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They had also found, that the mother had undone her seatbelt and wrapped herself around Mia’s head and upper body, taking the full impact on herself, letting Mia survive, with relatively less serious injuries.
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 “Just Living Is Not Enough…”, 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 August 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Rashmi Raj.
“Do you have a minute?”
“Well,” Nayah spread her hands, “It is Sunday, we have just finished breakfast, you have no other commitments for the day that I am aware of… and it is still early. I just need a little bit of your time.”
Mia, who had gotten up to leave the table, sat back down.
“Okay… I guess I should do whatever you say.”
“Why would you say that?” Nayah frowned.
“Well, you are my legal guardian… I owe it to you…”
Nayah sighed. Not again!
“Mia, you don’t ‘owe’ me anything. You don’t owe anyone, anything. You are practically an adult, now; you are free to do as you please, always have been since you walked into this house…”
“It’s okay. No big deal. My being an adult is just a technicality, anyway. You are the one in charge. Don’t look at me like that, I don’t mean to imply that you are a bully or anything, it’s just….” Mia let out an exasperated sound. “You know what? Let’s just get this over with. What did you want to talk to me about?”
Nayah took a deep breath looking steadily at her niece. The girl was only a few months shy of her eighteenth birthday, but she still acted as the sullen, moody teenager she had first been when she had walked into Nayah’s house, and life, for good.
Nayah cleared her throat, and began.
“I got a call from Mrs. Dinshaw yesterday….”
“But you attended the parent-teacher meeting already last week. Why did she call you again?”
Deep breaths, Nayah reminded herself, deep breaths.
“I am getting to it. So, Mrs. Dinshaw called me because she is worried about you. She thinks you aren’t doing enough to meet your potential… And I tend to agree with her.”
“You are joking, right?” Mia snorted. “I am the topper in the class, not just my section; all the sections of my class! What more does she want me to do? What more do you want me to do?”
“Mia, I am aware of your spectacular academic record. But Mrs. Dinshaw wasn’t referring to that. Nor am I. Look, you have attended this school for three years now, and in all this time, we have all seen what an amazing, straight-A student you are. So that is an established fact.
‘But it is also equally important to note, that you are only concentrating on academics. You are not taking part in any extra-curricular activities… Not to mention you hardly have any friends… Is there really no sport, no Drama Club, Literature Club, Science Club, Maths Club, or even a Debate Club that interests you, Mia?”
Mia sighed. But stayed quiet.
“You can tell me, whatever it is… Is there any particular reason you keep away from social life in school? Is someone bullying you? Or… some boy… oh, Mia, please, do talk to me!”
“Okay, okay, don’t get so dramatic! There is nothing, or no one, troubling me in school. I just don’t want to socialise. That’s all.” Mia shrugged.
“Don’t want to socialise? But you have always been such a friendly child! You and your mom were the most sociable people I have known all my life! You guys were the life of the party! In fact…”
“Yes, Mom and I… were…” Mia’s voice cracked.
And Nayah skipped a beat. This wasn’t easy on either of them.
It had been three years since Nayah’s sister had been in a car accident. She had been driving, with Mia in the passenger seat. They were on a road trip, both mother and daughter singing aloud to the beats of the car radio. Just as they had rounded a bend, a lorry that had been coming from the wrong side, trying to overtake another vehicle; had collided with them head-on!
When the paramedics had eventually arrived, they had found that the air bags had been deployed, and both Mia and her mother were unconscious. They had also found, that the mother had undone her seatbelt and wrapped herself around Mia’s head and upper body, taking the full impact on herself, letting Mia survive, with relatively less serious injuries.
Nayah had rushed to the hospital to find a physically and emotionally bruised Mia, looking too small for the large hospital bed and too dazed to face the reality. Her physical recovery had taken over a year; but the heart, Nayah knew, would take way longer to heal.
Soon after, Mia had come to live with Nayah. As per the hospital’s grief counsellor, the move to a new city – a different school, and hopefully new friends – was supposed to help with the healing process.
At school, Mia immersed herself completely in her studies, and Nayah was glad the girl didn’t seem to have time to dwell on her pain too much. She thought this was good for her.
Three years had gone by, and Nayah had learnt to live with the once vivacious, but now morose, temperamental Mia. She had hoped it was a passing phase, though.
But then the calls had started coming from Mia’s school. Mrs. Dinshaw, the Principal, had spoken to Nayah personally, and informed her that the school’s counsellor had been regularly speaking with Mia and she had some startling insight to reveal.
Usually, the school didn’t divulge a student’s confidential information to their guardians this way, but Nayah, who had recently delivered Mrs. Dinshaw’s granddaughter, was Mrs. Dinshaw’s daughter’s best friend and gynaecologist; and knew the Principal, Mrs. Perveen Dinshaw on a personal level. Not to mention, that Mia’s case was also treated differently, because the school understood that Nayah was still very new at being the sole guardian to a teenager.
