Sarah Aineh

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible


Follow me into the sea caves
I’ll braid your hair that’s longer than mine
Naked and aswim in the rugged waves
Come tail me to my secret bay
And restfully sleep at eventide.

Let’s go back to the waterfall
We’ll dance and flit from tree to tree
Through the jungle to the crystal pond
Come kiss me behind the liquid wall
Lay us down body to waterbody.




Death by Miscellaneous

images (4)_1A colleague of mine, who I happen to dislike very much by the way, made this observation about me the other day- that nothing ever seems to happen to me. By it he meant that I never got sick, nor had relatives that got sick, or died, I had never gotten into unfortunate mishaps, never had any reason to be devastated about anything. He meant to point out how lucky I was that my life was so uneventful. Congratulations on your boring life, Hiram. Thanks very much.
It isn’t true that nothing extraordinary has ever happened to me, but perhaps what I consider extraordinary might be something truly unremarkable to someone else. In any case, I’ll tell you about it, because the story will be over before you realize what it’s about.
Her name was Janis, and she was beautiful enough for me to be sure that she would never have anything to do with me. The first two years of uni, all I ever did in respect to her was stare. I was a shameless starer when it came to pretty girls, and she was something else. I’d stare at her from a safe distance and she’d never notice and life was perfect.
In the third year, for some inexplicable reason, Janis joined the editorial board for our student newspaper, and she was assigned as co-writer for the fortnightly column which I had been writing since the very beginning. That first meeting, we were introduced to each other. We shook hands, and I hoped that she did not recognize the creep who’d been ogling her for the past two years. That was the first time I saw her up close, I noticed everything-her eyes that were slightly far apart, the beauty spot on her forehead, the shimmer of her pink lips, her perfectly unruly curls.
She had been the one who suggested that we get together to discuss the next story for the column, which mostly featured write-ups about real-life mysteries and criminal cases. She came to my flat just outside campus and settled down on the arm chair as though we had known each other forever. I poured us both some wine and we chatted for a while. I found it strange how, considering the fact that I was incredibly attracted to her, I didn’t have any difficulty in talking to her. I told her about the story that I had hand-picked for next Saturday’s column. It was about a woman who had committed suicide some years ago. She had been found dead in her bed by her teenage daughter late one night, and the papers had run stories about the ensuing police investigation, as well as accounts on how the woman had been rumoured to be mentally unstable, drug dependent and was having an affair with a prominent married man.
As I switched on my computer to start a search, Janis placed a hand on my arm. She told me not to bother with Google as she knew the story as well as the inside story on it. She had a rather self-satisfied smile as she said this, and so we had many more glasses of wine, and we nibbled on cheese crackers as I listened to her.
The woman, to whom I shall assign the pseudonym Jane, was a high school teacher whose husband had left her a year or so before her death quite out of the blue. She was a friendly enough person but she didn’t socialize much, preferring to spend her free time with her daughter. They were a close mother-daughter pair and it was clear Jane doted on her daughter, even taking her along for her weekly therapy sessions.
In the months leading to her suicide, there had been whispers that she was having an affair with let’s call him K, a wealthy businessman with a wife and four children, after he had been spotted a number of times entering Jane’s house during the late night hours. Soon after, this man stopped visiting, and another man, L, was seen, walking up to her front porch in that same furtive manner, entering the house and only leaving the next day. You could tell with one look at this second man, that he was very young, and so there was even more gossiping.
Two days before her death, she had been spotted at a marketplace chatting with her paramour, her hand on his arm. It was as though she was impervious to the nasty things that were being said of her. She looked healthy and happy, as a woman in love would be. And then, one night, she had poisoned herself (the post mortem results had revealed she had ingested a lethal combination of a variety of drugs which included heroin and fentanyl) left a suicide note for her daughter, the contents of which were read only by the daughter and the investigating officials.
There was no indication that it had been anything other than a suicide, but the police did their bit to ascertain the cause, and took in both her rumoured lovers for questioning. Both denied having had anything other than a close friendship with her. They had airtight alibis that were well corroborated, and there wasn’t a single piece of physical evidence that suggested any involvement of foul play. The case did not live up to the expectations of people and it was soon forgotten.
I told Janis that the story might not make for a very interesting read seeing as most of what was known about the case had been pieced together from hearsay and conjecture. Janis told me she had told me only the story and not the inside story. I noticed as she said this that she had left the first button of her blouse open, and that even though no cleavage was revealed, it left me feeling optimistic and as though all hope might not be lost for me.
We didn’t get any work done on that first meeting. She stayed for dinner and left just a little before midnight. I didn’t expect her to kiss me and she didn’t, but she did give me a light tap on my cheek with her hand, and I was hopelessly in love with her by then.
