The nightmare – from which he had just woken up that night – involved something about running around a temple. It was probably among the first nightmares he ever saw. In that moment of restlessness, all he wanted to do was cup his tiny hands over mom’s elbow and fall comfortably back to sleep. Or maybe hold on to dad’s strong arms and close his eyes fearing nothing.
But he suddenly discovered both of them were missing from their usual positions beside him. The bed only had his favourite pillow, shaped like some blue-faced cartoon character. He reached out to it while looking around.
He slid out of bed, the pillow in hand, and went towards the door. There, to his relief, he heard sounds of water dripping from the bathroom at the end of the corridor. He walked with a smile towards the bathroom and peeped in, leaning on the doorframe. He was now grinning wide, expecting his mom and dad to be there. Empty. Water continued dripping down from the rusty pipe.
He dashed back down the corridor and stood on top of the stairs. He sneaked into the bedroom, just to be sure. Empty again. At some point, his wonderful smile had given way to an expression that said tears are just about to break down from his little eyes. He started down the stairs, both tiny hands gripping the rails and still managing to hold on to the pillow.
He went straight to the kitchen once the stairs were behind him. Where else would mom be? He was sure that somehow his sense of time had got messed up, and this was actually about time for breakfast and getting ready for school. But the kitchen was darker and emptier than he had ever seen it.
Scared, he was. But more than that, he felt helpless. He ran from room to room, poking his head inside from the doors. He finally sprinted and jumped to the living room wanting to hear a big laugh from mom and dad who would of course be sitting there waiting for him. Nobody. The empty living room, just as he always knew – only scarier.
The boy – who thought going to the next room alone to fetch a book for mom was scary enough – now stood all by himself in that old little house. He was sure that right now, hairy hands would creep up from under the chairs and grab him by his legs. Or some thugs would slam the door down, throw him into a van and take him away forever. Or worst of all, some circus master would take him away and whip him until he did all the impossible tricks he asked him to. He cried. He looked around, and he cried. He thought of all the things that were about to happen to him, and he cried. He dropped the pillow, walked towards the door, slid his tiny fingers into the grille, and cried.
He had no idea how long he stood there, tears rolling down, before he saw their outlines walking towards the door. He was still crying when they came in and took him up in an embrace. In between his sobs, they were trying to explain they had only gone to the temple for a special puja for a few minutes. He heard none of this. He found comfort only in digging his head on mom’s shoulder and weeping away, while dad patted his shoulders soothingly.
* * *
After about 20 years, it’s nothing more than a nice story. One that they all love to repeat when they sit around and talk of the good old days! He even mocks how insensitive they were to leave a boy like him home alone in such strange hours. Mom and dad openly admit that they know he’ll never forgive them for what they did. Even though they all know that all the forgiving that could be done, was done that very night. His sister still wonders whether this whole thing actually happened!
What dad, mom and sister don’t know is this. When nothing in his life seems okay, when frustration is all he has time for, when loneliness strikes despite being where he had dreamed of coming, when his dreams seems so close and yet unreachable, when things don’t work out quite the way he expects – all he wants to do is to go lean on that door and weep. Because then, he knows, they’ll come running for him and say it’s okay.
He, is me.