Hair tie

CHAPTER 1

She was walking down the hallway, lost in her own thoughts, when she bumped into someone and staggered backwards. Slightly annoyed, she looked up to see the guy smiling at her mesmerizingly. He had unkempt, longish hair and a stubble. He was wearing jeans and a short kurta. He was charming without making any effort. In about 5 seconds, she knew he was the guy she wanted to daydream about, he was the guy that would eventually fall for her. 

“Sorry..”, he muttered in his deep voice before walking away. She kept looking at him. A soft breeze started blowing and strands of her hair fell on her face. She blushed as she swept them away gingerly. At that moment, she felt beautiful. At that moment, all eyes were on her as though they had never seen such a sight before. She smiled and started to walk, unsure of where her footsteps would take her. What had just happened? Was she in love, or was she just enjoying the feeling of being noticed?

She was sure it was love. Even though she didn’t know what it was. It could be a thousand different things. Was it a feeling? Was it a physical sensation? Was it a decision? Was it an accident? Was it an attraction? Was it sex? Or was it a film plot that is designed to have a happily ever after? She didn’t have answers. She didn’t even have a reference point. Maybe her parents had loved each other at some point, but their love never looked like love. It looked like an appliance that did it’s job. Maybe her peers who were in relationships felt love. But their love didn’t look like love either. It looked like an entertainment subscription that helped them kill their boredom. Despite her confusion, she knew one thing – her love would be different. It would be real, strong and eternal.

“How many times have I told you to roll out the paratha from both sides, or else it doesn’t inflate?!”, a strong voice cut through the thick fear and anxiety in the house. It rang through everyone’s ears before making the atmosphere even thicker. “God knows how you people end up getting jobs in cities like Delhi. You all are good for nothing! I can’t even expect a good breakfast after waking up!”

Sanchi heard her mother screaming at the househelp in her room. She lay under the blanket at 11am in the morning, feeling angry and helpless at the same time. She slid under her blanket even more and tried to drift back into her slumber, where she could dream about the charming guy falling in love with her. That was the reality she wanted, but this was the reality she had to live. Something never felt right in this house. That something constantly poked at her, prodding her to accept something she didn’t want to. Sleep wasn’t her best friend, but it offered an easy escape. 

“This tea is cold and you have put too much ginger in it. I cannot drink this. Throw this away and bring me a fresh cup of tea!”, her mother continued to yell. Realizing that she couldn’t push it away any more, Sanchi slowly got up and slid her legs down her bed. She felt a strong urge to go and comfort her mother; she was clearly distressed and upset. Her hands were cold and her heartbeat was fast, but she had mastered this routine and knew how to power through it. With a deep breath, she tied her hair and walked out of the room. As she walked towards her mother, who was sitting down on a rug with her books and tea tray in front of her, she fake rubbed her eyes and pretended to have just got up from a lovely shut-eye. 

“Hi mumma, what happened? Why are you so upset?”, said Sanchi as she hugged her mother, Aarti.

“Hi beta…nothing, the usual. These people just don’t want to work. They want easy money. They’re all losers. Now tell me, how can we live among losers? How can winners thrive amidst losers?”, grumbled Aarti.

Sanchi looked down and nodded, “Hmm…when did you wake up?”

“Just an hour ago. I couldn’t sleep properly. The phone kept ringing and these guys kept bothering me each time there was someone at the door”, Aarti paused as she took a sip of her tea, “Arey Seema! Make another paratha, Sanchi is up! And make her tea too!” and then immediately turned towards Sanchi, “Did you sleep well beta?”

“Yes, I slept like a baby. What’s your plan for today?”

“I’ll hopefully get to go for a walk and do some yoga in the park if I get free from the house soon”, replied Aarti with a sneer, “What about you?”

“I have my theater practice at 6pm today. So I’ll leave around 5:30pm. We are working on that show I told you about…”. As she said that, Nirmala, the cook, walked out of the kitchen with a plate in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. Aarti looked at Nirmala and said, “Did you roll it out the way I told you to before?”

Nirmala nodded, “Yes, I did. It inflated completely”

Aarti smiled and said, “Chalo good. Sanchi, eat up. There are more parathas coming”

As Nirmala kept the plate in front of Sanchi, Aarti noticed the excess ghee on the tissue paper beneath the paratha and yelled, “What is this? There is so much ghee in this! How will she eat this? Nirmala can you do anything right? Take this away and bring another one!”

“It’s okay mumma, I’ll eat it. Leave it”, interjected Sanchi hesitantly. 

“No, why will you eat this? It’s her job to do her job well”, asserted Aarti, “drink your tea, she will get you another paratha

Sanchi tucked her hair behind her ears and began to stretch her fingers. Her chest felt heavy – as though there was a massive blob of clay sitting there. She felt like something had rendered her voiceless and immobile. She couldn’t do anything but sit and observe the events. She wanted to scream, she wanted to tell her mother to shut up, she wanted to get up and go back to her room, where she felt safe. But she couldn’t. She sat in her place and took a sip of her tea. Her mother’s attention wasn’t directed at her, but Sanchi’s entire attention was on Aarti. It was almost as though she demanded Sanchi’s attention. Sanchi feared that if she didn’t focus entirely on Aarti even for a moment, she would be harshly reprimanded for it, not to mention guilt-tripped. She noticed everything – the way her mother drank her tea, the way she looked outside at the trees, the way she shifted her weight to find a comfortable sitting position, the way she checked her phone, the tone of her voice, her words. She evaluated that the situation was fragile, and any trigger could lead to an explosion. Her words and mannerisms had to be carefully chosen. 

Nirmala walked in again, with another plate in her hands. She placed the plate in front of Sanchi, who was desperately hoping that this time the paratha was perfect. Aarti looked at it and said, “Yes, this time it looks good. See, this is how you should do it. You’re just lazy”

Nirmala smiled and said, “I’ll make more”

Sanchi had no appetite. But she smiled and started to eat, hoping the next one would be just as perfect. She desperately wanted to have a good relationship with her mother, but maybe her efforts weren’t good enough, because Aarti never seemed happy. Every morning was the same – Sanchi would be woken up by Aarti’s shouting, followed by a stretched out and slow episode of anxiety and stress, which seemed so normal to her that she didn’t spare a moment’s thought to it. Aarti would spend the rest of the day being upset at something or the other, and then hopefully leave for work without creating any drama. Sanchi hoped for a smooth evening all day, so that she could leave for her theater practice peacefully too. If things went south, she knew she wouldn’t be able to go either.

After finishing her breakfast, Sanchi observed her mother to see if she could safely excuse herself from this space. With her heart beating fast, she said, “I have to go to the washroom now”

“Yes beta, I’ll also start to get ready now”

With a sigh of relief, Sanchi got up and walked to her room. She closed the door half-way through, quickly picked up her phone and walked into the washroom. For some reason, being locked inside her washroom always made her feel safe. She couldn’t be harmed there. As her body recuperated from it’s anxious state, she looked at herself in the mirror. I seemed to have gained weight, she thought to herself. The version of me in my dreams is so much prettier. I need to be better. 

Sanchi Agarwal was a 17 year old girl, who wasn’t very fond of herself but dreamed of true love. She was in class 12th, hated school and only wanted to spend her time at theater practice, but felt disappointed each time she didn’t score well in exams. She constantly sought validation from people for every little thing, especially her mother – but hated being the center of attention at the same time. 

Sanchi was, in a nutshell, a conflicted girl who wanted to go far, but was still stuck at sipping tea in front of her mother.