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Creative Writing

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Literature

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Travel

The Brink of Calm.


I wrote this piece for an interview assignment a few weeks ago and although I didn't get the job, I was grateful for the opportunity to delve into the variegated realms of my creativity.


Laila walked along the street marvelling at the graffitied gods and chains of entwined flowers that decorated the walls. Clothes hung from washing lines stretching from window to window, forming what looked like a series of inverted rainbows. Laila always joked that living in Varanasi made her feel as though she was in the midst of an everlasting carnival. The streets had so much life, character. She could make out the faint sound of people chanting inside the temple, street vendors setting up stalls before the rest of the city came alive. Home always seemed so insipid in comparison.

Her pace slowed down as she approached the convenience store. She shuffled through the newspaper stand for an English copy and then headed inside to pick up her customary can of Red Bull.

Namaste auntie,’ she said, placing her items onto the counter top.

‘You’re early today,’ responded auntie, her face pirouetting into a smile. Although the two were not biologically related, the term ‘auntie’ was used as a form of respect when conversing with elders in India. It was something that Laila secretly enjoyed, it made her feel young, a bit more invincible.

‘I couldn’t sleep. How’s uncle?’ she asked, glancing at the abandoned clock in the corner. She had been visiting the shop for over two years but still could not decipher whether the clock was telling the right time.

Auntie pointed to the ceiling. Uncle was singing upstairs, his voice as enchanting as ever.

‘Wow, he sounds great. Can I also get a pack of cigarettes?’ she asked, glancing at the boxes behind the counter that were stacked up like a piece in a modern art exhibition.

‘Laila, they are not the answer!’

‘Oh come on auntie, just for today. I need them.’

‘What’s bothering you? Come, sit down. You have time,’ auntie manoeuvred the extra chair beside her, usually reserved for her friends that sometimes stopped by for a quick gossip on their way to the river. Laila sat down, she didn’t have enough strength to oppose.

‘What’s going on?’

Laila shrugged her shoulders, felt the weight of her eyes in their sockets.

‘Work. Life. Stress. Exhaustion.’

‘I think you need some chai,’ said auntie, quickly rushing off into the kitchen before she had even had the chance to take a breath. Chai was the answer to everything in Varanasi.

Laila looked around the shop, took in the serene air as she listened to the cows waking up in the surrounding streets, they always sounded so angry. Uncle was still singing at the top of his lungs but her Hindi was too weak to be able to decrypt the lyrics.

Auntie returned and placed two china cups onto the counter top. The aroma of nutmeg awakened Laila’s senses.

‘Come on, drink.’ Auntie picked up the chai, placed the cup into Laila’s meagre hands. The heat was soothing, gave her a little bit of hope.

I’m so tired,’ was all Laila could think to say as her thumbs stroked the sides of the cup. Her head felt so overcrowded that she couldn’t focus or even explain how she was feeling.

‘Laila, you’ve lost your light. Your glow.’ Auntie placed a hand on her shoulder, an act of concern, support. Laila smiled and then sighed again as if exhaling the world from beneath her skin.

‘I just wish I could sleep or think clearly. These migraines are driving me insane.’

‘Laila, you are young. You can’t let the world eat you like this.’

‘I’ve tried everything.’ She took a sip of her chai, felt the nutmeg at the back of her throat.

‘What about meditation?’

Laila shook her head, taking another sip.

‘Come on, let’s try it.’

‘What, now? Here?’

‘Yes, right now. I know you have time,’ auntie took the chai from her hands, placed it onto the counter, and instructed Laila to close her eyes.

‘Relax your muscles, all of them,’ she said straightening Laila’s back with the palm of her hands. Laila closed her eyes and tried to let go of the tension in her shoulders. She slowly inhaled and exhaled in an attempt to drown out both the internal and external chaos. Instead, she found herself trying to mentally remember her work check-list, whether she had emailed Vinesh about the budget meeting or Kevin about his performance review next week.

‘How do you feel?’

‘Ridiculous.’

‘You’re not relaxing, come on! Stop thinking, just focus on your breath.’

Laila did as she was told, she didn’t know how this was going to help but felt bad for disappointing auntie. Elders always knew best.

‘Uncle swears by this, I’m telling you.’

Laila closed her eyes again, listening to the cadence of auntie’s breath. Her own breathing eventually slowed down, allowing her limbs to submit and relax.

‘Picture your breath travelling down your body. Start from your head, imagine every single body part.’

Laila could already feel it traversing through the meridian of her ribcage, a sense of weightlessness, almost like someone was pouring lukewarm water into her system. She moved to her abdomen, slowly feeling her breath cross her knees. It felt like relief that her body did not even know it needed.

After some time, auntie gently touched her shoulder, startling Laila almost as if awakening her from a sombre sleep.

‘How do you feel?’

‘Like I’m sitting on a cloud.’

‘You see Laila, we are always so busy, so preoccupied with our problems. We forget that the body needs calm. It needs a break. Humans were not meant for these stressful lives.’ Laila listened attentively to the TED talk that auntie was giving her. It was exactly what she needed to hear.

‘Your mind and body need space. Time away from life just to keep themselves going. You have to relax, find a moment in the day for yourself. You can’t keep living the way you are.’

Laila nodded, drinking up the remnants of chai. She could already feel the lightness of her limbs.

‘You won’t believe me but it will even help your skin, your hair. Everything.’

Laila was unconvinced but made a mental note to research this when she reached the office.

‘Stress is such a horrible thing, Laila. If you don’t learn to fight it, it will take your entire body.’

‘You’re right,’ responded Laila, exhaling for the final time as she came to the realisation that something needed to change. Her routine needed to change.

‘Laila, I’m always right.’ They laughed in unison. ‘Why do you think your uncle is so happy all of the time? He meditates every morning and night without fail. He says it keeps him young.’

Laila thought about uncle’s skin, the way that it glistened and almost welcomed you with energy and life. He was twice her age and still didn’t have any wrinkles. She could hear his voice through the ceiling. Auntie was right, he sounded so happy.

‘Okay auntie, I’ll give it a try,’ said Laila, tucking her chair back behind the counter. She thanked auntie and began to head towards the door.

‘Laila, your newspaper. Your drink.’

Laila looked back, smiled. ‘I’m good for today,’ she said. Auntie grinned to herself. Uncle was going to be elated.
(Image Source: here)

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