Amita Ray

Amita Ray

Gripped with panic Pritha limped towards the main gate of her school. Not a soul was in sight.  Her fear proved to be true. The small gate was closed implying that the last trip of the school bus had left with the children. A chill ran down her spine.
     The little girl, a student of class four travelled to and from school by school bus. The last trip after school took her back home. So the children taking the final trip had to wait quite some time after school when the previous two trips did their rounds. The children then made most of their time in the children’s play park. In the park there were swings, sea saws, a merry go round and for the nimble limbs there was the jungle Jim. During the interval most of the children crowded here and it was usually the dashing ones who could get a chance to swing or get hold of the sea saws. Pritha being the typical ‘goody goody’ girl could hardly stand a chance in the jostle. It was only after school that she got a chance to swing to her hearts content when most of the children had left. She would go high up in the swing bounce back then up again, each time aspiring to touch the sky. She felt like a free bird flying in the blue sky while the wind caressed her cheeks.
       One day she had been a bit too adventurous. Some children to hog the limelight would try out many feats in the park. Some would stand and swing barging into great heights teasing others who chose to sit and swing. There was also a competition of who could rise the highest! Challenging and sometimes even bullying would be a regular feature of afterschool fun. Pritha had secretly cherished the desire to stand on the swing and reach the sky. She found no one in the park that day, an ideal time to embark on her first time venture. . Her best friend Mala was absent too. Standing on the swing and holding on to the iron chains, she had hardly gone up when her feet slipped and down she toppled. Her left knee got badly bruised and she wished that her friend Mala had been there to help her.
      With an aching knee she slowly stood up and proceeded to the tap at the rear side of the building to wash her bruised knee. Tears rolled down her eyes as she thought of her mother. She longed for her caring touch. Washing her knee and regaining her calm she suddenly realized that her bus must have left by then. And she was right! The bus driver had somehow failed to notice that Pritha was missing. It was a lapse on his part too.
         The elderly gardener of the school Mr. Anthony spied Pritha sitting in the remote corner of the school cycle stand all alone weeping. Amazed, he went to her and said, “What are you doing here dear?”
         Pritha beside herself with fear and anxiety narrated what had happened, her voice choking in between.
         “Don’t worry, come with me,” he said and lead her to the building where the nunnery was housed. He rang the bell and Pritha trembled in fear of the imminent encounter with the sister who would emerge. She held her breath anticipating a good scolding from her for being so careless as to miss the bus. The sister who was in charge of the junior section of the school came out and looking at Pritha was astonished.  She was a short demure lady with an unassuming smile which endeared her to all. She said, “What’s the matter child?  Why are you here?”
        The moment Pritha saw her favourite sister she was profusely relieved. She broke down and said, “Sister, I have missed my bus.” She was so perplexed that she couldn’t utter any other word. Anthony came to her rescue and narrated the whole story.
        “Oh my dear child, so you fell down from the swing! Looking at her knee she continued, “Good gracious! Your knee is terribly bruised. Go dear, sit down in the parlour. First of all let me bring the first aid box. Now…now, don’t you cry. I will ring up your father and he will pick you up. Ok?”
       Leaving Pritha in the care of sister, Anthony left for the garden adjacent to the parlour to finish his job. Presently sister appeared with the first aid box and a plate of bread and butter. Looking at sister taking out a pad of cotton and the iodine bottle Pritha shrieked in fear.
       “Nothing to worry child. It won’t hurt much.”
       Pritha shut her eyes and flinched when the medicine was applied. When it was over Pritha patted herself for being the brave girl enduring the assault of medicine on her wound. Sister was relieved too as the child didn’t make much of a scene.
         “Now like a good girl have this for your lunch and wait for your daddy to come and pick you up after his office gives over. I have given him a ring.” She kept the plate on the table and left. A waitress brought her a glass of water to drink.
          In the lonely afternoon sitting alone in the parlour Pritha felt wired.  There was a kind of hush all over, not a sound could be heard.  She stared in dismay at the slices of bread and tears welled up. Bread and butter were something she detested and could not have at any cost. Hunger was gnawing at her entrails but still she could not touch them. She thought of the rice and fish curry prepared by her mother and sighed.
       In a moment of aberration she did something strange. She threw the slices of bread out of the window. Little did she realize that they would land up in front of Anthony still in the garden. The gardener had green fingers. The poppies and roses in all resplendent shades bloomed in the garden under his loving care. At that time he was tending the saplings and was taken aback. “Whoever could have done this?” He mused for some time.
      He collected the pieces of bread went inside and rang the bell of the nunnery. The same sister came out to attend to the call this time too. She listened to Anthony’s story and was quick to guess the miscreant. Though aggrieved, she remained calm. Pritha who was sitting in the parlour absent minded startled when sister suddenly entered with the pieces of bread. She did not scold her. Calmly she said, “Why did you do this child?”
      Pritha’s eyes were downcast with remorse. She had acted on the spur of the moment. She said, “I don’t like bread and butter. I am sorry sister.”
      “You should be so. We pray every day to Our Father for ‘our daily bread’. You should be thankful to God for every morsel you get whether you like it or not.”
       Pritha repeated, “I am sorry sister. I will never do it again.”
       “Now you will stay without food until you reach home. Then you will understand what pang of hunger is. That will be the right punishment for you.” With these words sister left the parlour.
      It was about 5p.m. when Pritha’s father came to pick her up after office hours.  All along she was fretting about sister complaining to her father about the misdeed. But sister was wise enough not to do it. When Pritha reached home she was exhausted with hunger, thirst and stress.
     She signed off the day with a lesson she had learnt that day. The concluding lines she wrote in her little diary were as follows—
        “I promise never to waste any food. So many children do not get anything to eat. I will never again be fussy about food.”

BIO: Amita Ray is former associate professor in English and Vice-Principal of a college residing in Kolkata, India. An academic of varied interests she is a Translator and Short Story writer. She has published two volumes in Translations of noted Bengali  authors into English. Her short stories have been published in The Sunday Statesman, Cafe Dissensus and other on line journals of repute. She has a passion for writing poems and has contributed to various anthologies and e-zines.

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