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Project Life
Life is about living it

In a small room at the back of the house, a group of little children-by no means from very well-to-do families- sat in a circle around a chair upon which sat the girl. She had one leg tucked under her while the other dangled out. She had reclined back slightly and was reading to the children from a sheaf of papers stapled at one corner. The children listened to her with varying degrees of interest. Some followed her every word, others half listened while pulling some other kids hair or tickling them and a few of them sat with their backs against her chair and caught up on sleep.

A few minutes later she finished the story and folded up her papers. A low murmur went through the crowd and a few of them smiled up at her. To her question of whether or not they liked her story, the children answered enthusiastically that it was the best they had heard till date. She didn’t believe them but she accepted their praise and gracefully thanked them. She gathered up her belongings and promised to return again next week with a new story for the children. She walked slowly back home, her thoughts engaged in the plot of a new story she was writing.

As she entered the house, she saw her elder sister idling away on the sofa while her younger sister sat at the piano. Her brother was nowhere to be seen. She turned her steps towards her room but before she could reach there a shout and her sister’s giggle met her ears and pair of feet came bounding up the stairs towards her. “Erica, my dear cousin, how are you?” said the owner of that pair of feet. In reply to his enquiry she said, “Mark, why do you always bring him here? I’ve told you not to. She acts like a total idiot in front of him!”

He stood there with his arms slightly outstretched and a quizzical look on his face. Despite herself, Erica burst out laughing. “Do stand properly, you look comical this way.” With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin he asked, “So you’ve forgiven my grave offence then?” “Not at all” came the haughty reply, “but I can’t scold you when you look that way.”

“Let it rest. They enjoy being together.” “HE enjoys watching HER make a complete fool out of herself.” He laughed and followed her into her room. “So what did the little children say to your latest?” he asked “Oh they always say it’s the best they’ve ever heard. I don’t believe them one bit. Besides I go there only to while away time and not to get their opinions.”

“Anybody hearing you would think you contemptuous, but I know better. My poor cousin is just plain bored of sitting at home having only her silly elder sister and her taciturn younger one for company. The only respite is an occasional conversation with her ever elusive brother or a visit from her favourite cousin.” and he gave her a broad grin.

Ignoring him she said, “Do you have any news from father? We haven’t heard from him all week.” Mark shook his head. Erica gave a sigh and stretched herself out on her bed. A momentary silence followed which was broken by Mark when he asked, “Come up with anything new?” Once again she ignored him and instead of replying asked, “What’s new there?”

“You know I won’t tell you because it’s just going to make you sad. Instead let’s talk about happier things. “ She started to protest but he cut her off in mid sentence and said, “I know you’re angry and sad that you’re stuck up in this place with all these people and a father who’s out 11 months out of 12 and who refuses to take you out on his journeys. But my dear cousin you’ve got no choice. I say you bear it best you can and make the most of your solitary life here. She looked at him with a sulking face and said, “We’ve had this conversation a hundred times and it’s always the same thing. Just let me be. I’m sick and tired of all this and you won’t understand.

And she made a decided face and sat back. Mark knew it was useless to argue with her. He had to agree though that she was right. They always had this discussion and she did have it hard. He looked at her with a faint smile on his face. Over the years they had spent together, the two of them had grown very close to each other. He knew all her ways and moods better than even her immediate family. The entire 5 feet of her with the decided face and flowing brown hair that she always tied up in bun was an extremely familiar and dear sight to him.

Hating the offended silence, Mark said something he was sure would excite her. “What do you dream of, Erica?” It had the desired effect. His cousin sat up at once, her face brightened and in a slightly breathless voice she asked, “You really want to know?” And without waiting for his answer she started-

“The scene opens on a young girl sitting on a ledge overlooking the ocean. Her head is bent and she is writing in a small book. The light breeze blows and her hair flows about a bit. In her books she writes what she’s done and seen the whole day. Monuments visited, the beautiful things seen and the places where she stopped. Everything she writes down and when she’s done, she flips back the pages to read of her earlier exploits. A smile creeps over her face as she reads with satisfaction about all the myriad places she visited in her tour. She looks up, her face filled with satisfaction.

The setting sun spreads an orange glow across the water. It’s a breathtaking sight and she adds a line about it in her journal. Then, picking up her bag she walks away to go to other places, to visit other sights. She’s been travelling for over a month now. In her bag are sheets and sheets of paper filled with writing. Descriptions of places, some random historical facts, a story she’s working on.”
She stopped to take a breath. He was smiling at her and she shrugged and said, “Just a few things my dreams are made up of.” Softly he said, “Go on.”

She looked into the distance and once started- “Um..Late night conversations with my elder sister-confiding secrets, giggling, having fun. Spending quality time with my younger sis- guiding her, helping her. Having father home, getting mother back, getting out of this place, meeting new people, having friends, travelling everywhere possible and then coming back just to be with you.”

