Dede walked up the narrow pathway leading to a desolate house. The house was unkempt, overgrown with moss and ivy. She wondered if anyone still lived there when she saw a shadowy figure move across the hall through the window. She went up to the door and knocked. A silver haired woman with wrinkled skin but wise eyes opened the door.

“Hello ma’am.” said Dede, slightly nervous.

“Hello darling, what can I do for you?” the old woman replied.

Her voice quivered as she spoke. “I’m doing a survey. I need to ask women, if they could go back and tell their 18 year old self one thing, what it would be.” The old woman smiled. But it was a sad smile.

She seemed to have aged another hundred years after hearing the question.

“Why don’t you come on in, young one? I’ll make you some coffee. God knows I never get any company around here. It’s good to talk to someone.”

“Sure” Dede smiled.

She had lost all her nervousness now and walked in with ease. There was a tiny hall where a couch sat with its cushions covered in mould, an ancient TV set opposite it, which was playing a movie in black and white. There was an old, stained carpet covering the floor and a dilapidated armchair next to the couch. To the right of the living room was a door which probably lead to her bedroom and to the left was a wooden round dinner table with three chairs. Behind the dining table was a kitchen with nothing but a small gas stove and a few utensils. A musty smell hung over and Dede went on to take one of the seats at the dining table.

“So” said the old woman still smiling. “What exactly do you need?”

She looked closely at Dede, at her soft, golden hair, her dark brown eyes and her fair, flawless skin. Dede was tall, almost 6 feet and she had an alluring body. She was dressed simply in a white tshirt and light blue jeans.

“Your past experiences, the ones you wish you could change. The situations you wish had played out differently”

“There is an ocean of those” the old woman laughed an empty laugh.

“Look at me, my child. Do you honestly believe this is the best I could have done with my life? I live alone in a house that might fall apart any moment. Sometimes the loneliness borders on insanity. Everything could have gone differently”

The old woman’s voice grew more and more bitter.

“I was once young and beautiful, well not as beautiful as you” she looked adoringly at Dede.

“I had many suitors, many strong and young men waiting to sweep me off my feet. I came down to two – Drake and Jerry. Drake was a charmer, the good looking one. He said big things, talked of Paris and Venice, Rome and Austria. I was 19 and I fell for those words. I held on to everything he said and believed all of it. I felt bad for Jerry in the background, always buying me roses and chocolates, getting me tickets to plays and dances. I would just take those tickets and push Drake to go with me. Jerry spoke of a beautiful house by the country side where we could live peacefully. Didn’t he see? He could never match up to Europe with his feeble country house.” The old woman stopped to take a breath. Dede put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

The old woman shuddered. “My dear. The answer to your question. If I could give any advice to my 18 year old self, I would say this. Actions speak louder than words.

Believe a person who does, not one who says.

I married Drake, we moved into this house. He had no money and it was the best I could afford at that time. We lived one happy year. Then I grew impatient when we never went to Paris. And he grew irritable because he never meant any of that. We had a miserable life because we had made no plans. Everything fell apart, the debts piled up. Another two years of resentment and our relationship was at its brink. Neither of us was sure if we could take it anymore. And then we brought a child into all this chaos. My goodness, she was beautiful.

For once, Drake and I could tolerate each other and that was purely because of Ella, our little princess.

But there was always something off about her health and when she was 3, she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Our little 3 year old. Her organs deteriorated, she couldn’t handle all the surgeries performed on her. She slept forever. Drake and I couldn’t even bear the sight of each other. He blamed me. Said I didn’t take care of myself during the pregnancy. I retorted that maybe I could’ve taken care of myself if he had actually kept his promises. If only we had a decent house, without the pressure of debts, I might have been healthier. If only we were in Paris. That struck a nerve with him. He said he fell in love with a beautiful girl and she wasn’t the one standing before him. That’s when I looked in the mirror after a long time. I could hardly recognise myself. I was only 27 but my face had so many lines and my hair looked dull and even had a few greys. I looked 40. I turned around to tell him that I had never promised him eternal youth but he was gone. And he never came back.” The old woman began sobbing silently and Dede put her arms around her. She slowly comforted her and she pulled out her notepad and wrote

‘Trust a man of actions not a man of words.’

