Anita stood exhausted as beads of sweat trickled down her clavicles. For the last four days, she had spent the evenings after work trying to teach her daughter to cycle.
‘Pankti, what is so difficult about it?’, Anita yelled as her seven-year-old wobbled around the park, stopping every ten seconds testing her mother’s patience.
The woman from the house on the opposite side of the lane, clad in a glaringly crimson saree, was telling Anita to take things lightly with her daughter. ‘You don’t have to be so strict about it, anyways girls don’t need to cycle.’ Anita tried to nod and ignore the sermons coming from the other end and led the woman to turn to another glaringly crimson saree attired prototype who obliged an equal level of interest in the conversation.
As Anita stood, there was hardly any breeze to cool her down. But a memory from long ago reached her.
In another time, she had spent early mornings under the scorching sun of the summers learning to ride a cycle. She was a nineteen-year-old girl working in a company in an obscure small town that gave accommodation to its workers inside the campus. It was a little more than half a kilometer from the houses to the office and people mostly cycled the distance. Anita had come from a place where girls stayed indoors and never cycled. But she had no qualms about walking. Rather she quite liked her walks now, the freedom to walk in the open and have control over her life was a newfound way of happiness.
Though Anita’s allotted house was cast aloof, she tried to mingle with the people around her, who more often than not seemed disinterested. She thought perhaps others living on the campus with their families had no time to socialize, one understands the chaos of running a family with children and the elderly. Then those who were young had other preoccupations of yoga and dance classes after office hours. So, Anita took solace in spending time in the garden by herself, sometimes with a book and other times with her piece of embroidery work.
Then, in the trickle of foreign interns, Derek arrived after a month of Anita joining the office. Derek was white as a sculpture; his hair was like separate threads of gold, and he spoke English but the kind that needed careful listening to understand each syllable of the word. People in the office hovered around him, for he was sharp and witty.
When Derek asked for a cup of tea, Anita was delighted. Her lonely evenings were now occupied with the gust of excitement in answering the weird queries of the foreigner. Some evenings were spent chit-chatting about the most trivial things over a cup of tea. But what stuck to Anita’s memory was the fact that Derek had never tasted a mango in his life! ‘The king of all fruits, and you have no clue what it looks or tastes like?’ Anita laughed. ‘Well, my life is contented without knowing the existence of an unknown fruit of a distant country’, retorted Derek.
One day, on their way back, as Derek pushed his cycle walking by Anita’s side, he offered her to teach cycling. Next fifteen days, Anita had the fixed morning routine of waking up early and rushing to practice cycle for about an hour.
She fell an umpteen number of times and what was more disheartening was her inability to control the humble cycle. After that, Derek asked her to practice on her own as he left for a short trip around the country. ‘Do keep me posted on your progress with the cycle!’ a smiling exit flooded Anita’s memory.
With no Derek to motivate her or laugh with her as she cursed and spurned the lifeless cycle, Anita felt incompetent and, in a few days, her mornings went back to cooking, washing and walking to the office. Though she knew once Derek returned, they would be back to their morning practice sessions along with tea in the evenings. He had plans to stay for a year, until June within the thick of mango season.
‘Maa, see I could get past the electricity pole on the other end’, Pankti’s excitement knew no bounds and then she came crashing down hitting a cement slab on the sidewalk. Anita rushed and called for an auto rickshaw and took her to the doctor.
On reaching home, Anita cut the little sour mangoes of the off season and mixed it with two spoons of sugar in a bowl and handed it to Pankti.
There was a postcard in her kitchen drawer. Derek had left after his trip, never intending to stop by. The part with Derek’s address was smudged with tea stains. She could have taken the contact details from someone from the office but then she was just an errand girl, they would have laughed at her.
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