“You have to step out of your dream world, Erica. Life is about living it.” “When you’re in my place, with nothing left to hope for, you’ll see that dreams act like a tiny ray of light in an otherwise black world.” “That’s pretty intense, cousin.” “It’s true. I swear.” He shook his head and said, “What you need, Erica, is a project. Something to do. Something that will take your mind off all your little fantasises. And you know the best part? I already have something in mind.” She gave him a forced smile, “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Oh come on! Do this for your favourite cousin.” “You have enough to do as it is, Mark. What with college and everything else. Just let it be.” He thought for a while. Then it finally struck him. With his face full of glee he said, “If you do this I swear I’ll never bring him here again.” “Really? You promise?” “Yeah totally. You’ll never again see him here. Just agree to my little plan.” “Oh I will!”she replied joyfully. “Splendid!”he cried jumped up from the chair.

“So what’s this project?” “Oh you’ll come to know as we go along. Just do what I say. First up- you have to make an effort to get to know your sisters better. Talk to them instead of sitting here and dreaming stuff.” She started to speak but he stopped her with a wave of his hand. “No arguments.” “She gave him a dirty look and then got up from the bed. “FINE” she said through clenched teeth.

A week later...“So did you talk to them?” she nodded. “Lovely. Tell me everything.” She settled down on the couch, faced him and said,”Well I went to my elder one’s room and said I needed to talk to her for a bit. She looked surprised but she invited me in, sat me down next to her and asked me what it was. I told her we never talked anymore and I just wanted to catch up on to speak. She looked quite unsure really. Then I asked her what was going on with her. It was so awkward Mark!”

He laughed. “What did she say to that?” “She said ,” get bored to death here with no parties or friends or anything .I miss father all the time and I look forward to Mark’s visits because his friend is the only entertainment I get. He’s not the best but beggars can’t be choosers, can they?” She gave a soft laugh in the end and then looked at me expectantly.” “Then?” Mark asked.

“Well I didn’t know what to say and there awkward silence for a few minutes. Then I wondered aloud why we never really talked. To that she said quietly, “You know, Erica, we used to have fun together.” I looked at her with a quizzical glance. “When you were small we used to be inseparable. You never wanted to leave my arms. Till you were 7 or 8, we had the most fun times. But then you got more interested in books and we sort of drifted apart.” Mark, I had no idea.”

Mark looked closely at his cousin and saw that she repented the years she had spent almost isolated from her sisters. He was tempted to say something but instead he said, “And your younger sister?” Erica made a bad face. “I asked her questions and she answered in mere monosyllables. Absolute waste of an hour.” Mark burst out laughing and even Erica joined in. When they finally stopped Erica asked him,”So now what? Is the thing over?”“Not even close. Now you have to go one entire week without writing anything. Spend time out of doors.” Erica shook her head violently. “There’s no way I’m doing that. I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“You can and you will. Get out of this room, get some fresh air and spend some time with nature.”
Erica wanted to protest but they had a deal. So even though his proposition was ridiculous and absurd, she accepted it without question.

Along with two sisters, Erica also had an elder brother. Technically he lived with them but an extreme love for nature had driven him out of doors and so he spent all his days in a small hut some distance away from their house. He rarely ever came to the house and when he did it was only because he had run out of provisions. So when Erica had to get out of doors she packed her belongings and set out for the hut. Unlike her strained relations with her sisters, Erica was pretty close to her brother. So she really looked forward to spending a whole week with him.

After the week in question when Mark came to get the news he found a happy and glowing cousin. As soon as he entered she came towards him and launched into her story- “Oh Mark! I had such a wonderful time! Brother really rose to the occasion. We slept outdoors beneath the stars(It was such a lovely sight), had bonfires, took long walks with no particular destination in mind, talked and talked and talked about everything under the sun, ran around, lay in the grass all day long and just had the most amazing time!! Thank you so much for suggesting it.” And she gave her cousin a warm hug. Mark looked absolutely delighted to hear it. He gave his cousin a broad smile. “What next Mark? I’ll do anything you say!”

He went to sit next to her and then started to explain his motive behind all this. “You hate living here because you’re stuck here without any entertainment. You want to travel and meet new people and do stuff. Now you’ve got two friends here and a whole new category of things you can do. Plus you’ve got time to enjoy all of it as opposed to those other people who are so busy working they have no time for leisure at all. Make the most of it Erica. And you’ve got a good imagination. Let it run wild. Go exploring, make up new games to play, take up a hobby besides writing, have fun with your siblings. And all those kids in that orphanage- they’d do anything just to have a little fun. You can arrange picnics or a small party.....anything! There are countless things you can do if you have the right spirit. Life needn’t be so dark and dull.”

He took a deep breath and then continued, “I’m not trying to be preachy I swear. Good things don’t come to people who wait; they come to those who want something so bad they can’t sit still. Live life to the fullest, Erica. It isn’t worth winning if you don’t fight for it.” He shrugged his shoulders and added, ”That’s what I wanted you to realise from all this. Keep dreams for night time and give real life a chance.”

Contributing Story Teller:   Anvita Budhraja enjoys writing stories and is a student of class 10 at Bombay Scottish School, Mumbai. She can be reached at [email protected]

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