19th September 2010, 10.00 A.M.
I wish it were a park again. At least, a park.
The plan is all set, she’s brimming with excitement, and yet I am hoping against hope for something to intervene, to trample their dirty prospects into a pile of detritus that would be dissipated into nothing by a bluster of wind. That precisely is the reason I’m paying close attention to this scene unfolding here on Anitha’s home, privately taking sides with her mother.
“This does not look right, this new trend you’re developing,” her mother bellows from down the kitchen. “Where is it that you go every weekend? What’s this new habit?”
If there were a passerby now on the street outside, he might wonder if something untoward had happened in the house. Anitha, however, shows no signs of having heard her mother. She’s quietly humming a tune. Her reflection in the vanity mirror is deftly adjusting the folds of the shawl draped over its left shoulder. Its hips are swaying mildly, almost absently, to the rhythm of her tune.
“I’m talking to you, Anitha,” Her mother’s angry voice calls out.
“Will you give it a break? Let her be.” An indifferent voice answers for Anitha. Her father, of course. He is sitting on a chair by the dining table, his shoulders slumped, his face buried into the morning newspaper. His tone carries with it more of an urgency to quell the annoying noise that disturbs him from reading an interesting piece of news rather than a real conviction to put his wife’s mind at ease.
“It’s all your fault. You encourage her to do all kinds of weird stuff,” Her rage turns at him. “This is the fourth straight Sunday she’s going out. What has a girl got to do outside? What will people say?”
As her mother’s voice rings out implacably across the house, Anitha takes an unobtrusive peek at her father while continuing her charade of pluming herself. He’s sitting straight ahead on the hall from where he has a clear view of her room. For all I know, watching her is the last thing he’d do, considering the proximity of his nose to the paper. She exits her room as if something has caught her attention all of a sudden, turns right towards the dining room, and waits there for a moment. She rustles a stack of her books in a shelf there, taking care to make some noise for her dad’s benefit. Then, she returns to her room empty-handed, keeping her hands poised by her belly. I wonder for a moment if she is indeed holding something. Then it strikes me. She’s pretending to bring something into her room by keeping her hands raised as if holding something in her father’s blind side lest he should suspect her reasons for venturing out - if he noticed. It was a part of her reconnaissance on her dad to check if he is wary of her activities. It serves another purpose as well. It gives her the excuse to swing her door closed this time.
She calls Raghu once she is safely inside the sanctuary of her room. Two rings and he is on line. They are on line.
“Where are you?” She whispers.
“I’ve reached Trichy. Which bus is it, again?” His voice comes in loud with a lot of background noise. She tells him the bus number.
“Hi, Benny. How are you?” Tee calls.
“Nothing drastic has happened in this half hour they have left their phones on hook, and so, yeah, I’m fine.”
We pick up a string of conversation we left unfinished on their previous call only to leave it unfinished this time as well. Anitha mutters quick instructions to him, and cuts him off. She steps out of the room with her phone in hand. Her mother has not relinquished yet.
“Are you going to keep on shouting like that? Or do you have some sense left in you to give me breakfast before I leave?” Anitha hollers back.
Her mother’s complaints show no signs of stopping, yet breakfast arrives hot and ready within next five minutes. Anitha takes her place in the dining table, taking care not to wrinkle her chudidhar. She then starts the process that has become less of eating and much of mobile-peeking in the last three months from being breakfast erstwhile; the statuses of lunch and dinner go without saying. Her father is a piece of furniture now. Angry as her mother might be, she scampers between the kitchen and the table, serving her daughter with additional helpings, heedless of her objections.
From the way things look, nothing is amiss this morning except for the occasional caustic remarks her mother makes. Not until Anitha finishes her meal and goes into the kitchen to wash her hand.
The man with his face hidden behind the morning newspaper lowers it gently. He glances at her phone, still aglow but would not be for long; it would get locked up in seconds. Anitha would not take much time washing her hands, but now I hear hushed voices. Her mother is holding her back. She is telling something to Anu, which I am sure her daughter listens to with the least bit of concern, in an appeasing tone. I think she’s changing over to plan B with her agitated uproar already proving to be futile as ever.
Her father drops the paper from his left hand, his right hand still holding fast. It falls on the top of the table, making no noise. What he does next confounds me. He bends over the table and takes her phone. He glances at the screen-saver, a rather pompous looking photo of hers, then touches the icon at the bottom left to view the recent calls. A contact named ‘Nisha’ tops the list. He opens the contact details. For five seconds, give or take a few, he looks into the screen, his eyes flying back and forth between the phone and the doorway to the kitchen, his other hand awkwardly holding the newspaper in a lopsided balance. Then, he backs down to the home page display of the phone, locks it, places it where it was seconds ago. The newspaper promptly resumes its place.
Anitha comes out after a while. She’s muttering something under her breath. She takes her phone from the dining table and moves along to the hall, while his father shows no signs of interest in her activities and her mother’s voice rises again, apparently after her plan B not having turned up better results either. Anu checks herself once again in front of her mirror, turning this way and that, leaning closer to inspect if any blemishes has crept into her make up. Satisfied with her appearance, she collects her handbag from her bed. She takes out her purse from within the bag, and checks the bills inside, keeping a wary eye at her door. Her mother’s voice is complaining from the long distance of their kitchen, and her father’s pose is comfortably still.
She hooks the handle of her handbag into her left shoulder, the bag itself nestling in her armpit. She exits her room and goes to her father. The house is silent now. Her mother has fallen quiet.
“I’m going out, pa,” she says.
He places the newspaper on the table and looks up at her.
“Fine, Anu dear. Just take care, will you?” he pats lightly at her arm.
“Sure pa,” she simpers.
“Why do I have to be in this house? Nobody cares me.” It is her mother again. She is still not willing to give up on her losing battle. I feel sorry for her.
“Ma, I told you countless times, didn’t I? I have to go. All plans have been made. I can’t back out now.” Anitha shouts back.
A grunt comes in reply.
“I’ll take care of her, sweetheart.” Her dad says. “Go and enjoy yourself. Again, be careful.”
“Okay, pa, bye. Bye ma,” She calls out as she makes her way out of the hall.
Two minutes later, she takes out her phone and makes a call, approaching the intersection yards away from her home.
“Hello?” a familiar, shrill voice answers.
“Hello Preethi, I have left my home,” Anitha utters in a low voice, her eyes contemplating the street as she turns left from her lane.
“Left home? Okay di. I’ll take care if someone calls.” says Preethi. She’s her school friend - one of those vain types.
“Just don’t forget di. Keep in mind the things you need to say if my mom or dad calls. We planned to go to Boss Engira Bhaskaran, and we are at the cinema right now. Not that they’ll go that far. It’s just that I don’t like taking chances.” Her words come in panting gasps due to the exertion of her tread.
“Sure di. I know what to tell them. You have a great time with your bf,” says her friend in a sleazy tone, laced with a slight longing.
“Thanks di,” Anitha replies, her face all teeth. She cuts the call and places her phone carefully inside her bag. She moves along then, a dainty spring accentuating her gait. She’s going to a movie indeed. And not with Preethi. Indeed.
A park, I pray helplessly. A park, at least.