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She was staring at me trying to intimidate me. But I was her daughter, and wouldn’t back down until I got what I wanted. “So you are collaborating with my enemy?” She finally said.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Arva Bhavnagarwala is one of the winners for the April 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web.
The Forensic Medicine class was in full swing, when my phone started buzzing intermittently. I knew they were text messages and I wanted to check them. But the first row seat in the lecture hall prevented me from doing that. As soon as the bell rang, I fished out my phone to read the messages while walking to the cafeteria for lunch.
How are you, my Magpie? How is your practice going?
The texts were from Sam. I smiled. There were more.
How’s your mom? Does she suspect anything?
I laughed out loud, much to the amusement of my classmates. I began to type.
I’m good, how are you? Practice is slow. And mom is the same. No, she doesn’t suspect anything about my practice, but she does about you.
The reply was instant.
Oh no… Are you serious? I don’t want you to bear the brunt alone. When should I come to meet her?
Are you crazy? Not yet. She went on and on about my priorities last night. And she said, ‘oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here, and what-all you’re up to, but you must understand that you’re older now. Just like childhood ended, and school ended, and college ended, your childish ‘best-friendship’ with that boy also has to come to an end.’ These were her exact words. I looked at her in shock. Later, I was rofl…
Oh… I’m rofl now!!!
Ok, so I gotta go. Lunch and then pathology practical. I’ll call you later. Love you…
Love you too magpie! Tell me when you are ready.
I wondered whether I would ever be ready. Dad knew what I was up to. But mom… She was a different matter altogether.
Mom wasn’t always like this. It was the accident two years back that changed her. It left her lower limbs paralysed. She was an excellent Bharatanatyam dancer and aspired to open her own academy to teach classical dance. This opportunity was cruelly snatched from her for no fault of hers. She went through all the stages of grief post the accident. We were on our toes caring for her.
She always wanted me to learn Bharatanatyam, years before that fateful day. But I enjoyed hip-hop and Bollywood style more. She didn’t force me after that. I was happy doing my thing, she was happy with hers.
Now each day with her was a struggle. She refused to talk to her counsellor and only kept reminiscing about her past. Dad and I were exhausted to bring her out of it. She would find fault with each and every thing. Of late, she was busy admonishing me for my career choice and friends.
“Why are you so late again? Went to meet that boy, huh?” She started, the moment I set foot in the house.
“Hi, mom? How was your day?” I counted till ten.
“No Megha. I want to know. Don’t try to change the topic. That boy will ruin you, just like his mother ruined me…”
When she uttered my name, I knew it wouldn’t be good. All my loved ones called me Magpie. Megha was the name only on official documents. “Mom…” I said. “Please, I’m tired.”
“Who asked you to enrol in medical college? Being a doctor is anyway depressing. Deal with it. But you have to answer my question.”
She was exasperating me. I paced in the room. She always knew it was my dream to be a doctor. I was fulfilling it. I had another dream too, but my mother was making it difficult. Before I could answer her, my phone rang.
“Mom, I need to take this call…” I looked at her, but she had turned her wheelchair away and muttered something on the lines of ‘Yes, everything else is important except me.’
Later that night, I heard dad, the volume of his voice louder than usual. I peeped into their room. “Look Megha, look what she tried to do again!” He said, the moment I saw him. Then he held my mom’s hands, “Arundhati, we all love you. We need you in our lives. You have to listen to us and do your sessions with the physiotherapist and the counsellor. You cannot give up like this!” Then he yelled, “You can’t do this again, damn it!” And stormed out of the room.
I saw my mother flinch. There were tears in her eyes. A glass of milk lay broken on the floor and what looked like pills- half dissolved, half intact- were visible in the milk.
I knew what she was trying to do. So I made a decision at that instant. “Mom…” Hugging her, I said, “You want to know who I meet? What do I do when I’m late?” I felt her nodding. Removing myself from the embrace, I continued, “Then you will meet that person tomorrow. Promise me you\’ll not do anything stupid until then. Promise me.”
She whispered her yes and kissed me on my forehead. “Goodnight mom.” Leaving her, I went to see dad and told him about my plan.
“What if it backfires?” He sounded skeptical.
“We are in this together. Let’s make sure it won’t backfire. She needs a goal in her life and we are going to give her that.” Dad was working two jobs to keep us afloat. Mom’s treatment had drained us financially. I borrowed the expensive medical textbooks from my seniors, bought a few second-hand ones and took the others from the library. We were doing our best to carry on with our lives and it was high time mom did that too.
I texted the number saved as Sam on my phone. It’s showtime. Tomorrow, my place at 5 pm. Fingers crossed.
I stared anxiously at my phone, waiting for a reply. It came after fifteen agonizing minutes.
Magpie… sure… what happened though?
She tried to kill herself again. Fortunately, dad was there. But we cannot wait any longer.
Oh. I’ll be there at your place tomorrow. Love you and take care. Don’t worry so much. Gn, sd.”
