She was afraid to open the door. She knew it was Preeti knocking. She had asked her to come to her house for chai. At the time, she didn’t know that today would be one of those days she dreads.
She had taken the yellow dress out for Pihu. But Pihu wanted to wear the blue one, the one-shoulder dress with pink sequins lined on the flounce. She told her that it was not appropriate for a play date.
“ Pihu, you wear the blue dress when there’s a party. It is too dressy for a play date.” Said Jaya
“But, you told me yesterday that I could wear the dress tomorrow.”
“I made a mistake.”
“I want to wear the blue dress.”
“Pihu!” Jaya shouted. But Pihu was already on the floor stamping her feet on the wooden floor that was installed only a week ago.
“Pihu, stop stamping! You will make marks on the floor.”
“I want to wear the blue dress.”
She knew it would happen again as soon as she saw Samar walk through the main door.
“You are home early today. Everything okay?”
“Aren’t you glad I am home sooner than you expected?”
Pihu was still stamping the floor in the family room. The noise of her feet was growing louder.
“What’s going on with Pihu?” Samar asked.
“Why don’t you go to your room? I will get a cup of coffee for you.” Jaya gave a weak smile.
“Are you not able to control Pihu again?”
“She is a child. “
“And you are the mom. She should listen to you.”
“She will. Why don’t you go upstairs? You must be tired. I will take care of Pihu.”
Jaya knew Samar wasn’t hearing. He went to the family room. She couldn’t go there. She knew what would happen next. She closed her ears, covered her eyes with her hands and sat on the settee. She could never confront him. She knew he was wrong but was afraid of his temper. She was saying a silent prayer to God.
There was no sound coming from the family room. It was over.
Pihu was still lying on the floor chewing the blue dress. Her eyes were swollen red.
“You had said I could wear the blue dress.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Now this dress is torn. I will never wear it.”
“That’s okay. I will get another dress like this one for you.”
“You should get another daddy for me.”
“Don’t say that. He loves you.”
“Palak open the door, Preeti Aunty is here. Palak!” Jaya shouts, her head turned towards the staircase that leads to Palak’s room. There is no sign of Palak. He must have seen Samar disciplining Pihu.
She asks Pihu to sit on the chair and rushes to the door.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, just that Palak and Pihu were fighting.”
“Normal sibling stuff.”
“Come inside. Have some chai.”
Preeti enters the house. The house is immaculate, not a thing out of place but she can only see Pihu on the floor. She notices Pihus’s puffed eyes.
“Pihu, big brothers are bullies. Do you know you can hurt him too?” She sits next to Pihu and wipes her tears.
“ I want to wear the blue dress.” Pihu is still chewing the chiffon of the blue dress.
“Preeti, should I put sugar in your chai?”
“I should get going. Pihu doesn’t look all right to me. You should be by her side.”
Jaya nods her head. She wants Preeti to leave too. But she says, “No she will be alright. Normal children tantrums.”
“Who rang the bell?” Samar comes by Jaya’s side. He has the book Super Brain by Deepak Chopra’s in his hand.
“Preeti is here.”
“Where is she?”
“She is with Pihu.”
“I will say hi to her.”
“She is leaving.”
“Why? Let’s all have chai together.”
“She said she had to be somewhere.” This time, Jaya raises her voice just a bit. But Samar is already in the family room.
“Hi Samar. I didn’t know you were at home.”
“Why aren’t you staying for Chai?”
“Pihu doesn’t look well to me. Pihu needs Jaya’s attention.”
“She is okay. Don’t worry about her.”
“Now I can never wear this blue dress.” Jaya could hear Pihu’s voice from the family room. The chai is taking too long to boil. She wants to be with Pihu. She switches off the burner.
“What’s with that blue dress?”
“Don’t bother about her.” Samar says.
“You guys should be taking her to a doctor. She does not look okay to me.”
“Why are you interfering in our business?”
“I am not. I am just being a friend. She needs psychiatric help.”
“Jaya! What is this woman saying?” Samar looks at Jaya.
“Preeti, weren’t you leaving?”
“Yes, I was. But you should take Pihu to a doctor.”
And it happened again. Samar fumed. He hurled the book at Jaya. She ducked and the Super Brain landed on the floor.
“I swear I didn’t tell her anything. Pihu does need to see a doctor.”
“And who said so? This friend of yours? She couldn’t even keep her husband happy, but she knows that my child needs psychiatric help?” He twists her left arm – “ Why can’t you shut your mouth. Pihu needs to be disciplined. You need to pay a psychiatrist to tell you this simple fact?”
“Samar, what the hell are you doing? Leave Jaya alone.” Preeti tries to push Samar away from Jaya.
“Preeti, please can you leave now? This is my family. Please just go.”
“This is not right Jaya.”
“You heard Jaya.” Samar opens the main door signaling Preeti to leave.
Preeti looks at Jaya, then at Pihu and then puts on her black ballet flats, which were by the door and leaves.
“ Why do you have such friends?”
Jaya does not answer. Jaya feels the physical pain, but she does not try to save herself or push him away. She knows that soon he will be normal again. This never lasts forever. She wants this to be over so that she can be with Pihu.
There is the sound of uncoordinated piano keys coming from upstairs. Palak and Pihu are on the piano.
“ You should keep your fingers soft on the piano.” Palak says to Pihu.
“Okay. I am six, you are eight.” Pihu’s eyes are still swollen, but there is no sign of sadness. She has forgotten what happened a few minutes ago and is now immersed in playing the piano.
“Yes.” Says Palak while helping Pihu with her fingers on the piano.
“I am six and you are eight.”
“Yes, Pihu I know that.” Says Palak.
“I am six and you are eight.” Pihu repeats her statement..
