“Why can’t I read one of the books which have magic and quests in it!” asked Aastha as her brows scrunched up enough to let her mom know this was going to be another of their futile arguments.
“You will understand when you grow up – when it’s time for you to understand.” she looked away from cleaning the layer of dust settled on the fan blades.
“But they have no magic, mom! or, or people going on quests! What do I do with knowing 600 types of animals!? You know, I am going to turn thirteen next week, right?”
“Well, darling, for this week you are still not thirteen. So, off you go now, it’s your vacations!”
Aastha’s brow scrunched up further like a bottle cap about to blow off and she was about to walk away when she heard her mother say “– OK, fine, go to Nani she will tell you a few stories.” Aastha made a grunting noise but knew better than to push mother any further. As she walked to her Nani’s room from the back end of the house, her mind wandered.
Inside the hut, she saw her Nani digging up the soil from one of the little potted plants, Aastha took a spare scalpel of her own and started doing the same.
“What happened? Did you two get in a row again?”
“It’s always the same with her.” said Aastha, giving a rather hard blow into the roots of the little plant in front of her.
“I don’t understand this stupid rule! All my friends are reading fantasy and magic and what not and here I am, reading boring abacus or mental math’s or rules of philosophy. I don’t even get half of them.”
“Noni” replied Nani, her movements unlike Aastha were soft and swift. “Noni” she began again “you will understand, Da and Ma are only trying to do what they think is best for you. But don’t you worry, this year you will turn thirteen and nothing can stop you then.” replied Nani with her kind and knowing smile.
“Now” said Nani “where were we? You know, each of these summer feels longer and longer.”
“On the witch in the hut, Nani!” replied Aastha.
“Right, yes, yes. And so, the story goes” started Nani with a flair and expression that took Aashta to the world of stories, being swept away – literally.
Although none of it could be seen by little Aastha, in the backyard Nani’s story was starting to come alive – the little hut in the story started to develop in the open as if the space was there, just for it. A well popped up in a space big enough for a well. Next came the witch’s little hat, then a big bowl with smoke brewing. Lastly came the witch, “Wohoo!” she cried and looked all around like a new born child. But soon she started to stir the bowl like a character in a play doing its part. As the story ended, Aastha cried with a big grin plastered on her face. “Nani you are the best!!”
“I loved, loved, loved the story” said she, her eyes had become slits and mouth showed all her teeth except the two in middle. In the backyard, all seemed to have returned back to normal, like there was nothing to begin with.
“Come let’s go to the main house now, Nani.” holding her Nani’s wrist, Aastha walked towards the main building. Grandma was tall as the thirteen-year-old herself, both of them moved slowly each trying to keep pace with the other.
“Aasthaa” a voice called out just then. Mother was peeping from the main building’s second floor window. Unlike in the city, here in her hometown the voice was clearer, easier to hear. All the voices were.
She looked disappointed. Aastha knew what was this for, she was once again late for her evening class but after what she just experienced it did not bother her much. As they entered the house, Nani had to go to the washroom and so she went ahead while Aastha took to the main living room area.
“Hello Aastha, how are you today? Come have a seat.” said the teacher with her notebook and a smile that Aastha did not like at all. It was the kind of smile adults have when they know about you than they were letting on.
“Hello, I am doing fine.”
“So, dear, did you meet any of your friends today?”
“No.” ten, nine…Aastha counted in her head
“What about the creatures?”
“What creatures” repeat…ten, nine
“Right, okay. Good. So, how was your day?”
Aastha kept her eyes down and her hands folded. The teacher was clever.
“Did you meet your Nani today, dear?”
“No” as her eyes moved towards the photo of her Nani hung on the wall with golden flowers over it, Aastha repeated, firmly “No. I didn’t.”
“That’s good.” said the teacher and added “because even if you did, you can tell me. We can discuss more on it, if you feel like it.”
“Okay.” said Aastha and kept mum.
The rest of the session went as did all previous sessions since last summer. Finally, her mother and Aastha watched the teacher go, “Who put those potted plants there?” asked the mother, as they were both now looking through the second-floor window.
“Noni” said the mother, in a dejected tone.
Aastha was confused now, the class was over and she did not understand – did mom think she was going to be late to the next class too? Then she looked at the hut and thought maybe she will.