Servant’s bowl

“Liza, Sally come and have dinner”.I heard Amma calling my sisters.
That is odd, because she didn’t call me. I thought,may be I didn’t hear her. I was not hungry, but I have been taught from the time I can remember, not to skip dinner. My father was very particular about that.
He used to tell
“Children, if you go to sleep with an empty stomach, your soul would curse you, that is why even now there are temples in Kerala, where the poojari would call out each night three times ” is there anyone who didn’t have dinner?” and offer food for those who are hungry, before closing the temple door for the night.”

My sisters and Amma were already at the table eating dinner. I went to my usual place to sit and noticed that there was no plate for me. I got up to go to the kitchen to get a plate
“Where are you going?” I heard Amma asking me
“Kitchen, to get a plate”
“Don’t bother. There is no dinner for you tonight. This is my home and I have no intention of feeding ungrateful children.”
I looked at my mother. She was eating rice with rasam. The rasam I made sure Akkachi cooked, because I wanted my mother to have her favourite food after been away from home for 2 whole weeks. It is me, who walked all the way to Anichettan’s shop to buy the red chillies.
I looked at my sisters. Their eyes had fear written all over. They were watching me intently to see if I would fight with Amma. I saw Akkachi standing in the kitchen with her hand over her mouth and pleading with me not to speak and start a fight.
I didn’t want to fight. I went back to my room. It was odd, because 10 minutes ago, I wasn’t hungry, now I felt very hungry. It was the first time in my life I am going to bed with an empty stomach. I laid down on my bed. I couldn’t sleep.
My stomach was growling. I remembered what Ammachi told me about hunger. How she used to wait for her brother to deliver food each day. How her eyes used to play tricks on her. I got up from my bed and opend the window, I looked outside to see, if my eyes played any tricks. everything looked normal to me.
I could hear Amma talking and laughing with my sisters. I heard Amma telling them the story of the three little pigs. That was really odd, because Amma never told them stories. I am the one who always told them bed time stories. I felt Amma was taking my sisters away from me. She was shutting me out.
I was very upset and I went back to lay down on my bed to sleep.
I was half asleep and I fealt Akkachi shaking me and trying to wake me up.
“What is it Akkachi?”
“shhh Nina,Your mother is asleep already, come and eat some food.”
“Never mind Akkachi, if Amma doesn’t want me to eat, so be it”
“Nina, you know your father would be very upset if you went to bed hungry. come, get up and eat something”
“all right”. I got up from the bed
“Nina, please walk quietly, your mother can even hear the devil’s foot step”
I walked like a thief in my own house to the kitchen. I sat on top of the gas cylinder. Akkachi served me some rice and rasam in a steel bowl. I must have eaten 2 mouths and I didn’t even see my mother walking in to the kitchen
“What are you doing?” She hit my hand so hard that I dropped the steel bowl down. Rice and rasam was all over my dress. I got up from the gas cylinder to clean my dress.
“How dare you disobey me? Amma was just about to slap me and Akkachi jumped in front of me
“Chechy, don’t hit Nina, it is me, who asked her to come and eat”
“Who are you? You are just a servant in my house. Where did you take the food from? Amma was yelling
“Chechy, This is the food you served me before you went to bed and I only gave some of my food to Nina.”
That is when I noticed, Akkachi actually gave me most of her dinner.
“Oh, so now the world famous Methran Thambi’s grand daughter eats her dinner from the servant’s plate? You are pathetic Nina, Aren’t you ashamed to eat food from the servant’s bowl? Shame on you” Amma scoffed at me and went back to her room.


I was tucking my sisters to bed and Liza asked me
“Why didn’t Amma come today Nina?”
“Because she missed the train Liza. Don’t worry she will come back tomorrow”.
“Are you sure?”
“Nina, will you tell me a bed time story?”
“Yeah, even I want a story”. Sally got up from her bed and came and sat with us on Liza’s bed.
“I will tell you a Japanese story”
“How do you know a Japanese story, Nina?” Sally asked
“Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Keep quiet Sally and listen to the story” Liza scolded Sally
“Once up on a time in Japan, a farmer had 2 hens. He decided to name them, Nullikko and Pichikko. Every morning both hens laid eggs and the farmer was very happy. One morning the farmer went to the coop and you know what happend?” I asked my sisters
“No tell us quick” Both of them looked at me eagerly.
“The sly fox came in the night and ate Nullikko, now who is left?” I asked my sisters
“Pichikko” Both of them spoke in unison
That was my cue and I pinched both of them.(pichikko in malayalam means, pinch me!!)
“You are mean Nina, this is not a Japanese story. This is a silly story. I am not going to talk to you anymore.” Sally got up and went to lay down on her bed.
I kissed both of them goodnight and went to my room. I knealt down to pray. This afternoon I prayed for my mother’s safe return. Now I am not so sure, if I wanted that. I decided not to confuse Jesus with my prayer. I said a silent Lord’s prayer and went to bed peacefully.

