A succulent piece of meat stared in her face as she stood up from the table.
“You will not eat?”
“Why won’t you eat?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“But its your favourite! I asked Maasa to cook it especially for you.”
A glance. “Not today, aunty, thank you.”
Thoughts raged in her mind. What had made her refuse to eat that meat. Why did she turn away even when she saw the look of hurt on aunty’s face. Why did she even come to this God-forsaken city.
“A newspaper article, Beta, just read it.”
“A budding journalist ought to read other journalists, na?” A quick glance of contempt.
“Bellur? You will go to Bellur to report on the skin condition of a cow? Ha ha ha. You really will be a rich one, some day”
Shutting her mind to another day of taunts, she took the newspaper and went out of the house. There was a field nearby; the grass was long un-mown, and she could lie down and go to sleep, and stay undetected for hours. Back propped against a fledgling tree, she stretched out her feet, feeling the pleasurable prick of grass on her skin.
For two hours she read and re-read. And she made up her mind.
“I’m not sitting for the test tomorrow.”
“What?” The note of anger did not need to be concealed.
“I’m not sitting for that exam. I will never be happy there, I can’t do it.”
“And what will you be happy doing? Frittering away money and living like one of those fast women?”
“I will be happy doing this. Yes, I will be happy reporting on the skin diseases of cows in Bellur.”
“Fine. Do as you like. You can go there tomorrow itself. Sit in the train eating moomphali while everybody else takes the exam. I’ll tell Nana to make your ticket right now only.”
And so the train. The train that got derailed and lost a bogey. The train which became famous because it was on its last legs when it made its last journey. Her photo came in the paper. The skin that didn’t look human anymore. The head that no longer had the hair she carefully bathed twice a week. The camera followed her around for a week. Her bandages became national news. Her doctors were on TV.
“How do you feel?”
“The only survivor in the bogey that went under, — lies today in the government hospital of – ”
“Do you feel this tragedy could have been avoided?”
“Yes, she is stable, but….”
“Plastic surgery is out of the question. We don’t have the money.”
Alone in a roomful of people. Watching the sun rise and set each day with equal disinterest. The newspaper torn up every morning.
Six months later, another ride. This time in a car. A city far away.
“It’ll be good for you, beta.”
Not that she had anything better to do. So she went.
The change was good for a while. Having strangers stare is better than having acquaintances sympathise. But not by much. There were no grassy fields to lose oneself in, and it was torturous watching the neighbourhood children discuss their career plans every evening.
“I will be a doctor.”
“I will build India’s first space craft!”
“I want to be a journalist!”
Me too! she wanted to scream. I want to be a journalist too! I want to write! I want to be read and heard!
Aunty came into the room.
“Here.” A silent offering of food. She turned to go.
She turned when she heard the tears. A scarred arm went around the thin shoulders of the girl in front of her. Many minutes passed.
“Thank you, I am really hungry. I love how Maasa cooks this.”
“She has promised to teach me how to make it so you can have it every week.”
Smiles exchanged, and a deeper level of understanding reached.
Within a week she was writing for the neighbourhood news journal. A month later, the district newspaper hired her. Three years later, a national daily had her writing for them. And five years later, she finally had the money for the surgery.
“Aunty, I have something for you!”
“What, child? I’m a mess right now.”
“Leave the paints and come with me.”
“Come with you? Where?”
“Come and you’ll see.”
Tears of joy, as a trembling arm, still scarred, hugged the girl, still thin, beside her.
“This is for you.”