Bobby likes the green shirt the best. It has the picture of a frog in the front. A frog with big eyes and a small mouth. Mummy tucks the shirt inside the brown pant, and then smiles. Bobby laughs, and together they dance to the tunes of “You can do magic”, blaring out of the tape recorder. In Bobby’s head, the song plays as “Eukadoo magic, eucadoo aneesing”, happy words from a strange language, being uttered by some ‘famous’ person. Mummy dances beautifully, even when she has Bobby in her arms. Together, they sashay through the living room, and the bedroom and the kitchen, before getting back to the living room, where Mummy puts Bobby down on the floor. “My darling son.” Mummy says as she passes her fingers through Bobby’s hair. For a moment, Bobby is taken aback. A son? Bobby doesn’t understand, but she still smiles back at her mother. Mummy after all, knows the best.
Back in her bedroom and long after Bobby has fallen asleep, Mummy looks at her phone screen. It is Bobby’s daddy and she has missed 5 of his calls. She hums “Kahin pe nigahen kahi pe nishaana” and then dials the same number back.
“What took you so long?”
“Bobby and I were dancing.”
“Aren’t you done with that sick obsession of yours? I am warning you. I’ll file a police complaint against you. I swear I will.”
Mummy listens to his raised voice almost able to feel the sudden rise in his heartbeat. “Oh, you are so sexy when you get all worked up. So sexy, like Amitabh Bachchan from Deewar. And of course, you will not raise a complaint. That would mean that they would take Bobby away and he will stay with you, in your house. With your girlfriend and that little snake of her son. And you don’t trust that woman with your daughter. Don’t you…”
“Nonsense? You know it makes perfect sense, Bobby’s Daddy.”
“Shut up. I don’t know why I even bother. I called to tell you that this month’s payment will be delayed by a couple of days. But, maybe I should just cut it off completely and make you starve. Maybe then your senses will come back running to you. I am telling you, what you are doing to Bobby is wrong. At this rate, you will turn her into a psychopath, and I am not letting you do that. One last warning, that’s exactly what it is.”
“OK Bobby’s Daddy. Do as you please,” Mummy says and bursts out laughing, the rasp in her voice now acquiring manic dimensions. Daddy disconnects the call. In the adjacent room, Bobby stirs in her sleep. Daddy! Was Mummy talking to Daddy? Go talk to him too. Ask him why he does not come home anymore. Some strange voice in Bobby’s body – or is that outside it – seems to tell her repeatedly. Bobby stirs some more. Daddy, Daddy. This is all she can remember as she loses herself into sleep once again.
Daddy puts his cell phone down and thinks of Bobby dressed in ill-fitting shirts and pants pulled together with a safety pin, dancing with Mummy. The little knot inside his chest twists at this imagery in his head. From the living room, he can hear his girlfriend’s son Adam reciting “Baba blacksheep” to the tune of “Happy birthday to you.” He hasn’t been able to process the fact that the oh-so-beautiful Anu could give birth to an ugly boy like Adam. Often, he wishes, he could ask her, if she ever feels stunned at being the source of such ugliness. But, Anu loves that boy, and so he pretends to love him too, even as he can’t help but feel a strange form of pride that his own daughter makes a very handsome boy. If he were to indeed take Bobby away, what would he do next? He has made himself accustomed to this new life, and all its arrangements. Bobby does not fit in here. And he is too old to fit himself to an alternate life. Daddy switches on the Rock show on gaana.com , and drowns out all thoughts of Bobby. They fill him up with guilt.
Mummy can’t stop thinking of Daddy’s voice, long after the call is over. She had always loved its reckless texture, but during nights like this, as passages of whiskey (on the rocks) and rum (neat), soak it up, the texture gathers into something cohesive, and powerful, something that reminds her of all the love she had felt for that man once. But Mummy finds that memory burdening, like all other good memories. She hates Daddy the most in these moments. Hates him for easily separating himself from the mess she was becoming. Hates him for attaching himself to a woman who was much older than she is. Hates him because he would never come back to her again. And still, she couldn’t hate him enough. Somewhere, he hadn’t given up on her, the way she had given up on herself. He still calls her, still pays her enough money to survive. Mummy is miserable. And only Bobby is her backup plan. Bobby who still loves her and looks up to her. Bobby who brightens her lonely nights and indulges all her silly whims. Bobby is a good daughter, and she could partly attribute that to her good genes, and possibly her good parenting too. So, what if this entitles her to some entertainment and happiness at the cost of her own daughter.
Bobby is flying. Mummy is somewhere around too, but probably she is only walking. Imagining Mummy in any other form, is difficult for her 6-year-old self. So, Bobby flies alone. She sees her school become smaller and smaller. Even her best friend Loretta who she would have loved to fly away with, has become a mere dot. Bobby feels wonderful, as she brings her arms towards her chest and unbuttons her blouse, the way Mummy has taught her to do. She then drops her skirt. The shirt and pant are flying with her too. Bobby struggles to put the pant on – it keeps slipping – but after a couple of fumbles, she manages to tie it such that it rests precariously around her waist. The shirt is relatively easier. Bobby buttons it up in no time. She meets various clouds on the way. She flicks a little piece of each cloud and puts it into her mouth. The taste is very similar to the ‘snow’ her mother scoops out for her from the deep freezer in her fridge. Soon all the snow fills her tummy. She badly needs to pee. Bobby pulls her pants down and watches the strange weenie-like-thing from which she lets out a stream. The weenie looks very similar to that of her classmate Rohit’s. Bobby is amazed…Bobby stirs in her sleep and pulls her thighs closer. The patch of wetness, tiny at first spreads out gradually. Bobby sinks into the mattress, comforted by the dampness, and continues to fly, enroute to tasting more clouds.
Mummy wants Bobby to be strong. She wants to tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, she can do anything she wants to do. Bobby nods, as if she understands the exact implications of these words. As she stirs in her sleep now, she thinks of herself as a little boy in short pants, and short hair. Maybe, that is what she would ask Mummy to do next. Cut all her hair, and let her take off her earrings, like all the boys in her class. “Mummy,” she calls out to herself, and then wakes up with a start. The bed is stinking by now, and Bobby opens her eyes to find nothing in the darkness. “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy.” Bobby screams
Mummy is beside her in a minute, her hair spread all round her face, her gown sliding down her shoulder. Bobby buries her face into her mother’s bosom.
“Mummy, I am scared. I want to sleep with you.” Bobby mumbles through tears.
“No, it is all OK. And. You wet your bed again. We’ll change the sheets in the morning.”
“But the room is smelling like toilet.”
“It will stop soon, and you are a strong girl who should not cry.”
Bobby finds it very unfair, this forced strength she is sure she doesn’t possess. But she lets Mummy put her down on the bed and closes her eyes. Mummy after all, knows the best.
Prashila Naik is a writer and technologist from Goa. Her work has been published in various online literary magazines from India and elsewhere, such as Out of Print, Muse India, Jaggery , Papercuts, Bombay Literary magazine, Bewildering Stories, Spark, Queen Mobs Tea House and Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature. Her short stories have also been once shortlisted and twice longlisted in the DNA OoP short story competition, and been a part of the Fellows of Nature Anthology published by Teri press.