Letter to Lucy

Darling Lucy,

How are you? Hope you are feeling better! I am missing you a lot! It has been two long days since you left us. I did n’t expect you to leave so suddenly when I was not home. Your absence is so strong, palpable in the air around me. At the same time I didn’t want you to suffer so much. I understand that you were having such a terrible time in breathing. You felt so in restless that you ran from the front door to the back door and to the front door again. Do you remember that? It was Thursday, March 29th when Lasu dropped his dog Milton here with us. I bet you were thrilled to see him around. That afternoon you even eat a little food from his bowl. Everyday, I used to give the same food to both of you,but you thought that Milton’s food was more special than yours. You are silly! It is the opposite. I used to sneak a piece of chapati, spoonful of Basmati rice into your food bowl, so that you will finish your food without any fuss. I am not sure what happened that night. I noticed you ran towards the front door and then to the back door. Dad thought you wanted to go for a walk and I opened the front door and called you to follow me without the leash. You leaped forward,sniffing the whole front lawn eagerly, but decided to come back inside and followed me to the kitchen. It felt like your heart had jumped through a hundred hoops.Your eyes were begging for something and maybe I did not understand properly. I gave you two pieces of the lemon bread and you ate them all,you licked the bowl clean and even licked the floor. Did you really like the bread or wanted to  make me happy?    

Hope you are having fun- enjoying your time in taking longer naps, smelling beautiful flowers and walking around. I have read in books that heaven is the most blissful place. I would love to know how you are passing your time. You are always shy at strangers at first but slowly warmed up to them. Make more friends and enjoy each bit.

 It is hard to come home without you following me around, dozing at my feet while I was reading a book or watching Netflix. Yesterday I warmed up two rotis for you and some steamed broccoli. I sat at the dinner table and pretended that you were standing there very close to the chair and begging for food without blinking your eyes. In the night I woke up three times to check on you; to make sure if you are breathing fine or if you want to go out. You were in deep sleep on your navy bed with two white pillows at both sides. You enjoyed leaning your head on the pillows. I did not hear your click-clock sound on the floor so I went back to sleep. But it is not that easy! I can still feel your presence. I assumed you were standing besides my bed and staring at my face. Your beautiful eyes with long white,expressive eyelashes. You knew very well how to tell a story through your eyes. That must be a god-given quality of yours!I  I am confident that you are an angel in the form of a dog.

You always wanted to go on a long drive like Milton does with Lasu. In the middle of March, during my Spring break, you were not feeling well; had a cough and lost your appetite. Dad was thinking of leaving you with Chad for a few days until we return from a trip. This is Covid time so we couldn’t fly, so I thought you may enjoy the ride with us rather than staying back here in Kingwood. A car ride! You came to the car wagging your long bushy tail and with a buzz of excitement. It made me excited, too.Three of us in our Toyota Rava left for Zion National park. It was a pretty long drive but we stopped time to time to help you in eating food and water. While I was driving, I noticed how occasionally, you lifted yourself from your dog bed, leaned on the back window and watched the scenery passing by. You stuck your nose out the window, drinking in the smells that rushed pass.Remember how windy it was while driving through the national forest and you wanted to drink water. We stopped the car on the roadside and opened the trunk to help you. I gave you a few pieces of the potato fry and insisted you to eat your medicine. You were so stubborn to eat the medicine that I had to wrap the medicine in a piece of bread to help you swallow it. It was not that bad. Was it? I bet you didn’t know that you eat the medicine. You looked outside and was surprised when the whole bag of fry flew out from my hand and the bag rolled over towards the other side of the road. You didn’t know that it was the wind and you thought I threw it. Right? We started driving. You sat there and watched the magnificent desert sunset with us.The sky was tinged with color, a motley jumble of pink, purple and yellow streaks that bore down from the west. It was so pretty!You lifted your head. A moment later, as if the two actions were secretly connected, a shaft of light came slanting through the clouds. It struck the sidewalk an inch or two from your right paw, and then almost immediately, another beam landed just to your left paw. As you turned your head towards me, a great bucketful of light poured down on your face, crashing against your eyelids. You blinked and I laughed. “It’s okay Lucy, go back to your sleep.” You lowered your head. As it got dark, you took a nap. I could tell you were weak and tired-too tired to finish your food. We were a little relaxed to see you enjoying all the food like lemon bread, pound cake, cheerios in warm milk. I was so grateful to you for giving us the company and your love.

We will be always grateful to you in bringing joy to our hearts. You reminded us to slow down and enjoy life around us and taught us to be calm.Every thought, every memory, every particle of the air and earth is saturated with your presence. In the morning when I eat the oatmeal I look around, expecting you to appear in front of me and beg for a spoonful of oatmeal. You always appear at the door when I leave for work and when I return and now I am looking all over for you. Fifteen years is a long time and you have given us so much happiness and love! Today I am wishing you all the best and praying for you to have a smooth transition to your next life. If you see us anywhere then please give us a hint or run towards us and give us a tight hug.I will even welcome you in my dream.

Until we meet again- bye for now

Yours loving

Mom

Haikus during my last drive with Lucy

“A long drive

She watches the scenery drive by

Beautiful national forest”

“ Cotton puff clouds

Dancing sunlight on the tips of the mountains

Her eyes at beautiful Zion”

“Vermillion cliff

Dazzles in sunlight in a stretch

Watching together”

Haiku after Lucy passed away

“A lonely home

My eyes search for her everywhere

Now she has wings”

On a Sunday

Sometimes life just happens.

“Hi Liza! It is so nice to see you!”

Liza rolls down her car window.“Grocery pick Up? Hm, Liza smiles waving her hands at Robert. “How is everything going?”

“ Nothing much, just holding on.Time to time, I come to pick up groceries.” He says, “I have a great idea! Why don’t you come to my house in the evening today?We will chit chat and have a good time.”

Liza looks startled. She does not want to visit during this pandemic time. “Let’s wait a few more weeks.” 

Robert did not take his gaze off Liza. He insisted Liza that she should come to his house. And Liza could not deny the request of his friend, so she agreed to visit on the condition that they should have a mask on and keep 6 feet of distance. 

“Sure! You got it.” He replies with a nod.

In the evening, Liza arrives at Robert’s townhouse. Robert opens the door and his dog wags his tail ears pricked and then trotted forward. He is vibrating with eagerness to see Liza.Rex padds up to Liza and thrusts his nose into her hand.

“It’s okay,pal.” Robert rubs the special spot behind the dog’s ears.”Liza, this is my dog Rex.” In the shadows of the darkened room Rex looked more like a wolf than a dog but a very handsome one. At the living room wall, Liza notices a most extraordinary painting of Budha.

“Stunning!” Liza says. “Certainly brings so much peace just staring at his face!”

“ It was done back in my college days.”

