Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Vimala’s life’s road was planted long before she was even born. Her father , Rajan went against his family who mostly consisted of engineers to join the Indian defense academy.His grades weren’t the greatest , but he was sure he would see the world. What he managed to see were some villages in Bihar, Orissa and Karnataka with a final posting in Kerala. That’s where, when he out buying some illicit liquor, he chanced upon a young pretty Catholic girl called Martha. Their romance was everything a Indian movie was made of. Shy first glances, gallant interventions and finally parents objections. At least her parents objected, his disowned him. To Martha it was a way to get out of the small town she lived in and to visit places, that she heard Rajan describe - Vienna, Rome and New York. She was so captured in the imagery that she didn’t realize that Rajan had never ever been to these places either. It was love of their imaginations, which brought these two together. After marriage imagination dissolved into reality. Rajan was thrown out of the army , when he was helping the local bigwigs access the army’s liquor cabinet. With no experience and barely a degree , he managed to get a sales job. Which left Martha to tend to their four children, Vimala being the eldest. So Vimala’s youngest days were spent listening to her mother hum Amazing grace and hear the snatches of stories from the bible. As the years grew, so did Rajan’s regret over his split from his family. He hated the fact that he was now an outsider, not only to his family but also to his community. He started to press upon his children the traditions he had grown up and the strict guidelines that his parents had asked him to follow. Funny how the thing that he hated most growing up became his support and cane in his later years.
For Vimala, her years were spent listening to the quarrels of her parents, tending to her younger siblings and vehemently promising herself she would never fall in love. She felt torn between the two religions. Though she loved the temples and churches equally, for her family the formed the battleground in which her parents were the generals. As she looked at other families celebrating Diwali or Christmas together, she made her life’s resolution that her children would belong to one community. They would follow one path of traditions. This feeling was further fortified when she met her cousins, as she and her sisters were always treated as the unwanted ones , never part of the inner circle.
Vimala worked hard through out her life. Her background gave her the strength to enter any arena and find a way there. It helped her get into a good college and later employment. 6 months into her job, she was flown to New Jersey as part of an implementation team. To walk around with people from different walks of life influenced her more. But she knew, that this was just a phase, she had to go back to the community laden structure back home. That’s when she met Prashant. A team leader, he was easy to get along with and seemed to understand her view point more than any one she ever met. He listened to Chopin with her , at the same time liked dancing to the Indian tunes playing on one of the websites. When she had to go back to India, he asked her to marry him and she asked him to talk to her parents. Vimala’s dad was overjoyed at the prospect of a groom from his community. Martha was however more apprehensive. She hugged her daughter , but was worried about the brick bats that may fall due to Vimala’s upbringing. Rajan went alone to meet Prashant’s parents. Even though they were resistant initially, Rajan’s charm and Vimala's income information won them over. The marriage was conducted in June on a hot summer day in Chennai.
As the day drew closer, pressure seemed to start closing in around Vimala. Prashant was distant (for appearances , he assured her).His mother subtly stated that she wasn’t the daughter in law she was looking for and his sisters just smiled condescendingly at everything she said. “Her language wasn’t good enough, her gait too fast and her mother was not our community !!” they shuddered. “How did Prashant, like this horse” was the house opinion.
As the subtle insults and hints starting coming her way, Vimala tried putting it off thinking it was bridal jitters. The boiling point came when she saw her mother being insulted by Prashant's mother , her hackles raised she was about to give it to her in-laws but before she could say anything, her mother pulled her to the side. As she looked at her elder daughter radiating anger
Martha said “Chellam (Sweety) , its ok. Prashant is a good boy, he will look after you, that’s what matters”
“But Amma, how can you let them say that?” asked Vimala
“Remember child , stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me and if they are nasty turn the other cheek like the bible tells you to, I taught you that as a child and that is what you need to cling to now. You will face a lot of obstacles, but adjust . That’s what all good wives do"
As Vimala’s mother kissed her cheek saying that the first solitary tear fell.
The wedding was one of the worst days of Vimala’s life. She was constantly pulled , pushed and shoved into various sarees, ornaments and objects .Told to smile , to laugh and to sit on cue and worst of all she couldn’t even say a word to her family the whole time. When Prashant tied the mangalsutra, the photographer asked the bride to look up but wished he hadn’t because the sadness in her face shouldn’t have been captured on camera. As she now was escorted to her in-laws room for the Grihapravesh (House Warming) ceremony to symbolize her new start in life, her hands seemed to indicate the intricate patterns , which were now flowing through her mind. She looked at her mother and sister, mute in their speech but their eyes conveying every emotion that ran through her like a river .
Staring at the calendar, Vimala realized it would be another month to her third anniversary. She had followed to a T what her mother had told her. When her sister in law laughed at her inability to draw a kolam constantly, she has smiled and complimented the other kolam around her. Or when Prashant’s grandma had told her she was too heavy , she promised she would drink Grass juice for a week and she did. Prashant had sympathized with her initially . During the first few months of marriage, when she cried to him at night he would pat her down and say “They will adjust. They don’t know you yet”. She believed him and tried her best to become the perfect daughter/sister in law the last two and half years. She had tried but she knew she failed.
The insults had just accelerated over the years. The taunts less subtle and the digs even more deliberate. Prashant seemed to be content in life. He had a home , which he had bought based on their joint income and a new Ford which he could take his parents around in. He knew that his family disliked Vimala, but she had to live with that. He knew he couldn’t change their minds. So his refrain had become “You have to adjust dear, they are set in their ways”. He really didn’t care what happened within the house as long as Vimala brought in her paycheck every month.
Vimala felt a piece of her dying every day. She had stopped listening to any type of western music, bibles and church activity was banned in the house and between the cooking and office work, her reading non existent. As the pressure started to build around her for a child, she became ready for that too. At least the child will be part of a family, a community she thought. No more outer circle for the next generation and maybe just maybe she will be accepted then.
As Navrathri festival and her anniversary drew close, the entire house was humming with Bhajans and prayer songs. After a lengthy prayer session, as she bent down to pick up the mess , Prashant’s aunt was giving his mother a list of prayers to be said for the next morning. As Vimala drew closer, the aunt pointedly looked at her and said
“She still cant chant anything, can she Pankajam ?. I don’t know what type of a girl grows up without saying Lalitha Saharanamam everyday. It’s a mothers duty to teach their daughter. I’m sure Prasant’s daughter also would be like her mother unless you teach her. Don’t let her grow up to be another Vimala”
As the ladies moved away, Vimala felt she had been struck by a bolt of lightening. Nothing would ever take away the imaginary mark on her and that mark would be passed on to her child. Any small mistake on the child would be blamed on Vimala and the child resented for it. Her baby would always be in the outer ring in this family. Also her child will never know the joy of twirling to Vivaldi or see the colors that flowed through the stain glass window in churches. As Vimala, sat that night and sobbed on the terrace feeling all alone, Kamakshi mami (aunty) came upstairs. She had always been the kindest to Vimala in her years there.
