Dustbin Dreams: a short story

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Maya was livid. It was that dustbin again. “It is there, on my mind, all the time,” she exclaimed. She had acquired a shrill pitch she gets every time she becomes anxious. One of perils of living in our particular government colony in New Delhi is that you cannot miss the indiscreetly placed dustbin. It is hideous. When Dad was running helter-skelter trying to score accommodation as we relocated to Delhi for his posting, this neighborhood was the only one persistently on the available list. Walking in through the parking lot we realized that this was entirely due to the position of the immovable topless repulsive container of refuse. “This,” Maya had exclaimed, “This, ladies and gentlemen, was the ugliness that surrounds the powers that be. It is a metaphor, a symbol of sheer convolutedness of authority. This is life.” We slow clapped for her.

Of late, Maya had become more or less obsessed with the object. She had knocked on several doors trying to get a lid placed on it. She had turned down Dad’s offer to make a few calls for her, “We are the educated, if we too have to rely on strings then Dad what is left for people out there on the roads”. “The only thing out on the road, and now in your mind, is that”, I said pointing at the looming pile of exposed garbage. She elbowed me as I yelled for Mom to come save me from my sister.

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Sometimes I felt sorry for my parents. They had such different difficult daughters. I wanted to get out of home as fast I possibly could, filling up each application for foreign education and scholarship I got my hands on. On the other hand, Maya wanted to stay at home. She worked tirelessly on the garden. She got the wall mended, the house rewired, and even wrote applications for the neighborhood Mother Dairy outlet to be better stocked. “Why bother?” I said to her, “this is temporary accommodation. Not our real home.” “Well, we could say that about our stay on Earth as well, can’t we?” she argued.

I got my chance a year later. As I boarded the flight to London, everyone came to see me off. One large Indian send-off party. The coldness onboard seeped into my bones as I requested for an extra blanket. I spent four years in London studying, flying back twice a year, living with different people, learning from change. It was comforting to return home to see the familiar places, be surrounded with people I had known for years. As my date to depart would approach I could also sense an itch to get back: to my own life, my schedule, my kitchen, my work, the pattern of days that I just constructed for myself.

I begged Maya to visit, “the dustbins here are damn stylish,” I egged. She did not bite the bait, and never visited. When the course got over I landed myself a job in Paris for a year. I was excited to move to continental Europe and work around people who spoke a different language than English. I went back this time to India knowing that I would stay away indefinitely.

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Maya was not there at the airport to receive me. When I asked about her, Dad said she had an accident with the car. It had rammed into the dustbin and she had twisted her ankle breaking it. I laughed, “so the ominous dustbin did strike out”. My parents joined in. Mom exclaimed, “yeah we tease her all the time about the hooded cobra she had stepped on”. I ran to Maya’s room and hugged her mercilessly. Her leg was in a white plaster. Her friends had scribbled messages on it. One said, “Dustbin dreams”. I also saw on her bedside table, “Studying Abroad: A Masters Education in an International Environment”. I eyed it, raising my eyebrow looking at the book and then at her. She smiled, “Ah well! Long story!” she said, “I am done with dustbins.”


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