I was eating my lunch with my sisters and we heard the auto rickshaw stopping outside our gate. My sisters rushed out and yelled
“Amma has come”
Akkachi quickly went out to help Amma with her luggage. My sisters were already hugging Amma. I stood leaning on the main door and I watched Amma hugging my sisters.
” Why didn’t you come yesterday Amma?” Liza asked
“The train was late Liza, you know how the Indian Railway works!.”
Amma looked at me and I wanted to tell her,’no mother, the train came on time yesterday, you weren’t on it’.
“Why are you standing there Nina,Don’t you want to give me a hug and a kiss?”
“My hands are dirty Amma, I will wash and come.”
I knew my mother was lying. The porter told me, train came 3 hours ago, when I went to the station yesterday. But mother’s don’t lie. May be it was some other train. I shouldn’t doubt my mother. I quickly washed my hand and went to my mother and hugged her. It felt good to have her back.
“Did you buy me eraser Amma?” Sally asked
“Ofcourse, I bought so much of things for all of you”
Amma opened her suitcase and there were so much of things.
“These are for you Nina” She handed me a brown paper bag. I opened it slowly. Inside the brown paper bag was the most beautiful glass bangles I ever saw. There were three colours, violet, green and brown. Each bangle had shiny white stones stuck on it.
“Nina, come here, I will put the bangles on your hand” Amma called me
I saw Amma mixing the colours and dividing the bangles to 2 groups and she put them on both of my hands. They looked beautiful. But something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel happy.
Amma bought new dresses for all of us and even Akkachi got new clothes.
“Akkachi, heat some water for me, I want to have a hot shower” Amma told Akkachi.
“So what did you guys do all these days? Were you good? Did you give Nina too much trouble?” Amma asked my sisters
“Amma Nina pinched us yesterday!”
“Did you Nina?”
“hmm. I was telling them Nullikko, Pichikko story”
“you still remember that story eh?”
It was my father’s favourite story. When I was little he used to chase me around the house to pinch me.

A lot of things didn’t make sense to me. Where did Amma get so money to buy all these things?, Why did she say the train was late?
When Amma went to have her shower, I did what Amma used to do, whenever Appa came back from work. She would wait for him to go to the bathroom and have his shower. She would quickly check his pant pockets and his wallet.
I quietly opened her handbag and looked inside. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I saw her train ticket. I needed confirmation. I slowly took the ticket out and closed the bag. I didn’t want to get caught with the ticket in my hand and I quickly walked to my hiding spot inside the banana thicket, with the ticket in my hand. My heart was beating very fast and I didn’t bother to sit down. I slowly read the ticket. Bangalore-Kottayam. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My world was collapsing. I wanted to march back in to the house and ask my mother what she was doing in Bangalore?. I couldn’t do it. I looked at the bangles on my hand. I pulled them out of my hand. The bangles scratched my hand and in my anger I threw them down and 2 purple bangles broke.
I looked at the bangles on the floor and thought,’Good, Now I am going to get beaten for breaking the bangles within the first hour of wearing them’. I picked up the bangles from the floor and walked back to the house. I replaced the ticket back in Amma’s handbag.
Amma came out of the bathroom drying her hair.
“Why did you remove the bangles Nina? You broke them already?”
I didn’t reply. She rushed to where I was standing and took the bangles out of my hand. I saw her counting.
“I gave you the bangles 5 minutes ago and you broke them already? Do you know how expensive these bangles were?”
In a flash she slapped me across my cheek. I wasn’t sure what made me do it. I snatched the bangles from her hands and threw it all down. Both of us watched, as each bangle hit the ground and broke. My mother hit me till her hands hurt. I was just happy that all the bangles broke and I didn’t have to wear them.

would she?

“Akkachi, Has Amma come?” We pushed open the door and ran inside. I looked for her bags in the living room. There was no sign.
Akkachi came out of the kitchen wiping her hands
“No, She didn’t come.”
“Shhh” I placed my finger on my lips and told my sisters to keep quiet.
“I think Amma is playing hide and seek, let us go and find her.” I whispered.
Liza was giggling and I was angry with her
“Liza can you keep quiet please?”
“Nina, I am telling you the truth. She didn’t come.” Akkachi told me
“Yeah yeah, you always fool me. I know Amma is hiding some where in this house.”
“You check the kitchen and the toilet and be quiet” I told Liza
“You check the guest bedroom and the living room” I told Sally.
I quickly walked to my bed room. I checked behind the doors and even under the bed. She wasn’t there.
“Is she in your room? She isn’t in the kitchen and toilet.” Liza asked me.
“May be she is hiding in the guest bedroom”. I told her
“Nina, she isn’t here” Sally yelled from the guest bedroom
I checked all the rooms again. Amma wasn’t there. Then I went out, searched for her in the banana thicket.
She was no where to be found. Then it occured to me. She really didn’t come back.
“Where is Amma Nina?”
“I don’t know. You wait here, let me go and check the train station.”
“Nina, don’t go alone to the station at this time of the day. It is not safe” Akkachi was running towards me and I didn’t wait. I ran all the way to the station, ignoring Akkachi’s pleadings to turn back and come home.

