This story is won the first prize for the TabooDana’s Ink It – T Tale Writing Contest. With Ink It, we at TabooDana wanted to offer an unfiltered and rewarding opportunity to bring out bold and authentic writing in those talented and looking for a chance to tell their story.
When I was a little boy, my older sister and I would watch Tangled, the movie about Rapunzel, over and over again. We had it recorded on Tata Sky Plus, and we had watched it so many times that we knew when the advertisements were going to come, and I would begin to fast-forward it a second before the break came. I
would always tell her that I didn’t really want to watch it, but ended up sitting with her through it anyway. I liked Rapunzel’s little chameleon; and in any case, what else was I supposed to do? Ma locked up the iPad until she came home. She had given all my toys away to my younger cousin last year, telling me, “now you’re ten, you
don’t need these silly things anymore. You’re a big boy.”
After watching Tangled, sometimes my sister would stand in front of the mirror. She’d shake her long wavy-curly hair and try to braid it in different styles. I sometimes thought she looked a little weird with all sorts of neon clips and bands on her head. She would ask me if she looked pretty, and I would pretend to vomit. With a roguish smile, she would ask me if she could braid my hair. I would shout as loud as I could in her face, and run away from her as fast as possible. She would try to catch me. I never understood what she was trying to do—my hair wasn’t even long enough to braid.
I told her I couldn’t wait to be bald, like dad, so that she couldn’t try to braid my hair anymore. She would cackle, telling me that no woman finds bald guys attractive. I told her, “so? I hate girls anyway.” I felt defiant when I told her that, and then I would walk away. Many days later, I thought of another retort: “Ma likes dad, who’s bald.” But it was too late to say it.
One day, Ma came home at four, as the credits to Tangled started to roll. We both sprang up off the sofa, running towards Ma in delighted surprise. My sister slipped a little bit on her nylon school socks.
“Ma! You’re home early!”
“Ma! Why are you home early?”
Ma laughed and put a grocery bag on the table. Her work clothes were a little crumpled. She smelled like sweat and fruity perfume.
“Meeting finished early,” she said. “I picked up some groceries on the way home. I think you’ll be excited by—” she put her hands into the grocery bag. “—this.” She took out a large slab of Dairy Milk Silk and wiggled her eyebrows.
Ma bought us a lot of gifts, especially when she had to work a lot.
My sister grabbed the bar of chocolate and waved it above my head. She was going through a “growth spurt,” apparently. My friends and I were still small, but a lot of the girls in my class were taller than me. One day I’d probably be taller than them. I was faster than them, anyway
“I got this as well,” said Ma. “Mehndi! I’m putting mehndi on my hair this weekend. Do you want to try?” She looked at my sister.
“Yes!” said my sister, sounding excited. They giggled together, planning to do it together on Saturday. I waited for Ma to tell me what else she had gotten us, but there wasn’t anything. Dad called to say he was coming home late that night.
“As usual, he’s coming home late,” said Ma, sighing while cooking a sabzi. The steam from the pan condensed into drops on her face. Her cakey pink lipstick was smudged a little bit. “Mmm,” said my sister. “You have to do it all yourself, no? Even Meera says her dad is like that.”
I felt angry. “Well, I like dad,” I said. I didn’t like when they talked about him when he wasn’t there. Why did they have to do that?
“Shush,” said Ma, suddenly sharp. “You always say such horrible things. Of course, I like your dad too.”
“Hi Dad,” I said loudly when I heard the door open later that night. Dad gave me a quick, tight smile. His eyes were small and watery, a little unfocused. His posture was like that of a tree that has to bend all sorts of ways to get any sunlight. He went into his room.
That night, when I went into the bathroom, I noticed something strange. Right under my belly button, there was a single hair, thicker and blacker than the rest. I felt a rush of excitement. Something was happening. Something was changing. I was going to grow. I had seen my father’s chest and stomach hair. I wanted to whoop in glee, but I didn’t. I just ran out the door and jumped high, trying to touch the ceiling.
I woke up late that Saturday. I was determined to brush my teeth as late as possible, and nobody could stop me. As I passed my parents’ room, I caught a glint of something in the corner of my eye. I stopped to see what it was. My sister and my mother were sitting in the verandah in their white kurta-pyjamas. Their long hair, slightly damp, now tinted reddish, glistened like soft, dark veils in the sun. I felt a dropping sensation in my stomach. They looked like angels, like something you’d see in a movie—wrapped up in their own mysterious little world of dappled light and smooth, perfect, beautiful things. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, and even if I did, I would probably never understand.
With a strange heaviness, I felt a chasm between us open up that I had never felt before. I walked away from the scene.
I sat in my father’s chair in the living room, deciding to start off early with my homework. That night, I waited until late into the night for him to come home.