The next day, she sent me a text message asking whether I would like to go to the movies with her. The day after that, we drove around town. Then we went for dinner in a nice restaurant. She held my hand whenever she pleased. She gave me a haircut at my house. On Thursday, which happened to be my birthday, she brought a giant cake with ‘Happy Birthday, Hiram’ written on it which she said she might have baked, depending on whether I liked how it tasted or not. I said it was the best thing I had ever tasted, and she gave me a kiss that almost touched my lips.
Now all this felt like I was in a dream, because I’ll be quite honest with you, I did not score so high in the looks department, and neither did my brain make up for my lack of good looks. I was ugly, poor, boring and I sure as heck wasn’t a nice person. Even though she didn’t act as though she wanted anything more than friendship, it was still surprising that she sought it from me.
One afternoon in the following week, I had just gotten home after having sat through four consecutive tedious classes which had left me with a throbbing headache. For me, the only effective way of getting rid of such migraines was a good long nap, so I took off my shirt and jeans and got into my untidy but comfortable bed. Just as I did so, I heard a soft knock, and I knew it was her. I told her to come right in because my head hurt quite badly and I couldn’t bring myself to get up. She had come to work on our story but when she saw that I wasn’t well, she called me a poor thing, removed her shoes and got right into bed with me. That night, after we had dinner, she said since she’d already slept on my bed, she might as well spend the night, and she did.
It was exactly like we were lovers but we didn’t say anything to each other about how we felt. On my part, the only reason I didn’t tell her I loved her was because despite her affectionate behaviour, and the fact that she certainly seemed to enjoy my company, there was always something in her demeanour that suggested that I should not make any eager assumptions.
The two weeks passed in a flash, and it was only when my alarm went off on Friday morning that I realized I hadn’t so much as started on the story for my column. I made myself a cup of coffee and opened my notebook, which was literally a notebook made out of paper. The only way I could write creatively was with a pen. I worked on the story for about an hour or so, putting in unnecessary details here and there, and just as I finished it, Janis walked into my apartment wearing a dress and sunglasses, which she took off as she flashed a smile at me. She looked exquisite, and I decided then that I would just say the words and get it over with. The worst that could happen was that she would say she didn’t feel the same way and that we should never see each other again, and I would go back to being the content loner I had always been. The worst case scenario was the only one I could picture, but I was determined to do it anyway.
As she walked in in her pretty dress, I told her I had something to tell her. She told me it could wait because we had to finish our story. I told her I had already finished it, and handed her the notebook. She closed it without looking at it and told me to sit down because she was going to tell me the real story.
In January of the year that Jane died, she received a phone call from her friend and neighbour, who said that some very malicious things were being said about her, rumours which she doubted were true but upon hearing which she thought she must tell Jane to be very careful. Jane hung up the phone and headed to the kitchen. Her daughter was drinking orange juice and studying. She looked up as her mother entered the kitchen.
‘Darling, I’ll make some sandwiches’ said Jane, kissing the top of her daughter’s head. She replied that she didn’t want any, and went up to her room. Jane sighed. The pressure of school work seemed to be causing her daughter a great deal of stress lately. She had become more reticent than usual, and was always burying her head in her text books.
Around mid April, the same friend and neighbour warned Jane about the tattletales that were lurking in every corner, saying things that she was sure weren’t true. Jane was far from bothered. Even though L was taking the precaution of visiting her only in the late hours of the night, as had her previous lover, K , to her, all this was highly exciting. She had had boyfriends before. In fact, her first tryst had been just two weeks after her husband left her. But it had always been she who ventured out, sometimes during school hours, sometimes in the early hours of the morning in the middle of her morning walk. Nobody ever suspected a thing. It was only when the men started to visit her that people took notice. For her, having a man sneak out of his house to visit her, taking him up to her bedroom, watching him leave with an expression of regret, knowing that he had wilfully tread on dangerous waters, gave her a feeling of power, and she decided then that her days of rendezvous in the woods, in the backseat of a car, in hotel rooms, was over; her lovers would come to her.
L was the first ‘boy’ she had been involved with. He was young enough to be her son, and yet he seemed to be the most intelligent among all her past lovers, this being so despite the fact that he was an unemployed college dropout. He often visited her during the daytime on weekends, and he was the first one that Jane introduced properly to her daughter.
It had been early one morning, when L was putting his clothes on and preparing to leave when Jane professed her love for him. He said he loved her too, and that it did not matter to him what people thought of the two of them together.
Jane came home from work that evening, deliriously happy. She cooked a delicious dinner, and then she and her daughter watched their favourite talk show on TV. After her daughter went to bed, she took a shower, put on the new lingerie that she had bought the previous day, and then lay in bed eagerly keeping an ear out for the soft tap on her bedroom door.
