As the car drove out and onto the flyover, she let out a small sigh. She was far away from home now—far enough, anyway. Away from the toddler meal planning dilemmas and the maids and the general mundaneness of life. Now, she was too far to turn back and check if her daughter had finally stopped crying. She asked the driver to turn on the radio—how long it had been since she listened to the radio—nothing after World Space shut shop. She found the standard of radio jockeying on the local radio quite low, and she kept switching stations every two minutes, but was strangely unirritated all the same. Finally, she found a station playing old Hindi film songs, and she settled down in her seat.
She took off her sandals, put on her sunglasses, all dusty from the last trip she made, toddler-free, god knows when. She looked at herself in the rear view mirror and realized her lips were chapped. Had she remembered to pop in the lip balm in her handbag that morning when she removed the baby wipes. She had! Joy oh joy! She dipped her finger into her relatively unused balm and remembered those hurried trips to work. How she longed for an office—a place she could go to and get some of that intellectual stimulation. Something beyond the in-law gossip and the agonizing trips to the supermarket. As she screwed the cap of the balm back on, she happened to glance at her nails—she was never a manicure girl, blessed with shapely nails as she was, but today, her nails looked sad, and there were remnants of baby powder under them from the morning’s routine. Quickly, she attempted to clean them with the nails of other fingers. Two unsuccessful nails later, she gave up and decided to concentrate on the music and look out of the window at things she hadn’t noticed for so many months—a new flyover, an old building pulled down, familiar streets occupied by new people.
She thought of what the day held for her. It turned out to have everything she imagined, and more—a meeting with friends, a lunch without hyperactive toddlers in high chairs (and a clean shirt at the end of it), leisurely shopping for stuff that didn’t have tags that warned you about possible accidents, and loads of laughter and catching up. When it was all done and she slipped back into the car, smiling to herself, she glanced at the watch—she was more than two hours later than she’d imagined, and the smile immediately gave way to raised eyebrows. It would take her another 45 minutes to get home. And yet, she didn’t have the courage to call home and find out if her daughter was okay. Every few seconds, her mind would drift back to the giggly girl conversations she had with her friends just a few hours ago, and she would feel guilty again. Her heart would sink as she imagined her daughter running from one room to another, looking for her. Finally, the fatigue of the day and of staying awake from excitement the earlier night took over, and she fell asleep.
As she rang the doorbell, she could hear the “Amma!” that meant everything to her—a word that took away one identity and gave her a new one. When the door opened, her daughter stood beaming—well-fed, well-rested, ready to play. She dropped her bags and took the kid down by the pool, where they stared at each other like lovers united after a brief separation. A short giggle later, they broke into a run and screamed around the kiddie play area without a care in the world.
Other short stories by me on this blog and elsewhere: