‘Dilemma’ by Lahari Chatterji

soft cartel may 2018

Padma could feel the warmth of the noodles in her hands as she wrapped the square, pink Tiffin box with a checked napkin, knotted it and tucked in a blue plastic fork. She picked up the red water-bottle with the green strap and shook it to check whether she had filled it up already. As the clock chimed from the dining room shelf she rushed to her bedroom mirror to mask the shadows of her fatigue with a few strokes of the blusher. She punched a kalka shaped bindi on her forehead and drew out her leather purse from the unlocked wardrobe. Only a few ten rupees notes were left in it. Those were enough for the day. She would ask her husband for some money when he returned at night.

Anshu pricked her omelette to pull out a piece of green chilli and held it aloft before Aryan’s eager eyes. Aryan, elder to her by three years, snatched it from her fork. Slipping a finger underneath the top bread of his sandwich, he added it to the tiny rings of chilli sprinkled on the white fibres of boiled chicken and chewed his breakfast with relish. He hated eggs and Anshu could not stand the taste of chicken.

“Hurry up,” Padma called out while unzipping her children’s school bags to check whether they had packed all the books and exercise copies as per their respective timetables. She did not want them to suffer the humiliation of standing outside the classroom as punishment for an entire period.

Piles of soiled utensils crammed the kitchen sink. She had no time for them now: she would tackle them only after dropping her children to school. Her in-laws lacked faith in school buses. At least, she did not have to spread old newspapers near the school gates and sit there for hours like many other Moms, who chaperoned their children back home. Her younger brother-in-law, who was still enslaved by sleep, would be ready by then. He would mount his bike and whizz to the school to pick them up.

As usual, before leaving Padma faced the corner of the room where a small, burnished, cuboid projected out from the wall like a balcony. It was from this wooden block that the Gods and Goddesses surveyed her family. The smell of incense still hung in the air. She joined her hands to seek their blessings. Then clutching Anshu’s hand, she hurried towards the bus-stop, often on the verge of tripping while trying to keep pace with Aryan, who almost galloped along the bustling street.

They did not have to wait long for bus number 22. Loping to the door of the vehicle, she paused to watch her children climb safely into it. Then a sudden excitement gripped her as she hitched up her sari a wee bit to raise her leg and land on the steps of the bus. Will he be there today?

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