A Second Chance
Prerna Chatterjee is a full-time editor at a publishing house and a part-time freelance writer
based in India. When not reading or editing, she can cook up fiction or fudge brownies. Twitter: @PrernaChatterji
The dream had been of balconies. The first one was wide with an armchair on one side and a coffee table next to it. The cemented pillars supported marble slabs, on which pots of hibiscus, Christ plant and petunia stood. The other part of the balcony was shaded by buoyant bougainvillea, pale orange in colour. Winter sun, slanted and waning poured in through the leaves. The smell of peppermint tea blended with the longing for a butterfly biscuit, crunchy on the edges and sugary towards the middle. Tarun always returned with a dozen, wrapped in loose newspaper on his way back. The tea stall, by his office sold the best butterfly biscuits in town.
The next balcony bore traces of neglect. It was a narrow dumping space for unwanted items. A bicycle with flat tyres, discolored gas cylinder, ladder with a cracked step and heaps of plastic bags. Worn out clothes hung from the lines. A little boy appeared, dressed in a cardboard box. He was followed by a girl wearing a blue vest. An upturned wok rested on her tiny head. She carried ladles in both hands. When the boy pushed her around, she resisted with ladles. The smell of milk tea blended with the longing for plain Marie biscuits that became soggy when dipped in milk tea. Brother always stealthily buttered his Marie biscuits before dipping them. Mother wondered how she ran out of butter so soon into the month.
The last balcony was more of a corridor with classrooms lined on one side. The ledge on the other side was crowded with plants, too dry to flower. Half done posters hung from the edge - colours still raw and slogans, incomplete. The winter sun was young and snug on the ledge, much like the two girls who held each other. They leaned against the wall, shoulders stiff and palms sweaty. The smell of unsweetened black tea, reminded her of cheap cigarettes. Mishka always insisted that they shared cigarettes and tea, stealing kisses in between.
She woke up with a start to the sound of the ECG machine beeping. The hospital room resembled a scene from some war flick. Nurses rushed in and out with patients, gasping for breath. They fixed oxygen masks and ran channels in the hands of the patients. She listened to her own breath. It had steadied over the past few hours. Her chest did not feel like it would burst open. Maybe she had some amount of life left in her. Maybe she could tell mother where all the butter in the world went. Maybe she would feel the slanting rays of winter sun on her eyelids one more time. Maybe, she could confide in Tarun about Mishka, once this got over. Maybe her kisses would finally be written on the right side of history. But right now, she felt thirsty for a cup of tea.