A Soubriquet Called Summer
When the scorching heat burned my back, I knew that summer had arrived. I looked around at the verandah that glowed like gold. My eyes reached for the reaches of the dark rooms in order to spot a familiar face. Luckily, no one was around.
I carefully tiptoed up to the sidewall & started licking it. Its salty taste trickled down my throat along with my saliva. And I began to enjoy each moment of it. The elders knew it wasn’t a good thing to lick walls, even GOPI knew it. “ Bad. Yuck! Stop. PRIYA, see what Neena is doing!” were the words I usually heard when I tried to lick walls.
But as today was a different day I could lick the walls as much as I wanted. Today was different because summer had arrived. Today was also a different day because nobody was around though I knew where they would be.
My mother & granny had brought huge crates of ripe & juicy mangoes & so they were busy slicing them in the kitchen while my grandpa was in a room which was full of strange books. The ones which I could not read& nor could carry them as they are as thick as my school bag.
While my grandpa always stayed indoors, my father always stayed outdoors in some place called ‘office’ till late evening. I didn’t really know how an office looked like. Maybe it was a place where you could find treasures in. My father used to bring ‘money’ from this place. I had seen what ‘money’ looked like. It was those shining stones with numbers 1,2or 5 on it.
It was also those papers which 4-year-olds like me weren’t allowed to touch or tear. But I had touched it quite a lot of times. On my birthdays, the guests would give it to me in colorful envelopes & if my mother didn’t spot me then I would go to the secret corners of a room & tear it into pieces. I loved doing that as much as I loved stealing ice cubes from the fridge, eating chocolates & ice creams & most importantly licking walls. Now the pleasure that this task gave me was incomparable.
After licking the wall for a long time when its salty taste started to disappear & when it was wet enough to be left alone, I got up to go to the kitchen. My mother & granny were slicing the mangoes just as I had expected. The knife was drenched in mango juice. My mouth turned watery as I looked at it. ”Mom! I want some of those”, I cried rubbing my eyes to make it seem real. “Why do you have to throw tantrums for everything?” my mother scolded me.
“Priya, don’t scold my princess. Just give her whatever she wants”, said my loving granny. MY mother handed me four slices of mangoes on a plate. I grabbed it & sat down on the floor sucking the sweet juice from the pulpy mango slices. Its sweetness washed down the salty taste which I had achieved from licking the walls. Then after handing over the peels back to my mother, I went towards the basin, wet my chest, chin & hands & ran towards the room where grandpa sat. “What are you doing grandpa”, I asked chewing the lowest corner of my frock almost lifting it up. “I am reading a book, my dear,” he replied kissing my cheek.
“Do these books have pictures in them?” I asked. “No dear, these books are meant for elders & most of them don’t have pictures at all. One day, when you grow up like me, you shall also be able to read them,” he said assuring me. “No these books look very scary. They don’t even have pictures in them. I’ll never read them,” I said dismayed.
“Ok! Dear, as you wish. Now let’s go & find out what are we having for lunch today”, he said lifting me up on his arms. I was not hungry after licking the walls & eating the mangoes but as soon as we reached the dining hall, my mother called out, “NEENA, see I’ve prepared your favourite chicken!”My ears woke up to the call & I ran towards her.” Wow! Kitchen, yum, yum!” I screamed & ran towards her. My mother used to prepare a different kitchen (chicken) every day. Sometimes it had bones & the other times it was differently shaped and colorful too.
Only I & my mother knew that they were all kitchen (chicken). Even the vendor uncle would sell kitchen of different names on the street. He would scream “Tomato, potato, brinjal & bitter gourd at prices so low that everyone can afford” without feeling ashamed of his foolishness.
I often tried to correct him saying “uncle, they are not tomato or potato, they are all kitchen” but he was a stubborn man & always laughed at me whenever I tried to correct him. And now sitting on the chair enjoying my favourite kitchen I giggled thinking about it.
But when I noticed that granny & grandpa were about to come first in the ‘who would eat first’ race, I started to eat as quickly as I could & as usual I won it too. Later in the evening, I went down with my servant to play with him in our garden. The garden was full of colorful flowers, fruit-bearing and non-fruit bearing trees. We had the papaya, guava, neem & the eucalyptus tree.
