A short story
Titiksha knocked on the door. The lady opened the door. The lady was wearing a sleeveless knee-length dress; it was an indigo blue. Her hair was tinted with blond highlights. She looked old.
I had never seen her so close up. We shared a lift sometimes, but I never looked at her. Our lift was so small; I tended to shrink into myself even more than I usually did. Anyway, she had moved in only a week ago.
Titiksha said to the lady, “Aunty, that money plant in your balcony is ours.”
The lady looked confused for a moment. She had opened the door and looked down at Titiksha and smiled. Now the smile seemed a little lost, but she still held on to it, gazing intently at Titiksha trying to understand what she was saying.
Titiksha said patiently, “It has come from our house. The money plant. It is in our pot. In our balcony. We want to take it back.”
The lady’s smile froze. She looked at Titiksha.
She said politely, “Yes, of course. Do you want to take it now?”
Titiksha turned back and looked at me. I looked at the lady and said politely, “No. We will come back tomorrow and cut it. It is ours, you know.”
The lady said, “Of course.”
Titiksha and I went home. I thought of the horror I had seen on the lady’s face when Titiksha had said, “We want to take it back.” I knew it had been horror. It had been there for only a moment, but it had been horror.
I thought of Titiksha’s face. Small, round, big-eyed. It was a face created to invite affection and love. There was nothing in it that should induce horror. And yet I had taught her so much that would horrify people.
I could see that, in the dark of the night, as clearly as I saw the expression on the lady’s face, even with my eyes shut. I did not even know the lady’s name. She lived next door. She had moved in alone. I did not know her name.
But I knew she felt sorry for Titiksha. I had seen the horror on her face.
Titiksha was such a little girl. Why had I taught her such terrible things? Why had I prompted her to go next door and bring back our errant money plant growing in our neighbor’s balcony? When did I become the person, who could not even share a tendril of a plant, who thought that everything that was mine is mine?
I know that it was because of a husband who was not mine, a marriage that was not mine, a home that was not mine. Knowing how tenuous my status was in the scheme of things, I clung to the small forms around me, the rituals, the possessions, the small privileges due to me. I was offended easily; I was insulted easily. I had fought with all my family because I could not fight with my husband.
And I had taught Titiksha too to cling to what was hers, to fight for what was due to her.
Even though she was only such a little girl. Already she had learnt that even a money plant was not to be shared. That given a chance the world would snatch away what was hers, so she had better claim it and hold on to it tight.
The next day, I potted a hibiscus plant and gave it to Titiksha. “Go and give it to the lady next door. Ask her what her name is. Tell her to ask us if she needs anything.”
Titiksha went obediently. She never questioned love, as she never questioned hate. Love came easier to her anyway. She was so little.
Titiksha came back home, her hand clutching a few toffees. She sat and ate each one solemnly, playing with the paper long afterwards.
That night, I decided Titiksha and I would leave this home, which was not ours. In the battle for which was not mine, I did not want Titiksha to scrounge for all that was hers.
Titiksha would grow up, sharing money plants, and smiles, and conversations and toffees. She would not have shears in her hand, ready to snap up tendrils of errant plants.