“Its Navrathri and your crying , is everything ok ?” She asked
“Mami, My life is so puzzling and miserable, that I can do nothing but cry”
“Child, do you know why we celebrate Navarathri?" Not waiting for an answer mami continued
“It celebrates every aspect of a woman’s life – the giver, the protector, the playful and the most terrifying of them the destroyer. Like Lakshmi, we woman on this earth get to play different parts of the goddess through out our lives. Most times it’s the giver but sometimes it has to be the destroyer. Durga killed Mahishasura in a battle that raged 9 days which symbolizes the nights of navarathri. We don’t get that type of time, our battles rage over months ,years and sometimes our whole lives”
As Vimala listened dumbstruck at what Mami was implying , mami continued
“You have to change roles my dear. I have seen you take insult and abuse over the years. If you stay quiet, one part of the goddess in you dies. The fighter . Do you want to let that happen? “
“But Mami, I can't disrespect them, they are his family”
“You don’t have to my dear. Every battle need not be about words and weapons. Sometimes walking away gives you the strength you need to come back whole. A battle may not be about destroying others but just saving yourself” saying that Mami pressed a small picture of 9 faces of goddess Lakshmi in her hands and moved away.
As Vimala gazed at the temple lights that blazed along with the church steeple that shone. She did realize then , that her family were never the outsiders, they were the special ones. The ones who were able to connect to different religions, but still understand that God was one. It did’nt matter how you followed him, but you did follow in good consciousness. As she rose again and stared at her hands, now hard and callused from the years of work, she smiled. Tommorow she would be moving in a new direction, if Prashant were to follow her that would be nice, if not she knew she would survive. She needed to let her inner goddess live, every one of them and even subduing one would kill all of them as a whole. Her smile seem to join the lights that lit up the dark during navarathri that evening.
PS:This story is does not detail the life of any one woman. Considering Navarathri is a festival celebrating the power of Woman, I felt a sense of sadness, when I see woman across strata facing emotional and physical abuse on a daily basis. So I dedicate this to all my sisters, who have been insulted or assaulted by their so called loved ones.
Friday, August 29, 2008
But fear lingered in my heart.
Looking around at snatches on the news screen
I suddenly felt worried for a while
How can such beauty bear violence and hurt
That destroys everything our fathers built
Red that was as bright as a brides lipstick
Flowing like a river among broken young men
Will humanity ever survive this surge
Of hate and uncertainty
Men constantly trying to better their lives
But leave their souls behind
I shuddered and drew a deep breath,
Lost in sadness
On what the future holds
For the entire race, dear to the gods above
Just then I saw a Childs eyes
Twinkling in hope and happiness
Maybe everything would be sorted right
By those little ones with smile on their lips.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
She sat and stared at the purple bougainvillea, waiting for her mother to come out of the x-ray room. She hated hospitals from the time she was young. Funnily enough , that was the place she spent most of her life. Be it her parents , grandparents or relatives, they knew they could count on her to help. Waiting on hours for a room allocation, or in the line to pay the bill, Vatsala seemed to constantly be the one called in case of an emergency. No one knew she hated it. Not even her parents. While waiting she had seen burnt bodies when a mother had immolated her children and herself due to a drunk husband, severed arms due to caste riots and the worst of all dead children in the wake of the tsunami. To get rid of these images, she would sit and stare at a flower while waiting. Be it a wilted gladioli or a near perfect red rose, she would wrap her mind around it and block the other images out. That way the most she remembered of any hospital day was the twirl of the petal, the fragrance of the flower or even the shade of the leaf as it clung to a slender stem.
Today it was the bougainvillea. The nursing home was run by her family doctor. She had seen the plant unfurl from a stump to the creeper which spread its vines across the east wall. The ugly white paint seem to be covered by the profusion of color. As she was staring at a flower , two tiny fingers seemed to intrude into her vision. As she looked down the chubby hands, she looked into the cherubic face of a toddler. Mentally her shutters came down. She couldn’t smile back at the cherub, because she knew either the child or someone in the child’s family was sick, other wise no one entered a nursing home. As she tried to resume her staring, the child again stuck two fingers in her face., as she was about to shoo him away, an older voice stopped her
“He only wants two of those flowers you know? Could you please help me pluck it, I cant seem to reach outside the window”
Turning Vatsala saw a shrunken older lady in a traditional Indian madishar (Saree) . Thin and shriveled, she looked almost ready to drop, but the smile and pleading look on her face stopped Vatsala.
Walking to the window, she plucked two of the blossoms and brought it back to the child.
As the child squealed in delight the older woman sat down next to Vatsala and made herself comfortable. Vatsala squirmed in silence. The only reason she agreed to the long waits in hospitals was the fact that she was perfectly alone in her thoughts and with her flowers. As she sat to stare at the flowers, the lady continued with her dialogue with her as if Vatsala wasn’t being rude.
“My name is Andal mami, the name like you know like the consort of lord Ranganatha , what’s your name child?” Andal mami pushed
“Vatsala” was the short reply
“Vatsala. the affectionate one… a very nice name”
As she was talking Andal mami pulled out a basket of Parijatha or Night Jasmine flowers to combine them into a garland. Vatsala’s attention was now pulled to the little white flowers with orange stem and a fragrance worthy of the gods.As she saw mami’s nimble fingers string them into a perfect string.
Andal Mami continued talking
“You know Lord Krishna, brought the tree down from heaven, and to placate both his wives, planted the tree Satyabama’s garden, but the flowers always fell into his first wife Rukmini’s garden. That way they both got ownership over the plant”
“Typical male thinking”, thought Vatsala, “cheap too, one plant and two ladies”.
That’s the reason she stayed away from marriage, she had been in the hospital corridors long enough to see enough dysfunctional relationships.
Mami looked at the child playing with the bougainvillea while deftly creating her fourth strand of flowers , and said
“His mother gave birth this morning to a beautiful baby girl, I hope she looks like her father “. Vatsala was now sure that Mami was the cherub’s grandparent and definitely related only through the father. Only a proud grandmamma would want a new born to resemble her son.
As the child began weeping, mami quickly put the flowers aside to pick him up. For a thin frame she was full of dexterity and strength. Grabbing her basket in one hand and carrying the child in the other, she place one of the strands in Vatsala’s hands before hurrying away to feed the child. As Vatsala gazed at the beautiful garland, she couldn’t see the twirls in the petals this time, only the work that mami had put in,
A couple of days later, she was back at the nursing home, with her younger brother, who had sprained his ankle jumping out of a mango tree. Vatsala wished he had broken a bone or two, because they had to sit forever waiting for the doctor to see them. As she again tried to look for a flower , the smell of jasmines wafted by. She had no idea why, but she knew Mami was close by. She heard children’s laughter, to see Mami holding court between a couple of 8 year olds, who was closely listening to her. As her gaze met mami’s, Mami’s smile widened and she called
“Vatsala, come join us, these are Darshini’s children and their mother is not well. I’m stringing Jasmines today , you can help me”
As Vatsala, hesitantly moved closer, Mami dumped another basket into her lap and continued with her stories of baby Krishna
As Mami wowed her audience with Krishna’s fight against the mighty snake Kaliya to him stealing the butter from his mothers pots Vatsala actually didn’t want to leave when her brother hopped out on one leg. But as she prepared to leave, Mami gave her a strand of jasmines.
Vatsala met Mami on and off for about 4 months. Each time a different set of kids, flowers and a unique story. She learnt about the red flowers of the Asoka tree and the blue water Lilly which Lord Rama used to appease Goddess Durga.