“Mia,” Nayah said now, swallowing a dangerously large lump that had lodged in her throat. “Do you still have nightmares?”
In the early days of her moving in, Mia would wake up several nights a week screaming and thrashing, in the throes of a nightmare. Nayah had consulted a psychologist and they had learnt that Mia was reliving the accident again and again in her head.
Now, the school’s counsellor had backed that possibility, and had come up with a theory that Mia blamed herself for her mother’s death. This was shocking for Nayah, on several levels. Not only had she been wrong in thinking that Mia was healing, she had also been blind to the possibility that the girl would actually blame herself for what happened to her mother!
“No.” Mia replied. “I don’t have nightmares anymore. I just…I just feel…”
“Guilty…?” Nayah breathed.
Mia looked up at her, startled. “She told you?! The sessions with the counsellor are supposed to be confidential!”
“And they are.” Nayah said, trying to placate her niece. “Only, in our case, they needed to let me know so that I could help you.”
“Oh, please, don’t help me anymore, really; you are already doing enough.”
Nayah didn’t know if Mia was being sarcastic. But she didn’t have the time to dwell on it. Because she had suddenly realised that Mia’s behaviour was only confirming what her school counsellor had once mentioned to Nayah. Mia thinks that you are being very benevolent, taking care of her and providing her food and board; and thereforeshe owes you perfect academic scores so you don’t have any trouble with her.
And if that was true, then could the other thing the counsellor had said also be true…?
“Mia, tell me honestly, darling;” Nayah ventured; “Do you blame yourself for what happened?”
“Wouldn’t you if you were in my place?” Mia asked simply, looking her in the eye.
“Mia… you must not…”
“Oh, it’s easy for you all to say! But I was there, okay! None of you were in the car that day! So don’t tell me what I can and what I must not think! Please!” Mia was getting agitated as she spoke. She stood up and started pacing the room, speaking rapidly.
“Mom didn’t want to go out on that road trip. I insisted! Mom had suggested a different route! But I made her take the road we took! And it was me she died protecting! If Ihadn’t been there, in the passenger seat, she would never have undone her seatbelt and would’ve been able to save herself!”
“Mia…” Nayah implored. “She protected you because that is what parents do. It would’ve been the same on any given day, on any given road. You can’t blame yourself like this. Your mother wouldn’t want you to blame yourself…”
“My mother died because of me!”
“Your mother died so that you could live, Mia!”
“Oh, yes, and I am living, aren’t I? She is gone, and I am living…” Mia said. And then she walked away to her room.
Nayah was too shocked to move. She knew now what she had always known in her heart. That she was completely unprepared to take care of Mia. Who was she kidding? She hadn’t yet healed herself, despite all this time passing after the death of her sister. What advice was she supposed to give Mia, now?
But she also knew the girl needed her. Now, more than ever. So she swallowed her tears, and followed Mia to her room.
Mia was lying on the bed, crying, with her face hidden in the pillows. Nayah sat on the edge of the bed, kissed Mia’s head, and began to stroke her hair.
“Mia, I understand you wanting to blame yourself for what happened. I get it. Hell, there have been days when I have felt that it should’ve been me, and not your mother, who had had to go…. No one would’ve missed me. But your mother, she was precious, Mia. She was an amazing person! She was a great friend, a wonderful sister, and I am sure, the best mother.
‘But Mia, sweetheart, she did what she did, to protect you. It was instinct. She wanted you safe. And you stayed safe, thanks to her. And this life of yours, this is a gift from her. You should live it the way she lived hers. You don’t feel like being happy right now, fine; but you should understand too, that you owe it to your mother to be happy.
‘Your mother wanted you to live, Mia. But just living is not enough. You need to really live. You need to be alive! You cannot keep blaming yourself for what happened. You cannot spend your whole life in the shadow of your mother’s death.
‘You need to learn to live a rewarding life for yourself. You need to builda fulfilling life for yourself. You need to face the truth and accept it.
‘Your mother lived a full, happy life, Mia. She would want the same for you. She raised you single handedly, never letting anything get her down – not her divorce, not her circumstances. She faced the facts, accepted them, and built a brilliant life! For you, for herself. She showed us all how to really live life. That is why so many of us love her. So many of us miss her…
‘You need to live like that too, Mia. Make friends, have hobbies, do what makes you happy. You owe it to yourself. Not just to your mother, certainly not to me, but definitely to yourself. You need to learn to really live life to the fullest…”
A sob escaped Mia as she came up and hugged Nayah, who hugged her right back, with tears rolling down her own cheeks.
Bright sunlight streamed through the window, warming the two of them as they sat there, holding each other. And Nayah hoped, with all her heart, that these tears would finally be able wash away her niece’s guilt, so that the girl could really begin living.
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: pexels
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With over 200 published stories, Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-writer, who has always given
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