L was slightly late that night, owing to the fact that there had been some necessary errands to run. Nevertheless, he arrived at House no.59 a little after 1am and he let himself in with the spare key that he owned, making sure to tip toe as lightly as possible so as not to wake Jane’s daughter up. He did not knock on the bedroom door as he usually did, and opened the door in a feverish hurry.
At first he thought she was asleep, but knowing that she was a light sleeper, he quickly understood something was wrong when she didn’t wake up after he nudged her. Her pill bottle lay on the floor, he picked it up and saw that it was empty. On the label, ‘Miscellaneous’ had been written with a permanent marker pen. Not knowing what else to do, he went to the daughter’s room to wake her up. He found that she was already awake. He told her that something had happened to her mother and that he couldn’t wake her up. They went to the bedroom together. Jane’s daughter put her head gently on her mother’s chest. She couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She quietly pulled the blanket so that it covered her mother’s chest. Then she went to the phone on her mother’s bedside table and called the police.
L escaped in time, and even though the police took him in for questioning a number of times, they couldn’t find evidence substantial enough to book him. It was his great luck that none of the nosey neighbours had seen him on that particular night.
I told Janis that it was certainly an interesting story, that is, for a real life incident, but it did not shed any light on why the mother killed herself.
Janis said that during the time that Jane lay in bed waiting for her lover to arrive, she had heard a sound from her daughter’s room and went to check on her. When she opened her daughter’s room she saw that a chair had been placed in the centre of the room, and her daughter was standing on it, and tugging at a piece of cloth she had hung on the ceiling fan. Jane was horrified and immediately ran to her daughter.
‘You promised’ she cried. ‘You promised you wouldn’t try that anymore.’
She sat on the chair and held her daughter, who said softly ‘Don’t cry, mom.’
After a minute, she said ‘I don’t like that you sleep with men in our house. The kids in school are calling you a slut, and they think I’m like you. Yesterday, a boy followed me into the girls’ bathroom and told me to take off my bra and give it to him or else he’d break my nose right then and there. I’ve been getting bullied worse and worse, and I won’t take it anymore.’
Jane listened to her daughter, the tears falling uncontrollably from her eyes. She said ‘I’m sorry’ over again, feeling as though her heart would break into pieces.
‘Remember our pact?’ her daughter said, looking at her mother. ‘It’s either none of us or both of us.’
Her mother nodded, but as she began to understand what her daughter meant this time in saying those words, her tears stopped abruptly. She had been the reason that the person she loved the most in the world had suffered. She did not deserve to be alive. They held each other for a while and then, holding hands, they went to Jane’s bedroom. Jane emptied the contents of her ‘Miscellaneous’ pill bottle into her hand and then swallowed them all with a large gulp of whisky. Her daughter tucked her in and kissed her goodnight. Then she went to her room and placed the chair next to her table. She sat on her bed and waited.
I should have asked Janis at this point to continue with the story. It was clear that both mother and daughter were mentally unstable, and that the daughter had attempted suicide earlier, on which occasion her mother had made her promise not to do it again or else she would do the same. ‘It’s either none of us or both of us’. I had no doubt now that this was going to be the most interesting and talked about piece I had ever written, but there were still many unanswered questions, especially with regard to the daughter’s intentions.
However, as Janis paused and I was about to ask her one of the many burning questions in my mind, she slipped one of her dress sleeves off her shoulders, and then the other, and all at once, my mind went blank.
The next day, Janis was gone. I was told she had dropped out owing to a personal matter, the details of which I could not succeed in obtaining despite every effort I made in doing so.
Needless to say, I was wretched. I could have contacted her if I wanted to, there were a number of ways I could have obtained her number, or her email address even, but I was unable. I had been deserted for no fault of mine and it rendered me catatonic. I had no urge to get out of bed, let alone the flat.
Of course, real life isn’t like the movies, and one can’t simply go into hiding for months just for being scorned by a lover. There were a million tests that I had to study for, and so on I went, filling my time with studying and trying my best not to think of her.
A few months later, I found myself attending the editorial board meetings again and writing again, and seeing as I was running out of stories to write, I thought I would finish what I had worked on with Janis. I searched for the relevant articles online, there were only three, and clicked on the one that seemed to be from the most legitimate source.
And there she was, my Janis, just as I had expected. Her hair wasn’t curly and her breasts hadn’t developed as yet, but it was definitely her. It was a very grainy picture, considering the fact that it had only been taken a few years ago. She was holding her mother’s hand and looking directly at the camera with an expression that I could only describe as ‘bored’. Her mother was even more beautiful than she was. She had curly hair.
So in any case, the point of my story, which you might have gotten by now, is that yes, I am boring and commonplace and have neither seen nor experienced great things, but I have made love to a woman who, when she was just a teenager, wilfully caused her mother to take her own life. A murderess, practically. And that counts for something.


