It was a normal, dull poster of the azure sky with the edge of a cliff at the bottom. Pretty stock material if you ask me. But what grabbed my attention wasn’t the cliched blue sky or the done to death cliff-edge. It was this unusual word that was painted in an atypical font that read:
There was something mysterious, something magical about the word that I just could not put my finger on. What did it mean? Was it even a real word? Would I find it beaming back at me if I opened a dictionary? There was only one way to find out. I typed the word into the dictionary app that I had installed on my cell phone.
Nothing came up.
Nothing at all.
Apparently the ones at Oxford had never heard of this one.
‘Sonder’, he read out loud from behind. I had completely forgotten the fact that I wasn’t alone and the fact that i had drifted alone into my thoughts.
‘Does not it look weird?’, he went on in a very fake and weird British accent.
‘What?’, I replied involuntarily without taking my eyes off the word.
‘The S, the O, the N, the D, the E, the R? You know, honestly? To me it looks like each letter on that sheet of paper, was written by a different person. 6 letters. 6 different personalities. Yeah’, he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
I looked at him with raised eyebrows. Apparently a 5’8″ like him was trying to initiate small talk with a 5’4″ like me outside my favorite bookstore with a fake and forced British accent. What a cliché. Of all the places. Of all the accents.
‘Here, let me explain.’ he went on, completely ignoring the fact that I was unimpressed with his approach.
‘Let’s start with S. Compared to all the other letters in the word, S seems to be the boring, dull one out of the lot, if you consider the simple, monotonous way its been printed. Probably a slacker, a lazy goof, lack of creativity or possibly the sane one in the group. O, tell me what do you see when you look at it from afar, a single glance? It reminds me just the way it reminds you of a cricket ball. The three thread string tied around the ball? Seems familiar? This person here is a cricket fanatic to say the least. Which brings us to the next one that is N. A right triangle with a line segment attached to its base that is pointing northwards? This guy here wants to show the world how interested he is in mathematics and obviously could be obsessed with the amount of distance he covers a day. D, at first looks random? But if you give it sometime, it doesn’t seem random at all. It resembles an alphabet from a language that has its roots in Sanskrit that points inevitably to the writer’s mother tongue. E, interestingly the fifth letter in the word, resembles Epsilon, the fifth letter in the Greek alphabet, which denotes permittivity in physics. Our man here is fascinated by physics, electromagnetism to be precise. Moreover the zigzag lines with its pointy edges points to his sociopathic tendencies? I hope not. And last but not the least R, which actually is just a variation of its lower-case counterpart. Though I see it showing ample scope in cognitive psychology.’
‘Although 6 different people for a single poster sounds possible, yet it seems very improbable. I guess it’s just 6 different traits of a single personality in the end.’, he shrugged.
It was around 5 in the evening and the sun wasn’t planning to set anytime soon. Well, not in an hour for sure. As far as it seemed, it was enjoying shining down on the back of our necks. It was five hours past twelve and yet it felt hot. Hotter than it was supposed to feel at 5 in the evening.
I squinted my eyes, showing him my disbelief. He smiled, I opened my mouth to argue but he cut me off as if reading my mind.
‘Look around you. You’ll see what it means’, he said looking sideways.
We weren’t alone. There were people, all shapes. All sizes. All ages walking on with their daily lives. There was a couple quarreling as they walked down the street. There was a street performer hanging from a lamp post showing off his tricks with a football. A bike messenger pedaling with all his might to make a delivery on time. A guy with a guitar crooning ballads from the yesteryears that still made you believe in the idea called love. A man sipping his latte as he waited for his bus to arrive. Anything and everything. I suddenly realized how big the universe was.
‘The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. Populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. A story, of epic proportions that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once. As an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk-‘
I’m sorry, who are you again?, said I squinting my eyes.
He smiled. He had jet black hair which wasn’t short and long at the same time. The stubble of hair that had begun to grow on his face told me that it had been a while since he shaved. It looked well on him, so that was fine. He wore a tee that jelled well with his jeans. Straight, not skinny.
‘Bad British accent, endless knowledge on trivial things, annoying, antisocial personality. Oh you must be Sherlock.’
We both laughed. I apparently was starting to find him attractive.
