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The Come Back – Chapter 5

18 Aug

Ash left her Papa to his own devices and closed the door behind her. She went straight to the kitchen to find Mrs. P steadily stirring something in a cauldron. It had to be her favourite lentil and pea soup. Mrs. P must have known that she was back and would have started right away. Ash tiptoed towards Mrs. P and then in a sudden movement lifted Mrs. P off the ground with her hands. Mrs. P shrieked and then started laughing fitfully. Ash joined her too and turned to face her, after putting her down. Mrs. P with her rounded cheeks, her fair hair tied up in a bun, face more wrinkled than she last saw her was wearing a smart dress with a black fitted belt. She seemed to have become plumper than she last remembered seeing her. Nevertheless, the same old Mrs. P, all elegant and homely at the same time. Mrs. P was assessing Ash pretty much the same way. She observed that Ash had turned a lot paler and thinner. She was even hunching a little like her dad. But her raven black hair was long and shiny. She reminded herself that she had to run a bath for Ash as she looked extremely unkempt and dirty for some reason. She could see some dirt in her finger nails which seemed like they hadn’t been to a manicure salon for months. Mrs. P went to make a mental list of all the things that she needed to do for Ash.

“I smell something delicious in the pot. Isn’t that my favourite soup simmering away?” Ash enquired with a bright smile.

Mrs. P rushed forward to greet her and  kissed her forehead.

“Yes it is my dear! When I heard your voice inside Mr. Reed’s room, I couldn’t believe my ears. I rushed to the door and was in half mind to barge in to see if it was really you. I couldn’t have made a mistake, I was sure. Anna told me that it was indeed you so I wasted no time in putting a pot of your favourite soup on the stove right away.”

“How have you been Mrs. P? Dad has been so sick! Nobody told me. Did you know?”Ash asked sadly. Her voice was almost cracking and she tried her best to swallow the lump in her throat.

Mrs. P led her to the table in the kitchen and pulled out the chair for her. She made Ash sit down and poured some hot chocolate in mug. Mrs. P needed this time to arrange her thoughts. Everything had happened so quickly that there hadn’t been much time to ponder over why something had happened. She then handed over the mug to Ash and wearily sat down in a chair next to her.

If you would like to read the rest of this post, please visit my new blog. This new blog – DazzlersDiary is specifically dedicated to my writing exercise. Sliceofmylyfe will remain an exclusive food related blog from now on. Thank you for reading and sorry for the inconvenience. 🙂

The Come Back – Chapter 4

17 Aug

Professor Reed opened the desk drawer again, like he had done a dozen times already in the last half hour. He felt strained partly due to the pain and partly due to the flood of memories that refused to ebb. Why did he have to do this to himself? Each time? What did he get by hanging on to the traces of his past life? He kept going back and forth, from his present to his past, his past and back. He never ever gave his own future any thought. There was no point unless he was able to figure out the past. He had answers to the most complex of questions that his students at the university asked him, but he couldn’t figure out the answer to the question that changed his life forever.

There was a knock at his door. In a gruff voice he spoke,” Come in”.

Anna peeked in and smiled. Prof. Reed smiled back and felt relieved to see her. Her company would cheer him up and get him to stop thinking about all the unnecessary things. But soon he realized Anna wasn’t alone. A frail figure stood behind Anna, slightly hunched, slightly like someone he knew.

“ASH!!!” exclaimed Professor Reed.

Ash rushed forward to greet her father. Both of them embraced and wept. All the angst and the pain gushed out in tears. It took them a while before they composed themselves. Prof. Reed couldn’t’ take his eyes off his older daughter, Ashwariya. Everybody called her Ash as they found Ashwariya way twisted for their simple tongues. So was the case with his younger daughter, Anna was Anamika. These were such lovely names, with beautiful meanings for his beautiful daughters. He surveyed Ash and decided that she hadn’t changed much except for the addition of few of her own body art. The sight of them repulsed him but he decided to let it rest for a while. He could take it up with her later, or maybe never. Right now he was a happy father, relieved to see the apple of his eye back. His face fell, when he realized it had been more than 8 months that he last saw her. What was he thinking? He could have called for her; after all he knew she was in the same city. What stopped him from doing it? He knew the answer to this one. But not a single day had passed by when he hadn’t thought about her, wishing her to come back silently in his prayers. He laid his hand on Ash’s head and ran his fingers through her hair. With black hair and black eyes, she looked so much like him. She even hunched like him now. But they bore resemblance only in physical aspects whereas temperamentally they were like chalk and cheese.

