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Our first story for January’s writing theme, based on the cue “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” is by Deboshree Bhattacharjee.
Deboshree, in her own words: Stories delight me and I tell them often. They lurk everywhere, around us and in hidden crannies. I like to look for them and then set them going. When I am not doing that, I am working as a Public Relations professional, reading books and travelling.
Deepa’s neighbour Mala had a delightful daughter. Every mother’s pet. She would wake up early in the morning and be done with her school homework before the first sparrow sang. In the evenings, she would accompany her mother on a walk to the temple. On the way, the duo would feast on Delhi’s famous street-food: a spicy mixture of rice flakes, green chillies, tomatoes and onions. Never could her daughter be heard bawling, tiny thing that she was. Really, the daughter lived up to her name – Gudiya – and in moments when her son had been particularly trying, Deepa almost wished she was hers.
“Come along to the fair with me tomorrow.” Deepa told Mala one day. “I have heard such good things about it.”
“But I had already arranged to spend the day with Gudiya.”
“No problem. Bring her along. I would love to meet her!”
Deepa had moved into the neighbourhood only recently. Her husband was in the U.S. on a three-month project and reticent that she was, Mala was the first and only one she had interacted with so far. The two shared a terrace and had bonded over a common love for plants.
“I love that orange dahlia the best!” Deepa had smiled.
“Oh, Gudiya waters that one every day. Orange is her favourite colour.” Mala had laughingly proceeded to tell her about the orange curtains in the house, the orange sofa covers and a big orange teddy bear that had been a birthday gift from her husband. Workaholic, her husband was. He returned home only in the wee hours of the night, stuck with the international clients he made software for.
Deepa loved listening to Gudiya’s stories; she forwarded them as lessons to her monkey of a son at night. However, school, homework and time with her mom kept the child busy. Now that Deepa thought of it, she realized she hadn’t met Gudiya even once.
On the day of the fair, unfortunately, Gudiya’s school announced extended classes. Deepa ended up going alone, not yet introduced to any of the other families in the neighbourhood. She got some sweaters for her son – God knew Delhi froze every winter. As an impulse, she bought an orange bag for Gudiya to keep her school books in. Mala would be pleased.
Noises came from Mala’s apartment. A number of people seemed to be conversing loudly, to put it politely. Deepa was considering coming back later when the door opened in a sudden movement.
“Err, I had come with a little present for Gudiya…” Deepa began when she caught sight of Mala, her eyes blood-red. “I will come back later.”
“Ah, another one joins the house of crazies!” shouted the man who had opened the door. Deepa caught sight of a sheaf of papers in his hand – they had been partially crumpled.
“Don’t you dare insult my friend, you! Get the hell out of here!” screamed Mala, her voice quivering.
“Nothing would make me happier. Just sign this and spare me your madness for good!”
Mala hushed him, frantically moving her arms about. “You will wake Gudiya. She is sleeping.”
“She can’t sleep! It has been two years since we burnt her dead body!” The man forced a pen into Mala’s palm and took a deep breath. “Look Mala, it is essential for my mental sanity that I move in with a sensible, lively woman. Please sign these divorce papers so I can resume my life. You, of course, stopped living yours long ago.”
The orange curtains fluttered in a raspy breeze from the window. Deepa found herself rooted to the spot, tightly clutching the bag she had brought for Gudiya. The darling daughter who was her mother’s pet.
Mala caught her eye and ran a quick hand through her ruffled hair. “Deepa, is that for Gudiya? She will absolutely love it.”
Deepa didn’t have the heart to refuse. She forced a smile and nodded. “Yes, I sure hope she will.”
*Photo credit: Scissor Studio (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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