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As simple as that

It was her 24th birthday. It was her first birthday after her wedding. And she wanted a beautiful card, a surprise gift, a feeling of being wanted, a feeling of being loved. But then she felt bad for wanting so much. For expecting so much. Am I asking for too much too soon? she thought. But then it was her birthday. And she had never asked anyone for anything as far as she could remember. This was her special day and she just wanted to feel important. She wanted to know if Aryan really loved her, really cared for her. She wanted him to say so, at least, on this day. She asked for nothing more.

She always took extra care to make people feel special on their important days. 'Coz she always missed being that. Special. She loved making beautiful cards and gifts for them. She had presented Aryan with a beautiful watch and a card for his birthday. Am I being too selfish to expect the same from him?

Her mind raced 6 months backwards. To the day her marriage was fixed. An instant decision. A decision made by the elders of the family. Of course, they had her consent & that of Aryan's too. The wedding was to take place 15 days from then.

Aryan was this handsome, intelligent, charming guy, who could get any girl he wanted. Then why did he choose me? she wondered uneasily. Was he being forced into this wedlock? Was it just to please his parents? Was there too much pressure on him by his family to get "settled"? What could be the reason? Never once did it occur to her that he might have liked her and so was marrying her. As simple as that! But, no, she had never thought highly of herself at any point of time in her life. Not once. And that was why she never asked anyone for anything. Not even her parents. She felt she didn't deserve anything good. She hated herself for being so. But she couldn't help it. She felt she was a worthless being.

But now, she wanted something in her life very badly. She wanted to be felt important. She wanted her husband to tell her that he is lucky to be with her. That she is not worthless. That he married her because he really liked her. That she is a beautiful person. But do I really deserve all that? Tania was an intelligent and smart girl even when she was just a little girl. And that was her problem. She was too mature for her age. Sometimes too mature, that she took every single word said to her, to heart. And she never forgot the words people said to her. Never. On alert all the time, she was very conscious of how she looked, how she dressed, how she spoke. Her family never understood her. They always saw her as this adamant, stubborn, forever sulking, little brat.

She dreaded going to parties, to family get-togethers, to anyplace where she would be recognized. But you couldn't blame her for that. Her own close family members ridiculed her for her plain looks, her metallic teeth, her rough face, her dresses, her...everything. Though she knew they hadn't meant to, but their comments really hurt her. Hurt her so much that she took out all that frustration on her loving parents and her little sweet brother. To her friends, she was this quiet, shy girl, so calm, so obedient, so happy. But to her family, she was a curse, a burden, or she thought so. I don't blame them. They don't deserve to have me as their daughter. I think God is punishing them for something. I hope their punishment doesn't last long. I hope they get a better daughter and a better sister. Please take me away from them. They have suffered enough., thought this immensely, sad, little girl. Wherever did she get such an idea? Whoever gave her such an idea? She never knew. She just grew too old too soon. Maybe that is why she drew into her little tough shell and never wanted to come out of it. Ever. She felt safe in her territory. She made pictures, painted gardens and hills. But she would tear them out lest anyone poked fun at them like they did at her. She sang quiet songs lest her neighbors heard her and laughed at her the next time she saw them. This little girl lived in her own world. Except for a friend or two, she was all alone. She felt so lonely. No one likes being with me, so she thought. Over the years, she understood the ways of life, why people say the things they say, do they really mean it or not, how to sound cheerful, how to ignore certain comments, how to go on with life. She was married now. She wasn't alone now. Or was she?

She almost fell off the sofa at the knock on the door, her thoughts all scattered. Her heart raced and she felt the goosebumps on her skin. She knew the knock very well by now but today... would there be a surprise today? Has he thought of me today? He had wished her in the morning though. With her broad, teethful smile, she opened the door. Nothing. Nothing surprising was waiting for her. No card. No gift. Nothing special to make this day of hers special. But she didn't show her disappointment. He had wished her in the morning. Now that should suffice.

Later that night, he confessed that he had never received a gift from anyone in his family 'coz they hadn't been so well off and so had no idea what to gift her. She felt so ashamed of herself. She hated herself for being so materialistic. How could she have been so selfish? So what if she had put in so much thought to make his birthday special for him? So what if she had spent a week writing a poem for him and he hadn't commented anything on it? So what if her poem was not all that good, she was just an amateur, not a great writer or anything? But she had written it just for him. So what if he always made her feel bad about her having had a comfortable childhood unlike him? Was it her fault? So what? So what? So what? All that doesn't count here. She felt guilty of expecting from him what he couldn’t give. The fact is that he deserved someone better. Just like how her parents deserved a better daughter and her brother deserved a better sister.

