A/N: Have a little faith in me. And advice me on improving this story. Read and Review!!! If I get enough reviews I would probably turn this into a chapter story.
I walked slowly down the hallway, taking each step carefully like a cheetah looking at its prey. The clinking of the wind chimes, hung at the end of the hall, reaches my ears. Dadiama, my grandmother gave them to me on my sixteenth birthday. My eyes wandered over to a crude painting of me wearing a pink lehenga, a two piece long dress, with a yellow flower in my hand. After much persuasion, papa had drawn it for me when I was five… it still made me smile. I held the letter close to my heart, my mind had gone numb. The only thing I could think of was, if I was so loved then why was I doing this to them. I wanted to defy only one person, I wanted to hurt only one person. But wouldn't this affect all my loved ones? I had reached my parent's room. I had reached so far, now there was no turning back. I pushed the door and entered the room. Ma was as usual sleeping soundlessly, and papa with his gentle snores looked like baby sleeping in his mother's lap. My heart was aching and my hands were shaking, but this was it- I put the letter on the coffee-colored side table. Then, I quickly touched their feet, in Indian culture it is a sign of taking blessings before starting anything new, like being wished good luck. I didn't need it; I just did it for the sake of it. And as I walked to the main door it felt like the longest walk I would ever take; I pondered once more over the events which led me to take this decision.
It was two months ago, the news had spread like fire around the whole mohola of Chandni Chowk, the whole colony of Chandni Chowk, that a NRI- Non Resident Indian was coming from America. One peculiar fact about India is that, every parent is in hurry to get their daughters married off, and if the demand is of a groom who has done foreign studies and lives abroad, the competition increases. I, my sister-Shivani, Dadiama and Aya, the servant, were preparing the snacks and dishes in the kitchen for the NRI guy's family. So, this NRI guy's dad was a dear friend of Papa, and Ma saw this as a perfect opportunity to show-off my beautiful sister. Ma bustled into the kitchen and spoke in agitation-
"Offo! What is everyone still doing in the kitchen?! It is 11 am already, the guests are going to be here in an hour, Shivani you are not even ready yet! Hai Ram! Are the snacks ready?"
"Ma, not yet!" I piped up.
"I just need to make the potato pakoras and then we will be done, get Shivani ready, I will help finish up everything."
Ma took Shivani by her hand and rushed to her bedroom to get ready. I felt a pang of jealousy creeping somewhere; I tried to suppress it with other thoughts, when Dadiama interrupted asking
"Naina, why did you lie to your mother? Everything is done, you should go and get dressed along with them."
"I don't feel like getting dressed up right now Dadiama, let them get ready first, besides I know Ma won't like it if I am around Shivani right now, I am unlucky for her," I replied.
"Chup! Silent! Who said you are unlucky for anyone?! Was it your mother? I will scold her!"
"My sweet Dadiama, it's alright! It's nothing to worry about. I feel like going up to the terrace, I will get ready and be there on time to welcome the guests."
I kissed her on the cheek and ran up the stairs to the terrace. The air was cool and fresh, it was heaven compared to the sweltering heat of the kitchen. The terrace was my escapade, a place where I could stay hidden and think about my problems without being interrupted. (4)It was also a place where I cried to balm the pain I felt every time I realized that my mother did not love me. My dark skin was the reason for this exclusion. I remember her once telling me that my skin was dark as a Koyal- a crow. A crow was a sign of bad omen. She made it clear to me that she didn't want to see me around Shivani during any of the important and auspicious times. We were made to sit separately when we prepared for our exams or when Shivani went for some contests. And now that we were old, I wasn't allowed to be around her when the suitable groom came to see her. It was important for her that Shivani got married before me, that way; she would be out of my evil sight. Papa and Dadiama knew about this habit of hers, and they saw how it hurt me. They even told her to stop believing in such superstitions. But, my mother with that stubborn nature of hers, refused to give up her beliefs. I guess it was easy to guess why she loved Shivani more than me. Shivani was the exact opposite of me, beautiful and fair and a talented dancer, whereas, I am dark skinned with a sharp tongue. The word beautiful existed nowhere near me. I knew Shivani felt bad for me. She had tried talking to Ma about me but, she was only rebuked in return. Papa, Dadiama and Shivani were the pillars I leaned on for support. To them, I was just Naina.
The reason I used to come up to the terrace was to watch the pigeons. Papa gifted Ma five pigeons on their twentieth marriage anniversary. Four of the pigeons were grey and brown and only one of them was white. Her name was Jalpari meaning a mermaid. It was an odd name for a pigeon, but still beautiful. She was Ma's favorite, as well as mine. Ma didn't want Jalpari to fly away so, whenever she was out of the cage her right wing was tied to her right foot. I checked my wrist watch, and I needed to get back down to get ready in around half an hour. I sat on a chair near the bird cage and looked at Jalpari. She was a sight to look at; I loved her small beak and her soft, white feathers. We had one thing in common, we were both restricted and we both yearned freedom and love. As I zoomed out of my thoughts, I saw I had only twenty minutes left to get ready. I panicked as I ran downstairs to my bedroom only to find Ma and Shivani still getting ready. Without paying much attention to anyone, I chose a blue lehenga with chickenkadai, a type of embroidery done only with golden silk. I looked like nothing next to Shivani who was wearing a beautiful pink sari. There was a knock on the door and Papa entered the room and said-
"Offo! Arre! The guests are at the gate, there are going to be in the house any minute! Let's go! Hurry!"
