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“So that story which you always tell me is true, right? You’ve always told me my story! No wonder I feel so connected to that girl whenever you talk about her…”.
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 “Paint The Sky, Make It Yours”. 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 fifth winner of our September 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Arva Bhavnagarwala.
Reshma stomped inside her house tired and grumpy. She dumped her seven kilo bag on the nearest chair and sat cross legged on the floor. Just then, Rashida, her mother entered the room.
“Hey my princess! You are home already! Did not hear you coming… So, how was the first day of your last year in school?” Rashida asked her set of rapid fire questions.
“Ammi. I don’t want to talk about it, please!”
“Oh my child… look at me.” Rashida sat next to Reshma and coaxed her to look at her.
“Ammi, I was so excited for the first day. But it was a flop show.” Reshma complained.
“And why do you say that?”
“All the girls in my class have grown taller, curvier and prettier. And look at me! I look like I’m in middle school and my hair?” she held one of her plaits in disdain, “looks like you’ve emptied the entire bottle of almond oil in them. Ewww…”
She paused for a breath and continued, “I have no breasts! And Ammi, when will I grow tall? When? It’s been a month since treatment has started and I haven’t grown even a centimeter!”
She stood up and started pacing the room. “Blasted Turner’s syndrome! Why did I get it Ammi? Why me? Tell me… answer…”
Rashida sighed, got a kerchief and started wiping her daughter’s tears and snot. “Kaleja, how many times has the doctor explained that the treatment will take time to have its effect? You need to be patient, kaleja.”
Reshma threw her hands up in exasperation, “Don’t kaleja me! I’m not a small baby anymore!” saying that she stomped her foot and slammed the bedroom door.
Rashida was not new to her teenager’s tantrums. She knew that she would come around. But what was worrying her now was the body image that she was going to develop seeing the others around her. And that was something Rashida knew she had to address.
Late evening, Reshma finally decided to come out of her self-imposed solitary confinement. She was greeted with an appetizing smell of pakodas and tea. During their snack Reshma told her mother about what an academic feast the year was going to be. She explained in detail about the various debate and elocution competitions that were going to be held throughout the year. Rashida was relieved that her bubbly Reshma was back after the initial outburst. And she had to make sure that only this version of her daughter would remain dominant rather than the sulky one. After their short snack, Rashida asked Reshma to come to the mezzanine floor of their flat.
“Ammi? Why there? That’s just a store room right? What do you have to show me there?”
“Just come, don’t ask so many questions!”
“I’ve learnt from the best!” Reshma laughed and hugged her mother from behind.
Reshma imagined all the possible scenarios that would happen. Her Ammi would either give her a long philosophical talk or would again tell her the story of the girl who lived. She wouldn’t mind the latter, she knew it by heart now. It was her favorite story and she somehow felt that all her worries dissipated the moment she heard that story.
It went like this. Two little sisters lived in harmony with each other. The space where they lived was very small, yet they managed to enjoy themselves in that tiny space. They never fought, shared their food and all in all they were very happy. But one day, they were separated from each other. The younger one fought and cried a lot to be with her older sister, but fate had other plans. She was so sad with the separation that she couldn’t live any more. The older one was the girl who lived. She promised herself that no matter what, she would always stay happy and focused in her life and try to fulfill the dreams of her younger sister; so that she could stay alive with her in her thoughts and actions.
Reshma loved this story so much that she somehow felt that she was the older sister and she had to stay happy so that her younger sister could stay happy too. She would be transported to another world whenever she heard this short tale from her Ammi. And right now, she did not mind hearing it again.
On the mezzanine floor, Reshma was astonished to see the space all cleaned up and instead replaced by canvasses of at least a dozen paintings.
“Wow Ammi, have you started giving this place on rent to some artist?”
“No, kaleja, your Ammi is the artist here.” Rashida said proudly.
Reshma couldn’t believe her ears, “Really Ammi? You did all of these?”
“Yes, beta. You always ask me what I do in my free time. So here it is.” She gestured around the room.
“Amazing, Ammi. Why don’t you sell these? We’ll get some extra income.” Reshma started walking in one corner to examine the painting there.
“No, wait dear. Don’t see them now. They have to be seen in a particular order, only then you will understand. And no, they are all not completed yet. So cannot sell them.”
Rashida took her daughter to the far end of the floor and showed her a painting of a house amidst lush greenery. Reshma looked at it keenly. Then she was taken to another painting, depicting a couple holding hands standing in front of the same house as in the first painting.
“Amazing, Ammi. You are so good at this!” Reshma exclaimed. “No wonder I always got A grades whenever you did my projects!”
Rashida laughed loudly. “Okay, enough buttering, come here. See this.”
“Wow, they are getting married now!” Reshma exclaimed in joy on looking at the next painting. Rashida then showed her the next one in which a silhouette of a pregnant lady was facing the sea and the rising sun. The next one showed a couple holding a little bundle in their hands and smiling from ear to ear. Another painting showed a woman with tears in her eyes against a backdrop of a happy family.
“And this is the last one as of now,” Rashida gestured at the one painting in front of her.
It showed the silhouette of a young girl against the backdrop of the setting sun. She had a smile on her face, her hands were outstretched, her eyes were closed and her head fell back from her shoulders facing the sky.
“This one’s my favorite till now.” Rashida said.
“Mine too, Ammi, mine too. I feel like I’m in love with this girl!”
“So, do you know who this girl is?” Rashida asked.
“This girl? No Ammi, how will I know? I wish it was me though!”
“It is you, beta.”
Reshma stared at her mother in bewilderment. “Me?”
“Yes, this girl is you. This is our story. Your Abba and I dreamt of a home, we got married. You came into our lives and we’ve been complete.”
“But Ammi, if this is our story, then why was that woman crying in one of the paintings? Are you not happy?”
Rashida blinked back unshed tears and said, “That woman is mourning the loss of her child. Reshma, beta, you had a twin sister. But she died a few days after birth due to some congenital malformations. You are the girl who lived. And sometimes when I think about her, I end up shedding a few tears.”
“Oh Ammi!” Reshma hugged her mother and both of them reveled in each other’s comfort for some time. “So that story which you always tell me is true, right? You’ve always told me my story! No wonder I feel so connected to that girl whenever you talk about her…”
“Yes my brave girl, Reshma. It is your story. And have you noticed how your spirits are lifted whenever I tell you that story? You are a fighter. You survived even though you were premature. And now, don’t let this minor obstacle of Turner’s syndrome keep you from achieving your goals.”
“Yes, Ammi. You are right. I’m a fighter. And I will not let you down.”
Rashida gave a peck on her daughter’s forehead, to which Reshma said, “Enough about me, I’m so proud of you Ammi, you have some amazing talent. Does Abba know about this?”
“Of course he does!”
Just like that, the mood was lifted and the mother daughter banter continued until dinner time.
The next morning, Reshma was about to leave for school, when Rashida called out to her.
“Kaleja, do you remember that last painting that I had showed you?”
“Yes, it’s my favorite.”
“Good. Remember that’s you. And remember that sky. It was splattered in orange, pink and purple. But those were the colors I chose to paint it with. Your sky is blank like a plain canvas. Sometimes there will be dark clouds, but the sun will always shine after the storm is over. Your life is similar to the sky. Go ahead, paint it with the colors of your choice. Make it beautiful. Make it all yours! It’s solely in your hands my kaleja!”
“Oh Ammi! I love you… So much! You made my day even better!” A tight hug later, Reshma went off to school with a smile on her face and hope in her chest.
Arva Bhavnagarwala 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: Unsplash
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