The Other Side

There is no guilt in finding your way back home.

“Mazarine …” She whispered to her reflection in the mirror. The deep blue eyes that gazed back seemed to justify the choice of name. Instinctively, her fingers jumped to her navel to touch the brilliant blue gemstone she’d been named after. Tomorrow, it would be 9 years since she’d been found … 9 years since she’d become who she now was … and it still felt wrong.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now.” She said sternly to her reflection as she pulled on the pristine white gown. “It’s been 9 years. You remember nothing. And after tonight, everything is going to change. Get over it.”

There was a knock, followed by the sound of the door opening.

Mazarine quickly wiped her eyes dry and turned to face her adoptive parents. ‘See how much they love you?’ she thought to herself as she hugged them. ‘So what if they’re not your real family? They’re as good as!’

“Look at you!” The woman Mazarine had come to call her mother fixed a fresh bluebell in her long brown hair and gazed lovingly at her. “So beautiful.” She planted a light kiss on Mazarine’s forehead.

“It is time.” Her father said, his eyes brimming with tears. Gently, he lowered the veil to cover her face and stepped back to admire her.

Ever so slowly, they took Mazarine’s arms and led her out of their home to the front garden. Through the lace veil, Mazarine saw people stand and heard them sigh faintly as they walked down the aisle. And right in front of her, at the altar, she saw him— the boy she was expected to spend the rest of her life with— William— tall, blonde, handsome and smiling pleasantly … but not right.

A tear made its way down her cheek. She couldn’t do it. She had to get away. She felt extremely guilty even thinking about it, but marrying a boy she knew nothing about and felt nothing for was not something she could go through with.

The music stopped. Mazarine turned to face William. She looked directly into his eyes. They, like hers, were deep blue. Wrong. They should have been gray. She didn’t know why. But she knew they should have been. For a second, they stood face-to-face, she trying to explain herself through silent conversation.

Mazarine blinked. The moment was gone. She saw William’s smile falter as she gathered up the folds of her gown and turned toward the garden gate. “I’m sorry.” She whispered to him with one last sideways glance, shaking off her veil.

And then she ran.

 ***

 To the edge to the village … across the bridge over the stream … straight through the dark forest … Mazarine let her intuition guide her. Listening to her intellect and going to the city would have been the smarter choice— but also the more obvious choice— and Mazarine prided herself in being unpredictable. And she couldn’t risk being found again.

Not that she’d been mistreated for the 9 years she could remember. On the contrary, she’d been given more love and care than she thought she ever deserved, considering how she’d just abandoned the people who had graciously taken her in without asking any questions.

But for everyday of those 9 years, she’d only willed herself to fit in and it was through sheer gratitude that she had stayed on. Thinking back, she came to the conclusion that it would have been far kinder of her to have left immediately.

And now that monumental decisions of her life were being taken for her without her consent, she knew that the moment had arrived. It was, to her, a sign from the Universe not to continue staying where she didn’t belong. She was sorry to have done it on that day, in front of so many people, but it couldn’t be helped.

“It’s done.” Mazarine told herself firmly, “There’s no going back now.”

 ***

 The moment the trees began to thin out, Mazarine heard it. It was a strange sound, yet somehow intimately familiar. Her heart began to pound. She knew in a trice she was closer home than she’d ever been in the past 9 years. She paused for an instant, listening to the regular, rhythmic, somewhat reassuring crashing. She loved it.

Then, with renewed vigour, she sprinted straight ahead toward the other side. And in a matter of minutes, she found herself making her way down gigantic rocks toward the seashore. A chill ran down her spine. In the moonlight, the sands looked like quicksilver and the rippling water, ghostly.

The sight evoked such ecstasy in her being that she began to sing. It wasn’t a song she remembered having heard, but the lyrics and tune seemed to flow effortlessly, and her voice sounded joyful, ethereal and more beautiful than she had ever dreamed possible. So she sang.

“You came.”

The song ended abruptly as Mazarine started. She spun around to face the person who had whispered into her ear. And found herself stunned into silence. Never had she dared to dream that she would meet someone who would really take her breath away at first glance. But when she looked into his eyes— and she noticed they were a wonderful, dark gray— there was something so tender in his expression as he smiled at her that she couldn’t help but hyperventilate.

He lifted his hand to brush her hair out of her face. She gasped at his touch. It was so familiar! But who was he?

“I knew you’d come back.” He whispered as he stroked her cheek softly, “They called me a fool. But I still believed … in you … in us.”

“Who are you?” Mazarine asked finally.

His face fell.

Mazarine instantly felt guilty.

