The Crossroads

Let’s speed up the prologue, shall we?

A man and a woman stand at a crossroad, unaware of the other’s presence. They lived their lives parallel- growing up in the same town, attending the same schools, but never meeting, never knowing the other. As time passed, decisions became heavier, and they had to make a choice- move to the big city and chase big dreams, or stay behind, in the only place either of them ever knew? The man chose to stay behind, setting his path on the crossroad in stone. The woman, on the other hand, chose to leave. This is their story.

Choosing to stay

The man was absolutely terrible at baking, which is what made his decision to stay behind and run a bakery even stranger. He’d learned early on, after three burnt cakes, an undercooked pastry that gave him food poisoning, and an unfortunate event involving the fire department, that he could not be trusted with food. He COULD, however, be trusted with the business aspect of pretty much anything. He was good at what he did – good enough to leave their small town and live a big, successful life where he wouldn’t have to think about money ever again. Every time someone asked him why he didn’t, he wanted to scream. He didn’t want to leave, that was all. He liked his life, he liked his late father’s bakery, and he had the skills to manage it. Why couldn’t that be enough?

The first two months after his decision to stay had gone by in a flash, but he enjoyed them. He had work to do, people to get to know. He didn’t have too much time to think about anything, which was probably for the best. One day, his sister, Mei, walked into their house, squealing, excited, with a letter in her hand. He felt his heart grow with pride as she said she’d been accepted to university in a different state. After a celebratory hour filled with loud laughter and food, she moved back to her room, and he sat down at their couch, still smiling. He still remembered being six and watching her smear paint all over their walls. She hadn’t had the easiest life, and yet she had worked her way through it, and now she would leave to – wait.

Mei was leaving?

His little sister would leave, meet new people, visit new places, outgrow him and their home, and he would still be here, his life still confined to this place. He loved his sister, and he loved his home- there was not an ounce of doubt in either of those statements. But as he sat there, imagining the string of his life stretching out to sixty, seventy years, and still never having seen any part of the world beside this town, a seed of doubt- a small one, but a seed nevertheless- planted itself in his stomach.

His heart didn’t feel quite as full anymore.

Choosing to leave 

The woman’s heart beat fast in trepidation as the flight took off. This was it. This was the moment her whole life had amounted to. She had finally found the guts to do what she had planned to do all that time she sat at her mundane desk job at the marketing agency [let’s not poke fun at accountants for a change]. It was just like in the movies, a fresh start, a new chance at life. But what they don’t show in the movies is just how much the weight of your decision straps onto your chest threatening to land the plane itself. She thought about all that she was leaving behind; the comfort of familiarity, the job security, the financial stability, the people. She shook her head and leaned back, closing her eyes, as she thought of all there is to happen; all the possibilities. 

The city was giving, it was all that she had hoped for and more. Moving into her studio apartment – her own apartment! – was an experience unlike anything she’d ever known, equal parts stressful and exciting.  Her new job would begin in a week, which gave her a few days to make herself comfortable. The job didn’t pay as much as the one back at home – yet.

She’d get there eventually. It’s fine, she thought.

She didn’t know anyone in the city, which although slightly scary, was also partially what appealed to her. She knew almost everyone in her town. The familiarity had gotten boring, suffocating.  She only had one life- what fun would it be if she spent all of it in the same place?

Nevermind that she didn’t know anything about how the transport system worked, or how expensive everything was, or how competitive she’d heard the job market was. That was a problem for later. 

She missed home, obviously.  During her first week, she called home almost every day. She showed her sister, Emma, around her apartment as she unpacked. She asked her parents a lot of questions (how many spoons do you really need?), and they answered them with only a hint of amusement.  But there was no denying that she felt amazing. 

Days went by, before she even realized, it had been two months already. The enthused feeling that put everything around her in a new, interesting light was starting to fade away. And the remnants of the sense of foreboding that surrounded her as she ventured into this strange new world were starting to show up again. Mounting atop that, was the thought, “This is the life I chose for myself”. She came here because she wasn’t content with the life she previously had. What if this one proved to be unsatisfactory as well? Where would she go? More so, would it ever end? No matter what, she couldn’t shake away this gnawing feeling from the back of her mind. The seed kept on growing till she felt like it would engulf her entirely. She needed an out. Alcohol wasn’t the answer this time.

Emma called again. She was starting college the coming month. Seeing her sister look paler than usual, Emma voiced her concern, “Is everything alright?”

She gave a sigh and said, “Not really. I need to talk to you about something.”

Choosing to stay: the aftermath

The seed grew slowly. The man did his best to ignore it till one day when he realized he did not look forward to his days anymore. He already knew everything that would happen. He would wake up, eat some toast, go to work at the same place, talk to the same people, come back to the same place, watch the same television show, sleep in the same bed. That was all, over and over again. There was nothing different to do, nowhere to go. What was the point?

Oh, right, something WOULD be different. Another month, and Mei won’t be here anymore. She would be in another state, and he would be one person lonelier. Of course.

