Teary eyed, sensing a warm rush from her stomach approaching her head, she looked up and groaned, ‘I don’t want to wear those torn shoes to school tomorrow.’
‘Don’t go to school then. I don’t have time for all these tantrums.’
She rushed to the adjacent room and cried. Anger was unacceptable in her house. Children were not supposed to be angry. Children were supposed to understand. That was the norm. Stomping your feet was not allowed, especially for girls. She envied her cousin who had three pairs of shoes to choose from. She had one – her school shoes.
She had written and directed a play for Diwali. She was acting in it, too. How could an actress wear torn school shoes to school with a casual dress, that too on Diwali? ‘Why doesn’t he understand? Why doesn’t he understand?’ she murmured to herself.
‘Go, see if Manu’s shoes fit you. They should. Your foot size is growing like a giant.’ Her mother called out from behind the closed door that separated the bearers of the same emotion: anger.
Wiping her anger away, she got up, telling herself that Manu was her last hope. She had always fallen back on her for clothes, shoes, stationery and toys…Manu had a great collection of hand-me-downs. She found a pair that wasn’t as tattered. Wearing two pairs of socks would make the shoes fit her. It would save her prestige – the prestige of the writer, director and the protagonist of the play.
She understood that some problems have alternative solutions.
A child understood.
* * *
‘But she is my best friend,’ she screamed at him.
‘What did she give you for your birthday? A ten-rupees worth of wax statue from the weekly market?’
‘So what? She is my best friend. I want to give her an FM radio. Forty rupees, I asked the shopkeeper.’
‘Don’t attend her birthday party then. I don’t have time for all these tantrums,’ he said sternly.
She took her usual place on the other side of the door, parting the bearers of the same emotion again.
It was her best friend’s birthday.
‘Go and give her that geometry-box your friend gave you. Anyway it smells bad.’ Her mother called out from the other side of the door.
‘But Priyanka is in the same class. She will notice that I passed her gift to someone else.’
No sound came from the other side of the door.
Wiping her anger away, she got up, collected some beads and made a bracelet. It looked okay to her, not like a market bought gift, but a gift. She took out a flattened wrapper from under the mattress and wrapped the gift.
She understood that gifts are not always bought.
An adolescent understood.
* * *
‘But it is a great learning opportunity. I want to go.’
‘You can learn in this city as well. People come from all over the country to learn here.’
‘You don’t even have to pay for it. I have managed the money.’
‘Oh, madamji earns now. We cannot say anything to her now that she earns.’
Angry, not being able to tell him what she wanted in as many words as she had thought it, she took her usual place behind the door that separated the common emotion.
She understood that money could not buy autonomy.
A young-adult understood.
* * *
‘When are you coming back home?’
‘January,’ she said as she resumed explaining the check-in process at the airport.
‘No, I mean coming back home for good.’
‘Isn’t it easier without me there, not poking you all the time?’ she said with a half-smile.
‘So, you are not coming back.’
‘I will tell you once I have a plan.’
‘You are still not answering my question.’
She shrugged and almost immediately changed the topic with a seemingly pressing one for the moment.
‘The check-in counter is right there. You will have to just give them the boarding pass and drop the baggage there.’
Ceremonial hugs were exchanged between the mother and her. Her mother’s eyes welled up like any mother’s eyes do on parting with their child. It was time to exchange the ceremonial half-embrace with her father. Her father embraced her and planted a moist kiss on her forehead. She gulped. A glass door closed behind the two figures who were now disappearing in the crowd.
She stood there, not understanding the embrace, not understanding the unfamiliar touch. A new emotion had replaced the emotion on both sides of the door.
It was strange…unfamiliar – the warmth, the tears, the longingness in their eyes of having her back, something she did not understand.
An adult did not understand.
by Gunjan Narang
Gunjan is an imperfect minimalist who is currently exploring her interests in the field of mental health and natural farming. She loves handmade gifts, handwritten letters and organised shelves.