There were many people at the station. Men were standing out side smoking. Women were standing in groups and talking and waiting in the platform.All waiting for the evening Venad express to go home. I saw the ticket collector standing near the steps.
I walked to where he was standing
“Sir, has the train from Delhi arrived ?”
He looked at me from top to bottom with his filthy eyes and his eyes finally found the ideal spot to rest, my chest. I adjusted my school uniform blouse. My blouse is tight and I asked Amma a thousand times for a new one. She never listens. I thought he didn’t hear my question
I asked again
“Sir, has the train from Delhi arrived?”
“Who is coming?”
“huh?” I looked at him trying to understand what he was asking me.
Without lifting his eyes off my chest, he repeated his question again.
“Who is coming from Delhi?”
“My mother”
“Is she working there?”
“Never mind” I walked away from those creepy eyes. I saw the porter smoking beedi in one corner of the station. It was the same porter who was cursing my mother 2 weeks ago. I really hoped he didn’t remember me.
“Chetta, Has the train from Delhi arrived?”
Mole, that train came 3 hours ago.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded his head.

I walked home thinking of all the possibilities as to where my mother is?
Could she have missed the train? May be she actually came this afternoon, may be she went to buy groceries, but then why didn’t she come home first? I didn’t know what to think. Then it occured to me, may be Jesus is punishing me for trying to run away. I quickly apologised and made a promis to Jesus, ‘I will never ever run away, please don’t punish me, please bring Amma back’. I said my novena over and over for my mother’s safe return.

My sisters were standing near the front door with Akkachi.
“Did you see Amma?” Both of them asked me
“No I didn’t”
I looked at Akkachi and told her.” Train came 3 hours ago.”
“Don’t worry Nina, She might have had some reasons to delay her returning trip. She will be back tomorrow.”
Akkachi held me closer and hugged me tightly.
I so very badly wanted to cry, but if I did, my sisters would think something bad had happend to Amma and they would cry too.
“Akkachi I will take my shower”
“Wait few minutes Nina, I will heat the water for you.”
“Never mind Akkachi, I will take a cold water shower.
“Nina, you will catch a fever, if you bath in cold water during the monsoon”
“Never mind Akkachi, I will take a cold shower and dry my hair well.” My voice was raised and Akkachi didn’t say anything more.
I ran to the bathroom and closed the door.
I needed to be in the safety of the closed doors and the bathroom was the only place I could think of.
I poured the water out of the bucket and turned it around, So I could use the bucket as a seat. I looked at the water I just threw out and thought how my mother would have yelled at me for wasting so much water. Then I looked at the tap, because Akkachi didn’t close the tap properly and the water was dripping drop by drop.
Somewhere at the back of my head I could hear my mother yelling and saying
‘You are all born to make a pauper out of me. Responsibility is one word none of you know’
I started to laugh and then it occured to me, I came to the bathroom to cry and I am laughing now. I shook my head, trying to gain some sanity and told myself
enikku muzhuvatta'( I am mad).
I got up from the bucket and opend the tap to fill the bucket. I placed my hand in the water to check the temperature. It was Ice cold.
I told myself, I may be mad, but not mad enough to bath in this cold water.
I opend the door and yelled
“Akkachi, I need hot water”
“I thought you wanted a cold shower?” She yelled back from the kitchen
“I changed my mind”
“Who are you to change your mind every few seconds, Prime minister of India ah?”
“No I am not Prime Minister. I am Kochumaharani.”
Then I remembered my Ammachi and suddenly it occured to me, If Amma doesn’t come back, I can stay with Ammachi in Chengannur. I hoped Amma won’t come back.


On Friday I had Hindi examination. Hindi is one subject I knew for sure, I would fail. I never learned Hindi before and it is so difficult to learn a new language. But I was not so worried about the test today. More than the knowledge of the failing the test, I was relieved. Because my mother would be coming home today. I desperately wanted to unload the responsibility burden she placed on my shoulders.
I was getting my sisters ready for school. I was combing Liza’s hair.
Akkachi was in the kitchen packing lunch for us.
I wanted to do something nice for Amma.
“Akkachi will you make Rasam today? You know Amma likes to eat rice with Rasam. Poor thing, she wouldn’t have had anything proper to eat all these days”.
“We don’t have any dried red chilli to make rasam Nina”
“Ok. Give me the money and I will buy it on my way back from school.”