During the sixth month meeting, Vatsala saw Mami when she was in a foul mood. Her parents kept asking her to meet some boy, whom they could arrange her marriage with. She was thankful, that her uncle Kumar had fallen off his bike, so here she was again watching the bougainvillea.
She smelt the roses and a calm settled over her. She knew Andal mami would find some long lost story and she could forget about her life. As she waited for mami to sit, she looked up to see Mami holding a string of flowers already done.
“These are for Radha , she gave birth to a lovely boy this morning, come with me to see her son” Andal mami said.
Vatsala had started to wonder how many children Mami had. Her grandmother had 13, so she was sure Mami had the same number. But it seemed that mami spent a lot more time in the nursing home than Vatsala did.
As Mami moved away, Vatsala couldn’t help but follow her. As they made their way to the nursery, this was the first time Vatsala had been in this part of the ward. She usually avoided it due to the screaming babies, but today they all were perfect angels.
As Mami stopped at one crib, she seemed to be bursting with joy.
“Look at him” she said . "Doesn’t he look just like a kutti (little ) Krishna ? I am sure he will have all the ladies jumping to his tune in no time".
Vatsala had to agree the baby looked sweet. As she looked into the innocent face, Mami continued
“You know Vatsala, there are only two types of love in the world that is pure – one divine and the other that you get from a child. To receive both these you need to open yourself to receive the love. And if you open yourself to this kind of love, all other types of loves will find you”
Vatsala looked into the wizened face and realized that Mami had realized that behind the competent woman was a scared girl. She had always hidden away from the world in these hospital corridors, scared that something might happen to her like all those people she had witnessed over the years.
As she smiled at Mami she felt years younger. Mami quietly tucked a rosebud in Vatsala’s hair.
“Young girls should always have flowers in their hair my dear, it enhances the flowers beauty “. Saying that she quickly hurried away.
That weekend, Vatsala met Rajesh, the guy here parents had selected for her. Funnily enough he was funny, liberal and had no idea about flowers. As they spoke through the next couple of weeks, her trips to the hospitals decreased. She still helped, but uncles and brothers could help each other sometimes.
After a month, she was back at the nursing, this time specifically looking for Mami. This time she had a bag full of creamy yellow champak flowers. She wanted to tell Mami about her engagement. As she searched around, she couldn’t find her. So she finally went to the front desk to ask about her.
What she found out, shocked her more than all the blood she had witnessed over the years. Mami lived in the old folks home in the end of the street. Everyday she would specifically come to nursing home to help babysit children, whose parents were unwell. The only thing she asked in return was flowers that she could use to garland her beloved Krishna. Sometimes, when she was sick or hungry, the hospital staff would give her food from their homes, telling her it was food from the temple. Only then she would consume it. Vatsala realized that Mami, encapsulated her nature in her name. Like Vishnu’s devotee Andal, she spread love wherever she went and through the words she spoke.
Mami was surprised to find Vatsala at her doorstep, with a young man the next day. They both bowed to receive her blessing and on on learning of their news, her smile widened to show her remaining four teeth . As Vatsala, gave her a mixed bag of champak, parijatha and jasmine, Mami was enthralled.
“My Krishna will be ecstatic with all his favorite flowers today" she gushed
Vatsala, held her hand and said
“Mami, I need you to help me. Rajesh’s uncle has passed away recently and his aunt is all alone in their big house. Would you please help out and stay with her for some time. I know the hospital will miss you, but you can use our car and chauffer to visit them as often as possible. ”
Andal’s eyes misted over. She knew what Vatsala was doing. She was giving her a wonderful opportunity, but she couldn’t accept such kindness. As she was about to say no, Rajesh stepped in.
“Mami, my mother passed away when I was 14 and my father was always away. It would be great to hear the scriptures and traditions from someone older, to help us through our new beginning. I promise, I would always ensure your Krishna has all the flowers required”
Mami couldn’t say no to that request. As she moved towards her little Krishna to start packing, she could almost see him winking at her. He would always take care of her, because she knew all his favorite flowers and of course he loved her more than she could ever love him.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
As he got immersed himself in the large sheets again, she glanced at the date on paper only to realize, it had been twenty years since they met.
It was 1988 and it was the first day of college. As the world was moving towards computers and cell phones, she had walked in carrying her old back pack and favorite book. First days were annoying anyway, she thought. Introductions, ragging sessions and worst of all girls behaving like bimbos and guys like macho asses. She couldn’t believe she had joined an Indian college. If only her dad had sponsored her, she would be in Oxford right now, drinking English tea and eating creamy cones.
“If only, dad had not insisted, I would have been part of the latest movie to hit the theatres, instead of being in college” he thought. Still, girls in chiffon salwars, were something to be appreciated. As he sounded his usual wolf whistle, at the new ladies parading past him, he caught a angry look. Tall, gangly and an absolute geekish new girl was glaring at him.
“You really don’t think that was for you ,right?” he asked
All he heard back for a sharp, quick “Jackasses, all men are jackasses” before she stalked away.
“God help the guy who catches that one”, he thought before he rode his bike fast before a girl in red chiffon dress. “Definitely potential this year” he thought
As the year rolled, he took part in all the usual culturals - “Madras Model”, “Model of the century”, “Men as Models”. “Men – The new models” and nearly won all of them. But that’s when he saw her, the love of his life – Akila.
A nymph is sea green chiffon, with her hair floating in waves around her, she made his every dream come to life. One little problem, was her infuriating friend “Gayathri”. She was the tall nerd, whom had interrupted his perfect first day and was constantly interrupting his love life. Analyzing his speech and his English, he called her Webster when she wasn’t around. She hounded the English professor, enough to give them free classes, as he was home with a headache.
Gaya, as she was called by her pals, observed Abhi as he danced around Akila.
“What an Idiot, God put a couple of extra muscles in his abdomen, instead of his brain” she thought.
As Gaya looked at him, she was reminded of King Kong, a huge ape beating his chest.
Abhi was nauseatingly good looking, if you went for structured good looks. But that wasn’t the worst part, he thought he was god’s gift to women, and that’s what she hated.
“Well poor Akila” she thought, “at least her children would be good looking, but they definitely won’t be the brightest ones in their class”
As she pushed herself off the bench, to get to class, she glanced over to see Abhi, on his knees, presenting Akila a blade of glass. “Cheap Idiot can’t even get a rose for her birthday” thought Gaya, before she caught sight of her English professor hurrying into class.
As the college year grew, so did the dislike that Gaya and Abhi felt for each other. Akila ensured they were in separate rooms otherwise, all you could hear was “Nerd and Geek” versus “Ape and Snob”, in all their sentences. But Akila loved both of them dearly, one as a good friend and the other her true love. They were equally stubborn, undoubtedly loyal to her but unfortunately just as sure that the other was bad for her.
Their tension came to a head the final year at college. Gaya had just got Akila coffee, when Abhi rushed in with his prepared cold ice tea.
“Drink your coffee Aki, its becomes cold quickly” Gaya urged Akila
“Babe, common in this Madras heat who drinks coffee anymore, try the chilled tea, it’s the coolest thing to do” Abhi pushed
“Coolest? that’s not even a term , muscle boy” Gaya said
“How would you know, did you ask your friend Shakespeare and Shelley, whom I’m sure like the English professor ,are hiding from you in their graves ” shot back Abhi
As the scene got heated, so did the college interest in their little spitting session. Akila had moved back in horror of the scene unfolding in front of her.