  Dede walked up to the next house with great trepidation. Her previous visit had already shaken her up quite badly. She took a look at this house. The house was a little better off than the previous one. It was a decent looking single storeyed house with a small vegetable garden around it that looked neglected. The white wash on the walls was slightly peeling off and windows panes looked like they needed fixing. But other than that, Dede liked this house much more than she had liked the previous one. It looked more homely and it didn’t give her the creeps in broad daylight. Dede walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. She waited awhile but no one came to the door. She rang again wondering if anyone was at home. She wondered if she could peek into the little window to the side of the door. But then she decided that it would be considered extremely rude should she be discovered. She tried knocking one last time and just as she turned to leave, she heard a grunt from inside. The door swung open and a hefty woman in her late fifties or early sixties, stood by the door. Her formal attire indicated that she had just returned from work. Her hair had been pulled into a messy bun and she had her spectacles on in a crooked fashion. She was slightly overweight and wore an unpleasant expression on her. Clearly she didn’t appreciate being disturbed.

“Yes?” she enquired gruffly.

“Hello ma’am, I’m here to…”

“Away with you! I’m not interested in buying your product!” She tried to shut the door on Dede’s face.

“I only want your opinion ma’am” said Dede quickly.

“If you could alert your eighteen year old self of one thing, what would it be?” The woman scoffed. She didn’t invite Dede in. Dede resigned to standing at the doorway and listening to the story. “I would.. You know.. Tell me to get my life straight. Take care of my health. Think a little more about the future. I should have stuck it out through college. I dropped out too soon.” She shook her head. She reflected for a while on her seemingly dreadful past. Her expression changed to one of utmost regret. “I never tried much. I wasn’t dim-witted. Oh no! Smartest egg in the family I was. Yes that I was indeed. My brothers were never a match for me. My parents were always so proud of me through school.. Their little girl was doing so well. Showing her brothers how it’s done.  Everything changed in college though. Things went haywire. I had this group of friends, these bunch of girls. We shared a dorm in college.

We called ourselves ‘The Night’s Mares’. What a terrible name! We were never up to any good.” She scoffed.

“Every pub in town knew us. Every trouble-maker guy knew us.” She sighed. “Maybe we should sit down for this” Dede hopefully hinted. But she shook her head again and Dede sighed silently. Her legs were already starting to feel a little weary. “I was better than that. I can see it so clearly now. Why was I so blind then? I had the chance to get out, you know?

It was in the middle of my second year in college. We decided we were wasting our lives going to classes, listening to lectures. We figured we were meant for the outside world. We made this absurd plan to drop out as a group and go off on our own. We were going to start a street band and travel around the country, entertaining people. It was a terrible proposition. None of us really had any talent in singing or dancing. We were just pretty and we got by because of that in college. But in the real world that’s not enough to hold you up. I think deep down I knew what an atrocious idea it was. When I told my parents they lost their wits. They put their foot down. Alas, I was an adult and there was nothing they could really do to stop me. They tried everything. They tried to reason with me, they tried screaming at me. They even went to the extent of threatening to disown me. I paid heed to nothing. I went ahead with the plan. We took a huge loan to start our band and our tour. It all fizzled out in less than three months. The loan had been in my name. My ‘friends’ deserted me soon after the band failed. I was alone and up to my neck in debt, left to pick up the pieces myself. I could get no real job without a proper education. Worst of all, I went into an almost depressed state because my friends had abandoned me. I went back to my parents’ place expecting them to forsake me too. Surprisingly they took me in. They helped me work off my loans and brought me back on my feet again. I lived with them till I was almost thirty. I found a job as a clerk, earning a meagre salary. But I told you I’m a smart egg remember? Took a few night classes, worked really hard to climb up the ladder. I’m a manager at a small firm now.” She paused looking rather proud of herself. It wasn’t just her though. Dede was feeling quite proud of her as well.

“Did you ever find out what happened to your friends?” Dede asked.

“No. I don’t want to. I know that people think it will make me feel better if I see them doing bad in life. But honestly speaking, the decision to mess up my life was every bit mine as it was theirs. I resent them for leaving me when I was in the dumps, but I’m glad they did. They were an anchor weighing me down. I wish them no harm and do hope they are doing well, although I have no inclination to find out whether or not they really are. So to answer your question, if I could say just one thing to my eighteen year old self.. "Sweetie, you can do so much better than a trash band, you are so smart. Leave those ungrateful wretches be. Stay away from them. Make real friends who support you and love you for who you are. Friends who keep you sane and humble."

"And remember, your parents are always your best friends.”

Dede thanked her with a tear in her eye. She no longer minded that she had to stand out for so long, because the story she had gotten was definitely worth it.