“At the Center of your being, you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. ” – Lao Tzu
Somewhere in the world, the Center had been shut down for a while. The reason was unknown. But people move on quickly. So for some of them, it didn’t matter. And the others were upset. Tanya was glad though. The place looked like misery and smelled of mistakes – to her, at least. She didn’t have to think about it as much as she used to once the Center closed. Now, she only thought about it a few times a week. That was progress.
Thinking back, things had changed a lot since that September. That day, Tanya had been waiting for long and had gulped down at least fifteen glasses of water. It was her birthday. Chris hadn’t showed up. She didn’t want to call. It felt like she was pushing him. So she just waited. After what seemed like an eternity passed, she finally walked out. She had tossed her phone in the trash. She didn’t go home. In the daze, she hadn’t realized that she’d been standing at the entrance of the airport. Impulsively, she went in and managed to get a ticket on a plane to visit her grandmother. She only returned home after Christmas.
On that day, Aaron was celebrating his promotion at the Center with his friends. He was looking forward to work. On their way in, they bumped into a woman who looked rather lost. She didn’t even notice them as they apologized but walked straight out. Aaron kept wondering why she looked so familiar.
Later that day, Kate walked into the Center. She was looking for Tanya. The staff said that somebody fitting her description had left a few hours ago. Kate turned around and saw Aaron at his table with his friends. She walked over to him and asked if he’d seen Tanya. He looked thoughtful. He hadn’t realized that they had bumped into his sister’s best friend a few hours before. He couldn’t associate Tanya’s personality with the ghost-like presence before.
Kate was worried. Chris had been waiting for Tanya at her apartment. He had planned a beautiful surprise. Now, she knew Tanya kept complaining about him being flaky but it was different this time. He was anxious and waiting. It was not like her to go for so long without responding to his text and calls. Together, Kate and Chris called everyone they could think of. Nobody knew anything. That was eighteen months ago.
Tanya had moved out of her apartment shortly after she returned to the city. She took up a new job and had no contact with anybody. Spending time by herself had helped her recover. At times, she wondered if she’d acted stupidly. She’d even called Chris. Several times. She’d wait for him to answer and listen to his voice as he kept asking who it was. She could never reply. The sound of his voice always threw her off guard. Each time, she’d hoped he wouldn’t pick up. But he did. Many phone calls later, she gave up. It was unfair to drag him into the past if he’d moved on. One evening after work, she took a walk in the park. She sat down on a bench, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, she saw Aaron sitting beside her. He hadn’t changed. But then again, it hadn’t been that long. He just smiled. They sat there quietly. Tanya eventually broke the silence.
“It was Chris. On my birthday. He had promised to meet me there. I waited and waited. He didn’t show up. What could I do? I couldn’t keep stressing over his behavior. I’d had enough…” Aaron let her rant and didn’t interrupt. He waited till she was done.
Then he said, ” Tanya, do you see that bird on the branch? It doesn’t have to worry about the branch breaking while it’s perched on it. It has faith on its wings. You should have a little more faith in yourself and the people who care for you too. I understand you becoming upset and throwing a little tantrum but this is absurd! It has been more than a year. You disappeared without a trace and didn’t bother informing anyone. Not even Kate? She’d been worried sick. Don’t you owe her that much?”
Tanya kept quiet. She hadn’t thought of Kate. She hadn’t thought of anybody for those few months. Except.. but it didn’t matter now. She was leading a new life. Aaron continued that she had been selfish. Chris wasn’t at fault. She should’ve called. She should have responded. She could have done so much differently. She didn’t bother telling him about her failed phone calls. It would make him lose it. Everything was a mess now – especially Chris. How was she going to fix this?
Aaron couldn’t keep talking. He had to get home. He stood up and started walking away. After he’d taken a few steps, he turned around and said, “The Center is reopening tomorrow” and left. Tanya understood. She was getting a second chance.
The next morning, Tanya waited for the crowd at the reopening to die down. The Center had been completely revamped. Everything that reminded her of that long evening – lights, illustrations and even the color of the walls – was gone and replaced with better implements. It had been eighteen months. She walked in, towards the table she’d waited at. It was taken. She’d know that dark-haired head anywhere. Chris had showed up this time.