images (2)One morning at the restaurant
I was waiting for my eggs and tea,
When the strangest of the strangest men
Came and sat right across me.

Sure that he had mistaken me
For someone that he knew,
I coughed and then politely said
‘Mister, may I help you?’

Upon the table, he placed his hat
When he spoke, my head kind of spun,
‘Do not be much alarmed, my friend,
But under my hat is a gun.’

I froze in my seat as he explained
A bit too nonchalantly,
That today would be my very last
Unless I did as he pleased.

The waitress came with the tray of food
Here was my chance to tarry,
I signalled to her with my pleading eyes
She winked and said ‘honey, I’m married.’

As he helped himself to my breakfast,
The man said with a smile,
‘Tell me a story I won’t forget
If you’d rather live than die.’

My stomach growled, I broke into a sweat
I had to think of something,
But all at once, the crickets chirped
My brain had ceased to function.

The food kept coming and I was grateful
I had time for as long as he ate,
But soon he finished his eight pancake
I had to give him his tale.

So I told him how I’d loved a girl
A number of years ago,
How the day just before our wedding
She had run off with some bloke.

Then I saw my car was gone
Just after she left me,
My beloved dog was nowhere to be found
And my bank account was empty.

I put on weight, I drank too much
And I was always tired,
To make things worse but not surprisingly
My boss told me ‘you’re fired.’

My eyes were damp when I was done
I felt increasingly down,
The man with the pistol on the other hand
Laughed and called me a clown.

He arose and handed me the bill
Placed the hat-with-gun on his head,
With continued chuckles he told me
‘you’re better off alive than dead.’

As the laughing stranger took my leave
I let out a relieved sigh,
Sure his bill left me penniless
But at least I didn’t die.

Nothing had changed as I walked home
No one cared that I had survived
But because I had almost met my end
It felt quite good to be alive.

I buy two breakfasts everyday
I’m agreeable and content,
and to top it all, I’ve gained
in my would be killer, a friend.




Savana want letters, Savana,
And what words would be potent enough,
Your heart was set on the unattainable.

Remember the lake, Savana,
Slingshots, dead birds and ruddy droplets,
Perverse delights for the juvenile delinquents.

You want lies, Savana,
You would rather we stay beguiled,
What truthful affectations you parade.

Remember the lilacs, Savana,
You dreamt of slumber on violet fields,
To wake ecstatic to their evanishment.

The world was yours, Savana,
You spun the earth to suit your speed,
And I gave up my sunrise for you.