“ You are so artistic! Are you still painting?” Liza asks, still glancing at the painting.If she moves her head to the right or left, certain brush strokes subtly change their tint. In other places the surface is so smooth the color must have floated onto canvas.

“ You should display in it our department!” Liza suggests.

“No, no I prefer it to be in my home.I am not that great.” he walks towards the painting. “ My grandmother had a quick eye for fine art and she helped me a lot in teaching me how to draw and paint. Now I do paint in my spare time which is available plenty now.” He laughs.

All this spilled out of him, from a math Professor! Unbelievable. He adjusts his mask and pulls two chairs for them to sit. “ I am excited for the online classes to start! How about you?” 

Liza leans back on her chair. “ I am glad but I hope the pandemic will leave so that we can go back to our normal life.” she sighs!

Robert pulls out one of his artwork from behind the table. “This is another painting I just started.” He puts the painting on his desk. “During this strange time, when yo are cooped up inside your house, creativity finds it ways.” Liza nods her head while casting  a closer look at the painting. It is a picture of a Beach front- wooden benches on the boardwalks face the sea, all empty. Circles of light under the boardwalk’s long rows of street lamps and the lamps have receded to a vanishing point. In a distance the waves are coming in. A few birds are pecking on the sand for food. Liza sighs. “ So realistic!

“ I was there last week. It was so quiet that you could forget the sidewalks and wander in the middle of them anywhere. The digital billboard ads blared, beaming down on nobody.” Robert says moving the painting from the desk.

Liza sits straight on her chair and says,“ Yesterday, I was talking to one of my elderly neighbors whose wife has a severe memory problem. She had been acting strangely for several days-not eating properly or responding when her husband speaks. A few days back she was disoriented and very anxious. It got so severe that he had to call the ambulance and guess what, her test came out to be  positive for the Corona virus. He does not know what is going to happen to his wife.”

“It is really sad!” Robert changes the story. “ I heard that you like photography. Is it true?”

Liza smiles. “I do in my spare time which I also have plenty. My first camera was a present from my grandfather. I was enthralled by the magic one could create in the dark. It has been ten years since I had sat down with my family and announced my decision to pursue a career as a photographer. The news landed with the force of a grenade in my home, although I was at a loss to understand why. My country has changed so much! I read in the newspaper how young ladies in my country are changing the old norm and embracing the new. It should have been obvious that I was  passionate about taking pictures. But the scene in the elegantly appointed living room of my parent’s home still rang in my ears. “ Liza, photography is just a hobby,” my mother said. “ You can continue that even after your wedding. I’m sure that Das’ family will not mind at all.”

At that point I informed my parents that I will not marry. My mother was first horrified and then finally, furious. My father had warned me that if I continued with my crazed plan to become a professional photographer then he would cut off all the financial support until I came to my senses.

I did not want to marry the person whom I don’t love. He is indeed a handsome, charming man, Liza reflected. On the surface, he appeared to be everything a woman in her world could ask for in a husband, But she does not want to marry at all because she knows for sure that after the wedding is over, her in-laws may not allow her to pursue her dream. She wanted to create art,pictures that make people stop and take a second look. Things have changed since then. I decided to take a teaching job in the university and my photography has stayed just as a hobby, like the way my mother predicted.”

“ It is indeed a interesting story!” Robert laughs. 

Liza pushes the chair back. “ I should get going because. It is really nice talking with you.”

“Please call me or stop by if you get bored.Hopefully in a month we will be able to get back to our classes.”

“ I hope the same.” Liza says.

A recent Photograph

“ Can you feel it mom?”

“ Yes, sweet heart, I can feel your hug. Thank you beta.”

“ I will call you again at the end of next week. And mom, please make sure not to go outside.Not even to uncle’s house. Instead, call all our relatives and talk to them on the phone. We have so many family members that a month will not be enough!” Anika says.

“ Read some magazines or reread some of your favorite books. Okay mom, bye, take care.”

“ I will.Bye beta,take care.”

Anika logs out from her Zoom call and closes her laptop. As the corona virus made its rapid advance across the country, forced sweeping closure of schools, workplace and businesses with millions of people self-quarantine, Zoom has become a way of life.Anika had a plan to visit her mother in May, but now there is no hope to travel anywhere and God knows when. She pushes her chair back to stand up.

“Mom!”

Her daughter Sinchan stands at the door holding her coloring book. “ Are you going back to work tomorrow?”

Anika hugs her daughter. “ No, I will work from home. And you can play in my room. How come you are not in bed?”

“ I should color one more page before I sleep.” She replies sitting on the floor. “ Yesterday dad told me that coloring relaxes your brain and helps you to fall asleep.So you should color with me to take away your stress from work.”

Anika chuckles pulling her daughter closer. She doesn’t want to miss this opportunity to spend time with her daughter. Bonding is good! Who knows what will happen in this pandemic time! ““come! Let’s color together.” Sinchan opens her coloring book and the box of crayons. 

Next morning, Sinchan wakes up early. She has not seen her friends for a long long time! She counts with her fingers and nods. “It is a very long, long, trillion years! Yep, that is correct.” She walks into their living room and pulls a chair close to the front window. She climbs on a chair and opens the blind to check if any of her friends are there on the street. She finds a few cars parked outside. One black cat is crossing the road with her tail straight up in the air as a flag pole. Sinchan glances to the front yard of their neighbor. The old lady of the house is calling her dog Shi to come inside. Sinchan laughs as she watches Shi running around in the yard and tries to hide in the tall grass in her lawn. Shi does not want to go inside! “ I wish to play with Shi. Mom will not let me go anywhere except to walk with her on the trail. Then we have to wire the mask covering half of our face. I don’t  like it at all!” But her mom tells her dad that the face mask is like a special bar of gold and they laugh. Sinchan walks away from them. Suddenly, Sinchan’s eyes fall on a fat brown squirrel in her front yard. It is running down from the tree with two nuts in its mouth and stops at the middle and then runs faster. Sinchan tries to trace the squirrel. Her face is pressed flat on the glass of the window. “ Where did it go?” She could not find the squirrel and nor any of her friends. She climbs down from the chair. 

Sinchan decides to play with her imaginary friend Reema, a chimpanzee.She walks into her room and there on one side of the bed her friend is still sleeping. “ Good Morning Reema!” Sinchan pulls out the blanket from the top of Reema’s body. “ Wake up! Come,let’s play hide and seek.” Reema pulls the bed cover up to her chin and closes her eyes. 

