Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The letter

Mrs Singha sat down heavily on her bed. The girls were both in school, their father on his way to work and the maid was not due for another hour. This was her time to plan her day, maybe watch a little TV or catch up on her sewing. She was a large-boned woman with heavy hands but her stitching was remarkably fine. When she embroidered each stitch was tiny and perfectly set, lost in what felt like a garden of other, equally tiny and impossibly perfect stitches. Even her hemming was note-worthy, so fine as to be nearly invisible.

It had been her only accomplishment, she sometimes thought. She could not draw and her singing voice was pleasant rather than melodious. Her academic record had been bland. With time and the growing demands of her family she had learnt to cook well but she knew that her dishes never had that touch of magic that Mrs Rai seemed to achieve without thought or effort.

When Mr Singha had come with his parents and older sister to meet her family, it was her sewing they had seen first, embroidery framed on the walls, doilies and runners decorated with tasteful designs. Later, after her parents and younger sister had entertained the Singhas for a while, her mother had come for her. Her simple baby pink cotton saree had helped blur her height and build a little but she knew she would never be a beauty.

Her younger sister now, she was the looker in the family. Small and trim, with a braid that she could sit upon, she had been told by their mother to keep herself in the background. Neither of the sisters were fair despite staying out of the sun and regular shor-maida (flour and cream) rubs, but her sister had always had pretty features and a pair of beautifully shaped eyes.

Minu took after her mashi, she mused. Her older daughter had her aunt’s petite frame and fine eyes although only time would tell if she would bear out the promise of that inherent prettiness. She worried about the girl, though. She was getting too quiet these days, almost secretive…

Lost in her thoughts, Mrs Singha pricked herself by accident. She hurriedly threw the frame down before the pinprick of blood stained the pale organza she was embroidering. As she sucked the blood off her index finger she walked around the room to stretch her legs. Its messiness distracted her and, embroidery forgotten, she bent to straighten a table cover. Kicked under the table and up against the far wall was a dusty Archies comic.

Groaning at the effort she got the comic out and grimaced. Apparently they had gay people in Archies these days. She didn’t think she was very conservative but she wished her older daughter wouldn’t read such things. If Mrs Rai ever heard about this comic… She had told Minu not to leave such things lying where Sona might come across them, and just look at it, thrown in a place where only Sona was likely to ever find it!

Annoyed with Minu and the maid too, for not cleaning under the table, she went to put the comic somewhere discreet among Minu’s things. The study table was a mess, as usual, and she found herself straightening out books and papers as an automatic reflex. She put the comic inside the drawer, shook out the crookedly kept Oxford dictionary and finally returned to her embroidery. She never noticed the letter earlier uncovered by Sona and whose corner now stuck out of the big book.