I looked at the wall clock to see the time. It was a small round clock with wooden border and golden colour needles. Appa had got that clock specially for Amma.
This was the clock that caused one of their biggest fights.
Amma wanted a musical clock, Appa got the one that had a choice of four melodies.
They fought the most because it stopped working after few weeks and Amma had to spend money to get it repaired. According to Amma, Appa bought the cheapest clock and that was why it got spoiled fast. Appa was mad because when Amma asked for a musical clock, he didn’t get a single melody clock, but one with 4 different types of melodies.
I wondered what would Amma be thinking each time she looked at the clock to see the time? Would she remember how much she fought with Appa? Does she regret accusing Appa like that?
“Nina” Sally came and sat next to me on the bed
“hmm?” I looked at her. She has grown so much in the last one year. She was turning out to be a very pretty girl. I felt I have to take care of her. I must protect her.
Although I knew George won’t leave me alone for the way I treated him in the morning, I was relieved knowing that he won’t come and visit my sisters at home. If he had something called ego, he won’t come and face me at my house. That was for sure. And I knew he was filled to the brim with ego.
What George is going to do next was a puzzle.
I will cross that bridge when I have to, I told myself.
“I am hungry” Sally spoke.
“What is Amma doing?” I asked her
“She is stitching something”
I wasn’t in a mood to cook lunch and it didn’t look like Amma was planning to cook anything either.
“Go and get ready. We will go out and eat”
Liza was still in the room. I got up and knocked her room door.
“Liza, it is me. I am going out with Sally. Do you want to come along?”
I turned my head to see what Amma was doing. Earlier she had threatened to kill Liza if she opened the door. I was relieved to see that Amma was still stitching a fall on her saree.
There was no sound from Liza’s room.
“Liza” I called again
“Liza. Liza” I started to panic. I kept on pounding the door.
Sally too joined. “Chechy open the door”
“Liza open the damn door”
I tried to push the door to open it. It didn’t budge. I heard footsteps behind me and I looked
“Liza, this is Amma, please open the door”
“please money, this is Amma, please open the door”
I tried to kick the door to open it. Sally and I tried to push the door together. It didn’t open.
There are some moments in life when you desperately wish that you had a brother. Physically it was impossible for me to break the door to open it. If I had a brother he could have helped me. Boys are stronger.
My sister must have killed herself. She might have ended her life by hanging on the ceiling fan while I was busy thinking about the bloody clock. Why didn’t I check on her? I hated myself. I was such a stupid person.
I looked at Amma. She was crying. I thought of asking her, why is she wasting her tears now? It is all Crocodile tears! I didn’t feel sorry for Amma. She did this. She created all this. She just had to shut her mouth. None of this would have happened.
“Please Liza, money please open the door. I am begging you” Amma knocked the door gently.
“Please open the door” Amma was gasping for breath.
I had to find someone to help me. The only someone I knew was Arjun. I took my wallet and was just about to run down the steps and go o the phone booth to call Arjun when I heard the sweetest sound on planet earth. The sound of the door latch being moved. The sound that said I don’t have to bury my sister today. The sound that said that we are still 4.
It felt as though someone poured a bucket of cold water on me, I stood there motionless, I was afraid to move, lest I destroy that moment of serenity amongst the madness that surrounded me.
“What do you want?” I heard Liza asking Amma
“Nothing” Amma whispered
“Then leave me alone” She went back and slammed the door again. I heard the click sound and I knew she locked the door again.
The serenity too had gone along with it.
“Sally, come let us go” I had to get out. I couldn’t take anymore.
I grabbed my sister’s hand and walked out. As I was about to close the gate, I remembered Arjun. he might come today to pick me up for the party.
“Wait here” I told Sally and ran up the steps
“Amma, if Arjun comes, would you please let him know that I have gone to Brigade road?”
She didn’t respond
“Amma” I called again
“Hmm” She answered
I knew she heard the message, so I didn’t bother to repeat the message.
“Come, let us go” I held Sally’s hand and walked towards the temple. I could always get an auto there.
“What do you want to eat?” I asked her
“Will you buy me anything I ask?”
“That depends. If you ask me to buy you an elephant, then NO”
“I don’t eat Elephants”
“Do you eat like an Elephant?”
“I am not an Elephant”
“Did I say you are one?”
“You are mean” She replied
“Aiyyah, I was just kidding”
“Will you buy me a burger?”
“I asked Maria when she came home last time. She scolded me saying burgers are expensive”
“But you said you will buy for me”
“Sally, Maria earns her own money and she would feel differently when it comes to spending her own money, I am spending Appa’s money, so the feeling is different. Burgers are expensive, but what the heck, yeh baap ka maal hai nah!”
“Does Appa send you lot of money?”
“Oh no,no,no!. He doesn’t. He sends me 1000Rs every month. Out of that I have to pay 450Rs for the mess fee, 120Rs for the room rent, 30Rs for the electricity. Then there are so many other expenses. I have to buy supplies, snacks, birthday gifts, cards, etc etc. So at the end of the month I am usually broke.”
“then what do you do?”
“nothing much, I just wait for the postman!”
We took the auto to Brigade road. I looked around to see if Arjun was there as I walked up from Nilgiris to Mac Fast food. . I couldn’t hang around in Brigade road all day. There was nothing to do and I didn’t really want to go back home and face Amma. If Sharon was throwing a party, I wanted to attend.
Mac fast food was crowded. We found a table close to the window. From where I sat I could see the road in front.
