If you want to have an adventure, don’t take the usual road.
He was always surprised how his otherwise senile grandfather had these moments of absolute clarity. Every morning, right before he was to leave for The Streets, the old man would stop him at the door and whisper something into his ear. He would then look expectantly at his grandson, waiting for him to do something to prove that he understood.
It was, more often than not, some cryptic advice within which lay hidden a life lesson. There had also been riddles and jests, complaints and concerns and on a rare occasion, a demand. His grandfather was a quirky old fellow that way. And today again, he waited for his grandson to acknowledge the pearl of wisdom he had so lovingly shared with him.
“Sure, grandfather.” He smiled back. Adventure wasn’t for boys like him. But just to humour the old man, he decided to take the longer road to The Streets.
His usual route was shorter but riddled with potholes and bumps, which he had learnt to carefully navigate through over time. This road was well paved from the last time some important minister visited the village. He didn’t have to be mindful of the earthenware he was carting along to sell in the market. For the first time in a long time, his mind was free to wander.
Her perfume ensnared his senses way before he saw her. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply into an enticing whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle, and exhaled a sigh. While his senses were recovering from this sweet assault, he had almost rammed his cart into a tree. A laugh, as mellow as the chirp of the songbirds, fell upon his ears and made him open his eyes. He turned in the direction of the laughter and beheld the face that would thenceforth become the centre of his universe.
She was a beautiful, nay, glorious creation, alabaster skinned and golden haired, with eyes that challenged the depths of the blue ocean he had always dreamt of seeing. Her peach dress, that seemed to so lovingly drape itself around her torso, fluttered in the same wind that had carried her perfume and the sound of her laughter to him…
As he stood there, captivated by a million impulses coursing through his body, she was slowly drifting away, being nudged onward by her friend, still giggling over the silly boy who drove his cart into a tree. The rapture had ended and he had been touched by something he couldn’t explain. Without a second thought, he followed the object of his obsession all the way outside the garden in the village square. His usual spot in The Streets would have already been taken by the other salesmen. Maybe he should try his luck selling the earthenware here today, he rationalized. His heart beat in joyous triumph, for he could gaze at her from the very spot he stood in.
He watched her all day, and for more days to come, as she spent her time in the garden, sometimes reading, sometimes sewing and mostly playing and singing songs with the other girls. Business wasn’t exactly booming here, but he couldn’t bear to return to The Streets just yet. When he told his grandfather about this, the old man simply said, “Follow your heart for it is wise beyond you.”
And he did. He followed his heart down the same road to the garden, mustering the courage to ask her name and failing to do so every day. He wondered if she noticed his lingering presence, the boy who had made a fool of himself on the road, though she never acknowledged it. A stifled laugh here, a glance there, it was all he could get. But it didn’t matter to him. He continued to memorise every detail of her surreal appearance, like a priest memorising the Word of God.
He knew something was wrong the day he didn’t see her at the garden. He brushed it off as nothing. Maybe she was occupied with some errand. Or maybe she had to be somewhere else. He could easily fool his head with reasons, but couldn’t rid his heart of that unsettling feeling. A week went by without a glimpse of her and his agony only grew. Was she sick? Was she in pain? He tossed and turned every night in his makeshift bed, trying to recall her perfume so he could be lulled to sleep. If only he had known her name…
The falling leaves denoted a change of season. For him, it was a painful reminder that it had been a month since he had seen her. In a desperate bid to end his torment, he tried to enquire about her as inconspicuously as he could. But alas, there was no remedy for his misery. He had hardly sold any of the earthenware last week and knew that it was time to return to his usual clientele in The Streets. But he couldn’t get himself to abandon any hope of seeing her again.
“Only when you let it go will it come to you.” He knew not to read much into his grandfather’s peculiar statements. However, he noticed how his grandfather had held on to his hand a moment longer than usual. Could grandfather sense his despair, his desperation? But the old man seemed to be lost in his world yet again. He decided he had to return to The Streets. He owed it to his old man.
He was lost in her thoughts, almost considering a quick detour to the garden, when the commotion outside the old church caught his attention. The wedding party had blocked a major part of the road, while a fancy carriage, all decked up to carry off the newly-weds occupied the other half. He was pushing his way through the throng when he saw her. She was walking down the church steps, more beautiful than ever, her eyes twinkling with joy and a blush that put the roses in her bridal bouquet to shame. The crowd cheered as the bride and the groom mounted the carriage, waving goodbyes to their loved ones. But he had eyes only for her. Somewhere in his heart, a dull pain seemed to rise as he committed to memory what he knew in his heart to be her last appearance.
“Oh dear, doesn’t Eleanor make a beautiful bride?” he heard someone in the crowd exclaim.
He closed his eyes and whispered her name… Eleanor… and was transported back to a time not long ago. A familiar scent of jasmine and honeysuckle filled the air, and he wondered if all adventures did smell so sweet.