Reaching into the dark

Cleaning cupboards with Amma helps Tanvi realise what it means to be an adult.

When Tanvi heard Amma call, she wondered if she should pretend deafness. But disobeying Amma was never a good idea. Grown-ups, Tanvi thought, not only had power; they used it too.

Like Amma saying, “Let’s clean some cupboards!” Who cleaned in the first week of summer vacation? After all, this was the time to relax! But Amma wasn’t asking; she was telling Tanvi, “You clean that cupboard, I’ll do this!”

It was always the same, Tanvi thought angrily. If you were a child, you simply obeyed the adults. At school, it was the teachers and, at home, parents. Tanvi worked in silent rage till she suddenly found the first watch she had owned. “It still works!” she said, excitedly. She had loved this watch, Tanvi remembered, and even wore it to bed. She strapped it on immediately and went back to cleaning, feeling as if she had found something precious.

Exciting finds

Illustrations: Sreejith R. Kumar

She found other treasures: an old pencil case, socks she’d given up for lost, hair clips… “Amma,” she said happily. Then she saw that Amma was stretched out on the sofa, eyes shut.

“You rest,” Tanvi said softly, feeling considerate and noble. Amma travelled across the city to teach and usually came home exhausted. “No, no,” Amma insisted with stubborn grown-up logic. “We have lots to do!” she said, getting up. Tanvi explained that she could clean the remaining cupboards but there was no arguing with Amma.

The next cupboard was in the veranda; long and low and stuffed with shoes and junk. Tanvi sorted through old shoes, mismatched sandals and abandoned socks but left the last cupboard for Amma. She didn’t like that it was in the corner, with the old bookcase close to it. She hated leaning over to open the door. But, most of all, she hated plunging her hand into the dark cupboard.

A lizard had once darted out of that moist cave and Tanvi remembered that, as she watched Amma open the door. The suspense was too much and Tanvi shuffled backwards, as if the lizard was a tiger that might suddenly burst out. How brave Amma was! Look at her putting her hand into the cupboard. What if it was full of lizards? The thought sent Tanvi scuttling to the safety of the living room, where she waited, heart thumping hurriedly.

What’s inside?

When she peered out, Amma was still crouched there. Tanvi circled around the bookshelf, intent on telling Amma it was okay to leave the cupboard, quite okay to accept that the dark and whatever it held scared you.

Amma’s eyes were shut tight against any horror she might find, her hand questing blindly. Amma had to do it, Tanvi understood, had to go even where she didn’t want to. This, Tanvi realised with a sudden flash, along with the deciding and disciplining, this was part of being an adult.

She hoped that, when it was her turn, she would stay certain and brave about everything, including reaching into the dark.

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