On the first day of college, Amma insisted she would drop me to college.
“Here some money for you, you can eat something at the canteen” She gave me 2 Rs.
I wore my purple skirt and the yellow blouse. I didn’t even have a new slipper.
“Maria, can I borrow your shoes?” I asked my sister, hoping that she would feel sorry for me.
“No, you will spoil the heels. You never take care of things”
I didn’t bother to respond. I was waiting for time to fly, so I can get out of this mad house. Amma and I walked side by side on the road. We passed the CSI church and Amma drew a sign of cross. I didn’t. Amma looked at me, trying to see, if I would volunteer some explanation. I ignored her.
The main entrance to the college was crowded. I watched all the girls in coulourful dresses and beautiful shoes. I hoped I would remain invisible.
“Oh, Nina, I forgot, Chechy and I thought, it is better that you take french as a second language. So we changed the 2nd language option in your application”
“What?” I looked at my mother in shock.
“I chose malayalam as a second language Amma”
“Yeah, I know, but learning a new language is always better. Besides, you lost your SSLC rank, because of your malayalam marks”
“Amma, I am not learning french”
“Too late now, Nina. I have already paid the fees”
I looked at my mother, trying to see, why is she torturing me like this? First I had to go to a Chinese school and learn Mandarin, then I went to a Malay school, then I went to Malayalam school and now she expects me to learn French? I want to become a doctor. Chances of me ever treating a French speaking patient is next to Nil.
I didn’t bother to speak to my mother or say good bye to her. She can go to hell for all I care. I walked inside the main entrance. There was a huge notice board and I checked my name. I was number 3, that means, I scored the third highest mark for SSLC among all the students joining the pre-degree there. I should have been proud, but all I felt was hatred and that I am just a prisoner. I am like a bird in a cage and my mother and my sister seems to be the only ones deciding my destiny.
I wanted to do something to spite both of them. Then I remembered. I walked to the office and I spoke to the lady at the counter
“Madam, I would like to cancel my additional maths”
She looked at me, as though I have asked something totally atrocious
“You want to cancel maths? Why? People are on the waiting list to do additional maths!”
“I don’t like to do maths”
“Then why did you apply?”
It was at the tip of my tongue to say that I didn’t want to apply, it was my mother’s choice.
“At that time, I thought I would apply, but I changed my mind” I smiled at her sweetly.
“You need to get the permission from the principal. She is busy this week, why don’t you see her next monday”
As I entered my class, everyone looked at me. I could see the disgust in their eyes. I knew they were thinking that I belong to the special category of those with no money and no brain. The ones that gets admission on the basis of caste or income.
I didn’t understand, how, as a daughter of a senior Brtish government employee, who earns about 3000 quids every month, and as someone who scored the 3rd highest mark among all the students in the college that year, I am still wearing a dress that is 4 years old and my slipper is so worn out that, the blue sole can be seen near the heel. None of it made any sense to me. I felt it is better that I remain as a shadow. Not one of my classmates spoke to me and I didn’t speak to anyone either. I had too much of secrets in my life and I knew if anyone knew that, they would judge me. Nobody else would have a family where father and and mother fight all the time, older sister decides what a younger sister should do, mother always goes ‘just over there’. Nobody would beleive me, even if I tell the truth. Much as I wanted a friend to share my burden, much as I wanted a hand to hold me, I knew for my own sanity, it is better that no one knew anything about my family, because no one had a family like mine.
First thing on monday, I waited outside the Principal’s office. I have heard that she is a terror. I have never ever spoken to a nun before. I was scared of them. But I had to cancel my maths. I heard the bell ringing and I walked in. Sister Margaret looked at me and raised her forehead. Suddenly, I felt very scared. I couldn’t find my tongue. I must have looked like someone who has seen a ghost.
I heard a very sweet and kind voice asking me
“Child, why do you want to see me?”
I stammered and replied
“I don’t want to do maths”
“Because I don’t like maths. I like science and I want to become a doctor”
“How much marks did you get for maths?”
“That is a good score”
“Yes, Sister, I got good marks, because my maths tuition teacher prayed everyday. He even went to the temple on the day of my exam and did special pooja for me. If I failed, I would have beeen the first student who failed in the 25 years he taught. Unfortunately he retired this year!”
“Did he retire or he gave up teaching after having you as a student?” Sister was laughing.
I too started to laugh. I didn’t know why everyone said Sister Margaret is a terror.
She rang the bell and her assistant came inside.
“Cancel her maths application”. Sister Margaret spoke, still laughing and pointing her hand at me.
‘Phew, Battle number 1, Nina Thomas won’. I was happy, atleast I don’t have to study maths.
A month later, I had to write the first term examination. I didn’t study anything. For the first time in my life, I went to write the exam, without studying. Although I knew the answers for couple of questions, I didn’t want to waste my energy and write. I handed over empty answer sheets. I wanted Amma to pay for cheating me.
Finally the moment I waited anxiously has arrived. My class teacher came to the class to hand out the report card. She called the students one by one. I heard her calling my name
I got up and went to her. She looked at the marks card in her hand and at me.
“Do you find science difficult? If so, you should do arts group. By the way,What was your score in SSLC?” She asked me
“529”. There was a pin drop silence in the class. I could see the shock on her face.
“Don’t lie. I can always check your marks at the office” She spoke
“I got 529 marks for SSLC” I spoke again
“Then, how could you fail in all the subjects? You are the only one in this class, who failed all the subjects”
“I don’t know” I replied. Ofcourse I knew, I wanted to teach my mother a lesson. I wanted to embarass her.
“Ask your parents to come and see me”
“Ofcourse” I was so happy. I knew battle number 2, Nina Thomas won again.
When Amma came in the evening, I handed her my marks card.
“My teacher wants you to come and see her”
I watched my mother opening my marks card. I watched the horror on her face. Each line that formed the frown on her forehead, brought me that much joy.
“How dare you Nina?”
My mother was struglling to speak and I was enjoying every bit. That is when Amma noticed that, there was no maths. There was only, english, french, biology, chemistry and physics.
“Why there is no maths in your report card?”
“because I cancelled the maths”
“Whose permission did you take? How dare you? How could you cheat me?” My mother was raging and she started to shake me
“Well, I learned it from you Amma, you taught me how to cheat, have you forgotten, how you hid my CMS college admission card?”
I saw my mother’s hand swinging. In an instant, 1000 bees were buzzing in my ear. I saw stars. But I also won and Amma lost. Battle number 3, winner Nina Thomas.