Prompt: A character experiences Déjà vu so strong they almost fall over.
The sky was overcast, and the rain poured down steadily against the asbestos sheet that served as the rooftop of the typically airy shed. The distinct smell of the earth and the wet grass overpowered the air, and Rajesh couldn't help but admire the beauty of the greenery around him. He was not a sentimental man, but the ultimate certainty of an impending cadre transfer made him appreciate the insignificant trivialities that he usually ignored.
He was waiting for his tea to be prepared, and Vishnu, the laconic, if efficient, man who owned the roadside stall, and at whose shed he had been stopping every day after work for years now, busied himself with the concoction without even bothering to wait for an order. His driver had called in sick earlier that morning, and although an alternative could have easily been arranged for a man of his position, he had chosen to walk, rationalizing his decision as an opportunity for some additional exercise.
A frog croaked nearby, and he felt a pang at all that he would be leaving behind in the luscious green hills of Munnar. The village had watched him grow from a small-town boy who spent hours playing cricket with the other children, to an ambitious and somewhat responsible teenager, and finally to the young man who had made something out of himself and made his family proud. He had met his wife Amrita in a celebration in this very village, and she had given birth to their daughter Meena in the only hospital in the locality. Every man in the area knew him and his family, and Meena, with the sparkle in her eyes and the irrepressible laughter in her voice, had won the hearts of everybody in the neighbourhood.
His exuberant five-year-old was excited to move, and chattered of the upcoming change constantly. She was delighted by every aspect of what was to come, and described the city with wide-eyed longing and impatience. She loved their home, the farm school she attended, and her friends, but she would slip into a new city life the way a fish would into water. Amrita was equally enchanted, and ready to make her mark in a new job that she had already secured; teaching mathematics in a bigger and better school than she was presently working in. He realized that that left only him unsure of their decision.
Jaisalmer spoke of brightly coloured ghagra cholis and angrakhas, of camels and other desert animals, of traditional and supposedly royal food, and of historic libraries and museums. It boasted of ancient forts that brought the past back to life, and, according to Amrita, had well-earned the epithet of the 'Golden City.' It bragged of a unique and esoteric culture, complete with indigenous music and dance, and it was undoubtedly a matter of the pride that this culture had survived the development undertaken in the city, for not only did it attract tourists but also investors who had contributed in building large schools and hospitals. It was culturally rich, but that did not make it any less of a city.
But that wasn't all that made it different from Munnar. Munnar was green and beautiful and unique, but most importantly, it was familiar. He knew his way around the place like the back of his hand, and he had known the people here for years. His heart sighed at the prospect of being elsewhere next summer, and he couldn't picture himself enjoying any variety of mango more than the sweet naatumambazham that grew in their very own backyard. He hadn't made the decision lightly, but couldn't fathom leaving his beloved hill station for a hot and dry desert. His very soul seemed to make excuses to remain, for they didn't call Kerala 'God's Own Country' for no reason, but he couldn't put off the inevitable.
Vishnu handed him a steaming cup of tea, and he brought the cup to his lips and sipped the soothing ginger-seasoned chai. A pair of elephants; a cow and her young calf, with the young one's trunk intertwined in the older one's tail, ambled by in a characteristically unhurried pace, and he felt a sensation so strong that he jerked and spilt some of the tea on himself. He was performing a mundane activity on an ordinary day, but he felt the strangest conviction that he had been here before, and seen the same animals before. It wasn't unusual to spot elephants in the hills of Munnar, but it was odd for the elephants to break away from the herd. He didn't remember having seen the sight before, but his body reacted faster than his mind, he realized, for he heard his sharp intake of breath, and felt his heart hammering.
Some mysteries of the universe couldn't be explained, and certainly not to those who chose not to understand them, and he knew in that moment that the choice he was mulling over was one that he had made before. He was being given a second chance, and although he didn't know how or even why, he knew that he wouldn't fail this time.
A slight movement under one of the large leaves of a nearby banana tree caught his eye, and he turned his speculative gaze towards a delicate butterfly that waited out the rain in its relatively safe sanctuary. It fluttered its waterspout wings for a second, and immediately settled down again, almost blending into the background despite its flashy color. He pondered at that. Frogs and snakes casually ventured out during rainstorms, while butterflies seemed to disappear when fat water droplets made themselves known. The dragonflies would undoubtedly set out after the downpour, and sometimes it appeared that they took over an area in large swarms after the rains abated, and insistently made their presence felt with their buzzing.
He set the empty cup on the counter, and fished out a ten-rupee coin from one of his coat pockets and placed it next to the cup before making his way towards the road again. He would give Jaisalmer a fair chance, and he would make his peace with saying goodbye to the familiar. The young man walked on in the rain, his unopened umbrella hanging down by his side, and his wet backpack clinging limply to his retreating form. His muddy footprints would be washed off the road soon enough, as would the murky brown stains of the tea on his pristine white shirt.
Thank you for reading, have a lovely day!