“What time is Amma coming back Nina?” Liza asked me
“This evening”
“Will she be here when we come back from school?”
“Liza, Indian railway works in mysterious ways. We won’t know what time the train would arrive. but she will be back today. That is for sure.”
“Do you think she will remember to buy new eraser and sharpener for us?”
“Liza, she went to send Chechy to University, not for shopping. Please be reasonable.”
“You are jealous Nina”
“For what?”
“because Amma always buys us new things”
“Amma also buy me things, see I pointed my black shoes, she bought me new shoes”.
“Amma doesn’t like you, she told me that.”
“That is utter nonsense. Ofcourse she likes me. No mother can hate her children!”
“Ask Sally, if you don’t believe me. I swear on parumala thirumeni that she told me she doesn’t like you. She says if you were a boy, She wouldn’t have suffered so much. And now that you are deaf, she says you are a burden. We have to save more money for your dowry.”
I looked at my sister trying to understand what exactly she tried to tell me. I saw Akkachi walking in to my room.

“Nina, here is 50 paise to buy chillies” Akkachi placed two 25 paise coins in my hand.

I wanted to throw the coins away. It was meant to buy red chillies to make rasam for my mother who doesn’t love me, who thinks I am a burden. I felt the two 25 paise coins weighing more than the responsibility burden I had on my shoulders. I didn’t want to buy chillies. I thought of telling Akkachi, I don’t want to walk all the way to Anichettan’s shop. I didn’t. I closed my fist tight, So I won’t cry. The coins were hurting my palm. But I didn’t mind. I walked to the bus stand with my sisters.

In the evening after my school I walked to Anichettan’s shop to buy red chillies.
On the way, I thought about what Liza told me in the morning. Was it true that Amma said she doesn’t like me? What did I do wrong? It isn’t my fault that I was born as a girl. Suddenly like a streak of light that enters a dark tunnel, I saw things. I remembered all the fights my grandmother and Amma had. About our family line is stopping with us. How it only continues with a boy. Methran Thambi’s family line is ending with us. If I was a boy, Amma wouldn’t have had to give birth 2 more times. We didn’t have to leave Malaysia. Appa wouldn’t have left us. And Now Amma has to save more money for my dowry.
‘ So what are you going to do’? I heard my inner voice.
I knew what I will do. I will run away from home. I don’t want to be the one who is bringing so much unhappiness in my mother’s life. I turned around and walked to the KSRTC bus stand. I wasn’t sure where I am going to go. My school bag weighed heavily on my shoulder, adding more weight to my already burdened shoulders. I took the bag from my shoulder and held it close to my chest like a baby. It was drizzling. I forgot to use my umbrella. The bus stand was crowded. Everyone was in a hurry to go home. There was no place to sit. I leaned on the dirty pillar painted red with pan spit. I wanted to cry. But I was scared of the people around me, who would ask me a million questions as to why am I crying. I thought, my god, this is a stupid place. You even need permission from strangers, just to cry.
I thought of my father.
‘What will Appa do when he comes back and I am not there?’
‘ Who will make him his favourite teh halia( ginger tea)?
I thought of my sisters.
‘Who will drop them to school everyday? Then I remembered
‘My god I am supposed to fetch them from school. How could I be so selfish. My sisters would be waiting for me at their school and they would be worried now’.

I ran all the way from the bus station to my home. It was raining heavily now and I didn’t bother to use my umbrella. I didn’t want to waste time. As I reached my home, I didn’t bother to open the gate and enter. I threw my school bag inside and yelled to Akkachi
“Akkachi I was a bit late, I am rushing to get Liza and Sally. Please take my bag inside, I will buy Chillies on my way back”
“wait, wait Nina, what happend?” Akkachi came running towards the gate.
“I will explain later, I am late already.”
Now I must think of a good excuse for being late. I shall..

death sentence

Trouble never goes away. Like a calf walking quietly behind the mother cow, trouble always follows me. Much as I wanted the school to reopen, I also had to write the dreaded first term examination, apty named onam exam. One week of examinations followed by 10 days of wonderful holidays.
This time it is not as bad because Amma hasn’t come back yet and there is no one to pester me.
Before the exams there are poems to learn by heart, maths equation to learn, english grammer to master and Hindi to write. On friday the last day of school before the official examination, Alice gave me a bundle of old papers.
“What is this?” I asked Alice pointing to the stapled out of shape, torn collection
“These are the old question papers. This one is my brother’s collection. I also have another collection, so you can borrow this one.”
“What do I do with this?”
“Go through it and see what questions repeat often and study that”
My first exam on monday was english. I looked at all the english questions. The letter writing part is 10 marks. Fill in the blanks is another 10 marks. All I need is 17.5 marks out of 50 and I will pass.
“What do you think will be the letter writing question this time?” I asked Alice.
“This time it is going to be ‘the requisition for 10 books from the printer”. Alice told me
“Are you sure it is going to be that letter?” I asked her
“I am very sure, the ‘leave letter’ question was asked 3 times in a row, so they won’t ask again. You know the odds right?
“What odds?”I asked her
onnu poyal munnu.” She explained. “If it has happend once, it will happen again 2 more times.”
“Oh, how do you know that?”
“My brother taught me that”

Life was peaceful without Amma. In the evening my sisters and I played hide and seek till night time.
“Nina, don’t you have to study for your exams?” Akkachi asked us
“I finished studying already Akkachi.”
“So fast?”
“I studied with Alice at school this afternoon.”
“Ok. I trust you.”
“Ofcourse you can trust me. I am Methran thambi’s grand daughter.”
Akkachi didn’t say anything. She was busy making dinner.

