The Distance of the Moon

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So I turn to Qfwfg and ask her, “Has she ever dreamt the same dream twice?” “I have dreamt about the same things, but they’ve been different dreams every time,” she tells me while sitting on a tree stump, squishing her sweater in her trekking bag. The weather wasn’t as cold as we thought it would be, so we had stopped in a grove of old Chir Pine trees to remove the extra clothing and have some sandwiches we brought for lunch. While kneeing her clothes to make space to zip the bag, she stops suddenly. “What makes you want to ask something like that?” Qfwfg asks, squinting her eyes at me. As if there’s been a sudden flash of light that only she has witnessed. I’ve been having the same dream for sometime, I told her. It’s ridiculous, probably. I proceeded to change the subject, but Qfwfg didn’t exactly let me. She rake together based on some of our last conversations that it is something which has been bothering me for sometime now and asks about the dream.
“I’ve not been able to sleep for a month now. Every night I find myself on this ridge on a dark night with no stars or moons, and I can hear a thousand trees gushing against the wind. It is so loud that I’m scared that one of those limbs will snap and hit me before I know it. And in front of me, there’s a temple with three adjoining houses in blazing flames. Even the strong winds are barely able to contain the flames. The frightening flames, which have swallowed everything in their way. My eyes get fixated on the temple’s attic, which is filled with glistening light, and slowly I find everything else fading away; the trees, the darkness, the roaring winds, everything is gone. The only thing I hear is the cracking and popping of the burning wood inside the room, and I can feel its warmth as if I’m inside the room. “I don’t want to go anywhere, but suddenly I wake up,” I told her. “A month?”, she said shockingly and asks with concern if I know why I’ve been having them. I told her that I’m not sure why I’m having it, but the vision is awfully similar to a temple here that was gutted in a massive fire a few years ago. I heard about it from a friend a couple of years ago, but for some reason I am dreaming of it now. “I see. Maybe it’s making sense to you now in someway,” she said. I nod and realise we have to reach the meadows before the sun sets, so we gulp down those sandwiches and start walking through the grooves, toward the infamous meadows.
We left from Delhi two days ago, and I was supposed to pick her up at 6 since we had a bus to catch. We were travelling to this place we found very last minute, quite offbeat at the time, in the valley of Kullu district. The reason I blindly agreed to this place was because it was quite close to the ruins of an ancient temple I heard about. To my consternation, the cab drivers kept cancelling on me, so she ended up picking me instead. We were meeting after a year, so when we were inside the cab, our conversation, dominated earlier by so many questions about our whereabouts in the past couple of months, had suddenly begun to spin around a common anxiety about why we didn’t keep in touch. I’ve done that before, stopped being part of other people’s lives, but this time I was not expecting to go away like this. We met on a trip last year and became really good friends, we talked about books, paintings, writers, office routines, just everything. Even after coming back there seem no end to our conversations. But one random day, I woke up with this alienated feeling that too many folks were able to see me. I lost it. I was contained by this overwhelming desire to hide again. But I never found the reason for it; she realised this, so she started telling me about how badly she’d fallen victim to office politics again. By the time we reached the station stop, we’d forgotten about the year in between when we were apart from each other and had become friends who had bid farewell at the very same place after our last trip. We booked a homestay on the banks of the Sainj River. Given the dorm wasn’t our first choice, we were glad we found a place at the last minute. We were a bit tired with last night’s travel, so we decided to sleep for a couple more hours and woke up around noon. The window to our room opened to a yard filled with tulips and apple orchards; occasionally we found the owner’s dogs running after butterflies or sleeping under the sun, and behind them were snow-capped mountains. “All the mist and wind makes them look unreal like a hazy wallpaper.” she said half woken looking out of the blanket with one eye. “And somehow the person holding the wallpaper has, without us noticing, stuck it next to our faces. “They are so big.” After getting up, we had some mushroom thukpas with ginger lemon tea and went strolling across the town. The town was surrounded by small villages, which are home to many locals, and had cafes along the riverside. The inside of the city had flea markets with old shops selling handwoven woollen clothes and Tibetan food, and bakeries around every corner. Homestays were generally built around the corners of the town to provide visitors an experience of solace and also help the town not get too crowded and lose its essence. At the end of the main road was the bridge over the river, which used to be closed during the monsoon due to the heavy water flow. It was covered with Tibetan prayer flags, which come in a set of five colours, the “five pure lights,” and are used to bless the countryside. From there, one can see the riverside of the town. The whole day we spent in the town, we went over the bridge and sat on white boulders by the river while our naked feet tried to get used to the cold glacier water and the butter-colored sun kept us warm. After that, we stopped by a florist, and I bought her flowers, telling her that “no one else would.” She was pissed. I tried to give back the flowers, saying that I just wanted to plant the joke, but I didn’t get those bucks back.
We reached back at our stay past 8 and sat at the terrace which was filled with the butter-coloured moon light, drinking hot lemon tea and having stuffed parathas for dinner, reminiscing over the disasters of the last trek as the moon rolled around the sky like a umbrella blown by wind; at one time the moon was so close to the mountain, that all it would take for us to scramble up, was a ladder prop against it. Toward the east, places on the nearby mountains were twinkling with stars. Soon it was too cold to sit in the open, so we went downstairs into the common area, which was filled with old, torn books that longed to be picked up.