“Palak you should help your sister with piano.” Samar says while sipping coffee.
“Pihu, I am so proud of you. Just look at us. When you behave we are happy.” Says Jaya while sitting on the black futon next to the piano.
“But mommy, you are my mother. You are not supposed to hurt me.”
“Pihu, I didn’t.”
“Nobody hurt you Pihu. You have to listen to your parents. And when you don’t then we can punish you. Ask Palak he will tell you. We punished him when he didn’t listen.”
“But dad I didn’t like it.” Palak says with his eyes lowered to the ground.
“What did you say? Speak louder?” Samar barks at him.
“Nothing, he said nothing. Can we talk about which movie we could watch?” Jaya tries to change the topic.
“Can we watch Frozen again mommy?”
“Yes, if that’s what you want Pihu. Let’s watch Frozen again.” Samar gets up to switch on the projector and dim the lights while the three of them cozy on the futon with a blanket.
“C’mon Pihu get up, it’s time to go to school.” Jaya nudges Pihu. “What are you doing with all these maps?” The room is strewn with the map of every country on Earth. Jaya starts to put all the maps in a pile.
“Don’t touch them, mom.”
“I am putting them away, you can look at them again when you are back from school.”
“Don’t touch them, mom.” She gets up and touches the largest map then quickly withdraws her hand. It’s as if she is not sure of what she is doing. She touches the map of Africa and again folds her hand.
“Alright. I will not. Look at me. Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Says Pihu without looking at her mother.
“Can you look at me?”
“I am.” Pihu’s looks at Jaya quickly and then looks away.
“Okay, time to go to school.”
“It’s 7 A.M now. In Madrid it is 2 P.M, in Sydney it is 10 P.M and Mom in Hanoi it is 7 P.M.” Pihu says in a monotonic tone.
“Where is Hanoi? Never heard of this place?”
“Hanoi is the capital of the Vietnam.”
“ Yes, and the capital of Swaziland is Mbabane.”
“Pihu how do you know all this?”
Pihu looks away and shakes her head involuntarily.
Jaya looks through her closet and takes out the blue dress, which she repaired it last night.
“Pihu you can wear this today.”
“But I only wear track pants to school.”
“Yes. Only track pants and you wear only blue ones.”
“The capital of Faroe Islands is Torshavn.”
A month has gone by and Preeti hasn’t seen Jaya. She hoped to bump into her in Krogers while shopping for groceries. But that never happened. They lived in the same town, shopped for groceries at Krogers, had the same hairdresser, went to the same gym but still never came across each other. Last Monday when Preeti was at Krogers picking up vanilla yogurt for her daughter, she was reminded of Pihu. Pihu only ate yogurt with blueberries. She was tempted to pick up a box for Pihu too. But she refrained. She wasn’t afraid of Samar. But she did not want any trouble for Jaya.
She was reminded of six years ago when Pihu was born. It was Samar who had called her to give the news of Pihu’s birth.
“ Preeti, we have been blessed with a baby girl” She heard Samar’s excitement through the wires of the cable phone.
“When did this happen? She was not due until two more weeks?” Preeti was groggy, having suddenly woken up by the ten rings of the phone.
“Yes, her water broke suddenly and we had to rush to the hospital. You should see her Preeti. She is perfect.”
“How is Jaya doing?”
“Jaya is doing well. Pihu is perfect Preeti.”
In Samar’s eye, Pihu was a perfect child, that night and always. He never saw what others could clearly see. They put her in Montessori and when Pihu did not play with any other kid, Samar thought that was normal. When the teacher complained that Pihu closed her ears when the children started to make a lot of noises, he took her out of the school.
“We will find a school that is fit for Pihu.” Jaya had repeated Samar’s statement with pride to Preeti.
It’s none of my business thought Preeti. She had enough on her plate to be bothered about anybody else. She was a single mother, her eight –year-old and her job as a psychiatrist left no scope for anything else.
Jaya wanted to go back to work. Home-schooling Pihu was not working out for her or for Pihu. For the tenth time, she was called to Pihu’s school. She insisted Samar also to join the meeting. It had been a month since the school had started.
“We think Pihu needs help.” The principal had decided to join the meeting.
“What kind of help?” Samar had asked.
When the principal told them that Pihu is not like other children, and she should get some psychiatric therapy, Samar got up. He pushed the file away, which kept a written recorded of Pihu’s behavior in school.
“This is meaningless. Pihu is a child. Please discipline her when it’s needed. She does not need any psychiatric help. She needs efficient teachers.”
It was decided that Pihu would not be going to school anymore. Jaya left her job and became a full-time stay-at-home mom.
Nature has started to prepare for the winter. The foliage of every kind of leaf was covering the ground. Only a few trees had some green leaves remaining. There was no communication between Jaya and Preeti. Preeti thought about Pihu often but never called Jaya.
Preeti was helping her daughter with homework. The school advised that her daughter should not be spending more than twenty minutes on homework. She was working with her daughter for the past forty minutes, only now the work looked complete. Had she pushed her kid to be part of the gifted program in school? Maybe. If other kids could work hard so could her daughter.
“Mom it’s Jaya aunty.” Her daughter was handing over the phone to her.
“Hi Jaya, it’s been so long.” She wanted to ask more say a lot of things, but Jaya was crying over the phone.
“Preeti, Palak called 911 and told the police that Samar was beating Pihu. We need your help.”
“I will be right over. Where is Samar?”
“He is badly shaken. The police gave him a warning and left.”
“Samar needs psychiatric help.”
“Yes, and Pihu is autistic.”
This fictional story has been written by Jaanvi S who lives in Bangalore. After living for many years in the U.S she moved to Bangalore and lives with her daughter there.