A Cold November Afternoon

Something was wrong.

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Amelia shivered as a gust of wind swept across the deserted yard. She rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms in a vain attempt to trick her body into believing she was warm and comfortable. She stood on to her tiptoes and craned her neck in the direction of the tiny gate. Still no sign of Chris. No sign of anyone, actually. Not even the priest. You’d think at least the man of God officiating the wedding ceremony would show up at the venue on time. She found it absurd how quiet the place was, when in fact it should have been filled with the sound of music as Chris’ brother walked her down the aisle.

Admittedly, the chapel was far flung, to say the least. But everyone had been given precise directions. And Chris knew. Yet there she was: a young girl standing all alone at the doorsteps of a locked chapel in her wedding dress, waiting for her groom, guests and minister to arrive.

She took off her veil and wrapped the flimsy material around herself— once again, not a very helpful attempt at keeping the cold from raising gooseflesh down her arms. “They’ll be here any minute.” She whispered herself as her teeth chattered. “It’s not possible for everyone to forget, or lose their way and give up. And Chris will definitely come.”

Her legs began to ache. She considered sitting down but quashed the idea almost instantly— the steps she stood on were mysteriously dusty, as if nobody had bothered to sweep them for the wedding, and they would most certainly ruin her pristine white gown. So she slipped off her heels, held her gown above her ankles and walked about a little, glancing eagerly toward the gate every now and then.

‘What kind of wedding planner doesn’t get the venue decorated?’ She thought to herself angrily as she surveyed the untidy yard. Autumn leaves were strewn all over the place, and while they lent a lovely orange-red hue to the atmosphere, it simply wouldn’t do to have them flying in everyone’s faces once the ceremony began. And she saw no sign of the standard arrangements any sane person would expect at any simple gathering: no chairs or tables, no food or drinks … and certainly none of the beautiful flowers and drapes she had picked out to liven up her cold November “I do” afternoon. And then there were the steps. Those bothered her the most. Was she expected to get married to the love of her life with dust flying into both their eyes?

Suddenly, she felt the hair on the nape of her neck stand. A chill ran down her spine. Clearly, something was wrong. Everyone couldn’t have forgotten. No wedding planner would let a client get married in such a state of disrepair. No minister would fail to reach a wedding ceremony he was to officiate. And Chris would definitely never abandon her.

Confused and frightened as she was, she couldn’t shake off her strong feeling of déjà vu. She strode towards the gate she’d been eyeing all afternoon, pushed it open and walked down the overgrown lane. She wondered how such obvious absence of any signs of life hadn’t struck her as odd when she had arrived 4 hours ago. Suddenly, without knowing exactly why, she broke into a run. Somehow her heels and gown and veil getting dirty and torn seemed inconsequential. Something was wrong.

It was well past dusk when she reached the main road. And still, she found herself alone. In the dark. Fear gripped her like never before, and she let out a scream. Nobody came. Silence. And then suddenly, “Amelia?”

Amelia spun around, her heart pounding. She knew that voice. “Aaron?” She gasped and stumbled backwards. Clearly, she was hallucinating. Her younger brother had been dead for ten years. She had buried his mangled remains, with the rest of her mutilated family. Her statement had sent the drunk driver that killed them all to prison. She blinked multiple times, hoping for this vision to disappear. He got blurry, but that was probably because she was tearing up. When they spilled out from her eyes, hot against her cheeks, he still stood there, two feet away from her, as clear as day, and surprisingly unmarked and unscarred.

“Amelia …” Aaron approached her slowly. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” Amelia blurted out, catching herself unawares.

Aaron raised one eyebrow.

“You’re dead.” Amelia said to him, though she was obviously trying to remind herself of the fact.

“Yes. That’s why you need to come with me.”

Amelia felt a stab of pain as everything came rushing back to her— the week before her wedding … the final alteration of her wedding dress … the shop caving in … bricks upon bricks crushing her body, squeezing the air out of her lungs and agonizing pain through every fiber of her being …

Amelia’s knees gave way and she felt a thud as she sat on the road. Tears streaming down her face, she saw fire-fighters pull her lifeless body from the debris and Chris sob over her for half the night. She gave a start as she felt Aaron’s gentle touch on her forearm.

“Chris buried you today. Right next to me.”

“So … instead of a wedding … I had a funeral?”

Aaron nodded sadly as Amelia rocked back and forth, sobbing into her veil.

