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.

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 ….”

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.

Image result for quote of child bride

Assumption

Assumption

The astrologer, a new age woman who sounds like the type to wear crystals and carry tarot cards, asserts that the people themselves have created the problem out of a need to get in touch with their places in the universe, their spiritual selves. The person standing next to her doesn’t agree. “ It is linked to spirituality, yes, but not the kind you speak of.” he shrugs his shoulder. “This is a wake up call for us. Soon we will be doomed.”

Megan returns from her morning walk and her way out of the trail she spots them at the side of road.Out of curiosity,Megan holds the dog leash tight in her hand and walks closer to check what is going on. On the edge of the narrow street, a pink bleeding heart, its soft fern like branches out stretched in five foot arcs. From the underside of each branch, the blossom dangle in perfect shape of hearts. It looks pretty big.The gentleman scratched his head. “We have a big problem!” He points at a seventeen foxglove Their blossom which ordinarily look like upside down thimble, large enough to find one’s thumb are now the size of small drinking cups. It is a strange sight, but without saying anything to them Megan nodded with a tiny smile and left. She thinks if God want to end the world, He should start from the regions that are notorious for sin. Well, all these may be totally superstitious.She could imagine the deep, measured voice of scientists, “ There is no evidence or real scientific explanation to these incidents.”

It is a pretty Saturday morning; bright and sunny! Her next door neighbor, Mrs Smith discovered something intoxicating. Megan waves at her as she is ready to open her front door of the house. She calls out, “Megan, have you seen these tulips?” She points at the plant.

Megan turns and walks into her front yard. She is standing next to a blossom that matches her in height and is roughly the same size as her head. Megan glances at it again.It is straight from a fairy tale; vines running here and there, foliage twisting around foliage, arching above the fence, the mailbox. And next to it, in a few feet the rose plant is almost dying. It used to be full of pretty white roses, but now the branches are deep brown and black, they are wilted and dry.Mrs Smith nodes in disbelief. She brushes her hair nervously from her face. “ Something strange is going on!” She wipes the sweat from her forehead. Humidity was hovering over. She continues. “It is a freak circus show! But clearly I think the universe is not happy at all.”

Megan glances at her face. “Why?”

Mrs Smith straightens her back and adjusts the straw-hat on her head. “ Soon something will happen, I can sense that.” She opens the cap of the water bottle and takes a few gulps. “This year it was not only Harvey, but so also so many devastating things going on around us!  Remember, how we use to see rabbit or a dog on the moon’s surface?” A deep sigh. “Yesterday,I noticed a completely different thing on the surface of the moon; A swiftly running lion, its mane flying backward with speed.It is terrible.”

Megan gives her a surprise look. But she does’t tell her anything. She must be watching the current news. Her dog started to pull, he is getting restless to go inside. It is the heat, gathering around tightly. A pregnant pause. “Mrs. Smith, it may be a mixed signal. There is always a mixture of both good and evil. We will be alright. Don’t you worry! Lucky is getting impatient so I had to go. Take care.” Megan leaves.  

That evening, she walked out to the deck still thinking about what Mrs Smith told her in the morning. Lucky follows her behind, waging his long bushy tail. Megan lifts her eyes to the sky. The face of the moon looks like the profile of a majestic woman. She could see her pointed chin, her salient brow, bright, omniscient eyes, nothing else.Megan smiled. The moon looks perfect to her eyes. This is so crazy! We are the silly, silly people.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, Megan has a strong sense of loss over something after a nasty stomach flu . A stab of Pain courses through abdomen and down her groin and she decides to visit the doctor. She is lying on a table counting ceiling tiles, when the doctor, a robust man in his mid fifties with dark hair, dramatically removes his glasses and tells her the facts. He kindly points at the telltale bean shape on the x-rays and says it is the kidney problem,and we have to do more tests. She feels like crying while she fills the saucepan with water and dumps the oatmeal for her husband, she sobs while moving her pots of marigold, each one just on the threshold of blooming, to the front porch.  She scrubs the whole kitchen counters, cleans all the drawers, she vacuums every floor of the house,knowing full well, too, that her husband would repeat the task.She wipes her tears and watches her daughter dancing around the room on her tiptoes, pretending to be a ballerina. She reads her favourite stories and colors with her sitting on the living room floor.After tons of x rays and doctor visits, she was lying on the hospital table eyes closed, cold and unmoved as bookends when she suddenly notices a smile on the doctor’s face that appeared at the end of his sentence. “Well, the good news is that you appear to be pregnant.” She kept her eyes closed, because behind them she could see what the doctor must be seeing on the screen: a shape, a pulse.

