by Bhuvaneswari Mathuraiveeran
“Mummy, look what I made today,” Aadya came running to show her newly made card. It had sunflowers, mountains, the sun and her favorite Baloo.
Anu looked at the picture, smiled broadly and said, “Beautiful, kuttu!”
Aadya ran to get her favorite teddy, Baloo, the two were inseparable. Anu made a mental note to put the raggedy toy into the washing machine.
Aadya was talking to Baloo, “I am meeting Vikrant this Saturday, we will play all evening. Baloo, do you want to come?”
Anu jumped in and said, “No, Baloo will be at home and will guard the house.”
Aadya was super happy to be going to someone’s house after 3 months. Thanks to COVID and lockdowns she had been rather lonely.
Rahul peeped out of his working room. “What are you people up to?” he asked his wife and daughter.
Aadya ran to Rahul and sat on his lap. “Papa. Let us play!”
This was the frequently used dialogue at home nowadays. Anu dreamt about the ‘normal days’ when she would actually go back to office.
The preparations to go to Vikrant’s house were on. Anu was busy making some cookies, Rahul had ordered wine and Aadya was making a card. This one had a ‘welcome’ banner, 3 stick figures inside the house and 3 stick figure visitors, with Baloo standing a little away.
As they were leaving the house, Anu noticed that Aadya was clutching Baloo.
“No, kuttu. I’ve told you before, you can’t take him along!”
But Aadya refused to listen. Finally, Rahul had to intervene.
“It’s only a teddy bear yaar. let her carry it. Come on, we’re getting late!”
Half an hour later, they were standing outside a door bearing the name ‘Mehras’.
“Welcome! So glad to see you… we’ve been planning this for so long. And who is this?” Vikrant’s father bent down and spoke to Aadya.
“This is Baloo!” said Aadya, shyly.
“Ah, welcome to Baloo and to this cute little girl as well,” said Ravi Mehra.
The evening went better than expected. Vikrant’s mother was a superb cook, while his father was an entertainer. He kept all of them engaged the whole evening. After mixing drinks for the adults, Ravi whipped up some mocktails for the kids.
“What does Aadya like – orange or pineapple juice?”
While the grown-ups were gossiping he took it upon himself to see what the bachcha party was upto.
“Wish Rahul was so thoughtful!” Anu couldn’t help musing.
The kids were fast asleep and it was past 1 am, when they finally got up to leave. But not before making a plan to meet again, the following weekend.
A couple of days later, Aadya asked, “Mom, why does Ravi uncle have moustache and papa does not have?”
Anu answered absent-mindedly, “Papa likes to be clean shaven Kuttu.”
“Is Ravi uncle a monster? The moustache is scary, isn’t it Mom?”
Anu looked at Aadya, “It’s a personal choice Kuttu, uncle might like it hence he keeps it. Why is it bothering you?”
Aadya didn’t answer but started concentrating on her drawing. Anu felt it little concerned but let it go.
The next morning while cleaning the living room, Anu found a drawing with not just Baloo but a figure with moustache, standing in the dark.
“Rahul, look at this drawing Aadya made. That figure with moustache is not looking right to me.”
Rahul glances at the drawing and shrugged his shoulders. Women and their overactive imagination!
This time, Vikrant’s family visited Aadya’s home. Ravi was a charmer again, he helped Anu in the kitchen and let his wife relax.
“Aadya is such a sweet kid,” remarked Ravi. Anu nodded but did not reply.
Once again, Ravi offered to look into what the kids were upto. But Anu was feeling uncomfortable. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it….
“Hey, you are a guest in our home. Relax, I’ll take care of it,” she said, preparing a tray with some juice, chips and dip.
Ravi wasn’t his usual gregarious self for the rest of the evening. Even the socially clueless Rahul noticed.
“Was the wine not good enough?” he asked aloud, when the guests departed at 10 pm. Anu was lost in thought.
As she tucked Aadya into bed that night, she wondered whether it was the right time to bring up an important topic.
Not now, I will do it tomorrow, she said to herself.
Summoning all her courage, the next morning, she had the talk.
“Kuttu, you know na no one is allowed to touch your chest, your bum, your lips or anywhere near your susu place. If anyone does that you just shout or run out of that place and then tell Mama. Clear Kuttu?” Aadya nodded diligently.
The next card Aadya made was for Rahul’s birthday. The creepy stick figure with moustache still watched them in the drawing.
Anu could not contain herself this time.
“Aadya, who is this person in the drawing next to Baloo?”
Aadya looked around and told her mom in a very low voice, “Mom. It is a secret.”
“Beta, no secrets with Mom, you know that. Why don’t you tell me?”
Aadya was tense. She came close and whispered in her ear.
“Mom, Ravi uncle asked me to keep this secret. He said he will be watching me always, like Baloo…”
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program open to Short Story Writing graduates. It was edited by Rashmi Bansal.