|Picture from Google.|
Madhuri stuffed her bag with the steel tiffin box, small flask, and purse, dropped it on the Glossy creed black and white coffee table. Pulled the diary out of the bag, scribbled the grocery list stuffed it back. Removed two bulging plastic files inside the table made them flop near the bag. Just another day, she gasped.
She measured her movement as she sat on the sofa. The September sun sneaked in through the window signalled a throbbing headache, a lacklustre sensation. She was strongly inclined to take a break from everything to take a trip to somewhere alone-will it ever happen?
"One minute ma," Ankush called out from upstairs. It was nearly eight. She should be on the road now. A throb on the temple blinded her-- she hushed it with a fingertip and craned the head to scan the stairs. Not a sign of him.
"I have a test in the first lesson Ma, cannot wait for him," Megha reminded her from the sofa across from her--she was ready for the school, packed the lunch herself, her eyes glowed in contempt.
"He will be ready soon," Madhuri pacified her daughter.
"He is lazy, selfish, makes me late every day."
Madhuri looked at her daughter with a pang of anger. How would she convince her, boys are boys: the species got a social gain along the evolutionary trajectory. Her own brother had dragged his feet in everything, a slow coach, but she never got bitter at him. Her mother had ably instilled that traditional wisdom in her: Where had she failed? The girl takes lessons from the internet, her mother. Riddled her brain with unholy ideas--women equality, gender unfairness, discrimination, and whatnot. Her father from Dubai had warned a few times to stop the internet subscription to take control of her. She shouldn't drag her feet anymore.
"Let me keep your bag in the car." Megha grabbed the key went out to the car.
Madhuri noticed the money plant in the pot next to the curtain had disappeared. The withered creeper had fallen off the truss and tumbled onto the floor on a closer look. The soil in the pot hardened into a lump of rock in the absence of water. Megha had made Ankush responsible for the watering.
She made a rush into the kitchen, returned with water in a cup of water, hurled it into the pot, keeping an eye on Megha. A burning uneasiness surged through her inside: what is bothering her son? His counselling teacher had recommended a dietitian for him that he lacked a properly nutritious diet.
"Nutritionists are a rip-off," Megha dismissed the idea at the onset; she is jealous of him. Madhuri decided to get an appointment with the best nutritionist in town without Megha knowing it.
She heard Ankush thumping down on the stairs ambled along into the lounge plonked the school bag onto the floor. "I want a new school," he kept a sombre expression on his face.
"Dear, you, don't throw the books on to the floor to disrespect it." Madhuri pulled the bag onto the sofa. Ankush didn't respond, kept the same look on.
She took a good look at him: hair unkempt, strands straggling in wisp about his face, shirt tucked in untidily, pants dishevelled, face thin, eyes, sombre. Tears welled up in her eyes: the apple of her eye. Is she a bad mother, for the evil spirit to punish her through her son, how has he lost interest in the school? Had he been insulted by a teacher or a friend?
She hugged her son, who hugged her back wrapped his delicate arms around her. She turned him towards him looked into his eyes, "what happened to you, my dear?"
"I want to join your school," he leaned into her.
"That poor government school, not fit for you."
"Megha is there."
"We gave you the best school."
"That's not the best school, Ma, please tell Papa."
Five lakhs capitation fee, the tuition fees and other expenses are going over their head.
He began to cry, his beautiful eyes welling up with tears.
"Ma, it's time," Megha called out from outside, "we're getting late."
Madhuri carried Ankush's school bag lodged into the car boot, planted an assuring kiss on his cheeks who dragged behind her. She made him seated on the passenger seat, ignoring Megha's stare from the back seat. Backed the car out the frontcourt, pulled into the road in the front and hit the highway. She dug deep into her thoughts: had she done something wrong to punish her son? Appealed to Guruvayoorappan to forgive her for a substantial offer, a gold bangle.
Madhuri stood in front of the tall iron gate to get it opened. The security man behind grunted through a grill that rattled open above her head. She stepped back to see his face; the frontward bill of the black cap had covered the upper part of his face.
"Open the gate," she urged, which the man ignored and ordered her to the small gate beside the main.
He took time to quiz her with a set of mind-numbing security style questions, his red eyes measuring her body. She wasn't there to steal anything. "I came to see the school principal," she raised the letter in her hand. He pretended not to see it.
Had she come to the right place? She checked the name board hovered over the gate: JC School of Excellence.
"Sign here," he made her sign three places in a book.
She remembered the saintly look and the humble gestures that welcomed her during the school registration to make Ankush feel a star. She hid the five lakhs package in her bag dropped in front of the holy man seated on a throne with reverence. Signed on printed papers his secretary had handed on. The air inside the room smelt divine. The holy man blessed Ankush, hand spreading over his head without touching. She felt an overwhelming divinity in his presence. The interview was one on one. Three times, his class teacher video-called her to discuss his exam report. She proudly spread the news among her colleagues. The school logo was: tradition meets the modern.
The man opened the gate.
The moment she stepped inside realised it different from the registration place. She had to take a long stretch with sprawling lush lawns broken by dark shadows thrown down by tall trees rising to the sky, along the sides. Slicing through everywhere a deadly gloom, she heard a guttering noise, a wave of peacock blue bloomed merrily at a distance. There was nothing of colour other than the birds blue, no plants, no flowers.
Into a few meters, she saw a building faintly in the distance. She remembered Ankush nagging her with complaints of getting tired by a long stretch of walk and a whole lot of other things, she bluntly negated. She was not willing to open up for a talk with him.
A large gate opened in front of her through which she walked into a deserted lounge, a reception sign hung above a small window. In the cubbyhole behind it, she found no one. A lady appeared in a while, no word, no facial expression to acknowledge her presence.
"Can I see the principal?" She asked.
"For what?" she heard a baritone voice.
She showed her the letter, the lady gestured her to pass it on, her sweating shivering fingers slipped it in through the window bars. The lady rolled back in silence. She looked around for any support to sit on found nothing.
Another lady summoned her to lead her. She reached in front of the principal after getting pushed through corridors and rooms. "We have suspended your son from the school for a week," she heard his words woke her up from a trance she had fallen into. She failed to utter a word, tongue stuck in the upper palette. The principal in his white robes sat on a chair, his bald head freckled with black and red spots. A minute passed in sombre silence, then his red eyes shot her to remind her the meeting was over that she had left the room.
"Why?" She forced herself.
"Our security squad caught him abusing drugs," he said in a hurry.
"Father, please." Tears welled up in her eyes.
"We can't keep offenders here, not our policy, drug abuse is a serious offence." He said as offering her a charity. "You seek advice from the counsellors we recommend, don't want the news to reach the public for the sake of our reputation." Father stood up. She smelled frankincense in the room, signalling death, ran out of the room.
Ankush had sat outside the office, his head lowered, watched over by a security man.
She ran towards him to find him looking away as being swallowed by a strange alienation. He did not cry made a complaint; she felt a dark silence creeping in between them.
This story got featured in Women's Web Magazine, June 2020.