Strong smell of fresh grass assaulted her nostrils. Shielding her face with her palm, she opened her eyes. Sunlight streamed in-between her fingers. Glancing at the cloudless sky, she wondered, 'What a beautiful day.'
"Here, I picked them for you," someone whispered next to her. A small bunch of white daffodils were stuffed to her face. With trembling hands, she took the flowers from the offering hands. "Thank you," she mumbled.
Light airy smell of daffodils filled Ambai's senses. "They smell very nice. You should have had a hard time finding them," she said, peeking up at the stranger. Blush spread across his face.
"It was nothing," He whispered, scratching his open palm. Her timid eyes glanced down at the small cuts lining his rough palm.
'He went to that dangerous forest for these,' this thought brought a smile on her face.
"I…" he started, but was interrupted by a loud blaring horn. Ambai's body jerked forward with no control, hitting the seat in front of her. The seatbelt cut into her shoulders and stomach.
Panting, she glanced around at the car window. Her heart pounding, it almost felt like her heart would beat out of her chest. An icy palm gripped her hands, bringing her out of her dazed state.
"Ambai, are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?" her dad inquired with his bloodshot eyes.
"Yes, I am fine," she nodded.
"Are you okay Ambalika?" her dad whispered turning towards her equally stunned sister. "Yes, dad," she said, wiping her puffy eyes with her fists.
"What the hell are you doing, driving like that?" my dad shouted, glaring at their Uber driver.
"Sorry, sir. The roads are a little bumpy," the man said with a smirk.
"Bumpy? Indian roads were always this bumpy. You were the one speeding too much," He shouted.
The cab driver started sweating, looking at her father's bloodshot eyes. He started driving slowly afterwards.
Her mind was completely filled with the beautiful spring field. 'It was a dream. But—But why did it seem so real?' she thought with a confused look on her face. She had been haunted with the same dream for almost a year now, and the past few days it has become so frequent. But the timid guy's face was always blurry in her dreams.
With a sigh, she thought, 'Hmm, I wish I had a boyfriend like that.'
Their cab slowly stopped in front of a rusted house gates. "Girls go pick up your bags from the trunk," her dad said shuffling through his bulky wallet. He kept fiddling for minutes now.
Rolling her eyes Ambai said, "Dad let me pay."
"Here, 250 right," She questioned, handing over the cash to the Uber driver. "Yes, ma'am. I have opened up the trunk, do you need help with the baggage?" he said turning back towards them.
Before Ambai could answer, her dad added "We don't need any help," glaring at him. She rolled her eyes at this.
The bumpy cab ride seemed to have ticked him off. Her dad kept growling and grumbling, climbing out of the car. "Give him less rating," he mumbled slowly to his daughter.
"Eh hmm," Ambai hummed, walking around the old beat up Toyota.
"Ambalika, pick yours up," she said, pulling her heavy trolley from the trunk.
"I am too tired, can you please carry it for me," her little sister said with a puppy dog look on her face.
Her little sister has always been physically weak. She was a premature baby by birth, so she was in the hospital for almost three months before she was brought home. Her health went downhill after that, she was allergic to many things and got sick so easily. Once their dad bought some Dairymilk chocolate bar for her birthday, but it ended up getting her hospitalized. That's when her family came to know she was allergic to chocolate. The same things happened so many times; only after so many years that they came to realize that she was gluten intolerant as well.
Looking at her weak form leaning against the rusted gate, Ambai's heart relented.
"You better do the dishes instead for three days," she said with a silly smirk on her face.
"Hey that's not fair. Can't you be a kind sister for once?"
"Fine, at least carry my coat will you," Ambai said tossing her coat at her. It hit her right in the face.
"Hey," she screamed, pulling it off of her.
Ambai gave an evil laugh at this and proceeded to pull her heavy blue trolley off of the trunk.
'What the hell did she pack in there? It weighs like a dead body to be honest,' Ambai thought lifting the heavy bag from the trunk.
She lowered it to the ground with a thud. "Phew," she let out a breath and wiped her sweaty forehead with her forearm.
