Seeking little joys


Anjana’s stubby fingers bristled as she caressed the edges of the woven straw hat. A thin red satin ribbon was wound at its base, with a neat bow. The hat was two sizes large for her. But, she didn’t mind. She simply loved to touch it or see it hung over the nail above the rectangular mirror in her room.

“Whose is that?” Ma asked. They rarely owned pretty things so it stood out.

“Oh, Mary Amma gave it to me,” Anjana lied. Fortunately for Anjana, her Ma had more pressing duties like making sure the next meal was on the table than cross-verifying facts.

“Sajita Chechi has had a girl,” Ma updated as she rolled out chapatis.  She muttered to herself, “Again. .Ah, poor Chechi, God knows how she’s going to fare with 3 girls now!”

Anjana looked up quizzically at Ma. She wondered how Sajita Chechi’s news was relevant to her.
“It’s been a rough delivery. I've been asked to help her out. I’ll get double pay,” Ma continued. Anjana nodded.

Double pay meant overtime, although the pay never seemed enough. Ever since Pa died at the construction site two years ago, Anjana’s conversations with Ma meant exchanging important information in bits and slices. Worry lines creased Ma’s forehead and her mane was streaked in silver. Anjana had learned to befriend silence.

Anjana walked up to the mirror. She reached up on her toes to place the hat on the nail. As she looked at the hat, now settled crookedly on the nail, she felt a stab of shame and guilt wash over her.  It was Mary Amma’s daughter’s hat. But, neither Mary Amma nor Suju Chechi had given it to Anjana.

Suju Chechi had arrived that summer morning. Brightly coloured suitcases dotted the living room. Excited chatter filled up the spaces. Chechi’s girls bumbled in and out of the corridors, clamouring for attention. Sugary fragrance wafted through, followed by the scent of crispies fired in aromatic coconut oil. Delicacies were being laid out one by one on the kitchen counter. Ma was a superb cook and was usually summoned by the locals for special occasions including annual visits of their children from foreign shores.

Anjana had accompanied Ma that day at work, a rare occurrence. Mary Amma had insisted that they partake of the feast and celebration.

The bewitching headgear was lying in one corner, almost abandoned. Anjana’s eyes lit had up at its sight, a pinkish shade of sunset; it was beckoning her. She imagined her to be a little princess, adorning the hat, astride a white handsome horse. 

Her heart had pounded in her chest as she slunk away with the treasure that day.

A harmless trick, she thought. Soon her wooden chest was filled with knick-knacks that had all called out to her with equal urgency. She vaguely felt a sense of wrongdoing each time but also got emboldened and revelled in the merriment.

“It’s not my fault. They hypnotize me,” Anjana argued with the voices in her head that shamed her.

“The Gods will be angry!” the voices bellowed this time and Anjana felt a cold sweat trickling down her nape. She decided to seek mercy, at the local temple.  She woke up early and washed her hair. She wore the cleanest and best dress she owned, a red and brown checked hand-me-down frock with a brown belt.

Ma had been surprised but agreed to let her go to the temple. Anjana stopped to buy a string of Jasmine for the temple deity. " 2 strings for 30, buy 3 for 50." a voice behind the crowd called out. Silks swished, bangles jangled, as women jostled to get their bunch of fragrant flowers.

Anjana stood rooted to the spot, her hands were hooked in the belt, as though she could prevent them wanting to roam. The sunny Chrysanthemums whispered, casting their spell on her. They sat in neat bunches along with the Roses and Polianthes just behind the bundles of strung Jasmine and Oleanders. How they glisten with the dew!They must feel like silk..noo..I must not touch

“And, what does this young lady want?” The flower-seller turned towards Anjana, her wizened face crinkled with a smile. 

Anjana answered truthfully, “Just a bit of joy.” In her right hand tucked behind, was a single stalk of a yellow Chrysanthemum.

***


12 comments:

  1. Oh dear. Poor little clepto girl. She will soon learn the price she'll pay for all her little thieving. :(

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    1. I hope she gets the help and love :) Thank you, Melony, for reading and commenting :)

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  2. Goodness! She really can't help herself, can she? First the hat, then the flower on the way to the temple.

    One of the most difficult parts about writing to a short word limit is having to make brutal decisions about which characters to include in your story, and which ones to leave out. I understand that you wanted to emphasise the direness of Anjana's and her mother's circumstances, but the introduction of Sajita Chechi's storyline didn't really go anywhere. It would have been interesting to see if you could have shown how they were struggling in a different way that didn't introduce more characters into such a short word limit.

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    1. Completely get your point about having too many characters in the story, Asha. I see now how it can impact the flow. Thanks a lot for the feedback :)

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  3. I really loved the phrase: befriend silence
    I felt there a moment or two where things got a little busy (which may correlate to Asha's comment about too many characters for such a short word count.) However, I really like how you showed us that your MC is conflicted by her wrongdoing - it makes me feel for her. She's not a horrible, terrible person, just a flawed child. (Aren't we all?!)

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    1. That was my favourite line too-thanks for noticing that! :)
      Yes, I did not want to portray the child as a totally mean one. Thank you for reading and commenting :)

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  4. For me, this piece really hit its stride with the paragraph that began "The bewitching headgear was lying in one corner..." You have excellent descriptions, lively and alive. I could picture this little girl and her hope and shame. I just want to give her a hug!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear those worked, Michelle! Thank you so much for reading and commenting :)

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  5. I loved how you described her being drawn to items. I know it's wrong but I really wanted her to take that flower! #whoops

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    1. Hehe, I did not want to portray the girl as an evil child, so I'm glad you felt this way :) Thank you, for reading and commenting!

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  6. Loved reading it. I remember when I was 7 and stole a building block that belonged to a friend's set. These were with letters written all of them. I stole W. It was such a forbidden treat of sorts. I returned it because I felt guilty but somehow I will never forget that moment.

    Beautifully written Uma. Loved how you capture moods and how subtly drawn and complex the characters are, almost as if they are daring us to slot them, because of course we can't. Can't wait to read the next one!

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    1. As a child, I think it's normal to go through phases where you want to take something because you liked it and not pause to think about the rights and wrongs. Of course, it could lead to more serious issues when not checked.
      Shwe, I'm so glad to see your feedback. Thank you so much!

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