“Papa”, a six-year-old girl tugged at her father’s shirt at a regulated pace, three tugs at a time. Her obsession to numbers was in it’s primal phase.
“Um, yes – yes my dear”, Raju fumbled as he searched for the cassette player on the top shelf, with a Bala Murali Krishna cassette picked out already on one side.
“Papa, do I look like mamma?”, she asked jumping to get on the bed by the shelf.
“Who said so, honey?”, he said. He was too lost in the thoughts of a million things to think clear and give undivided attention to his darling daughter. She managed to finally get one leg on the bed with the other dangling out of balance between the floor and the bed.
“Everybody! Why don’t I look like you? I want to be like you, papa!”, she demanded.
Raju looked back and chuckled at his bewildered daughter, barely scraping on the edges of the mattress to seat herself on the bed.
He lifted her up in the air, high enough for her curly black locks to fly about. He planted a kiss on her blush cheeks. Settling her on his lap, he replied to her innocent question.
“Well, they are wrong my dear. They are all wrong. You see these eyes,” he took her small hand fitting half in his and ran her fingers across her eyelids bringing them to a slight close as he did, “yes, these dark black be-a-utiful eyes?”, As she opened her eyes to a flutter and smiled at him, he placed his bifocal glasses on his side.
“And.. now.. see this?”, he ran her fingers on his eyes and said, “Aren’t they the same?” “Aren’t Mia’s and papa’s the same, tell me?”, he said mimicking her tone of voice and slowly tickling her by her arm.
She nodded to say yes and lost herself in the laughs and gags. Raju was always that fun dad to Mia.
“So Mia looks like?”, he looked at her.
“Papa!” she screamed in an instant exuberance.
“Papa is Mia, Mia is Papa! Okay, hon?”, he placed her little soft hands on his chest and then on hers as a symbolic gesture.
“Okay!”, she cheered again.
Mia loved to spend time with her dad – he was the best dad in the world for her. Only if he were around at home, more than what he was now, more than just the Saturdays and Sundays. She wished to see him every day before she slept, make him read stories to her and sing lullaby’s. She wanted to sleep by, hugging his arm, she knew she felt safer. She wanted more scooter rides, where she could stand in the front.
“Papa, don’t go to office, no? Please, papa! I want to play with you every day!”
A sense of gloominess prevailed on Raju’s mind. He knew for a fact that unless his OT’s paid off, Mia would not get to go to school. Heartbroken, yet determined, he looked at her concealing a broken promise with a bright sparkling smile.
“What say, papa and Mia, sing today? What say, papa and Mia record songs today?”
“Yayie!”, Mia exclaimed like the kid she was, forgetting all about her earnest request to her ever-busy father.
Raju pulled out the empty cassette from his box of souvenirs and placed it in the cassette player. He told Mia to sing whatever she learned at play school and that he would sing it along with her.
He recorded her ABC’s, the rhymes and riddles and sang them with her. At the end of it, they had finished recording on both sides of the cassette. Mia was tired – and hence cranky. She lay her head on Raju’s lap and slowly drifted to a trance of her own as he stroke her head in loving tousles. She lost herself in dreams, as her father sang to her.
“Hello madam,” Mia said to the receptionist busily glancing at the computer screen as though a breaking news had popped up.
“I’m Mia, I’m looking for certificates on Mr. Raju. I’m – I’m his daughter”, she held the last lot of tears from squeezing out the built up strength in her.
“Yes, yes. One second ma’am. Please be seated.”
Mia sat on the connected metal chairs of TBZ Hospital. She was almost about to lose the powerful composure that she had knocked so hard and instilled in herself. She knew what the price of her weakness was and it was way too much to afford, especially now.
“No!”, she shook her head. She plugged in her headphones and turned on the music. One after the other, songs played softly in her ears, but neither the rhythm, nor the lyrics got to her ears. Soon enough, she heard his voice.
“Mia. What did Pratima ma’am teach yesterday?”, the familiar loving voice inquired softly.
“Pratima ma’am ”
A small pause.
“Pratima ma’am taught us ABCD. Papa shall I sing it? I’ll sing it, you follow me – okay?”,
An audible sound of a child’s deep breath and a masculine chortle of pride.
“ABCDEFG – HIJK ELEMENO P…”,
Mia burst out in tears and sobbed inconsolably into her cupped hands – silently yet painfully. For once she knew she wasn’t bound by the shackles of pretending to be strong – for once she knew she could mourn – for once she needed to break down.
A little while later, a warm hand tapped on her shoulder.
“Ma’am?”, the receptionist called out to a crushed Mia. “Here are your father’s certificates. I’m so very sorry ma’am. I can understand your pain. I have seen you come here, every day for a month now.”, she said as she sat down beside Mia and wrapped her arm by Mia’s shoulder.
Sometimes the most unexpected of people can bring you solace. Mia cried a river, ignorant of the world watching her, pitifully. It was not long before she realized that it was time for her to leave.
Mia got up, wiped her tears with her handkerchief. Her eyes were still sparkling like a black ball of dark chocolate dropped in a pool of white milk – only this time, the sparkle was because of the moist weight of life’s daily dew drops. She thanked the receptionist for her support and moved ahead with the file clutched tightly, in her hand.
“Also, ma’am. You have beautiful eyes,” she said smiling softly at Mia, “Please don’t cry too much and spoil them.”
“Thank you so much.”, Mia said and walked away with an unknown sense of new found information – as though she had just discovered a pot of gold through that compliment.
She avoided the sunglasses on her way back home, she wanted her father to see the world in its original hue and shade.
“Papa is Mia, Mia is Papa!”, the words resounded in her ears. She stared into the sunlight for a moment and smiled.
– Sravanthi Talluri
Read more of her works in our book – ‘Of Blood and Ink’