“You are not going to the school dance, and that’s that.”
Mom quits on me mid-argument and walks off.
“But that’s not fair,” I say, chasing after her into the living room. “Everybody’s going. Even Sheila with two left feet. And I will be the only one who won’t. And everybody would have a wonderful time, but me. Mom, are you even listening?”
She is searching for something under the daybed. Not finding it there, she checks around the sofas, and then behind the doors and beneath the window curtains. “You’re in eight grade,”she says dropping the edge a curtain. “How bad can it be?”
She hurries out into the hallway and looks about like a headless chicken, no doubt waiting for the cosmos to flash a celestial sign – left, no go right, and you shall find what you seek.
“Why can’t I go? It’s not like I won’t be chaperoned. Deepa’s dad will pick and drop us. And I’ll be back by ten. For sure.”
“There you are,” she says instead, rushing over to the shoe stand under the stairwell and straightening with one foot a pair of overlapping slippers, cherry red. She smacks her hands with satisfaction and looks down at me as if waiting for a miraculous transformation to manifest.
“I know what you are trying to do, Mom,” I say, fully aware of her modus operandi. “But I’m not fighting with you. Or arguing. Or throwing a tantrum. This one problem is not going to go away with you disarming some overlapping shoes!”
But Mom, who on most days is a completely regular person, like you and me — two hands, two legs, and a regular oval face, which you may say is pretty if you like a square jaw, a wide nose, piercing black eyes, and a mop of tight perms for hair, all familial traits, and not a broad-bordered Kanjivaram sari-wearing aunty from the neighborhood with rings of all manner, color, and stone swallowing her fat fingers and a large black dot warding off evil on the highest roll of her cascading chin, just looks about some more till she finds a stray pump having a dalliance with dad’s brown boots. Dad himself off on a business trip.
“There, that should do it,” she says happily and I can’t help but sigh. Faced with squabbling kids and she turns into a superstition-fueled, maxi over pajamas-clad huntress of overlapping shoes.
Great wars could be won like this, if you went by her.
All that the armies of warring nations would have to do is neutralize some overlapping boots.
“Mom, at least tell me why?” I plead. “What will I say if Mrs. Chatterjee asks for a reason? If I don’t say anything, everyone will think I am stingy, that I don’t want to part with a few hundred bucks for the school dance.”
“Nobody will think that,” she says, back in the dining room, laying out table mats for dinner time. Her shoe-finding expedition having finally paid off.
“Sunny,” she says to my brother, who is finishing his homework at the table and making an early dinner of his pen. “Stop chewing the pen and go wash up. It’s time for dinner. I have made your favorite. Rajma-pulao.”
Sunny grins, his lips stained blue. “Just one more problem and then I’ll be done. Free as a bird.”
“Not so fast,” I snap. “It’s your turn to take out the garbage and feed the bird.”
Sunny sticks out his tongue at me like an eight-year-old and not a tween that he is.
“Seriously,” says Mom. “Do I have to go searching for more slippers upstairs?”
Sunny does a belly laugh and it’s hard not to catch a smile.
“They will,” I say, moving behind her like her shadow, laying down empty tumblers after her plates. “Because I said so.”
If only she would tell me the reason, maybe I could persuade her to see the error of her ways.
“I was only kidding,” I add. “In my defense, they were going to play some horrid mixed tape from the 90s. No doubt from princy’s museum of ‘how to torture perfectly normal kids with bad tastes in anything under the sun’. And that too over that horrid school sound system that crackles on the best days and is like a club of screening banshees on the worst. And kill us with sweet lemonade and sawdust-brick sandwiches from the canteen for good measure. Just in case the music didn’t do the job. But now that there will be a live boy band … and a theme … Princess Bride, you know that movie…? And my favorite book. Well, one of my favorites. Definitely in the top five. God, how embarrassing it would be! And what are you grinning at?” I snap at Vicky again.
“Mom’s not telling you why, but I know.”
“Don’t,” warns Mom. “It’ll just upset her.”
“Upset me? What will? Why? Don’t tell me, it’s a bad day for a court dance!”
“Something close,” says Sunny, thrilled. “The world’s going to end that day.”
“You’re kidding me. And we’ll be safe indoors?”
Honestly, the hubris of man.