You still aren’t convinced are you?, he said finally dropping the accent. Lets see, you have an obsession with words?, he continued looking straight into my eyes.
I turned my gaze away to the word that had started this whole encounter in the first place.
‘The graffiti on your bag depicting random words from the English lexicon. Random to everyone else, baggage to you. The wallpaper on your cell phone which screams silently, your favorite word to the whole world. The number of dictionary apps you have probably installed on your phone. Oxford, Webster, MacMillan… Just a tip of the iceberg. The fact that you have one opened as we speak searching the meaning of a word that you just found says it all. And no you won’t find it. It is not used much.’
I had heard enough. Period.
This was creepy.
I had turned and started to walk away from him when suddenly he called me from behind, which made me froze.
He called me by my first name.
What the hell was happening here?
‘I know that none of this makes any sense to you. I know I am creeping you out. But believe me, you and I shall meet. When and where I don’t know. But we will. This bookstore, he said pointing at the one we were standing in front of moments ago, I know its your favorite. I have seen you come and go day in and day out. I don’t know how to explain everything. But all this, that you see now, is all in your head. Every speck of dust, every shade of color. You have to wake up! Its been so long. So fucking long! Remember, in fi-
I was dreaming.
I was in a coma?
For how long?
I had no fucking clue.
But it was time to wake up.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock…
The clock on the mould sprinkled concrete wall ticked away to oblivion as she lay there on her bed, eyes wide open. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. No. They were supposed to be shut. And yet here she was lying shirtless with the lights out counting each second away without the slightest idea what hour of the night it was. Insomnia was back in town after a while and had landed at her doorstep the other night. He was an old friend, and old friends never needed reasons to crash at your place. And the last time he left for a trip, she thought he had left for good but here he was back again.
Insomnia was an asshole.
She laid there staring at the ceiling. Somewhere on top, over her head the fan was spinning 360 degrees with all its might to keep her away from sweating. And by the looks of it, the fan was doing a pretty poor job.
She was sweating like a pig.
The ceiling was like a giant screen to her, flashing scenes from her past like a rabid slideshow. Scenes she wished she could forget. Scenes she wished she could rewrite if not erase. There were plenty. Plenty enough to make any woman sweat like a pig in the middle of the night. She shut her eyes, but to no avail. The scenes were not etched on the ceiling. No, they were etched on her retina. And they were etched deep.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock…
She got up and sat sideways facing the window that connected her room with the outside world. Her fingers searched in desperation for that switch which would wake the table lamp up. Her head was still stuck in some dream she had while she was asleep. It was weird. There was this nutjob who wouldn’t shut up and something about them meeting soon. None of it made sense. She looked at the clock and realized it was 4 in the evening. She got out of bed and got ready to face another brain dead day of her life.
Qantab street was always busy. Cars, bikes, taxis, business men, street performers. Everyone. Yet it felt so lonely here for some unknown reason. The only place that didn’t make her feel so was Turtles, the bookstore at the corner of the street. There was something about that place that made her forget all her worries. And her feet dragged her unconsciously to the very same place without fail everyday, and today was no different. It was a quiet place. None of the people living here in Qantab found it good enough to be visited. Made her wonder why on earth would anyone open a bookstore in this place.
But today was indeed different. In fact today there seemed to be an unusual crowd in front of the bookstore. Someone apparently had opened up a gallery in front of Turtles. A gallery displaying posters and artworks by this certain someone.
Dia stopped in her tracks as she saw the man’s face.
It was that very same nutjob she saw in her dream. The very same nutjob who wouldn’t shut up. The very same nutjob who made no sense whatsoever. The very same nutjob who diagnosed her obsession with words, her emotional baggage, and what not.
And the very same word, printed over the very same clichéd azure sky and the done to death cliff-edge.
She stood there, unable to move.
It was his art.
The poster was made by him.
The letters. The colors.
‘Sonder’, he said from behind. She had completely forgotten the fact that she wasn’t alone and the fact that she had drifted alone into her thoughts.
‘Does not it look weird?’, he went on in a very fake and weird British accent.
‘What?’, Dia replied involuntarily without taking her eyes off the word.
Suddenly, everything started to make sense to her.