The little miss is under the weather. ‘Nothing serious’, the good doctor said as he wrote his medicines. The weather itself has been overcast and hesitant. I don’t take to such stuff well. The hesitant overcast skies or the suffering miss. Give me the piercing Sun or the pouring rain. Maybe even the angry winds. The indecisive in-betweens that are neither here nor there, aren’t nice. A strange low envelopes me and even my usual panacea, the good old coffee and conversation, doesn’t do much today.
I wonder how it is with you, but I have a habit. When the bad times strike as they often do, after doing all that I can do about them, I take a quick flight to into the past that brought a smile, via objects. Like a memento carelessly bought on the sidelines of a conference. Or rereading a book and relishing the careless scribble on the margins, far too much more than what the author and the publisher would have liked. That’s what I do usually. But today I reach for my phone and scan through some pictures. Pictures evoke not just a memory but a range of emotions that are entrancing. An indescribable assortment of photographs inevitably triggers a spectrum of emotions.
In a few moments the screen of my phone fills up with pictures of the little miss. Pictures from various times. Like the time that she was a cuddly little thing. Or when she clambered on to the first car seat. The first tentative touch of a goat. Then comes the picture of her open palms. Ah, the open palms! That was some story.
The picture lingers on the screen. As the screen stays filled with her open palms, it inevitably stubs out the frown and a smile that seemed singularly impossible, sneaks onto the face. Almost like a Pavlovian auto response. My memory races to snatch those moments from nowhere and gives it a rebirth of sorts.
It was a while ago. I recall standing at the window, staring into the overcast skies, phone affixed to the ear. Struggling to listen keenly. My playtime with the little miss interrupted by a phone call from work, that I couldn’t ignore. The travails of work struck when the little miss and me were attempting to shade the big cat that we drew on the whiteboard.
The call sucked my attention and my eyes stayed affixed to the clouds and the phone firmly glued to my ear, as the conversation lingered. In a short while I hung up and continued staring into the clouds. A deep searching stare. Thinking about the just ended conversation. Searching for answers to questions that can’t be asked here, for there aren’t any convincing answers.
It was a shriek from the missus that shook me out of the sepulchral trance.
Now, imagine opening the familiar bread basket in a famished state, hoping to find finely buttered bread and instead finding a big thick black scorpion that was poised to sting you. Would you not let go of a scream? I would. That is the kind of scream that the missus unleashed. It is a different matter though that vagaries of a wandering cockroach or a lazy crawl of a lizard for that matter, get the missus to have violent goosebumps that would cause you to think she was practising Kathakali. But this scream, even by her usual standards was something. Something was clearly amiss.
I rushed to find them frozen. She and the little miss. The missus standing. With hands covering her ears, eyes firmly shut, as she typically does when the extremes confront her. The little miss, frozen in surprise, looking at the missus. I looked at both of them, a lost traveller desperately seeking clues to the old road.
‘Look at her hand’ she says.
I was on the phone for precisely two minutes and thirty three seconds. When I closed the call, the phone had announced that. Add another thirty seconds for that silly trance. But that was all it took for the little miss to train the whiteboard marker on to her palms. Both palms. With ambidextrous efficacy that would give Sourav Ganguly goosebumps.
In a fleeting set of seconds, there was a striking resolve to teach her some lessons. Enough was enough. Residual silliness from the call, plus the missus standing there with her striking classical pose all got me particularly wound up further. Heavy breaths announced anger’s grand arrival in me.
I had to raise my voice and speak about it all. ‘In a stern voice’, I reminded myself. After all, she has to know about the ill effects of these board markers. It was really going to hurt her as I would have to empty half a bottle of hand wash in scrubbing everything off. Plus it was going to be intense effort.
As I was about to make my debut in launching a ‘stern voice’ at her, the little miss looked up at me, opened her palms, put on display the lavishness of the black whiteboard marker’s effectiveness, topped it all with a smile dripping genuine happiness asked, ‘Pappa, Nice?’
If there was a better example of a magical transformation, it doesn’t exist. The little devil dismissed my silly frown with two magical words. But no, its wrong to call it magic. A magician does tricks. This was no trick. This was no illusion.
My anger melted like a flake of snow, dismissed in careless abandon by a flame from the bonfire. My sermon on the ill effects of the board markers will have to wait for another time. I scooped up the little miss from the floor. She smiled, put her hands on proud display and asked yet again, ‘Pappa, Nice?’
‘Very nice’. I said. There was nothing else to say. There really was nothing else to say.
I looked up at the missus. Her hands were still on her ears. Her eyes stayed shut. For a couple of moments, silence got an accented presence in our house. This topic was sure to return. That’s a story I’ll tell you some other time with some stiff coffee and if you promise to pass around the smiles for company.
‘Lets go’. I remember telling the little miss in a hoarse whisper.. Amidst laugher and giggles we ran to the bathroom where the hand wash awaited us with a bristling drip.
Ah! Memories. They lift the mood.