“ Reema! Come! Let’s go outside and play!” Sinchan shouts. “We have so many nice hiding areas and you will love it!” She begs her friend to play standing at the doorstep.Reema somehow understands her,she stretches her hands up, yawns and slowly sits up on the bed. She climbs down from the bed and rushes to the bathroom to wash her face. Reema slams the door and  runs past Sinchan to their backyard. “ Now we will have tons of fun!” Sinchan follows her friend. Reema runs towards a big tree and hides behind it expecting Sinchan to look for her. Sinchan runs after her, giggling. It lasted for a while until they were bored. So they started a different game- Reema would dip a branch of the tree and Sinchan would jump. If she touches her feet, she wins. They are not keeping score, but are pretty happy.Once Reema gets tired of the game, she wouldn’t come down, only laughed and dropped leaves and twigs on Sinchan. Reema bounces off with her usual feckless joy and signs ‘ chase me’. Reema- she shouts. “ Come, let’s go inside and play something different.”Reema follows her friend.

Inside the house,Sinchan’s mother has almost done with reorganizing her closet. “ Hi, guys did you have lots of fun?” She asks folding a blue dress and arranging it nicely on a hanger.

“ Yes, mom” she replies leaning on to the bed. “ Now we are hungry, hungry like a hippo.”

Her mother laughs. “ Go first wash your hands, change the dress.And remember to count one to twenty while washing your hands.”

“ Mom, my hands will get very dry so I will count up to ten not twenty.” Sinchan says leaving the room.

“It has to be up to twenty dear!” When Sinchan comes out from the bathroom,her dad has switched on the TV to watch the current news. She doesn’t understand why her dad likes to watch the same stuff again and again- stuff on the crazy virus and people protesting on the streets to respect them and treat them equally. She runs to the sofa where her dad is sitting. “ Dad, remember that you watched this last night. Why don’t you watch a story, a happy one?” 

“We need to know what is going on in our city, in our country.” her dad says.

“ But if it is the same stuff going on,then we should watch something different.” Sinchan demands.

Her father switches off the TV,sends a few texts to his brothers and says,

” How about we play Mancala together?” Sinchan claps. “Yeah!”

Briefly Noted

 Today, the air is strikingly clean.The rays of the morning sun fall on the white blooms of the pear trees.Outside in my lawn, squirrels are hopping around on the grass.  l leaned closer to the windowsill to get a better view,-some are looking for food and the others just playing around.In every day of working life, I miss the opportunity to look at nature so frequently. Now I have plenty of time! 

 If I step in to the living room, the news channel that my husband loves watching, is now making me crazy. So I have decided to spend some time recounting the small stack of toilet paper in my bathroom closet. Last time, two weeks back I went to three of the local grocery stores, and all of them were completely out of toilet paper. In one of the stores, which I remember clearly carries its toilet paper and paper towels in aisle number 8. That day that isle was crowded and the shelves were empty.One couple with two small kids had one cart full of twenty four double count of scott toilet paper rolls and another family had six packs of Viva rolls. I stood at one corner of the isle and looked up and down for toilet paper and hoping to get at least one- any brand will work.The isle was crowded and noisy. A few other customers are complaining,arguing and asking not to hoard all but leave some toilet paper rolls for them. One of the angry customers, a tall man with a blue mask on his face, pointed his finger to make it clear and shouted, “It is called sharing!” Another lady pushed her eyeglass up on her nose, lifted her mask, and said, “ Hey,I understand that you have kids, but take three packs and leave a few for us.”  She paced back and forth with frustration and walked back towards the couple and stood in front of their shopping cart. She said, “You know perfectly well that the store may not stock them back for a while. Don’t you know? I need to have one pack.” The couple with the majority of toilet papers in their carts, waved their hand in the air in disagreement and left. Bitter argument, shouting are the last places one should be, so I turned around. I was mad too for not finding any toilet paper,and I picked up some unnecessary, unhealthy items like brownie mix, ingredients to make carrot cake but a few green vegetables to counterfeit the sweets that I will eat for several days of my quarantine. 

 I entered the house with the load of groceries in my hand. As I was washing them and cleaning with clorox wipes,I overheard my husband negotiating airline refund for our international flight to India. We had a plan to take two weeks off in Spring break and visit our families back in India. But now we have to plan for next year. Hopefully this virus will be long gone at that time. After ten minutes of all the cleaning and wiping, I decided to change my clothes and wash my hands for the tenth time. 

It is almost five o’ clock in the evening. I walked into the living room to relax on the couch. If you will look down,you will notice how the beautiful hardwood floor is now full with dog hair.My twelve years old dog Lucy is a mix of German shepherd and boxer and I know perfectly well that she sheds in every spring . But If you are home all the time,then you should clean it. Now that I have washed my hands, I don’t want to touch the vacuum cleaner. I saw that my husband had finished talking with the airline and jolted down something in his notepad. I cleared my throat. “Wow!” Didn’t I vacuum the hair yesterday!” I said. He lowers the volume of the television and stops writing.

 “Yes, what happened?” he asked. I pointed at all  the dog hairs on the floor. “ I vacuumed the floor yesterday!” He smiled calmly and reminded me that it is early Spring, then he said, “ You don’t have to vacuum everyday, and instead just use the broom.” 

“Isn’t it the same thing?” I looked at him to hear his reply, but he had already started typing in his laptop. After vacuuming the whole floor, I washed my hands and decided to take an evening walk. I venture out from isolation, alone for a peek around, filling the stillness with my own narrations on a city’s mood. “It is a beautiful spring day,” said one lady walking with her dog. 

“We’re just not able to really enjoy it.” I smiled, nodded my head as she passed me keeping her distance. After twenty minutes of walk, my eyes fell on the face of a woman in her sixties sitting on a wooden bench talking to her small dog sitting on her lap. She wore plastic gloves and had a scarf wrapped around her face. I stopped a few feet away from her and with a big smile said, “ Hello! You have such a cute dog! Hi!” I waved my have at both of them. She looked at me. “ I’ m so isolated now that I have started spending time talking to my dog.” She cleared her throat. “ Everybody is freaking out. It’s a completely different way of living.” she said.

“I understand, I was so suffocated at home that I decided to take a walk.” I said.

She leaned forward on the bench. “I clean my house, work on the yard, but I miss talking to my friends.” A small smile appeared on her face. “I don’t mind being to myself but mind being forced to be by myself.” She kissed her dog.

“ Do you talk to your friends on the phone?” I asked curiously.

She nodded. “I do, but it is not the same at all. I liked to eavesdrop on people in museums and go to the theatre with friends- and now all gone.”

Her sadness and loneliness touched me and I understood that completely. “ It will pass soon.” I told her in assurance. I waved my hand in the air to say bye and started my walk. As I was walking, the famous poem of Emily Dickinson started playing in my mind. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 

That perches in the soul 

And sings the tune without the words 

And never stops – at all ….”

Stranded

Nick is in his backyard, watering the tomato seedlings that he has just set out to harden before planting them in the garden. Big drops of rain are coming down, dropping the size of half-dollars. They slap the broad leaves of the maple tree, punch the mulch bags at one corner of the yard and clang against the watering can he set down on the deck.

“More rain,” his wife Sheela shakes her head and walks to the edge of the deck,loops her arms around a post and leans out into the rain.