Saturday and Sunday went faster than I anticipated. I played with my sisters so much that I didn’t feel the time disapperaing. On Sunday evening, while packing my school bag, it occured to me, I haven’t studied anything for the examination. I am yet to study Hindi,Maths and Science. I regretted wasting all of Saturday and Sunday, that I could have used to study. I looked at the question bundle infront of me. I wasn’t sure what I should study. I tried looking for the odds Alice mentioned. But most of the questions repeated more than three times. But still Alice is my best friend. She knows how the Indian school system works.
I went to bed confidentally knowing that I would pass the english test. After all I only need 17.5 marks to pass. The rest of the subjects I will study after I come back from school tomorrow.

Monday morning I sat on my seat confidentally. Everyone was still doing last minute revision. I arranged my freshly sharpened pencil and eraser on the corner of my desk. I checked my pencil case to make sure that I had another pencil in my pencil case, just incase this one is not working or if the lead is broken. I didn’t want to waste my precious time sharpening my pencil.
I placed my exam answer sheet neatly infront of me. I waited for the bell to ring and for the teacher to pass the question paper. I prayed to Parumala thirumeni (Jacobite saint),
‘I will burn 10 candles for you, if the letter writing question is the one I studied’. Then I remembered, I don’t have money to buy 10 candles. So I had a mental communication with parumala Thirumeni.(Jacobite saint).
‘you know I am broke, you also know my mother will break my bones if I fail this exam. So please have mercy on this poor little child and help me. Instead of 10 candles I will burn 1 candle for you.’ I drew a sign of cross
The bell rang and Mrs Mathew came in to the class holding a brown envelope with all the questions. She sat at her desk and opened the envelope by tearing the top and waited. When the bell rang again, she got up and passed the questions.
When Mrs Mathew handed me the question paper, my hands were shaking and I was sweating.I prayed again to parumala thirumeni (Jacobite saint) reminding him of our deal.
I opened my eyes and read the question paper. I turned the question paper and looked for the letter writing section. I couldn’t believe what I saw.My whole world crashed in a second. My eyes were getting watery and I rubbed my eyes with my hands to read the question again “Write a leave of absence letter”I couldn’t breath, I looked at Alice. She too was sweating. I thought of all the times I wasted, Instead of learning the poetry, I was busy climbing the guava tree. I thought of the rotan(cane stick) waiting for me at home, when I bring the marks card.I wanted to cry. I looked around, all my classmates were busy writing. Even Alice started to write. I looked at the fill in the blanks section in my question paper. I didn’t understand a thing. I didn’t know what to write. I wrote nothing, which incidentally meant I wrote my own death sentence .


“Nina, I need a new exercise book” Sally Spoke
“For what?”
“for writing”
“for writing what?”
“Nina, why are you so difficult? Why do you have to act so bossy? I wish Amma was here!”
I looked at my baby sister, then at me. I wasn’t sure if I am me, or have I transformed in to a monster that my mother is usually.
“I will buy an exercise book for you on my way back from school”
“I need the book tomorrow”.
“It is getting late Sally, I am not going to go out now.”
“You are mean Nina. I don’t like you anymore.” She ran out of the room.
I sat on my father’s easy chair and for the first time since he left, I hated him. I hated him more than words could say. My sisters are his daughters. They are his responsibility. He ran away from his own responsibilites. I hate him. I knew if he ever came back I would kill him personally. I was that angry with him.
“Nina dinner is served” Akkachi announced from the dining room.
“Liza, Sally Come and have your dinner” Akkachi called them
I quietly walked to the dining table. It had 6 chairs. My father used to sit at the head of the table and his chair was empty. My mother used to sit across my dad on the other end of the table and her chair was empty too. Maria and I sit facing each other and Maria’s chair was empty as well.
To me it felt, we are playing musical chair and I am next in line going to be out, after Appa, Amma and Maria. I looked at my sisteers faces. Did they see what I am seeing? What are they going to do?
“I don’t want to eat porridge. I want fried rice like Tante Ida used to make.” Liza spoke
“Liza, Tante Ida is in Penang, there is no way we can eat her food right now and Akkachi doesn’t know how to make fried rice.”
“Then why don’t you cook?” Liza asked me
“I don’t know how to make fried rice Liza”
“you don’t know to do anything, you are useless”.
“That is it Liza, enough of insults in a day. Shut up and eat and leave the table”
“What are you going to do, if I don’t shut up?, hit me?”
I wanted to hit her so hard that she wouldn’t speak for the rest of her life. But I controlled. I promised Amma, I will take care of them. I quickly ate my dinner.
“Akkachi, Can you come with me, we have to lock the main gate”
It was raining heavy and Akkachi and I used the umbrella to shelter our body from the rain and walked to the main gate.
Akashavani’s teenage son was sitting on the porch and studying.
When he saw us coming out to lock the gate he started reading louder hoping to get our attention. We pretended we didn’t hear. Just as I reached the gate he started singing
kaliyadedan varumo nee”
(darling will you come and play with me)

