The life-changing present
Diya shut her eyes tight and curled up under the rug, shying away from the blazing light that came in as mama opened the window shutters. The rug cuddled with her tiny form affectionately, reinducing sleep that mama’s loud hollers were taking away. Its dim insides made a soft and cozy sleeping bag. Mama, amidst her own yelling, tugged the rug off her. Diya rolled over to the other side of the bed and got off it, knowing it was the only way to end mama’s admonishment.
Mama looked at her five year old standing at the edge of the bed in her pink pyjama shorts. Her curls fell on her face covering her forehead, her eyes sparkled every time she blinked and her cheeks glowed. She stood there, furrowing her brows and making an evident pout, her way of showing displeasure at the interruption of sleep. It only made her cuter. Mama chuckled at the sight. This was to be Diya’s first day at her new school.
Mama carried the little girl to the other room, brushed her teeth and got her ready. Diya recited her morning songs as mama dressed her up in the new uniform – an off-white button-down shirt and a pleated, checked skirt. Mama hurriedly fed the girl some breakfast, she didn’t want her to miss the school bus on the first day of school. Diya was one of those rare cases of kids that didn’t make a fuss about a thing. You just had to feed her, that’s it. It did not involve running around or pleading with a crying kid; just the feeding. Only, she’d continue to sing her songs managing a bite or two in between. “A sailor went to sea,sea, sea.. To see <bite, bite, bite> what he could see, see see..” No one could stop that; she was insistent on completing her list of songs every morning.
Diya stood up, still chewing the last bite of her sandwich, still singing. She looked adorable. Mama pinned the school badge on her shirt and she was good to go. Mama had big dreams for her. She was a smart kid, a very compassionate and understanding one, quite surprising for a five year old. Mama could see her, in her mind, growing into a magnanimous lady someday and enlightening people around, befitting of her name. She would bring her girl up, teaching her the beliefs of the Dalai Lama who she revered so deeply. Mama helped Diya wear her backpack and put out her index finger. Diya held on to it tight. She loved to walk the roads with her mom, she felt like a big girl. They walked on the pavement, girl and mother, finger in hand, singing songs, feeling chirpy and cheerful. The neighbor’s furry brown dog, Ruffles passed by. Diya petted him and giggled as he wagged his tail. They got to the bus-stop with a lot of time to spare.
“But all that he could see, see ,seeeee, was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, seaaa”
Mama noticed something that another parent was holding; it then dawned on her that she had forgotten Diya’s bus pass at home. There was time, she could sprint home and be back before the bus got to their stop. She asked the little girl to stay there, just there at the same spot. Diya nodded obediently. Mama rushed toward home.
“Helen had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bellll,
When Helen went to heaven, the steamboat went to hell”
A well-dressed man walked across to little Diya.
“What’s your name little girl? You sing very sweetly”
“Thank you.” she said shyly. “My mama asked me to talk to no one”
“Oh she’s right. Never talk to strangers. I have a little present for you though. I will give it to you and I will be gone. Does that work little girl?”
“Okay” Diya smiled eagerly. She loved presents.
The man handed over a tiny black device. She held it with both hands. He asked her to press the green button when she was going to start singing. The display would do a countdown and when it ended, the red button would glow. Just then, she had to stop, at the exact point of time. And she could start over again. The device, the man said, would let out really soft beeps to add music to her singing. Diya was delighted. The man smiled and walked away as promised.
Diya pressed the green. She couldn’t hear the beeps yet, she held it close to her ear and she could hear them. They were really really soft and perieodical. She sang
“Ask me for a muffin, I’ll give you some old bread
And if you do not like it, Just go and soak your head”
The beeps didn’t sway or amplify to the song she sang, but they were fine. She could make them match. She couldn’t wait for her mother to see this. She could see someone jogging towards the stop, at the end of the road. It must be her mama. She couldn’t stop singing yet, the device said 13. Not 0. There was no red glow. She was thrilled. She sang fast.
“A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
To see what he could see, see, see”
The device said 6. She sang faster.
“But all that he could see, see, seee
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea”
Now 2. She was exhilarated. She’d stop at the perfect moment.
“A sailor went to sea – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh mmmmaaammmaaaaaaaaa…..”
There was a lot of red. Larger than the glow she expected. It was hot, burning hot. Singeing pain. And it ended, abruptly.
Mama saw fire. And chaos. There were screams, of which one voice, she knew so well.