“It’s fine, at least the weather will cool down a little.” Nick ducks back under the covered patio. He wipes the rain from his face with his blue handkerchief, and then folds  the handkerchief up and stuffs it back into his hip pocket. Their fourteen years old dog Quirky stops chasing the lizard and runs to the deck. She shakes the rain water from her body and leans against Sheela’s dress,hiding half of her face into it. She thinks somedays Sheela and Iwan do some type of evil game where thunder and rain appear from nowhere and Quirky has to hide herself either under the bed or in a corner of Iwan’s study room to protect herself.The wind is up now.Rain has scattered across the front part of the deck and three of them retreat toward the house.

Nick walks into the bathroom, pours a good amount of hand soap and  washes his hand singing ABC D.. Sheela laughs. “ It is scary, but at least people are listening,following the simple act of washing and bleaching their hands like Macbeth’s.” She looks at her own hands and sighs. “ My hands are already rashy from scrubbing, soaping and sanitizing.” She continues, “ I wonder how long we have to stay at home and work.” She moves the Time magazine from the top of the sofa to the coffee table and sits. Nick emerges from the bathroom, goes straight to his study room and comes back with his laptop. He sits on the sofa besides his wife. He tilts back and clasps his hands behind his head. “ This is just like a plague! But hopefully this crazy thing will be over in another week or two.Aggressive quarantine measures, when fully enforced, could choke the spread of the virus,that’s what the doctors are saying.” he says opening his laptop.

Sheela leaves the room and returns with a yellow notebook. “ Nick, listen! I know you have to work from home and I should do mine, but I would like to read something to cheer up our spirit.” she smiles standing in front of her husband. Nick nods his head and says carefully, “ Go ahead, but please make it shorter than the last one you recited- “ A Psalm of Life”, so that I will be able to start working on my project.”

 Sheela clears her throat. This one is called Daisy Time by Pickthall.

  “See, the grass is full of stars,Fallen in their brightness;

Hearts they have of shining gold,Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,Bees they love the clover,

But I love the daisies’ dance,All the meadow over.

Blow, O blow, you happy winds,Singing summer’s praises,

Up the field and down the field,A-dancing with the daisies.”

Nick beams.“Really a very beautiful poem!” “Well, thanks for sharing.”

Sheela’s smile is openly delighted. “ This is my part of entertainment for us.Now I will go back to do my own thing.” Sheela walks into her living room and stands at a window. Out the window, she could see a lone boy in a yellow raincoat walking, his skateboard under his arm. It is hard to see his face clearly but he looks lost in thought,oblivious to his surroundings. She decides to call her daughter to check if she is doing okay. “ Hi Grace,how is your fever? Did you talks to your doctor?”

“ I will be a fine mom. And there is no testing here yet.Yesterday I had a little trouble breathing and the doctor asked me to get a small inhaler and to rest.”Grace sighs. “Not to worry mom,I will let you know if anything happens.” 

Sheela pulls an oak chair and sits down. “Are you still having chest pain? What is your temperature right now?” Nick hears his wife’s shrill voice and runs into the room. “ What’s the matter?”He asks nervously.

“Sheela puts her daughter in speakerphone. “Tell your dad everything that you told me.” she demands. Her daughter sighs! “ Guys,please calm down. I have taken tylenol and am working from home. Give me a few hours and I will call you back as soon as I am done with a conference call with my boss. Is that okay Mom?” she asks before hanging the phone. A tense silence falls in the room.

Sheela is getting a severe headache now.Iwan stands there quietly with his one arm on his wife’s shoulder. They don’t know what to say. 

Sheela is toying with her phone for a while and then decides to call her son.After the four rings, her son answers the phone.” Hi Mom! How are you?” he is breathing hard. Sheela pushes the chair and stands up straight. “I am fine. Why are you breathing so hard? Do you have temperature or cough?” 

“ Mom, I am fine. I was at home working for the last two days and today I decided to come to the trail for running.“He is still breathing hard but laughs.“ I am taking care of myself mom, so not to worry. How are you and dad?”

Sheela leans against the chair.” We are fine.I am home too, so decided to check on you. Go ahead, finish your run and call me back later.”

“ Mom, make sure not to go to any stores.If you need groceries, then call and order for delivery.” he continues with his sentence. “ I heard that according to both of your age, you will be more susepetible to corona virus, so stay indoors,wash your hands frequently. And mom, call me if you need anything. Bye!” he hangs the phone. Now a small reassuring smile plays on her lips to know that her son is fine.But, she has to wait to hear back from her daughter. Waiting is really hard! Nick Turns around to go back to his work. He stops at the door and turns his face towards his wife.She seems more worried. “ Sheela why don’t you go for a walk or do some writing or sketching.” 

“ I should.” she says.

Rain has stopped. Sheela takes her rain jacket and puts on her shoes for a walk.She has been walking for an half an hour, enjoying the greenery on both sides- all the trees with new baby leaves and pretty flowers of white redbud tree and eastern redbud tree. She comes to a bridge across a stream and stops to sit down for a while and starts to hike again. It starts to rain again. Avoiding the slippery wet rock lower down, she picks a route over high, turfed banks and sure enough, within minutes the sweat is pouring into her eyes along with the rain. She drinks from her water bottle and pushes on, taking advantage of the solitude. After five minutes of listening to the rain rattling on the fabric of her rain jacket, she climbs up.After a while the rain stops.  As the rain ceased and a long fissure in the cloud permitted a tiny consolation of diluted sunlight, it began to happen at last- she began to feel good. Perhaps it is no more than the effect of endorphins released by muscular exertion.

 On near level ground now, she strides across the  grass towards the track to return home.She pulls out a handkerchief and her cell phone from her jacket pocket. She stops in the middle of the trail to wipe her sweat. Then she checks her cellphone for any missed call but there is none. So she puts the phone back in her pocket and starts walking. She spots a dog,impossibly tiny Yorkies, two silky gold and blue-gray mops spinning across the trail and they look like her friend Jade’s dogs. They are upon her, bouncing up, their stubby tails wildly tick-tocking. The smaller dog places one paw on her shoe and turns his doll face upward. His nose is a shiny black triangle, and his eyelashes full of feathers. He gives Sheela a single decorous flick with his tongue.

“Lucy, Greta!” Jade comes running towards them and stops near Sheela. “ O’,I found them! Thanks Sheela! Did you know I was on the phone talking with my mom and suddenly they disappeared from my sight. I have been calling their names and looking under each bush and around the big trees to find them but all in vain.” She takes a big gulp of water from her water bottle and carries both of her dogs in her arms. Sheela says,crisply, with a toss of her head. “They are so so cute! And how is your mom doing? Is she still in Europe?”

