‘So, whose pet are you? Mummy’s or Daddy’s?’, asked Ramesh uncle.
”Shriya is Daddy’s, and I am Mummy’s’, Priya replied dutifully. Almost immediately, a chubby little girl came skipping along, and tapped her on the arm. ‘Shall we play Peekaboo now?’ Priya nodded, gratefully, and the girls hurried away, hand-in-hand.
Although she was nine, Priya was rather quiet, and had a slow, unsure gait. A voice from a distant past kept ringing in her ears. ‘Beautiful baby!! Best thing that’s happened to me!’. But she just couldn’t remember where or when she had heard it.
‘Come and look for meeeeeeeee’, Shriya’s call jolted Priya back to reality, and she started hunting for the litte imp – her three-year old sister. In about an hour, they tired of the game and scurried indoors, ravenously hungry. Ramesh uncle was nowhere in sight, and Priya was relieved. She was tired of having to answer the same question from him every time they met!
‘Mummy, I am so hungry!!’, Priya whispered, tugging at the sari. Shubha turned around and snapped, ‘There’s so much to do for the party! Where have you girls been?’ Her voice was tense.
‘Playing peekaboo in the garden.. hee hee!’, replied Shriya as she hugged her mother.
‘You cheeky little doll!’ Shubha said, and smiled fondly, tousling Shriya’s mop of curly black hair. ‘Beautiful baby’, the voice whispered in Priya’s head.
Shubha seated them atop the kitchen counter and gave them each a colourful plate piled with potato chips and samosas. Shriya chomped away happily. Priya didn’t realise at what point it was, that her appetite had died.
‘Priya, can you that tray to the guests, please?’, asked Shubha, though it sounded more an order than a request. ‘Some more chips for you, Shriya kutty?’ she asked in the direction of the little one. ‘Best thing that’s happened to me…’, the mystery voice whispered in Priya’s ear again.
Suddenly, in what seemed to be an explosion in her mind, Priya recollected where she had heard that voice. It was the day Shriya had suffered from an unusually high temperature. They had all been so worried to see her shivering that way! Thankfully, the medication had taken effect and the temperature had gradually subsided. It was on that very night, that Mummy had stood beside their bed, and spoken those words. And all the while, she had been looking at Shriya.
‘Priya!!’, Shubha shouted.
Priya’s cheeks were reddening. Shriya was licking ketchup off her fingers.
‘Don’t just sit there! Aren’t you going to help Mummy?’
Priya fixed her gaze on her plate, but couldn’t see through the mist.
Shubha took a step forward and shook Priya by the shoulders. ‘What is THE MATTER with you?’ she asked angrily. She was sweating profusely, as she always did, when she was angry. She was waiting for the party to end so she could put her feet up. And here was her older daughter, supposedly the responsible one, refusing to help!
Priya’s eyes brimmed over. Hot tears fell on her cheeks and rolled onto her lap, leaving spots on her new yellow frock. But she wasn’t talking.
Shubha looked on, completely bewildered. She shifted her gaze to Shriya. ‘Did you girls quarrel with each other in the garden?’ Wide-eyed and perplexed, Shriya shook her head sideways. At that point, Priya burst into an avalance of tears.
‘What happened…?’, Shubha started. Priya shrugged her off angrily. She didn’t want to ask. She didn’t want to know.
Shriya slowly inched closer and stretched out a plump little finger to wipe away the tears. Then, she hugged Priya tenderly. It was a warm and reassuring hug. The kind of unspoken understanding that seals the bond between siblings.
Shubha stood close – helpless, ignorant.
In a while, sobs receded. Both children slipped off the table and capered into the garden.
‘Priya…’,Shubha called out anxiously.
But she was gone. Holding Shriya’s hand like it was the most precious thing on earth. Realising that Shriya was her anchor. The little angel who loved her completely, unconditionally. Her pet.
Featured post @ Sulekha Ex-pressions