Suddenly something fell in her eyes. She blinked rapidly, but the thing started irritating her eyes even more.
Letting go of the trolley handle, she proceeded to rub her eyes. "Eww, are you picking eye boogers?" her sister said with a scrunched-up face.
"Smartass, I have something in my eyes," she said, hitting her shoulders lightly with her fists.
"Ouch, mom, she hit me," she cried, running over to their frail looking mother.
'This drama queen,' Ambai rolled her eyes. She dragged the heavy bags one by one into their home. Her dad paused next to her and mumbled, "That's why you should travel light." He shouldered his small blue backpack which carried all his travel essentials and strode past his struggling daughter.
'Anyway, he is right,' she thought dragging her mega trolley. She and her sister always have the habit of packing unnecessary items, like too many handbags or shoes.
"Hell, all this struggle is worth it for an amazing picture," Ambai mumbled, hoisting it inside the door.
"Kids, you are back," her grandma exclaimed, rolling her wheelchair close to the doorway.
"Grandma," Ambai exclaimed. She threw the heavy trolleys near the doorway and rushed towards her. "Oh gran, I missed you." She squealed, hugging her soft little gran-gran. Squatting next to her wheelchair, she said, "You should have come with us. Egypt was awesome."
She peered up at her in confusion. Touching her wrinkly face gently, Ambai whispered. "What is it gran? Did you miss me too?"
She didn't get a reaction to this either, but her grandmother kept gazing at her with a peculiar look in her eyes. "Gran, does your leg hurt? I will rub it for you,"
Ambai started gently massaging her wrinkled foot till her shin. "Don't worry gran, my magic hands will take away all your pain," she said with a serious look.
Her grandmother softly kissed her head. Ambai glanced up with a wide smile on her face. But what she saw caused her smile fade away. Her grandmother's wrinkly face was soaked in tears.
"Gran, what's wrong? Does your leg hurt too much? Let me bring some medicine," she stood up in a hurry. She rushed towards her room, but her grandmother gripped her forearm with her cold palms.
"Ambai.." she sighed with unshed tears in her eyes. Ambai held her grandmother's wrinkly hand firmly in her's and whispered, "I'll bring you some medicine. The pain will go away, okay, gran."
"My dear Ambai, remember death is never the end," she sniffed, closing her eyes in agony. Tears were uncontrollably flowing down her face.
"What is it gran? Why are you being silly? I assure you, you will live for more than 150 years," Ambai said trying to sooth her anxiousness.
She held her hands and sobbed even more at this. "Ambai always remember, never lose yourself in your journey. It is there for you to discover your true self," she whimpered, hugging her close. She stood still hugging her sobbing form.
Soon their resident nurse ran over to them and fed her grandmother her medicine. "Sorry, I'm late," she whispered and wheeled her back to her room. All the way she kept glancing back and whispering, "Remember. Ambai remember your existence." Ambai stood frozen in a daze, looking at her desperate form.
"Ambai, did you see my glasses?" Her little sister's scream pulled her out of it. She mentally rolled her eyes and rushed to her room.
Her sister was throwing things from her bag everywhere. "For god's sake, it's on your head," Ambai said, pulling it out of her hair. "Oh, thanks Bai," she said with a silly smirk.
'I know for sure that my sister has the memory of a goldfish.'
Shaking her head, she returned to her room and started unpacking the bag.
"Ambai, go take a bath," her mum said, popping her head through the door.
"Nope, I don't want to. I am going to be saving some water today," Ambai mumbled from the floor folding her clothes.
"Bai, we just travelled so much. So many germs might be on that plane. So go bath," she said, pointing towards the bathroom.
"Hmm," She nodded at her but still continued folding the clothes.
Soon night came and the happy family had their dinner and went to bed. But at night she felt like her entire throat was being constricted.
'Why is my throat so sore?' Ambai thought, drinking some cold water next to the bed. But that just made it even worse.
After a night's sleep, she woke up with sore and aching throat. Ambai walked over to the sink to brush her teeth. Her mum came over and placed a cold hand on her forehead and gasped.
