“I sent you a pen too.” 

“There was nothing else in it.”

“Strange. I did pack it in.”

***

Rubaiah’s dreams were transcendental in nature. Filled with bizarre exigencies that camouflaged themselves within long moments of silence, they ensconced within them a world unknown. They magnified emotions rather than faces and took her places she had never been before. At times, she found herself with friends long forgotten, and at others, she heard secrets she probably shouldn’t have. Her dreams shook the ground beneath her unlike the life she lived during the day. So, one night when she dreamt of the wind sneaking in through the cracks in her door and seizing her before tearing her up into small droplets of water, Rubaiah woke herself up. As she calmed her thudding heart, the sky thundered outside as if to echo how she felt inside. She recalled the rest of the dream where she was trying to climb a tree that wouldn’t let her and how a crocodile gave her a hand up. Seeing no sense in them, like always, Rubaiah picked herself up and closed the window next to her bed. As she did so, she heard the winds disagreeing about which side of this man-made barrier they wanted to be on. She lay down on her bed and stared at the ceiling wide-awake. Scared to sleep and find herself someplace where crocodiles lived on trees Rubaiah thought about her job. So depressing was the thought that she drifted off to sleep again.

***

At the local teashop, Chotu’s elder brother cut pieces of ginger and tossed them into the huge vessel that boiled away fragrant tea. A brown, comforting liquid was the solace of the milling people who took the Metro every day. He took up all odd jobs to ensure Chotu could go to the municipal school.

While his elder brother worked, Chotu played with a tyre under a malnourished tree, just like him. He wore his elder brother’s ganjee to cover his bony body. Although, he knew his brother wanted him to chase the white-collar dream, Chotu found himself utterly disinterested in academics. He knew how to add, and that was that. Teachers could never keep him at school throughout the day. He would always run away. Every time Chotu was dragged to school, he used to break the pencils and tear the notebooks given to him. On one such occasion, Chotu punched a teacher in the stomach when she tried to get him to stay. Exasperated by his behavior, Chotu’s elder brother oscillated between fury and despondency. To find a worthy vent, he refused to eat. Chotu observed his brother with a face devoid of his crooked smile and small beady eyes that quickly filled up with tears. Seeing Chotu weep, his elder brother let go of his emotions, picked him up in his arms, and they slept hugging each other.

Next morning, Chotu voluntarily went to school. He spent a day in silence, mindful of his elder brother’s feelings, but couldn’t get himself to like the experience. He did it for a few days with no signs improvement. When it occurred to him that his brother needn’t know about him bunking school unless he made no other mischief, Chotu found other avenues to spend his school hours. From that day onward, Chotu left for school every morning, but didn’t turn up in class. He and a stray dog that was his pet, Raja, stealthily spent the school hours under a large banyan tree playing with whatever they could find in the garbage bin.

***

Rubaiah worked very hard for she didn’t know what else to do with her life. A job she once loved had turned into a distant lover; they stayed together but had no passion. They were bound together but made no love. She wondered how she’d become such a slave to her circumstances. While she didn’t complain about it aloud, her mind and heart were at constant friction. She feared one would wear out another. Rubaiah’s nights were filled with dichotomous dreams, which she struggled with even during the day. She tried to interpret them to make some coherent sense. When she dreamt she was killing people, she interpreted it as overcoming her demons. When she dreamt she was in a place she couldn’t identify, she believed that, unconsciously, she was creating a parallel universe of her own. In her dreams, she crossed lands she’d never seen, had conversations she couldn’t remember, and got into fights she seldom lost. Every day she confided in her friend about what she dreamt.

“I don’t understand how I dream of such things. The safe life I live during the day turns so adventurous (in my brain) at night,” she typed in the chat window of her phone.

“Keep a dream diary. This is so exciting,” ventured the friend.

Rubaiah toyed with the idea for a long time, but she didn’t put it into action. Instead, she worked too hard to make a life she didn’t want to lead. Until one day, her friend decided to give her a push.

“I’m going to send you something you’ll like,” beeped her phone.

“Please don’t. I’m weird about gifts,” replied Rubaiah.

“It’s not expensive I promise. I just want to. Besides, it could just change things a little,” said her screen.

Not one to argue out of a recently formed habit, Rubaiah gave in. She found it was easier to comply, be it with her boss, her mother, or the universe. Her friend picked a diary, wrapped with it an ink pen, and sent it out to Rubaiah.

The note on the parcel said, “Dreams are a part of one’s life that was never lived. A life that is unbounded by logic, reason and even pattern. Uninhibited you live a life in your mind at night, then why not in the day?”

Rubaiah looked into her laptop while her friend wrote this note in a city far away. She was thinking of the butterfly she had spoken to in her dream last night, and how she found herself to be a dragon that flew over the mountains.

“I’m bizarre,” she thought.

***

Chotu was playing with his dog under the tree when Rubaiah came home early one day. She saw the little boy’s dog jumping at the broken ball as soon as it was thrown into the distance. She smiled at the irony. That evening, Chotu found a comic book in the garbage bin before he left for home. While he couldn’t read, he took the book with him because it had pictures in it.

At night, Chotu spent all his time with the comic book. He flipped through the pages and looked at the white dog and a smart boy next to him. As he went through the pages, he saw that the boy and the dog had a friendship like him and Raja. Chotu pored over the comic book under the tiny light and his elder brother was pleased to see him so. The two brothers had animated conversations, heartily ate whatever they had, and slept soundly.

***

Occupied by her life’s predicament Rubaiah found herself worrying about her action plan. She had to get out of the limbo she was in. She plunged herself into work to forget about it, and sometimes she even succeeded. When she returned home late that night, a parcel was forced into the latch of her door. The parcel was torn during handling, but she found a diary with a note inside it.

She read to herself, “Uninhibited you live a life in your mind at night, then why not in the day?”

She decided to keep the dream diary after all. And this time when she slept, she looked forward to it.

***

Chotu was with his comic book once again. His brother was immensely happy to see Chotu taking interest in books. He reached out to Chotu to see what he was writing. To his surprise, he saw Chotu drawing on pieces of paper with what looked like a brand new pen. He was horrified as there was no way in the world that he could afford this pen by himself. Was his brother stealing? He roughed up Chotu, pulled him away from his drawing, and started beating him. Amidst Chotu’s screams, he kept shouting and asking how he could’ve stolen something. Chotu cried and tried to run out of the house. His brother was angrier than he had ever seen him when Raja came bounding into the room. Raja barked at the elder brother and shielded Chotu from more slaps.

His brother refused to eat again. He wept for himself and Chotu, who, he thought, would never get a respectable job. Raja sat next to Chotu as he looked at the pen his dog had brought him earlier that day from God-knows-where. Chotu had found immense happiness while drawing, and he wanted to keep doing it. He got up and went to his brother to tell him that he hadn’t stolen the pen and that he liked to draw.

From the doorway, Chotu saw his brother’s frail appearance. Both brothers saw each other and hugged.

“I didn’t steal this bhaiyya.”

“I know,” said his brother.