Since childhood, I was fond of two things:
Watching Alice in Wonderland and watching the passers-by from my balcony.
My home is situated very close to a railway station in a small town in North India. We see many passengers on a daily basis.They cross by our house to catch their respective trains; trains nobody wants to miss.
In winters, we used to take our morning coffee and snacks under the sun on our big balcony. That was the moment when I used to get the chance to see the passers-by in the morning time with a cup of warm milk, held tightly in my little hands. I never liked the taste of milk, but since my mother knew I enjoyed people-watching, she would trick me into drinking it while I was distracted. I could forget the odd smell of milk and gulp it down while being busy peeping and imagining.
I asked many silly questions to my mother about their lives; she used to just smile and say, “I do not know, you tell me. They are your friends as they wave back to you, not me.”
After finishing my breakfast, I used to rush to my room to watch my favourite show, Alice in Wonderland. My sister, Joe, thought I was so charmed by Alice that I would take on her character and make up stories in my head about the passers-by. I would tell the stories during our family-talks. Joe would just laugh at me.
As time passed, I went to college and forgot about Alice. Forget is a strong word. She was merely subdued in my subconscious and sweet memories.
One evening, I was sitting on that same balcony feeling gloomy and lost. I thought, Is my life going the way it should be?
Something was not right. Something was missing in my life, but I could not pinpoint what it was. My thoughts were disturbed by a strong wind and I noticed a flying piece of paper rolling on the floor. It was a envelope that read “Life in Art.” It was an event planned for the next day. I decided I needed to attend.
The event was in a big hall painted white. People milling around and viewing pictures while having small discussions amongst themselves. I was new to such places, and I did not know exactly what I was supposed to do, so I started wandering aimlessly, looking at one picture after another. Suddenly, something caught my attention. What a miracle it was, I thought, a masterpiece.
I gazed longingly at the picture, and it miraculously reminded me of the night before, sitting on my balcony questioning my life.
“Here is the answer,” said a voice.
I was taken aback and looked at the picture again.
“Do not be surprised; you heard me right. Here is the answer.”
I was again stunned. I tried to ignore it.
“Get rid of your inhibitions and follow me. Let life lead where it is leading, dont struggle, just go with the flow and believe in your dreams,” the lady in the picture said.
At that moment, I immediately took out my diary and wrote down the message, so as not to forget it.
Abruptly, I heard someone shouting, “What are you doing?” The voice sounded very irritated and it disturbed the flow of my writing. I looked up and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my sister, Joe. I looked back twice in disbelief and then jumped in excitement like a rabbit.
“Do not sit here imagining what her story could be, you are grown-up now! Come and help me. That is why I invited you. I was searching for you all over and here you are sitting, scribbling down like a fool. I cannot believe Alice is again in her wonderland!” said Joe.
Alice in Wonderland. I had not heard her name for a decade. It then occurred to me: oh yes, she is Alice. The woman in the picture was my Alice. She was back in my life, back to motivate me to dream. My eyes stayed glued to the picture. I noticed she looked rather weird as a grown up, very Indianised and very rural. Whatever, it did not really matter. She was my best friend and I was happy to see her.
Joe grabbed my hand and pulled me along. I picked up my diary quickly and looked at the picture, praying to God that no one would buy her.
The next morning, I went back to the gallery to check if the picture was still there. It wasn’t. I was so disheartened. When I returned back home, as I entered my house, the first thing I saw was the mystic picture. My sister did not sell it. She kept if for me and hung it on that same old balcony.
I still enjoy having my morning snacks under the sun, but the warm milk has changed to mild coffee. I cherish seeing the passers-by from my balcony, imagining their lives, with Alice who is hanging on the beige-colored wall next to me.
She watches the passers-by along with me. She reminds me I am not alone. She reminds me to never stop dreaming.
Author: Preeti Singh
Image: Pixabay/ Author’s own
Editor: Deb Jarrett