Jade sits on a bench nearby holding her dogs. “ I was just talking with her. She is stuck there until she will be able to take a flight back.She is very worried, but nothing can be done at this point.” Jade replies wearily. Her eyes filled with tears.

 Sheela walks forward to give her friend a hug but she stops remembering the corona Virus.She should not touch her. “ Make a point to talk to her everyday, so that she will not feel alone or have anxiety attacks.” Sheela says. 

Jade sighs! “ That’s the only thing I could do now.So how are you?”

“Fine! Taking everyday as it comes.It is really nice to see you and I will call you sometimes to chat with you.”

“Sure.See you later” Sheela takes off from there.

*If you are stuck at home during this hard time then relax- Do a puzzle,Listen to music, write poetry or a haiku, play board games. 

Just like other hard times, this will also pass.

A day in Spring

Daisy lays in an elaborately carved rosewood bed in a hotel, in a small town in Bombay. A dazzling sunlight falls through the wood shutter. The first thing she sees is a slender lizard dash up the front wall. From the bathroom: splash, throat clearing, the slap of a towel, she knows that it is time to wake up and get ready to meet her new family, in a new country. She has decided to marry her law school sweetheart Arush and they are on their way to meet Arush’s parents.
It is early spring, but so hot in the cab that her cotton dress sticks to the seat and the driver drives hectically, one hand on the wheel through ramshackle town and potholed roads. After driving for an hour, on the edge of town, quite suddenly, they are in the most spectacular place she has ever seen: a dream of water, earth, and sky as bright green fields and gorgeously colored trees seem to float.
“Are you nervous?” Arush asks, at last acknowledging the momentous day ahead. “You will shortly disappear within my relatives and they will be very curious about you.”
“Not nervous,” Daisy lies. “Excited.” She is looking at a small boat adrift in a dazzling stretch of water. After ten minutes or so, down a dusty road lined with coconut trees, Arush grips her hand tightly.
“We’re less than a mile away,” he says. And in ten minutes, there it is: a small one-story house against a lush backdrop of trees, Arush exhales slowly. “This is it,” he let go of her hand. In the gap between the trees, there is half an acre of neatly planted vegetables. Three women weeding the vegetable patch straighten as they pass and give her a hard, bright stare and wave at Arush.
“Do they know you, Arush?”
“They do,” he says, waving them back, his whole expression brightens. The cab stops at the front gate. Through the gate is an immaculate graveled courtyard, its low walls covered in geranium, hibiscus plants. The whole house is framed by exuberant tropical trees and above it the bright blue sky, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it. Daisy could hardly breathe, she is so nervous. A young girl in a pink long dress is standing on the front veranda, looking down at them. Her hand is over her mouth as if to stop herself screaming.
“ Maa, look brother is here.” Another lady opens the door and rushes down the steps and breaks into a stumbling run. Daisy hears a muffled sob as she stretches out her arms, a long string of words. Arush touches her feet and they match with an out pour of emotion.
“Maa,” he says, releasing her, “ I’d like you to meet Daisy, my friend. She is overly excited to meet you and dad.”
A shy smile covers Daisy’s face and she bends down on her waist to touch her feet just like Arush. Arush’s mother tidies the tears away with a quick, deft gesture and heads out a gracious hand.
“Welcome to our house,” she smiles with a gesture of welcome. Daisy follows them into the house through the huge veranda. Arush’s mother walks with them to show the bedroom. It is large, whitewashed room, furnished with two chairs and a wooden bed carved with fruits and birds, made up with a peach-colored sheet and thin looking pillows. On the front of a calendar on the wall, there is a beaming lady in an orange sari floating down the Ganges and advertising Horlick’s-it is good for you. Inside the air feels moist and heavy.
“Please freshen up and get ready to meet all our relatives and friends,” her mother-in-law says with a big smile.
Daisy opens her suitcase and pulls out a pant and a long kameez. Arush shows her the bathroom. The odd-looking room has a large copper cauldron of cool water in the corner for the bath. Above the bath, there is a shelf holding a bundle of twigs, and what Arush says are ayurvedic oils for hair and skin.
“ We’re often short of water in summer, so use accordingly and don’t drink it. I will ask the cook to boil water up later.” The lavatory, he says, is a short walk outside the house, next to the garden. “ Sure,” Daisy says wrapping her arms around him: her anchor in a shifting world.
“ They’re waiting for me, so let me go ahead and I’ll come back to get you.”
After half an hour of waiting, at the sound of a car horn, Daisy leaps to her feet and, through a bamboo blinds, watches her new family members arrive. A group of women steps out of the car, dressed in dazzling clothes in every color of the rainbow: emerald, ocher, gold, orange. They are chattering like jays, jiggling up and down on the spot as if they could barely contain themselves. The children explode from the car next, skipping across the courtyard. One after another hug Arush. A plump old lady waddle through the courtyard: mouth half-open, a little off center, walks toward the room, and then all follow her. They walk through the bedroom door to greet her with beaming smiles and perfect politeness. It is hard to listen as everybody talks at the same time. Arush asks Daisy to touch some of the elders’ feet and just hug to some of the younger ladies.They sit in the bedroom, some on the bed and some on the floor. Daisy has never seen so many people in one family. It is almost one o’ clock and a small boy comes running to announce that lunch is ready. It is a long hall, banana leaves are arranged on the floor. Daisy has her food in a china plate edged in gold, crystal glass, and spoon and fork.
“You must say grace, Arush,” her mother says, a deep emotional throb in her voice. Arush closes her eyes. “For these and all thy gifts, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen,” he mumbles. One of his sisters serves the food- elegantly spiced rice, lentil, creamy fish curry, sauteed okra, crisp fried pappadams.., each one giving off its own tantalizing aroma. Arush helps her in showing how to eat with her right hand. “Make your rice into a neat tight pile like this,” Arush’s mother says,” And put it in your mouth. It tastes better with lentils, a little curry sauce and there,” she smiles at her.
“Like this?” Everyone watched, fascinated, as Daisy feels a blob of bright sauce on her dress, half a handful of rice on her new pant.
“You’re doing fine,” one of the sisters says. After lunch, all of them sit in the veranda and introduce themselves to Daisy. And the tea party starts. One of the cousins prepares tea infused with cardamom, clove and brings out in batches of trays. The smell of the tea is heavenly. The laughter and their chatter fill the air. Daisy doesn’t understand the language, but she can feel their happiness and excitement. Through the mild peach-colored air of early evening, she could see some of Arush’s friends and uncles playing chess on one side of the veranda. And the sight of the- teacups on the floor, bare feet, dark heads bent together- is very comforting. The soft jasmine-scented breeze from the plants scrambles over their wall.
It is the tail end of dusk, some of the relatives get ready to return to their homes with the promise of coming back soon as her mother-in-law leaves to the prayer room. The smells of incense, the sound of conch and voice of prayer fill the evening air around them. “Life happens to you sometimes in strange ways, you can’t control it.”