As my eyes skimmed over the bookshelf, not particularly to read one but to find something familiar, I came across Kafka On The Shore which is my favourite book. It was the French version, and the cover was an up-close picture of a cat sculpture with fish falling from the sky. I couldn’t stop myself from taking a picture of it. Haruki Murakami was very influenced by Franz Kafka’s work; even in the novel, the protagonist runs away from his home to escape his tyrannical father and chooses his new name as Kafka. Even Franz Kafka had issues with his father, which he never really tried to hide in his work. He was from Prague, the city where he lived all of his life. His parents were shopkeepers selling fancy goods, and he was the oldest of six siblings; both his brothers died in infancy while his other three sisters outlived him. He studied law and worked at an insurance company during the day, and at night he wrote. He’s one of the writers who never wrote for the greater good but for his own survival, even the word “kafkaesque,” which meant reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of his fictional world, was coined after him. During his lifetime he was moderately successful, definitely not what we consider him today. He was deeply, darkly unhappy; his job was of course one of the sources of his unhappiness, his company was filled with ambitious people on a road to nowhere but trying extremely hard to get there. The pointlessness was particularly hard for the sensitive Kafka to register. Another source of his unhappiness was his family, especially his father. He wasn’t necessarily abusive, but he was certainly loud, brash, opinionated, and domineering, while his boy Franz was particularly sensitive. I didn’t notice Qfwfg was lying on the sofa in blanket looking right at me. A look that went right through Kafka’s spell and brought me back.

 

“Do you still write?” she asked me.

 

Sometimes, I told her. “Whenever I’ve experienced something that wasn’t ordinary to me, I try to write it down. Sometimes to save memories because pictures aren’t often enough. It might be selfish of me, but I’d like to remember somethings a certain way only.”

 

“That’s a good way to look at things. “That sounds therapeutic”, she said.

 

“Not always, I find them therapeutic.” Writing things down on paper does sometimes help in making sense of things that are nightmarish inside your head, but to accept even that understanding takes strength. “Most of the time it leads you to a conclusion you hoped you never discovered,” I told her.

 

“I know. Maybe therapeutic means different things to us. It’s not always a jot of dopamine, but it means healing to me. “And healing doesn’t necessarily have to feel good.”

 

I nodded. I’ve always had an eye for discovering change in people, things, and myself. And it makes me stay up late, have nightmares until the truth on its own presents itself to me, when it gets too late to do anything but pay the price. But she’s always a step ahead of me, so she helps me see what’s too close to me. I wish I did the same for her, but I am simply not that good, I just try to talk things through with her.

