The Town That Dreamt Towns

I was tired. I slowly walked towards my home lugging a heavy bag on my back. A hand me down partially torn and it was sewn multiple times amateurishly by me. I reached the gate, or that’s what it was supposed to be. It was rusted and made creaking noises when used. On it was written “Aurora Orphanage”.

I sighed, this was my home. I’ve lived here for the past ten years and this would be my last few months there. My mother died while giving birth to my stillborn sister and my father couldn’t take the shock and didn’t speak a word since then. I was too young to have understood any of it back then. All I had were my father’s diary entries and frequent visits by the officials who keep a check on me regarding my father who was in an asylum.

I placed my bag neatly on the counter by my bunk bed where I laid down on the lower bunk. I’d just given a job interview at the post office for a postman. I needed a job because the orphanage can’t be my home forever. I needed to get up on my feet and then grow big. I planned to work part time as a postman and finish my last year studying a Bsc.

I was just about to drift off to sleep when Ravi, a seven-year-old came and jumped onto my bed and screamed into my ear, “Wake up! Wake up!!! You promised to show me Halley’s comet! Rajeev chacha rented the telescope and you have to show us.”

I was the oldest one in the orphanage and I was responsible for the kids here. Rajeev chacha was the warden and paid me 9 Rupees a month for that. He knew a rich business man who usually donated a huge sum of money to the orphanage every year. The businessman sometimes lets Rajeev chacha borrow the telescope for the kids and I had to set it up for them.

The year was 1986 and the newspaper said that Halley’s comet would be the nearest earth today. I looked up the position it was supposed to be from the local library which provided a free membership for orphans.

I got off the bed with a grunt and climbed up a flight of stairs to the terrace where the telescope lay on the ground and all the kids screamed in delight and the younger ones hugged me too.
Soon, the telescope was set up and I was focusing it onto the Comet. I calibrated it as sharp as I could. I was about to hand it out to the youngest kid to look at it and I thought,” Oh, such beauty! I wish I could be like you! Be free, no pressures, leave everyone with awe with your comet dust! I wish I could be free as you”

Thinking that suddenly drained all the energy from me. My legs trembled and I collapsed to the ground.

I woke up groggy, the hand me down table clock showed 04:30 am. I tried sitting up and I felt light headed. I lied down and closed my eyes for a while. I tried getting up again at 04:55, I forced myself out of bed. Walked down the hallway trying not to wake anyone up, these kids had sharp ears.

I drank a glass of water and sat on a wooden stool which had a newspaper on it. I picked it up. I was feeling queasy. I was feeling different and I knew something had changed. I couldn’t place it but I knew something was different.

I checked the headlines and in the local news section, there was a headline that caught my eye Orphan Missing. I read through the article and it said that one of the kids of my orphanage was missing.

How’s that possible? I couldn’t believe. I checked the date, it said 1 July 1986. Wait, the sighting was supposed to be on 26 June.

Was I out for five whole days? If it were so, I should’ve been in the hospital. I rechecked the date on the newspaper and it was the same. What was even happening?

The article didn’t mention any details of the missing child. I got up and checked each and every room and checked if all the kids were safe and sound. All were sleeping peacefully. I didn’t know what to do.

Rajeev chacha was nowhere to be found. I was tensed and was confused as to what was even happening. Before I knew it, I removed the books from my bag and packed in some clothes, a torch, the saved up money from under my bed ( I had 98 rupees and 72 paise). I tiptoed into the kitchen and picked up a tiny jar which had cookies donated by a neighbour. I put in most of them. I took a sweater and Rajeev chacha’s wrist watch and shoes and stepped out.

I would go out, keep a check on people and nearby places to keep one of us safe. I couldn’t be myself if one of us went missing.

I walked out the orphanage, the gate creaked and I snuck out with as less sound possible. I walked down the road and to my right was the railway station. Wait, wasn’t the railway station on the other side of the city? Maybe I was in a trance and didn’t know how I reached here.

