The April day was just not to her liking. While her friends were eagerly looking forward to the summer vacations and a break from school, she was dreading every minute of the two-month break. The two o’clock sun was harsh as she lugged her heavy school bag and walked from the bus stop to her home. The only thing on her mind was having the delicious sambar-rice her mother had promised her for lunch and watching the re-run of Dekh Bhai Dekh on the local cable TV channel. Over time, she had stoned herself against the sinking feeling of opening the lock on the main door of her house and serving herself cold lumps of rice and sambar or daal.
She had mastered the art of lying to her mother about how she came home, kept her bag in place, washed her face, hands and feet, changed her clothes, warmed her lunch and ate the meal while reading the newspaper. The truth was she reached home tired and bubbling with stories to share with someone. She dumped her bag wherever she felt like, mostly at the foot of the sofa. She washed her hands and then rushed to the kitchen to dump some rice and daal on her plate and then proceeded to carefully lift the remote control of the television, making a mental note of where it was kept. She would then switch on the TV and watch Dekh Bhai Dekh, which she thought showed how ‘happy families’ lived. She would proceed to see the Bold and the Beautiful and Baywatch, shows which her parents had told her were not suitable but all her friends watched. She would start tidying up only 15 minutes prior to her mother’s arrival from office. She would pick her bag up, change her clothes, empty the dishes in the kitchen and in the end she would switch off the TV and place the remote control where she had found it with just 5 minutes left for her mom to return home.
She would then open the newspaper and eagerly wait for her mother. Those final five minutes were the hardest and she usually kept herself calm by trying to decide which school incident she would narrate to her mother first and which story would follow which. She treasured the two hours that she got to spend with her mother every evening almost as much as she enjoyed her time at school. Her friends always teased her because she showed a clear preference for school over her home.
However, lately, her daily ritual had been disturbed quite frequently by her father. His dependence on the bottle had increased and even she, a child of only 14, knew that this spelled only more trouble. He was never in a good mood. He would wake up at odd hours and sleep at even odder ones. His eating habits were erratic and there was no saying what would irritate him and earn her mother and her, his wrath. The two women of the household, best described as ever smiling and good natured, started living a dual life.
Wiping her brow and shifting the heavy school bag on her back she sauntered towards her home just to find that her father had once again had too much to drink. As had become the ritual, he had decided to bunk office even today. Over the last few months, he had begun to vegetate the whole day in front of the television and had taken to the habit of taking huge gulps of neat whisky from the bottle itself. She had once heard him say to his friends, “Water and ice spoil it for me. I like my shirts and drinks neat.”
The man who grunted and opened the door after making her wait for 15 minutes was not her father. He was the drunk devil who replaced her father, unfortunately, very frequently these days. One look at him and she wished school lasted another six hours.
In the evening, the neighbours told her mother that they saw the 14-year-old girl crouching in the corner, below the flight of steps. It was the space reserved for the huge broom used to clean cobwebs, especially during Diwali. Burying her face in her knees, the little girl, it seemed, was concentrating all her energy into suffocating her sobs.