“At least I know where I would find their graves. Other than the mirror, college, home and of course the local bus stands and beach, do you even know any other places?” Gaya asked
“Oh, just because I don’t my nose stuck in the books doesn’t mean I don’t know the world. Your only friends are those books, because they are the only ones that can stand you” Abhi retorted
The last remark, hit really close to home for Gaya. She didn’t have many friends and she was always insecure about the ones she had. Instead of the hurt turning to sorrow, it turned to mind numbing anger. She didn’t realize what she was saying in anger, and in doing so she broke Akila’s trust.
“At least I didn’t get thrown off a movie set , because I fooled around with the directors fifty year old wife” she yelled.
As silence settled around her, she actually saw the tears in Akila’s eyes and humiliation in Abhi’s. As the mutterings and giggles started, Abhi stood his ground and just stared at her. The dislike has turned into hard cold hatred. As Gaya turned to Akila, she saw remorse there and hurt at being betrayed.
The next morning and Gaya decided to apologize to Akila and Abhi. But they both never turned up. She found out that Abhi had transferred out that morning and Akila was at home sick. Even though she found Aki and apologized, their relationship was torn forever. Abhi had left, promising to return but Akila was heartbroken at the separation.
The years passed by and Gaya one day got a note from Aki saying she was getting married but she couldn’t give her an invite , because she was scared Gaya would mess everything again. Gaya though had graduated to become a copywriter at Oxford University Press. Her dreams were finally coming true. In another year she would transfer to the London branch. But till then she had to get out of all the grooms her parents were arranging for her to meet. It was easy till now, none of them liked her attitude and she was fine with that.
“Gaya, get dressed quickly, they will be here any minute” her mother yelled up the stairs. As Gaya wore her green chiffon sari and pinned on Jasmine strings on her hair, she prayed for another unsuccessful meeting session with a prospective groom. Her mother entered the room, gave a quick inspection and pushed a tray of coffee on her.
“This time young lady, you don’t get a choice to say no. These are people from very good family. The boy is an engineer in Chicago and has his own company. If he says yes, you will say “Yes”; understood?” came the threatening tone, from Gaya’s five foot mother.
“Your father and I are too old to see you remain single for another year, if you say no, then your dad will surely have another relapse”
On that note, Gaya’s mother left her in her room alone.
Gaya walked into the living room , with her head lowered and praying that the groom would want to talk to her alone . She didn’t even see any of their faces, it didn’t matter to her, she just wanted him to hate her and then leave.
As she moved into the kitchen where the discussion with the groom was to take place, she was thinking of all the things to say to turn this “US guy” out of her house
“I like tea, what about you?” came a male voice
As she gasped and turned around, she looked into the brown eyes of Abhi. For the first time in her life, she was speechless. Well at least she got one of her wishes, the groom hated her. As her breathing came back to normal she asked
“She married a doctor. Said she couldn’t trust the film types” he replied
“What are you doing here??” Gaya breathed out
“I have waited 6 years for an apology, just wanted to get it at the most humiliating opportunity for you” he said
If it wasn’t for the tone, Gaya would have apologized without him asking for it. But this just spiked her anger.
“Well it all turned out for the best. Aki got a good person, so I won’t apologize” she said
“Think about it, I give you till tomorrow afternoon” he said
“If not?” she shot back
“We get married, I know about your Oxford deal, you dad praised the way you got that assignment so quickly. But with this marriage, you would be Chicago not Oxford, so think about it” Abhi replied .”I waited all these years for an apology and I am not going to stop now, don’t underestimate revenge my dear”
Gaya couldn’t apologize and her parents refused to hear her opinion on the groom.
Each of them stubborn, waited for the other to back down.
They got married 3 months later on a hot summer afternoon.
As Akila walked down the reception aisle to congratulate them, juggling her 2 year and 5 year old, she murmured to her husband, “They are so stubborn; they probably kill each other in a year”. Their first year, they nearly did
Gaya came back to the present when Abhi set his tea down, she called their eight year old down for breakfast.
“You shouldn’t have called my client’s wife a blond bimbo to her face” Abhi growled
“Well, she was and if I am always such a problem, why don’t you just divorce me?”She shot back
“Not till you apologize for that day in college” he replied
“That will NEVER happen” Gaya said
Abhi neatly folded the paper , put it down and kissed her across her cheek and with a smile he said “I know, and I thank God for that everyday ”
“King Kong” she growled, reaching for her coffee
“Nerd” he replied, sipping his tea
Friday, June 13, 2008
Mr.Iyer shrugged into his short sleeve blue shirt and took out his cane. It was four 'o 'clock and it was time for his evening walk. As he moved towards the lift, his wife called out to be back early for dinner at 7.He didn’t need reminding, but she always did that. They had been married thirty eight years, and but their conversations mainly revolved her daily reminders and their granddaughters. As he started walking around the apartments, towards the fountain where, he could spend an hour reading his morning paper again.
People started moving away from him once they saw him. Mr.Iyer’s temper was known to one and all. Be it a 5 year old child who jumped into his way trying to catch the ball or the neighborhood grocer, who innocently parked his cart in Mr.Iyer's car spot, their ears were reddened by his loud outbursts. Mr.Iyer knew what people thought of him and he liked it just fine. He felt fear indicated the respect that they had for him.
As he sat in his favorite spot, all alone, looking at the editorial column and cursing the editor for the umpteenth time for backing the current ruling party, he noticed that a child of about 8 was sitting opposite him. The boy didn’t even bother looking at him, but just sat throwing stones into the fountain. Mr.Iyer let him do it for fifteen minutes and then signed, raised his voice and said
“This place is only for senior people, go play with other kids”.
To his surprise, the child looked up, glared at him and kept throwing the stones.
Mr.Iyer was disgruntled. Even his son never glared at him that way, and now he was a grown man of thirty. He raised his voice even higher and said
“Didn’t you hear me, leave now or I’ll call your parents”
The boy didn’t even bother looking up this time, but the stones and the splashes started getting bigger and louder.
Mr.Iyer finally thundered “Get up now!!!” He was sure the entire apartment heard him.
The boy looked up, glared and spit out
“My parents pay maintenance too, and as per the society bylaws, this part of the apartment complex can be used by anyone”.
Mr.Iyer was shocked. First, no one ever responded to his outbursts, and second this child actually had read the society bylaws. No one did either of those two.As Mr.Iyer grabbed his paper, and stalked back home half an hour earlier, his temper was raging. Its only when he got to house he realized, the boy was still at the fountain, but he had left!
Through the next week, the boy kept coming back and throwing stones into the fountain. Mr.Iyer was sure it was just to annoy him. If Mr.Iyer had his way the boy deserved a real spanking. That’s when he decided to speak to the parents. At least those people would be afraid of him
The next day instead of going to the fountain, he knocked on the door, where the new neighbors had moved in. The door was opened by a sleepy maid. On enquiring about the residents, he was rudely told that the father was on an assignment abroad and the mother would be back late from her meeting. As he walked back to the fountain, he was sure of the reason for the insolence .He had no discipline in his life.
Mr.Iyer decided that he would teach that boy discipline.
As he sat with his paper again, the boy was across staring morosely into the fountain. Seeing Mr.Iyer he brightened up and then started throwing rocks into the fountain.