 

Their Gifts

Mentor

One bright Saturday afternoon in May, Hans leans over his desk, neck craned, eyes blinking and takes note of everything his teacher Ms Wilson says. Besides him friend Lora and Doug are staring straight, vacant eyes. Liz on the other side sits silent. Dan is nodding his head as if he understands everything that Ms Wilson says. In the middle of the lecture, Ms.Wilson stops at Hans’s desk, smiles. “ Only take note of the important points.”

Hans stares back. In his mind this is funny, in English everything is random. In the preparatory class sometimes his teacher would say, “Here are the rules about preposition,” and then,three minutes later, “But remember when it comes to writing there are no rules!”

The contradictions are slowly driving him crazy. He has to prepare for the fill-in the blank of the critical reading section, has to memorize the vocabulary list, make flash cards.Then Ms. Wilson walks over to the chalk board and writes, “Follow the grammar questions.”

Hans sits with his mother at the dining table and vocabulary swims in his brain, letter jumping in and out of line.

“What are you thinking.”his mother says. “Be in the moment.”

“I am too tired.”
“Why?” She lays the spoon on her plate. “ Hans, You are not doing anything wrong, wrong things or wrong crowd of friends? She asks pushing her loose curls out of her eyes.

Hans laughs.

“Be respectful!Do you know that you have to score real good to get into a good university?”

His father who was listing to the whole conversation in the living room appears at the dining table. He pulls a chair and joins them. “I studied hard, got scholarship to go to Standford. It is not that easy.” He takes a spoon full of lentil soup. “ So concentrate on your studies.So how is your practice classes going?” he takes a gulp of water from his glass.

Hans finishes his vegetables and raises his head. “ Ms Wilson is good in explaining everything. I am thinking , may be I should take a gap year first before going to college.”

His mother chokes on her food. “ Gap year! From studying?” she asks.

“I heard some of my friends take time off, like travel, or think, whatever.. He regrets of saying wrong words although he meant something different. He is waiting for his father to shout at him. But instead his face brightens. He laughs hard. “Your whole life is a vacation. You have not done anything like the other kids in your school. We have worked hard our whole life to provide you all the comfort,best education,tennis lessons, violin classes, boy scout..” His father pushes the chair and leaves.

Hans sits on his chair. He likes science, good in literature, history but he is the average student. His report card always stays on B-plus. He finishes his dinner and retreats to his room. The room has baby blue walls and the walls have pictures of him playing violon, or tennis.His desk is full with books and binders, papers tumbled, school pictures. His mother knocks at the door and walks in. “ Hans, what is going on?” She arranges herself on a chair, her knees towards the bed.

“ You are special kid.” She says carefully. “ If you try, you can do much better. You have all the talents in yourshelf.Confidence is very important!” her voice is now firm and emphatic.

“What do you mean? I am just an average student.” he asks.

“ It is fine but if you work hard, you can get good scores too! Now go to bed early and early morning you can practice for your test.” She pushes the chair back to leave.

In the following week, on saturday, Hans was the first one in the class. He approaches Ms Wilson’s desk. “Excuse me. Ms Wilson,” he says. “ I would like to know the tricks to master the SAT score.

“Tricks?” she puts down her pen and looks up, blinking behind her glasses. “ Well, you have to know all your stuff or at least try to memorize them or have a sense for it.”

“Like?”

She leans forward in her chair. “ Today after the class I will look at your practice answer shit and after that I will be able tell you how to proceed further.”

“Thank You.” Hans says.

He is happy to see his friend Meg next to him in the class.She has an oversize pink shirt and big hoop earring. She is always very confident. Hans decides to ask her on some tricks to improve his test score. “Sure, I will tell you if you come with me to our temple.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

Hans meets his friend at her temple.He removes his shoes, socks and sits besides Meg and watches as she places her palms on her knees and closes her eyes.

“There is nothing but this moment,”the guru said. “We will close your eyes and feel the universal love move through us. Let go of all your worldly thoughts, just observe them coming and crashing in your head one after another.”

Hans squeezes his eyes shut. The rug they sit on is old but has beautiful oriental patterns all over it. Hans listens to the silence. All his anxious thoughts on different subjects appear one after another in a long line, sometimes they even cut the line and appear on the front.He oserves them in his mind’s eyes. After twenty minutes he hears Namaste. He opens his eyes. The people bow and stand.

“What do you think?” Meg asks him as they walk into the open air.

“ Very relaxing! The thoughts of scoring high is still there, but it is not that stressful anymore.” he glances at Meg. “Thank you for the tip.”

 

Home

Elaborate

Annie is waiting outside of the George Bush Intercontinental airport for Mrs. Hall, her mother’s friend. Around 3.30 she finally arrives in her blue car. She leans over from the driver’s side window. “Annie! Get in.” Annie opens the door and gets inside the car.

“Thanks for picking me up. I was planning to take a ubar.”

“Not to worry. It is my pleasure. So how was the flight?”