Again she crawled into her safe shell and remained there for a long time. She thought of how she was constantly compared to her much beautiful and smart and well-dressed cousin. It was late in the afternoon that hot and unforgettable day. They were just thirteen. She and her cousin, Levina, were playing in the sand, when they overheard one of her aunts say Levina is so smart and looks so lovely, I don't know if Tania will ever be like her. Tania, controlling her tears and pretending not to have heard, continued with her sandcastles, while Levina gave out a victorious, proud smile. Since then, Tania always tried to avoid being seen next to Levina. As she grew older and wiser, she kept reminding herself that looks aren't so important in life. But she was stuck with those hurting words. Outwardly, she seemed so confident and bright. Smiling and cheerful all the time. Her schoolmates, her college mates, her colleagues said She's always smiling. The next 2 birthdays went off well for Tania and Aryan. They overcame their petty differences and tried to live a harmonious life. Tania knew Aryan loved her though he rarely worded it. She knew that marriage meant a lot of compromises, a lot of let-go's. Though still very lonely inside, she put up a cheerful front. She still felt insecure. She still felt inferior. She still felt Aryan deserved someone better than her. Maybe it was the childhood stigma, maybe it was just her no-confidence nature, even she didn't understand how to come out of it. But she was confident of one fact...the fact that she loved Aryan very much.

Her whole life changed one day when circumstances took her to Streamsville. They were on their way to Cansvery to spend the New Year's vacation with friends. It was a drenching, wet night and the car's powerful lights weren't any match for the power of the rain. Nothing was vivid and so Aryan thought it was better to wait someplace till the rain subsided. They saw the lights of a building nearby and entered through its huge gates. It was a quiet and serene place. Tania felt it. She felt the calmness. At the reception, they asked if they could wait inside for a while. The man at the counter said they could. Tania asked him what the name of the building was. The name straightened her spine. The Center for the Spastics and the Challenged. She felt a bit uneasy. But she waved away the thought and made herself comfortable on the sofa. Its just a few hours wait. Then they would be gone from there. She picked up a few brochures from the side table and flicked through them. There was one about the programs available in the Center, another one about the history of the Center, another one about pictures painted by the students of the Center. Being a great lover of art herself, she was fascinated by the themes of the pictures. One picture said "Light of Life", another said "Beautiful Gardens", another "Music to my ears" and so on. They were about 25 painted pictures and everything was so full of life and color. She found it very odd to be sitting in the lobby of a spastic center and feeling so energetic. So full of happiness. There wasn't one photo there that made her feel depressed. Her husband noticed her smiling face and asked her what the matter was. She was beyond words. He saw the man at the counter staring at his wife and asked Tania to control herself. Don't sound too cheerful in a place like this. The people here might not like it, he said. Overhearing that, and to my husband's amazement, the man at the counter walked straight to me and said cheerfully, I am happy you liked the pictures, Ma'am. This is the effect we want to bring on people, everyday, in our life. We want to bring cheer to everyone who comes through this door. That is our mission. These pictures have been created by the students of this center. Would you like to meet them? Not wanting to disappoint this spirited person, she said she would like to. She wasn't ready for what she saw. What she saw, shocked her, amazed her, enlightened her. The students were all children between the ages of 5 and 15. Yes, she had seen them on TV, read about them on the brochures in the lobby. But no, this wasn't what she expected. They were bright, smiling, active children. So what if they were not normal, so what if they couldn't speak or see or hear like her, so what if they were going around on wheels? They seemed the happiest people on earth. The stark realism of that hit like a thunderbolt. What had she been complaining about? What had she been sulking about? What had she been crying and cribbing about? That she wasn't good-looking? That someone had said she wasn't beautiful enough? That someone had said she didn't dress well? That her husband hadn't given her a gift? That she was the one with all the problems in the world? That she needed all the sympathy for feeling so low? Self pity? For a second there, she felt ashamed. She lost her balance. When she regained it, she felt much better. Better about herself, better about her life. Better about everything. These simple, innocent faces had taught her so much. So much about life, she hadn't learnt in all of her 27 years. How could she have overseen such a simple and important thing! As the man at the counter had said, This is the effect we want to bring on people, everyday, in our life. We want to bring cheer to everyone who comes through this door. And those children looked the most cheerful and confident of all. 'Coz they don't know how to be otherwise. As simple as that! Life doesn't seem as simple as that always but you can make it so, if you believe so.

Story Submitted by S.P.K(),

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