He set the picnic basket down by the towering oak tree. The sweet smell of the vegetation ripening in the Indian summer conquered our senses as I was running around the field, changing the angle of my arms and mimicking an airplane. The streaks of sunlight were cutting through the clouds and I felt the stiff breeze under my cotton shirt.

That spot had been our usual hangout place, just me and him without the outside world intruding. A balancing act between time and love in the way of strengthening our bonds. I was aware that in a few years, things would change and it wouldn’t remain the same.

‘Come on up here,’ he said.

I looked up and saw him sitting on the bough of the oak tree, swinging his legs back and forth. The site was a lush green carpet of plants. It was so peaceful and quiet that day. It reminded me of that time when we were seated under the same tree and then we heard a squawking and flapping sound above our heads. Turned out a pigeon had its claw trapped in a fishing line. He climbed up to rescue the bird and that’s when he saw the view up there for the first time. He was amazed by it and he started describing the breeze which felt like sunshine and wild grass.

‘Come on, you have to get up here!’ he shouted.

I was back to the present time. We were too old for climbing trees, I reckon.

‘I don’t think I can,’ I said as I looked up towards him.

‘Please, I want you to see this,’ he insisted.

Giving in to his pleading, I stared at the 80-foot-tall tree in front of me. I curled my hands around the thick branch, making sure I had a strong grip on it, and climbed up with one foot on the tree trunk. Through a lattice of interlocking limbs, twigs outspread into lobed, many-fingered leaves, I finally made it to the top.

Climbing a tree? I have never done that before. It was exhilarating! And wow, it smelled exactly like he described. My lungs were filled with the sweetest smell I have ever known.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ he asked me as I try to regain my composure.

‘Spectacular! I could just sit here for hours,’ I said as I stared at the world under our feet. The distant mountains looked like they were kissing the clouds and combed green meadows tapered towards the sun.

‘So have you decided yet?’ he asked.

I knew he was going to bring the topic up sometime soon. I had avoided discussing it with him for a week as I couldn’t make a decision.

‘I don’t know. Maybe I should just stick to things as they are right now? I don’t want to screw it up,’ I murmured as I tried to avoid his gaze.

‘A ship in harbour is safe but that is not what ships are built for! Indu, you are not seeing the big picture here,’ he said in his calming voice.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, this time looking at his face.

‘Years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, while you still can, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails and start to explore.’

I nodded. He smiled radiantly as he embraced me.

We stayed up there looking at the blazing orange sunset, setting fire to the clouds on the horizon. His hand enclosed mine. There would be lightness in every step ahead of us and, as we cherished every moment spent together, I felt the heaviness in my heart lift.

It’s been years now yet because of those words, I chose writing as my career path and I’m glad I did. He inspired me in ways I couldn’t have expected. This journey of exploring started that day I crossed thousands of miles and finally ended up here in New Zealand.

As I was writing this, I was reminded that I was already late for our daily routine call schedule. I pulled out my phone and as I dialled his number, these words appeared on my screen:

Calling Dad.

Words by Indumathi Chitrambalam.