The Magic Potion
She was a fundamentally happy person. A very loving, close-knit but slightly dysfunctional family, a lousy boss, some fantastic friends, a few nosy neighbours, some pesky street dogs that howled in the dead of the night formed her little world. She breezed through every day with the help of a magic potion she brewed for herself every couple of hours. She never did like sharing it with anybody. And the magic it reigned on her was as best as it could get. From the aftermath of being yelled at work, to a family squabble about why she should be attending a third cousin’s wife’s brother’s son’s wedding to counseling a friend over love and heartbreak, the potion gave the strength to permanently plaster a smile on her face and never let her hardly-ever-threaded eyebrows arch.
She lived in an apartment by herself, at the other end of the city, away from family but still just a stone throw distance from them. She lived on street food and frozen parathas. She took the bus to wherever she had to go. That way, she didn’t have to ask anybody for a favour and she didn’t have to face the horror of driving through crazy traffic herself. But most importantly, she loved traveling by bus because most of her characters lived there. She’d usually sit crammed in a corner seat, a notebook and pen in hand, scribbling away about the sights that met her. A boy with a broken tooth, a curly haired toddler bawling away, an old man smoking a beedi when the conductor was not looking, a burly father sitting on the aisle seat protecting his teen daughter from accidental brushes, a woman with a nose ring the size of a bangle. Little did they know that they were the protagonists in her stories.
Every evening, when she got home, she’d brew her potion, take a long bath, and settle on the chair in the balcony. She looked out into the dusk that was leaving the scene in a hurry to make way for the black carpet that stretched across the horizon. The time was ripe. She guzzled her potion down and poured herself some more from the flask. She picked up her notebook and pen. She read her bus notes from the last few days. She picked one of the six that still had not been touched and the blue ink from the pen slowly breathed life into those characters. Colourful multifaceted characters walked on her sheets, delivering powerful dialogues and creating pregnant pauses before the climaxes. When she was done, she’d make a second copy and put it in an envelope and address it in the same slanting font as she used for the story. She posted it the next day.
She sent one story every day. For three years now. She knew better than to expect a response in her mailbox. Every few months, they’d meet for a few days. She’d wait for him to bring them up and when he didn’t, she’d ask him about the stories and he’d always say the reviews are lying on his table. He’d mail them when he got back. He was just so very caught up with life. She’d nod her head and smile, thinking how he resembled that character she sketched two days ago- the man who didn’t know that stopping to smell the roses did not mean a waste of time. In fact, it meant adding more meaning to limited time. Still, she’d let it go and not ramble about it. After all, making money was important, and that promotion. And the transfer. And the new project.
One Thursday evening, she opened the mailbox as a force of habit and almost shut it when she saw the letter sitting inconspicuously, against the wall of the letterbox. She wanted to open the letter right away. It seemed really bulky. All those reviews! She had to calm down and brew her potion. She ran home and placed the envelope gingerly on the bed. She brewed her potion, took a long bath and sat on her chair in the balcony. She poured herself a cup of the magic potion and took a deep breath. She opened the envelope and a bundle of papers fell into her lap. For a fleeting second, her heart pounded excitedly. It dawned on her slowly that those were the stories she sent him, not his reviews. One lone sheet stood out in a different font. Over the next couple of minutes, she gathered he did not have the time to read them, never really got around to reading them and lied about the reviews so as to not hurt her. He suggested that she give up making silly fictitious characters and focused on getting somewhere in life. And he thought that was going to hurt less?
She sat there, sipping her potion. She wanted to cry but couldn’t. She thought long and hard about it. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should focus on getting somewhere in life. Maybe she should sleep over it. The next morning, she walked to the post office and asked for the largest envelope they had. She spent a fortune on the stamps to send such a heavy package. She addressed it in the same slanting handwriting. To a leading publishing house. Two years after she got published, she assumed she might be considered as having got somewhere in life. She still worked for the same boss, except he was less lousy now and brought all customers to introduce them to the famous writer. Her loving dysfunctional family put up every interview of hers in the paper and every review of her works on a wall dedicated to the writer of the household. The nosy neighbours boasted to their friends that they lunched with a popular figure.
On lonely nights though, she still sat on the chair in the balcony. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a letter in another. It didn’t matter that a million people read her works. It mattered that he didn’t. And that is when it dawned on her that coffee does not heal all wounds.