The dream woke him up with a start.
Such a dream will wake up any guy!
A shudder passed through him.
Dead of night—the howl of a stray dog added to the uneasiness. Was it a premonition? The Grim Reaper stared malevolently; neon sign lit up the urgent message on the billboard, at the interstate highway, his car waiting at the traffic signal, in New Delhi’s tri-junction at the Connaught Place:
Last one hour left! Hurry up, before it is too late!
The stockbroker felt an eerie sensation, a chill. Such a portent in dreamy state!
He went to a dream-reader next morning and got the message confirmed by that mysterious expert in a cowl, beads and feathers, red eyes. The verdict, in a raspy voice, was clear: A divine sign. Time for you to pack up for another world. Please say goodbye before you exit the stage!
The stockbroker was puzzled — Goodbye? To whom?
— To the one that misses you the most!
The answer by the dream- reader left him in no doubt about such a rare person.
Everybody else had forgotten the widower — family, relatives, neighbours, and colleagues, except her who kept on calling him at odd hours, asking about meals, BP, sleeping pattern, hyperacidity, long working hours — typical Ma stuff that was getting repetitive and on his nerves; her calls often went un-answered.
He drove down to the home outside Delhi for seniors and found Ma tending to the flowers on that memorable afternoon.
The son felt pity for the frail woman.
She was unable to see or walk but tending to the flowers in the beds there, in that house for the discarded parents.
She did not react.
She turned around and peered.
— Is it you, Ramakant?
— Yes, Ma.
Her leathery face cracked into a thousand smiles.
Pure delight radiated from a wrinkled face.
— How come you are here?
— Just like that. Remembered you. Thought I must visit Ma.
She smiled and patted him on the head — as in childhood and early youth.
He did not have the heart to tell about a ridiculous dream…of fear of mortality, other insecurities and deep vulnerabilities, of an urban mind.
The prophecy came back in a deep recess of the brain.
Heart accepted the omen but mind refused to believe.
Wishful thinking. Often think of embracing death in an ungrateful world — the mere crystallization of that wish, maybe. Maybe not.
But why me?
He believed in portents also.
Dreams that foretell — provided you are clued into the mysterious forces out there trying to convey some signals.
Ma fought back her tears; composed herself quickly and face regained serenity of a person resigned to her fate.
She held his hands tenderly.
They sat down on the bench under a tin shade, among the tools and tiny flowers smiling in the breeze. A riot of colors in a drab building.
She asked quietly — How are you?
He was bit disoriented but replied naturally — Fine, Ma.
They sat there and watched the small garden. The winter sun was mild. There were birds chirping and scent of jasmine pervaded the space. A river flowed outside the low compound wall of the home.
He remembered a pleasant childhood and youth in a poor but loving house. Hard-working Pa and Ma. Prayers. Evening meals together. Fun. Laughter. Siblings. Joy of reading. Singing. Cooking. Going as a family on holidays in public buses.
The death of Pa…separation of siblings…other deaths…changing status…chasing of wealth…and atrophy, within and without.
Slowly, under relentless pursuit of goals and profits, he had stopped feeling any sensation, emotion or feeling.
He was getting scared.
Is it true? A soul, dead.
Ramakant came out of reverie and asked gently — Anything I can do for you, Ma?
She smiled — Keep on coming, son.
— And return my calls. I know you are busy but sometimes a Ma wants to hear the voice of the eldest son…
The stockbroker, staring at the clock, felt ashamed.
— Ma, I am sorry.
She smiled and said — No need for that, son.
Her tenderness melted a calcified heart. Eyes welled up; voice choked, he felt icebergs moving inside a locked heart.
Something tiny germinating inside a life-long cynicism.
The clock began ticking furiously in his mind caught up in this moment and the impending one — real or imagined?
Just then, on the wings of the wind, the fragmented announcement got carried inside the bleak grey building.
It said crisply over a public address system somewhere outside: Hurry up, please! Time approaching.
In panic, he looked at Ma, alone and fragile there, away from her children. But she seemed oblivious to any announcement.
Relieved, he thought of leaving. She should not hear the warning again. He wanted to spare her the pain.
Mindful of frailty of human life, the mortality factor, he was preparing for the truth.
Is it fiction?
Can it happen as predicted?
But he did not want Ma to see his fear and confusion. He held her hands for long. Both were savoring every minute of this unexpected meeting.
Then he got up, bent down on his knees, and clasped her bony hands and said sincerely — Ma, I seek your total forgiveness. Please forgive a wayward son.
Before the startled woman could react, he spun around and marched out, hurriedly, not sure when the hour will strike and the bell toll for him, but the stockbroker was now at peace, completely prepared, ready for the final call…and a possible meeting with his Maker.
Waiting for the next message…and mode of cessation.
He started his car and waved at the old people coming out from the building. They waved back, happily. Their smiles were infectious.
He, the relaxed stockbroker, smiled back, feeling oddly fulfilled; a strange sensation, of elation hitting hard, after long.
At the traffic signal, he began drumming the wheel and humming.
Nothing else mattered.