Early on Monday morning, Praveena reached Chennai her mind temporarily clear. By the time she reached home, the sun had risen and begun to scorch the earth. Her father hadn’t returned from Kerala and after a confirmation call that he would return that night, Praveena washed and made herself some toast and tea.
Curling up on the couch, she switched on the television. Her favourite cartoon was on and she sat through the morning pampering her backside. A complete rest for the body and mind, she convinced herself.
A couple of hours through, she fell asleep. She had felt her eyes drooping and had made no effort to stay awake. She was too tired to even go up to her room.
She woke up to growling stomach at three o’clock in the afternoon. She sat up drowsily and sucked on her dry mouth. After another alarm from her stomach, she rose, stretching herself.
She went to the kitchen, rubbing her eyes to clear her vision. One look at the messy kitchen and she decided she wan’t in the mood for cooking. She made left over bread toast. Once she had silenced her stomach, she had a sudden impulse to clean the kitchen.
She collected all unwashed dishes into the sink, and arranged all the other items back into place. She washed all the dishes sparkly clean and after replacing them in their racks, stood back to enjoy the result of her work.
The kitchen looked much neater than the way her father maintained it. She smiled to herself. As she turned to go back to the couch, she felt a searing pain in her back. As she painfully walked over to the couch, she chided herself for pulling on much work on herself. She slumped heavily on the couch swearing to herself, ‘I’m never doing that again.’
After a typical day at home, Praveena had had enough. She thought of her mother who had spent her days at home doing household chores. If that’s what people expected her to do in future, she decided she was better off without any of those. She wondered about it when her phone rang unexpectedly.
It was Ms Marrie. Praveena frowned at the phone, as it continued to ring. Why was Ms Marrie calling her? It was always she who made the first call. An emergency?
Perplexed, she answered. “Hello?” she said doubtful.
“Hi Praveena, it’s Marrie.” said Ms Marrie’s voice enthusiastically. “Did I disturb you?”
Ms Marrie had taken Praveena by surprise. “No, – er – no, Miss.” Praveena stammered, not sure how to answer.
“Can I meet you, Praveena?” Ms Marrie asked hopefully, like a child pleading with her mother for permission to go play outside.
“Yes, Miss. Sure.” Praveena replied courteously. “Where?”
“Thanks, how about “The Latte” in an hour?” she asked hopefully.
“Sure, I’ll be there, Miss.” Praveena smiled forgetting yet again, that Ms Marrie couldn’t see her.
Praveena sat staring at her phone. Ms Marrie hadn’t sounded disappointed, she hadn’t sounded distressed or depressed. Then why, Praveena wondered, did she suddenly want to meet her? ‘Let’s find out!’
Forty five minutes later, when Praveena entered “The Latte,” she saw Ms Marrie at the farthest corner, reading the menu. She looked just the way did during Praveena’s school days. She had pulled her hair back in a pony and wore a purple sari that matched the white watch on her right wrist. “The Latte” was a popular coffee shop known for its fully glassed walls with a 360 degree view of the world outside. Sunlight streamed inside and as Praveena walked over to Ms Marrie, she noticed the circles of reflective light bouncing off the ceiling.
“Hello, Miss.” she smiled. Ms Marrie looked up from the menu with a wide smile that Praveena hadn’t seen in a long time. Ms Marrie gestured her to take a seat. She did. “You seem happy, Miss” Praveena observed, smiling. She felt blissful looking at the glow on Ms Marrie’s face. She spoke with a new ease and comfort. It was freedom, as if the teacher-student barrier between them had come crashing down. It was as if they were two friends, randomly meeting in a coffee shop. Praveena could understand the feeling.
Ms Marrie nodded silently. She ordered two cappuccinos, which arrived quickly. Praveena waited. She knew now that Ms Marrie hadn’t called her to discuss personal sorrows. This was more of a friendly meeting. She could tell from Ms Marrie’s behaviour.
Sipping her cappuccino, Ms Marrie smiled at Praveena. “How was your graduation day?” she asked unexpectedly.
“Hmm…” Praveena hesitated, “it was alright, but it was tiring.” She sighed heavily shaking her head.
Ms Marrie nodded understandingly. “How was Prathap’s speech?” she asked a tiny smile playing on her lips.
“Oh, that,” began Praveena ready to complain all she could about the lecture. But she paused as she realized something. “you know the principal?” she asked incredulously.
Ms Marrie nodded leaning on her chair. “Prathap was my classmate. He loved advising, even as a student,” she added irritably.
Praveena needed a minute to soak that piece of information. She imagined Ms Marrie and Professor Prathap in the same classroom, possibly in the same bench. “It would have been tiresome,” she accidentally wondered aloud.
“Ha,” Ms Marrie laughed. “that, it was.” she smiled reassuringly as Praveena looked at her shamefully.
“Anyway,” Ms Marrie continued. “I heard he gave valuable advice, even if he wasn’t clever enough to think of it on his own.” she said raising eyebrows at Praveena.
Praveena didn’t know how to respond. She knew her principal’s advice was based on reality and conventions, but she had felt it hard to accept it. She told that to Ms Marrie who nodded silently.
“I know what you mean,” Ms Marrie said after awhile. “Anyway,” she continued, draining the last of her coffee, “what did your father say about starting that non-profit organization? I spoke to a few of my friends and they’ve agreed to help us out.” she added a bit serious.
Praveena felt a rush of gratitude at Ms Marrie’s words. She appreciated the efforts Ms Marrie had made for her, “Thank you, Miss,” she said, overwhelmed by her kindness, “but I’ve decided to delay my plans.” she said unhappily.
Ms Marrie looked curiously at her. “But, why?” she asked surprised.
Praveena told Ms Marrie about Kamal’s response and his advice against the organization. Ms Marrie listened without interrupting. As Praveena ended sadly, Ms Marrie made a sudden suggestion, “Why don’t you become a teacher, Praveena?”