– a story

Her cheeks were wet with tears. She stood silently looking at her mother’s face contorted in anger, now blurring as her eyes filled with fresh tears. She had not yet understood how to solve the math problem and her mother was clearly annoyed, chastising her in loud tones. She felt hemmed in by the harsh tones of her mother’s voice. She looked down at her note book to take another look and huge drops of tears fell wetting the page and smudging what was written. She hastily wiped the tears off with the edge of her frock.

She tried to concentrate once again on the equation, the squiggly x’s and y’s and all those brackets, with pluses and minuses and equals. Her brain refused to co-operate. Nothing seemed to register. Her brows wrinkled, she tried to make sense of them, wiping the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand. Her mother started explaining again. She tried to follow what was being said. But when her mother asked her a question a few seconds later, she could only stare back blankly, unable to give an answer. She tried hard to process the information in her already confused brain and tentatively gave one. It was wrong.

She tried to blink away her tears in frustration as her mother’s voice rose again in anger. The reprimands rang louder this time and she shrank within herself. Tell me how you arrived at that answer. With one finger moving left to right on the equation written in her notebook, she tried hesitantly to come up with the reasoning. After a few moments of indecision, in diffident tones she began. She flinched as her mother slapped. It was followed by an infuriated outburst at her lack of interest in studies, her refusal to concentrate. The tirade continued for some time.

The father, who had been listening impatiently, now decided to step in and take matters into his hand. Her heart sank as he lowered himself into the seat vacated by her mother. He imperiously proceeded to explain the math problem to her in his way. She listened nervously, anxiety muddling her up even further. His question came next, like a bullet from a gun, sharp. So how would you arrive at the answer?? She stood uncertain and tense. She had no clear picture as yet. She did not really know as yet what the equation was all about. What little she knew had evaporated in her nervousness.

Her timid stance increased the father’s ire. In a voice that barely concealed his anger, he demanded an answer. In faltering tones, she gave one. He dismissed it midway with a curt gesture, clearly furious with her. His tone had now gone deceptively quiet as he asked her once again. What is the answer?? Sensitive as she was the suppressed anger in his tone got to her making her cringe within. She stood helplessly, fresh tears coursing down her cheeks, fear filling her heart. Trembling, she blurted out the first answer that came to her befuddled mind. He hit her then, taking a hard swipe on her shoulder with his adult hand.

She was pushed forward involuntarily by the force of the blow. She hastily straightened herself, whimpering. Give me the answer, he shouted at her. The house had suddenly gone silent. All eyes were now on her, she knew. Pain and humiliation brought more tears to her eyes. If this is so and this is so, what’s the answer, he asked her through gritted teeth. She stood there totally confused. If it was not this one then the answer must be the other one, she thought. So she gave the alternative answer. As soon as the answer was out of her mouth, he hit her. Is it?? he asked. She quickly corrected herself and gave the earlier answer. Oh is it back to the earlier one now?? He hit her again and then again.

Now she was totally demoralized, in pain and cowering. She sobbed unashamedly as her siblings and mother watched from the sidelines. Her father walked away in throwing up his hands in exasperation. She was no good. She was never going to be either. What are we going to do with her?? he asked her mother. She dragged her feet to the dining table when her mother called. She sat at the table not looking at any one, eyes downcast. She could feel her siblings’ eyes on her. But within a few minutes they had forgotten her and were talking among themselves and also to mother. She felt so alone, lonely and unwanted.

The food on her plate remained untouched. Eat, her mother said. Was that sympathy she heard in that one word?? The next moment her doubts were dispelled as her mother who had been smiling and talking to her siblings turned and tersely told her to stop fussing and start eating. She retreated fully into her shell, completely cutting herself off from her surroundings. She ate a little to satisfy her mother, washed her mouth and went straight to her bed. She lay there remembering more such incidents and sobbing silently, involuntarily. Sleep eluded her.

Gradually the household settled down for the night. She could hear the gentle breathing of her siblings beside her, as she lay with her back to them. Soon, the lights in her parents’ room were also switched off. All was silent, save for the night noises. It was quite dark too. Strangely, today neither the noises nor the darkness scared her. She got up noiselessly. Without a sound, she tip-toed out of the room and entered the front room. Holding her breath, as silently a she could, she pulled the wooden stool her father used to put up his feet while reading the morning paper. Standing on it, as gently as she could she eased the top latch of the front door. She slowly opened the door, its slight creak making her heart flutter in apprehension. Then, without a backward glance she walked through the open door, out into the dark, the unknown. She was only nine.