Ash felt the weight of her Papa’s hand on her head; the familiar weight, the familiar scent, the familiar voice. It was comforting and unsettling all the time. She had almost started to lament about the lost time and the incidents of the past that led to the estrangement, but her thoughts were interrupted with Anna excusing herself from the room. She saw Anna leave and close the door behind her. Ash turned to face her Papa and held his large hands in hers. She kissed them silently and rested her head on his hands for some time. Then when the moment of anguish passed, she looked up at her Papa and asked him in a matter of fact voice, “Have the reports come in, Papa?”

To this Professor Reed shook his head indicating the reports hadn’t come in.

“They are due in evening, I hear.” He offered to let her head rest on his shoulder.

She pretended not having taken the cue and continued her bout of questioning.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had a Tumour?”

Prof. Reed smiled and replied, “I thought it was better not to bother anybody with such distressing news.”

“You sound like you are losing it every day, since the day I left home, Papa?” Ash mocked her father.

To this Prof. Reed laughed weakly and nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry, Honey. I won’t die before I get a few answers.”

Ash looked away and pulled herself away from her Papa. All of sudden a tidal wave of bitterness swept past her and she felt she was going to drown again.

“Why do you care, Papa? WHY?? DO I CARE? DOES ANNA CARE?” shouted Ash. She couldn’t help herself. She immediately realized that she should keep her tone in check and calm down.

Prof. Reed expected this outburst and didn’t react. He waited patiently till he felt; she had done with her chiding.

In a lowered voice she said, “Papa, you should rest now and I think I should get going. I’ll come by tomorrow.”

“Ash, sweetheart, don’t go. Why can’t you stay here? With me and your sister? I have missed you and so has Anna”, pleaded Prof. Reed.

Ash chewed on her lip and closed her eyes. Then with a audible sigh she dropped her rucksack on the floor and sat down besides her Papa.

Anna stood outside the door that she had just closed behind her. She smiled sadly to herself. Nothing changes, nothing will ever change, and things always remain the same. It doesn’t matter whatever she did, but things remained as they were. She started to walk slowly when she met Mrs. P at the landing of the staircase. She related the news of Ash’s arrival to which Mrs. P literally did a dance and rushed to meet Ash. Anna felt worn out, felt like she had been over stretching; extending herself beyond what she was capable of. Nothing mattered, nothing will ever, nothing. She climbed the stairs that lead to her bedroom. She reached her room and fell on her bed. Tired, yes she was tired. She needed to sleep.

The Come Back – Chapter -3 – Ash

15 Aug

Ash was standing at the door of her tattoo parlour, early Sunday morning. She had woken up with a start and she had found her cell phone beeping. She always kept her cell phone on silent mode when she went to sleep. So what was it that made her wake up without warning? She imagined it to be Greg’s but then he hadn’t contacted in days now and she didn’t expect him to do so ever. So it couldn’t be him. She rubbed her face with the palms of her hands and picked up her cell phone to open the message. Her heart felt like it might just hammer itself out of her chest. She immediately made a call to number from where the text had been sent. She spoke in monosyllables and mostly listening to what the speaker at the other end had to say. With every passing minute her hands grew cold and every nerve in her body tingled. After the caller finished speaking, Ash said, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She lived in her tattoo parlour and called it her home. At the back of the parlour, she had a bed, a small desk, a chair and a wooden cupboard where she kept her meagre belongings,  few clothes, cash and stacks of paper. There was an attached toilet cum bath which was so small that despite being so little herself, she found it difficult to move around. But she loved her space and what she did for a living. It was during the night that her customers came to her to be tattooed upon. It felt like she was changing their personalities forever by tattooing those beautiful, exotic, dangerous creations on their bodies. She etched away on their bodies till wee hours of the morning, her back bent, her face, a picture of serenity and hands busy giving life to her imagination. Usually her first time customers told her what they wanted her to tattoo, what message to inscribe and what colour they preferred. She gave them a design book to refer to, before getting down to her job. When she finished her work, they were in for a surprise. She had the ability to capture the essence of their demands and turn it into something so beautiful that they would keep looking at her creations, on their bodies with awe. They kept going back to her for more but then they never gave her any instructions and never opened the tattoo design book to refer. It was as if she intuitively understood what would suit the person.