Mr.Iyer cocked an eyebrow at him and said
“When I was your age, I would have got walloped by my father for being rude to elderly person”.
The boy stopped and looked at him
“Well, at least you had dad around to wallop you”
Mr. .Iyer said “Young man , it seems, that you have never been walloped in your life, so you don’t know !”
“Well, you haven’t spent the last year speaking to a web cam, instead of your dad, so you don’t know!!”.
Mr.Iyer didn’t know the right response to that, so silence reigned for some time.
Suddenly Mr.Iyer heard music, the boy was blaring it through the cell phone.
“So all kids have these cells nowadays, no wonder you don’t know how to talk to people”
“Well that needs to taught by adults, and with you all constantly busy, it’s easier to message than talk” ,pat came the reply
Mr.Iyer was tired of this little smart mouth.
“Don’t you have homework to do?” he asked
“Well did it at school, while waiting for the driver to pick me up. He’s always late, so he can ask mom for overtime pay”
“So who helps you with the homework at school?”
“I don’t need help; these problems in school are so easy. Dad is sure I am genius or something, but in this country he says I can’t grow to my full potential” said the boy puffing with pride.
Mr. Iyer was angry, not at the child but at the father. He had lived through the Indian Independence movement in 1947 and wore his patriotism like a second skin.
“Well don’t say that. This is the country of Gandhi and Nehru, every person can become whatever they want to be”
“Did you ?” asked the boy
Mr.Iyer was dumbfounded. That was the question that had haunted him from the day he retired five years ago. His life had been a steady stream of duties from the day he lost his father at eighteen, He had looked after his six siblings first, then his children and somewhere in there his dreams had withered. He felt angry at everybody - his family , his friends and his colleagues the day he retired. Forty years of hard toil didn’t mean anything. His siblings had their own lives, his children grown and left as soon as possible and his wife, was content in spending the rest of their life alternatively between TV soaps and prayer sessions that lasted days. His colleagues refused to respond to his calls, the day after he quit.
Mr.Iyer didn’t talk to the boy after that . But funnily enough for the next month , the child would sit opposite him everyday and play his video games, or read a book. Not talking , but only silent acknowledgement when their eyes met.
One day the Mr.Iyer was in his usual place, but the boy was missing. He came later, eyes swelled up , clearly he had been crying.
Lowering his paper, he said “did someone finally wallop you? Even if they did, boys don’t cry”
Tear stained face looked up and said “No they didnt !! I am not crying, I have an allergy”
On Mr.Iyer’s silence he continued , sniffing and leading to what happend
“The teacher made a grammar mistake today at class. I corrected him. He looked at me and told me he knew better and I was wrong and that’s why children need school, to learn ,not to teach. Then he asked me to stand up on a bench till lunch time”.
Mr.Iyer said “That doesn’t sound bad!. Lots of times teachers scold kids”
The boy got up in agitation and said “All I do is study and read.If I am not good at studies, then I am not good at anything. . I hate that teacher, and he was wrong. I wish I can make him stand outside the class on a bench for a whole day”
Mr.Iyer smiled and said “Do you know what I did to my fourth standard teacher, who walloped me for talking in class. I climbed up on the roof, waited till he walked in the corridors below and poured purple ink on top of his bald head. He looked like an eggplant for the whole week”
That visual started the pair laughing and the first smile broke through.
Mr.Iyer surprised himself, by offering to teach the boy cricket, so he would be involved in something other than reading all the time. Well he thought to himself that would at least discipline him to a certain extent.
Everyday now, Mr. Iyer looked forward to his fountain time. “That boy” , as he called him, was a quick learner. He had picked up “reverse swing” in a couple of days. That boy was Richard Hadley in the making, he was sure. Without knowing it, slowly a trickle of kids started coming through to the fountain. A club formed and Mr.Iyer as coach, used his voice to ensure that all had chances to play and learn. While the interested played, the others quizzed Mr.Iyer about independence, his days playing cricket on madras roads and days before cellphone.The booming voice now rang with laughter rather than rage. Mrs.Iyer had to come down to see what made her husband smile so much nowadays. She was drawn into the circle of children , that she became the official storyteller of the bunch. Mr.Iyer never knew his wife had the talent to weave tales , that sometimes he found himself listening as eagerly to her stories, than any of the kids around
A couple of months later , he noticed, that “the boy” didn’t come down to play. He wanted to go and check up on him, but his time was occupied by the club matches played with the neighboring apartments. A few days later he noticed a moving truck and he saw the boy helping to load it. As soon as he saw him, the boy disappeared. The truck moved out that night and so did the family.
The next day a card was stuck to the door. It said "open on Sunday". Mr.Iyer was sure it was from the boy
On Sunday, Mr.Iyer woke up at the crack of dawn to open his card. It said
“HAPPY FATHER’S DAY”
“Mr.Iyer I didn’t want to meet you before I left, because I would cry and I know you said boys don’t cry !. I brought this card for my father, but I have to give it to you. You made me smile you were my friend and taught me a lot more than all my teachers did. Could you please let other kid know how you stole mangos into class or walked at the independence march, we never get to read that in the books . Every time I see an eggplant now or play cricket, I will be thinking of you”
Aditya (That’s my name, not “You Boy”)
As tears slipped down Mr.Iyer’s face, he realized men did cry. He started to teach the boy discipline but the child had taught him about his own life. He moved towards his blue shirt, but this time the spring was back in his step after forty years.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Tess turned up her collar against the cold and stared at the red brick building. It would be good being back in school again. She remembered the last time she was in school, “Tess the Mess” was the taunt she had lived with her whole life. Her parents didn’t have too much, so she usually had to make do with whatever she had. A quickly sown up tear or run down pinafore made sure she was properly clothed, but sure didn’t protect her from the remarks of the kids in the class.A new school, a new beginning was all she was hoping for
As she stepped in the classroom, the silence settled over the class in a minute. She walked to the blackboard and in big, bold letters wrote down “Miss Tess Jennings”. She smiled and thought “gosh it was better to come back as teacher, than a student any day”. As she introduced herself to the 30 odd fourth graders settled in, she scanned their faces. Trying to memorize their names, as the roll call went on. Her brain was trying to match the description given by the third grade teacher, Ms. Geddie, to each of the students.
Amelia Hollindase – “The pretty one and she knew it, so be careful”
Richard Smith - “Always trying to please the teacher, you might have an apple sitting on the table everyday”
Brenda Gayheart – “Be careful of her mother , she will pull your hair out if she thinks you have given her daughter a bad grade”
And so she went on till she reached William Stevenson. That boy ,with his gangly limbs and head of unruly red hair was the one she was most interested in. He had been a straight ‘A’ student till the second grade, then his parents split up. After couple of months, his grades dwindled and then he didn’t he participate in school basketball , which he loved. Ms. Geddie had been concerned and called his parents. As the meeting slowly burst into an abuse match between the parents, Ms.Geddie had suggested Will set up an appointment with a psychologist . So Will had been in therapy for the last 9 months and in class he still was a now a "B” grade student . He would always stare out of the window even when the teacher was taking a lesson. Ms. Geddie had always excused him feeling sorry for what he was going through.
As Tess came back to the present, she caught site of Will, still staring out of the window. With Will being the tallest, she couldn’t even pull him to the front of the class to actually look at her when she taught . Tess had taken a couple of classes in psychology in her grad school and she was sure she could sort through whatever emotional tangle this poor boy was going through.
