Miriam gazed longingly at the potted azaleas on her kitchen’s window sill, pink and bright, blossoming boisterously. It wasn’t the blooming flowers which captured her attention every morning, when she would sit beside the kitchen window, with a cup of steaming coffee, but memories rooted to them. Memories of far lost days when life didn’t feel bland, didn’t feel a dreamless night and when she and Nathan had planted the azaleas- it was his favorite.
But today, she wasn’t glaring at them to rekindle her memories. Apart from the fragrance of the fresh blooms, something else was clouding her senses. A question which was asked to her a week back. They had now taken a toll upon her. That was a question she didn’t know the answer to or she never attempted to find one.
Miriam hailed from a small town in Goa, in India, from a traditional catholic middle-class family of bakers. She was a simple lass but dreams as colorful as a florist’s display. And it wasn’t late when she saw her dreams being fulfilled. Her marriage to the modern high-spirited man Nathan broke her shackles of confinement. They shifted to the buzzing city of her dreams- Mumbai.
Life had become exciting. They toured from California to Istanbul, from beach parties to bungee jumping, from singlehood to parenthood; each day, each moment, written with the ink of a new emotion.
Then Nathan got sick. And after a year, she was left with two sons, a tag of a widow and a heap of responsibility.
Miriam sipped on to her coffee. It had turned cold. Unable to take another of the sip, she rose and drained the mug into the sink; the question was pushed aside, maybe for some other time. She peeked at the clock on the hall; she had spent twenty minutes on that question. Miriam raised her eyes in disbelief; things were derailing for her since last week, or else, she wouldn’t have wasted her precious time, pensive.
Wiping off her hand with her sari’s end, she immediately grabbed hold of the duster from the cupboard and climbed on to the stairs, to her sons’ rooms. Customarily, she dusted the book racks, the study tables, and the windows. She rubbed the photos of their once completed family, one each hanging from both of her sons’ walls, with a cleaning cloth, as if, like Aladdin’s djinn, the members in the photo would appear before her. With both of her sons placed in Universities abroad, the two rooms remained vacant for months. But, not a day would pass without the usual dusting and scrubbing. Some days, her body would be too reluctant to get up from bed, but her mind, fallen for the incessant humdrum of every day, wouldn’t let her rest.
The cleaning process and a shower wouldn’t take more than an hour, after which she would monotonously chew onto her usual breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, two slices of ginger-bread and half a glass of milk.
With the clock striking 8:30, Miriam would be at the door, giving her sari pleats a final touch, locking the iron gate and ready for work.
The local grocery store, where she worked as an accountant was at a distance of fifteen minutes’ walk from her house. Her traditional route would be walking across the street, past the local high school, a new beauty salon where a bakery stood earlier, past the community church, through the local vegetable market, and into the store.
Her legs knew the path; so well that she could even sleepwalk to the store, without even tipping once. How couldn’t she? She had children to feed and teach. Not a single day in 14 years had gone by when she hadn’t walked those lanes; the lanes changed from blazing hot in summer, to weedy and muddy in monsoon, not even the winter chill was able to abstain her not to march by the streets.
The store was deserted apart from the cleaning guys. Miriam placed her bag behind the counter and took her ID batch from the drawer of the desk. Habitually, she put it across her neck. The pale blue-worn out ribbon, which was once bright and new almost instantly camouflaged with her pale blue sari. The card reading her name- Miriam Christopher had a faded photo of a young woman.
Christmas was around the corner and the store was buzzing with customers. In her assistance’s absence, Miriam had a humongous task of billing all by herself. Her aging bones had started retorting the long-standing hours.
Miriam’s finger monotonously tapped onto the keyboard, her eyes aching by constantly staring at the screen before her. She didn’t realize when the darkness evolved putting an end to that day’s work.
She rose behind the counter, took out the ID card and put it back into the drawer; she picked up her bag and walked from behind the counter while smoothening the kinks on her sari.
As she was about to push open the door, somebody called her name, forcing her to stop on her tracks.
“Miriam!” the store aide’s voice boomed from behind.
Miriam turned around to face the chubby looking store assistant Lizzy. She was approaching her at an alarming rate.
“Are you alright?” Lizzy asked, giving a concerned look to her. “You’re looking quite pale today.”
Miriam passed a light smile at her before replying back. “Oh, Lizzy! It’s nothing more than usual fatigue. I’m alright.”
Lizzy’s eyebrows’ drew closer, her face perturbed. “You should better take some days off. The work is really wearing you down”.