But this morning, as she locked the tattoo parlour, she cancelled all her impending appointments for her day and sent quick apology texts. She gathered her rucksack on her right shoulder and made her way to the nearest bus stop. She felt her face turning hot on a cold March morning. Hot tears started to stream down her face rapidly. She quickly attempted to rub them off her cheeks, in turn smudging her mascara. She lit a cigarette to compose herself but couldn’t smoke beyond a few puffs. The sight of the approaching bus made her quickly stub the cigarette out under her foot. She boarded the bus, showed her bus pass to the driver and made her way to the back of the bus. There weren’t many people on the bus, so early on a Sunday morning. The heating of the bus felt good and she felt warm. She started to play with the metal ball piercing on her tongue. It excited her in some way. It was as if it helped her cut off from everything painful. As a child, she recalled being mortally scared of hospital needles and surgical instruments. That thought made her smile a little. She had come a long way.

She remembered an incident when she had pee ‘d in her pants just before a blood test routine. She was only 5 or maybe 4. . She felt shame rise, making her face hot and then she started wailing. Then she heard a voice from behind her, a soothing voice, sound of bells, sound of.trinkets and then feeling comforted. The vision blurred before her eyes and she couldn’t see anymore. Everything turned into darkness, her eyes were closed, tears streaming and this time she let them flow.

Almost an hour later, she found herself at a posh looking neighbourhood. Beautiful houses, grand gardens, splashing fountains, joggers, people walking their dogs, some familiar faces that she chose to ignore.   Despair took over her and her limbs turned to lead. She despised the place that had so many painful memories, so many happy memories. How was that possible? How can a single point  be a source of happiness and sadness, both at the same time?She had done everything to get away. She mentally readied herself and pushed the mop of her hair away from her face, pulled her skirt down, so that it reached her knees atleast. After the preening process, she carefully pulled the cigarette pack from her skirt pocket and flicked it away to the nearest bin. She considered throwing the lighter away but realized it was a gift from Greg, so retained it.

Taking a deep breath, she rang the bell to the door and while doing so, quickly glanced at the garden. Everything was just the same. Nothing was moved, nothing changed. Even the small green garden gnome statue was just as it was, looking at her like it knew she would come. She gave it a smile and waited for somebody to open the door. She heard running feet on the other side of the door, un-latching sound and the door opened.

“Ash”, the girl spoke.

“Anna”, Ash spoke and the girl let her in. No hugs exchanged, no pleasantries spoken.

“Where’s Papa?”, enquired Ash.

Anna indicated Ash to follow her and led her to Prof. Reed’s room.

The Come Back – Chapter 2 – Professor Reed

14 Aug

To read the story so far, you can browse through the Prologue & Chapter 1

Professor Reed walked into his class with stack of papers in his hands. When he entered the class, his students got up on their feet. He thought it was unnecessary but his students always insisted. He felt tired even before he had begun his class. He realized he was dragging his feet and was completely oblivious of the whispers going around while he took his place at the center of the podium. He looked around his class and felt himself blanking out. He couldn’t recognize a single face in the class. He held on to his desk and then sat down slowly in the chair. One of the girls in the class got up and ran up to him and started speaking to him but he couldn’t hear her voice. He could see her moving her lips and her expression concerned. Then suddenly the room went dark.

When Professor Reed woke up he was surrounded by white walls from all sides. He found himself lying down, covered by a white sheet. He knew he was stark naked but he couldn’t move. He felt his hands and legs heavy and weary. His head pained like someone had knocked him over with a bludgeon. Slowly he felt his eye lids getting heavier and he was sinking back into slumber. He realized immediately that he was in an operation theatre and being operated upon. He looked around and recognized his chief surgeon. The surgeon, realizing that his patient had regained consciousness nodded his head in acknowledgement. Professor Reed knew almost instantly what had happened and resigned to what was happening. He did not want to think about anything right then and slipped back into a restful bliss.