 

“So what have you been writing about lately?”, she continued sipping the hot ginger lemon tea, the servant brought for us a while back.

 

“I’ve come to realise that I’ve never loved anyone,”  I chuckled. “So, I’m just trying to write something around it.”

 

“Heavy,”  she said with a straight face, and we both burst out laughing. “Why do you think so?” she continued.

 

“I have come to realise I’ve only desired; people like toddlers want the toys they see in stores with no good reason behind it. And time I’ve never really had enough with anyone for this realisation to present itself on it’s own. “Everything I’ve got has gone by so quickly without my noticing that it took really a long time to see the whole picture.” I told her. I was looking outside the window at the nearby bonfire in the yard with people singing in unison old bollywood songs. I continued, “And I think I’ve been lucky enough that no-one else noticed before me and complained of me being an imposter all this time.” “Having no-one does have it’s own perks, I guess.”

 

“In some aspects, you’re thinking clearly.” You’ve never really liked anyone for a good enough reason. In all the stories you’ve told me, none of those people you knew much. It’s been about you most of the time. Even though you don’t know why you like them, it just started one day and became an obsession of sorts. Maybe it’s some insecurity you have. Actually I realised it last year but I wasn’t sure should I bring it up. But I’m glad you came to realise this on your own. And now that you know this, you will at least know when it happens. “At times, realising your patterns is as good as solving them,” she said.

 

I nodded at her and said, “I felt relieved when I realised what was happening with me.” But it’s really fucked up right? I don’t understand how liking someone works. “What comes naturally to me is rooted in my deepest insecurities and often leads to someone being wrong, and when I put effort into something, it makes me question if even it is genuine since I’ve always thought it was something that would be natural.”

 

“It’s tricky business. I think it should come naturally to someone, but at the same time, one shouldn’t be blindfolded when they see something they would definitely not do. “Knowing when to step back is the key.” she replied to me. She continued, “Is this why you haven’t been dating anyone since?” “You want to be the right person before anything else, so no one finds out you were an “imposter” once.”

 

“Not the right person. I don’t even know what it means. “I’m just trying to figure it out,” I said.

 

“Hmm.. see you’re not a bad person. And stop thinking people leaving you too soon is good for you because they didn’t find out you were flawed. Everyone is flawed. Big deal. I think you’ve made up your mind that people will blame you for leaving if something lasts. People can figure out who they are with someone as long as they feel safe around them. “You don’t need to hide yourself like this.” she said.

 

Everything she said made sense. Why wasn’t I able to think of this on my own? Why am I always a step behind? Gradually, as the night progressed, the moon went behind the mountains, and the twinkling lights of the town disappeared. We went to sleep. We knew we’d be tired because of last night’s bus travel. So whole day we spent near our stay and going over the town, and decided the trek for the next day. Even that night, I woke up at midnight with the same dream.

 

As we start going deep into the forest, following the trails, Qfwfg stops near a creek to fill her empty bottle. I sit facing the other side of the creek, with a soft breeze passing by, and I keep looking at the stony, slippery path covered with lone tall trees, after which is the excruciatingly steep trail to the meadows. We first met as solo travellers and found each other so identical that it was frightening. But I always feel she was ahead of me like if today I think about a year old self of mine, that would be her. I always think, if I don’t like myself, how can I like her? She is me. She has been a more genuine friend to me than anyone else I’ve ever met. More often than not, it’s all you need to stop going down that downward spiral. I really regret turning my back on her at some point, even though I never intended to. It’s just that one day I started feeling like the world was seeing too much of me, and that scared me. How can a simple friendship scare someone? since I’ve been feeling guilt over stealing her solitude without, in exchange, offering her true company. Maybe we are here to understand why we did what we did and how it affected each other.