I was curious and wanted to find out how I reached here or how the railway station came up here. I walked in and I saw some street hawkers selling magazines and tea. I had a cup of tea. I never had tea worse than that! I was wide awake now. I was still in the railway station, I walked up to the teller and asked where the next train was going.

“Anywhere”, he replied.

That was the vaguest reply a teller could ever say. I tried asking again, “I’d like a ticket to Bombay.”

Why Bombay? It was the city of dreams!! And all that’s happening now seems like a dream.

“What is a Bombay?” He looked at me like I was a lunatic.

Who doesn’t know Bombay?

I heard chugging. It was faint but sure was the sound of an approaching train. I asked the collector where this train was going to. He replied,

“Anywhere.”

He then impatiently said, “ Should I book a ticket? Or what?”

I couldn’t resist the temptation and said, “Sure why not?”

He typed into his typewriter and handed me a ticket which read – Anywhere- 1 Adult.

I took out my wallet to pay. The teller stopped me abruptly, “ No. You’ll know when to pay.” What’s that even supposed to mean?

Weird. Queer. I was mystified. What was happening to me? I could see the engine at the distance, chugging steam. Weren’t steam engines phased out in most lines?

I walked to the nearby vendor and bought a small pot of water and bought a Tale of Two Cities. The vendor stopped me from paying and said, “You’ll know when to pay.” What? Again? What is happening? What am I supposed to pay? And when?

The train chugged into the station and the doors opened. I climbed in and searched for an empty seat. The train was almost full and I managed a seat by a window. No one even looked at me and they didn’t even look at anyone else. Everyone was minding their own business. I tried talking to an old man opposite me, but he never responded. I then stopped trying and kept to myself.

I settled down on the seat, put my backpack underneath it and took out the paperback and started reading it. A few pages into the book the ticket collector came by, I showed him my ticket. He checked the ticket and then stared at me for a while, then returned it and said, “One day, All days will end” and walked away.

I stared out the window trying to make sense of what he said and what had been happening all this while. Stations passed, time passed without me knowing how fast everything happened.

I finished about a quarter of the paperback I saw out the window, there was a calm little time at a distance, I could see a station near it. The scene was strikingly exotic with the sunset right in the background with the spire of the town centre right in between me and the sun.

I got down at the unnamed railway station. No one else alighted and the train departed in one minute. I waited on the platform until I could no longer see the train.

The station was eerily silent. It was surprising that there was no one here. It was empty, but it didn’t look abandoned. It was clean as if someone cleaned it every day. But there was no one now.

I picked up my bag and walked out the station into the town. The town was desolate, just like the station. I went up to a hotel, opened the door and rang the bell for the manager, no one showed up. I wasn’t surprised. I guess surprises weren’t any more surprising after all that happened today.

I went up to the town centre’s spire where the clock said 07:45 pm and checked the town map. It was a small town with four main roads and five lanes branching off the road connecting the railway station on one side and a hill on the other.

I then went to a house and tried to open it. It opened without any resistance. I walked in. Even this house was neatly set up. Everything was in its perfect place. It seemed to have been dusted and cleaned recently. Probably a day or two ago based on the settled dust. I then moved up to the bedroom upstairs and made myself home. If anyone came in I’ll explain all that happened and then leave.

I had a bath with hot water. The first time in ages! I never had a hot water bath in the orphanage. It was so very relaxing. I came out the bathroom only to see a neatly pressed trouser and a shirt with a tie hanging on the cupboard across the room. They sure weren’t mine and they weren’t there when I entered the room.

I’ll try it out. There’s no loss in feeling rich for a day! I tried opening the cupboard and it was locked. The first thing that was locked in the village. While I wore this expensive set of clothing I heard singing and kitchen smell. Someone was cooking something good.

I wore my shoes as fast as I could and went downstairs. I saw a girl, about the same age as me setting up dinner for two on the table. She looked up at me when I walked into the room.

“Hi!”, she said with visible excitement, “I’m Lisa, It’s been ages I cooked for anyone! Please feel at home. I’ll be right back with fresh bread.”

I didn’t know how to react. The food on the table sure was alluring, my mouth started watering. I was just making up my mind to start without her that Lisa came back with bread, some croissants and a bottle of red wine.