Flood

“Up,” her mother says, pulling on her arm, hard. “Get your rubber boots on.”Ann couldn’t really figure out what is going on, so she stands up and starts to arrange the yellow coverlet on her bed, but her mother shakes her head. “Now,” she says.

Her mother has two rules: don’t leave the room without making your bed and dress before you leave. Today Ann is leaving her room in her pajamas, her bed all tumbled, so she knows that something is not right. Ann glances at her mother’s face to figure out a reason and she could see clearly the two lines on her forehead and lips, a thin line. No smile there, no good morning wish. All she could hear is the sound of the rain. It sounds like a truck is dumping a load of gravel on the roof. It has been raining hard for two days, but nothing like this.

The front door is open, and just outside it is one of the volunteer firemen. There are a couple of inches of water in their front hallway, and to Ann, it looks like the magic carpet in the cartoons, where you can float up and away.

“Hurry up,” her mother says, handing her the boots. And to the fireman, “My friend’s back in the house at the end of the street.”

“She ‘s up in the attic, and when I stuck my head up those stairs she let out a scream. I tried to calm her down but she says she’s not leaving her house,” the fireman replies.

Ann comes and stands in the middle between her mother and the fireman. “Let me try,” she says. “Go ahead,” her mother says, “Be careful, it is water everywhere.” She bends and zips her rain jacket and pulls the hood upon her head, the way she sometimes does when she is heading to the school bus. “It is not safe to stay here,” the firefighter shouts over the sound of the rain.

“We’re fine,” Ann says as she holds her father’s hand and climbs the small flimsy boat in their front lawn to rescue their neighbor. “Just give me a chance to talk to her,” Ann says as they row off into the darkness. “She always listens to me.”

But nothing like that happened. Ann shouts at the top of her lungs to get her neighbor out from her attic but she wouldn’t.  She enters into her front room, the door is not locked and the flood water has started to fill the space. It is a one-story house, and the ladder to the attic is down. She is up there sitting on a stack of two huge suitcases, her legs pulled up under her nightgown. Ann wonders why she has those suitcases. She has never gone anyplace. Maybe she has some important or special stuff inside the suitcases.

“ Just go back down there, Ann,” she says sharply from the half dark and for just a moment she sounded a lot like her mother.

“Come with me. The water’s getting really high.”

“It won’t ever get up here. This is the highest place on the whole farm.” Ann thinks she is almost right about that. “Then I’ll stay here with you,” Ann says.

“We need to get going,” calls the fireman from below.

“You go with them,” she says. “Don’t worry about me. Leave,” she says sternly.

The water is deeper as Ann climbs back into the boat and they sail, like a dream, down their underwater driveways, and onto the water-filled road. It is hard to see much, no lights, no moon. The fireman maneuvered the boat around powerlines that come up suddenly like snakes skittering along the surface and pieces of things, of roofs and fences and strange brown chunks. They float past one of her friend’s barn where the cows are standing and mooing loudly. Ann couldn’t control her sob. “ Let’s help the cows, they are desperate and scared to death,” she begs.

“We will. But first we need to rescue the people, afterward, we’ll come back to rescue the animals.” the fireman says loudly. They stop by another house where Ann’s class teacher Mrs. Quindlen is standing at her front step with her shepherd dog.

After a while, they reach the church and they climb down from the small boat. Her teacher has a plastic bag full of knitting supplies. “ I can’t stand the boredom,” she says. Inside the building, Ann spots almost all her neighbors and they are all talking about the destructive flood.

Ann finds one of her friend sitting at a corner with her backpack and eating a sandwich in her hand. She waves with the sandwich.

“Were you scared?” she asks.

“Yes. But I pretended that I wasn’t.” Ann says.

“Why?”

“ My mother doesn’t know swimming and she doesn’t like to sit on the boat,” she says with a smile. “So I pretended to be brave to make her feel safer.”

“Even if I know swimming, that’s not the kind of water I can swim in. The current is too strong enough to suck us under. I was really scared.” her friend says, stuffing the last corner of her sandwich into her mouth. Ann walks around to look for her mother. Her mother is talking with one of her friend who is wiping her tears with a cotton handkerchief. She has the biggest ranch house with columns in front, a huge living room and a big kitchen. Everything is gone in the flood. She starts to cry again. Ann’s mother puts her arm around her friend’s shoulder and tries to comfort her. Ann turns around and walks over to the big glass window. There is nothing to see outside, except for water everywhere. She stands there, thinking of how to rescue all the cows and dogs from the barns. Hopefully, the fireman has already done that.

  • Midwest flood

The Tango

The silence is unusual and we aren’t entirely sure how to talk about it- not because it is too grave and not because it is too trivial, but because it seems grave one moment and trivial the next. No one could remember such a thing happening to the entire country before. The incident has now lasted for more than two weeks. A few days have passed and it is too grave now.

A stand up comedian performing on one of the late-night talk show is the first to broach the subject. She waits for a moment in his act when the audience has fallen completely still and the halted in mid sentence, raising one of her index fingers in a listening gesture. A smile edges its way onto her lips. She gives the pause perhaps one second too long, just enough time for a trace of self-amusement to show on her face, then continues with the joke. It is the joke on the president’s speech on wall. But some people prefer to stay silent.

The silence has been siphoned out of the city and into our ears, spilling from there into our dreams and beliefs, our memories and expectations. In the wake of each fresh episodes a new feeling flow through us, full of warmth and a lazy equanimity. The truth is we enjoy the silence- sometimes we find ourselves poise in the doorway of our homes in the  morning or on the edge of our car seats as we drive to work. Surya wants to scream,her heart cries out for the people who are suffering because of one person’s demand.

There are many lovely, pensive girls and the landscape is cluttered with them. Most of the time nothing out of the ordinary happens to them and then they get older. In a painting Surya has been gathering wildflowers, though in real life she rarely does anything of the kind. She is more than a little odd-lacks caution or just because she always says that “ love is giving, marriage is buying and selling. You cann’t put love into a contract and there is no marriage in Heaven.”

She keeps herself busy in charity work and she doesn’t care about love or marriage.Shlok,one of her collegue doesn’t care what Surya thinks. He has seen her helping an autistic boy who was provoked to fits of punching by the tone of her doorbell devised an instrument that raplaced the sound with a pulsing light. She says that the autistic boy loves to sit on the floor watching now as she presses the button again and again, a wobbly grin sperading over his face like a pool of molasses.

The silence is plain and rich and deep. It seems infinietly delicate, yet stragely irresistibe. Every so often the character of the silence would change slightly, the way the brightness of a room might alter, and gradually we get used to the stillness.Surya loves it. She doesn’t mind staying alone and doing her own things in the weekends. She settles into the couch and continue reading her novel “ The Baron in the Trees”, holding the pages up to a patch of sunlight. A fire truck begins whirring its siren somewhere, but she barely notices it. She reads the story of an eighteenth century Italina nobleman- Cosimo Piovasco who spends the whole of his adult life in the trees surrounding his village. From the branches of various oaks,elms he is able to educate himself, conduct his long romance with his childhood friend Violante.She carries the book and walks to the dining table and sits on a chair with a cup of hot tea in her hand.

