The Dream Interpreter

“Where did the steps go?” Smita wondered as she looked down from the edge of the terrace, looking for the steep steps she had climbed on. They were gone, exposing a dizzying fall to the ocean below. It was raining and water was everywhere. She could hear an almost human cry, a mournful howl of the black dog—she knew it was a black dog—in the distance. As she tried to decide whether she should jump down, for there was nowhere else to go, her phone rang.

Smita woke up, her heart thudding crazily and her thoughts fuzzy, emerging from the depths of another world, but relieved she didn’t have to deal with it. At least not this time. She knew it would come back. She squinted at the clock. 6:30 am. Only her mother would call her at this hour.

“Yes, ma?”

“Smita, you will not believe what happened. I have some very bad news, are you up?”

“What is it ma? Is it dad? Are you okay?”

“Oh no. We’re fine. It’s Mrs. Kesavan. Remember her? Padma aunty?”

Of course she remembered. Mrs. Kesavan, or Padma Aunty, as the children called her, was the mother of their neighbor in Pine Hills, where her family had lived when Smita and her brother were in elementary school. Padma Aunty was visiting from India, and spoke the same language as Smita’s family. As all parents who visited the US for months at a time from India did, she had bouts of loneliness and was starving for conversation in her mother tongue of Tamil. If a cup of filter coffee accompanied it, she was in heaven. She showed up at their house at 4 pm every day for those very same things.

“What happened to her, ma?”

“Remember how she always talked about her dreams?”

As her mother started to tell her, Smita got out of bed and started the coffee.

The children called her Padma Aunty, adding the title after the name as all Indian children are taught to do.

Padma aunty was obsessed about dreams and their meanings. Smita blamed Padma aunty and her daily sessions reporting, analyzing and fretting over her dreams with her mother for her own awareness of dreams and the ability to remember them, especially the disturbing ones.

Padma Aunty said if someone died in your dream, it meant that they were blessed (or cursed, depending) with a long life. Losing your teeth in a dream meant bad things were going to happen, possibly a demotion at work. Then there was the one that was her brother’s favorite. If you dreamed of “number two”, you are likely to win the lottery. Or, at the very minimum, find a dollar bill on the street. Smita had shared this one with her American co-worker who had rolled her eyes, but called her a week later, laughing so hard she couldn’t speak, to tell her that she had just received an unscheduled pay raise, and the night before she had dreamt of… loads of dog poop!

The one dream that really disturbed Padma Aunty was of people eating. That, she said, was a sign that someone, somewhere was going to die.

“Really? In a planet where billions of people live, isn’t someone always dying somewhere?” her father used to snicker from behind his newspaper, shushed by her mother.

A dream of a sumptuous wedding dinner was cause for much fretting the following day.   A dream of a luncheon full of old people would take her down for days.

On those days, she would try to account for all the people in her circle who were on the eligible list and scour the obituaries until she found what she wanted. Which, amazingly, invariably happened. This fact would be almost triumphantly conveyed to her mom: “See, what did I tell you?”

Her mother continued on the phone. Three days ago, Aunty Padma had had one of her lavish gastronomical dreams and was fretting as usual. She worried and worried for 2 days and even “googled” (with the help of her grandson) all the old people she knew. She had gone to the temple the previous evening, praying for everyone who was on her death row. She left the temple, still preoccupied with the dream as she crossed the street. And never saw the car coming.

Note: I don’t write much fiction but this was one that I had fun writing.




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