“Rejoice, O fortunate one. I have it in my power to grant three wishes! Go for it!”
“No,” she said, “I mean thanks and all that, but it’s fine. I’m good,” Hazel replied.
Sheila sat rapt in attention listening to author Neil Gaiman read his short story – October Tale. As the magical love story between the genie and a young lady named Hazel unfolded, Sheila felt a warm fuzzy feeling overcome her. The tale was simple yet carved a deep niche in her heart. What was it about the story that riveted her so? Was it the elements of magic that the author had brought into the mundane? Was it the unimaginable thought that a young woman was so content with her life that she could turn down the genie’s request to grant her anything in the world? Or was it his literary style, his poignant choice of words, the dialogues? As an aspiring author, she was determined to find out. She replayed the Masterclass lesson over and over again. And each time the warmth only grew. At the end of the narration, as the author proceeded to talk about his thought process behind the story, she was fascinated. And then wondered if it was the author’s voice, his British accent, the curly disheveled mop on his head or his nonchalance that drew her in? What was it? She was smitten by the story and him!
Sheila googled to learn more about NG, his work and his life. As she listened to the lesson replay for the nth time that morning, she suddenly felt silly. In her reverie she had unloaded a dishwasher full of dirty dishes, burned the okra and forgotten to give her dog, Leo, his food. Goodness! She was behaving like a star struck teenager having her first crush. She had always been so grounded. She hadn’t felt like this since she had first heard Vijju whistle a tune that momentous evening when she was 17 and he 20.
Sheila remembered that day so clearly. After dinner, she was lying on her bed reading Kane and Able, when she had heard someone whistle a haunting tune – “Dil ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar.” What a marvelous melody! One of her all time favorites. She had stopped reading to look up from her book and listen and had skipped to the window to decipher the source of the whistling. As she laid her eyes on the handsome boy, one hand in his pocket and the other holding on to the leash of a German Shepard, she felt a warm fuzzy feeling in her heart. She stood rooted to the spot, hidden behind the curtains, eyes pinned on him, until he passed by her building.
Waiting by the window to watch the young man walk his dog every evening became the time of the day she most looked forward to. She often played a guessing game with herself before hand. What tune would he whistle today? A romantic one, a melancholic one or an upbeat one? She noticed a pattern – he would only whistle songs sung by the legendary singer, Rafi. Maybe, Rafi was his favorite singer. She had that in common at him least and the fact that they both loved dogs.
Trying to sketch his personality, wondering what kind of a person he would be occupied the better part of her imagination during the day. She slowly mustered the courage to find out and began to take her white fluffy Pomeranian, Mischief, for a walk around that time every evening invariably bumping into the handsome man. And as Mischief began to warm up to Loki – the German Shepard, Sheila and Vijju began to walk together too. He was easy going and warm and Sheila loved that about him. She discovered they had much in common apart from music and dogs. They became good friends and eventually fell in love.
That was over twenty years ago. They were married now, comfortable and content in their daily lives and their roles as parents. Their own sons Rahul and Adit in their adolescent years. What would Vijju say if he realized she felt this way? They had been happily married except for the gnawing feeling Sheila had developed over the past two years, a sensation that had begun to grow stronger, a sense of incompleteness, a restlessness to be more than a wife, a mother or the numerous roles she played.
“You should start writing again,” Vijju had suggested to her then.
“About what?” she had snapped back teary-eyed. “The last story I wrote was years ago, before the boys were born.”
“Write about little things that matter to you. About how hard it is to raise teenagers. Or about how agitated the current political climate makes you feel. Or the happiness Leo brings us. Anything. Just start. With baby steps. You used to enjoy writing. That will never go away. “
She heeded his advice and penned a little everyday. It wasn’t easy. There were days when she stared at the blank page for hours on end. But she persisted and slowly stories began to take shape in her mind. She enjoyed creating alternate worlds and whimsical characters, dwelling in them to make magic happen.
It was for her birthday last week that Vijju and the kids had gifted her the subscription to Masterclass – to learn from the best writers in the world. One of the most precious gifts she had received. And here she was, smitten to bits with the instructor. How shameful!
Sheila spent the rest of the day trying to shake off the feeling. She ran four miles, cooked a feast and washed the car. How livid she would be if she knew Vijju had a crush on someone! That was going to be the end of Masterclass for her – at least this one anyway. She should have done the Margaret Atwood or Judy Blume one instead.
“How’s Masterclass?” Vijju asked her over dinner that evening. “Enjoying?”
“Errr… it’s ok.” Sheila replied back, her face flushed. Did he know?
Vijju gave her a sharp quizzical look. “I was thinking of doing the Kasparov one you know. If you’re not using your account now, could I do a few lessons after dinner?”
“There’s a photography one I want to try” said Rahul.
“And a French pastry course that I want to do” quipped Adit.
Sheila nodded absent mindedly, looking down at her food, averting Vijju’s gaze. Suddenly, she dropped her fork and gave him an accusing stare.
“You never whistle these days. You should!”
Maybe if he had paid more attention to her, she wouldn’t be awestruck with another.
“Where’s that coming from?” Vijju asked baffled. The boys looked from one parent to the other.
Sheila looked away.
“OK, OK…I will. Is that why you have been so quiet today? Boys – have I ever whistled this tune for you? ” asked Vijju, looking eagerly at his sons as he whistled the tune that had first captivated his wife’s heart. “Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar.”
A flood of emotions swept over Sheila. There was happiness, relief, and most of all that familiar warm fuzzy feeling.
She rushed over to her husband tears streaming down her face. “ I love you Vijju,” she said holding him tight.
“I know, “ he grinned taken aback by the dramatic display of emotion. “I know.”
All was well. Their marriage was the most remarkable love story after all.
This story was written to the word ‘Whistle’ given by DYWT. Though romance is a genre I shy away from, a story written to this prompt would be incomplete without romance. Writing this story helped me escape to an alternate world amidst the growing turmoil in the United States these days. I am thankful to team DYWT for this and to the judge who endorsed the whistling of the words.