1. The family photo

०१ मे २०२०

Anu was sitting on the small tree in front of her house. Her mum let her sit there because it was inside their fence.  She was allowed to walk alone to check their mailbox. Condition was she wouldn’t talk to strangers. She never could understand her mum. Mum would send her to a dairy or a $2 shop to get a couple of little things by herself. Anu would end up talking to the shopkeeper, who in Anu’s opinion was a stranger. Mum told her this exercise was to make her math stronger. Anu didn’t agree but she had to listen to her mum.

It began to spit. She looked at the sky. There was a beautiful rainbow in the sky. In one corner of the sky far away from their house there was thundering. She never liked thunder on top of their home. She wasn’t a baby. She was six years old but thunder scares even the older people. She was sure it did. Their next-door neighbour Maggie, was an old lady in her early seventies. She told Anu a story about the time when she was 6 years old and how thunder and lightening burnt the barn on their farm. Mum wasn’t happy with Maggie. She told Anu to look at the rainbow, raindrops and clouds with different shades of black & silver. Anu thought – well, clouds & rainbow are okay but who knows about thunder? She climbed down to go inside and her neighbour Antonio came running. He was her age, in her school but in a different class. Out of school they were best friends. At school they played with different children.

Antonio came back from shopping with his mum & dad. He was excited about his new toy car. Anu & Antonio played with the car for a while. They tried to run it on the grass, then their driveway, even on the small tree. They laughed, giggled and played more.  Antonio’s dad was standing in the doorway. He called Antonio to come inside. He said it would pour down soon.  And it did suddenly pour down. Anu ran home. She hugged her mum who was cooking dinner. She wanted to ask her mum where her dad was. Her mum looked happy, smiling and talking about their little garden and how it needed water. She decided not to make her mum sad by asking about her dad. In her little mind she added one more question about her dad. He left them when she was really little, mum said she was just one and a half years old. Why didn’t he wait to leave until she was at least five years old? Then she would have remembered him.

Next day school was all good. Anu played with her friends in the break. She wants to be friends with a particular group of girls. Every time she tries, they push her out. She doesn’t know the reason. Kelly is from that group. She plays with her sometimes. When they were sliding down the slide, Kelly told her all about her dad & what exciting things they will be doing over the coming weekend. Anu asked, “What about your mum?” Kelly said that her parents didn’t live together. They were separated. She mostly lives with her mum. But over the weekends she is at her dad’s.  Kelly said they both buy her many toys and clothes. She always gets what she wants because both of them don’t want her to be sad. They feel guilty. Anu asked her what is meant by ‘guilty’. Kelly couldn’t explain. She had heard her mum telling a friend that she feels guilty for Kelly.

Anu thought that every single friend of hers had a dad. They do cool things with their dads. She is left with her mum. She is alright but not cool really. Most of the times she looks stressed & tired. Also, sometimes she secretly cries a bit.  Mostly she has no money to buy Anu anything except $2 shop stuff sometimes. Not a long time ago, Anu remembers not having anything to eat. Mum said she felt like a poor person. Then mum got a part time job and things started to change.  They don’t have a car. They walk everywhere. Sometimes they catch a bus. One day they caught a bus and didn’t have enough money for the ticket. Driver wanted them to get out but a lady paid for their fare.  Later that day Anu asked mum why she took money from a stranger. Mum didn’t know what to say. She just whispered, “She was a kind lady”. Anu thought – well, if you can take things from strangers, why different rules for me then? Not fair.

Mum is always engrossed in her thoughts. Mostly she doesn’t have time to play with Anu. The other day, teacher told the class to bring photos of their fun activities with their family. Anu didn’t know what to do. She was sure her mum wouldn’t understand. Seems to her that fun activity for her mum is reading or going for a walk. Other children would bring their photos on the beach, or on the bikes, swimming etc. Her mum couldn’t swim, they never went to the beach alone. Went with Mum’s friends when she ended up playing with friend’s children. Mum bought her a bike. She was afraid for her to go on the road. Anu felt sad. She just knew it; she was going to be the odd one out in the class. She was sure if her dad was around, her whole life would have been different. He must be a fun person. Maybe that’s why he left her mum?  Where is he now? She decided to talk to her mum about it. Teacher had given them one week. Anu counted days. Seven days to get dad back and do fun things with him, take photos. She felt happy and excited. It sounds easy! She was sitting near the window looking at the birds on her little tree. Even the birds have a family. She was sure that the active bird was the dad. Look at the baby bird, how happy it feels when dad is around. From what Kelly told her it was clear that to live happily mum and Dad didn’t have to live together.

But mum wouldn’t understand. Once she had heard mum’s friend saying that for a child it is necessary to have mum and dad living together. She never liked to play with her friend’s children. They were bit older than her & always treated her like ‘poor little Anu’. She wasn’t sure if it was because she didn’t have a dad or because she was poor. Mum’s friend was trying to convince Anu’s mum to find someone else for herself. Anu couldn’t hear what mum said. She was always told not to eavesdrop. She felt very scared that her mum would marry someone else. Then what happens to her? Would her mum give her away? Or the new dad wouldn’t treat her well? She felt worried and tired. She felt sad that she might not be able to see her dad ever again. That day Anu’s mum found Anu sleeping in one corner of her friend’s big couch. Tears were dried on her cheeks. Mum kissed her cheeks and hold her tightly to make her feel safe.

Next morning mum seemed to be in a hurry. She was getting Anu ready. She told Anu “no school today! We are going out.”  Anu was tired from previous night’s emotional turmoil. Anu thought to herself – no family photos for the class, no bringing dad back and have to solve this new dad problem. With lot of things on her plate, she felt tired and went to sleep while mum drove them to the airport. Anu liked the airport. Last time when they were there, mum showed her big planes and how they fly into the blue sky. She was fascinated.

“Why are we here mum”?

“It’s a surprise. Someone is coming to meet you.”

“Really?” Anu was excited. Mum always says Anu is such a good kid. Maybe God heard it and sent my dad to me? She has her doubts but well, you never know. She quietly asked, “Is it my dad?”

Mum looked at her. Her face turned emotional.

“Oh…sweetie. You know he had lot of work in Australia. So, he went there. He won’t be coming back.”

“Are you sure? Did you ask him to come back? He will come back if you tell him I want him back.” Anu’s lower lip started to quiver, tears started to roll down her cheeks.  Mum cuddled her and tried to calm her down. Between crying and hugging mum, Anu told her everything. From ‘everyone has a dad but her’ to ‘photos for the class’.  Mum told her how sorry she was.  Anu told her mum that she didn’t think her mum cares about her. She never plays with her like other parents do.  She is not a ‘fun mum’.  Mum asked her if she remembers her dad and if she had fun with her dad. Anu said no. But she was sure he was a fun person. Mum smiled and said, “But he is not here and I am. You are right, I should be spending more time with you. And that’s why your grandparents are coming. We are picking them up today.” That brought a big smile to Anu’s face. She kissed her mum and asked, “Are they coming to meet me? Of course, they are. They both can’t wait to play with you, share stories with you, make nice food for you.”

“What about you mum? Will you play with me?”

“Yes darling, I will.”

That year Anu’s family photos were a hit. She was the only one who had grandparents in the photos. Teacher said that Anu’s photos were good example of how big a family can be. For Anu it was important that her mum finally learnt to be a fun person.

Anagha Kawley, Auckland, New Zealand


Image credit : https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/party