The next evening, I reached back home as soon as my lectures were done. Mom raised her brows seeing me early, but didn’t say anything. Dad was at home, so was the hospice nurse. He wouldn’t leave her alone even for a minute. I smiled at his unconditional love for my mother.
The doorbell rang at 5 pm sharp. “Oh, is he here? I do not want to meet him though.” My mother said.
Now it was my turn to quirk my brows.
She huffed and folded her arms across her chest.
Sighing, I went to open the door. “Hey magpie.” Sagarika aunty hugged me tight.
I welcomed her into my house. Mom was hovering in the living room. When she saw who it was, she gasped and turned her wheelchair to go to her room.
“Mom, meet the person whom I keep chatting to and sometimes meet after my college hours… Sagarika, your best friend and not her son, as you thought.”
Aunty went towards my mom. But mom didn’t even look at her. She was staring at me trying to intimidate me. But I was her daughter, and wouldn’t back down until I got what I wanted. “So you are collaborating with my enemy?” She finally said.
“Stop being so dramatic mom! She’s not your enemy. You are your own enemy…”
Mom went speechless for a few seconds. She gaped at what I was implying. Recovering from it she said, “You are friends with the woman because of whom I’m in this wheelchair? Why Megha?”
“It was an accident, mom. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. And I didn’t call her here for that. She’s my cheerleader. Like she was yours. Wait here, mom. We’ll be back soon.”
I took Sagarika aunty to my room and we emerged half an hour later, I decked in the traditional Bharatanatyam attire, complete with make-up. We couldn’t style my hair, so I tied it in a bun.
Mom had tears in her eyes when she saw me. I gestured for her to look at me and not turn away. Aunty started the music and I performed the Nritta for her. My movements were fast, yet rhythmic. I tried to be graceful, but I wasn’t very good at that. Yet, I gave the performance my all. As the song ended, I bowed to my mother, out of breath and sat at her feet. Holding her hands and gazing into her eyes, I said, “This is what we have been doing since the last year and a half.”
She touched my head. “But you don’t even like Bharatanatyam.”
“I didn’t, but now I do.” I told her how 6 months after her accident, I bumped into Sagarika aunty. “She asked about you as you weren’t willing to talk to her. She told me they were shifting to the suburbs, because they needed money to send Samir- her son- abroad. The same Sam whose friendship with me you didn’t approve of because you didn’t like his mother any more…” Releasing a breath I told my mom, “Sagarika aunty and I bonded well, I needed a mother figure at that time of my life. You were still recuperating and dad was too busy. Also, aunty told me how you blamed her for the accident. You were returning home after a function, aunty was driving and you both were giggling and talking. She looked at you to say something and at that moment another car crashed into yours. But the driver of that car was drunk and it wasn’t her fault. She escaped with minor injuries, you suffered the most. She thought she would give you time to heal. But you haven’t healed yet, mom…”
Mom opened and closed her mouth like a fish.
I continued. “Aunty showed me all your videos, all your performances. I was amazed. I still am. You’re so good. Your expressions gave me goosebumps. I’m sure your audience would have been mesmerized at the time. And aunty was your champion. You both were an unbeatable team. I had never been to your performances before, but I now know you have even done your arangetram. I was inspired looking at you. And I couldn’t see you this way. This sad, resentful woman who has lost all hope in life. So I made it my goal to learn Bharatanatyam. Aunty helped me with it. She gave me the contacts of the trainers here. I went regularly. I had to balance my studies with this. I couldn’t give up on both of my dreams- doctor and dancer. I persevered, imagining you when you would look at me mesmerized while I performed.
“Mom, I couldn’t tell you all this earlier, because you were such an emotional mess and you hated Sagarika aunty. Now, I want you to be my guru.”
Tears ran freely from my mom’s eyes. “Oh Magpie… How can I?” She pointed to her legs.
“Don’t think so much mom, your upper body works fine. You can still do it… Be the guru you always wanted to be. I’ll be your first student.” I squeezed her hands, pleading with her.
She was quiet for a while, a plethora of emotions dancing on her face. “Yes… Magpie… yes… I’ll be your guru. But it will take time, you need lots of training. Are you ready for it?”
Aunty remained where she was, silently wiping her tears. “Sagarika,” My mom called her. “I know I’ve been mean to you, almost cruel. But I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Aunty smiled. “Of course yes, there hasn’t been a day I haven’t imagined this moment- being best friends again…”
They hugged each other and I left to let them be. I was sure I would get my cheerful mom back.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Anuja Chauhan, who has worked in advertising for over seventeen years and is credited with many popular campaigns. She is the author of five bestselling novels (The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, The House that BJ Built and Baaz) all of which have been acquired by major Bombay studios.
The cue is from her latest book Club You to Death.
“And she said, oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here, and what-all you’re up to, but you must understand that you’re older now. Just like childhood ended, and school ended, and college ended, your childish ‘best-friendship’ with that boy also has to come to an end.”
Image source: a still from the film Talaash
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