 

“Are you guys going to the meadows?” asks this local boy who was standing behind us, carrying a basket on his back filled with freshly plucked grass for cattles. We answer yes and tell him we’re visiting and have heard a lot about this place. “Oh, yes, it is like something you have never seen before. Miles of open grass fields against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains create a scene straight out of a dream. Gods came here and asked lowlifes like us to purify the land for their stay. That is why you’ll never find any kind of stone there.”

 

 

He tagged along and started walking with us downhill to the meadows. They are just like he described, endlessly vast, outsized everything we would have ever seen. After walking 15 minutes inside it, we sit in the shade of a passing cloud to relax a bit. We didn’t realise time was passing as we were busy looking at the opaque white clouds passing by, and the guy was busy clucking grass. After a while, the guy bid farewell to us as he wanted to reach home before the sun set, and it came to my mind that we almost forgot to ask anyone for the direction to the ancient temple. “Oh, that is near, just follow this trail. On the west side of the meadows, a small path cuts downhill to that small village. You’re lucky the path is snow covered and closed in later part of the year”, he told us and left. We still kept lying on the meadow for a little while. “It’s getting very hard to be angry at people,” she said, and the sudden voice made the stray dog who was sleeping on my left leg awake; he looked left-right and went back to sleep.

 

She continued, “With years passing, I’m growing my own conscience, and it makes it hard to not find reason in people’s actions.” “Everything is justifiable to me, and it’s very unfair.”.

 

“We cut ourselves no slack, it’s just for the world,”  I said.

 

“Exactly. “What if this continues?” she said, concerned.

 

“I think you are really underestimating people. “For sure, they’ll disappoint you once in a while,” I chuckled.

“Of course, you would know.”

 

Well, I deserved that. I continued, “My point is that I don’t think we can ever reach a point where we instantly try to find the reasoning behind someone’s action to forgive them. There will always be times when we won’t find logic in things. And I’m glad we find no reason at the start; otherwise, where will the anger and sadness go?”

 

“Sometimes one who thinks of himself as complete is merely young,”  she said.

 

The hike to the village took us 20 minutes. By the time we reached there, the sun had set, the sky had darkened, and the houses were burning bright with light and smelling of dinner. I ask another local guy about the ruins of the ancient temple, which burned a few years ago. “Oh, how do you know about it?” he asked, looking puzzled. One of my friends read it on some regional website, so I told him.

 

“Oh, I didn’t think people cared,”  he continues. “Back then, there were not many people around here; there were a couple of huts here and there, and in the middle was a temple adjoining three houses of the oldest family that lived here.” “In fact, on the ridge we are standing, there was nothing but an open field, and you could see from here the ancient temple in blazing flames.”

 

I find it all too overwhelming; he is right. I am on the same ridge as my dreams; it’s just populated with houses now. “Take a left turn from the corner, you’ll be there” he tells and leave. My heart starts beating frighteningly loud, and in my mind, I start seeing flashes from that dream of mine. I even started thinking, “Why the hell have I come here, just because that burning fire was calming me and I always wake up before I want to?” It’s not like it would still be burning all this time for me. It’ll be nothing but ruins. “So what, at least I’ll see what’s left of it,” I convince myself, but when we took that turn, it was what I never expected it to be.

 

 

I HATED IT. I was waiting to see what was left of it; a small part of me even believed that it would still be burning for me, but they rebuilt it. The exact same way, but they can’t fool me. It’s an imposter. Nothing can ever be same again. How can no one see it? Behind it was a small ridge, which was exactly where I was standing in my dream, watching the flames. Flames kept me warm, but this is far too cold here. I cannot stay longer.

 

I need to sit. I tell myself this and find a place on the steps of the shrine to process all this. “Hey, what’s wrong?” “I thought you came here to see it,” she said. “You look bummed.”

 

“No, I came here to see what’s left of it.” I told her.