Then there were the herbs which my mother used in cooking & there were quite a few of garden lizards & chameleons found on them too. My servant had taught me about them. He had told me that all the garden lizards were Hindus & all the chameleons were Muslims. He had also told me about the black ants which were Hindus & the red ants were Muslims. He had also told me that we were Hindus too. I really didn’t know what these two words literally meant but as GOPI was elder to me, I was bound to listen.
I always did most of the bowling & the fielding when we played our ‘bat& ball game’. I knew I was good at it as whenever I cried, GOPI would become out & would let me bat endlessly till my mother called me upstairs to drink milk(a tasteless liquid which tasted worse than home-made juices). I wished if I could drink something called as ‘kitchen juice’ every day but unfortunately, my mother never made one.
But as today was a different day, my mother didn’t call me upstairs nor did we play in our garden. Today for the first time, Gopi took me out on the streets to play the ‘elder’s bat& ball’ game with other boys who were nearly as old as he was.
I wasn’t good at this game & I realized this when the elder’s bat hit my plastic ball (so hard that it flew somewhere & got lost) & when the elder’s ball almost disfigured my plastic bat. I didn’t enjoy any of this. Now making a disgusted face, I stood there watching Gopi enjoy his game. “ Neena, go and ask your granny to buy you this kind of a bat. Then you can play with us”, Gopi said turning back to hit the ball that now came rolling towards me.
I opened my gate, ran past the garden & ran upstairs calling out “granny, where are you? See Gopi is not letting me play with him.” My granny came out asking about what had happened.
“Granny I need that elder’s bat so that I too can play with them”, I said pleading her showing her my disfigured bat. “But that bat is too big for you & you can hardly lift it up!” she explained. “No, I swear I will be able to lift it up. Please, please, please! Granny, I want that bat now! ”, I said in a promising tone. “Ok, I will buy you that bat but only under one condition, if you promise to return that bat when you are not able to play with it”, she put forward her condition. I accepted it in a fearless tone.
“Yes, granny I promise. Now please let’s hurry before the game gets over,” I replied. We hurriedly went to the nearby general stores & I got myself the elder’s bat. But there was one tiny problem. The elder’s bat was too big for me & I could barely lift it up. “Er, granny could you please carry this bat for me till our house. I’m very tired”, I said trying to make an excuse. “Oh! No dear, you had promised that you would lift the bat yourself & play with it. If you find it hard to lift it then we shall return it right away”, she replied.
“No granny it’s all right I shall carry the bat myself”, I sighed. As I couldn’t lift the bat I dragged it along with great effort while my granny giggled along the way. I felt tired & my limbs hurt.
’That game better be worth all this pain or Gopi will regret it’ I thought as I dragged the new bat on the road. But when I reached there, it all turned out to be differently. The boys stopped playing & started mocking me. “Look what Neena has got for herself! She can barely lift it up! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha-Ha!” they laughed together, a laugh that was too contagious to remain small, a laugh that soon turned into a guffaw, a laugh that made me feel drenched in shame & disappointment.
All of this effort for nothing! I turned towards my granny who stood there watching it all happen pretending to not be there, teaching me a lesson without speaking much. Words failed me then just like my heavy heart did & trying hard to avoid crying I said “granny let’s return this bat, I don’t need it anymore. This bat is bad. Gopi is bad too. I shall never play with him again.” She smiled & took me back to the shop asking me to drag the bat all over again.
I was really hurt that evening so hurt that I even drank the milk without feeling disgusted & soon went to sleep. So hurt that I even stopped talking to Gopi after that day. Whenever it was playtime I stayed indoors & watched ‘Tom & Jerry’ or did my homework.
This change in me had started to make Gopi feel guilty. So guilty that he pursued me to play with him at least inside the house. So guilty that he even bought me another set of ‘bat& ball’ with his own pay. So guilty that he had also stopped playing with those boys. “Arre O! Gopi! Aren’t you coming today for the colony match. Are you scared? You coward rat”, they would call out.
“Say whatever you want but I really can’t come. Madamji has given so much work that I’ve no time left to play”, he would lie to them every day. I watched this act of his every day pretending to have not witnessed his sacrifice but he always performed it in front of me deliberately to catch my attention. Soon my grandparents had begun to worry about my dull behaviour so they planned a surprise for me.