Treehouse Treats

Screenshot_2017-11-24-20-19-46_1_1“Mind the third step, I already told you it’s loose. If you fall, it won’t be my fault”.
Teresa rolled her eyes. Her younger sister had always been a slow learner, but she couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for her to just follow her instructions.
Carefully, she climbed the stepladder and made her way into the treehouse that her father had built for her. Teresa had been five years old when her father built her the treehouse. At the time, Angela was only two and didn’t care much about anything other than her little baby toys. But after Angela turned three and learned to walk and talk and run about, she started to follow her big sister around everywhere she went, and wanted to do everything her big sister did. Inevitably, Angela expressed interest in the treehouse.
The first time Teresa heard Angela’s request, she had her answer all ready. “You’re too little” she had said, “it’s too high up for you.” Teresa knew the treehouse wasn’t that high, because her father had ensured that it would be placed at a height safe enough for her to be on her own. But she thought perhaps Angela could be persuaded against trying to climb the tree. She had also told Angela that there were all sorts of bugs and creepy crawlies everywhere, which, again was not at all true.
Her mother had helped decorate the treehouse after her father had finished building it. She had placed a cozy mattress on the floor, on which Teresa put some of her favourite dolls and teddy bears. There was a little table and chair on one side which Teresa called her ‘office’ and on which she made tons of drawings with the colour pencils and sketch pens her mother had bought for her specially to put in the treehouse. Her favourite part of the treehouse, however, was the box on one corner labelled ‘Treehouse Treats’. Every time her parents or a relative or friends of their parents gave her any kind of chocolates or candy, she’d run to her treehouse and save them in the box. Her collection of treats got bigger and bigger and she loved looking at the colourful assortment of delicious looking sweets. Sometimes, she’d sit at the treehouse with her best friends, Mosey and Hannah, and let them empty out the contents of the box just to admire the sweets. She wouldn’t let them eat the sweets, of course, but if the occasion was special, like if it was someone’s birthday, she’d feel extra generous and let them each pick their desired candy. Then they’d lie on the mattress and enjoy the tasty treats. It was for this reason, Teresa knew, that everyone wanted to be her friend.
Angela was always barred from the treehouse and Teresa’s parents would tell her time and again to let her little sister into the treehouse, but Teresa would always find some rationale or the other as to why Angela’s inclusion in the treehouse was a bad idea.
The real reason, however, that Teresa wanted to keep Angela away, apart from the fact that she found her highly annoying, was the fact that Angela loved sweets. Whenever the two sisters were given something sweet, Teresa would quietly put them in her pocket, while Angela finished whatever it was in a matter of seconds. Then, she’d start bawling because she knew Teresa still had hers in her pocket. Teresa knew that the minute she let Angela into her treehouse, she would go straight for the box and cry and cry until Teresa would have no choice but to let her have some.
Teresa hated the fact that her little sister always used tears as her weapon. Every time Teresa wanted to do something on her own, Angela would want to tag along, and if Teresa didn’t let her, she’d start crying. And then, Teresa would always have to let Angela have her way in the end. She couldn’t understand why Angela wanted to spend all her time with her. Didn’t she understand that she was a big girl now and couldn’t keep hanging around with babies? Like last week, when Teresa wanted to go cycling down the street on her own, Angela made a huge fuss about going with her. Teresa got so annoyed that she stepped on the pedals as hard as she could and cycled away and away until she couldn’t hear her sister’s whimpering anymore.
Now, as she made her way into the treehouse, she berated Angela again. “If you’re going on the mattress, you’re going to have to take your shoes off.” She sighed and eyed her box at the corner, knowing she was going to have to relinquish them soon. She had saved some of the sweets for so long that she was sure they would not taste so good anymore. In fact, as she emptied the contents of the box on the mattress, she suddenly realized that she no longer had any desire to eat the sweets. She held up a candy bar with a glossy red wrapper and said “Here, you might as well start with this.”
After a while, the family sat down to dinner. Teresa’s mother asked her where she had been, even though Teresa was sure she already knew the answer. “We were at the treehouse” Teresa told her parents.
“Oh, did your friends come over?” her mother asked.
“No, I meant me and Angela” replied Teresa. “I offered her some candy but she didn’t want any.” Then she let go of her spoon and raised both her hands to cover her ears. She could see that her mother was wiping her eyes, and that her father was saying something, but she did not want to listen.
Later, when it was bedtime, her mother came to kiss her goodnight. After she did so, her mother went over to Angela’s bed and sat there for a while. Teresa and her mother looked at each other but neither one said anything. When it was her father’s turn to say goodnight, Teresa showed him the box that she had retrieved from her treehouse. Her father was surprised to see that she had saved up so many sweets.
“I wanted to fill it up, that’s why. It’s almost full now” she said. She closed the box and put it on her bedside table. “I should have given them to Angela a long time ago.”
Teresa wished that she could rewind the time to when she was three years old, and her parents had come home from the hospital, her mother carrying a little white bundle in her arms. When Teresa peered into the little face, she had told her mother “She looks just like me, but with much much smaller eyes”. Her mother had laughed and asked her “What shall we name her?” Teresa had been delighted when she found out that the little baby was a girl, and she had spent the rest of the day thinking up suitable names with her father. Eventually, they had decided on ‘Angela’ because it had three syllables just like ‘Teresa’, and because it suited the little baby very well. When Teresa saw Angela’s eyes open for the first time, she had waved at her and introduced herself, and then asked her mother whether she would start talking soon, so she could teach her to say her own name. The first few months after Angela came home, Teresa had always made sure to give her a kiss goodnight on her forehead, just like her mother and father kissed her every night before she went to sleep.
Or if she could not rewind that far back, she wished she could at least go back to the previous week, when Angela had asked to sit on the backseat of her cycle. Teresa had planned on spending the evening at her treehouse to prepare a drawing to give to Mosey for her upcoming birthday. But her sister had followed her to the oak tree, attempting to tail her all the way up to the treehouse. Thus, Teresa had to forego the initial plan, and instead took out her bike. Even then, Angela would not leave her alone. So she had cycled away as fast as she could, around the entire block, and even stopped for a few minutes at one of her friends’ house when her friend’s mother offered her a glass of pineapple juice. When she cycled back home, she saw that a large crowd had gathered on the street. It was only much later that she found out that Angela had been involved in an accident. That night in bed, Teresa had seen Angela look wistfully out her window, staring at the sky and then settling into her own bed.
“If I had let her ride with me, she would have never been run over by that car” said Teresa to her father.
“What happened was an accident, and not your fault in any way” her father said to her. He sat at the edge of her bed and stayed with her till she fell asleep.
The next morning, Teresa and her parents went to visit Angela’s grave. Teresa held her father’s hand with one hand, and the box of treehouse treats in the other. She placed the box next to the bouquet her mother had laid by the smooth rectangular stone on which Angela’s name was written. They didn’t stay for long, because her mother had to go to the doctor. In the recent months, she had been going to the doctor every now and then as her belly had been growing bigger like it had done before Angela had appeared in their lives. As they made their way back to the car, Teresa turned to look at Angela’s grave one last time. Her little sister was sitting cross-legged on the ground, with Teresa’s box in her lap. Teresa watched as Angela opened the box with glee, took out the candy bar with the red wrapper, and tore the wrapper cheerfully. She bit off a large chunk of the candy bar and waved goodbye happily at her sister.
Teresa smiled and waved back and got into the car, realizing fully for the first time, as the car sped away, that she would never be seeing Angela again. She sobbed quietly, resting her head on her mother’s arm. She laid a hand on her mother’s belly and felt a movement right in the middle of her palm. She looked up at her mother and saw that she was smiling. Teresa suddenly felt much much better.


It comes to life, and slow it rains,
It wanders through the heights and vales,
And far it goes to the deepest ocean,
Blackest space and whitest motion.

It views the stars like diamonds in line,
Sparkling, tinkling across the sky,
It beholds the uncommon magnitude,
Till the vastness shifts to lightest hue.

It hears the distant lonesome songs,
Yields to the yen to sing along,
It longs to laugh and yearns to cry,
Such was the haunting lullaby.

In earnest strive to abandon fear,
Tells to endure for all it holds dear,
And oft to persisting strife it goes,
But him, it keeps in the reddest rose.

