“Eclectic, interesting…will fill you with hope and resolve!” – Pick up our new short story collection, Women.Mutiny
It doesn’t bog me down. In fact, I have come to believe, that maybe I was born to Mother, just so I could make her understand exactly this.
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “A Step At A Time”, and the story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The third winner of our April 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Rashmi Raj.
“I can’t believe we are really doing this!”
“Of course we are doing this! Didn’t I tell you we will?”
“Yeah, but that was four years ago, Swati. I never thought that we would …”
“Priya, you know I meant it.” Swati replied. “And I mean it now.” she went on, “Go ahead, take that sip. You know you want to,” and she gently pushed the glass of wine closer to her friend.
Priya smiled. “I feel like I am sixteen,” she said, her eyes on the dark red wine. “Like I am doing something naughty! And if Mum finds out, she will have me grounded!”
Swati smiled at her friend. “Well, you are sixteen,” she said, “albeit, with twenty four years’ experience!”
And the two friends burst out laughing!
Diners from the surrounding tables turned to look. Some coughed discreetly. But neither friend paid them any heed. They were in a world of their own today. Where it was just them. Nothing, and no one else mattered right now. Of course, there were calls to be returned and messages to be replied to. But that would all come tomorrow. Tonight, it was just the two of them – and the wine, and the birthday cake that the waiter had just brought in, with two candles on it. A cake for the combined celebration of their fortieth birthdays.
Soon, the musicians of the hotel gathered at their table and played the “Happy Birthday” song for them. Resplendent in their new dresses, Swati and Priya beamed, as some of the diners around them turned to smile at them now, and some wished them, as the girls cut the cake. And then, a bottle of wine was brought to their table by the maître d’, compliments of the hotel.
Later that night, with the bottle of wine resting between them, Swati and Priya were on the balcony of their twelfth floor hotel room, lounging in deck chairs, watching the twinkling lights of the city below and the shining stars up in the sky.
“I always wanted to do this,” Swati said. “Like those characters in that show, Boston Legal,” she smiled. “Sit on the terrace at night with a drink in my hand!”
Priya smiled warmly at her friend.
“Thank you,” she said. “For getting us to come out like this. This is fun.”
“Oh, yes, it is, isn’t it?” Swati purred.
“You know Swats, I never thought I would actually leave Anya with her Dad and come on a trip all by myself like this!” Priya said.
“Oh come on Pri, she is not a baby! She is twelve, for God’s sake. She will manage. I am sure, she will be the one in charge at home right now.” Swati retorted.
“I know. It is just that, I have never left her alone. You know…”
“I know.” Swati turned to look at her friend. “You are the most devoted mother I have ever seen. But you need this Pri. You know you need some time for yourself. And we had a pact, remember? We had to come out together for our fortieth birthdays.”
“I know, I know. And I am glad we are doing this.” Priya sighed. “It’s just that, when I am with Anya, I always feel like I need time away from her – but when I am away from her…”
“Right… I know the feeling,” Swati said. “But enough of that. She is alright, and you know it. You spoke to her only minutes ago! So quit worrying. Just, get back to the here and now.”
Priya nodded. “Yes, the here and now,” she said, “The Big Forty!”
Then she turned to her friend and said softly, “Swats,”
“I can’t believe we are actually forty.”
“Well, technically, I will turn forty only next week,” Swati grinned. “As of now, only you are forty. But I know what you are saying…” Her voice trailed off as she sat back in her chair.
Priya sat back in her chair too, looking up at the sky. “Life just passed by…huh?” she said. “Four decades on this earth… and a bonnie girl and a marriage to show for it…”
“That’s not all!” Swati sat up. “Don’t forget your job! You are a wonderful teacher! Don’t forget that. You make a difference in children’s lives. Heck, you make a difference in their parents’ lives! That’s way more than I can say for myself.”
“Why, you are the most creative person I know!” Priya countered. “I haven’t met anyone who sculpts like you do. In fact, I don’t even know anyone who has had as many successful exhibitions as you have of your sculptures. Not to mention your high flying legal job! I mean, could you be any more successful? You just… just…”
“Just about missed the marriage market!” Swati said mirthlessly.
Priya opened her mouth, but didn’t know what to say. She sat there shaking her head. “No…” she managed eventually. “No…that’s…that’s…”
“That’s what Mother would say,” Swati shrugged.
“Oh come on! Marriage is not the only yardstick to measure a woman’s success. Marriage and family are just a part of her. Or not. A woman is complete in herself, irrespective!”
“Well, tell that to Mother,” Swati gave a sad smile. “But if you find her, let me know first.”
“Oh, is she away again?”
“Yep! It is Vaishno Devi this time” Swati said dryly.
“Aunty just loves to go on pilgrimage,” Priya tried.
“Come on Pri, you know Mother just goes on pilgrimage to ask for the Gods to bless me with a suitable match. For her, a girl who is not married, is not complete. And now that I am turning forty, she is this close to losing it!”
