On Tuesday morning, at 6 o'clock, just when it was getting light outside, Lakshmi's alarm went K-r-r-i-i-i-n-G K-r-r-i-i-i-n-g k-r-r-i-i-i-n-g, and woke the whole house up.
Well - not really the whole house. Mummy was up already - Lakshmi could smell the incense and hear the radio play its early morning tune. Papa was up already, and had been for his walk - Lakshmi could hear his paper crackle and snap in the other room. Mina Didi was up too - Lakshmi could hear her tinkling spoons in teacups.
But Miki and Mini lay curled up against her. They wouldn't move till she did. And then they'd go for a run in the garden, and come back and have their biscuits, and lie with their noses guarding the door till it was time to see her off to school.
School! Oh my goodness! She had a Geography test today! She should have been up at 5 - learning where each squiggly river went on the map, and who bought what from whom, and why one side of the mountain brought rain and the other didn't. But she had slept instead. Right through the alarm - at 5, 5:30, and 6. And no one had woken her up. And her dress wasn't ironed either, and her shoes needed polish badly, and her tiffin box lay empty and stale right in her school bag. Really, it was too much to bear. After all, she was only nine years old.
The more she thought about it, the greater seemed the injustice of it all. Suddenly she wasn't scared anymore. She was just mad! Mad at what? Why Mummy, of course. It was all Mummy's fault. Mummy forgot to wake her up. Mummy made her iron her dress, and clean her shoes and take her tiffin box out of her bag. And Mummy wouldn't do any of these things for her unless there was a very good reason for it. And Lakshmi had no good reason. Somehow, just trying to think of a good reason made her anger just boil over - and a deathly calm descend.
Very calmly, in a very matter of fact way, at 6:30 that Tuesday morning, Lakshmi decided that she couldn't cope with life anymore. And that she would pull the covers up over her head again, and go to sleep. And if she couldn't sleep - very well then. She would just never get out of bed again.
The decision made, Lakshmi lay under her quilt and defiantly wiggled her toes.
When Mummy came to wake her up, and said, "Good Morning, Muniya, won't you get up now?" Lakshmi had a tantrum. "I am never getting out of bed again! And don't call me Muniya. And it's all your fault."
Papa came to coax her, and Lakshmi said that she never wanted to speak to him again.
Mina Didi brought her a glass of milk. Lakshmi turned to the wall, and wouldn't answer.
So they left her be. They had their tea, and listened to the news, and read their papers, and talked - all without her. And now and then she heard sounds suspiciously like laughter. They wouldn't dare, she told herself, and pulled the pillow over her ears.
Miki and Mini soon got bored of lying on her feet. They got up, jumped off the bed, yawned wide and stretched long - and went off to play.
Papa got ready for office. Mummy took her Veena out. Mina Didi went to the market to buy potatoes, onions and bread. In sum, life went on, just as usual, all around her. Just without her.
Papa left without saying goodbye. Without even looking in on her. But after all, she never wanted to speak to him anyway.
Mummy went on playing, plucking at the strings of her Veena - sometimes stopping to answer the phone - but never, not even once, calling out to her.
Millie and Mitali came and called out her name. When she didn't answer, Mummy told them that Lakshmi wasn't going to school today - perhaps never - for Lakshmi was never getting out of bed again. "But isn't she going to go the bathroom, ever?" asked Millie. "Won't she get really hungry?" asked Mitali. "And won't she get a zero in the geography test today?" asked both of them. "I don't know", said Mummy, "perhaps you can ask her when you come back from school."
A wave of mortification washed over Lakshmi. How could Mummy tell them all that? Now it would be all over school. And Lakshmi could never go back even if she wanted to.
But she didn't want to, did she? As she thought about it, Lakshmi discovered that she did. Very much, indeed. In fact, she was beginning to feel distinctly silly now. The sun was shining hard. It was hot under her covers. Her eyes felt gritty, her mouth felt awful. And she really had to go to the bathroom.
So Lakshmi inched out of bed. And slipped into the bathroom. Thank goodness, no one had seen her. Perhaps she could get dressed, and quickly leave for school, and then come home as though nothing had happened. And in the meanwhile, they would worry, and worry and worry about her, and it would serve them just right. And it wouldn't be her fault at all - because she would be in school, being as good as gold.
Considerably cheered up, Lakshmi forgot that she was trying to be quiet, and splashed water loudly in the sink. And banged the door open. Mina Didi stuck her head out of the kitchen, and said, "Oh you're up? Do you want your milk before school?"
Well that was it. She couldn't go to school, now. "No I'm not up. And if you bring me milk, I won't drink it. So there." And Lakshmi ran back to bed, and climbed in again.
It turned into noon. And then 3 o'clock and 4. Lakshmi slept in fits and starts, and whenever she woke, ached for a book to read. But she couldn't risk getting out of bed again. And somehow, reading a book didn't feel appropriate in a mutiny like this.
What she really longed for though, was a biscuit. Shameful that her body should betray her so. Yet there it was. Right now, she would give anything for a biscuit. She couldn't believe that Mummy and Mina Didi had eaten without her. Could they? But they must have. And Lakshmi felt very, very sorry for herself. And all at once she felt much better about being on mutiny. If nobody loved her anyway, she could go right on being bad, and need not feel sorry about it at all. So feeling quite martyred, and entirely famished, Lakshmi stared up at the ceiling, wishing with all her heart that she had never started all this.
At 5, she heard Papa's car drive up. Miki and Minnie baked at the top of their voices, and Mummy tried to quiet them down and say hello to Papa at the same time. "Is she up?" Papa asked. "I got some pastries, just in case". "No she isn't", said Mummy. Yet no one called out to her.
Lakshmi heard the jhal-muri wallah calling out. And oh, Mummy was outside, getting some. How could she? How could she? Without Lakshmi? Could they really eat pastries and jhal-muri without her? Was it possible that her whole life had been all wrong? That no one loved her after all? But if no one loved her, what was she doing lying in bed anyway? They didn't care whether she was up or asleep! They didn't care whether she was alive or dead, if you asked her.
And so Lakshmi got up. She went to the mirror and brushed her hair. She washed her face, and made her bed, and put on a clean dress. And then she went to the kitchen, and asked for some milk. But when she sat down to drink it, Lakshmi couldn't. Suddenly there was no hunger, no need to eat. She stared at the perfect round of white in the glass, and without any warning, tears tumbled down her eyes.
And then suddenly, there was Papa, picking her up high in the air. And there was Mummy, warming up her uneaten lunch. And there was Mina Didi warming up Mummy's lunch, too. Oh She knew, she knew, Mummy wouldn't eat without her. But wait. What about the pastries and jhal-muri? "We saved everything for you Muniya." And Lakshmi felt this huge grin spreading across her mouth, and her face, and her whole being. And she could do nothing, nothing to stop it.