He found himself going back in time when he was young and had just started working as a PhD student at the University in London. His mentor was the most renowned Professor and he was fortunate to be working under him. He worshipped the very ground his professor walked. His professor was from India and lived with his family in the same college campus. As the young James Reed he found himself working in the library, working hard and late into the night. He saw himself and his teacher sitting at a pub and clinking glasses of Scotch. They laughed and discussed politics until very late in the evenings. The young James was serious and sincere about his work. He knew he had a long way to go to become the academician he hoped to be and impress his Dr. Iyer. He had forsaken all other company in this pursuit and had no desire outside of it. He had been to the Dr. Iyer’s home so many times for dinner and a late evening game of chess. Dr. Iyer’s wife was a timid woman who hardly spoke at all. The young James Reed learnt to say his polite Namaskaram to her before she fled inside murmuring something to herself. He remembered the walls of Dr. Iyer’s house were covered with photographs of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. He recalled the first time he had heard the tinkling of anklets and felt the sweet sound resonate in his head. He looked around the room for the source but could not find it. He found his curious heart get better of him and found himself searching for the source of the sweet sound in the rooms adjacent to the Living room where he was seated. He bumped into the tiny, frail body and looked into those beautiful dark eyes. She was dressed in traditional attire that seemed a bit flamboyant for a girl to wear at home. Then she moved and the anklets sung again, giving him goose bumps all over. He looked at her face and was shocked beyond words. It was Anna.

Professor Reed woke up with a start and found himself in the ICU. He saw Anna’s face pressed against the glass door looking at him with sadness

The Come Back – Chapter 1 – Anna

13 Aug

If this is your first visit here then do read the Prologue before you go ahead and read this chapter.

The day had begun with the alarm clock going off at 5:30 am. Anna woke up with a start and grumbled a bit when she saw a stack of books piled against the table next to her bed. She forced her eyes open and shut off the alarm. She was half a mind to pull the covers and go back to sleep when there was a knock on her bedroom door. Papa peeked in a little and then came in when he saw she was awake. Papa always woke up early no matter when he slept at night. Papa’s reading glasses were dangerously close to slipping while he balanced the cup of hot milk in one hand and some papers in the other. He must be reading his notes which he always did before going to his class.

Anna smiled a little and saw him breaking into a sweet one too. He handed her the cup of milk and silently moved out of the room. She would have preferred a cup of coffee instead but didn’t have the heart to tell her dad so. He always brought her a cup of milk. The milk was warm and sweet. She felt it pass through her throat and all of a sudden all the fuzziness seemed to disappear. She finished it quickly and jumped out of her bed to go to the bathroom. Her bathroom still looked exactly like how she had left it last summer. Shivering a little, she noticed her skin forming goose bumps. It reminded her of Jai. She found herself blushing when she looked at herself in the mirror. She saw a that her curly brown hair had over grown the length that she usually kept and she needed to tend to her eyebrows soon. With this thought she started rummaging the small cupboard next to the wash basin for the essentials. She never had to bother to bring her toothbrush or tooth paste or any of the toiletries with her. A fresh pack was always ready for her to use. It was such a bliss to be back home and began to think about the breakfast she was going to eat. She was sick of the cereal and the cold milk that she had every day in the hostel. It would be good to have some homemade crepes or will it be pancakes, she mused to herself while brushing her teeth.

When she was done brushing her teeth, she rushed back and made her bed. She pushed her study table chair out and switched on the lamp to continue studying from where she had left last night. She felt intimidated but excited all the same. She loved to study and it was her favourite subject. Her thoughts turned to Jai and what he must be doing. She imagined him curled up in bed with his comics and iPod. He would then wake up late, go for a run, play with his dog and go back to sleep again. It would be late in the evening when he would start panicking about letting the whole day go without studying. She decided to give him a call after about 11 a.m to remind him how much of studying was in front of him. The world outside her window had started to get brighter and she concentrated on completing the chapters she planned to study.

By 8 a.m, the bell rang for breakfast and Anna realized she had fallen asleep with her head on the book that lay open before her. She felt a mild irritation at the low resolve she had shown. But hunger pangs got better of her. After changing from her pyjamas into a short summery dress, she quickly glided down the stairs to the Kitchen. Mrs. P had laid the table down for breakfast. Anna quickly moved up from behind Mrs. P and hugged her tight. Mrs. P turned around and hugged her back.

