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The Second Born was six when he along with a few of his classmates had been chosen to perform for the school’s Annual Day. Each of the kids, dressed in the appropriate attire, would represent a region of India on stage. Naturally, the Second Born was one excited bundle of joy. He impatiently waited for the day to dawn. When it finally did, he was up early, all set to go early to school like the teacher had asked him to. The First Born and I being part of the audience, followed later.

When we reached the school, the auditorium was bustling with parents and children everywhere. We found ourselves a couple of vacant seats and sat down, eagerly waiting for the programs to start. First would come the speeches. We hoped they’d be short. Only after they concluded would the performances start, and first on stage would be the little ones.

Just then, the First Born who had wandered off with a few of his friends came back to inform me that the Second Born’s teacher wanted to see me. The Second Born apparently wasn’t feeling well. Quite concerned I quickly followed him to the ‘green room’ behind the stage. Was it stage fright? He seemed alright in the morning!

One look and I knew something was terribly wrong. This was no stage fright. His face looked flushed. His eyes drooped. And when I touched him I found he was burning with fever. I have to take him home, I told the teacher. He is unwell. The teacher was horrified. No, no, no, she begged me. If the boy leaves, my whole show would collapse. He represents one state of India, how can I let him go? Besides I will have to face the Principal’s wrath. She seemed more worried about the man than the condition of the child.

I would have taken the Second Born home however much the teacher begged, but he himself wouldn’t agree. I tried my best to cajole him into changing his mind. I want to go on stage. I don’t want to go home, he insisted, tears threatening to spill. He had really looked forward to this day. So, I sighed and agreed reluctantly. The teacher magnanimously said I could keep him with me till the time he had to go on stage. So I brought him back to the audience side, still dressed in his costume, and sat him on my lap where before long, he dozed off.

The guests who were to deliver the speeches apparently got delayed. And if that was not bad enough, a performance by the older kids was moved forward. I was quite miffed and walked to the green room carrying the Second Born. I HAVE to take him home and to a doctor, I told the teacher. You said his was the first item and now OLDER kids are on stage. The harried teacher replied that it hadn’t been her choice. There had been some emergency with some kid having to go some place, so their item went up out of turn. Look at this child, how is he going to go on stage? I asked her. Please, please, ma’am. A few more minutes, she begged.

Luckily, the little ones’ item was announced just then and unbelievably so, the Second Born opened his eyes as if on cue and quickly slithered down and followed his teacher and buddies, on to the stage. On the audience side, I watched the curtains lift with some trepidation. What if he…. But, he did his part without a hitch. Waved his flag, walked around the stage, sang along with the rest. I am not into that sort of thing, or else I would have cried watching him.

As soon as his part was over The First Born and I whisked him home where to my dismay I found him covered in spots. He had contracted measles. To this day I wonder how many of the other kids got it from him. Or perhaps they had all been vaccinated and were thus saved. Now, as to why my children had not been vaccinated against measles is another story. I will tell it some day.

© Shail Mohan 2020