Mrs. Sharma’s friend.
Mrs. Sharma didn’t have any time to spare.
Her hands were full of the seemingly endless chores to be done around the house. “Most of life involved cleaning up after something” – these were her words of wisdom from years of experience on this Earth. It always seemed, we were cleaning up after our mistakes, other’s mistakes, our responsibilities, our food, our mess – the list was endless. But she was happy to live her life cleaning up after everything. She was the kind of person who took pride in taking care of those around her – being a provider: a mother hen; as her friends used to teasingly call her in college. Also, she had grown to be independent and responsible. After splitting up with her husband several years ago, she had vowed to not ‘need’ anybody else in her life. Trusting and depending on someone for years can suddenly be taken away, leaving you unprepared for how to deal with life’s everyday activities. She had learnt to get over that the hard way. Now, she was happy. Happy to be responsible for her own actions. It was like taking control of the wheel. She found, she liked her life this way – the mother hen that she was.
But she has not thought about her husband from her past life for several years now. Her life was filled to the brim with the sound of another little laughter.
Every morning it’s the same. This must be the millionth time I’m picking up these toys and clothes in her room. Sigh. But I don’t think I should be hard on her. Isn’t this the age to make a mess? She will spend all her life being prim and proper. If I don’t let her have her fun now, she will grow up to be like one of those dull robot ladies I see on the train. Staring blankly. Not even returning a smile when I smile at them. I hope I am not letting her get away with too much though. It is hard being a parent. I don’t know why as a younger girl I thought, I’d make a great mother. There isn’t any handbook given to you with all the guidelines when you become a parent. Or perhaps there is one and I just didn’t get my copy.
“Neha! Neha! Where have you run off to. Come sit at the table and have your cornflakes. It’s your favorite captain sugar flavor.” She will be 5 years old next month. I have already planned an elaborate party. It will be a mother-daughter day full of activities. I’m going to take her to her favorite park, where she goes down the slide a hundred times until her stomach feels queasy. We will swing on those chain swings that even I love to swing on. Side-by-side with my little girl. Then we will take a bus to Marine drive where we will sit and count the number of crabs that we can see, scuttling along, on the rocks. We will have cotton candy at the food stalls in Chowpatty. I usually don’t let her have those but, on her birthday, I will let her have whatever she wants from those food stalls. In the evening, we will buy one of those helium balloons and then go home. We will play all night trying to catch the balloon from the roof and let it fly again until she is too tired to stand up anymore. Ha-ha, I feel like, I’m dreaming about her birthday more than she is. But then, she doesn’t know all this is going to happen.
But I am a little concerned about her. Lately she’s been picking up an old habit of hers that I did not like. She talks to herself and says she has an imaginary friend – Bunty! Can you believe that? She has named her imaginary friend. Isn’t five a little too old to still be having imaginary friends. In any case, it is definitely not a good habit. I’m going to search the internet for how I can deal with this problem. I feel bad calling it a problem. She is a child after all, and a really smart girl too. She could identify all the animals in her children’s encyclopedia book within a week of getting it. Am I being too harsh with this?
No. This needs to be weeded out of her. That’s the rule of my house. No imaginary friends. Why does she need an imaginary friend? She has me to play with. I have been her best friend and listened to all her Gudiya stories. I even do the voices for all her gudiyas’ tea parties before putting her to sleep. I can’t remember if I also used to do this, imaginary friend game, as a little girl. But I don’t like it one bit. Maybe tomorrow morning when we go for our routine walk in the park, I will have a talk with her. This is the reason, why I didn’t let her play with the other kids in the block. These days I see the kids. I see them running about swearing and playing on cell phones. Where do these kids even get cell phones? I don’t want my Neha to grow up with such friends. I know what’s best for her. But now she can’t stop talking about this “Bunty”. The other day I saw her sitting by herself in her room, at the doll house. She was talking to herself! I overheard her introducing all her gudiyas to Bunty. I am honestly a little scared and for the first time in a few years I feel like I don’t know how to deal with something. Tomorrow, I will talk to her. I will be stern if I must. No imaginary friends. Period!
“Hey isn’t that No 9. waali Mrs Sharma, sitting on the swing. I don’t think I have ever spoken to her”
“Yeah, she keeps to herself. Doesn’t she. Oh, you just moved here, you’ve probably not heard about her story. So, her good-for-nothing husband left her several years back, good riddance and Mrs. Sharma was finally happy with her little child. But poor Mrs. Sharma, I don’t know why her stars are cursing her. Soon after, her daughter of only 6 months, had a severe fever and passed away in the hospital. They say she didn’t cry at all and did not talk to anyone after returning from the hospital. She locked herself in her house for a few days but after that she finally came out and started living life normally. She would come out for walks in the morning and be seen at the grocers. She would just not talk to anyone, even when we tried approaching her. So, we let her be. Poor girl – has been through so much.”
“Haan. Its really a sad story. At least she’s been looking healthy and happy the past few years.”
“But see, look at her sitting on the swing. Don’t you think she is whispering something or talking to herself or something. I asked my husband and he said people with post-traumatic-stress disorder do that. You know what I think,
I think she still talks to her late daughter.
She still talks to her – like she is some kind of imaginary friend.”