“Neena, see what we have got for you”, they called out one day. I came slowly & entered the room. Noticing what the surprise was I jumped in happiness & cried “Wow! It’s R for Rabbit! Wow! It’s so cute! It’s so white! It’s lovely!” I said clapping my hands & hopping around the room while the rabbit sat on the table white as snow. It’s red coloured eyes moved rapidly as it twitched its nose and shook its ears. Then stopping after dancing enough, I lifted the rabbit and kissed it.
“So what are you going to call it?” my granny asked. “I think we should call it Jerry” Gopi replied hesitating at first, not sure whether he had the right to speak. “Granny, we’ll call it summer!” I replied ignoring Gopi and his proposal completely. My intentions were pure ………well how should I put it forward………………..to hurt him as much as he had hurt me. I had understood
How feelings could be hurt without actually hurting them, I had learned the art of revenge without actually learning it. I knew I had succeeded that day too as Gopi had withdrawn himself back into the shadows of the room from where he had dared to emerge out in order to speak. Though Gopi had always been like my elder brother I had begun to hate him as my worst enemy. I had begun to hate him more than anything else. More than milk!
It had been a week since Summer had arrived. I kept myself busy with it all the time. Sometimes watching it nibble the carrots, watching it crawl beneath the sofa, watching it move around me as it hopped back & forth twitching its nose, I had fallen in love with it.
While I kept myself busy watching Summer, Gopi was made to keep busy cleaning the leftovers of the food that Summer left, cleaning its pee & shit & most importantly cleaning it! Unlike me & all the other members of the family, Gopi was the only one who loathed Summer more than anyone. He loathed it so much that he had once tried to strangle it to death. He didn’t succeed with it thankfully.
“Gopi go and clean Summer’s shit. It’s all over the place.” I ordered him one day trying to be as unfriendly as possible. “No ways! I’m not going to go near that devil. It is a monster who has disguised itself like a rabbit and has come to eat all of us up. I have never seen any rabbit twitch its nose like that . Do you know why it hides underneath dark places? It does so because it gets scared of the light. Only monsters & ghosts are scared of light. I’m not going to risk my life anymore & I advise you to do the same because you are like my little sister though for you I’m just a paid slave.”
His word scared me & also made me feel guilty. I had had a completely false impression of him in my mind. Now I felt ashamed of myself. I felt ashamed to go near Gopi as much as I now felt mortified to go near Summer. It had been quite a while since I had played with Summer & today what I saw shocked me completely. My mother was holding Summer in her hands and stroking it.
“ Mom! Stay away from it. It will eat you up. Summer is a real monster.” I shrieked. My mom looked puzzled at my weird behavior. “Who told you that Summer is a monster? No beta, See it is such a vulnerable creature itself. How can it eat me up?” she said trying to explain.
“Can you prove it to me?” I asked trying to be rational. “Yes, my dear. Monsters are scared of mothers and if mothers tap a monster, they disappear into thin air”. She replied in a confident tone tapping the rabbit twice gently. “See!” she said triumphantly. I chuckled not because I was relieved but because I planned to hide this from Gopi & continue to scare him off maintaining the pretence of the fear of Summer in me. “ Mom! Could you keep this as our little cigarette (secret)?” I asked her. She replied smiling & then laughing along. That night I slept peacefully as I was not scared of Summer anymore.
The next morning I got up, as usual, trying to find Summer in order to play with it before my morning ablutions. But to my horror, Summer was nowhere to be seen. “Summer ! Where are you? Come out fast. You know I have to play with you before I go for susso(urine). Come out now! I really got to go fast. I can’t wait any longer.” I called out. But Summer did not come out. Instead of that, my grandpa entered the room. “Grandpa, have you seen Summer? I can’t find it anywhere.” I asked him.
He didn’t reply and instead, he sat next to me & explained “Neena, I’m afraid you’ll never see Summer again. Your mother, granny & I searched all over the place but Summer is nowhere to be found. Maybe the neighborhood cat………”He paused looking at my reaction. I was in tears & felt something sharp inside that was piercing my heart out. I couldn’t believe that I had lost my best friend so soon.
I couldn’t even believe what I had said next to grandpa “No Summer is not dead. You are hiding him. I want Summer now! Go find it or I’ll never talk to you. I want summer!” I cried a loud cry so loud that even if Summer was miles away it would surely return. I ran crying, out of the room into the hall, past the corridor, into the kitchen where I hoped to find Gopi.
