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Short story

Mother

Of course, Sanu wasn’t my mother: Sanu was a boy and a boy couldn’t be a mother. But he played the role of my mother when she had left us.

I stared at the book for a few minutes. But I could not make up my mind to study. All the things mom had said and done in the past few weeks were running through my head. I was frustrated because everything was going wrong. I felt my eyes moistening so I closed the book and rested my head on the fable. I tried to tell myself that everything was over and I had to study for the exam. But my eyelids felt heavy and I was quite drowsy and the noise that came through the windows irritated me. Libraries were usually silent, but not this one. And nobody complained about it. The playground was right behind the library so it was useless to complain. I took my book and walked out of the library. The pavilion was attached to the library and I sat on the stairs and began to read.

There were some boys playing cricket in the ground. Once the ball came near me, so I picked it up and threw it at them. My eyes were glued to the book but my ears were strained to catch every word they said. I longed to play like them so I could forget this misery, but I knew it was impossible.

Think

Sometime later the boys left the ground and I began to think about my mom again. I was sick of this life. How could she do it? At least she should have stayed for the sake of Tharangi, my little sister. Tharu didn’t quite understand what had happened but I was old enough to realise that my mom had run away with another man. I didn’t like the way the neighbours stared at us, I didn’t like the way the teachers patted my shoulder but I couldn’t do anything about it. Suddenly the letters in the book began to blur and I felt tears running down my cheeks.

“You alright?” I hadn’t realised that someone was sitting beside me so the voice took me by surprise. I turned my head to see a boy in his late teens looking at me almost eagerly and I immediately recognised him as one of the boys who had been playing cricket in the ground a little while ago.

Wiped

“Yeah”, I wiped away my tears. “ Yeah.”

He didn’t say anything, nor did I and we stared at the empty playground.

“Why did you cry?” he asked sometime later.

I bit my lip, should I talk to him about my mom? I didn’t even know him. But then, people who we don’t know are sometimes better than people whom we know. “You wouldn’t understand” I heard myself saying before I realised that I was speaking. My eyes welled up with tears again. A little voice inside my head said “maybe you should talk to someone about it. That’s your problem, you don’t talk about your worries” So I decided to talk with him.

Shouting

“My mom,” I swallowed, “has run away with another man. And dad’s always shouting at me ...... and I have a little sister to look after. My exam’s next April but I can’t concentrate on studies...... I’m fed up with this life, I just can’t take it anymore.” I burst into tears.

The boy kept silent and I started to talk again. “Dad comes home drunk these days and I have to prepare food for us. Nobody bothers to care about me...... Tharu, my sister that is, has at least me to care about her, but...... I went on talking about my bitter problems and wept freely.

Encourage

Minutes later, when my sobs ceased the boy began to talk to me. He tried to encourage me, saying that these things were common but it didn’t brighten me up. I had heard those stuff from my teachers and friends but they didn’t know how hard it was to bear it up like I was doing. How could they know it? Their mother didn’t elope with someone else, but mine did. And I am suffering from it more than anyone else. Even dad’s condition was better, I guessed.

I learnt later that his name was Sanoj and he told me about his family. His mother was a teacher. His father was dead and he had a sister. He came to the public playground almost everyday because he was a member of he sports club there.

Encounter

Later that night, when I was in bed I thought about him, about our sudden encounter. He was cute with a pair of brown eyes and fair skin. He had his hair cut in a crew-cut and it made him look taller than he really was. With a strange little tingle. I realised that I liked him.

The next day, I went to the library early. I hadn’t attended school for a whole week. I didn’t like going to school after mom had left. I was so ashamed of her. Sanu came to the library and talked to me,. He was 19; one year older than me, but I called him Sanu, like his other friends.

That night we had bread and sambol for dinner. Dad shouted at me; he said I had put too much salt. I knew my cooking was bad but what could I do about it? I didn’t eat my dinner and went to bed crying. I wanted to tell mom that I hated her for all the misery she had caused me. “ Why did you leave us, why?” I whispered. But I knew she would never hear it...... and never answer.

Cricket

When I was in the library on the next day, Sanu came in and asked me to came and sit on the stairs. I did it happily and he helped me with my studies too. But I was in a bad mood so he suggested that I play cricket with him. And I agreed though I had never played cricket before. There was no one in the ground. He said he’d bowl first, so I took the bat. He bowled pretty slowly but I couldn’t hit the ball. It happened several times. “Watch the ball first” he said at last.
“You are bowling too fast.”