After what felt like eternity, she looked up. Aaron was sitting beside her cross-legged, waiting patiently as she came to terms with the tragedy.

“Now what?”

“Now,” said Aaron, getting to his feet and beckoning her to follow suit, “you come with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To Mom and Dad.”

“Heaven?”

Aaron smiled. “Well we don’t call it that … but yeah, sure.”

“But— I need to … I need Chris to know that … that I loved him till the very end.”

“But there is no end.” Aaron said simply. “Chris will join us when his time comes. And you will still love him. And he knows.”

***

“Amelia!”

Amelia rushed into his embrace. It had been years since she had felt his comforting arms hold her against his strong chest … since she’d breathed in the sweet scent of his body and felt his breath on her neck …

“Chris!”

“We have unfinished business.” He said to her with a grin.

“Yes we do!” Amelia nodded happily.

“I’m so glad you have everything ready, Amelia. I will not lose this chance again.”

Amelia smiled, intertwined her fingers in his and led him down the path to the chapel.

And so, on another cold November afternoon, many years down the line, in a chapel infinitely more special than the one whose gate they’d met at, Chris and Amelia finally had their “I do” moment in the company of their families in the tranquility of the afterlife, where there was no death to do them part …

Memories of Childhood

There are countless of us who have our most precious childhood memories hidden in a cosy nook, lost in a book

I was maybe 3 when I developed the conditioned reflex of smiling at the sight of a book. My mother had made it a habit to read to me as often as she could, and oh, how grateful I am to her for it every day! I, in turn, was enthralled by the world that could be found in those pages. How could it be that she could leaf through this rectangle full of sheets with funny symbols on them and see such wonderful stories unfolding before her eyes? I just had to learn to do that!

“What does that mean?” and “Where is that word written?” became daily questions, and their answers seemed much more interesting than admiring the multitude of brightly coloured illustrations so many of my books contained. As a result, I was reading long before I learnt the alphabet. My love for reading only deepened as I grew older, and anyone who knew me for 2 seconds knew that a book would be the ideal gift for me for any occasion, and my library expanded at an exponential rate.

Now, as I prepare to move to the other side of the world, I find myself surrounded by things I cannot possibly carry along, however much I may want to. After donating many kilograms of clothes and shoes, today, I turned to the gigantic bookshelf I am immensely proud of.

Having recently adopted greener ways and bought a Kindle, I thought that sorting out books to donate would be the easiest giveaway task of the entire moving process. After all, I only had to list the books I wanted in my collection and that were available as e-books, and then pile them in one of the large bags strewn on the floor.

I don’t know what made me open the first of the books. But when I did, I saw a sticker staring up at me. “Miss Amrita Bhardwaj. 2nd in class. Standard IV B.” That was when I realized how many memories I was giving away too. Countless similar stickers went by (clearly I was a bit of a nerd!), intermixed with numerous birthday messages, and several more random “Enjoy the world of _____” notes from all those loving people who had always remembered that a book was always the best way to make me happy.

There were so many complete series I had bought, thinking that I would save them and read them to my own children someday. So many thoughtful messages from so many friends. How was I supposed to just let go of all of that? I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of emotions just the sight of those pages brought back, even without being read. I was surprised to find that I still remember which ones my mother used to read to me before I learnt to do it relatively independently, which ones I had read while I was sick, and which ones I had hidden from her while reading because I couldn’t bear to have a daily limit imposed on fiction.

I have donated a fragment of myself with every book I have placed in a giveaway bag today, and it has left me feeling strangely hollow, despite the fact that I am already in the process of downloading their electronic versions. I had never dreamed that I would be so attached to those bundles of paper that adorned my childhood structure of pride that now stands half-empty in my living room. (There are some books I just couldn’t find it in my heart to part with.)

There is a ray of sunshine in the situation though: by donating my prized-possessions to a free library, I have been a source of happiness to many children who would not otherwise have been able to afford the joy of reading.

All those of you who don’t understand us lovers of books: please do yourself a favour and pick one up. It can be about anything— anything in the world. It can be any length— 50 pages or 1000. Just open a book and experience that feeling of getting lost in the pages where you are given just the story and your mind is free to imagine everything else. Feel that urgency to read just one more chapter … that temptation to skip ahead to the end … that strange mixture of both satisfaction and a twinge of sadness when you finish the last page. There are countless of us who have our most precious childhood memories hidden in a cosy nook, lost in a book. Gift yourself this unique joy found only in words. You will thank me later, I promise.