“Who are you talking to? Akashavani came out screaming at her son. That is when she saw Akkachi and me
shavangal they won’t let an honest young man to live, even in the rain they come out like vampires to taunt young men, Don’t you have anything else to do?. Girls like you should be locked up!” She screamed at us
“We came to lock our gate, it is not us, it is your son who needs to be locked up?” I told her off
“Yeah yeah, I have seen how you ogle at my son, you want to snare him for your oldest sister, so you can marry her off without paying any dowry”
aiyyeda You think your son is the only living man on earth? Who wants to marry a neerkoli (water snake)?. My sister will get a good husband one day”
” High hopes you have. Who will marry a girl, whose own father abandoned his wife and daughters? You girls are good for nothing. No wonder your father left all of you. How can that poor soul live amongst this kind of daughters”
“My father didn’t leave us.”
“Nina, come let us go, it isn’t worth arguing with her” Akkachi pulled my hand and dragged me inside.

Nina or Maria?

I must have stood on the platform for a while. When the train dissappeared completely out of my sight, then it dawned to me. ‘My god, I am alone. Amma and Maria are gone. I am now responsible for my younger sisters’.
The platform was desserted and I walked quickly. As I was climbing up the stairs, I saw him. He was wearing a white jubba and mundu. He had a warm smile on his face.
I looked behind me thinking that he was smiling at someone behind me, there was no one. I remembered Amma telling me never to smile at strangers. But I wasn’t sure who this man was. Does he know me? Am I being disrespectful, by not returning a smile? I smiled at him thinking that he knows my family and he is friend. Three steps is all it took for a friend to turn a foe. His smile was still on his face, but his mundu wasn’t there, where it is supposed to be.
‘Oh my God’.
I moved to the right side of the stairs and ran all the way to the top, As I passed him, he was still smiling. The ticket collector was still there, hoping to catch someone without a ticket. The police man was still there, hoping the ticket collector would catch someone without a ticket. I threw my ticket in his hand and ran.
“Are you ok? Why are you running?” Asked the ticket collector.
I didn’t stop. I couldn’t.
As I came out of the railway station, there was a shortcut to my home on the left side of the station, I turned right and I ran all the way up the steep hill. My legs were hurting. I couldn’t breath. My own smile betrayed me. I was angry with myself. I tried to shake my head, so I could remove that stupid smiling face from my head. It didn’t go.
I ran another 100 meters up the hill and I had to stop. I couldn’t run anymore. My legs were shivering. I was breathless. I wanted my mother. I wanted my big sister. I wanted my father. There was no one. There was only me and I started crying.
The school bell at the M.T. Seminary school rang, and a wave of students in their Khaki trousers and white shirt came out. I didn’t want them to see me crying. I quickly wiped my tears and walked home.

As I reached home I saw Liza on top of the guava tree.
“Get down from that tree this instant” I yelled
“Why should I?”
“because I told you to”
“Who are you to tell me?”
“I am the boss now and you will do exactly what I tell you to do!”
“See Sally, I told you Nina will become a bully like Maria” Liza spoke to Sally who was standing near the tree
“I am not a bully.”
“Oh yes, you are. You are acting just like Maria” Sally spoke
“No I am not. I am me, Nina”


Maria walked towards the ticket counter as we reached the station.
“You bought the ticket already, didn’t you?” I asked her
“Hmm. But we have to buy a platform ticket for you”
“Don’t know. but they will arrest and jail you, if you leave the station without a ticket.”
We stood in the queue for a long time. There were many counters, but only one was opened. In the corner of the station, I saw two people arguing with the police man.
The police man was wearing a huge khakhi shorts, khakhi shirt, and a funny looking hat. He also had something like socks, on his legs, but it wasn’t socks. It was a long piece of khakhi material wrapped like a bandage and fastened. With his big mustache and the entire dress up he is supposed to look fearsome.
I started giggling.
“Why are you giggling?” Maria asked
“Look at the police man”
“what is wrong with him?” Maria looked at the police man and then me.
“Don’t you think he looks funny?”
“Keep quiet, if he hears you calling him funny, he will arrest you.”
After buying the ticket, we proceeded to the platform and passed the police man. I looked at the floor, so I won’t laugh. Maria pulled my hand, and walked faster.
We had to go down the steps to the platform. Two railway porters were coming up the steps and we overheard them discussing
ente ammoo, From which planet did that woman come? She wanted to pay 1 RS to carry all her bags”
“I think she is mad” spoke the other one.
From the top of the stairs we could see Amma standing near the control room and both of us knew which woman the porters were referring to. Both of us cringed in embarassment. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.

