That colony had fifteen  houses set in a  square , one side of which was marked by a road that led to everywhere .——school, market  hospital or anywhere else in the city . Area in the centre was an uneven ground where children played, women gossiped and men played cards when they returned from office. Nothing could escape the eyes of these women . Least detail of each  household and much more was on their tips  and lips .. Colourful stories were woven here . Characters were assassinated and reputations were destroyed just by wagging of tongues.

Jaya hated to pass through this ground . Piercing gaze of these women followed her and her sisters  right from the road till they entered their house .It  seemed to penetrate her.They laughed as they reached near . Jaya was sure they were laughing at them

As she reached home along with Maya  Siya and Pinki .She was surprised to see a huge lock hanging on the door..She felt angry . Where had mother gone? Now this was the only time when she got any attention from the mother.  She looked bewildered and was trying to guess ,when Vandana aunty called her out ,” Jaya come here , Sunita Bhabhi has gone for an urgent work . Come and have lunch and you can stay with me .” Vandana aunty was the only one whom she liked in the entire colony still she would not dare to enter her beautifully decorated house. What if Pinki  broke  one of her expensive ornaments.Mother will always blame her.

“  No aunty , we will wait here .” Maya wanted to go to her house but wouldn’t dare to disobey  her elder sister . Vandana knew her well She  brought food for them , Jaya was ashamed and wondered why her mother didn’t cook anything for them . Vandana patted her  affectionately, “ Jaya , now don’t stay hungry, if you don’t want to come to my house I will lock you from outside till your grandma comes . “ “ Oh , I forgot to give you your mom’ letter , I will bring it presently.” She ran home  and brought a hastily scribbled  paper and gave it to her. It read “ Jaya. take care of your sisters . Your papa is also with me  . Your grandma is coming. Come here along with her ”  “ But where ? And grandma,Why is she coming here ? She doesn’t love us . She loves to stay with aunt and loves Sonu and Nitin .She shooes  us off as if we were stray dogs. “

She felt restless . Her anger was turning into fear . She had never seen her mother sitting idle .In her free  time

she was either knitting or stitching. When she had seen her knitting a sweater for the first time,  ,she was sure it was for her . But no . She told her to give that to Kamal aunty, who made her sit for a long time and paid  some money . How bad she had felt when she saw her class fellow wearing it next  day .

This ten year old girl knew that life was tough but why only for them . Her father worked in the same office as others . They all had similar apartments in the colony . All the children went to the same school run by the  company itself . She was the only one who had to stay and help her mother while others played outside . That had made her bitter .She  had to run errands and help her mother  at home .

It was getting dark and grandma had not arrived as yet . Jaya was scared and almost in tears . She wanted to come out but  the house was locked . Vandana aunty had come again and brought dinner for them  . Maya Siya and Pinki had exhausted themselves playing and had gone to sleep .  She heard the door , a beaming papa entered and hugged her . “ Jaya let’s go to meet your mother. I have told Vijay uncle to stay with children.” He  kept the secret. “  where are we going?” Jaya asked as sat behind his bicycle. “ You will see “

He stopped his cycle before   govt. hospital . “ Is mother sick? then why is papa so happy?” Curious ‘she entered in . There in a big room,lined by many beds on both sides , she saw her mother. Grandma was sitting with her . Strangely the frown from her face was replaced by a bright smile. “ look Jaya ,  here is your little brother ? “ she said excitedly.  “ Brother?” Jaya said in disbelief. “yes , yes , look at him . how cute he is .” Grandma hugged her and kissed her . Jaya looked at the tiny red bundle and tears rolled down her eyes . She knew  what more was in store for her.

Written by Sarita Khullar

Sarita Khullar is a retired associate professor in English from Hans Raj Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jalandhar. She loves poetry and fiction. She also likes birds, flowers, animals, and humans.