Pinky wiped the sweat off her forehead with the sleeve of her blue t-shirt and looked at her elder brother, Sunny. He had been batting with her cricket bat since the last eight overs of the 30-over match in their apartment’s garage that doubled as their cricket pitch. She listened as others complained to the captain of the team, their neighbour, Naresh, ‘When will we get a chance to bat, Anna? Every day Sunny Anna only bats first and keeps batting till end. I will go to Godha Nilayam from tomorrow!’
‘You will play with our enemy team?’ Naresh, looked at them, his eyebrows furrowed.
‘No, Anna, we did not mean that. But every time, he only bats first.’
‘Arey, we must win, no? And, inter-building matches are also approaching for Independence Day. Ok..Ok..Tomorrow you bat first, ok?’
‘SIX!’ one of their team members shouted, removing his t-shirt and hurling it in the air.
‘Pinky, go and get the ball,’ the bowler scorned at Pinky.
‘Why me, always?’
‘That’s the rule. The last batsman in opposite team should go. Plus, you are so small you can easily squeeze between the plants and the bushes and brought.’
‘It’s bring. State Syllabus fellow! And I am a batsgirl. Ok I am going,’ she mocked and walked swiftly to the neighbour’s house. It was Saturday noon and the neighbours would all be sleeping. She ran towards the plants where the ball would usually be lying. There it was! The red ball among the green plants. She picked the ball and was walking out of the gate when she heard her mother call her name aloud from their balcony. Throwing the ball at the bowler, she ran towards the staircase that led to their flat. ‘I will come soon. Anna, get my bat, don’t forget.’
She ran up the flight of stairs and knocked at her door. Her mother opened it quickly. She walked in and saw her father, still in his formals, holding her mathematics paper.
‘So you hid it from us? Mummy met your Maths teacher and she told that the paper was sent long ago. We searched your school bag and found it.’ Her father held his head in his hand and sank into the brown sofa. ‘Why did you do this?’ he asked, looking at her with disbelief.
Pinky hung her head. She did not know how to react.
‘I am asking you!’ her father shouted. ‘Answer me.’
‘I forgot I got the paper,’ she said, her voice barely a whisper.
‘Lies. Lies. Lies. Who teaches you all this?’ her father hurled the mathematics paper on the floor, and continued ‘Stop playing with those rowdy friends. Why don’t you play badminton instead with Shilpa? She is such a good girl and she will teach you some manners also. Those boys are bad. Only because of your brother I allowed you to play with them, but from today everything is cut. No TV. No playing. Did you see the paper? You got 55 out of 100. And your brother? He got 90. I am not one of those fathers who will compare but this is so less, Pinky.’ Her father said, looking at her. Her mother, seated at the dining table peeling potatoes, nodded in agreement.
‘Sorr..y,’ she mumbled, tears flowing down her cheeks.
‘Sorry for what? The time for sorry is over. From tomorrow, you will do as we say.’
‘Now, you and Mummy will go to Ramani aunty and book a slot. She is the best tuition teacher. Everyone who goes there always gets good marks.’
‘TUITIONs aaah! Noooo.. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.. I don’t want to go.. Only dull heads go there. And my reputation? And inter-apartment matches are coming. I thought I could practice batting from tomorrow,’ she cried.
‘What reputation? Tomorrow when everyone in the building will become big, big officers, you will become a peon or what? This reputation is better than that. And your bat will be Anna’s bat till you get good marks. Now, go.’
Pinky was crying all the way holding her mother’s thin fingers. Her mother wiped her tears and her runny nose with her red dupatta as soon as they reached the tuition teacher’s house. ‘Don’t forget your handkerchief from tomorrow!’ her mother reprimanded her.
A servant opened the door and asked them to take a seat in a room adjoining the tuition room. Seated on the wooden bench, she was looking at the orange poster of Swami Vivekanda with a quote ‘Arise, Awake and Stop not till the goal is reached.’ She was batting her legs when her mother’s stern round eyes made her stop it. She looked around the room. It was filled with books in its many shelves and a cricket bat with many Mickey Mouse stickers on it. Whose bat could this be? she thought.
‘If you had got good marks, we would never have come here,’ her mother whispered in her ears Would Anna have been bowled out? Who would be batting now? She thought ignoring her mother’s comment.
The door to the room clicked open and a rotund woman dressed in a floral sari walked in. She pushed the frame of her spectacles on her nose. She sighed as she sat in the arm chair.
‘What is your name, ma?’ she smiled at Pinky who was still staring at the cricket bat.
‘My name is Shruti Rao. My pet name is Pinky I am in class 6. Section B. I study at Mother Mary High School.’
‘Oh Pinky! Nice name..good good. Do you like mathematics?’
‘Yes, ma’am. Little.’
‘Oh.. You want to like it more?’
‘Yes,’ she said in a flimsy tone.
‘Pinky, my son is sitting inside. Would you like to play with him?’ Pinky nodded a yes, and walked inside, battling the curtains. She sat on the wooden sofa beside the boy fidgeting with the Philips Walkman.
‘Hi,’ she said, looking at the boy with fixed iris. She moved her hand in front of his eyes but he did not blink.
‘Hi, I heard your footsteps but everyone goes to drink water so I did not greet you. I am very sorry,’ he said while trying to fit the cassette in the Walkman. ‘You are a new tuition girl?’ he quickly asked.
‘Yes,’ she said dully.
‘What is your name?’
‘My name is Shruti. I study in 6th class. I go to Mother Mary High School.’
‘My name is Viswa I study in 4th class at Devnar School for the blind.’
She suddenly asked ‘Viswa, whose bat is it outside?’
‘It is mine!’
‘You can play?’ she asked, her eyes wide.
‘Yes, I am the star batsman at school.’
Shruti jumped with excitement. ‘Wow! I want to play with you!’
‘Really?’ he asked straightening his spine keeping aside the Walkman with the cassette fitted neatly.
‘Ok but after tuitions only. Okay?’ he said as if he remembered something.
‘Yes.’ She smiled.
‘Beta, come let’s go,’ her mother shouted holding the curtain.
‘Okay bye Viswa..’ she said and ran towards her mother.
While walking back home, her mother instructed, ‘From tomorrow you will go to tuitions from 4 pm to 5 pm. Ok?’ ‘Yes mummy,’ Pinky smiled.
‘Good girl!’ her mother patted her head.
A Hyderabadi at heart, Nivedita N dwells in nostalgia. When not editing, reading or writing, she daydreams and watches the squirrels from the balcony of her house in Wisconsin and hopes to meet the rabbit imprisoned in the moon, someday. She blogs at: nnivedita.com.