I thought my seventeenth birthday was going to be like any other. Boy, was I wrong.
My phone started beeping with birthday notifications from the moment it struck midnight, but I slept through it all. I even allowed myself to skip yoga in the morning and stay in bed for ten minutes longer than I usually did.
I glanced at my phone and saw that I had missed calls from my best friends, Nisha and Anirudh. We had holidays for Dasara in college, and had decided to meet at a cafe for lunch.
My parents had been subdued since morning. We had planned to go out for dinner, just the three of us. I should have known something was up when Papa agreed to my choice of the restaurant. He hated The Green Revolution. He insisted that grass is for cows and pooh-poohed my food choices all the time. But even that didn’t tip me off.
During lunch with Nisha and Anirudh at the cafe, things were a bit weird and, at first, I couldn’t figure out why. I observed the two of them and realized that they were not behaving as usual.
Anirudh looked troubled and Nisha seemed miserable. I suddenly realised what had happened. There was something going on between the two of them – something to do with their feelings for each other. Either Anirudh had said something to Nisha, or the other way around and it had made things awkward between them.
I tried and tried to get it out of them but they wouldn’t tell me. They said that we’ll talk the next day, after my birthday. I even blurted out what I was starting to suspect and going by Anirudh’s blanched face, I knew I was on to something. Nisha just looked away, shaking her head.
The birthday just went downhill from there. I needed to speak to Nisha alone, but that made me feel guilty too.
Nisha and I had been friends since Class II and we had been inseparable. When Nisha opted for Kannada as her second language and I, Hindi, in Class V, I switched my second language and followed her right into her class, not worried about how I was going to study Kannada.
Then, Anirudh came along in Class VII. He was a typical bespectacled, shy boy who had a rather wicked sense of humour once you got to know him. He’d sprayed the back of our chemistry teacher’s saree with ink once and all three of us got detention for that. Probably because we were sitting the closest to him and he looked much too innocent to do something of the sort on his own.
When we walked into the detention room, he was busy trying to capture a lizard using a plastic bag wrapped around his fist. I’d normally run miles away from such a person, but we somehow became good friends and we continued to be, right through our tenth and now in pre-university college.
A part of me was worried about what was going to happen after this. Anirudh was going to sit for competitive entrance exams and study to be a doctor, Nisha wanted to study architecture and I...I was still undecided.
I didn’t really like the idea of them together. I’d be the third wheel, the “kabab mein haddi” all the time. They’d want to meet up and spend time without me. And if we made plans to meet, they would either be waiting for me to come late or leave. Aaaargh.
Later that evening, as I dressed for dinner, I put the two of them firmly out of my mind and wore the new dress I’d bought for my birthday. I glanced at myself in the mirror quickly, bracing myself.
My arms were still chubby in spite of all the yoga, dieting and exercise. The churning in my stomach began as I wondered if I should wear some sort of
a shrug to cover them up. Why did I think I could carry off a sleeveless dress? I’d need to diet for another ten years to have the kind of thin arms that
I could show off.
I paced my room for a few minutes, itching to chew my fingernails. I could do it, I told myself sternly.
I could step out of this room and face the world with my chubby arms.
No, I couldn’t.
I yanked the door of my wardrobe open and rummaged through my things. I found a white
scarf, draped it around myself and walked out. The whispers in my head hadn’t died down but they were a little less sibilant. I tried to push them to a corner of my mind as I walked outside.
Ma gave me a look, but didn’t say anything. I should have realised then that something strange was going on.
It was only when I was halfway through my boring orange and spinach salad that I noticed that Papa fidgeting way too much. Ma kept looking at him uneasily. What was going on? I put my fork down, finally, and dabbed the corner of my lips with a napkin.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
Ma and Papa started and looked at each other once again. I had a terrible sort of premonition. Something was seriously wrong. Was one of them sick or dying or...
Ma mumbled something and my eyes widened. I must have misheard...
“What?” I choked out.
I took a sip of my spinach smoothie, the gross taste not even registering on my tongue when Ma repeated her words, looking at Papa sheepishly.
“I said I’m pregnant.”
The horrid smoothie went down the wrong pipe and I sputtered and gasped, my eyes watering. This can’t be happening. I can’t die on my birthday, right after listening to this awful news.
Papa got up and quickly delivered a few well-placed thumps on my back.
Ma looked at her untouched salad and ate a few bites. I realised she was avoiding my gaze. Papa also looked away, trying to pretend he was anywhere but here.
“You’re pregnant,” I repeated.
Ma looked up and nodded.
“How on earth did that happen?” I asked.
At this, Ma couldn’t control a smile. “Well, you know, the usual way,” she said. Papa had the grace to turn red but he still couldn’t bring himself to look at me.
“Yikes!” I got up from my seat. I had to get out of here.
“Where are you going?” Papa asked, worried.
“Restroom,” I muttered.
I walked away, looking straight ahead and reached the restroom. Thankfully, there was no one else there and I washed my hands perfunctorily because I needed something to do as I processed this information.
How could my parents do this to me? On my birthday! I turned around and walked right back outside and marched up to them.
“Why did you have to tell me today?” I asked Ma.
“I found out this morning, Ananya. I was shocked, yes, but I wanted to share this news with you...”
I sat down on the chair with a thump. This baby was already stealing my thunder.
“We wanted to tell you later but your father felt we should tell you right away. Because you know, once I start getting morning sickness...”
“Stop,” I told her. I did not want to know more.
“Listen, love, this doesn’t change a thing,” Ma said.
I refused to answer her. How could Ma think that this wouldn’t change anything?
“It will be great, Ananya. Think of the fun we’ll have!” she said.
Fun! Fun? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. If this had happened ten years ago, I would have been happy to have a sibling. Of course, I would have eventually realised what attention-grabbing monsters babies are.
My classmate Anisha had a baby sister when she was in Class IX and even though she pretended to be thrilled about it, I knew she was not only embarrassed, she was also horrified because her parents had transferred all their attention to the little snit. Her mother had even missed her Class X graduation ceremony because her sister had a fever.
“Can we leave?” I asked them.
Ma and Papa looked at each other and Papa gestured for the bill.
Later that night, when I was almost asleep, a sudden thought woke me up.
How would I tell Nisha and Anirudh about this? What would they think? Would they laugh at me?
And the worst realisation – the one that I’d been trying to avoid – hit me then.
My parents still had sex. Yikes.
Excerpted with permission from Mirror Mirror, Andaleeb Wajid, Duckbill Books.
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