The Hilltop


There it goes my empathy
My dress was soaked not a minute ago
But there goes discomfort
Gliding away with the wind that blows

And gone is all longing
All sensation all asunder
And there go the cold feet
No longer fazed by the sound of thunder

There it goes my being
There go the last of my pains
How perfect I had made myself
And still I long to disengage.


The Two Lucys – A short story


After having taken a long, leisurely walk from her house, Lucy finally came to the children’s park she had frequented in her childhood. The park was completely empty, and Lucy headed straight for the swings. She sat down on one of them, making sure to swing very lightly or else she would get nauseous again. A warm breeze was blowing, and Lucy took a number of deep breaths, one after the other.
An ice-cream vendor passed by, looking hopefully in her direction. He was probably on his way home. Lucy wanted to buy a cone, and then realized she hadn’t brought any money with her.
‘No thanks’ she said to the vendor, but he stopped anyway. For a hopeful second, she thought he was about to offer her a free ice-cream cone. He looked like a kind enough man, and she wondered if he had a family to support with what he made from selling ice creams.
‘Two, please’ said a voice behind her. Lucy turned, and saw a girl approach. She handed the vendor the exact price of the ice cream cones and chose vanilla and strawberry. After the transaction was over, the vendor closed his cart and went on his way.
‘My name is Lucy. Which one do you want, vanilla or strawberry?’ the girl said to Lucy, as she approached her.
‘ pick’ Lucy replied.
‘Nah. Go ahead, before they melt’.
‘Ok, vanilla then’ replied Lucy, taking the ice cream cone gratefully. ‘Thanks a lot.’
The girl sat down on the swing next to hers, licking her ice cream with relish.
‘My name is Lucy too, by the way’ said Lucy. She stopped her swing, as the girl started hers.
‘Really? Cool. How old are you?’
‘I’ll be twenty-one in July. You?’
‘I just turned eleven. Just two years till I’m a teenager. I cannot wait.’
Lucy smiled. She remembered how impatient she used to be as a child to become an adult soon. Even though she was going to be a legal adult soon, she still felt no older than a high school girl.
‘I know everyone says life is better when you’re a kid, but I think it’s because they don’t remember the parts where it’s really crappy. No-one takes you seriously, you know. And they expect all kids to be the same, have the same mind, enjoy the same things, like we’re just a bunch of clones. That’s why I can’t wait till I’m a teenager so that at least, I won’t be treated like a baby anymore.’
‘There are crappy parts to being old too, though’ replied Lucy.
‘Well yeah, that’s true. But I don’t think I’ll miss being a kid.’
‘You will’ said Lucy, amused.
The girl slowed down her swinging, taking the first bite of the wafer cone. She was looking at Lucy with an almost apologetic expression on her face.
‘I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but I didn’t notice that until just now.’
She was pointing at Lucy’s stomach. Lucy looked down and involuntarily placed her free hand on her belly.
‘Not at all’ Lucy replied. ‘You wouldn’t have missed it if I had been standing though.’
‘My aunt’s pregnant too, but she’s huge, and she can barely walk. You look very tiny for a pregnant lady.’
Lucy laughed. ‘Well, I’m going to get bigger. Soon enough, I might be as big as your aunt, and have as much difficulty in walking.’
‘I don’t think so’ said young Lucy kindly. ‘Is it your first kid?’
‘Yes’ said Lucy. She had already finished her ice cream and wondered if the vendor had gone far. She could really use a second, or a third cone.
‘Is it your first child? Are you excited?’
Lucy didn’t answer immediately, even though she didn’t need to ponder on it. She was surprised to find that she felt glad when young Lucy asked her the question.
‘Yes, she’s the first, and no’ said Lucy, ‘I’m far from excited. I’m..’
‘Scared?’ offered young Lucy.
‘Scared is a mild word. I haven’t slept properly in months. Every morning, I look at myself in the mirror, and I see less and less of myself. I have another human being growing inside of me, and sometimes when I’m lying in my bed at night, I think about this fact and I have near panic attacks.’
Young Lucy was listening attentively and nodding her head sympathetically. Lucy immediately regretted having said what she had.
‘Sorry. You should know that I’m crazy. Normal people don’t talk like this.’
‘Nah, you’re not crazy. It’s normal to be scared. My mom said that when she was pregnant for the first time with my older brother, she cried all the time, and even after having him, she was still sad for a really long time, but it went away after a while.’
In her head, Lucy said ‘but the thing is, I don’t know if I want to keep this child’, and wondered whether she should say it out loud. She was afraid that her words might leave a lasting negative impression on the girl. She had probably already done some damage in that respect.
‘And’ continued young Lucy, ‘one of my friends from school, Lydia has a cousin who got pregnant in her teens. She was only seventeen, and she had the baby but it didn’t stop her from going to college or anything. Lydia says she just does everything with her baby.’
‘People are so brave’ remarked Lucy. ‘I’m not brave.’
‘It’s not that they’re brave. It’s just that they became moms. A lot of people are moms.’
Young Lucy shrugged as she said this, and she really looked as though she didn’t think much of it.
‘I don’t feel I’ll ever be ready. It’s strange for me to think of myself in that role. I thought of getting an abortion, but couldn’t do it. Now, I’m thinking of giving her up for adoption. I know it’s wrong of me to want to do that but really, she will be much better off being raised by good, loving parents, and not me.’
‘Well, it’s up to you, but maybe you should decide after the baby comes along. Then you might change your mind. Besides, you seem like a nice person. You’ll be a good mom.’
Lucy smiled in spite of herself. She had never thought of herself as a good anything. She hadn’t been a good daughter, a good friend, or a good girlfriend, and yet she thought she would have still done better in those roles than in the one that she might need to take on soon. She shook her head to hinder any more unpleasant thoughts from arising.
She looked at young Lucy, who was now looking ahead, closing her eyes as the breeze blew her hair away from her face. How strange it was that of all the people in the world, a girl with the same name as her would show up on this particular evening. She had chosen a Monday evening because the school children usually went home early on Mondays, and the park was mostly empty at this time. She had come to spend some time by herself to think about her situation calmly. At home, she found that she was always plagued with a number of unpleasant feelings like guilt or fear or stress or anger. She wanted to come to a quiet place and see if her plan to give up the baby still seemed like the right one.
Young Lucy had said to wait to decide after the baby came along. But she had already thought of that too. She knew that once she laid eyes on the baby, she would not want to give her up. She would hold her, look at her tiny hands, and she would smile, and it wouldn’t matter anymore whether she was a good person or not. She would want, more than anything else, to be a mother.
‘I wouldn’t be a good mom’ said Lucy finally. She looked down at her belly and thought she felt the baby move.
‘You can’t know that if you’ve never been a mom before’ replied young Lucy. ‘Hey, how come you know it’s gonna be a girl?’
‘I don’t.’
‘But you keep saying ‘she’ so I thought maybe you knew.’
Lucy blinked. In a matter of seconds, she felt her eyes well up with tears. She had cried so many times in the past few months- in her bathroom, in her bed, on the phone. But this time, the feelings that accompanied the tears were entirely different.
‘Sorry’ said young Lucy, immediately stopping her swing and looking at Lucy with concern. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to..’
‘No. It’s ok’ replied Lucy, wiping her eyes with her scarf. ‘I’m not crying because of what you said. I’m crying because I’m happy.’
Lucy made to get up from her swing, and young Lucy offered her arm in support. The evening breeze continued to blow, and as Lucy stood up, the younger Lucy remarked ‘your kid’s going to be lucky. She isn’t even born yet and you’re already taking her to the park for ice-cream.’
The two Lucys said goodbye to each other and went on their separate ways, the younger one skipping happily, completely oblivious to the impact her words had had on the older Lucy. Lucy went home, went straight to her room and looked at the mirror. The words formed in her mind ‘I was afraid of you because you came at a time when I hated myself. I thought ‘the world does not need another me’. But I’ve come to realize that you have come into existence not to make things worse for me but so that I could have a new purpose. Maybe I was not good for much ever, but I will be good to you. I’ll make sure as you grow older that you have some reason or other to smile every day.’
She ate her dinner, took a shower, brushed her teeth and got ready for bed, and for the first time in many months, she fell asleep within minutes of her head touching the pillow.