Shlok is determined to break the silence. He takes the oblique route, making a loop through the plant nursery at the west end of the plaza. By the time he reaches the end of the lane, one of his palm is coated with the scent magnolia, the other with the scent of pine. He knows that surya loves the scent of magnolia. A song has broken out on his tongue. It takes a moment to recognize it as “ Somewhere over the Rainbow”, the melody that floats effortlessly. He stands infront of her house and knocks at the door.She doesn’t hear the knock at her door. Shlok opens the side door and walks in, he is determined to break his silence. He finds Surya sitting in the kitchen, at the small round table with a book in her hand.

“What are you doing here?” she asks closing the book.Her voice sounds flat.

Shlok pulls another chair and settles himself. “We need to talk.”

“On what?” She has known him for so long that  she doesn’t have to finish the thought.

Sometimes we become more headstrong, more passionate. Our sentiments are closer to the surface, lives seem no less purposeful than they have during the silence.We come to know ourselves better after the great stillness. A muffled noise of understanding escapes from her throat, just loud enough for him to hear.He nods,laughs and nods again. They both promise to open their mouth and stand strong for the others.

Lost girl of Sanaa

People everywhere- skinny, skeletal people, in front of her, behind her. In the thick crowd, Maysun loses the grip of her mother. Someone bumps into her; she stumbles forward and almost fell. Only the thickest of bodies in front of her save her from going to her knees in the dust and dirt. She shoves her way around to the other side of the road, crying out, “Mama! Mama!”

There is no answer, just the ceaseless pounding of feet on the road. She calls out for her mother, but her cry is lost in the thud of so many feet. People bump her, push past her. She can’t stop in the middle. Her mother told her that the only way to survive is to flee the village, away from the soldiers, from the bumps. Her feet aches, a blister burns with every step. Hunger walks beside her, poking her insistently with it sharp little elbow. She tries to look back to trace her mother but the crowd push her forward. A woman limps along beside her, crying , her tears black with dirt and grit. The sun is growing stronger, become stiflingly, staggeringly hot. The acrid, stuffy scent of body odor and sweat fill the air. At the top of a small rise, she comes to a stop. Moonlight reveals thousands of people walking beside her, jostling her she has no choice but to stumble along with them. Hundreds more have chosen a hillside as a resting place. They have left their burning homes, bummed by the cold,heartless soldiers. Some have lost their parents, some their children. Maysun peels away from the crowd heading toward the collection of moonlit gray stone building in a distance and picks her way carefully through the valley. After a mile or so a trail leads her into a copse of spindly trees. She is deep in the woods- trying not to focus on the pain in her toe, the ache in her stomach, the dryness in her throat. Dehydration gives her a terrible, pounding headache. Dust has clogged her throat and eyes and made her cough constantly.She couldn’t walk any longer so she sits leaning against a huge tree. Instead of her effort not to sleep, her eyelids closes.

Maysun is in her school, a small building on the far edge of the village. The open windows and thick stone walls help to keep the sun at bay. Maysun loves science and when teacher asks her, she answers in all smile, “ When I grow up, I will be a scientist.” Mayson glances at her friend Hamida,who sits beside her, looking fearful. She whispers. “My mama says we should leave before the war gets worse.”

Maysun closes her notebook. Her eyes widened. “ I should tell my mama”

“My uncle says it is very bad in the nearby town. The soldiers have burned down the houses.”

The bell rings and students popp from their seats like springs.Maysun gathers her books in her bag and runs home to give the news to her mother. Her mother is in their garden. “Mama!” Maysun calls her mother throwing her bag on the kitchen floor.

“What happened?” her mother asks wiping her forehead, aware that she is smearing black dirt across her skin, and she stands up. She rises to her feet and moves toward her daughter. Before she reaches, a trip of women appear, as if sculpted out of the shadows. They stand clumped together in their front pathway. An oldwoman in rags,holding the others close to her- a young woman with a baby in her arms and a teenager. Each looked feverish, sweaty and tired. The old woman helps out her empty hand. “ Please spare some water.” she begs.

Maysun’s mother opens the small wooden gate. “Ofcourse. Come in. Sit down on the front porch.”

The old woman shakes her head. “ Just give some water, please.” Maysun runs inside and brings a jug of water and a glass.

“Drink.” The old woman says, holding the water to the young girl’s lips. The young mother makes a moaning sound and tightens her hold on the baby, who is so quiet-and her tiny fists so blue- Maysun’s mother gasps. The baby is dead.

“Go inside,” the old woman says. “Lock the doors.”

“Why…?”

Then they see the mass of black shapes moving across the field and coming up the road. Dogs bark and babies cry. They come forward through the field and up the road, relentlessly moving closer, pushing one another aside, voices rising. Suddenly the world becomes pure sound: the roar of airplane engines, the rat-ta-ta of machine gun fire, people screaming. Bullets ate up the grass in rows, people scream and cry out. Trees snapped in half and fall over, people yell. Flames burst into existence. Smoke fills the air. Maysun watches a man fly into the air like a rag doll and hit the ground in a heap. Her mother pulls her into her house and tries to lock the door behind her. The house begins to shake, the windows rattle, the shutters thump, dust rain down from the exposed timbers of the ceiling. Maysun hugs her mother, uncertain, her heart pounding. Suddenly the house shakes violently. “Let’s run!.” Maysun’s mother runs outside clutching her daughter’s hand. Outside in the dust, they continue running. Suddenly Maysun loses her mother’s hold in the crowd. “Mama! Mama..” Maysun opens her eyes. She tents a hand over her eyes and stares up into the bright and cloudless sky.

Shifting Sea

Jane can see a shimmering aura surrounding her, setting her apart from others. She feels uncomfortably distinct from the other students in her class. Sometimes they are friendly, more often they are not so friendly.Jane’s mother has told her many times that she is special. She understands that she has no choice in the matter. Jane is a shy girl, too shy even to turn away quickly from a rude stranger. She is almost twelve. She is thin, underdeveloped for her age.Medium height-but with narrow shoulders, bright almond-shaped eyes, thick curly hair.

Every Morning after Jane’s father leaves to work, her mother brushes her dense, dry curly hair,  with a half-broken hairbrush and reminds her to brush her teeth before she runs off to the nearby school. Much of her waking life Jane is with her books that she gets from her school library. The actual world is blinding to her. A maze. But if there is a way to be memorized through the maze, she will memorize it. The great adventure of Jane’s young life until now : reading books, drawing pictures and taking care of her four younger siblings. She cares less on her dress, her food or how they live.

