I have been a Miss Goody Two Shoes all my life, someone who walked the straight and most of the time pretty narrow path, not to mention being also a female version of George Washington as a child. The story about him -which NOW they tell me was all made up – that of him owning up to accidentally damaging his father’s favorite cherry tree with a new hatchet, had impressed itself greatly upon me.
The effect the story had on me meant I owned up to my mistakes ever so honestly. ‘Yes, I forgot to do what you asked me to, I am sorry, I will do it now!’ But, unfortunately for me, I hadn’t foreseen the fact that my parents were different from George Washington’s father. The man had been impressed by and appreciated his son’s honesty. My parents on the other hand thought my response smacked of ahankaram (arrogance). Look at her brazenly admitting her mistakes! Thwack! ‘This is so you will remember the next time I ask you to do something!’ Thwack!
Not exactly conducive conditions for being a female version of the six-year old George Washington, right? Sigh. You can never win with parents. They want you to read all inspirational books and be like the heroes, but when you do emulate some of them you get put in your place right and proper. On my part, I couldn’t really comprehend why my parents were not more like George Washington’s father. HE had approved of his son’s honesty as a commendable trait, and had even forgiven him. Why was I not, at the very least, being given a chance to redeem myself?
Though appreciation did not come my way, I persisted. Perhaps I was a glutton for punishment. Anyway, being a confirmed daydreamer a lot more ‘opportunities’ came my way as I moved on in life. I seemed to attract them like flies to ripe jack-fruit in the rainy season in Kerala. After getting a yet another thwack for yet another misdemeanor, I still remember tearfully telling my mother – I dared not tell father – that unlike George Washington’s father, THEY never appreciated my good intentions or honesty.
Disappointed though I was with the growing negative results as time went on, I never gave up on owning up to my mistakes when they did happen.
One day as I was walking past the school section of our institution with a few friends – I was an undergraduate at the time – I stretched my hand to the nearest plant growing in a pot, to touch the leaves. There was a row of them set against the wall. Without thinking, I broke off a bit, a tiny bit, from a leaf of the potted plant nearest me. It is contentious just why I did it, because I am a not really the kind that goes around plucking flowers or leaves, anywhere, anytime. But there you have it, that day I did.
I heard a loud voice, making me jump out of my skin. I bet my friends too jumped out of their respective skins. Looking up, I saw a nun bearing down on us determinedly. Down the steps of the school building she came, and across the cemented walkway, till she finally stood in front of me squinting menacingly.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN PLUCKING LEAVES OFF THE PLANTS??”
Her voice boomed in my ears. She was definitely annoyed, and was acting as if I had uprooted the whole of her beloved plant(s). Apparently there had been others before me who had maimed her ‘babies’ and she had been waiting patiently to catch the culprit(s). And here she had caught me in the act.
I HAVE BEEN WAITING ALL THESE DAYS TO CATCH THE ONES HARMING MY PLANTS! PLUCKING LEAVES!!! YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER, CHILD!
I felt my heart sinking. Why did I have to touch those plants, at all? And why did I have to break a tiny bit off the leaf?!! Uffff. It was not something I normally did. The action was totally out of character for me. And yet it had happened, that much was true. There was nothing to it but own up. In a small voice I told her:
‘Yes Sister, I broke a bit off a leaf. I am really sorry about it. Please, I did it without thinking. I assure you I am not the one who has been plucking leaves. This is the first time I have made the mistake, and I promise you not to do it ever again.’
I noticed that the nun was quite taken aback by my admission. Undeniably, she too had her experience with girls denying and arguing the point with her. I know teenagers rarely admit to any wrongdoing. Beside me, my friends were bristling and ready to fight on my behalf when I had taken the wind out of their sails and left them to stare at me with gaping mouths.
The nun looked at me with narrowed eyes for a while. Rising above her own experiences with teenagers, and surmising that I was indeed telling the truth, she waved me off with a warning in her booming voice before walking back to keep her vigil for other leaf-plucking girls.
‘ALRIGHT CHILD, DO NOT REPEAT IT AGAIN!’
I love that nun and still remember her. She appreciated (though not in so many words) my owning up of a mistake, and accepted my promise with grace. She believed me. That is huge, really huge.
© Shail Mohan 2020
I went AWOL and missed a week of July all-month-er. But I am back, making up for it. Thank you, for reading! 😉