"Naina, Could you go and help Aya to bring out the snacks?"
asked Ma without looking at me. As I opened my mouth to accept this request which sounded more like a command, Papa interrupted sternly saying,
"Aya can do it by herself. I want all of us to be there to welcome the guests",
"No Buts! Let's go!" he said like Hitler.
We welcomed the guy's family gallantly; Papa gave the guy's father a warm embrace and introduced us
"This is my wife Kamla and here are my two lovely daughters, Naina and Shivani and beta this is Mr and Mrs. Desai with their son Anoop Desai, He just finished his MBA in Pricenton University in America."
We all smiled in admiration. After questioning the Desai family about their trip to here, Papa said "Naina, Shivani, go show Anoop around the house."
"Naina, could you come and help me in the kitchen," Ma asked.
Once again, I opened my mouth to answer in affirmity but, Dadiama interrupted
"Arre Kamla! Let the kids talk to each other, I will come and help you out."
"Mrs Desai would you like to join us?" Dadiama added sweetly.
Mrs Desai agreed as she had no business being in the room with the two childhood friends. Since there wasn't much to show around the house we took Anoop to terrace to show him the pigeons. He was soft spoken, average looking guy. Shivani, looked very shy around him. She rarely looked Anoop in the eye. I did the most of the talking; he was very interesting and funny. He told us about Princeton and the culture of America. We debated on the pros and cons of the Indian education system and the development of Indian rural areas. Then, the conversation shifted to Bollywood and Hollywood films and, whether Indian actors were better than American actors. I can only remember laughing at all his silly jokes. I intentionally threw questions at Shivani to make her talk, but she didn't speak up.
"BACHON! CHILDREN! THE FOOD IS READY!" Papa shouted.
Even on the dining table I sat next to him. Was I wrong to spend too much time with him? Maybe, but this wasn't match making lunch! It was just a get-together lunch. I tried not think of Ma's intentions for Shivani. I wanted to enjoy this moment. Anoop was different, never before had any guy bothered talking to me or paid so much attention to me. I liked him. I would have been glad, if he chose Shivani for his wife, then I would have an awesome brother- in- law to spend time with. That afternoon, was the best time of my life.
One month passed swiftly. Shivani, me and Anoop met at least thrice a week at a public park, chatted about random things and shared our silly jokes and thoughts. Shivani had started communicating with him, but, the means of communication was Yahoo Messenger. She said she found him so handsome that it was hard for her to talk with him face to face. I knew I was falling for him and the question was: Was he? The answer came soon enough in form of a letter, one morning- A red color proposal letter, perfumed with jasmine water. Ma was full of joy, she ran around the house shouting "Meri ladli Shivani, my love is going to America!"
Papa rushed out of his room, with shaving cream still on is face,
"Kamla, at least open the letter!"
"Here, open the letter! I don't need it, my heart knows it has Shivani's name!" said Ma. My expression during this whole drama was plain but I was happy for Shivani, I could see her smiling shyly. Papa took the letter from Ma and opened it. His expression was puzzling, it was between happy and sad. No, he was happy but crying.
"Anoop wants to marry Naina!" he cried in joy and gave me his big bear hug. I was shocked, but my heart was bursting with fireworks. The thought that someone had overlooked my skin color was news to me. But, what was I doing? No, I couldn't do this! I glanced at Shivani, she was on the verge of crying. Seeing this, tears welled up in my eyes too, I rushed over to her and gave her a hug.
"I am sorry Shivani! I didn't mean it! I am really sorry!"
"LADKI! YOU GIRL! COME TO MY ROOM RIGHT NOW!" screamed Ma.
"Kamla, LEAVE HER ALONE! Why can't you just be happy for her?!" Papa yelled back at her.
"You are not going to stop me today!" These words of my mother hushed up my father. I followed Ma into her room, my heart was racing. When I entered the room, Ma closed the door behind me. As we faced each other, the expression on her face was familiar. She gave it when she meant business with me like clean up the dishes, stay away from and go to buy grocery. What was it going to be this time?
"Reject the proposal!"
"What?!" I asked in horror.
"Reject the proposal! You idiot!" she whispered.
I started crying even harder, "Ma…" I whined.
"Chup! Silence! Did you see how heart broken she was?" she thundered and continued "Beti, my daughter, try to understand me. I want Shivani to go to America, she will be a famous dancer!" For a second, there was ecstasy was in her voice and then it was gone. "If you don't reject him! You are no daughter of mine!" She then, stormed out of the room. I was blown away. My heart ached so much! Did my tears mean nothing to her? She left me out of everything, she never let me be where I wanted or let me be where I wanted! The seed of poison Ma had planted in me since birth had finally sprouted. I had made my decision, now all I wanted was Anoop.
And here I was holding my suitcase with the red sari Dadiama had sown for my wedding. I opened the main door of the house and as I set my right foot outside, I smelled the sweet scent of freedom…..
Ma, if only you had accepted Anoop's proposal, this wouldn't have happened. Ma, I know you never liked my koyal dark skin, I am sorry I brought you bad luck. But, I followed your commands. And I loved you and I will love you till I die. I will die for Anoop, he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He loves me and I love him. Try to understand me. Do you know what gave me the strength to take this decision? You. When you said "If you don't reject him, you are no daughter of mine!" I came to realize I was never your daughter, you never treated me like one, and so what difference did it make to accept the proposal? It made me happy. I think I can live with it. I am sorry Papa, Dadiama and Shivani, I don't want to hurt you or our family's reputation. I love you all. I am running away with Anoop. I will come back soon, after we get married, to ask for your and papa's blessings.
P.S. I forgot to tie Jalpari's wings when she was out of the cage.
Surprised?!!! Oui ou Non? Reviews please!!!