He tried not to let it affect him. He knew why he had chosen to stay, and life inevitably has moments when it feels like too little or too much, or both. But the resentment leaked, little by little, until his sister had enough of it one evening. 

“What’s going on with you?” she demanded, after he’d picked a stupid argument over dinner for no discernible reason. “This is my last month here, and this is what you’re doing? Picking fights over salad?” “Oh, don’t hold that over my head like leaving was just an unfortunate thing that happened to you. Like it wasn’t your choice.” The last sentence had more venom laced into it than he had intended, and he regretted it immediately as he watched her face drop, from angry to confused and hurt. “I.. what? That’s not fair, just because you chose to stay behind doesn’t mean I’m an awful person for wanting something else! It’s been weeks since I told you, why now?” Her voice dropped a bit. “Would you rather I have stayed?”

“ I’m sorry.” He sighed. He always knew she would’ve left. She had always wanted more, and did what she could to get it. The last thing he wanted to do was hold her ambition against her. “I’m just not having a very good time right now, and I’m taking it out on you. Of course I’m happy you get to do what you’ve wanted for so long.”

Mei was quiet for a while. “I’m not sure I made the right decision, choosing to leave the state.”

All of his turmoil was momentarily replaced by confusion. “What? Come on, you’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. What happened?”

“I don’t know, I just..” she gestured around. “This is all I’ve ever known. This is where my friends are, where you are. I don’t know anything or anyone beyond here, and I’m scared. Nothing will be the same after this. What if I don’t end up finding my purpose or my people or anything like that? What if I just end up lost and lonely? And don’t tell me that won’t happen,” she said, cutting him off. “You don’t know that. You don’t know how it’ll go.”

He wasn’t prepared for how familiar that sounded. “I wasn’t saying that.” He said softly. “If that’s how things end up- if you’re lost and alone and it isn’t everything you dreamed of, you can always come back. Decisions aren’t nearly as permanent as they feel. Besides,” he said, nudging her playfully, “I’m staying right here, remember? Running the same old bakery, in the same old house.”

“I think Emma wants to break up with me.” She said, rushedly, as if she didn’t want to think about it any more than she absolutely had to. This surprised him more than it should have -they’d only been going out for two months, and he hadn’t met Emma yet, but things had seemed to be going strong. “She’s staying here for university,” she went on, “And she hasn’t said anything yet, but I can feel it. I don’t think she wants to keep doing this from a distance. I considered staying for her, but that would be stupid, wouldn’t it? This is my life, I can’t do that. I won’t.”

Things were quiet for a while.

“How do you do it?” She whispered. “Don’t you ever feel…stuck? Sometimes I felt so stuck here I couldn’t breathe.” 

He was not prepared for this, having to confront the existential crisis that had been haunting him for weeks, but his sister needed this. “I do. Sometimes it feels like the walls of this town are closing in on me, and I’ll never be able to move again. And I feel so stupid about it, because I’m the one who chose to stay behind and do this. I know why I chose it, and I know I’d choose it again, but even then. Our minds really have a way of making you believe that every path you ever took was wrong, don’t they?” He laughed humourlessly. 

“Oh,” she said, looking a bit surprised. “Well. If you feel like you made the wrong choice, you could always still leave. Decisions aren’t nearly as permanent as they feel, right?” Both of them cracked a smile at that, the weight on his chest lifting a bit. “Why did you choose to stay, though? I know you’re tired of people asking you that, but ..why?”

“Honestly? It just did not appeal to me in the slightest. And if I didn’t take over dad’s bakery, Eric would have.” He scoffed. “Bless his soul, but the place would’ve gone bankrupt in a week. Besides, you know me. Can you imagine me in New York? I wouldn’t last ten seconds. I’d enter the city, immediately get lost, then trip into a manhole and get eaten by rats, and that’ll be it. I’ll take the bakery, thank you very much.” 

A slow grin creeped across her face. “What manhole? You wouldn’t make it out of the airport. You couldn’t even find the baggage terminal.”

“The what now?” As he sat there, cracking up with his sister around the dining table in the house they grew up in, he felt a thought, clear as day, form in his mind- this is why he’d chosen to stay. Where else would he find this?

 Tomorrow he’d wake up, go to the bakery, then maybe hang out with his employees – his friends – after work instead of coming home right away. He’d start a different television show, he’d come up with something besides toast to eat for breakfast. He made his choice, and he knew why he did it. And Mei was right- if it ever came to it, he could simply make another choice. Regardless of what he chose, happiness would find him. Things would be alright.

Choosing the leave: the aftermath

Emma listened patiently as she tried her best to put into words all that was going on in her head. 

When she was done, Emma gently remarked, “Maybe you’re taking your choice more as a burden and that could be where you’re going wrong. People are faced with making life-altering decisions many times in their life. And this would mean giving up on some things. “

The woman stayed silent for a couple of seconds. She thought about what Emma said, and then laughed. Her eighteen year old sister was over there, giving her advice. When had she grown up so much? 