"Bai, you are burning up," she exclaimed. Her mother dragged her to her room and made her lay on the bed. "Mum, I am fine. It's just a sore throat," Ambai whispered in a hoarse voice.
"Wait here, I'll bring some medicine," she said, rushing over to her room.
'Geez, it's just a fever she didn't have to overreact like that,' Ambai thought, mentally rolling her eyes.
She came back with a Paracetamol and a warm glass of water. "Here, eat this," she said, popping it in directly inside her open mouth.
"I am fine mom. It's just a fever, for god's sake. So chill," Ambai said, patting her frowning head.
"No, Ambai you know about the deadly COVID right, so we need to be careful," she whispered caressing her daughter's luscious black hair.
Ambai patted her hands gently with a wide smile on her face and said, "It still hasn't spread in India, so chill. Nothing is going to happen to me," Her mother frowned left the room.
Her mother made her eat some porridge and tucked her back in bed. Moonlight reflected on the small hanging mirror charms in her room to shimmer. 'So pretty.' Her puffy eyes started to shut on their own, plunging her into deep sleep.
By the middle of the night, Ambai woke up with a start. She felt like someone was constricting her throat. 'What is happening? Why can't I breathe?' she thought. Her hands refused to move. Her heart started to palpitate like crazy and eyes turned hazy and black spots covered them. Soon her breathing turned ragged and erratic. She took short deep breaths holding onto her neck.
"Mu…um…" she croaked with her hands outstretched towards the open door.
She fell on the floor with a thud. Ambai reached out towards the bottle, but her hands could not reach it. Her breath turned ragged; she started punched her chest, but that didn't help.
Soon her vision turned grey, and she stopped moving. Her pulse came to o stop and her eyes rolled back into the void.
Heat left her body leaving only a cold corpse lying on the floor.
Ambai's soul glanced around and saw something heartbreaking.
She saw her body on the ground, lying there motionless.
'I— how did I die so quickly?' She still couldn't comprehend what was happening around her.
Sunlight streamed through my window onto my cold corpse, and she finally got out of the daze.
'I am dead.'
There she was, a ghost watching the paramedics desperately try to bring her dead body to life. She walked up to them, but no one seemed to notice.
No one knew.
No one knew that she was there, and it pained her to no end.
"It—it might be the new virus," the paramedics whispered stepping further away from her cold corpse.
"Noo, noo," Ambai watched her mum and dad wail, holding her body. Her little sister stood by the doorway, spilling silent tears in agony.
She just stood there for hours until they lifted her cold body onto the stretcher and to the ambulance. Her entire family followed them, leaving only her aging grandmother behind.
With hesitation, she entered her room. Ambai noticed her observing the birds from her window.
"Gran," she cried, walking close to her.
Suddenly her grandma turned back and her eyes widened. Ambai realized that she could see her.
"Ambai," she whispered, holding her hands out wide, as if waiting for a hug.
"Gran," she whimpered running into her arms, but sadly she could not even touch her. This broke her heart even more. Her face scrunched up as she wailed and sobbed, but tears didn't flow out of her eyes.
Ambai knelt next to her wheelchair and sobbed into her lap. "Gran, why did this happen?"
"Ambai, life always goes on. But you have to choose right," she whispered patting her head but her hands just went through. "You have to choose right," she whispered one last time before she fainted.
"Gran. Gran, what happened?" Ambai screamed, trying to hold her limp hands. But her hands went through again.
Their family nurse ran into the room and held her limp body. "Mam, what's wrong? Let me call an ambulance," she whispered after taking her pulse.
She was standing besides her and watched all this. An aching pain originated from her missing heart, an ache that could not be healed.
"No, no, this is not meant to happen. Why is this happening to us?" Ambai screamed leaning against the corner walls.
"Is death really the end of my journey? Is it my fate to die young? How was I fated to die by this darn covid19?" She cried desperately to whichever deity that was listening.
"Death is never the end, it's only the beginning of your journey," a voice replied.