“Good, no complaint.”

“I heard from your mother that your work is very hectic.”

“Yes, it is. But I like to stay busy so it is fine.” Annie glances at Mrs.Hall. Her hair is dyed an unnatural black and falls in tight springs around her face and down her shoulder. Her eyes hidden behind the big, round sunglass, but Annie knows they are dark brown and deep-set. She knows mrs. Hall when she was eight years old and used to visit her house with her mother. She remembers the fancy silk curtains in her house, always moved in breeze, fresh-cut flowers in clear glass vases, there was always sunlight everywhere. She had two cute and playful dogs;one Labrador and one pitbul mix.

Annie used to play with the dogs while her mother and Mrs Hall talked and baked together. In someweekends they volunteer together.

“ I remember that you used to love writing and your first story in the Houston Chronicle. A beautiful story on bullying, very brilliantly written! Are you still writing?” She asks.

Annie nods her head. “Sometimes.”

“Excellent! Keep it up.” She leans closer. “Here comes your home.Listen I have a meeting to attend so I will not go inside. But give your mother a hug for me,okay?” She smiles.

“I will, and thanks for the ride,” Annie says as she lurches out of the car. Annie opens the front door of her parent’s house.It has been a year, but to her surprise everything is the same.Inside the house the floors are covered with oriental rugs, her favorite is the bright blue kitchen, the one chipped tile on the floor with its corner cut like someone stole a piece of pie. Her mother is in the kitchen and has a khaki pant, a baby blue v’neck t-shirt, her favorite color. Her dark, wavy hair parted on the side and falls on her shoulder.

“Annie!, she closes the refrigerator door and runs towards her to hug. “ I’m so happy to see you!” She wipes her happy tears and smiles. “So she picked up on time.”

“Yes, it was nice to see Mrs. Hall. She has a meeting so she left.Where is dad?” Annie looks around.

“He is in the backyard, busy in planting.Go surprise him.” Excitement spills over from her voice. “In the mean time I will make tea for you.”

“That sounds perfect mom! I would love that. Please make the Assam tea with lots of ginger and cardamom.”

“I will.”

Annie  walks out to the back. In the backyard her father is busy in planting okra, eggplant, tomatoes and zucchin. His thin hair combed over his bald spot, his glasses smudged.
“Dad!” Her father takes off his eyeglass and looks up.

“Annie!” He wipes the sweat from his forehead and stands up straight. He has dirt all over his hand and on his gray pant. “I’ll be there in a minute. Today, your mom has been cooking all your favorite foods. We are so happy to see you after such a long time.”

“ I am glad to be home!”

Annie stands beneath a blooming tree and lifts her face upward where the birds perched high above her.

“It is a yellow-billed magpie, her father says from behind. “Very pretty! Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Annie walks back into the living room. The walls in this room are streaked at least a dozen different colors, from beige to buttercream. Her parents want a color that will suit them before they paint the room. Her father has washed and changed into a blue t-shirt and stands in front of the lightest streaks, the beige and antique white. But her mother is nearest the bright yellow, the one they already discarded as a silly color.Yet, that night, at least from where she sits, the yellow seems to illuminate her mother’s lovely face and she is confident that yellow will be a perfect color for that room.

Unique but Delightful Universe

Invisible

Life appeared to be vastly calm as they started the train ride. Toby loves the sway of cars on the tracks, the blur of trees and towns on the other side of the window. Lillian glances at her four-year old son; wide smile and bright eyes. Suddenly happiness bubbles inside her. Toby will love her friend’s farmhouse. The train arrives at Albarracin , a small town. They descend from the train. Outside her friend Jenna is waiting with a big stuffed bear.

“Welcome! How was the ride?” She asks as she takes the bag from Lillian’s hand.

“Wonderful! Toby loved the ride.” Lillian replies.

“Come, let’s get in to the car.It’s little bit of a ride.” They walked towards the car. Inside the car Lillian settles herself with her son in the back seat while her friend drives.  Toby insists Lillian to honk the horn.

“We don’t need to but I will do it for you.”Lillian smiles and honks softly. Toby claps his hands. “It sounds like the SeSame street blue monster bobbing its nose. Right mom?” He asks leaning towards her mother.

“Yes, it is.”

The house sits at the edge of an expanse of water, clear and blue like the robbin’s nest. Toby jumps out from the car as Lillian opens the car door. Lillian follows her son. Toby stands there mesmerized. His eyes follow the beautiful yellow ducklings as they waltz on the muddy shore. Toby sits there at the edge of the water, sticking smooth stones. He seems quite contented. Lillian chats with her friend as her son stacks the stones and stacks them again and his posture relaxed, at ease. Jenna watches Toby and looks back at her friend. “So how is it going with Toby?”