A second later though, he sighed. “You don’t remember. I thought maybe … and you don’t remember who you are?”

Mazarine shook her head.

He looked distraught. Then he took a deep breath and held out his hand. “Let me show you.”

Mazarine didn’t hesitate to take his hand. Another gasp escaped her. She felt electricity. Too astounded to speak, she let him lead her down to the beach. He selected a spot, where they sat with the waves approaching to lick their toes every few minutes.

“Close your eyes.” He said to her quietly, taking her hand again. “It will come to you.”

Mazarine did as he asked. Her other senses immediately seemed stronger. The sea seemed to whispering to her. She could smell him too … it was an aroma unlike any she remembered having inhaled recently and it made her giddy with joy. She loved the taste of salt in the air … and the feeling of the water caressing her feet …

“Take your time. I’m right here waiting … Corelle.”

 ***

 A village. Beautiful, but strange. There was definitely something different about it. The light somehow moved constantly, and the whole place seemed to shimmer. There were no trees. Instead, there were tall plants she could only describe as creepers waving synchronously with the light. Interspersed between this unusual vegetation, were several huge and colourful structures. What they were, she couldn’t tell. She only knew she loved them.

She looked down at the ground to find the path that led up to the nearest one, and was surprised to find there wasn’t one— in fact, there were no paths at all— the ground consisted of sand and sparkling stones of different sizes and all colours for as far as she could see.

Suddenly, she heard singing. The voices she heard were so beautiful, they gave her goosebumps. She whirled around, trying to locate the source of such extraordinary music. It seemed to be coming from the nearest of those colourful structures. It took her a moment to realise that they were all dwellings— each of a different colour, shape and size, with roughly cut doors and windows, through each of which emanated a surreal glow.

“Corelle?” She felt herself turn toward the voice that called her name.

 And then she remembered.

 ***

 “Neifion?” Her eyes flew open as her memory returned in a flash. She turned to find him nodding vigorously, his face aglow with pure delight.

“Corelle.” He said simply, evidently unable to stop smiling.

Corelle took a deep breath as she let it sink in. No wonder she’d never fit in. No wonder she’d wanted to leave the moment she’d woken up. No wonder she’d never been allowed to cross the bridge to the forest …

With a start, she remembered the cottage she’d just run away from … and it all came back to her like it had been yesterday: how she’d swum too far out and been washed ashore … how her ‘father’ had found her on the rocks while fishing … how he’d taken her home to her ‘mother,’ who proclaimed she was God’s answer to their prayers for a daughter … how they’d nursed her back to health and offered her all the love, care and comforts they possibly could …

And then she remembered how she was never allowed across the bridge into the ‘dark and dangerous woods’ … how she never liked to work in the garden … how she felt trapped even with more freedom than most other people she knew … how she was too ‘strange’ for the other girls her age … how boys would crave for her beauty and mystique but none of them was ever quite right for her … how she was practically auctioned off to the family that asked for the least dowry … how she ran away at last …

“I can’t believe you waited for 9 years.” Corelle said eventually, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I knew you’d come back.” Neifion repeated patiently.

“But … why didn’t you come looking for me?”

“Because I was not taken.” He said simply.

Corelle frowned. “As in?”

“I wasn’t taken … I can’t enter the world beyond the rocks.”

Corelle gaped.

“Don’t you remember? ‘It is only—”

“Dorothea’s Doctrine.” Corelle nodded.

“‘—those who are transported beyond the confines of our world who can ever mingle with the Humans. In addition, these unfortunates suffer loss of their memories of the Deep until it is time for their return. It is one of the Universe’s ways of guarding the secret of our existence from the prying eyes and greedy hearts of the Humans.’

“They’re not all bad, you know.” Corelle said at once. She proceeded to detail everything she’d experienced since she’d become a part of the Randall family. She found herself going through several emotions as she spoke … gratitude, joy, anger, sorrow …

When she finished, she felt a strange longing for the people who had given her 9 years of their lives. She gazed into the now lightening sky sadly.

“I know what you’re thinking, Corelle.” Neifion said understandingly, caressing her trembling hands. “But you did the right thing by coming back. They may have done everything for you, but you don’t belong there. You belong back home … with me.”

“But … I feel so …”

“There is no guilt in finding your way back home.”

He held her tenderly as she sobbed into his chest. Then with one gentle movement, he lifted her face toward his and kissed her.

“Come back home with me, Corelle. It is where you belong.”

Corelle wiped her face dry and looked up at him. “Thank you, Neifion.”

“What for?”

“For waiting … for believing … for always.”

Neifion smiled. “I love you, Corelle.”

“And I love you, Neifion.”