We ate quietly for a while. I finally introduced myself after the meal. She nodded and said, “Nice meeting you.”

“Why don’t go watch the telly from the couch while I clean up?” she said and I complied. I got up and went to the couch. There was a clock on the wall which said the time was 06:50 pm. I checked my wrist watch and it showed the same. Probably the clock on the spire wasn’t working.

Lisa entered the room and sat beside me. “So? What brings you here?”, she asked.

I told her all that happened and she was genuinely interested. I then asked her, “Where’s everyone? And is the clock on the town centre wrong?”

She sat still for a moment without answering, she just stared at the clock for a while. And I was looking at her and suddenly she seemed gorgeous and out of the world. She somehow felt like she had a part in me finding her in this desolate town.

She turned suddenly and caught me staring at her. She smiled and said, “One morning, everyone in the town decided to leave. They left. Also, there’s nothing wrong with the clock in the town centre.”

Why was I getting such vague replies all day? I then asked her, “Then why didn’t you leave?”

“I wanted to climb the hill since I was a child. And I didn’t want to leave until I climbed.” She looked at me in the eyes and smiled.

I couldn’t take any more blunt answers and asked with a hint of exasperation, “What? You could’ve climbed it anytime! That’s no reason for not leaving town! What’s the point in doing something without a proper reason, huh?”

She seemed to have taken aback, raised her eyebrows and said, “If it were all about a proper reason… Why’d you climb onto the train?”

She had a point there. I looked at the clock again. This time it was 05:25 pm. “I’m sorry for that… Everything’s happening so fast. And the clock is creeping me out. Why’s everything going the other way round?”

“I don’t know why you feel there’s something wrong with the clocks!?! They’re perfectly fine… Trust me. Now I hope that’s one thing of your chest. And it’s alright. I was pretty nervous when I was alone here. I understand it takes time getting used to!”

But, it’s the time I’m concerned about! It’s going backwards!

“Now that you’re here, can you accompany me up the hill? I never could go up there. So?” She asked me with a gleam in her eyes.

“Yes! Sure. How about in the morning? But… Why didn’t you ever climb it?”

“My shoes… All I’ve got are heels and I don’t know how to stitch them back.”

Wow! I guess I’m no one to talk about weird and queer reasons.

I chuckled and said, “Okay… Then in the morning, we shall!” She hugged me and then whispered into my ear, “ Thank you.”

I woke up in the morning to find breakfast ready and Lisa was waiting for me on the table. I checked the time and it was 03:15 am. But the sun was out.

After having breakfast together, both set out to climb the hill. They passed by the Town centre where the clock showed 02:45 am. It was the same on his wrist watch too.

Lisa went up to the notice board and put up a Missing sign. “I put it up for every person who’s left the town. And now you are too!”

Wow… That’s a bit too touchy! I couldn’t believe I was falling in love with this girl.

We started climbing the hill and halfway through it Lisa tripped over and broke the heel of her shoe. I picked up her shoe and put it in my bag to stitch it later. I then carried her on my back to the top.

We spoke a lot and got to know who we really were. She was the one person I was able to share everything I felt since my father was taken away.

We reached the peak and on the side was a scene I could never get off my memory. In the distance were snow covered hills and in between a desert! A desert with a town by the only oasis and a little town in the snowy hills. I have to go there, no matter what. I need to know what that town has in store for me.

“Come! Let’s go to the town in the middle of the desert” I said.

“I can’t. I can’t leave the town”

I proposed we eat the packed sandwiches and talk. I asked her why she couldn’t come while munching a sandwich.

“I can’t because there’s no one else who can put up a Missing note in the centre.” She said with a shrug as if it was something obvious. “But, you should go. I’d want you to see the world and I won’t forget you ever!”

I then decided to go to the town. With a promise to keep her in my heart forever I left and started walking down the hill on the other side. I turned back and saw her looking at me, “ I’d want to know the date! The date I went searching the world!!”

