Fiction: Birthday

Rinu Antony
Tracing the rim of her cup with her index finger, Shanon looked out of the dining room window at the lone 11 ft coconut palm tree. To Shanon’s eyes, the coconut tree seemed rather vulnerable, mobbed by the neighbouring sturdy, rouge weeds. She reminded herself she’d have to pull out the weeds soon.

The slightly tilted trunk of the tree reminded her of her elder daughter who would tilt her head sideways in concentration as a kid. Shanon smiled to herself.

A movement caught her eyes. A crow pheasant was perched in one of the tree’s midribs. Once she saw an old man folding his hand and bowing his reverence when he spotted the bird in a tree. It was a common tradition among some as the bird was believed to be the reincarnation of the lord Vishnu in common lore of Hindu mythology.

Do you love the coconut tree as much as I do?

More than any other senses, it was her visual sense that suffered greatly after migrating to Maharashtra thirty years ago. Like a ritual, every night before drifting off to sleep, she’d imagine herself in her native state of Kerala. Groves of coconut trees, abundant in Kerala, a small south indian state with palm-lined beaches, backwaters and mountain slopes covered with coffee and spice plantations, were a visual delight denied to her in Maharashtra. Shanon suppressed her distress about her new environment for many years.

Three years ago, the coconut sapling was brought from her mother’s house before her death. She knew the weather and soil in Maharashtra was not conducive for the growth of the coconut tree. Nevertheless, she wanted to bring to her home something that she was used to seeing while growing up.

Besides, the coconut tree tied her to the memory of her mother with an invisible thread. It was special.

The image of helping her mother grate the coconut meat into small flakes and squeezing the milk out of it to add to various curries flashed before her open eyes. After her four elder sisters were married off and her father’s death, Shanon was the only companion to her mother for several years.

Shanon’s head jerked towards the living room. The ringing of the mobile phone followed by the effervescent sound of her younger daughter. She sipped her tea as she listened to the rapid footfalls in the stairs.

Shanon rose from her seat as both her daughters entered the dining room, her younger daughter holding a phone against her ear and her elder one, scowling.

“Why do you both take so much time to get dressed?”

Without acknowledging her presence and lost in their own world, they both drew the chairs out and sat on it.

Shanon ambled to the kitchen while her younger daughter’s voice filled the air.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t forget her birthday. I have a very good surprise planned for Myra. I’ll tell you guys when we meet at college,” Shanon’s younger daughter, Lavya said over the phone and giggled.

In the kitchen Shanon smiled, ruefully.

In the dining room, she served Parathas to her daughters and watched her elder daughter’s scowl deepen further. She waited for the barrage.

“Why is it so oily? Maa, didn’t I tell you that oily food is not good for health? Why do you always add so much oil in the food? It’s giving me ugly pimples!” Nupur, Shanon’s elder daughter grumbled. Lavya cast them a cursory glance and resumed her chat.

But you always liked it this way.

“What happened? Why are you looking so grumpy today? Want to tell me?” Shanon asked Nupur as she pulled out a chair beside her. 

“No! No one seems to understand me. Not even my body! Why do I have so many pimples? It irritates and hurts me. I can’t even wash my face properly without getting hurt! There’re so many girls in my class with flawless skin. Why does my face have to be like this?”

Shanon didn’t sit. She looked down at her elder daughter with surprise. It was rather unusual for her elder daughter to worry about her looks. Always engrossed in her books and studies, Nupur rarely gave importance to how she looked. But something in her changed recently. Shanon wasn’t blind to that. She donned different hairstyles almost everyday. Even her dressing sense changed.

Shanon drew a long intake of citrusy fragrance wafting from Nupur.

Maybe she’s doing this for a boy.

“You smell good. Are you wearing the essential oil I bought you yesterday?”

Nupur nodded without looking at her mother.

“It’s quite natural for girls of your age to have pimples. Look at your sister. Even she has,” Sharon said tentatively.

“It’s not the same. She’s only 16!”

And you’re only 17! Definitely a boy!

Shanon felt a presence behind her. She turned and smiled at her husband, expectantly. Her husband smiled at her and sat on the opposite chair, facing his daughters. Shanon hovered around briefly.

“Well, I’m hungry as well,” Sharon’s husband said.

So? Even though I'm hungry, I haven’t had my breakfast yet. Shanon wanted to snap at her husband.

Instead, she walked to her kitchen and stood against the gas stove, suddenly aware of the oppressive heat inside the kitchen.

“What is the excitement for? Who’s birthday were you talking about?” Sharon heard her husband ask.

Lavya is done with her talking, finally.

My best friend’s,” Lavya almost squealed. “And I have planned a surprise for her.

Can we join you?

“No. Adults are not allowed.

Shanon’s husband laughed.

“As if anyone is interested…”

Nupur’s voice and the following conversation drowned in the reiteration of her own mind, Why? Why? Why? Why?

Shanon moved towards the kitchen window, which also presented her the view of the coconut tree.

If you were a human, I’m quite sure you would have remembered that today’s my birthday as well.

***

Rinu Antony is a graduate of Nagpur University where she earned her Masters in English Literature. She works as a freelance writer now. Her short stories have been published in Universal Journal, The Bombay Review, Borderless Journal and Indus Woman Writing.


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