"Annual Dance Competition – January 20th – 3 p.m. – 3rd Floor Open Hall"
Sheena was overjoyed as she was reading this on the notice board outside the staff room. She thought of the hat-trick that she would score this year with the win and how her overjoyed father would declare, “Ask what you like darling!”
Watching Sheena beam with joy was her classmate, Maya – her eyes wide open, her anxious fist turning moist in spite of containing the cotton pleats of her dress. Her mind roared, ‘I don’t think I should!’.
Sheena Sanyal, the standard-nine school head girl, stepped out of her luxury car every morning outside the school gate, kissed good bye to her parents, who then left for the university medical college hospital. She was always well-dressed, her school bag hung on her left elbow unlike others who had it on their back, went for dance classes post school, and had been on the merit list since she joined this school four years back.
“What are you thinking about? It’s been 45 minutes since you’re drawing jalebis in your plate!” Mother shouted as Maya stared back.
“No. Nothing. I think I should................eat food I mean.” Maya mumbled as Mother looked at her.
It was her second year in this school. Maya was quiet, shy and happy to be in a new school that sang English hymns for prayers and had a big playground. She loved herself in her pink-checkered uniform that had a white cotton belt around the waist. She would look into the mirror every morning and smile at herself.
Today was the last day to apply for the competition. “Are you sure Maya?”, asked the teacher in-charge, while he opened a book to note her name and class. Maya stared through her teacher’s eyes to the wall behind, to the garden outside, to a blank space, to the Open Hall where she could hear a faint voice calling out “Next Participant – Maya Vyas”.
“Yes” - she responded to that faint voice and pat came the reply “Ok..Maya Vyas, Class 9. No cancellations! You get that?”. He left without waiting for an answer.
At home, Maya was lost in her thoughts. She seemed calm as she decided to set up a sequence that would talk about the five elements of nature. She chose five different songs, each matching the intensity, calmness and fierceness of each of the elements. She would start with the tranquility of air and end with the ferocity of fire.
“Mama, stitch me something that would have blue, white, brown, orange, and yellow to signify the elements. I know you don’t wear your yellow and blue sari anymore. Can you pleeaaaseeee cut that for me?” Maya cuddled into her mother. Her mother smiled at her cute turnip and happily agreed!
10 days for the competition – Maya would practice at home every day for three hours. She put everything that she knew of dance into this performance. Every time she saw Sheena during class, she would be petrified at the confidence that Sheena wore on her face. She would be thinking of dance even during class and Sheena would be concentrating on the teacher. What was she going to perform this year? – A puzzle Maya couldn’t crack!
It is 19th January, Maya was still nervous and what she overheard made it worse!
“Hey, so tomorrow is the dance competition. What’s going on?” someone asked Sheena.
“Loads of practice! What else? Mom will be driving me to her favorite boutique today so I could try my tailor-made costume. Got to leave now. Bye!”
Sheena left waving bag in her hand, smile on her face, and buoyancy in her attitude, like she ripped Maya off these right now.
“Next participant – Maya Vyas”, the announcer called out, “Please hand over your song”. She woke up with a start, shuddered, sweat ran down her throat to her chest. Her fists were tightly clasped. She felt choked. She looked up at the wall….2 a.m. …..She sat still for a moment then tried to sleep again.
It was noon. No class today. Maya was prepared. Her big black bag was ready and she left at 2pm. School was just 15-minute walk from her house which is at the end of the lane that crossed the market. She would pass through this market every day, once when it is quiet in the morning and once, when it buzzes at noon. At the end of the market lane was a temple, adjacent to which was school.
This morning, strangely the market buzzed. But the buzz was for something else. A crowd had gathered on the opposite side of the market lane. May be an accident! Maya tried to peep from the other end. ‘Isn’t that Sheena’s big white car? Why is it in the market place?’ She squeezed through the crowd and was startled with what she saw. Sheena’s mother was on the driver’s seat; her car had run over the divider and stopped abruptly. Because of the sudden jerk, her head hit the steering and she went unconscious. Blood dripped from her forehead.
Maya rushed to help. She felt concerned and wanted to cry. The ambulance arrived and onlookers helped pull her outside the car and took her into the ambulance. Maya stepped ahead and stopped. “I think I should”, she decided.
Maya waited outside the diagnosis room. From the other end of the passage outside the room, she could see Sheena’s father approach. His pace was fast. He looked at Maya and then tried to enter the room. A nurse signaled to him to wait for some time; she made some action with her hands and there was a sigh of relief on his face. Everything seemed Ok. He took a deep breath and sat next to Maya on the bench outside.
There was pin drop silence and in spite of it, Maya could hear something. It was the pendulum of a grandfather clock on the front wall. She looked at it. 3.45 p.m. Her black bag was next to her. She leaned on the wall behind and relaxed her head, looking up at the neatly painted white ceiling.
A faint voice called out “Next Participant – Maya Vyas – Class Nine”. Maya closed her eyes as a tear rolled and was lost somewhere in the sides of her hair. But she was happy!