“You’ve got to watch it some how and guess which way it’s coming. Then decide how to bat...... You’ve got to see things clearly to handle the situation. You don’t watch, that’s what’s wrong with you.” What was he talking about, cricket? Life? If it had been some other time I could have rolled my eyes. “But maybe I should think about it seriously...... Maybe I’m not seeing things clearly,” I thought. “ Maybe that’s what’s wrong with dad too.”

My expression must have changed and Sanu must have noticed it for he came to me and asked “what is it?”
I told him what had happened last night. He sighed. “Maybe he’s feeling lonely. You should talk with him.”

Talk

“I can’t talk with him when he’s drunk!”

“You don’t have another choice. Tell him that you need him, after all you’re his daughter. He has to understand. Tell him that you’ve got to stick together like one family.” I sensed something ...... how do I say it? Something ...... ‘different’ in his voice. It was like he was talking to himself and not to me. I lifted my eyes to meet his and saw that they were tear filled, so I looked away.

We stood there, without saying a word, lost in our own thoughts. I sensed that he had some bitter secret with him and I longed to know it. But I didn’t ask him and he didn’t say anything either.

I got home before Tharu did and prepared food. When she came I helped her with her homework. I might ruin my education but I was determined not to let that happen to my little sister.

Dad came home drunk as usual. He didn’t drink like that before mom left. I even felt sorry for him but I was sure dad didn’t feel that way about me.

Distance

After he had changed his clothes he sat for dinner. I stood near the table, keeping a safe distance away from him. I watched him kneading the curry and rice. I cannot clearly recall what happened next for I was terrified he’d beat me. Dad must have spat out rice shouting there was no salt in the food.

“What is this? You’ve forgotten to add salt?” He shouted It took a few seconds for me to gather my courage and finally I managed to say “there’s no salt left in the house.”

“Don’t you know you have to buy it then?”

“I don’t have money,” I said, hearing my voice shaky. I looked at Tharu; she was near tears. Suddenly I felt so bold. “I don’t have money,” I said again. “You know it, don’t you? You must buy what we need. You are the father, not me. So Why shout at me?”

Dad just stared at me, dumbfounded.

“Dad please,” I took a few steps nearer to him. “Please don’t shout at me. I know it’s really hard for you, but so is for us. Try to understand. We have to help each other. I can’t manage all this by myself. Tharu is just a kid; she doesn’t understand. But you have to help me.” I felt hot tears running down my face. Dad too was crying. He crossed the distance between us and put his arms around me and I rested my head on his shoulder and cried. He, like the good father, held me close and stroked my head until I recovered.

Sober

Next day I didn’t go to the library and stayed at home to study instead. Dad got home early that day and to my greatest happiness, he wasn’t drunk. That was the first time he came home in a sober manner ever since mom had left. We cooked dinner together and even little Tharu helped us. That night, after a long time, I slept peacefully. Next day, when I met Sanu, I told him what had happened and he was very happy to hear it. He told me that sometimes life was bitter but bitterness wasn’t that bad. “ Why, beer is bitter, but people like beer,” he said.

After that incident things went quite smoothly at home and I could make up my mind to study. Sanu and I became very good friends and he promised me that he’d teach me to play cricket after my exam.

A few months later, when the results were issued I went to the library to see him. He was there, playing cricket with his friends but when he saw me, he came to talk to me. “Well?” he asked.

“Not too hot,” I said. “Three B’s.”

“Well, that’s pretty smart of you to get three B’s after all those hardships you went through.” Sanu laughed. “What are you planning to do next?”

“Find a job, maybe.” I said.

“Maybe you should take the exam again.”

Medical College

And of course I did it and got selected to the Medical College. When Sanu heard it he didn’t say much but I Knew he was overjoyed. I wanted to thank him for without his guidance I would never have gained my goal. So I took his hand in mine and looked into those candid brown eyes. Sometimes actions are better than words so my lips didn’t say “thank you, Sanu” But my eyes did. He looked at me, almost surprised (or maybe I imagined it) unsure what to say. I felt mischievously happy to see him in that uneasy mood but in the next minute, I learnt how it felt to be in that uneasy mood for he said “my father’s not dead Nisha, he eloped with another woman.” I was quite shocked by this sudden revelation but I didn’t say anything. Instead, we kept on looking into each other’s eyes.

“So, are you going to teach me to play cricket or what?” I said at last. He laughed and we walked in opposite directions. As he stood a several yards away from me, I looked at his tall figure and cute face. There was a time I thought I’d fall in love with him, but it was different now. He was just a friend and a very good one too. Besides, he guided me like a mother would, and people don’t fall in love with their mothers like that.

Nadeesha Nirmali

Gampaha

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