A mother and daughter sit at a park bench, two gangly legs swinging as if a key had gone off in their knees. The two of them look up occasionally. The mother and daughter, that is, and not the swinging legs. They look up to see egrets, a swathe of white, grey and pale yellow cutting through an illusion of sky. They laugh at little things, this mother and daughter, and fight over finishing sentences. Suddenly the little girl picks up her new rag doll, and tells her mother she hears the voices of her friends and that she wants to show her new doll Gowri to them. Little hands clutch the new rag doll, who is a vision in a purple and gold brocade pavada and a bead necklace with a heart pendant. Thick braids on an oblong head make her endearing. Legs filled with eagerness and a heart bursting at the seams with joy, and pride at her new doll, and the prospect of showing off, hurtle the little girl’s body into a world her mother was apprehensive of sending her into.
Wait a minute, kanna, she says. Let’s sit here and talk. We’ll talk about Gowri’s school and how you’re going to help her decide if she wants to do art or drums. The little girl doesn’t stop for a second, her heart is right there on her sleeve, right next to tightly-clutched Gowri, smiling, amiable Gowri. She’s a minute away from a catastrophe the colour of fake blonde hair, pink walkie talkies and puzzling pom-poms.
The sun is setting now and the mother walks towards the swings, become herself a child. The worst of a child. She watches the girls play; a swing supports her daughter who is nibbling a biscuit, another shadow in the sand is of her friend, a third set of girl feet finishing the trio. Her mother doesn’t acknowledge the last girl, says to her daughter that it was time to go home. The swing shuffles. Flop sits down her daughter, thighs digging into the side of a yellow swing. Five minutes more amma, says the little girl who can’t tell time yet. The mother agrees and walks away, spying Gowri lying face down, forgotten in the sand, new pavada askew, showing off lace-trimmed bloomers.
There’s no peace in the mother’s heart as she paces the walking track. Sense, protection, maturity and anger glow incandescent, individual lamps as well as a collective fire, a raging blaze fuelled by the pace of her walk. Finding no answers to questions she does to know how to word, she lets this battle too go, even though she’s not sure they’ve won. Or lost. It Is dark now and the little girl needs to be brought home from the evening. This thought shapeshifts into the little girl, expectant, waiting and unprotesting about not being able to play more. The mother does a mental check list, only so she doesn’t have to come back to the park at bed time with a hysterical, unreasonable, sleepy child who demands the one thing that’s forgotten in the playground. Shoes, bottle, toy, sweatshirt. Check. Gowri. Where’s Gowri, little one? Oh. And two butterfly feet are off to the find her In the sand.
The evening passes with the precision and negotiation of a book-parented household. Through bath and bed time, loopy sentences and discoveries of the day that was interrupt bedtime stories about very, very shy butterflies. Goodnight, flower. May you dream of snow tonight.
Six words leave a sleepy mouth; two expectant, intensely piercing, clear eyes open like reflecting moons shining on the mother’s face. “Amma, they said Gowri was ugly.”