She screamed back, “It’s the first of July! To me, it’s the day I loved a man I can never forget! The man who helped me fulfil my dream! Go live your dream with me in your heart!”

I waved her a goodbye and walked down. I reached the bottom of the hill and realized I had Lisa’s shoe in my bag. I turned around and Lisa was no longer seen.

I couldn’t make up my mind to go back up to return it to her when I was so close to the desert town. I walked for a while from Lisa’s town which I chose to call The town where the time went backwards.

I reached the town in the middle of the desert. The houses were all tiny. They were like Dollhouses that were kept for display in those huge stores which rich people could afford. They were as tall as my shoulders were. The people should be shorter too!

As I wondered over the marvel of such tiny buildings I felt a tug near my wrist. A little girl who would’ve been about 3 years old tugged at my wrist watch and started sprinting. I ran behind her. I didn’t require much effort to match the speed of a 3-year-old. I reached out to her, picked her up in the air and took my wristwatch back while she squirmed.

I wore my watch back. She spat on the ground and said in a clear voice, “I shouldn’t have been caught! Now I have to stick to you!”

“What does that mean little one?”

“I was the best thief in town! Now I can’t steal without you letting me!”

Why do I meet weird people always? This doesn’t make any sense!

She saw I was confused and then explained, “Here, this town; everyone steals everything always. We steal food to eat and steal houses to live and steal stuff to use always. But if anyone is caught stealing, the thief doesn’t have a say. The thief is supposed to do the bidding of the one who caught the thief.”

Did I just understand any of that or am I going crazy? “Umm, so you do what I tell you to do from now on?”

“Yes!” she shook her head with irritation.

“Hmm, then take me to your home. I’m hungry”, I said as I thought I could get a meal and have another acquaintance.

We went to her place to find out that her house was stolen and she was blaming me for all her loss. I thought I could help her if I paid the money I had. I took out 50 Rupees and handed it out to her. She took it and asked with fury, “What am I to do with paper? You think you can compensate a house with paper?”

She suddenly got silent and started to a point behind me. I thought she was lost in thought, trying to formulate what to say next. But she stared for a long time and curiosity getting the best of me I looked back to find my bag was opened and Lisa’s shoe missing.

“Did… Did you see who did it?” I asked her furiously.

“Yes. Suits you for being the reason my house was stolen.” This was heights of madness. I had no clue about this place and I was being punished for ignorance? Unfair. I needed to play hardball.

“I need you to tell me who that was and steal what he has stolen from me.”

She got up and went the direction the thief must’ve gone muttering all sorts of obscenities under her breath. She reached a dump yard. She went inside and I followed suit. I saw Lisa’s shoe at the far side beside a house that was larger than all I’ve seen in the town. Oh, my God! This isn’t a dump yard… This is all the stolen good of some little human!

I made sure no one saw me inching towards the shoe, I slowly picked it up and put it into my bag and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something shine. I went to check it out. It turned out to be a golden orb. If money doesn’t count here. Maybe gold would. I couldn’t resist myself and I slipped the orb into my bag.

The little girl said, “This was my house. This was stolen. Thank you!! You found my house!”

“Well, you can have it. I’m going to travel to the hills as soon as possible. This place is driving me crazy.”

The little one bounded up to me and hugged me and said: “Thank you!” She let go of me abruptly, looked ahead and ran behind someone. I stood there mute, barely understanding what happened.

The little girl came back with an envelope addressed to me. “One of them flicked it off your bag, I think this is addressed to you.”

I thanked the girl and took the envelope. It was from Lisa. It said that she hoped I would meet my family along the journey and live a life extraordinarily and be back to tell her about my adventures. One sentence stuck with me. I couldn’t forget it. The exact words were – I hope you paint the future you really deserve.
I then left the little town. Before leaving I asked the girl her name, she said she had none. I then named her Lily because the path downhill from the Town where Time went backwards was full of Lilies and the little one resembled Lisa.

I waved Lily goodbye and walked on with a shoe and an orb in my bag towards the little town in the Snowcapped hills leaving the Town where Houses are Stolen behind.