“You’re right, you’re right. I would’ve regretted it much more if I had decided to stay behind. I guess I just feel a bit… lost. I don’t know what to do here.” She took a deep breath. “You know what, I’ll deal with it. How are you, Emma? How’s Mei?” Emma looked a bit nervous. “I’m fine. I have a month till university starts, so I’m trying to get a bit of a head start. Mei’s leaving for university- to your state, actually.”

“Oh, that’s amazing!” She didn’t know Mei very well, but Emma liked her, which was good enough. “Maybe I can finally meet her?” “I’m not sure about that.” Emma sounded uncertain. “She’s always had such big dreams, and I love that about her, but I’m happy here. I’m just scared that she’ll…outgrow me, somewhat. Forget me. I don’t know if I want to sit here and watch that happen.”

“You don’t know that!” she said, trying to reassure Emma. “I’m here too, right? I’m not going to outgrow you, or forget you, any time soon.” 

“That’s because you’re too sentimental for your own good. Mei isn’t.”

“Oh, okay, I see how it is.” She laughed. “I say I’m having a hard time once, and suddenly I’m too sentimental for my own good. Just you wait, you’ll see how hard the existential crises hit when you grow older.”

“And when they hit, I’ll call you. That seems fair.” Emma said. “Maybe I’m just being stupid here though, but I can’t really imagine you anywhere else. You would’ve hated it if you stayed behind, we both know that. You were always so bored, remember? You always wanted new things, and now you have them. How many things have you seen in the last week alone that you hadn’t seen in all your twenty-six years here?”

“Well..quite a lot, actually. I went to a butterfly park the other day, can you believe that? An entire park, just for butterflies. And I went to a work party once, and we were on the thirty first floor. Thirty first. I was terrified.” She shuddered. “It was very fun, though.”

“See? Imagine telling your thirteen year old self all that. She wouldn’t even believe you.”

“While we’re still talking about fun things,” she went on. “There are at least three cafes in every neighbourhood. We had one in our entire town, and it wasn’t even a proper cafe! It was merged with a bakery!” She laughed. “I’ve had so much coffee in the last month, in so many new flavours. I don’t think my body likes it very much, but well. I do.” She paused. “I do like it here.”

“There you go, then.” Emma smiled. “You’re dealing with new things, they feel overwhelming sometimes, but you like it. More than you ever liked it back at home. That’s all that matters.”

She felt herself relax. She walked out onto the balcony of her little apartment and looked out. Even now, at nearly midnight, she could hear laughter from afar. Lights were still on inside the buildings in the distance- so many people, living so many different lives. So many things she was yet to learn.

It felt exhilarating.

“Yeah,” she told her sister. “That’s all that matters.”

One year later

It had been a year- a long, hard one, but he wouldn’t change anything about it. The bakery was still doing well. Better than he had expected, in fact. New customers came in every day. Not all of them were pleasant. There were definitely a few that annoyed him, but he couldn’t complain. The first few days after Mei had left had been hard – lonely – but he got used to it pretty quickly. He had a bakery to run, after all. Of course, this didn’t do anything to dampen the excitement when Mei came back for the summer. They spoke often while she was away, and she was doing well. She had good friends, and university was challenging, but she enjoyed it. She and Emma were still going strong – they didn’t break up after all. Long distance wasn’t the easiest, but they made it work. However, no amount of phone calls could compare to sitting with Mei on their couch again, making stupid jokes and talking about movies. She knew then that he was right- she could always come back. She would always have a home here.

The woman, on the other hand, was also coming home for the summer. She did all the things she’d dreamed of doing in the city – she visited museums, went on a weekend road trip with her new work friends, and she even joined a rock climbing class – where would you ever find that in a small town? She still had lonely nights, nights when she felt like she would never feel whole again. But then she would look through her camera roll, at all the new memories she made, all the incredible things she got to do, and she would feel okay. She was still thrilled to come home, though, and she felt like she wouldn’t feel trapped by it for once. 

A week later, Emma and Mei sat around a dining table at Mei’s house, with a man and a woman, each excited at the idea of finally meeting their younger sister’s girlfriend. They all talked about their lives- about the bakery, about university, about museums. “I feel so bad for Emma, though.” The woman said, laughing. “She’s getting ready to go to university, and her much older sister calls her up to vent about feeling lost in life. She’s eighteen, what is she supposed to tell me?” “Hey, I handled that pretty well!” Emma retorted.

“Tell me about it,” the man replied. “At least you weren’t yelling at her over salad. Can we all agree that midlife crises are inconvenient as hell?”

“We can agree on that, yeah.” The woman smiled.

Sitting there, laughing with good people around good food in their hometown, none of them felt trapped, or lost, or scared. They only felt happiness, and an overwhelming calm. They would all be okay.

Outside their house, in the man’s back garden, two butterflies came by, settled on a flower for a minute, then fluttered along. 


This blog page serves as a platform for the Editorial department of The Hindu Education Plus Club at VIT Vellore. We provide opportunities to budding authors across campus to hone their writing skills. We publish blogs four times a week, where writers can communicate their views on any topic of their choice with our readers.

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