This story is by Anindita Basu and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I flung the blanket and sprang up from the bed.
“Sheena, hurry up. Mommy has a deadline today, and we are late.” I yelled. Then I mumbled to myself; in fact, Mommy has a bunch of deadlines. Student’s test scores to submit, the dreaded conference with Jimmy’s parents, a staff meeting coordination and all those within an hour. Shucks.
Sheena was engrossed in her Angry Birds show on the tablet, lying on her belly, swinging her legs up in the air. “ Sheee-na!” I yelled again. “ No video before school, didn’t I say that? Go, get ready. Mommy has a deadline, didn’t you hear?” The child can not even read, how come she figured out how to get the YouTube channel for her favorite show, I wondered.
“What’s ‘deadline’ Mommy? Lines that are dead?” Sheena asked waving her legs.
I thumped a plastic bowl on the table, poured milk in it and tossed in some cereal. “Quick, finish before I come out of the shower”, I commanded.
When I came out, all ready to go to work, I found Sheena was still playing with her food, picking up each Cheerio from the milk, putting them on the spoon to eat. I shook my head.
“ That’s enough. You’re done. Go change. Put your school clothes, quick.” I took the bowl to the sink pouring the content down the drain.
“ Mommy, you threw away my breakfast. You wasted food.” She cried.
“ You took my food and threw it down the drain. Bad mommy. You’re bad.”
“ Sheena, put your pants on.” I tried to ignore her agitating remarks and pulled her pajamas down. She wiggled protesting “ I’m not going to wear that.” I grabbed her head and gathered her hair to a ponytail, trying to tie with a scrunchy. She jerked, shaking her head, screaming, “ I don’t want a ponytail.”
I gave up. Yanked her coat from the hook, picked up her lunch box and headed towards the door. “ Sheena, I don’t have time for such drama. It’s fine with me if you go to school in your pajamas. I have deadlines to meet.” I exhaled.
Sheena threw herself on the floor wiggling her hands and feet in the air, like an upside down bug, screaming at the top of her voice. “You’re mean Mommy. I hate you. I don’t want to go to school.” Her curly hair frizzed around her tiny face. A tiny lion cub, I smirked. Grabbing her in my arm, I threw her out of the door locking the apartment. When we reached downstairs we found that her carpool had left. Now I’d have to drive her to school.
Neighborhood roads were having facelifts. I tried to keep myself focused on the detour signs and ‘Prepare to Stop’ warnings, ignoring the grunts and grudges that were bombarded from the back car seat ‘You’re the meanest mommy, you pulled my hair, threw my food, I hate you’ etc.
I took a deep breath and tried to console myself with what I had read recently on a parenting book; it is just a normal part of preschooler behavior. While she was a terrific-three just a few months ago, she’s approaching the tough uphill now at three and a half. She’d test her limits. She’d be fabulous again in four. Yet my eyes welled up. She’s all I have.
After I dropped Sheena with a quick kiss on her cheek, she didn’t respond, as if she knew that I was preoccupied with my thoughts of deadlines, and this was not a genuine kiss of love.
At work, it was a rough day. Throughout the conference, Jimmy’s mother decided not to listen to what we had to say and kept defending her child. Why did we think her child was bully? Why did people always judge that it was her son’s problem while actually, all he was demonstrating were his positive character traits, of assertiveness and strong-will. ”
My phone started vibrating with growls. I had to excuse myself as it was from Sheena’s school. I came to know that Sheena had come down with a fever and had thrown up a couple of times. She was also complaining of ear aches.
I took a deep breath and started counting numbers in my head to stay calm. I pretended I was listening to Jimmy’s mom, nodding appropriately, making her believe of my active listening. In reality, I was planning how to leave quickly. Who could take charge of my class on such short notice, how should I tell the principal so that she wouldn’t give a long lecture. I should also make an urgent appointment with the doctor since my child was having an ear ache.
I drove at eighty-five miles per hour praying that no cops follow me. Please God, since you have given me this life of a single mother, ensnared with deadlines it is your job to protect me too, I pleaded pressing the accelerator as hard as I could.
Sheena was waiting for me holding her security blanket at the school office. She hung onto my shoulder as a ragdoll as I picked her up, her cheek felt warm on my nape.
A single dose of Tylenol and a spoonful of antibiotic medicine made wonders in a few hours. She sat up and asked if she could go to the neighborhood Halloween party. I couldn’t say no. Sheena wore her ferocious fox costume, but looked pretty mellow and hung onto me. All kinds of make-believe characters from cute ladybugs to historical lady pirate Grace O’Malley elevated the party mood.
At night, after I put Sheena to bed I remembered that I had one more deadline to meet. The writing contest. I have two more hours left for that. But I felt tired and lazy to leave the warmth of the bed.
In a while, the characters from the Halloween party started acting out in my half-asleep trance. They danced and pranced and sang joyously. Then all of a sudden they froze. A figure dressed in black, with gunmetal shielded vest, appeared on the stage whirling a lasso in his hand. He came riding a black horse and swerved his face looking around the figures that were dancing a few minutes ago. Music stopped. The merriment from the faces of the dancing characters melted and they were stunned.
“Who is he?’ I asked.
“ Yama, the God of Death, Yama Raj. Don’t you know?” One of them whispered in my ear, “ Once he catches you, you’re gone. Let’s run. Escape!” and he vanished.
The man in black shouted,”Your days are counted. They are in my hand. So, get on with life. Enjoy, what’s left, until I come.” He swirled his rope and galloped away.
“ Mommy, where are you? I’m scared.” Sheena came to my room dragging her blanket. I picked her up and held her tight in my bosom. Her warmth gave me strength melting away my own fear. It was just a dream I said to myself. Sheena fell asleep in my arms but I could not. I was thinking of that wild dream.
The old clock went tick-tock, tick- tock, which I had never noticed before. Now in the quietness of the dark night, it seemed like it was grinding away time, chewing up the minutes and hours. I tried to sleep but kept waking up.
At that wee hour, I got up and opened my journal. Should I make a list of the things I wanted to do before I die? The bucket list?
I didn’t want much. Just wanted to enjoy life with Sheena; feel the warmth of her tiny limbs, her soft cheeks on my shoulder, the way she embraced me. I wanted to treasure that feeling in my heart forever. I knew it was transient, it would never be the same. I wished to be able to hold onto that when I’d feel lost and lonely. That’s all.
The morning sun peeped through the window. A drop of dew dazzled on a cobweb hanging from the branch of the maple tree. The tree had changed colors, to cinnamon, ochre, and rust. I had not noticed.
I decided that we’d take off today. Sheena’s sick and I deserved to spend time with her and play. I’d not stand in the Starbuck’s long line for a cup of coffee today and got up to start a pot.
Soon the smell of the hazelnut home-brewed coffee filled my cozy little corner. The breeze on the rustling leaves murmured, whispering in my ear:
Write. That’s what you love best. Don’t you worry about deadlines. Just write.