I heard a voice from behind. I turned around and saw Lily with a motorcycle. She apparently stole it so that I could drive on easily for my journey to be smoother. I thanked her again and drove on leaving her waving at me behind at the horizon.

Lucky I had a sweater with me. This place was cold. As I drove through the winding road all alone, I could feel something in the air. The tension was cutting into my face. I had no clue what could happen at the next bend. I travelled with fear.

I didn’t realize I went over a trap that was covered with a layer of snow triggering an alarm at a distance. It wasn’t before long that dogs were chasing me and I was driving at the max speed.

The fuel was almost low and the dogs would’ve caught me if not for a giant. A giant came up from ahead without any notice. I swerved and the bike skid and I was knocked out.

I woke up in a cave with a fire lit nearby. The giant sat on the other side of the fire and was painting something on the wall. I crawled up beside him and mumbled a thank you.

He looked at me, and somehow reminded me of someone I knew, but I wasn’t able to place him. He looked at me, sniffed and then continued painting. It was the scene I saw from the top of the hillock. I tried talking to the giant, but he didn’t seem to listen. I walked out the cave when the giant, in his deep voice, said, “No. Town is missing”

I didn’t understand. He then said, “I break town.”

That’s when I realized what he meant. There was supposed a town in the hills. I was standing on the corner of the cave. I could see the Town where houses are stolen brightly lit at this time of the night and in the distance, the hillock where I loved a girl for the first time.

Now there wasn’t any. The giant started crying with tears as huge as my face. I put two and two together. He must’ve broken the town trying to save me. I asked him if what I thought was what actually happened.

He told me that the town I thought I saw was the Giant tied down to the hill and my triggering the alarm gave him a chance to go free. He said he had a family but his mate vanished and his little one was stuck somewhere alone waiting for someone to come for it. Wasn’t Lisa left alone?

I pitied him. This giant was orphaned too and I knew how orphans felt. I understood him. He painted as much as he could. He stopped and asked if I had a brush to paint smaller things as his brush was too big to paint those. I said I didn’t have anything.

That’s when I saw a box in the corner of the cave. I went to it and saw that it was for me from Lisa. I opened it. There it was, in the box a brush! What? How? I hope you paint the future you really deserve. She thought of everything?!?

She was the whole reason I could help the giant finish his painting. The giant then looked at me and said, “I love you little one. You help me. I paint town you want go.”

Wasn’t it the sweetest thing ever? This giant actually painted a town for me coz he didn’t want me to miss out on the town I wanted to go to.

This time I was the one who hugged the giant. The giant then said he was sleepy and slept by the fire and asked me to go ahead and finish my journey

I waited for a while and then walked out to the edge of the cave. I saw my motorcycle. I walked towards it and tripped on a rope. I looked at it and it turned out to be a strand of hair of the giant that must’ve fallen down. I rolled it up as a souvenir. As a memory of what the giant did for me. I then took another step towards the motorcycle when a piece of glass pierced my foot. A piece of glass from the headlamp of the bike when I fell off it. I bandaged my leg and looked at the piece of glass and I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Yikes! I grew a beard! I had grown old! It was just a few nights ago I started this journey! Now I was aged! I seemed to be a nonagenarian!

I couldn’t believe what I saw. I could feel that I was tired. I was shocked. And I slept right there, by the motorcycle in the Town where there never was a town.

I woke up with a start when I felt someone pat me on my shoulder. I saw that the ticket collector of the Train to Anywhere was standing right in front of me. Surprises sure were a part of my life.

I realized that the train had stopped and so I alighted. As I exited the station, the teller asked for a payment for the ticket to Anywhere.

I could see my reflection in the glass between the teller and me. I was a nonagenarian. All this wasn’t a dream!

The teller clicked her fingers to help me come back to my senses, “Sir, please do pay for your journey. As you know One day, All days will end

One day, All days will end? This is the end of my journey then. My days have passed. And I shall have to pay. The teller in the previous station said, “You’ll know when to pay.” And the day is now. If all days end… So do all memories. Ahhhh. I now know what I shall pay!