Lillian sighs. “ Well, you never know. Sometimes he is so calm and other times he turns everything upside down.”

“Did you check with the doctor?”

“Yes, last friday he had an appointment with dr. Robertson.” Lillian smiles. “It is funny when Dr asked him to draw a road runner from a picture book. Then he said “Beep, beep.” Lillian tries to remember the funny picture. “ Toby did. He is good with eyes but with bodies! Not that much. His roadrunner looked like feather duster attached to a gardening rake. But I liked it because he gave it a try.”

“ Does he have any friend?”

“ There are two boys of his age group. Sometimes they come to play with Toby.” Lillian glances at Toby. He has made a tall shape with the  wet rocks. Toby looks at her mother. “Mom, look they look like crispy double vanilla sugar wafers! Looks delicious! Can I lick to taste it?”

Lillian laughs. “ No, Toby. Don’t lick the rocks. They don’t have any taste but we will have a real wafer.” Lillian walks towards Toby. “Let’s go inside.”

 

In the living room Lillian sits with her friend on a couch. Two cups of green tea sits on a tray in front of them on the small table. Toby quickly gathers up all his cars, brings them to the couch. He begins lining them up in rows. But the rows are different than usual, the colors all mismatched . Yellow meets red meets green. He is trying to express something, he doesn’t know how to. Lillian leans over towards him. “Toby, would you like me to play with you?” She puts her hand softly on his shoulder. He ignores her and becomes more anxious. He rearranges the cars without any order and move them frantically so they are crashing into one another, tiny toy accidents.

“ Let’s go and play outside on the trampoline.” Lillian says with concern.Toby puts his thumb in his mouth and walks outside with her mother. A bright smile flashes in Toby’s small face. He bounces on the trampoline like an elephant crashing from side to side. Lillian laughs and giggles  with her son.

            

 

Fabric

Fabric

Bright and early Anna wakes up on her bed. She is determined to buy the book with her stored fortune. So, she brings her glass jar stuffed with dollar bills and coins, her saved money and spills them out onto the off white carpet.She is in the middle of counting when her father knocks at the door and before she answers, the door opens in a soft click. He glances at her counting the coins piled high.

“ Good morning Anna! How much have you got there?” he asks sitting at the edge of the bed.

“ Fifteen dollars and ninety two cents.” she keeps her smile tight to hold back her pride and sticks all her fingers between her toes for the low pull of pleasure. Her father takes his glasses off to polish them on the bottom of his gray shirt, the held them up for inspection. Still dirty- he never manages to get them completely clear. “What do you want to do with your money?” he rests his glasses on his face, pushing them up snug against his nose.

“ A book fair is going on in our school and I want to buy Winnie the Pooh, The story of Babar and books on Amelia Bedelia.”

“Wonderful! Wait, wait.” he disappears. Anna sits with her high spirit on hold. Her father reappears with two dollar bills and hands her. “ Go ahead and add this to your savings.Last week you helped me in walking the dog.” he says.

Next day after school Alina returns home from school and runs to see her father. In the living room, her father reads a newspaper on his favorite couch. Alina settles herself close to her father. He returns his gaze from the newspaper to Anna’s face.

“How was the school today” Did you buy the books?” he asks.

Anna opens her backpack and shows him the books. Then she holds her hands out, palms up. “ I spent all the money. Only a quarter left.”

His father laughs. “ Start saving again.” he says folding the newspaper.

“ I meant to say that there is another book fair coming before the school closes for summer.” She says with a candy filled smile. She opens her fingers and shows two fingers to her father. “In two months.”

“Well, we can always get books from the library.”

“But dad.” she protests. “ It’s not same as collecting books. I want to have my library like you have yours.”

“ Well, I understand that.” He thinks for a moment. “ You can help me in watering the plants in every week and I will help you in buying the books that you want.”

“Sure.” Anna claps with both hands with excitement.

Her mother’s room has a wooden multi tiered riser holding all her spools of threads, organized by hue, cotton, metallic and silk threads. The drawer is full of various notions: needle, thimbles, tapes, glue, yards of elastics and velcros. And fabrics! Big square wicker baskets lined up on deep wall shelves and full of solids or printed cottons, silks- you name it, she has some. Her mother loves quilting.Anna enters to her mother’s room. On her table there is a cobalt blue fabric with peacock prints at the edge,- standing still, some with their wings thrillingly outstretched.Her mother cuts the fabric, it sounds like symphony. It conjures an image of a head bent over a machine, the feel of fabric slipping through the fingers.

“Hi, mom! Look what I bought today.”

“What?” Her mother sits straight and glances at Anna’s face. Anna shows her three books.

“ Exciting!” she smiles leafing through the pages.

A huge smile flashes on Anna’s face.“Yes mom. Today I think my world is a beautiful Fabric!”  She says.