“So wonderful to see you, my dear! It seems like forever. I have missed you so much”, exclaimed a joyous Mrs. P hugging her tighter. She then ushered Anna into a chair at the kitchen table. The table was covered with checker blue and white table-cloth and beautiful patterned plates. Those were the plates from a long time ago. Mrs. P used them on special occasions only. Today was one such with Anna returning home from her college after six months. Anna felt the comfort sink into her bones as she eased herself further into the chair. The familiarity of everything around her was the reason why she chose to come home even during her study holidays, while almost everybody back in college preferred to stay on in the hostel. She also had to come down to make sure her Papa was keeping well and that the home was being looked after. It wasn’t that anybody held her responsible for it but she had taken it upon her to do it. Who else would, if she wouldn’t? She worried about Papa all the time and called him up every single day to make sure he was doing okay. He always teased her and called her ‘Mommy’ sometimes but she didn’t care.

Her thoughts were interrupted with Mrs. P serving her some warm toast, butter and marmalade. She sat down in a chair next to her and started to spread some butter on her toast. Anna seemed a little disappointed to see only toast as her breakfast but she was too ravenous to refuse or make excuses. She stuff one piece into her mouth and tried to cover her overstuffed mouth with her other hand while trying to suppress giggles. Mrs. P laughed heartily and got up to go to the stove. Next she brought out another plate with some more warm toast and sizzling scrambled eggs. Anna’s eyes sparkled with joy as she set herself to devour the sumptuous breakfast. She looked at Mrs. with anticipation, if she would serve her some coffee from the coffee pot. Mrs. P took a cue and told her, “No coffee for kids!!”  Then she got her a glass of piping hot chocolate to wash the remaining toast down.  Anna felt conflicted as her heart desired some coffee but the hot chocolate looked delightful. She guzzled it down with ample satisfaction and to her dismay found she was drowsy again. She yawned and got up to hug Mrs. P again. It was her way of saying thank you for everything. Thank you for the breakfast, for looking after my home and for taking care of Papa.

Having done with her breakfast she quickly turned her thoughts to Jai but decided against phoning him since it was just about 10 a.m. She would give him an hour more and then make the call. She decided to check on Papa and see if he needed anything before he left for his class. He taught Advance Mathematics at the college in London and was one of the most revered professors. All the other colleges vied for his attention and wanted to get him onboard their academia. He chose to keep with the one he had been working for the past 30 years. He started off as a PhD student at the same college and love the institution like his own.  Students, colleagues came and left, but he was still around, serving his alma matar with unwavering loyalty.

She knew he would be in the library, all dressed with his suspenders and bow tie reading some manual or the other. Even though she was his daughter, she felt conscious of the aura of erudition emanating from wherever he was. She coughed a bit and then knocked on his door very subtly so as to not startle him. He looked up from his horn –rimmed glasses and smiled ever so sweetly. What was it about his smile that made her heart melt with mixed emotions? It was bitter-sweet, like he was happy yet sad. She felt herself going to the uncomfortable territory and checked herself immediately. Her therapist had been very specific about not going to that territory for there was always the fear of her spiralling back into that darkness. She had asked her to condition herself into thinking only sunny thoughts, thoughts about the happy present and the future.  She forced herself to smile at him and ran to give him a hug.

“I hope you have had your breakfast Papa? Mrs. P was ever so kind to make some wonderful scrambled eggs.” She then adjusted his tie while he mumbled something of a yes to her query and then said, “Anna, darling, don’t waste time chatting up on the phone. You have plenty to study. Don’t take the pressure off now when you have a gold medal in the offing.”

Anna stiffened a bit when she felt she had forgotten about the studying part altogether. She felt a nervous tension rise through the soles of her feet and reach her heart that had started quickening its pace. She withdrew herself from Papa and kissed him a good day. He left her standing in the Library where she saw dust particles play against the sun beams creeping in through the heavy blinds. She turned around to start walking out of the study, a little defeated but solemn in her resolve to make the most of her day and not let Papa down. She entered her bedroom and closed it shut. Inside, she felt tears welling up in her eyes and she squeezed her eyes shut. In doing so, she felt some relief and that a familiar pain fading away. She looked at her books and sat down to start the study session for the day.

work in progress…..