Thank You for the Tea – a short story


It was the summer of 98, exams were over and done with, and the holidays were in full swing. We spent the summer holidays swimming, reading Tinkle comics, eating mangoes that we plucked ourselves from the trees in our backyard, and preparing bottles and bottles of Rasna squash, our favourite flavour of which was, again, mango. We would put these bottles of juice in the fridge and empty one of the bottles on an ice tray so that we could enjoy mango ice cubes later in the day. In the evenings, we would go to the park right across the street, and we would play on this particular tree which had long, low-hanging intertwining branches. We would pretend that this was our space-ship, and that we were travelling across the galaxy to save the universe.

My sisters and I would go swimming at the club every alternate morning, waking up early so we could enjoy the pool when it was not yet crowded. One morning, when we were returning home after swimming, we met a girl on the road. She was wearing a yellow salwar-kameez, and her hair was neatly plaited, and I saw that the tip of her plait reached her waist. She wore glasses and carried a sling bag, but she carried it as one carries books, holding the bag close to her chest, as though she was afraid she would lose it. I also noticed that she had a unibrow.

The girl approached us, and spoke to my mother. I didn’t hear what she said because I was walking a little ways behind my mother and my youngest sister, but I saw that the girl started to walk alongside my mother.

“Who do you think she is?” I asked one of my sisters.

“Probably a saleswoman” she replied. My sisters and I bantered back and forth about different topics and didn’t pay much attention to the saleswoman.

We reached home, and I was surprised to see that the saleswoman was following my mother as she entered our house. For a brief moment, the saleswoman turned to smile at us. I didn’t like her, because I knew she was trying to sell my mother something we most likely did not need.

