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Saloni’s face fell. This was a recurring recent battle. She had changed and now she had to repeatedly fight this ghost from the past. She took a moment to steel herself.
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 “I’m not weird. Just a limited edition”, 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 second winner of our July 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Kanika.
Saloni was sitting on the sofa, waiting for the doorbell to ring. It had been ages since she had seen Tarana. The idea of catching up with an old bosom friend from school made her ecstatic. How they had lost touch, she could not figure out, but it had happened slowly over time. A part of her was apprehensive too. She had changed so much since her school days. Would the meeting be awkward?
At the tinkling of the doorbell Saloni sprang from the sofa to welcome her friend. The girls hugged each other. Then Tarana kicked off her shoes and Saloni linked arms with her and ushered her to the sofa.
“So tell me, how was the flight? Are you jet-lagged?” Saloni asked.
“No. Surprisingly not. I feel fresh as a daisy.” Tarana said, her eyes sparkling.
“I can’t believe we are actually meeting. The last time we stood in the same room was…”
“At your farewell party before you left to do your Ph. D in the US. Soon after undergrad too. I always knew you were the genius type.” Tarana completed Saloni’s sentence. Saloni cringed inwardly, but this moment was so pleasant, she did not want to ruin it with self doubt.
“And by the time I was back, you went there.” Saloni added.
“So what are you up to now?” Both asked at once, and then as if unable to resist old habits, “Jinx!” they exclaimed together and laughed.
The girls had found each other on facebook just a few days before Tarana was supposed to come on a vacation to Mumbai. They had decided they absolutely had to meet. Tarana was busy preparing for the trip to India, so they did not have a chance to catch up on facebook, but she had promised to come over the very day after she landed and now here they were.
“You go first.” Saloni said after they were able to stifle their giggles. “You are working with IBM there now right? I saw that on your facebook page.”
“Yes I am. I just started working with them last year. I think a little before you came back. It’s my dream job. So tell me brainy lady. What are you doing back in Mumbai? Working with TIFR? I noticed you have quite a few publications in some fancy shmancy international journals.”
“No actually…” Saloni paused. Why was this so difficult for her? She had quit a Physics research by choice, and she was happy with her life. So why did what other people expect her to be doing make her act defensive? Unable to break the pattern, she blushed. “Actually I am taking a break from Physics.” She knew that wasn’t the whole truth, but it was the best she could manage, and perhaps it would be enough.
“Why is that?” Tarana was genuinely puzzled.
Saloni used her ready excuse. “I finished my postdoc and decided to take a break. I am pregnant.” She said, knowing this would distract Tarana for at least a little while.
“Pregnant! Wow! Congratulations! You don’t look it at all. When did this happen?”
“Oh you flatter me. Can’t you see the slight bulge?” Saloni pointed at her tummy. I am at 16 weeks now.
“Oh my! I thought you’d just got fat and decided not to say anything about it. I remember how hard you pinched me when I pointed out that you were getting fat in 10th standard. Your mom was overfeeding you because you were staying up late studying, remember?”
“Oh yeah. I had forgotten that.” Both girls laughed heartily at the shared memory.
“Anyway wow. This is so awesome. So you are on maternity leave? Wait, isn’t it too early for that?”
“No actually, as I was saying I am taking a career break. I decided it was time to focus on my personal life. There is never a good time to have a baby in academics, with enormous pressure to publish regularly and tenure track and what not and I always wanted to be a hands on mom. So here we are.”
“What? No way. You were always so driven. I can’t picture you stopping for a moment. That brain of your is always buzzing and restless. You have always been so ambitious and goal oriented. I mean you got your doctorate by the age of 25. That’s quite a feat.”
“Hey what happened? Is everything okay? Is your husband pressuring you to quit?” And there it was. Now they blamed her best friend and partner in crime, who would stand by her to the ends of the earth.
“No Tarana. Actually my research was not going as well as I had hoped. I wasn’t as good at it as I had thought. I was great at classes and always topped. But research requires a certain something more, and I did not have it. I was mediocre at best. I could have probably got by and made a so so career of it, but I wasn’t happy.” Saloni was shocked that she had actually spoken all that out loud to someone other than her husband. She found it hard to even admit it to herself, and now here she was blurting it all out like a blithering idiot, to someone she had only just met after 6 years.
She had wanted to get this out for a long time but couldn’t find the courage. Articulating those opressive thoughts and feelings was liberating. She felt a load lift off her chest. She felt free. The sight of a shell shocked Tarana was amusing, not frightening.
But she had underestimated Tarana, who was recovering quickly from the surprise.
“Okay so what are you doing now, while you wait for the baby? If I know you at all, I know you can’t sit still and do nothing!”
Saloni smiled. “You do know me well. I am doing some writing. I haven’t done it in a while, and I am enjoying it.”
“Oh yeah, I remember you used to write some lovely poems in school.” Tarana recalled.
“Yes. I am writing a novel.” Saloni said blushing. “But I don’t know if it will be any good.”
“Does it matter? You always said it’s the journey that matters and not the destination.”
“Yes and I still think so.”
“To the journey!” Tarana said raising her hand for a high five. Saloni smiled and high fived her.
“But I must say you are one weird chick. Putting all that effort in to physics, earning a doctorate, publishing in renowned journals and then just giving it up to write a book. Then again everyone thought you were weird in school too getting so excited about math problems.”
“Naah, not weird, just a limited edition.” Saloni winked and the girls giggled.
“Well, knowing you it won’t be just a book. You’ll pour your heart and soul in to writing, like you do into every endeavour you undertake. You’ll do great and still find the courage to start something completely new and excel at it in another decade.”
“I don’t know what it is about you, that forces me to come out of denial and own the truth.” Saloni said her eyes shinning.
“Why, it’s the fact that I know you are awesome, no matter what you choose to do.” Tarana said and the girls hugged.
“So tell me all about this IBM job, and I believe there is a boy friend lurking in the picture too …”
“Oh such tosh! Where do you pick up these rumors?”
“From your facebook profile.” Saloni raised her eyebrows.
“Oh yeah. I guess it is my turn to fess up.”
The day continued most pleasantly with two old friends catching up.
Kanika 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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Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to
Kanika, Congratulations! Lovely story….Keep writing 🙂
Thanks so much Tina.
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