This story is all Aroon Chaddha's fault.
Aroon was one of the first people I met, one of the first friends I made, when I moved to Illinois ten years ago. He was a member of the Writers' Support Group, the first writers' group I ever joined. He read dramatic stories about his family history in India, riotous accounts of his adventures as a husband and grandfather, and passionate essays about politics, animal rights, spirituality, and the environment.
I left the Writer's Support Group when my work schedule prohibited me from attending regularly. The group disbanded a little while later and Aroon (with a couple of other WSG members) started a new writer's group, the Schaumburg Scribes. I reconnected with Aroon when my schedule freed up and I joined the Scribes.
Flash forward to the Scribes' 2012 holiday party. Aroon approached me and asked me to partner with him on a project. I agreed. We met a few weeks later and discussed the form the project would take. We decided we would each write one 1,000-word piece a month for the next year. Each month's piece would be based on/inspired by a photograph. At the end of the year, we would combine our writings in a chapbook-like publication.
The project lasted one month. We decided on a photo of the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. The more I studied the photo, the louder I heard the voice of the little boy who narrates the story, a little boy who had never seen blue water or blue sky. I fought telling his story because I hate fictional stories with obvious, heavy-handed moralizing, but he was an insistent little bugger. I caved and "The River" was born.
Aroon and his wife are preparing to leave Illinois now for the warmer climes of Florida. I don't know if, or how well, we'll keep in touch or if we'll ever get back to our joint project. I do know that every time I look at or think about this story, I'll be thinking about Aroon.
Click here to read "The River."