Sometimes eight year old hearts want revenge.
She woke up in the darkness of the night. Tiptoeing past her mother and brother, who were sleeping on mats in the living room, she went into the hall to check the time. The wall clock showed 3 AM. Just a few more hours, she thought. Will he think I have grown up? What presents will he bring? She chided herself for thinking about the presents. After all, he was coming after three years. Will he scoop me up in his arms, like they do in that advertisement? The whole scene was so picture-perfect, she wondered. Does it happen in real life too? Amma had told her that advertisements and films do not always project the truth. She tiptoed back into bed and remained there quietly, awake until he finally arrived.
” Appa! ”
He smiled at her. No scooping up in arms, she sadly thought. Tomorrow was another day. Maybe…
” Are you up so early?”
“I was waiting for you, Appa! Do you want to see my English class work book? My teacher gave me a ‘very good’,you know? And..”
” Um.. that’s good.”
Amma brought him a cup of coffee. He drank it, while trying to pry open his suitcase between sips. She hung around awkwardly, curious yet scared. Three years had not dimmed the memory of his sometimes angry self.
The suitcase seemed to be full of treasures- perfumes, clothes, colouring books, trinkets…
And then she saw it.
A pretty yellow polka dotted dress. Her heart raced wildly:I can’t wait to wear it! How she could dance along, looking like one of those posh kids in her school! Maybe she could wear her hair down, just that one day..She would look very pretty, she was sure.
” Come here”
She went ahead, unable to control her excitement. He held the dress against her and asked Amma, ” Do you think Bala’s daughter is the same size as her? ”
Baala’s daughter, that was Shruti. Her cousin from Chennai.
” I think this will suit Shruti a lot. We’ll go down to Chennai sometime next week and give it to her, okay? ”
Amma nodded, her mind more worried about the economic concerns of the family. His going abroad had done nothing to improve their state of living. With leeches for relatives, there was nothing more you could expect.
Shruti. Why does she need this dress, she wondered. She has so many pretty dresses.. Tears welled up in her eight year old eyes. She looked at the colouring book and crayon set on her lap. She had been sitting on the terrace for the past one hour, trying to draw birds with the new crayons. All she managed to do was to convince herself that yellow polka dotted dresses did not really matter one bit.
He came in from his morning walk, slightly sweaty and out of breath. Retirement had brought in a voracious ennui into his life and he felt himself sapped of all energy. He did not feel motivated to do anything. And now, his daughter had also flown the coop. She had decided to stay back in the US for another three years to complete her Ph.D as well.
He settled down in his easy chair, with the day’s newspaper. The usual stuff, he thought. Politician caught in scam. School kid commits suicide. Bus accident kills four. Earthquake claims two hundred.
Suddenly the phone rang. The long beep told him it was an international call. Before he could bring himself up to answer, his wife picked it up.
” Oh! It’s you.. I am so relieved to hear your voice kanna! How is everything?”
He knew it was her. It had been so long since she had called! Everyday he would wait for her call, though he knew she called up only on weekends. If she was free, that is. Work and studies kept her very busy. He felt a little angry, will she never understand how this old heart clamours for a word from her? How it waits for one phrase, ” How are you, Appa ” ?
His wife handed him the phone. Finally she seemed to have remembered him!
” Hi Appa.”
” Hello! How are you doing? How is everything going? Are you eating properly? You remember Kichami uncle from Chennai? He had…”
” Um, Appa, the line might get cut anytime. I have just a minute left on the card. You take ca…”
He put the phone back into the cradle and went back to reading his newspaper.
Sometimes eight year old hearts have their revenge.