Rajani stared dolefully at the now silent phone in her hand. Oh wow she had been speaking on the mobile phone! Until now her mother had always called at the landline. It really felt cool to talk on the mobile phone – maybe she could ask to speak to her mother again, this time to enjoy the sensation of talking on the mobile. Did you not hear me? What about the phone bill? Her mother immediately screeched from Chandigarh. Rajani quietly handed the phone back to Kirti.
“Well?” Shikha instantly asked, whilst Kirti looked at her expectantly.
“Papa and Mamma want me to stay.” In a way, Rajani was more than half-relieved. Now the decision was out of her hands – now there was no conflict on to go or not to go.
All she had to do now was to overcome the strong resistance against having to apologize to Biji for no fault of hers…the injustice, the unfairness of it all simply killed her.
Shikha clapped her hands and jumped up and down in relief, “Yayy, you are going to stay!”
Kirti heaved a sigh of relief and went out to tell Biji who she knew was regretting the bust up. Otherwise she would have never bothered to speak to Rajani’s parents or exerted herself for the circus.
Rajani looked sourly at Shikha. “I am not sure,” she mumbled.
“Oh but why?” Shikha was aghast.
“Because Papa also said that I have to say sorry to Biji.” Rajani wore a closed stiff expression.
“So? Big deal!” scoffed Shikha. “Just go and say sorry. Don’t make such a fuss about it. It’s just a word.”
“But why should I?” Rajani wasn’t so easily convinced. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” She turned away and stared out of the window. She had a good mind to tell Kirti Aunty to tell Lalit uncle to pick her up and drop her back home. Home, where Mamma was. Tears pricked her eyes. She couldn’t wait to see Mamma, her warm hug, her twinkling smile, the way her eyes crinkled when she was teasing her. Even Bhai’s teasing would be more welcome than staying here. Biji didn’t want her here and she couldn’t stay where she wasn’t wanted could she? Even Papa…she faltered. Papa would be very angry if she went back. But why couldn’t he understand her plight? Surely if she went home and explained to him properly what exactly had happened he would understand? She brightened. Papa would pat her on the head and tell her that she had done the right thing.
“What are you thinking?” Shikha tugged at her sleeve.
“I am thinking I am going to go back. I will ask Aunty to tell uncle to take me back home….”
“You really are a stupid fool Rajani,” Shikha flew into a towering rage and stamped her foot. “Think of the circus, the fair, there is still so much to be do and see. Budhoo!”
“All that is for you,” Rajani flared up. “Biji doesn’t want me here. Didn’t you hear her?”
“And didn’t you hear Biji? She told me that if you changed your mind, you could also go. She even said we could play marbles! She only didn’t want us to play dangerous games like gilli-danda and kabaddi and all.” Shikha explained. “In fact, Biji scolded Bholu bhaiyya as well and warned him not to play those games with us, which could hurt us. She wasn’t scolding you buddhoo, she just got worried for us, that’s why….”
Rajani wavered. “Did Biji really say we could play marbles?”
“Yes! Didn’t I just say so? And if you want I will ask Biji’s permission again if you like. Now you can try to win the marble from Kallu. Don’t you want it?”
“I don’t care,” Rajani put her button nose in the air, “I refuse to stay where I am not wanted…”
“Fine,” spat Shikha quite out of patience, “fine do what you like! Until now I never understood what the phrase cut your nose to spite your face meant but now I understand.” She turned away.
“What do you mean?” Rajani was all at sea.
“It means that you can cut your nonexistent nose off for all I care,” Shikha said rudely. “You go back home and sit silently inside your home while your brother studies and your mother tells you to keep quiet and your father is so angry with you that he wont even speak with you while I enjoy the circus, the picnic by the river, the fair, the puppet show and when I come back I will marry Harry, just you wait!” Furious Shikha didn’t even pause for breath as she raved and ranted. “Mummy! Please tell Papa to…”
“What picnic?” Rajani held her back.
“How does it matter?” Shikha brushed her away. “You are more interested in going back home aren’t you?”