Amma saw us coming down the stairs. She looked at me and asked
“Why did you come?”
“I didn’t want Chechy to walk alone Amma.”

The announcement came. We heard Rajadhani express then the mike system swallowed the rest of the announcement, the announcement was repeated again in Hindi and we still heard Rajadhani express and then some gibber jabber.
We didn’t understand a thing. Amma walked to the book shop on the platform and and asked the man who was sitting behind all the books and magazines.
“What did they announce just now?”
“Oh, that one ah, the announcer said,Rajadhani express will be 45 minutes late”
“Oh god! Is the train always late like this?”
“Normally it is 2 to 3 hours late”.
“Amma can you buy me Femina magazine?” Maria asked Amma
Amma was just about to yell at her, but the book shop owner was looking at Amma and she didn’t want to be a bad mother.
“hmm, she grunted”
Maria took the Femina magazine from the rack and Amma opend her purse to take the money.
“Amma will you buy me a balarama ?” I asked her sweetly
“No, Maria needs something to read on the long journey, that is why I am buying a magazine for her.”
My helium balloon suddenly lost all the helium and to make things worst, Maria stuck her tongue at me, when Amma wasn’t looking.

The train finally arrived after 2 hours. The platform was crowded, children crying, mothers crying, husbands holding their wives hand for one last time till they meet again. Sellers were selling their wares, some selling the newspaper, some selling lemon juice, some selling parippuvada. Some were yelling chaya (tea) and kappi (coffee), holding few glasses in one hand and an aluminium kettle on the other hand. In between all this chaos I felt lonely. My mother and sister are leaving. Amma found their compartment and they went inside. I helped them to carry their luggage inside. Chechy came out and hugged me.
“I will miss you Nina”
“Me too” I tried very hard not to cry.
I could see Amma placing the suitcases under the seat.
Amma sat on the seat and looked at me
“be good Nina and take care of your sisters”
“I will”
The train whistled and chechy quickly got inside.
I stood on the platform and watched the train accelerating and disappearing. Mothers were leaving holding their young one’s hands, Sellers all went back waiting to come out again when the next train arrives. I was all alone in that platform and I was all alone….


“Nina, Go and fetch an Auto rickshaw from the Collectorate Auto stand” Amma ordered.
Amma and Maria are taking the afternoon Rajadhani Express train to Delhi and from there another train to Kharagpur. Akkachi and Amma carried all the bags and placed them near the main gate.
There were two suitcases, one mattress rolled up and 2 pillows.
“Amma, would all these, enter one auto?
“Ofcourse it will, now hurry, go fetch an auto”
I walked quickly to the auto stand near Collectorate. On the way, I could hear someone whistling from one of the lawyer’s office near the parade ground. I quickly increased my walking pace.Then I heard someone talking loud
“why there is no school today ah?”
Another one responded”school is always there, but it is the students who skip the classes”
edi koche, Why didn’t you go to school today?” Someone else asked.