The next week , Tess reached home, carrying the bulk of homework assignments the class had submitted the day before. As she read through each of the essays about “Great American heroes”, she could make out some of them were actually written by the parents. When she reached Will’s essay, she thought it was extremely well written by the child himself, however the handwriting was illegible. She could hardly believe a ten year old could write this bad. As she pulled down her psychology 101 textbooks, she wondered if it was 'Parental Alienation' syndrome. Communication was the first to die in an alienated child and the only way to help him she thought was to open communication channels for this child. As she quickly put into a project plan to help this alienated child, she felt confident she was on her way to being a good teacher. Early next morning, she rang up Will’s mother and later his father. She then spoke to the other teachers in school. They were all going to pay attention to Will from now on and try to get him to participate. During class, she was quick to compliment Will on any answers given and give him extra attention. In contrast to helping him , the attention started to make him do worse. He now stared out of the window all the time, even during lunch and even stopped talking to his other classmates .The more he withdrew, the more Tess paid attention to his work and attitude.
Finally two weeks before summer vacation, Tess graded Will’s paper only to find he hadn’t even filled in the basic details. He had left it all a blank. She was angry and frustrated, 6 months she had tried her best but this child kept slipping. The next day after class, she asked him to stay back. Handing him the paper , she kept quiet waiting for him to say something. But as he continued to stare into his shoes and the silence stretched into 15 minutes, Tess finally broke it .
"What’s the matter with you” she asked. “We all are trying to help you out but you keep wanting to hold yourself back. Don’t you want to do well , have friends or even be back on the basketball team” .
As he slowly looked up, she gazed into a pair of dark green eyes. Funny she had never know how his face looked up close till now.
“Help me, Help me??” He asked. “All you have done since you came here, is make my life miserable, talking to me all the time. Now all the kids call me Tess’s pet. I was ok till you came; now my life is miserable”. As the words sank into Tess , she cringed with regret. She forgot how cruel the kids could be , especially to someone they thought the teacher liked. Shaking her head she said “I’m sorry, I just wanted to help you. You are so bright and intelligent, I don’t understand why you don’t do as well nowadays”.
For the first time since she had been there, she saw a smile breakout on Will’s face. “You really think I’m bright” he asked, she enthusiastically nodded . The she asked him a question that every kid and teacher wanted to know. “Why do you stare out of the window? There is nothing there but an empty field and two rocks”. As those green eyes rested on her , he said “Well you know you’re the first person to ask me that !. My parents, teachers and even the psychologist never asked me that one”. As she waited for an answer, his gaze again wandered to the fields in the view.
“Well” he said “I can’t see the blackboard ,alright!!! ”.
He continued “ So instead concentrating on something I can’t see, I look at something close , like window sill but concentrate on what you are saying.It helps me to study better ”.
As his answer thundered through Tess’s brain she called herself a hundred kinds of fool. All the teachers, the parents and the psychologist were so concerned with his mind, that they didn’t even think of the simplest thing, it was staring at them right through his big green eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell us” she asked.
He shrugged and said “I would look like a dork with glasses , and anyway my parents have far bigger stuff to fight about”.
“So you’re not angry at your parents” she asked.
“Of course not, most of my friends have parents who are not together and this way they don’t fight all the time. I had my friends to talk to, but because of your constant attention, they keep teasing me all the time ” he replied
Tess smiled. “Ok, do you want to be Tess’s pet forever. If you don’t want ,then ,you need to get a pair of glasses” she replied.
As Will mused over this, he finally said “I think Dork is better than Tess’s pet”.
Tess felt as if a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “ I will ask your mom to take you to the ophthalmologist tomorrow, but you have to retake the test on Monday to get a better grade ”.
Will shrugged and turned to leave. But before he walked out, he suddenly turned ,smiled and said “Thank you”.
As Tess pulled out her cell to call his mother, she felt she had learnt her first teaching lesson. She now knew to always ask the student first before putting Sigmund Freud into action , because teaching didn’t always adhere to the text book answers, it required common sense and heart to sometimes see a situation clearly.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
As she and Pat moved into their various colleges, the emails had always kept them in touch . Jenny now had a lovely flower shop in downtown jersey and in love with a wonderful man , a singer on his way to stardom, she was sure. Now she was invited back as one of the bridesmaid, though she had no idea why !. As she hurried towards the brides dressing room, she nearly tripped over two old ladies huddled by the landing. As she apologized and smiled. One old lady, looked at the other and said “Why couldn’t Joe marry a nice one like this brunette , not the crazy blonde above”. As the other nodding, quickly agreed and said “Well you know, its for all the millions she blackmailed out of her dad”.
Jenny shocked quickly ran up the steps. Oh she had always known about Pat’s getting money out of her dad through every possible means , but everyone else knowing about it shocked her further. Pat had been ruthless with anyone is her way. Be it friends or relatives it was her way or no way.
Jenny felt sad for Pat, as most people were always acting false around her. As she entered the brides room, she was greeted with shrieks .Now this felt more like a wedding. Pat in her yards of silk lace looked really pretty. The other ladies had already changed into their bright pink gowns. Jenny would rather be dead than caught in it, but she had to because Pat had asked her. Pat rolled her eyes, when Jenny entered her vision. “Always late Jenny, don’t you know its my wedding”????. You were supposed to help me dress”? she yelled in her pitched voice. As Pat’s mother tried to calm her down, Jenny apologized. She tried to divert Pat, by telling her how beautiful she thought Pat looked and how gorgeous the church seemed. Pat seemed momentarily happy for the compliments. That’s how Jenny survived with Pat, constant compliments. As the ladies started getting in line, Jenny prayed that she was'nt the first in the line. She wouldn’t want to be right in the front of God, knowing all the whispers going on behind her. As the photographer called Pat for the pre-wedding snaps, the bridesmaids were left alone in the room. A tall redhead, who was currently working her way through a Manhattan and a fry spoke suddenly. “Well I would give this marriage, 9 months at the most, anyone else on the bet?”. Jenny watched in horror, as each of the ladies started putting in their bets ranging from 15 days to a year. When it came to her turn Jenny couldn’t do it and could only shake her head mutely. The redhead, Laura, who was the maid of honor , looked at her and said” maybe your new , but we have known Pat for 3 years”. Jenny had known her the last 13 but really didn’t want to volunteer that information. Laura continued talking about all the things Pat had done in her life including blackmailing her father, pushing her brother back into drugs and taking a friends boyfriend just on a whim. Jenny was sure all this was confided in secret to Laura, but it sure seemed that Laura didn’t take it that way. Now Jenny knew why everyone downstairs, was abuzz with Pat’s miscreant attitude. The conversation suddenly shifted when Pat reentered the room, aglow with her pictures being taken. Jenny was trying to walk in her shapeless pink gown, when Laura shoved her Manhattan in her hands to hold. Simultaneously Pat turned around and the shots of Manhattan splattered onto Pat’s train. As Jenny was the one holding the glass in the end, Pats enraged eyes met her’s.