When he saw me crying he said “See I had warned you before but you didn’t listen. Now that little monster has finally vanished into thin air forever”, He said in a relieved tone. “Summer was not a monster. In fact, you are a monster. You ate my Summer .Give it back. Now! ” I slapped him hard & sat down on the floor crying. Gopi left the kitchen leaving me alone to cry aloud feeling lonely & betrayed.
My granny came running towards me & hugging me she promised she would bring Summer back. I wiped my tears & went to my room. I was very depressed that day & cried for everything feeling irritated. That night my mother made a kitchen with bones and even brought ice creams for me but I refused to relish them & drank milk instead and went to sleep in order to feel the loss deeply.
Next morning I felt so gloomy that I didn’t wish to wake up at all but my mother started to tickle me so hard that I couldn’t sleep for long. I got up giggling & rolling asking her to stop. But I was surprised to see that she was nowhere around. I looked towards my side & found the culprit. It was Summer!
“Summer! Oh where had you run away? You know how much I cried yesterday?” I exclaimed hugging it. My granny entered the room saying “See I had promised you that I would bring Summer back & here it is”.
“Oh! Granny, you are the best granny ever. I love you so much” I hugged her too. Now stroking Summer I said “Granny what has happened to Summer. It doesn’t seem like itself. See its eyes have turned green. It was red before.” I asked her. “It’s because of the heat Neena!” she explained.
But I really didn’t care. All I wanted was Summer to be back with me & I got it. Now being my cheerful self I took Summer to the kitchen to show Gopi how wrong he had been. But Gopi was nowhere to be seen. Something really terrible struck my mind.
Was Gopi the real monster? Did he eat himself up or did he vanish into thin air too? Just as I thought about it Summer shook its ears as if agreeing with me. I felt horrified now. If Gopi was an invisible monster then he would plan on eating both Summer & me together today in order to take revenge from me. I clapped my mouth & closed my eyes feeling scared to even move.
Suddenly, I heard a distant familiar call. To my relief it was Gopi. He was screaming or maybe yelling “Madamji, o madamji! Come here fast. See what I’ve found!”. “What happened Gopi? Why are you screaming so much.” my granny came up to the verandah & looked down.
Gopi was in the garden pointing at a newly dug pit which my grandpa had dug out in order to plant new herbs. I came out in the verandah too curious to figure out what Gopi really meant.
He suddenly lifted Summer out of the pit.’ The old red-eyed summer’. “See madamji, this son of a devil was hiding there all the time!” he said. I looked at my new green-eyed Summer. I felt overjoyed. It was a miracle! I had two Summers now! I ran downstairs & snatched the old Summer from Gopi’s hand. “Wow, granny! See I have two friends now. I’m so excited!” my granny only laughed & called us back.
Few months that followed this miracle, another miracle happened. One of the two Summers had three small Summers now! “Mom they are so small & so cute. Wow! See they are tickling me. Ha! Ha!” I giggled.
Gopi stood there watching at a distance & not speaking anything. Hiding in the dark as if he knew he didn’t deserve to speak. “Mom! I think we’ll call these two mamma summer & papa summer from now on!” I said laughing. “Nice thinking Neena! But what about these three little summers?” she asked.
“I think we should let Gopi decide!” I said turning towards him. His face suddenly lit up & coming towards me excitedly he said “I’ve already decided their names! We’ll call this one with the pink nose-Neena & the other two boys Tom & Jerry!” I giggled & all of us burst into laughter. “Foolish Gopi bhaiya! ” I said & hugged him dearly.
Does the story have the basic elements? Does it have a believable plot? What is the theme, or the point of the story? Are the characters real? How does the plot build to the point of tension wherein everything is resolved in the denouement? Is the conclusion satisfying? If any of the answers to these questions are in the negative, you need to start work on your short story all over again.
Contributing Story Teller:: Aditi Bakshi a freelance writer currently studying in my 12th std. I’ve attended the creative writing workshop conducted by writer & critic VIJAY NAIR and hence, have got my formal training about article, short story, novel, screenplay writing & poetry writing from the former. I pursue a great interest in any form of writing & I’m currently working on my first novel. [email protected]
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