The phone rang incessantly as if trying to gain importance in the house already buzzing with activity. Suzie picked up the phone expecting it to be another one of her business calls. Being one the most respected names in the industry, her days were always a whirlwind of phone calls, meetings, conflict resolutions and site visits.
“Hello”, she said in a formal but authoritative tone looking quizzically at the clock. The hands were trying to outrun each other to reach the number nine. Not many people called her this late in the night.
“Hello.” Said a soft female voice.
“Shaiiiina….How are you?” Suzie’s voice turned calmer and heavier as she directed the people sitting around to leave the room. Hearing her daughter on the other side instantly lifted her spirits. But it was not one of her weekly calls. They had a long conversation just two days back. It had never happened in the last three years that Shaina broke the ritual and called in-between. It worked for Suzie too, given her erratic work schedule. She kept their pre-decided time totally free to talk to her beloved daughter. And everyone knew that. They never disturbed her. Though she wished to pester Shaina with all the motherly concerns every day, it made more sense to have just a weekly call to avoid any distraction in the studies. So what was it and that too so late in the night?
“I am doing fine.”
“Then what is it sweetheart?” Suzie asked with worry lines appearing on her already wrinkled face. At sixty, her face told more stories than her words did. Shaina had taken her exams. It was her last year. She was already interning with a reputed company. Had she fallen ill? Were the results out? Did she flunk any of her exams? In fraction of seconds, Suzie mentally ticked all the bad news checkboxes.
“Everything is ok. We have our convocation lined up next month. And I want you to come. I wanted to talk to you about this the other day itself but couldn’t make up my mind. ” Shaina said preparing herself for the storm this small request would ensue.
“Ohh. And I thought….”Suzie trailed off feeling relieved.
“But wait, you… want me to come to your convocation?” She added hastily registering Shaina’s wish. The words suddenly felt so heavy on the tongue.
“Yes, I do. And I know you will say no. But you are coming and there are no two ways about it.” Shaina said authoritatively.
Suzie didn’t know how to respond to that. Hearing her daughter give orders brought an innate satisfaction, a role reversal that any mother would be proud of. But almost immediately, it stung her. Just like the very first time when her daughter returned home from school and wouldn’t stop crying. After a lot of prodding, she told her that how some boys in the class teased her by making fun of Suzie. The tears in her daughter’s eyes shattered her. She could fight any pressure, any societal deluge against her, but not her precious daughter.
“It is not a good idea Shaina”, she said sans emotions, sidelining the thoughts lingering in her mind.
She had never been worried about what people said about her, the constant uproar; she was used to it. But she couldn’t afford to mess up her daughter’s life that hadn’t even begun properly. The very reason for sending her away was staring at her face again. Though it was the hardest decision of her life, Suzie was sure that Shaina had to be sent away. In a locality with two madrasas, a dhobhi ghat, and a tiny, local municipal school, what could have she possibly learned if she remained stuck there. The same city would have also made sure that she remained under the shadow of biases, prejudices. Shaina was the purpose of her life, right from the time of her birth. Sending her away meant losing the grounding of life but Suzie was ready to do that as it meant better future for her daughter. She had never even visited her college to avoid any kind of confrontation.
“You don’t want your friends to ridicule you, alienate you. You don’t even understand the repercussions yet sweetheart.”
“I do. I have thought about it. You are my family. Those who can live with that are the only real friends. I don’t want those people around me who can’t see you in the eye. You are coming. And it is final.”
She argued, she reasoned but lost to her daughter’s determination. She hung up, feeling torn between the love for her daughter and the respect her daughter stood a chance to lose.
When she adopted Shaina from a neighbor who died during childbirth with her real father finding no use for the newborn except considering her a burden, she didn’t think there would be a flipside to it. She always wanted to be a parent. Could it have happened in the community she lived in; the society that didn’t even recognize her as she didn’t fit the ideal description of either a man or a woman? Shaina brought that happiness to her. She gave her a name, an identity, of a mother. In return, Suzie ‘created’ a family for her which fitted no societal norms. ‘Abbu’, father, as she was for Shaina despite being a woman/man, a hijra for everyone else, an ‘Ammi’,mother, her disciple Neelu and a ‘grandmother’, her guru, a ‘he’ for everyone else.
She learnt parenting, the ropes of it. Visiting the doctors to know how to feed the baby, to burp her, to play with her, spending sleepless nights when the baby writhed with colic, high fever or a bad stomach. She was more of a mother, by heart, trapped in the body of a man. Was it her fault? Was it her choice?
Shaina initially felt very awkward growing up in a household full of men/women blurring the defined boundaries, with no one like her around. When she was little, she would see her Abbu going to weddings, to gather badhai, to dance and bless. While growing up, she saw her acquiring a higher status due to her reputation but still would find it difficult to see many members of this big joint family working in petty professions. Suzie knew that Shaina didn’t like it but she also knew that age would make her realize that life was not a fairytale especially for those who were different, who didn’t fit in the set moulds of the society. And it had. She realized that calling her over to the convocation was Shaina’s way of breaking even with the world.
Was the new Supreme Court ruling, finally accepting their existence, was leaping out of papers and finding grounding? Were people accepting it for real? Or was it her daughter’s insane attempt to walk the talk? After all, she was soon going to be a lawyer. Hopefully, a good one at that. She had certainly won her first case by convincing Suzie to be there, at her big day.
Through the window inside the huge convocation hall, Suzie sheepishly glanced at the commotion the flowing black convocation dresses caused. She had carefully chosen a sober saree, light jewelry and subdued make-up trying hard to be just another face in the milieu. It wasn’t the first time she was around a huge crowd. That’s what her work entailed. She wouldn’t have thought twice walking into the rush, if it was her work, creating a space of her own, having every eye on her. But that’s exactly what she didn’t want here. She just wanted them to be indifferent to her presence, at least for once.
“It’s okay Abbu”, Shaina whispered while slipping her hand in Suzie’s with assurance. Suzie looked apprehensive. As they walked towards their seat, with Shaina greeting hoards of people, Suzie couldn’t help but notice many anxious, perplexed, curious faces. But to her surprise, some were unperturbed too. Shaina was oblivious to the whole drama. The skip in her step didn’t take any beating. She halted near a group who were talking animatedly and laughing loudly.
“People, meet my dad.” Shaina announced cheerfully to the group turning their attention to Suzie. Everyone smiled cautiously and wished her. Suzie looked admiringly at the youngsters with a silly grin. She pushed aside the nagging thought if they would jeer her daughter later or would cut the ties altogether without a word. The awkwardness was visible on both sides.
“Relax guys. She doesn’t bite”, Shaina broke the silence and everyone burst into laughter.
It was time now for the pass outs to approach the podium. As she saw her daughter galloping towards the stage to receive her degree, Suzie knew if she was the shadow, Shaina was the light. With every heart and every hand now clapping for the young lawyers, her difference drowned in the cheers. For once, she was just a parent, the one she set out to be.
[This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind.” I picked up ‘Sita’s Curse‘ by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu and the word was ‘Trapped‘.]
I am one of the guest authors at We Post Daily for the month of September.