Chapter Seven: Bitten

‘Maybe you should have spoken to her,’ one of Praveena’s inner voices surfaced. She was in class, with a blank stare plastered on her face as her English teacher explained Confusibles.

‘Please don’t start,’ Praveena thought. ‘I’m already confused’.

‘OK, but I still think — ‘

‘SHUT UP!’ Praveena almost said audibly. The few students, who sat around her, heard it and sniggered. The teacher missed it though, she was clarifying the brightest student’s doubts.

No other voice showed up, but Praveena’s mind had begun racing. Ms Marrie had been right, she needed to talk to someone. It was as if her head had too many thoughts to hold. But she wondered if Ms Marrie was the right person. She found it hard to trust Ms Marrie, or anyone for that matter; her mother, father, her class mates — everyone. ‘What if they avoid me thinking I’m crazy because I talk to my own head?’

“Preveena!” she heard her name being called out from afar.

“PRAVEENA!” It sounded a bit close now. Someone shook her shoulders hard. She came out of her reverie, ‘Huh?’

Her teacher stood over her, a gigantic figure looming over Praveena, “I asked you a question” she said, gritting her teeth and pronouncing every word deliberately.

Praveena returned a mute glassy look, not quite understanding what Ms Selima said.

“Get out.” she snapped heated.

Praveena understood that, and left the room. She stood outside the class wondering what she had done to deserve the punishment.

Some fifteen minutes later, the bell rang and out walked Ms Selima. She took one stern look at Praveena and spoke with badly concealed distaste, “Follow me, we’re going to the principal’s room.” Parveena didn’t miss the note of malice in her voice.

She followed without protest.

As they walked past Ms Marrie’s room, Praveena caught sight of Marrie, reading with a cup of tea by her side. She looked up from her book as they passed the window and Praveena thought she saw a dawning look on her face, though she couldn’t have known what had happened.

They reached the principal’s room. It was painted grey and Praveena had already been there once before that day. Ms Selima gave a curt knock and entered, with Praveena dragging in herself. For some reason, she felt sleepy. She stifled a yawn with difficulty.

“Ahem, what do we have here?”

There she was, seated on a huge yellow cushion chair. It was difficult to discern where the cushion ended, seeing as the principal also wore yellow. But it was not the colour of her dress that caught Praveena’s and the attention of everyone else who entered the room; it was the colour of her table cloth, which was a bright blue. To see the blue against an equally bright backdrop was enough to pain anyone’s eyes. When people looked away, the principal assumed it was out of respect and fear that no one faced her.

It happened again. The table cloth stunned Ms Selima into silence for a minute. ‘Perhaps she had never been in here since the makeover happened.’ thought Praveena smugly. Ms Selima recovered soon enough though.

“Madam, this girl wasn’t paying attention in my class.” Ms Selima announced jubilantly. “Again.” she added as an afterthought.

‘Powerful’ Praveena’s inner voice offered appreciatively. ‘ gain?’ Praveena wondered quietly, ‘ o she’s been complaining about me? I wonder how many times had she done that?’

The principal peered at her, expecting an apology, or a plea. When neither came, she asked for it.

“What do you have to say, girl?” She resounded pushing her huge wire-rimmed glasses further up her nose. It sounded to Praveena as if she had waited all day to bite a student.

“My name’s Praveena, not ‘girl’”

Silence. Both women stared at her as if she had just told them they were stupid. Praveena tried hard to hide her glee. She didn’t know what made her say it, but she hated it when people called her by anything other than her name.

She had infuriated the principal, she knew it. She didn’t care though. The principal spoke and Praveena noticed a slice of malice in her tone.

“Alright, Praveena,” she made an extra emphasis on her name, “knowing your name makes it easier for me to locate your parents’ phone number.” She made Ms Salima fetch the class register. She looked up Praveena’s name and called Kamal.

‘Nasty old woman,’ thought Praveena as she heard the principal speak to her father rudely. It was a short conversation, she demanded to see him immediately and hung up without giving him time to respond.

Kamal promised to arrive in ten minutes — he always did. Until then, Praveena was told to stand outside the principal’s room while Ms Selima told the principal all about her behavior in class. As she stood waiting, she saw Mr Andrew enter the room. He neither looked at her nor respond when she greeted him good afternoon — more out of duty than of respect.

When Kamal arrived, escorted by the security, he looked at Praveena questioningly. She shrugged in response.

Ms Selima came out and instructed Kamal and Praveena to follow her into the office. They did.

Inside, once the usual eye-strain was over with, Principal Vanitha started her tirade.

She told Kamal about Praveena not concentrating in classes, and added more on how she disturbed the other students as well. She also brought in her witnesses, Ms Selima and Mr Andrew who certified Praveena was out of control.

Kamal was visibly shocked. He hadn’t expected to hear so many negative traits about his daughter in one day. She was his princess, how could she disappoint him like this? He was more worried than angry.

He apologized for Praveena’s misbehaviour, and assured them she would behave well from now on.

“Won’t you?” he turned a stern eye at her.

Praveena betrayed no emotion. She wasn’t angry at her father, she was angry at the school and the teachers. “I will.” she responded flatly. She wanted nothing more than to leave the place.

Several times during the meeting, she looked at Andrew but he never met her eyes. She hated him now, and he knew it. She was ashamed to have trusted this man at all.

Kamal didn’t say a word to her after that. She followed him to the gate silently, and just as he was about to leave, Ms Marrie came up to them.

“May I have a word with you, Mr Kamal?”

Praveena moved away, and watched them talk. They spoke for a couple of minutes. Kamal mostly listened and nodded. His face was impassive. When he turned to leave, he raised a hand at Praveena, smiled lightly, and walked away. Praveena heard him whistling her favourite song.

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