Pat's tirades were legendary. People who were 20 miles off could hear her and get a migraine. She started off with Jenny’s background, her upbringing and finally hit home with her usual “everyone is jealous of me”. Jenny apologized, but as Pat’s tirade grew, so did Jenny’s anger. She had put up with this attitude through her life, defending this girl against her own friends and finally trying to protect her against the world’s view of her. As she opened her mouth to tell her about her so called maid of honor who was blackening Pat's name, bridesmaids and friends who were betting against her, she caught sight of Pat’s mothers. Tears in her eyes, reflecting her shame of her own daughter and apologizing to Jenny simultaneously. She couldn’t go through with telling Pat off. Jenny continued to apologize, while the wedding planner quickly cleaned up the spots on the train with some white powder. As everyone rushed to tell Pat she looked fine, while rolling their eyes behind her back. Pats mother just held Jenny’s hand and muttered a quick thank you.
As the procession moved towards the church, Jenny murmured a hail Mary for the God looking out for her. She had friends who would say stuff right to her face, but would protect her back from bullets if necessary. As the wedding progressed, and bride glowed and the groom got drunk, Jenny got into her little Volkswagen to run back to her flat. She wondered if a true friend would have told Pat about all the people who were thrashing her, but she then smiled because Pat would never know a true friend till she actually became one.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Ric, as he liked to call himself was the X generation. He was born in America, loved the culture here and was sure that whatever happened he would be ok, after all he was in the country with a first amendment to free speech. He had somehow worked his way through his masters in Yale Grad and was now working as a founding partner in a Startup in Portland. Life was good. He did do his part to the community by driving a Prius, sending a 100$ to the food harvest fund and running a 5mile marathon for breast cancer(mainly because he was trying to please a girl from his yoga class). He never did understand his parents nature to talk about the good old times in Poland. What could be better than America in 2008 he wondered.
Ric had to meet an venture capitalist in Idaho . He never had visited the state and never wanted to till his 18th year. That was when he met Alan Hunter, his roommate and pal for life. Alan was from Idaho, but you could never guess it from all the crazy situations he had managed to get them in and out of. They had bunked innumerable classes together to get into so many run ins with campus security that Jack Chapman, the dean had their parents number on his speed dial. But the funny thing was Ric had never met Al’s parents. Al had always managed to soothe Jack by just talking to him .That was Al’s magic, his gift of the gab. He seemed to convince teachers that upgrading their grades from a D to a B- was in the students benefits, sorority girls that dating either him or Ric was a good social cause and the best one of all, convincing Jack Chapman to actually give them their degree, inspite of lacking 95% attendance. But what shocked Ric the most was that Alan decided to go back to Idaho to manage his fathers business, then take up his choice of a job in the advertising market.Ric hadn’t seen him in 5 years, but they stayed in touch through mails and an occasional phonecall.
After a successful meeting, Ric decided to call Al when his gaze wandered to the date. It was Al’s birthday today .He put Al’s number into his I-phone and it took approximately 5 seconds to return his address. He wanted to surprise Al and maybe finally he would meet his parents. After driving for about 2 hours, Ric finally arrived into a small town.He couldn’t believe that Al had settled down here. It looked like it didn’t have a Starbucks or even a multiplex. Shaking his head, he wondered if this would be a good time to ask his old pal to join him in the business. He slowly drove his car into a pathway which seemed to go up a hill. A couple of cars followed his, no wonder for Al’s party. He wished he had brought a better gift; he had picked up a shirt from a local mall. Now, he prayed that Al was the same size that he was 5 years back.
As Ric stepped from his car, he looked around to see people in different attires. Must be a costume party , he thought. Funny, though most of men seemed to be dressed in the shorts and the ladies in Heidi dresses. As he rang moved through the throng, into an open doorway, trying to catch a glimpse of Al, he stopped in his tracks. There were a dozen men in Nazi regalia. Though it was probably a costume party, Ric thought it was in very bad taste. His grandfathers’ stories of the death camps and shooting squads sprang on him like never before. Trying to spot Al’s golden head through the crowd, all Ric could think about was getting out of there as quick as possible. Snatches of conversation kept hitting him. ‘Superior’, ‘Pure blooded’, ‘Segregation’ and ‘Aryan nation’. As his brain tried to assimilate what was going on, he saw Al on a podium smiling, and wearing another Nazi uniform. As he internally retched, old senior lady stopped him and smiled. “Are you here for the first time” she asked. As he dumbly nodded, she said “its nice to have new blood. We need young people to stop the Jews and Colored folk from contaminating our pure Aryan blood. I am sure your blood oath will not be wasted today”. As she was talking Ric, couldn’t believe the filth that was permeating in the minds around him. He was shocked and appalled, that such violence and hate still resided in this decade. He thought the villains in the world were long bearded men hiding in caves in Afghanistan, but how could you fight little old ladies. As the buzzing around him grew louder, he suddenly felt Al’s eyes on him. He knew he would be dead in less than 5 minutes. Al had only to let this group know he was a Jew. If an old lady hated Jews so much, how much would that ugly bald guy in the corner with a swastika on his arm hate him?
As Al moved towards him, he stayed rooted not able to move. He somehow had an inkling of his grandfathers fear but greater courage at that moment. Remembering words from the Torah to give him strength, he stared Al in the eyes, almost defying him. Al face didn’t change to much , He smiled a bit and shook Ric’s hand . “Happy Birthday”, was the only thing that Ric managed to say,while he dumped the shirt in Al's hand .Al turned to the old lady and said “Grom, this is my old roommate -Richard Braun”. As Ric , blinked he knew Al was protecting him again, as he did all those times in school. As the same introduction flew between the other members Al simply mentioned that Ric’s grandpa was in Poland in WWII. Al let everyone think that Ric was the grandson of a Nazi soldier. As the pats and smiles came his way, all Ric wanted to do was throw up. Al, making conversations on the way quietly led him back to his car.
Ric jumped in and scanned Al’s face , his mind was still trying to understand the monster behind the friends face. Al looked at him and shrugged. “We all have to live with legacies” he said. “Yours in surviving the holocaust and mine is being the cause. Do you know Ric, I was named after my great grand uncle ,but changed my name.But I couldn’t change my family. So I live with them and bear this craziness, to contain them in this little neck of the woods. If this is unleashed, then we will be staring at another killing zone”. As Al closed the car door and started moving away, Ric asked what was you uncle called ? Al just turned back and said “ Adolf Hitler”
As Ric drove away, he said a little prayer and picked up the phone to ring his mother. He would be there for Shavuot and every occasion after that.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
She was 18 once, pretty and her only care in the world was what color her prom dress would be. With her curls and blue eyes, she was everyone’s darling. Especially her granddad’s . She was his “Jamie”. He was sure she would shoot to fame. “Success is just a stone throw away for you Jamie”, he would constantly say. She grew up believing that. She knew that once she was old enough to drive out of her small town, she would be lapped up by Hollywood. The day after her graduation ceremony she had caught a gray line out of Redville, Colorado She landed in Los Angeles full of dreams ,which started diminishing the minute she saw the first blond with body like Rachel Hunter’s waitressing at MacDonald’s. As she started making the rounds of the agencies, she always got the same answer. She was a natural beauty but there wasn’t much place in the current industry for that. Nowadays , she had to be a size zero with lips of Angelina Jolie to even attend most of the calls. She was so alone in this new world, where every one of her previous beauty marks was a flaw. Her hair was “Too curly”, Her eyes too big and her size 6 a little too fat. She made the first mistake when she allowed Jack , an agent tell her she was perfect. A year in Hollywood should have taught her that no one was considered perfect. When he took her life savings, he took her last hope of becoming the next Debra Winger.
