3:30 AM – A SHORT STORY
I awoke to the sound of a dog barking. In the quiet of the night, the bark seemed much louder than normal and my eyes instantly sprung open. For ten minutes, I tossed and turned under my blanket but eventually found myself lying wide awake, staring at the blackness of my room. I grabbed my phone from my bedside and switched on the torch; my dog was fast asleep on the floor, cuddled amidst plush toys and pillows and my brother snored softly, his legs sticking out under his blanket. I looked at the time and yawned; 3:30 am.
I had school the next day. And a billion submissions and assignments due in the upcoming weeks. I knew I wasn’t going to get sleep immediately, but I had to try.
I silently slipped out of the room and into the kitchen. I grabbed a blue mug and poured some hot water into it. I dipped a tea bag into it and waited by one of the counter tops in the kitchen for the essence of the tea to soak into the water. Green tea was bound to make me feel sleepy.
As I waited, I heard the sound of wheels against the asphalt. I peered out the kitchen window at a tempo that was slowly driving through our street. Even at 3:30 am, Mumbai was never completely quiet. There was always something or someone that was making some kind of noise. And what was so fascinating was how profound and clear each sound was at that moment in the night. The dog’s bark, the tempo’s wheels. I had never heard such common sounds so clearly.
Hearing these kinds of sounds at such a late hour felt like a filter had just been removed. A filter that had otherwise disguised every sound as something it was not. Would one have been able to hear wheels against a road so profoundly in the middle of the day, with car honks, conversations in the air and other background noises playing? Would a dog’s bark sound so loud and intense otherwise?
I took my mug of tea and my intriguing thoughts and headed into my living room. I stood in the middle and looked around at the silhouettes of the chairs, tables, sofas, mantelpieces and flowerpots. It was strange to see my house so quiet. No banter in the air, no sound of flip flops hitting the wooden floor, no radio blasting the latest news about Mumbai.
I headed for my balcony.
The world, at this hour, was eerily quiet. Even though I could hear a faint murmur here and there, I could feel a silence surround me. Every few moments, I could hear the sound of crickets and car wheels, but other than that, the atmosphere was infused with soundlessness. Soundlessness that filled me with tranquility. I took a sip of my tea as I gazed at the stars twinkling in the inky sky. The buildings all around me were quiet and the streets were still except for the occasional movement of a sleeping man on the road and the periodic flickering of streetlights.
“If only everyone could see how different this metropolitan city looks and feels at such an hour,” I thought as I took another sip of tea.
I sat down in one of the armchairs in the balcony and looked at the yard that surrounded our building. It had been ages since I had gone down and rode a cycle or caught up with my colony friends.
As a kid, I would spend so much time with children my age from the surrounding buildings. We’d cycle through the neighborhood, eat ice lollies and race each other in my building’s yard because of its enormous size.
I bit on my lips, realizing that all of us had lost touch. With every passing year and with the ever-increasing responsibilities that life kept throwing at all of us, we just fell out of touch. How could we have let that happen?
I rocked forward in the armchair as my finger circled the rim of the mug.
Only a few more sips of tea were left. To bide the time, I walked across the long balcony, eyeing the myriad of photo frames that adorned the wall. I stopped in front of one photo of my entire family: my parents, my brother, my grandmother and my dog. We were all huddled together, wrapped up in jackets, shawls and gloves with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and fluffy clouds. I ran my finger over the picture, smiling at the memory.
I couldn’t remember the last time we had all gone for a solid vacation together. “5 years?” I wondered. Most of us were so enraptured in our own lives that we had forgotten about summer vacations altogether. If it wasn’t a trip with our own friends or month-long exams, something else always came up and our idea of a vacation always remained an idea.
I walked over to another photo of my father and me. I was about thirteen years old, sitting on a table with stacks of colored paper surrounding me. My father was next to me, showing me how to make a paper boat.
I smiled. Years back, every time Mumbai’s first rain came, we’d make paper boats, go down and put them in puddles and watch them float. It was a tradition for us. I didn’t know when was the last time we had done that.
It was like the entire wall of photos was a sudden reminder of the things we used to do. The things we used to enjoy. The little moments. The important people.
I put aside my mug and rushed into the living room. I grabbed a notepad and tore a sheet of paper from it. I sat down on the floor and started to fold the opposite corners. With every growing second, the stress of the past few days subsided. I was feeling lighter. And much more at peace.
It had been weeks or even months since I had gotten an actual moment to myself. If it wasn’t attending school and managing grades, it was the general hustle and bustle of city life.
When I finished making the paper boat, I ran back to the balcony and set it by one of the flowerpots, happy that I was still able to make a perfectly crisp paper boat.
I had fallen out of touch with friends, barely spent time with family and had long since forgotten to give myself time to catch up with the racing car called life.
“I think most people have forgotten what it’s like to stop a moment and breathe,” I realized, gazing at the sky.
I don’t know what it was, perhaps the sudden yet comforting quietness of the night, or the warm moonlight that peeked through the windows or even the fact that I didn’t have to rush to a certain place or do a certain thing at that point, but I realized that I wanted to just pull a handbrake on this racing car.
I realized that while working, reaching for goals and being productive was important, so was slowing down, pausing and relaxing. Without doing that, how was one supposed to really live and enjoy living? How was one supposed to break the dull monotony?
If it wasn’t for tonight, waking up at 3:30 am, I don’t know when I would’ve realized that I had to get out of this monotonous rut that had somehow become my permanent lifestyle for the last couple of years.
With the pin drop silence surrounding me and my thoughts sounding so much clearer in my head, I was finally able to understand e just how important it was to stop. To pause. To relax and rewind. And most importantly, live for the little moments. Live for those rainy evenings spent crafting paper boats. Live for those summer vacations with the family. Live for the people close to my heart. Just live.
And so, before I went back into my room to slip under the blanket, I made a mental promise to myself to call my old friends, to spend some more time with my family and just take an occasional pause for myself.
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So, folks, if you haven’t taken a break from the hustle and bustle of life, here’s me reminding you to take one. For a moment, do not think of ALL the work you have to do, ALL the places you have to go, ALL the things you need to figure out before xyz date. Just take a moment, stop, breathe and go do something you love. Maybe hear some music and paint? Maybe just grab a blanket, cuddle up and read a book? Maybe put that packet of popcorn in the microwave and gather your family for a movie night?
Just break that rut. Do something fun. Remember, life isn’t about surviving, it’s about living 🙂