“Why don’t you just tell her that you are happy just the way you are? That you don’t want to get married. It is a choice you have made.”
“You think I haven’t tried?”
“Look Pri, I know you understand that all this doesn’t interest me. That, as much as I love you and I love Mother, I just can’t accept that getting married or bearing a child is a necessity in life. But that is not the case with Mother. Every day she seeks out someone or the other, who she expects, would ‘talk some sense into me’.” Swati made quotation marks in the air. “I just wish Dad was around, you know.” she went on. “He would understand. He wouldn’t blink an eye, at me turning forty and refusing to get married. I mean, come on, if a man can live a bachelor’s life, why can’t a woman live all her life without a man?”
“Swats, Aunty just worries about you…”
“Really, Pri? What is she worried about? I am an independent woman. I have a high paying job. I have no debts. I own my flat in the best part of the town. I have health insurance. I drive around in an expensive car. I travel the world. I am in the pink of my health. What is she worried about?”
“That… you may be lonely…”
“Seriously Pri! Even you don’t believe that! And if anything, Mother is the one shutting herself off from me. She is just building a wall between the two of us, making herself more and more lonely on the other side, where I can’t even get to her! You know what her biggest problem is? That she cannot compete with her friend Pammi Aunty, whose daughter has twins! Or with Radha Aunty whose granddaughter will, as Mother loves to remind me, turn into a teenager next month!”
“Leave it Swats,” Priya tried to placate her friend. “You know she just means well.”
As the night wore on, and the level of wine in their bottle went steadily down, the two friends’ mood turned melancholy.
“You know the sad part, Pri,” Swati said at length, “It’s that Mother never even tries to understand me. My own mother, can you believe it? She is so blinded by what the world thinks a daughter should do, that she refuses to see what a success her daughter already is!”
Priya put her hand on her friend’s arm. “Hey,” she said softly. “She’s your mother. She just wants you to be happy.”
Swati laughed wryly. “You know Pri,” she said, her index finger bobbing up and down, “that I am willing to believe! Because once, Mother did ask me something that I am sure must have made her very uncomfortable.”
“What?” Priya frowned.
“She asked me, if I was interested in girls.” Swati looked at her friend pointedly.
“NO!” Priya’s hand flew to her mouth.
“Oh, yes. She did.” Swati said matter-of-factly.
Priya gasped. “What in the world!” Then she said, “But you know, I can see Aunty’s logic. You refuse to settle down with a boy, ergo, you must be…” her voice trailed off when she saw Swati shaking her head. “What? Did she suspect you? Who did she think you were interested in?”
“What?!” Priya was aghast! But this was so ridiculous, she couldn’t help laughing out loud. “Me! And when was this? How come you never told me this?”
“Oh, it was just after Mother and I returned from your brother’s wedding that June.”
“Sameer’s wedding? That was the year Anya turned eight!”
“I know.” Swati nodded her understanding. “And I said that to Mother. She has a husband, I said; a happy marriage, and an eight year old kid! But Mother was having none of it. All that doesn’t matter, she said. And just because someone has a husband and an eight year old kid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t… you know…”
“What made Aunty think….” Priya wondered. And then suddenly she looked at Swati wide-eyed as something else occurred to her. “Oh my God! Swats, is that why Aunty called to ask me if I was going on this trip with you?”
Now Swati started laughing. “Oh, no, no. I convinced her long back that she was barking up the wrong tree. But she still has her doubts, you now. When she got to know just you and I were going away this weekend, she did ask me, ‘what mother would leave her kid to go on a trip with her girlfriend?’”
Priya smiled despite herself. “I don’t believe it,” she said.
“Well Pri,” Swati said reasonably, “For Mother, girls’ lives are complete if and only if they achieve their life’s goals. Which according to Mother, are education, job, marriage, motherhood – one by one – a step at a time. Unfortunately for her, I, her own daughter, took very different steps to achieve my success. Education, job, career, sculpting – one by one – a step at a time. And Mother finds this impossible to digest. She cannot accept, that one can still be successful, despite not doing what the world expects them to do, to succeed.”
“But it doesn’t matter Pri.” Swati said bravely, “It doesn’t bog me down. In fact, I have come to believe, that maybe I was born to Mother, just so I could make her understand exactly this. That everyone measures success by their own yardstick. And if the world is unfamiliar with the route someone takes to achieve their success, so what? That doesn’t stop them from being successful!”
“I am so proud of you Swats, you know that?” Priya said to her friend. And meant it with all her heart.
Swati smiled. “I know,” she said. “And I am proud of you.”
And then the mischief was right back in her eyes! “Pri,” Swati said; “how about we hug it out then, and take a pouting selfie, just so I can send it to Mother?” she winked.
The friends’ laughter rang out loud and clear in the night as the stars shone bright and a light mist swirled around them.
Rashmi Raj wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay
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With over 200 published stories, Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-writer, who has always given
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