She married a guy who promised her a part in his next movie. The only part he forgot to mention was that he probably was not going to make one for another 20 years . He was arraigned the day after their honeymoon for bank fraud. She started waitressing the day, she left the courtroom. The last 9 years she had gone from Hooters to Ric’s Diner on the corner of 22nd and 5th. Who would have thought the girl voted most likely to succeed, would be praying for a head waitressing job, so she could pay off her four thousand dollar credit card payment. She had incurred that paying for the bails bondsman , when her heel of a husband jumped bail and ran to Mexico. She knew she could never return home, to a place where she was once popular and beautiful.
But now she was waiting for the bus. Grandpa had passed away . There wasn’t much left . Just an old patch of land where his cabin stood. She was sure with the recession going on, she wouldn’t get more than 500 dollars for it. At least that would pay for this trip. As she watched the landscape change from the silver steel twining structures to the light yellows and browns of the corn fields, she wept a little. She straightened up as she walked to the little cabin. The funeral had taken place the week before, she had wanted to be there but her 15 year old supervisor refused to let her have some time off. As she sniffed and look at the mountain behind the cabin, a sense of calm settled over her. She could still hear her grandpa humming a Dean Martin tune, cooking the tuna casserole for dinner., That’s the only thing he knew how to make after grandma died.
She walked outside in her bare feet, feeling the cold pebbles and stones between her feet. Suddenly it started snowing. Flakes glinting in the cabin lights looked like crystals . She closed her eyes ,and it was the night of her prom again. She was again the prom queen , and the flakes transformed into the neon tube lights on the dance floor. As she swirled, listening to her granddad sing in her head, she tripped on a stone and fell flat into the snow. As laughter bubbled inside her , she look at the rock she tripped on. She took it in her hand and was about to throw it… “for you grandpa ,because you always said success was just a stone’s throw away”… as she swung her hand back, the stone glinted. She took it rubbed it and it shone. She felt like keeping it,maybe it was just granite but she wanted to check it out.
The next morning, Jamie took that stone to Mr.Horowitz , the town jeweler. To the jewelers and her mind blowing surprise , it was a beautiful 3.2 Carat diamond hidden in the stone. Grandpa had filled in a ditch in the front yard with the stones, which he had purchased of sailor of Ghana ship for five dollars on a trip to Sacramento. Jamie sold that stone and paid her bills. As she sat in the cabin looking at the snowflakes glinting off her twenty million dollar stones, she smiled., her grandpa had been right after all. “Success was a stones throw away”
Monday, May 19, 2008
As Sam put out her arms to him in a gesture of pick up and kiss, Shaw knew it would make him late, but who could resist that smile. She pecked him on his cheek and whispered in his ear. “Daddy ,a fairy gave me her treasure, and I want you to keep it”. Saying that she slipped a muddy blue stone into his white shirt pocket. Shaw’s perfect white shirt now had a stain the size of the quarter staring out at the world to see. Knowing that he would never have time to change and leave , he shrugged, kissed his daughter and ran towards his car.
Entering the bank where he worked he tried to quietly slip into the conference room where the meet and greet session for his new manager was in going on. He had tried to hide his stain by wearing an old blazer he found at the back of his car, but the 110 F heat of California summer didn’t help, and now he had sweat patches in places that he never dreamed could sweat It was his turn to meet the manager, the sweat patches grew and so did his anxiety. On stammering out a welcome , all he got back was a quizzical glance down his outfit and a off handed thanks. As they all trouped out to sit at their respective desks, Shaw was certain that the bad morning had officially turned into a bad rest of the year. In the afternoon, the bank was quiet. Old Mrs. Guezzner was there depositing her pension, being half deaf and almost totally blind, she required a lot of help. Shaw helped her, as he felt that he might be in the same position one day. As he was quietly counting the quarters and pennies she wanted to deposit, there was a sudden blast. Looking up he saw Gladys the cashier with her hands in the air, Rory the security guard, lying in a pool of blood on the floor and four armed men with black masks on.
The afternoon sure beat the morning in how bad his life was getting. As he lowered to the floor, one of the armed men asked him about his manager. As he looked around searching for the new face, all he could see was a foot of his manager cowering in the corner. Suddenly the quietness of terror was broken by the siren of the police surrounding the area. Gladys for all her 'blondes are dumb' act, had actually pulled the security function alerting the police. It was then that all hell broke loose at the bank. The terrorist started shooting around, warning the police not to come near. Mrs. Guezzner, who thought that they had been rescued, started walking toward the door. Shaw knew he had to pull her down and without thinking just got up and reached out to her. All he felt then was a blow to his chest that put him a few inches off the ground and into the marble pillars, which old banker Stanton had built in 1941.Darkness then came over him and the last thing he remembered was he had just forty five thousand dollars in his 401(K) , and that wouldn’t be enough for his daughter to go to college.
As the squat team burst into the room, surrounding the masked men , the emergency service immediately rushed to Rory and Shaw’s aid. They had to take Mrs.Guezzner with them as she refused to leave Shaw’s side. Gladys was screaming that Shaw was shot right in the heart. They tried to turn him to his side, they noticed a bruise on his head , but no blood on his shirt. As they tried to make sense of what had happened and revive him, an attendant noticed the tear in his shirt. They then smiled, well this was one lucky man they said, he wouldn’t die, the bullet hadn’t hit him, it was lodged in the pebble in his pocket.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
As she entered her class eagerly awaiting Nana, she looked around and smiled at her teacher. She wanted to be the one closest to the mike when they sang their class song, but she knew , Nana and her being the tallest, would never get close enough.But with her friend close to her she didn't mind being in last row. As she quietly hummed it in her head, trying not to forget a word, she bumped into Nana. Nana was looking pretty in her little red dress. “It is new” she whispered, “My daddy got it from abroad" .Abroad was a term used by them, every time Nana’s father went out of town for work. As Lia marveled at Nana’s new dress, Nana’s looked at her disparagingly. It was then that the teacher asked them to come together on stage to sing. As the girls started coming together in a line Nana turned to Lia and said “You are wearing your dirty pink dress again , don’t your parent buy you anything new?”
Lia’s beautiful world suddenly had a crack in it. She stepped back, turned around and ran to an empty classroom. She missed the function, the balloons and the smiles. As she came back to the group Nana simply walked away from Lia in little pretty red dress. They never spoke again, there was nothing much to say.
Twenty years later, Lia a successful architect now walked into her parents garage, trying to put down the hundredth pile of books her mother packed away. Her gaze suddenly stopped on a suitcase. Opening it up, in the rummage she found her mothers forgotten dresses, her fathers outdated trousers and the most precious of all her little pink dress. As she clutched it hard in her hands, tears poured from her eyes. Nana’s remarks had been those of a child, but the effect had carried Lia to adulthood. She had worked harder after that day at school, then college and finally at work, so that no one child or adult would ever whisper those words to her again. That comment had changed her life from something beautiful to the hard reality of the world. She didn’t know if she was thankful or filled with regret about that day, but one thing she was sure, she still loved her little pink dress. Wiping away her tears, she picked up h her little pink dress as she was sure, her daughter would make a lovely tulip.