I wanted to tell them’you idiot, shut your mouth and mind your own business, my mother and sister are leaving soon and I didn’t go to school, so I can say bye to them before they leave’
I walked even faster. When I reached the main road, the whistling stopped and I was relieved.
At the auto stand, there was a big queue of autos waiting to fetch passengers and I got in to the first one.
“Where to?” Asked the driver
“First to my house behind the collectorate and then to the railway station.”
“oh! railway station ah.. who is leaving?”
I wanted to tell him’your mother in law’. But I bit my tongue. I silently cursed the nosey parkers.
But the driver was not the one who gives up easily. He continued to dig for more information as he drove, constantly looking at me through his rear view mirror.
“Aren’t you the one who came back from Singapore?”
“No, I am not the one who came back from Singapore, Can you please hurry?”
I directed him towards my house and he stopped the rickshaw near the gate. He got out and scanned the luggage.
Ente chechy, all these bags will not enter my rickshaw. I will have to do two trips.” He told Amma
“Ofcourse it will. you watch. Maria, you go and sit inside first.”
Maria sat inside.
“Lift your legs up” Commanded my mother
Maria lifted her legs.
“Akkachi place the brown bag infront of the seat” Commanded my mother again
Akkachi slowly lifted the bag placed it infront of the seat.
“Maria, keep your legs on top of the bag. Akkachi give both the pillows to Maria”.
Now I could only see Maria’s legs. Her body was under the 2 pillows. Amma scanned the mattress and the other suicase that is still outside and the space inside the auto. There was no way she could put all that inside the auto.
My mother is not the one who would be discouraged easily.
“Maria, get out of the auto” Commanded my mother again
Akkachi took the pillows from Maria’s lap and Maria slowly squeezed herself out of the auto.
Akkachi put the mattress, where Maria was sitting”
Akkachi did as she was told.
Then Amma got in.
“Akkachi turn the suicase and place it next to me.
Akkachi was struggling and the driver decided to help. Akkachi quickly placed her hand on top of her blouse, so the driver won’t see her breast as she bends down. The driver wanted to impress Akkachi and show her his muscle power. He lifted the suitcase with one hand, turned it around in Rajanikath style and placed it next to amma. Now my mother was sandwiched between the mattress and the suitcase and her legs were sticking out on top of the brown suitcase. Maria and the two pillows were still outside.
“You can sit next to the driver on his seat Maria”Amma suggested.
Maria’s eyes were on fire and the driver’s eyes were dancing with joy.
“I am not sitting next to the driver. here, take this” Maria chucked the pillows on top of amma’s legs which were already on top of the suitcase.
“I will walk to the railway station” Maria told amma.
Driver for sure looked disappointed and he looked at Chechy again, hoping that she would change her mind and sit next to him.
“Why are you looking at me? My sister yelled
The driver quickly started his vehicle and we watched the auto rickshaw struggling under so much weight and leaving.
“I will come with you to the station” I told Maria
Maria hugged Liza and Sally.
“Maria, don’t forget to buy a new dress for me, when you come back” Liza spoke
“I won’t”
“Will you buy me a dress also?” Asked Sally
“Ofcourse I will”
I could see Chechy was about to cry and I pulled her hands and told her
“Hurry, the train should be arriving anytime now”.
Maria quickly bid farewell to Akkachi and together we walked to the railway station.

Ink tears

On sunday evening, we started packing Chechy’s bags. Amma placed the big brown suitcase in the middle of the dining room. To me the bag looked like the mouth of a big serpent, opened wide and swallowing everything that is part of my family, that also makes my sister.
First went all her clothes. Then her toileteries. Amma bought new tooth brush and Cibaca toothpaste for her. 5 bars of Pears soap and a big bottle of Tiara egg shampoo. Amma sealed the shampoo cap with masking tape, so it won’t leak out.
Then I saw chechy taking my hair brush
“Hey that is my hair brush”. I told her
“Ofcourse, but I don’t have another good hair brush, besides your hair is short and you can use Amma’s comb”.
I wanted to tell her ‘I don’t want to use Amma’s comb, she applies instant hair dye and her comb is black, dirty and yucky’.
Chechy was folding towels. I saw her folding my favourite pink towel, that I bought with my angpao from the night market. That towel is very fluffy with big red flower print. That was the only pink towel with red flower the shop had. All the others were yellow and blues flowers. I aslo have matching bedsheet and pillow case for that towel and I saw Chechy folding that as well.
I sat down on the floor next to the suitcase and looked at all the things my sister is taking to the university. She is not only taking everything that belonged to her,, but also things that are mine, my address book, that Siti my best friend gave me as a gift when we left Malaysia. It was an old diary with brown cover and gold edge. Siti wrote her address in the front page, so I can always send her a letter. Then I saw Chechy packing my green bangles that Ammachi bought for me. It is my first set of bangles. Chechy rolled news paper and packed the glass bangles one by one, all 12 bangles that I treassured. Then I saw her taking my brown parker pen with a golden cap. Appa gave me that pen, for scoring straight A’s for my UPSR exam.
“No Maria, you are not taking my pen, Appa gave me that.”
I tried to snatch it from her hand
“How can you be so selfish Nina, your sister is going to the university and you still want to fight with her for a silly stupid pen?”
“This is not s silly stupid pen, Appa gave me this”
“So?, Does the pen have two tails? you can always get another pen that looks like this!”
“Chechy has her own pen, why does she need my pen?”
“Maria, give the pen back to her, Oh mother of God, why did I give birth to such a selfish daughter, no wonder she is deaf and blind”
“Here take your stupid pen”,Maria threw my pen down and I picked it up from the floor and ran out side.
My heart was aching and I went to my hiding spot inside the banana thicket. There was too much green moss on the floor and I had to sit down. My legs were shaking. I couldn’t breath. I wanted to cry, but my tears didn’t come. I looked at the pen, then I remembered Maria throwing it down.
My god,’The nib’, I quickly opened the cap to check if the nib was broken. When I opened the golden cap, blue ink splashed out. There was nothing to wipe the ink off. I couldn’t use my dress to wipe the ink, it will stain. I used my palm and slowly wiped the ink off the nib. The tip of the nib was split and I knew I would never be able to write with that pen again. I shook the pen in anger and the ink started falling off like tears.