Together, they stood. With one last glance at the world she was leaving behind, Corelle tightened her grip on Neifion’s fingers and let him lead her into the receding waves, still barely believing she was on her way back.

A minute later, she felt herself transform. She looked down at herself and laughed. It felt so natural to be in her true form once again. Her tail glimmered turquoise and reflected tiny rainbow coloured flecks of sunlight off them into the surrounding water. Her tail fin, in contrast, filtered off some of the light and seemed to glow aquamarine.

She looked at Neifion. His lean torso topped a ruby red tail as he led her further down toward their home. She had never seen anything so perfect.

When the coralliform houses lit by their jellyfish lamps began to wink into sight, Neifion turned to Corelle with an expression of pure elation. He took her hands in his and drew her close. His eyes shining with happiness, he whispered, “This is it, Corelle. We’re here. Welcome home.”

Driving Lessons

20 days = 20 lessons.

  1. Anything in the driving school’s car can dislodge itself when you touch it.
  2. When a herd of animals/children who have just been dismissed from school frolic joyfully in front of the car, it is NOT okay to scream, let go of the steering wheel and hide your face in your hands.
  3. When you have just begun your driving lessons, you will be overtaken by very old people … on foot.
  4. At least ONE lever will cease to function when needed desperately (most often, the wiper during the monsoon, or the headlights at night).
  5. Unusual traffic jam = traffic policeman.
  6. Footpaths are for losers. Pedestrians will stroll along in the middle of the road and NEVER respond to any amount of frustrated honking. You are expected to dodge all of them (not to mention the multitude of stray dogs, cows and, of course, the occasional elephant). Also, it is considered a sin for pedestrians to cross at the pedestrian crossing.
  7. Any route you wish to take WILL be dug up at some point.
  8. The more enjoyable a drive down a road, the more stringent the enforcement of the speed limit on it.
  9. At least 1/3rd of the people who give the left signal want to turn right, and vice versa, and will not hesitate to do so from the extremes of lanes. You are expected to anticipate this, because you WILL be blamed for any mishap that may occur. And of course, there are some people who like to keep their intended direction suspense and drive with both indicators on. It is advisable to stay miles away from such vehicles, as they may float off along any course unexpectedly.
  10. The probability of your car breaking down is inversely proportional to the amount of time remaining for your curfew.
  11. Signals are meant to be broken. You need not stop at each one. For some, simply slowing down and cruising across at any velocity below 50km/hour will suffice.
  12. It is perfectly acceptable to drive on the wrong side of the road if you do not wish to take a long U-turn because you will miss your favourite TV programme in the process. (The reason may be different, but police vehicles are also exempted from the drive-on-the-left-hand-side rule).
  13. During the rainy season, there will never be some puddles on the road. There will be some road in the puddles.
  14. It is your fundamental right to reverse out of a one-way lane. It doesn’t matter which way you go as long as your bonnet faces the correct direction.
  15. An auto rickshaw driver has the supreme right to signal change of lane (or lanes, as the case may be) with the show of 1/300th of a finger (or alternatively, a toe), most often the little one. This too, they will do only if they are in the mood for it (in which case you are lucky). Otherwise, be on the alert for them to drift off in any direction without warning.
  16. If you are driving in the leftmost lane, you are going too fast for it. If you are driving in the rightmost lane, you are going too slow for it. Driving in the middle does not help either, because in this case, the likelihood of you sending a dreamy pedestrian on his final journey increases exponentially. Your only option is to say a silent prayer, be on your way and hope for the best.
  17. The nut behind the wheel to whom honking is music, but overtaking is a crime, will always be driving right behind you.
  18. The nut behind the wheel whose velocity is steady at 1km/year and is impossible to overtake due to transverse oscillation, will always be driving in right front of you.
  19. Always be prepared for any object (living, or thrown by living) to appear out of thin air within 2 metres of your car, when avoidance of said entity involves a series of complex manoeuvres.
  20. This is the day you will be introduced to the engine, which, by the way, is NOT a shiny accumulation of steel, but a dusty mass of grey-black stuff rotting under the hood. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIX ANYTHING IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG. You will only end up worsening the condition or suffering an electric shock. The chances of either of these happening quadruple if you have no help at hand.

BONUS LESSON!!!

21. Your driving test will consist, at most, of making ½ a turn on a dusty ground at snail’s pace; with your instructor operating the clutch and brake for you (your only job is to turn the steering wheel).

At the end of it all, when you get your license (to kill), you realise that after 10 hours of lessons for which you probably had to miss several outings with your friends (what a horrible price to pay!), you know NOTHING about driving!