 

I continued, “I remember myself burning like that, and even though I was trying to survive, somewhere I knew I wouldn’t.” But one day I woke up from that nightmare, and my body wasn’t what it was before, or what I thought would be left of it. It became alienating to me. “I became someone else.”

She understood what that dream meant and why I came here. “Mojo even suffering at times comforts us and why it won’t? It’s the only one that stayed longer than most people. but you won’t be able to cross the line back if you don’t shake it off. You’ll keep dreaming about the time when you were burning, and you will always believe that hurting yourself was the last you. And after that, there is an imposter who lives.” She tells me about this lady who lives in a nearby house, who told her that they rebuilt it three years ago because it was about time to let go of the horror of that night.

 

It seem very late for us to go back to our stay so we find a place in the village to stay the night. It was a family home turned guest house, so the place didn’t look like a fancy hotel but like a typical himachali house made of timber, wood, and rocks. We ate dinner at about nine, which was the first home-cooked meal we had since we left Delhi, and went to sleep in the room on the second floor. “Isn’t it wonderful how hospitable everyone here is? They let people in their small little worlds and be a part of’ is what she rake together based on how things have gone in the last couple of days.

 

My mind was still revolving around the temple, but I didn’t want to bring it up again. “That is the point of coming here. “You can recollect every moment from a trip to himachal but every time you wonder why your stay was so amazingly short.” I said.

 

“I wish I lived in mountains, have a small cafe where people get by mistake, find good music, hot beverage and warm conversations. Don’t you see yourself doing that sometime in the future? I mean, even as a silly dream?” she asked.

 

“You can. I’m not sure about myself. I mean I always dream to be in such a place but always as a stranger, not the one welcoming anyone. I am no home I feel”, I told her.

 

“Why? I don’t think so. “You’re always making jokes; you’ll make a good host,” she said.

 

“I mean, I used to think that way too. But whatever I say are just jokes and rather uncomfortable ones. Sort of attempt to divert attention to something other than me. People might be laughing, but there is no warmth. “It may cater as entertainment to someone, but they’ll never go looking for it.” I told her. I continued, “The people I meet here have the warmth that always leaves me with this urge to come back. I feel whole when I’m with them, but I don’t possess that quality. I don’t have it in me to make people stay for long or even come back once in a while.”

 

“Well, to me, it doesn’t feel that way. “Even this conversation doesn’t feel that way,” she told me.

 

 

The moon is full — night as bright as day, but with butter coloured light — it looks like she was about to land on the top of the ridge; yesterday which felt so distant when she wasn’t full and it’s thorn were about trip against the stony edge of the mountain, and tomorrow which feels so at hand will bring a bus to take us back to our old lives which I’m not ready for. I should, after she is asleep, run toward the end of the ridge, prop a ladder against the moon, and scramble up. I’ll go to the corners of the universe alone, just not here. Maybe she’ll forget about me with time, and anyway, it’s better that way. But the idea of her breaking the spell cast on me to run away I can’t do this to her again; she doesn’t deserve any of this. I’ll talk to her tomorrow about how sorry I am about things I’ve done in the last year, about how difficult it is for me to be around people when they can see me, and about how likely it is that the dream that wakes me up every night isn’t going away anytime soon. So I’ll stay up tonight to figure out the best way to tell her everything.

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Mohit Kumar
Hi, I'm Mohit Kumar. I'm 25 and a software engineer at Amazon by profession currently residing in Delhi. Apart from it I really like to read fiction novels of all sorts and have been writing writeups/short stories for some time which I generally share on my instagram and medium account. Whenever I’ve experienced something which wasn’t ordinary to me, I try to write it down. Sometimes to save memories because pictures aren’t often enough. This is probably why I write. I've been looking for a platform to find a larger audience to read my work and been told about you guys from an acquaintance. Would really appreciate if you can help! Instagram : moheit97 Medium : https://medium.com/@moheit97

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