Shikha crossed her arms and pressed her lips uncooperatively. Rajani shook her insistently. “Tell me, what picnic?”
Shikha shook herself free. “Don’t tell me you weren’t listening to Biji when she spoke about the picnic?” she said disbelievingly.
But Rajani shook her head. “I don’t know anything about a picnic.”
Shikha rolled her eyes and intoned, “Before the circus, we are going to have a picnic by the stream that comes on the way.” She turned away as she prepared to flounce off but then she paused. “Biji also said we could play and splash about in the water,” she said distantly. “Mummy…”
Shikha ignored her and began walking. Rajani ran after her, “Shikha listen to me…”
“What’s there to listen? You have made your decision haven’t you? You would rather go home and miss all the fun just because you are too high and mighty to say sorry…”
“But if I say sorry it means I did something wrong! Did I do anything wrong? I will say sorry if you can tell me what I did wrong.” Rajani challenged.
“Yes.” Shot back Shikha. “You were rude and ill mannered. You can say sorry for that can’t you?”
“What me and rude? How dare you Shikha? When was I rude or ill mannered?”
“Oh please, Rajji, what is all this nautanki? Isnt that being rude and ill mannered? Dragging it for so long, creating such a big fuss over nothing? Biji even talked to your father, what more do you want? Go back home! You are so selfish. I hate you!” Shikha screamed and stalked out of the room. But once out of the room, she faltered. She peeped back in – hoping against hope. She crossed her fingers and sent up a prayer – please let Rajani stay on here, it will be no fun without her, please Bhagwanji, please.
Rajani stood stock still – was that right? Was she being selfish? Rude, ill mannered? And Shikha hated her? Her heart sank. Mamma Papa would also be angry with her if they got to know about all this. No it was all her fault. She deserved to be punished. She shouldn’t have caused such a fuss. Biji was right to be so angry with her. Unable to bear the burden of her guilt, Rajani ran out to where Biji was sitting at her usual place. She dropped down on her knees and threw herself on her lap, crying, “I am sorry Biji, sorry, very very sorry Biji.”
Biji was taken aback. A bit stunned she looked around wildly for some help. There was nobody around. “Hmm okay okay,” she awkwardly patted her shoulder. “No need to cry. It’s okay. You are but a child.”
But Rajani’s guilt showed no sign of abating. If anything, her sobs increased, as did her stranglehold on Biji’s waist. “Bahooo!” Biji hollered for back up support. Kirti and the others came running. So did Shikha.
“Now what?” mumbled Kirti deeply regretting her decision to bring along Rajani – more bother than worth! “Yes Biji?” she asked decorously.
“Just take away this little girl will you? Calm her down. Feed her, maybe she is hungry or something…”
“I am sorry Biji, I am sorry…”
“Yes, yes, it’s okay little one,” Biji said hastily. “Now wipe your face, otherwise I will get angry again.”
Instantly Rajani stiffened and made a valiant effort to rein in her tears. She scrubbed her face and hiccupped, “You are not angry with me anymore Biji?”
Harassed, Biji shook her head.
Rajani sniffed, “You wont tell Mamma, Papa that I was rude and ill mannered?”
“No no,” Biji waved her away but Rajani stood her ground, “Pucca promise.”
“Yes, yes whatever.” She pulled at her hookah and bellowed, “Why hasn’t my hookah been refilled? Useless nincompoops all of you!” The eldest bahu came running with the necessary supplies. Rajani backed off and went off docilely with Kirti who had been ineffectually pulling at her. She suddenly broke through and ran back to Biji who had just taken a long satisfying pull, “Biji,” she asked breathlessly, “Can I stay on? Can I go for the circus and picnic and fair? I promise I will be good.”
Biji looked at her with a kindly eye. “Hmm, not so ill mannered and uncivilized after all. Of course you may stay, as long as you wish.” Biji waved her hand grandly.
In her relief and delight Rajani forgot herself enough to throw her arms around Biji and give her a resounding smack. “Thank you thank you thank you Biji,” she managed to utter before Biji recovered enough to push her away.
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