The Come Back – Prologue

12 Aug

Silently, she packed her saris one after the other in her suitcase, in her bedroom.  Every other minute she kept looking at the timepiece on the mantle in the dining room. Her eyes seem to close on her as she felt weary and tired. She had been up all night thinking about it like so many such nights before. She sighed deeply. There was still a lot of time, they wouldn’t be back until a few good hours. She tried not to analyse how she was feeling. Soon she would pack and it would be time to go. She looked at her check list and went through it once again. She was always organized. She did not like any surprises and had been planning this for such a long time.  She opened her purse to check the stash of currency and counted it one more time. It was all there, the tickets, the money and the necessary documents.

She had readied enormous quantities of meals, packed them and put them in the freezer for later use. She had tended to the garden, dusted the whole house, changed the bed sheets, and done the laundry which was folded into neat piles. She had left post- its on the refrigerator door telling them where they would find what. She smiled meekly when she saw some crayons littered on the carpet. How did she miss picking them up? She moved in, bent down, her anklets making the beautiful tinkling sound. He had loved the sound and asked her to always wear her silver anklets. He used to whisper into her ear while everybody watched television and then trail his fingers to where her anklets lay almost entwining her ankles like a rose creeper. The sweet sound made him go insane he had confessed on their wedding night. The thought made her yank herself out of the reverie and focus on the task at hand. She had promised herself she wouldn’t think because it would only distract her. It would topple her best laid plans so focus was central to everything.  She pushed the stray strand of hair back to the bun. She always wore a bun, she thought, while looking at her reflection in the mirror. She saw a few grey and frowned and, frowned some more when she saw some worry lines on her forehead. She quickly looked away and undid her bun and let her black satin hair cascading down. She was going to keep it like that. She liked it like that. Always. But he thought it drew a lot of attention and made her tie a bun. From now she would always wear it down, just like the way she had always, a long time ago.

She picked up sheaves of printouts and put them neatly in a brown paper cover. These are my babies, she chuckled to herself. Babies, the word stayed in her head for some time. Suddenly she felt weak and had to sit down with the brown paper cover on her lap. She looked sideways and quickly found the photo frame she had avoided looking the entire time. The soft brown eyes were laughing at her. The wisps of brown curly hair that she loved to run her fingers through, she would miss them. No, she was not supposed to think about it. She had half a mind to pick up the photo frame and put in her suitcase but decided against it. She cleared her throat and grabbed the brown paper cover and placed it neatly on the pile of clothes in her suitcase.

She zipped the suitcase and heard the taxi draw into the front porch. She quickly swept a gaze around the house and walked to the front door with the suitcase wheeling behind her. She locked the door and popped the key inside the flowerpot at the doorstep. They would find it, so nothing to worry about. She even left her cell phone, credit cards and a sealed envelope at the edge of the porch. They would find that too. They would know.

It had started to drizzle a bit. The taxi driver leered at her and anxiously honked asking her to hurry. She pushed the strap of the purse further up her shoulder and wheeled the luggage to the rear of the car. The driver got out and took it from her to shove it in the trunk of the car. She slipped into the backseat and rested her head on the glass window. The car moved past the house. She peered a little and then got back looking forward at the road ahead.

to be contd….

Guest Post – Work of Fiction

14 Jun

Prateek Bagri is a fellow blogger who describes himself as being an anime addict, a humourist, a blogger ( most importantly) and an engineering student. He blogs at http://prateek-bagri.blogspot.com/. We have been following each other’s blog for quite sometime and give constructive feedback on how to improve our writing skills. Prateek specializes in writing quirky and funny pieces. His posts regarding the fascination of the general public with saas-bahu saga, bollywood influences in our life drip with sarcasm and smart wit.

A few days back he wrote to me that he needed me to do a guest post for him. He had his exams going on that made it difficult for him to post regularly. I accepted gladly since this was the first time I was going to do a guest post for a fellow blogger. He insisted that I do a funny piece and none of those baking related stuff that I usually post. I found this reasonable as it would be a total mismatch if his readers were to read about making tea breads and cupcakes instead of the usual fun pieces. It was challenge but fun at the same time to do this piece of fiction for Prateek’s blog.

You can go ahead and read it here

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