Soumya couldn’t have been happier. Her birthday was the following day and her parents had promised her a pretty dress and a visit to her grandma’s house. She would keep smiling to herself, thinking of the glorious day that lay ahead. However, when her friends were informed of the same, they were skeptical.
“So there isn’t going to be any birthday party, no chocolates and no presents?” they thought out aloud, and Soumya was left wondering. Things got even more uptight when Payal announced that she had been promised a Disney princess themed party that year.
Soumya couldn’t take it any longer: she proudly declared that there indeed was a party her parents were organising for her later in that week and she had wanted to keep it as a surprise all that while. Her friends now kept thinking among themselves of the possibilities that lay ahead. After all, birthday parties were serious business.
She was restless the whole time and it wasn’t difficult to sense the turbulence in her when she reached home, as her mother was quick to ask about whatever happened to her earlier exuberant mood. She nodded gently but didn’t say anything.
Later when her father arrived, he asked her the same, and this time she couldn’t keep it inside any longer. She told them everything, and heaved a sigh of relief when they didn’t scold her, instead said that they’d think of something to do.
But in her heart, she knew that she was asking for too much. She had seen maa complain how difficult it was to make ends meet every month. Soumya’s education teamed up with other bills made a worrisome predicament. But it was beyond her understanding: what mattered was her being able to look her friends in the eye, for who in their right mind wants to be an outcast?
Her birthday came and went – the whole affair being as uneventful as possible – and then came the red letter day.
Invitations were sent, the food was ordered, a cake was prepared and so the evening arrived. Her friends couldn’t stop telling her how beautiful her pink dress looked and how delicious the food was. It was a happy day for Soumya, who could do nothing but wonder how her parents managed it. It was grander than anything she could ever have asked for.
The evening passed and so did the month.
It was her mausi’s wedding. While she wore her beautiful red lehenga, her mother wore the Kanjeevaram she had worn on her own wedding night. Her father looked a little shabbier than usual, but she couldn’t quite understand why, nor could she understand why her mother smiled a little sadly when she handed over the gift to her only sister.
She didn’t know that they could not afford a party; she didn’t know how her mother cried last night before slipping a lonesome five-hundred-rupee note inside an envelope because that was all she could afford.
For her, the word “afford” was a little too big to spell and understand, but then that’s how life works. It teaches us a lot of things before we’re supposed to.
A nine-year-old heart could only understand so much.
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