There were few guys standing near the lamp post. One among them was so handsome. He had short hair and a sharp nose. he looked like Sting. and when he saw that I was looking at him, he smiled. I looked down immediately. I was too afraid to even look up
I ordered 2 burgers.
Even when I didn’t lift my head to look outside, I knew the guy who was standing there was looking at me. It felt funny and at the same time nice.
Nice? I asked myself.
Nah, that isn’t nice. I already love someone. I shook my head, Nah, Nah this isn’t correct. Two people are already in love with me. It was already way too complicated.
Shucks! I cursed myself for the way my heart felt.
I consoled myself by thinking ‘a thing of beauty is joy for ever’! Keats said that.
‘yeah, blame Keats” sensible one spoke
“Nina why are you smiling?” Sally asked
“I am not smiling”
“I saw you smiling”
“I said I am not smiling and I didn’t smile. You must be dreaming”
“I saw you” She pouted her lips
I ignored her, I didn’t think my 12 year old sister would understand how complicated my love life is!
I didn’t want to look at him again. I really didn’t want, but my eyes looked without my consent. May be he was waiting for a sign, because I saw him walking up the steps and coming inside the restaurant.
Oh no! Oh no! That is all I could think.
He came and sat at the table next to ours. Soon his friends too came inside and I heard one of them asking
“What are you doing here? We just ate”
I don’t know what he replied, soon I heard the sounds of chairs being moved and more food being ordered.
I ate my burger in silence. Too afraid even to move my neck. I didn’t want my eyes to get me in to trouble again. So I concentrated on the beautiful plain white plate in front of me. But my ears, they weren’t worried about my consent. They were trying hard to listen to every word that was spoken at the table next to mine. “There is no ketchup in this bottle” I heard him say. I didn’t look, but I heard someone moving the chair to get up. Then I heard the foot steps approaching my table. My heart started to pound so fast I thought Sally might hear it from across the table.
“Can I borrow the ketchup?” He asked
“Sure” I answered
“Thanks” He replied as he took the ketchup bottle
“You are welcome”
AS he left Sally leaned across the table and whispered
“Do you know him?”
“No” I replied
“He is so handsome No?”
“hey, you are too young to talk like that. Do you want me to tell Amma that you are looking at boys?” I scolded her
“But you were also looking at him”
“But I am 19, you are 12!”
“So nothing! Don’t look, that is the golden rule. do you understand?”
“ok” She nodded her head sadly.
I wasn’t sure why I was mad at my sister, was it because she looked at the guy I was eying or was it because I thought she was too young?
As I walked out after paying the bill, I walked past his table and he was looking at me. He sure was handsome and I sure had two boy friends. So I walked away. Singing the song my mother apparently sang when she was 19 years old. My uncle Dr. Jacob taught me the song
orayiram kashanagal akki!
Korachividey koduthu” *
Monday morning I got up early and packed my bags to go back to the hostel. I planned to go straight to the hospital. So I only had to leave around 8am. I checked the clock. It was only 7.15.
I quickly went to the kitchen and made wheat flour dosai and onion chutney for my sisters. I counted the dosais. There were 8 dosais. I could eat 2 and leave 6 dosais for Amma and my sisters. But Liza always like to eat more and Amma might give her hers. I can always eat something from the canteen. Besides I normally don’t eat breakfast. I covered dosai with a plate and kept it on the kitchen counter. I also made 2 cups of tea. I left Amma’s tea on the kitchen counter. She wasn’t talking to me and I wasn’t going to talk to her. She would see the tea when she comes to the kitchen. As I drank the tea while sitting on top of the gas cylinder, I heard a bike stopping in front of our house. I quickly ran to the balcony.
Arjun was just about to open the gate. I didn’t want him to come up the house.
“Arjun, Wait, I will come down in a minute” I shouted
“Ok” He looked at me and nodded his head
I wasn’t expecting him to come in the morning to fetch me. In fact I did wonder what happened to him? We were supposed to go and attend Sharon’s party. Then I thought may be her parents didn’ t go as planned.
I took my bag and went to Amma’s room. Sally and Amma were sleeping
“Amma, I am going” I shook Amma’s legs and tried to wake her up. She looked so frail and old. She had so many wrinkles on her forehead. She called them worry lines! I knew she was carrying a tremendous burden on her shoulders. I wished I could help her carry a bit of the burdens she has been carrying. I bend down and kissed her on her forehead. She opened her eyes and looked at me. I was afraid she might scold me for kissing her.
“I am leaving now” I quickly walked out without even looking at her.
Liza’s door was closed. She was trying to create her own private fort in her room and I had no choice but to let her. I closed the main door as I walked out.
“Why didn’t you come for the party?” Arjun asked as he started the bike
“Didn’t your mother tell you?”
“That I came? I came day before yesterday around 3 pm. Your mother said she doesn’t know where you went, so I told her to let you know that we are having a party at my house. Sharon’s parents didn’t go, so we had a party at my place. My sisters were waiting for you. My mom made your favourite pav bhaji for you. Anyway don’t worry. She has packed some for you. I will give it to you when we reach the hostel. Didn’t your mother tell you that I came?”
“Sorry Arjun, She did, I had periods, my stomach was hurting a lot. That is why I didn’t come”
I wanted to go back and take the kiss I gave Amma in the morning. I wanted to rub it off from her forehead. I couldn’t, instead I rubbed and rubbed my lips, hoping to erase every tiny bit of love I felt for my mother.
*This was a parody of some Anglican hymn, I don’t remember the hymn.