My mother asked the maid to prepare some tea for our ‘guest’, and I went to take a bath, fully intending to scold my mother after the saleswoman had left. As I shampooed my hair, I thought “I’ll tell her that it isn’t just us children who shouldn’t talk to strangers, that she ought to be careful too, and what if the saleswoman was a criminal, because women could be criminals too.” After I finished my bath, towelled myself and put a shirt and shorts on, I went to the living room. The saleswoman was just leaving and I heard her say to my mother ‘thank you for the tea’. After she left, my mother cleared away the teacups.

“So what was she trying to sell you?” I asked, as I followed her into the kitchen where our maid, Juhi was making puris for breakfast.

My mother laughed and said she wasn’t trying to sell her anything.

“So who was she and what did she want?” I asked, intrigued. My sisters were now watching TV in the living room, they couldn’t have cared less about our visitor.

“She said her name was Amil and that she had run away from home. She didn’t tell me where she lived but I suspect she hasn’t wandered far.”

“She ran away from home?” I asked, confused. I was only ten at the time, and I classed people under two groups only – children and adults. The girl had looked to be a bit older than the oldest girls in our school, so she was definitely an adult. I had been under the impression that adults could do whatever they wanted; it seemed incredible to me that a grown-up would want to run away from home when they didn’t have anyone to tell them to do their homework or eat their vegetables or to wake up early. “Why did she do that?”

“Well” my mother said as she seated herself down on one of the dining chairs. “Sometimes parents tend not to be very supportive of certain decisions their children make. When you’re young, we can scold you and try to influence you in a good way to the best of our capabilities. Then you grow older and you become more and more set in your ways, and then the parents are no longer able to exercise that influence anymore.”

I blinked, not understanding what she was trying to say.

“I’ll give you an example. You love to play basketball, right? Now, I can tell you that you can only play until a certain time of day, and then you have to get inside and do your homework. But suppose this love for basketball continues till you’re say, twenty, and I tell you to concentrate on your studies, but your only dream is to become a national level basketball player, so now there’s just a couple of adults arguing about what is right for whom. And I, as your parent, in my earnest desire to have you spend your college years well so that you can have a good future, pester you all day about your lack of interest in anything other than that sport, and thereby miss a very important point, which is that basketball makes you happy, and in attempting to take away the very thing that makes you happy, I contribute to your increased state of dejection, albeit unknowingly.”

“So she was unhappy because her parents didn’t allow her to do something that she wanted to do?”

“It wasn’t so much not allowing her as it was not affording their acceptance, and it wasn’t so much her wanting to do something as it was her wanting to be someone.”

I nodded, though I still didn’t fully understand.

“I told her” my mother continued, “that I could only convey to her what a parent might feel on learning that their child has run away. That, perhaps, we fail to realize the hurt that we cause our children but that everything we do is out of love, and that if she could somehow find a way to talk to her parents, she might find that there are a great many things they would be willing to give up rather than their daughter.”

“And what did she say?”

My mother sighed. “She didn’t say very much. But I hope she goes back home.”

Later in the evening, my sisters and I were in our backyard playing pretend that we were the Famous Five, our cat Pizzazz reluctantly and uninterestedly playing the part of Timmy. My father had just gotten back from the office and he and my mother were sitting on the verandah, talking and watching us play.

I went inside the house and into the kitchen to have a glass of water and as I was on my way back out, I heard my parents talking.

My father was saying “Yes, they spoke on the phone, but for tonight, and perhaps for the next few days, she’ll be staying with their relatives.”

“That’s a relief” my mother replied. “Not that I was worried about her. She seemed capable enough of taking care of herself. But I wanted her to realize that she needed to talk to her parents the way she spoke with me, a complete stranger she had just met. Maybe it wouldn’t have solved all her problems but it would have been a start.”

“By the way, what did she say when she approached you?” my father asked.

“She asked me the time, and I knew she was lonely because I could see her wristwatch peeping out from under her sleeve.”

And I had thought she was just some woman trying to sell my mother cheap cosmetics. I had noticed not only her unibrow, but also the pit stains on her tunic, and the gaudy bright pink elastic band she had used to tie the end of her plait. Suppose she had asked someone other than my mother the time, and suppose that person had noticed only the things I did, and not the fact that she was broken-hearted and lost, she might have gone wandering further until nobody knew where she was anymore.

Like I said, I was only ten at the time. I couldn’t understand what it was that a person could want so badly that it would drive them away from their family. If my parents didn’t allow me to play basketball, I would’ve sulked for a few days, but I certainly wouldn’t have even considered leaving my sisters or my parents.

I did think about Amil a lot though. Days later, I’d ask my father whether he had made any phone calls to enquire about the girl, and he’d tell me that yes, she had gone back home and the rest was no longer our business. I’d sit on my area on the spaceship tree and wonder whether she eventually spoke to her parents about what made her so sad, whatever it was, and whether her parents were good enough to not argue about it anymore. I’d wonder if she was finally happy, and found myself hoping against hope that she was.

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