All through the walk back home, Lizzy’s concerned face giving out the advice to her was running in Miriam’s head. She didn’t realize when she was standing in front of her locked gate.
Unlocking the lock, she pushed open the iron gate. The gate flung open, slowly, its unoiled hinges creaking loudly. Miriam stood at the spot transfixed as if the creaking of the gate had stabbed again onto her unhealed wounds.
The golden street light was falling on the beads of sweat decking up her forehead, making them glitter like the dazzling stars above her. She was sweating on a chilly night in November. She hadn’t realized the mysterious resemblance of her life and the unoiled hinges. It had started creaking, creating so many ruckuses which were making her restless. The old question overpowered her, right at that instant, and an answer flashed through her head. Her life needed oiling- a break, from the monotonous spell of ennui.
It all started when her sons left for University. She became a wind-up doll with a key on the back. Her key had been wound and she was dancing along with the tune of dreary dictation of every passing day.
It took an ugly turn, when her assistant, Molly, a woman in her 40s, as Miriam left for a vacation to a recluse island down south. She had said she was going to take a sabbatical, to give her mind and soul a relaxing break. But, more than her assistant’s leave; her question had left everything chaotic.
“Aren’t you bored with your mundane life? Doesn’t it feel like a pie lacking sugar?” Molly had asked, staring deep into Miriam’s brown eyes.
That had hit Miriam hard- so hard that it toppled the idea of a meticulous life in her head and forced her to question her own existence. Was she living like a human or had she become some mindless machine, lacking a ripple here and flow there, she couldn’t fathom. It was weird, why suddenly her normal easy life had started strangulating the air out of her. She was…tired of her daily mundane routines. And now, she just wanted to turn off the maddening chaos of her dysfunctional life.
Miriam rushed inside her house. She dashed into her washroom and splashed palm-full of cold water on her dull dreary face. As she raised her head from the sink, her dripping face reflected back onto the mirror on the wall.
The once flawless face was threatened with the approaching signs of wrinkles. Several loose strands of gray hair had escaped her bun and were sticking on to her wet face.
She couldn’t recall the last time she had gone to the salon or the last time she was hanging out with her girlfriends and…taken a sabbatical. Maybe not in years, she could recall, at least not after she got widowed.
The creaking sound of the gate was still screeching in her ears as if they’re pleading her to oil them. She had to oil them; they’d to stop creaking, not anymore.
She remembered her old girlfriends. They hadn’t been in contact from years. To be frank, she had severed the ties’ it was too silly for her to indulge in their trivial gatherings. But she was missing it, terribly.
Running her hand through her lifeless aging hair she feared they wouldn’t recognize her now. She wasn’t the town beauty anymore, whom they used to envy.
Miriam took out her phone from the bag. Could she arrange a reunion? What would they say? That she’s creaking. No, not until…she fixed herself.
Miriam was sitting in the waiting room, fidgeting repeatedly on her sit. Although the AC was in full blast in the room, her hands were clammy. She hadn’t done anything like that before. What would the world say? And society? Thoughts that were yelling and questioning her decision were incessantly bombarding her head. A light headache was lurking between her eyes, threatening to overtake.
Miriam sneaked through the glass door. Everyone was busy. Nobody would notice that she had left. She shouldn’t have come there in the first place. Didn’t know what got into her, it led her stupid mind to demand a ripple, a wave of change. She was better with her old ways, jaded and drained but at least safe.
Miriam grasped her bag tightly and again ran her eyes through the glass door. No! She had to do this. She couldn’t let the creak haunt her mind anymore. She had to do this…this time for herself. With a new air of confidence, she strode through the glass door. The cozy interior of the new salon across her street felt comforting enough.
“You can check yourself in the mirror madam,” the rich baritone of the young girl echoed through Miriam’s drumming heart. She slowly turned around, fearing to face the mirror or her new avatar.
Miriam stepped out of the salon, thanking the pretty girl. Her mind was feeling decluttered now, though there were still trepidations, she shoved them away.
With a full smile on her lips and face as bright as the new purple streak of her hair, Miriam walked down the street. Although she was walking down her traditional route, this time she didn’t stop before the grocery store. Her legs were drawn towards a different street, through a dusted path. Although new buildings had squeezed in between, she could recall it clearly. In front of her stood a freshly painted building. It looked majestic now, completely different from the last time they’d visited; she and Nathan.
Drawing a deep long breath, Miriam walked into the building, on top of which was written in bold letters- ‘Destino-The Travel Agency’.