A Better Place?

A Better Place?


Crunch, crunch, crunch…

Her boots left imprints on the snowy path as she trudged along the winding trails in the woods.

Crunch, crunch, crunch…

Her thoughts drifted above the bare tree branches that reached upwards as if to caress the deep blue Ontario winter sky.

Bhutan. Circa 1973.

She watched intently as his fingers found the wood working tool he was looking for. Her 8-year-old mind did not know what it was called – just that it was about a ruler-length long with a smooth, rounded wooden handle and a piece of metal attached to it. The metal was dull from years of use and not completely flat. It was slightly curved along the shaft and ended with a sharp edge at the top.

“So now we need the curved chisel,” she heard him say, as he wielded the tool with ease in his large strong hands, positioning it carefully on a piece of clamped wood before deftly chiseling off a minuscule sliver of wood – a motion repeated numerous times before he had it to the size and shape he wanted.

It was a warm summer night. The white curtains moved slightly, reluctantly letting in the night air scented with flowers that grew in beds along the perimeter of the house – roses, lilies, jasmine. Definitely jasmine. In the distance, barking dogs and (much, much further) the first faint howls of jackals started rippling through the valley.

Back to the table now where he continued working on his project, while she dutifully stood, observing, ever attentive, ready to follow the next order. The cicadas announced their presence in the darkness outside as if unable to cease their proclamation that the sweltering heat of another monsoon season had arrived. As if that needed reminding. Sweat beaded above his brow before it trickled, hesitantly at first, then as if in a rush, down the side of his face & neck. Sweat not caused by excessive physical exertion but by being enveloped in the high humidity of an oppressively warm summer night. A few night insects started their dance along the length of the tube light above. They flew in circles, bumping against the light and coming back like a bunch of tipsy dancers, reveling in light-headed camaraderie, joyfully nudging elbows with dance partners at random without a care in the world.

She wondered what was running through his mind as he worked diligently. So focused outwardly; but inside, what were his thoughts? Was he thinking of what transpired at the office that day, or why she had chosen to be with him while her siblings were playing elsewhere around the house? Or perhaps it was solely on the task at hand. To get it perfectly right. Because that was his nature. She admired that in him, but it scared her too as she felt compelled to make no mistakes lest it upset him. Lest it upset his meticulously laid out plan. And so she stood dutifully at his side, flashlight in hand, willing her mind and tiny hands to aim the light beam on the spot he was working on. Enjoying the moment they shared – just the two of them. Two souls. Decades apart. One focused on the project. The other on the companionship craved by a young daughter from the father she adored.

They were at the upright piano now, with its upper front board off, exposing strings, pins, hammers; the inner complicated layout of the instrument on full display. Was there anything he couldn’t fix? She marveled at how he was able to figure out how to fix things and then do it! Just like that. No training, no Google or YouTube those days. Just by observation, ingenuity and those magic fingers of his!

“A bit more to the left,” she heard her father say, which snapped her wandering mind back to the present. The beam of light had drifted hopelessly off course, no longer illuminating the spot he was working on. She felt herself holding her breath as he carefully, ever so carefully, glued the wood piece he had carved onto the tail of the hammer. It wasn’t until he stepped back, eyed it from several angles and then nodded with a smile that she knew he was satisfied with his handiwork.

She smiled.

A gust of cold wind caused her eyes to water, bringing her back to the snowy pathway.

Crunch, crunch, crunch…

Her boots continued to crunch on top of the thick fallen snow.

“Minus ten degrees Celsius isn’t so bad and feels invigorating as long as one is bundled up,” she told herself.

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