived in Houston in the United States of America.

Giving one last look at the nook that housed her Gods and Goddesses, Vatsala shook her head and left, locking the door. She passed the keys to her neighbour and best friend, Shilpa and after asking her to look after her house left without a backward glance.

By the end of a tiring day, Vatsala and Vasu, helped by Arun, finally reached Rose Garden, their new home in the southern city of Coimbatore. Too tired to do anything or even look around, Vatsala soon got into bed and fell into a deep, but tired sleep.

The next morning was busy. Their things from their home were to arrive and aided by her husband and son, Vatsala tried to make this flat as welcoming as her own home. The couple also completed all formalities and medical procedures required to stay in the retirement community.

A couple of days later, Arun left for London, after ensuring his parents were settled in their new home. Slowly, Vatsala and Vasu started integrating themselves into the complex and their residents. Every once in a while, Vatsala would look back and think of her house and start to feel sad again. But she would pull herself up for Vasu. The retirement community was not too big, it had around 100 couples like them and most importantly most of the residents were similar to them so that made things easier in getting adjusted to the community and make friends.

Over the next year, Vatsala and Vasu started enjoying life at Rose Garden. They made friends, started taking classes that were offered including group exercise classes, and meditation classes and most importantly started spending more time with each other. Now that they were free from the tasks that take up daily mundane activities, they had time to sit down with each other, really talk and learn about the other that they had not known even after being together for more than 50 years.

Soon, it was the first anniversary at Rose Garden and during a party at the community to celebrate this, Vatsala and Vasu were surrounded by new friends, who in a year became as close as her friends back home. Their children, Arun and Aruna were also there with their families, their grandchildren cheering at this new version of paati and tatha, who were so much more fun to be around. A surprise was Vatsala’s best friend from back home, Shilpa who was pleasantly surprised to see the change in her friend and also bummed that Vatsala now had new best friends. “I am going to buy a flat here soon, Vatsu”, Shilpa explained. “I am going to work on Sumeet and we will join you within the next six months, you just wait and watch!

Surrounded by family and friends, both old and new, Vatsala was suddenly reminded of the old saying, “Home is where the heart is”. She realised she had not thought of her old home for months now and when she did, it was tinted with the soft glow of nostalgia and not with the profound sadness she had in the initial months.

Yes, definitely, this is home now and this is where my heart is in the golden years of my life, surrounded by family and dear friends”, mused Vatsala as she was pulled forward by her grandchildren to cut the cake brought specially for the occasion.

Short Story: The Red Box

One of my goals this year was to start writing short stories. On my recent trip to India, in the flight from Singapore to Mumbai, I was bored. I didn’t feel like reading or watching something so decided to write something. I had some writing prompts and one of the prompts inspired this story. The story more or less wrote itself and I was able to complete it quite fast. I just edited it slightly for clarity and here it is in all its glory. I would love to hear comments, both good and bad, specially because this is the first time I am attempting this genre.

Short Story: The Red Box

As Caroline left her office, she realised she had forgotten her umbrella again! “Aiyah”!, she thought to herself, “this is Singapore, surely I will be able to get home under a sheltered walkway and not get wet.” Thinking this, she tried to rush to the nearest MRT station when the clouds opened up above her. Spying an HDB block just across the road, Caroline rushed to take shelter in the block’s void deck.

This Singapore weather is so unpredictable. It was sunny when I left the office and now suddenly it is pouring” she muttered to herself. “Now I will be late for the high tea party with Lisa and Veena and they will be upset with me again. This is the second time I will be late”. As she tried to dry herself, unsuccessfully, she tried calling her friends, but soon realised she neither had mobile coverage nor data. Wandering about the void deck, trying to get a signal, she suddenly realised that something was not right. Usually, void decks are busy places with people walking, sitting or even chatting around, but here, she could not find anybody.

While walking around holding her phone in various angles trying to get some sort of signal, from the corner of her eyes, she saw something red lying in a dark corner of the void deck. It was as if someone had tried to hide something, but were not very successful. It was a red rectangular box made of Chinese lacquer that seemed to have some sort of a glow coming from within it. The staid Singaporean in her initially resisted going close to the box. After all, she had been conditioned not to touch or take anything that did not belong to her. But the box continued to emit this strange glow and much as she wanted to stay away, it continued to beckon her.

Caroline looked around to see if there was somebody, anybody who would be the owner of the box, so she can, in good conscience pass it to them. But the area was desolate and soon she found herself creeping closer and closer to the box and then almost without violation, picking it up.

She took the box to the nearest seating area and continued to look at it. Outside the rain continued to pour heavily and visibility was almost nil. She tried to call her friends again but continued to not get any reception, both for mobile and her phone data. “ I must complain to the provider”, she thought as she made a mental note. “Now Lisa and Veena will think I flaked out and didn’t go to meet them without a reason. Lisa was angry at me two weeks back for meeting them late, but at least I had a good excuse then. What shall I tell them now?” Upset, Caroline tried to will the rain to stop and while doing that, opened the box.

As soon as she opened the box, there was a thunder sound and lightning started to strike, just outside the void deck. Caroline visibly jumped and hurriedly closed the box. And as soon as she did that, the rain started to ease. Scared, she hurriedly got up from the seat backed off quickly and go as far as she could from the box. The minute she was as far from the box as it was possible, the rain stopped as suddenly as it started and the sun came out. She even managed to see a double rainbow shimmering just outside the void deck. As she took in this wondrous beauty of nature, she heard a squeal of delight.

My box, my box! See mummy, someone was so kind to keep it here safely”, a high pitched voice that could only belong to a young child pierced her thoughts. She turned around and saw a young girl, probably about 3 years old skip and come forward to pick up the red box. The toddler saw Caroline and asked her, “Jiejie, were you the one who kept my box?” to which Caroline had to assent. By then the toddler’s mum had come up to Caroline along with the child and told her daughter, “Li-San, did you thank the jiejie for keeping your box safely?” Li-San thanked Caroline in a sweet voice and her mother explained, “Li-San thought she had lost her keepsake box while playing here this morning. We looked all around, but could not find it. We were just coming to make another search before we post a notice asking people to look out for it. This box belongs to her Ah Ma who died recently and Li-San is very attached to it because it has items that her Ah Ma gave her. Thank you very much for finding and keeping the box safely

Caroline accepted the mother’s thanks and started to move away from the void deck towards the MRT station. Her phone rang and it was Lisa asking where she was. Caroline started to apologise, but Lisa cut her off and started to apologise instead. “Caro, so sorry hor, I was stuck in the office and could not leave until now. I am now on the way to the hotel and will pick up Veena and meet you there in 30 minutes. Please go ahead and order first, it’s my treat for my promotion”.

Bemused, Caroline made her way to the station and turned around to see the block and void deck. She can’t be certain, but she is sure, she saw an elderly lady sitting on the seat she had just vacated wearing a red cheongsam. The old lady smiled a beatific smile and waved at Caroline who could only wonder if this was a dream or if it happened.