“Here, young lady. I shall give up all my unfulfilled desires. Keep this shoe for I no longer can live with this worldly possession from the town where the time went backwards. I give up on my greed and I give you this Golden Orb from the Town where Houses are Stolen. And here I shall sever all relations and be an individual of my own with my unique identity. I surrender this strand of giants hair from the Town where there never was a town.”

The teller smiled and said, “Thank you, sir. That will be all.”

I bowed her thanks and turned to walk out the station when the teller called me from behind, “ Sir, there’s one thing you got wrong.”

“Whats that young lady?”

“Sir, it wasn’t supposed to be The town where the time went backwards. It actually was the Town where time flies by without notice.”

“Thank you,” I said and stepped out of the station even more confused than when I began this journey.

But the outside of the station was all dark! All I could see was a sparkle in the distance. All material vanished and I was floating, I swam in the darkness towards the sparkle, the light grew larger and larger. I reached so close that I could see the sparkle from the earth! I zoomed in the direction of the sparkle and at a distance not too close to the sparkle and not too far I saw my 18-year-old self, looking through the telescope at Halley’s comet.

The town where time flies by without notice! I lived and loved my life so much that I never realized that the clocks never went back in time, but they showed the time within a gap of days together! I didn’t know how time went by while I was with Lisa!

I closed my eyes in bliss! I knew I lived my life the best with adventure! I let go! Let go of everything in bliss!

    *******

The old man woke up when heard a bang nearby. He opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the sound. A little boy stood there in a shock and a box fallen to the ground beside him. His eyes directly darted towards the wall clock which said 07:55 pm. The calendar said 1 July 2061.

The room was ornated with photo frames of all the memories he’d had had. He looked at the frames from the left of the room which he always did. Well, memories are all that are left of a 93-year-old man.

The first one was a newspaper cutout of the time when he stopped a kid from his orphanage from going missing. The fun part was that no one believed that he got to know about it about a week before and yet he was adamant that somehow he read it in a newspaper.

The next was a black and white photo of himself and his wife Lisa when they first met while he was travelling when his posting changed. An early postman’s life was difficult during those days.

Another frame adorned the wall where Lisa and he were holding hands on top of a hill where they got married, and another photo was when a 3-year-old Lily tried to smuggle out a Barbie Doll house out a mall (it was a screenshot of the store’s security camera).

A tiny frame held a photo where Lisa gave his daughter Lily a letter to give him on their marriage anniversary as a part of a treasure hunt; another picture of his father and himself painting a scene together with all paints botched on their aprons. Another frame adorned the picture of his father who hosted a bid for the painting which was then won by the Louvre Museum.

A woman came running to the boy looked at the mess and scolded him for trying to get the box off the attic. The woman started putting stuff in the box when she picked up a golden Orb. She looked up at the man. “Papa? You kept this with you all these years?”

“Li… lily?”

She looked towards him and screamed out, “Happy Birthday Dad!! You’re up real late!!”, she then looked towards the fallen box and a sparkle in her eyes said,“Yes, papa! And look! My dollhouse which I thought was stolen and you found it again!! I never thought you kept these”, Lily said hugging her father.

“Whats this ruckus about?” came an older woman into the room mumbling under her breath and stopped in her tracks. “My shoe? The pink one I wore to our wedding? The heel is still broken!!”

She looked at her husband with love, “Aww, sweety…I never knew you kept all these!”

“I did Lisa! After all, I love you!”

The old man looked to the other side of the room and on the wall was a picture of the face of the giant (which he realized looked just like his father) gazing down upon him from the frame adorned with flowers. Did he see a glint of pride in those eyes?

 

The old man saw the copy of the painting he hanging over his bed and muttered to himself, “And I know sweetheart, who put the brush in my hands and who made my travel easier!” the old man said. I also know who put up the Missing notice!

“I love you… I love you… I love…”, mumbled the old man.

He went missing and found himself 75 years later!

The End

It’d be really great if you could drop in a few comments on how you liked it and what could be done to improve this!

It’s been a long time since a posted and this turned out to be pretty huge! I hope you like it!!

Happy reading!

 

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