Her mother is always proud of her when Jane shows the report card from her school, but her father is different. When he returns home from work, he asks Jane to stop wasting her time in reading, instead she should work with her mother in the kitchen,or take care of her other four siblings. “Jane, stop reading books,books are useless.” he says haltingly, awkwardly, taking a sip from a glass bottle. “ Learn cooking, cleaning the house which will be useful in future. In his aggressive barking voice he accuses the girl.Jane leaves that part of the room to the other end because their house is just one long room. She doesn’t like the smell of the liquid that her father drinks, nor his voice.She hides her books under a bed cover and dashes to stay with her mother.Jane’s mother pinches her mouth, refuses to utter much, the unspoken words become a din like nocturnal insects in the dry heat of summer. She doesn’t like to argue with her husband but she couldn’t stop. “ Let her do what she loves to do.” she says, “ Now a days girls are going to college, working and I want Jane to finish her school.”

“Stop the nonsense!” Her father screams slapping his palm on the floor. “ Jane is a girl and girls don’t need to go to school.She needs to do only the household chores until I find someone for her.” Jane’s mother serves him food in a banana leaf and sits there quietly. She understands that there is no use in arguing with her drunk husband.

After Jane’s father asleep,her mother lays down on the floor with Jane on one side and the other four of her children on the other side. “Not to worry dear,”she assures her. “ You will finish school and go to college.”

Jane smiles and whispers. “In that case, I want to be a scientist.”

Her mother doesn’t understand the word, but pulls Jane closer. “ Sure,if you set your mind, then you can achieve it. Come, let’s sleep.” Jane’s mother has never gone to school but she has taught herself to read and write. She is determined to send her daughter to school. Jane lays awake for a while thinking about her dad’s anger.Whenever her father drinks the awful stuff,he shouts and get angrier. It seems like his face starts to change shape and swims and a little bit of space opens up between her parents.  It is almost midnight, when moonlight shines diffusively through the filthy window.Jane stops thinking,turns her head toward her mother and closes her eyelids.

Days pass. One late afternoon,after school, Jane memorizes her timetables on the front veranda, when she spots her father at the door with a stranger.Jane glances at them as they approach.Her father clears his throat. “Jane,come meet my friend Mr. Roy.” he says. “Come.” Jane closes her notebook,takes a big step,and folds her both hands. “Namaste!” The man is old, short and skinny. He runs his hand over his bald head and a fake smile flashes on his lips. His head shines like the glass balls people place in the flower beds around their houses. It looks like it might shatter the instant her bangs into something. He winks at Jane. Her father walks forward. “Go, ask your mother to make a cup of tea for our guest.” he says. Jenna scuttles inside to call her mother. Her mother is sweeping the kitchen floor. “Mom, dad wants you to prepare a cup of tea for the guest.” Jane’s mother stops sweeping. “ Your father came early today!” she gives a surprise look and asks, “ Who is the other man?”

Jane shrugs her shoulder. “No idea mom.But for sure very old.” she says, “Can I sit here and memorize my timetable?”

“Sure but first finished sweeping the floor.” Jane’s mother walks out of the kitchen with a chipped white cup with black tea: the only cup they have.Jenna could hear them talking for a while and her mother comes back inside and starts to switch on the stove. Jane is surprised to see her mother cooking so early. “ What happened mom?” She asks.

“Nothing dear.” she says. “The guest will stay to eat dinner. We have only one potato and a handful of rice.” Jane closes her notebook. “I can get something from the nearby store.” she asks, “ Would you like me to get something?” Her mother shakes her head. “We will cook what we have but get one or two green pepper and a bunch of spinach from our backyard.”

“Sure.” Jane leaves.

After the dinner,her father and the old man drinks from a bottle, Jane sits there with a book on her hand and her mother sits quietly. A fat fly buzzes in circle just above his head. It settles on his arm, he tries to swat it. Then it lands on the back of his neck, he swats again. The fly escapes and perches on the broken window frame. A twinkling laughter escapes from Jane’s mouth and she quickly covers her mouth.The old man looks at Jane with long, narrow eyes, fixed so hard the corner looks like keyholes. He purses his lips, whistles and beats out on the bottle in a rhythm.He comes toward Jane and spins her around. “ I like your sweet daughter.” he laughs, running his hand into her hair above the temple, twisting her hair around his index finger. Jane snatches her hand free from the old man and runs to her mother.  Inside her head is buzzing with scary thoughts, on top her scalp feels loose. He tongue is licking her brain, it tastes sickly salty.Her mother wraps her both hands around Jane. “ Get out from my house.” she screams. “ My daughter is not in a marriageable age and you are like her grandfather! Shame on you!” Jane’s father springs from his seat with a raised hand.His eyeballs glistens and turn into little squares. “ Don’t utter any word. If he wants to marry our daughter then it is perfect.” he says. “ There is no age barrier for a marriage.And he will keep her happily.” Then her father turns toward the old man. “Sorry for all these.” he folds his hands. “ We will be happy to give our daughter to you.Please come and sit here. Come.” he requests. Jane and her mother sit there dumbfounded with tears in their eyes.

Next morning,sunlight comes slanting through the gaps between the wall of the room. Jane opens her eyes to find the sun round as a ball and is ‘wrapped in a cotton wool. Birds are squawking, who knows where they are hiding, there are none in the air.The old man and her father are sitting on the front veranda.The old man’s shoulder is hunched,his collar bones rounded.They are busy making deals on Jane,the old man is ready to give lots of money in exchange to marry Jane who will be his third wife and in promise to give him a son. You could see the gold and black molars,the worn down stumps and gaps between his teeth. Jane looks for her mother. She sits in one corner of the kitchen with her youngest son on her lap, her legs are stretched out into the aisle. she is feeding milk to the little one. Jane sits there leaning against her mother.Her mother doesn’t say anything and Jane starts the conversation. “ So what will happen mom?” she swallows her tear and continues. “ I am just a kid. I want to go to school, I want to be a scientist.” She glances at her mother. “ Why are you so quiet today? Are you not going to help me?” Her mother pulls her closer and tightens one hand around Jane’s shoulder. “Your father is a crafty bastard. He has taken money, cows and a few goats as a bribe from the old man.He wants to buy a small store and start his own business and that way he will be able to take care of your four siblings.”

Jane pulls out from her mother’s embrace. “ What about me?” she asks. “ What about my dream? My life?” she shakes her mother in her small hand. “You want to sale me to the old man in exchange of money and goats? Really mom?” Jane covers her face and cries. “ You promised me that I will continue my school. You lied to me!” Jane’s mother looks up to the ceiling and back to her daughter’s face. Her beloved daughter whom she has promised to fulfill her dream. She has to do something but what. She leans her back against the wall and searches for a way to set her daughter free.

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