“For the tenth time, Ma, I don’t know which cheese to pick!” Did the raised voice bring down temperature at the dairy isle of supermarket they were in? She wouldn’t know. She was tensely watching her mom’s upright figure bend very little and pick Mozzarella slices from the freezer. She went on with the grocery shopping with hot flushed cheeks, avoiding stray gazes from strangers. Dismay crept in inch by inch when Ma walked out of the market without waiting for her to pay or help her with the bags.
Cold inside the car was stifling like smoke. Ma restricted answers to her grandchild to monosyllables. Even as she drove home, Mira wanted just to succumb to pressure and scream sorry and leap headlong into the post silent treatment ritual which would eventually sort things out. But this time, part of her was tired. Tired to the bones of trying to please her ma and always falling painfully short of it.
She carried the grocery bags inside home and arranged them inside fridge. Ma had already started making pizza for dinner, her granddaughter’s choice. The only voice in the house, the kid’s, echoed off walls and made the ambiance all the more hostile.
Time dragged itself in a never-ending style. Mira stood near a potted plant on the window sill and tried to take stock of the event. She traced a sprouting leaf from inside of its pale green stem with a half-chewed out fingernail. Like a shy child, the leaf swirled inside itself, reluctant to greet world. Her child sat crouched on the carpet with her coloring book and crayons. The shiny mop of hair intensely followed dotted lines and a chubby hand tried keeping up. “Stay within the lines”, she said, looking at wayward colored lines running all over the page.
Things were not very different when she was a kid. Her marks, friends, books she read were constantly frowned at. Topic of her friends raised havoc at the dinner table. And her clothes, uh, she thought to herself, better not open that can of worms. Even at her own wedding she had to wear what her mom thought suited their status. As a result, reminiscing through wedding album was not her favorite pastime. She tried to drive away that familiar dread that was driving home fast; that she was just not good enough for her family.
“Mommy how does my rainbow look?” Mira looked into the coloring book and a wave of rage surged up inside her. The picture was completely marred by colors. There was not an inch of space that was void of entwined lines and circles. The commotion among the doodles flared her up and she shouted at the kid, “I told you to stay within the lines!”
Memories reeled across Mira’s mind as in a movie. Scene after scene. Her dance recital to which her mom appeared nonchalantly, her scream of joy at the first job offer which was quieteddown with a forbidding look. Her choice of food, clothes, travel destination, every single thing – criticized, looked down at, banished as gibberish!
Shock of breaking her silence made her silent and the slow pain of realization hit her, made her insides warm and swarmed her from all sides. As those memories finally trickled down, she became aware of her thumping heart and of a face that was looking up at hers, frozen.
The child stood transfixed to the spot, corners of her mouth slightly bent. Her book of drawings was held away on one hand and the other clutched hem of her frock tightly. Mira sat down with a gasp, quickly drew her in and murmured while holding her daughter’s thin frame tight,” It doesn’t have to be perfect darling, you don’t.”