Fiction: METAMORPHOSIS

Glory Sasikala

- Glory Sasikala

....And in the stillness far and wide There was just you and I

"Is Papita home?" The big green eyes in a perfect oval face looked at me. I looked at the girl standing at the doorway in white and blue school uniform with two plaits done up with red ribbons and the school shoes and socks still on.

I walked up to her, looking inquiringly into her young face. I had never seen her before.

"Papita? Who is that?" I asked, not knowing my sister's nickname at the Central school in Hyderabad.

"I'm Chaya Pai, Mr. Pai's daughter, and we have just come to Kolkata on transfer from Hyderabad."

"Hi!" called my sister, "Chaya! Come in!" She looked at my confused face. “Chaya studied with us in Hyderabad. You won’t know. You were in a different school.”

“And too small to remember,” she added severely, in her big sister way, as if it was my fault I was the youngest.

Chaya turned out to be my brother's classmate in Kolkata at the Fort William Central School.

It’s like some antenna is up, but suddenly the teenage boys in our area were aware that there was a beautiful girl arrived. And Chaya was very beautiful, with a slender figure, auburn hair and green eyes and a rosy complexion. The added attraction was that she had no clue she was beautiful. She was a just a grubby schoolgirl. Fort William School was quite a distance from Airport and the children reached home late in the evening, sometimes well past 5 pm. As such, she was mostly in her school uniform, her hair in two folded plaits done with red ribbons, and her face devoid of even the salutary face powder. She was a tomboy, going around in her cycle with my brother and his friends and playing cricket with them She was all of 16 years old. She was a Mangalorean.

"Chaya! Chaya!" the boys called out to her from their ‘adda’ on the side banks of a dried up gutter.

She walked over to them and asked in all sincerity, "Hi, how do you know my name? Why are you calling me? Do you want something?" They never knew how to react to such a direct approach, and their stunned silence left her genuinely puzzled.

She had three younger siblings, a little sister and two younger brothers. On our visits to her home, we found her lolling about, a plain white slip encasing her slender form, her glorious hair left open, cascading down her young shoulders.

She always came to our house in search of my sister or my brother, hardly aware of my 12-year-old existence, lurking at the outskirts of the conversation and trying to butt in whenever I could. To me, she represented a character right out of the Enid Blyton books and I hero worshipped her with all my 12-year-old heart. However, I was too shy to approach her, and was quite content with my periphery existence.

One day, she came asking for my brother, who was out. "Hi where's Anil?" she asked. "He's gone out. You're always asking for either my sister or brother. You never ask for me!" I burst out passionately.

She looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. And she smiled and said, "I'll come looking for you tomorrow."

"What time?" I wanted to know. "6 o'clock, sharp," she said and left.

I did not believe her. Didn't I know the high and mighty ways of these teenagers? Where would they have any time for little girls like me?

And besides, it started raining in the evening the next day. By 6 o'clock, it was raining quite heavily. I shook my head, deciding there was no way she was going to brave such a downpour. I picked up my book and settled down in a sette by the window, so I could watch the rain as well. There was a knock on the door, and there she stood in her uniform, drenched wet. I gaped at her open-mouthed. "You did say 6, didn't you?" she asked, looking at my face. "Come in," I whispered, too awestruck for words. "No, let's stand here and watch the rain," So we stood in silence and watched it rain, occasionally putting out our hands, and sometimes trying to catch a drop on our tongues.

It slowed down to a drizzle and then stopped completely. The street lights went on and a delicious, cool breeze blew around.

"Go and bring a book," she said. "Why?" I asked. "We'll go walking and I will read aloud from the book for a while and you listen. Then you read and I will listen."

I still cannot forget the joy of that experience, of walking down those quiet streets and listening to her young, vibrant voice.

It was to be the beginning of a strange friendship, one which my family watched in fascination. She came daily after that and only to see me. And I went over to her house. We measured our waists to see if it was like Scarlett O'Hara's, and wondered how she managed to pack a stomach, liver, spleen and pancreas into it.

We tried walking barefoot. It ached, but it was fun. We climbed trees, went jogging early in the morning, caught goats and milked them, visited dairy farms and watched cows being milked, tried fishing, went to small hamlets along the lakes and talked to the villagers there. She taught me cycling and how to burst red crackers on the road. We went about hunting clues like the Enid Blyton children and trying disguises. And she introduced me to the strange world of

‘Adventure.’

"Chaya,” I asked, as we lay on the grass, looking up at the white clouds in a blue sky, “What’s your dream?"

"A cap"

"A cap?"

"Yes, with two holes to let my plaits out and a cooler in it. And music…."

"I would also like to marry a guy named Pai. I'd hate to change my name, that's why. And maybe we would have three children. That would be three Pais......"

"But before that, I would like to join the Army as a doctor."

Days flew by…joyful days spent close to nature, living outside of our own little selves, making delightful discoveries of unexplored jungles, little fish in the lake, a forbidden garden with a fruit tree we could throw stones at, a cow that came to the field daily, which we decided we would “own” for the evening. It was all so much innocent fun.

We also made a resolution never ever to wear makeup and to never wear girly clothes – just jeans and shirts - all our lives and never wear any ornaments or carry handkerchiefs or be ‘girlish.’ Oh, how solemn we were about it!

But as Chaya left for college, she seemed to change before my eyes. She sat grimly for hours, not wanting to talk or play. She seemed to be in a world of conflict of some sort. I watched her, and honestly, was getting a little bit irritated with the whole thing. I wanted her to get the cricket bat and ball and come out to play. I wanted to be in the ground playing and getting dirty. And all she wanted was to settled down to a good talk.

Chaya finally left for hostel. She came six months later to spend some time at our place. And such a terrible change had taken place! Call it metamorphosis, called it whatever. She was clad in a cotton sari and her hair was done up beautifully. And yes, she carried a scented hanky. She spent what seemed like hours bathing - and came out smelling a disgusting feminine smell.

"By jove! She’s gorgeous!" exclaimed my brother, to my disgust. I thought she looked lousy and just like all those other "ordinary" females that I knew. She was now 18 and I was I4.

"Chaya, what's this? What happened to our resolution? Where's your sense of adventure?" I asked her, cornering her at the first instance.

She laughed at my disgusted face and said, "You know, there’s a thing called practical adventure. It's fun too. You'll be like this soon and you’ll like it."

"Never!" I cried passionately, "I'd rather die!"

She smiled and said, "Look me up when you're 18 and we'll talk."

"You wanna bet?"

She laughed and said, "No, you'll lose and I can't bear that.''

Chaya did become a doctor, but she married a guy with a different surname, and she has two lovely kids. And as for me, there's a lovely salwar on sale that I want very badly - with the right accessories and makeup to go with it - and yes, a scented hanky would be good too.

And I have a 12-year-old daughter who hangs around in faded jeans and t-shirts. With no makeup on...

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