From my bedroom window I had been watching the grey sausage cloud growing lighter since dawn. School was shutting down today. Summer holidays were here, but I felt no thrill. Not surprising, since it was also Report Card Day.
It couldn’t be a good day, I knew, turning over in my bed. Distracted, I listened to the starling in the cherry tree in our garden. I wished I could be as happy.
And it was just as I had imagined. Some alarming letters of the English alphabet leaped out at me from the white sheet of my report card. While drilling holes into the boxes of Math and Phys Ed on the paper with my eyes, I cursed the letters B and C.
Even the sandwich I was eating lacked flavour. Generally I did like the avocado spread that my health conscious mother slapped on two slices of brown bread. Unlike some of her other concoctions, this one wasn’t bad. But somehow I tasted only a version of cardboard.
All the kids from my school were outside in the yard since it was lunch hour. Everyone was enjoying themselves hugely. Naturally, since it was the last day. Some of my classmates were going off to fancy places in Europe, some were expecting grandparents and cousins, others were off to camp in the Canadian outdoors. No more bookish stuff for two months at least.
Let’s see – what was I expecting?
A long evening to start with. There would be no escaping lectures from the parents tonight. As for the holidays, our family wasn’t expecting to go anywhere remotely exotic, or even have anyone over. It was business as usual, with them going off to work, and me at home, reading, watching TV sometimes and pigging out on food.
Still, despite the gloom and doom, there was something to look forward to. Since it was a Tuesday, I had my summer job. I would be going to Mrs Aich’s to tend to her garden.
"Hey Somu, coming down to watch our practice? Around six," yelled Mark, the soccer-mad boy, from the far end of the class. As usual, he was wearing a faded brown sweatshirt and jeans, impatiently pushing away his hair from his forehead while cramming books into his smelly bag. I had seen him stuff shoes, books,crushed pears, bags of chips and bottles of water into that bag over the year.
During the last period, Mark had been practicing imaginary kicks while the other students practiced art. It didn’t go down well with the long-suffering Miss Ponti. She pointed her shapely finger to the east, but Mark only shrugged and smiled while walking out. I saw him immersed in his imaginary world where soccer heroes loomed larger than life. Maybe I could try to be like Mark, that is, be basically uncaring of circumstances.
Now he was looking at me impatiently, so I shifted my heavy bag and mumbled, “Not really. I have my summer job today.”
Mark expertly tossed and caught a ball, his arms flailing wildly in the narrow corridor.
"Tough!" he said, swinging out by the back door, scattering a group of girls giggling in the corner.
I walked out of the school grounds. Everyone seemed to be screaming ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘See you in forever’. I smiled uncertainly at some of my classmates. Generally I avoided looking at anyone specifically. It was easier to keep my eyes to the ground.
Throwing on my COI (Cloak of Invisibility) as I liked to call it, I moved on. That way no one bothered me.
The path home led me over the open field by way of Bristol Avenue. I was used to walking by myself, a book in hand, bag jammed tight on shoulders. The book I was carrying was titled ‘The Illustrated North American Pines’ and I looked at it at the crossing while waiting for the lights to change. I had checked it out of the library only two days ago and had not had my fill of the stunning illustrations and text it offered.
Pushing away all other thoughts from my mind, I concentrated on the book. Mounting the steps to our home, I fished out the keys. Of course my parents were at their jobs - my father worked at a downtown office as an accountant, and my mother was a teacher’s helper.
"Sheila once called us latch-key kids! Her parents also are at work when she gets back from school. What a strange term!" I mused.
I let myself in, poured out a glass of milk, and taking my bunch of chocolate-chip cookies, fell into the welcoming arms of The Illustrated North American Pines.
Ah, the best time of my day! The house was quiet, there was a fresh breeze coming in and the book was fantastic.
Jolted, I looked up at the clock. It was almost time for the parents to be home. I cleared up and squared my shoulders. The sooner this is over the better, I thought rummaging in my bag for the envelope with the report card.
"And I was right," I groaned inwardly, while sprinting down Longhouse Crescent later that evening. The parents, coming home from work, were seriously upset with the report card. Nothing new there.
On Longhouse street, two little boys rode bikes as fast as they could, racing each other. Their yells of victory cut through the evening air. The sun glinted in my eyes and I felt the old anger pushing my limbs forward automatically. Whenever I saw that look in my father's eyes and heard anger in his voice, I felt it mirrored inside me. Would it never end, this wild seesaw of something between us?
I slowed down to look at the ashes and maples in the wooded area behind Bristol. They were dressed in their best summer finery - some of the leaves were a dark brown, some a more conservative shade of green.
I remembered when I had first come from India to Canada. I used to be pretty shocked at the colours. In India, we lived in a tiny apartment in Poona city. Inside the compound, there were only the two Neem trees, Azadirachta indica, sparsely clothed with dusty green leaves.
"How different it is in Mississauga - what variety! That silver birch from the school window looks just wonderful now. I’m going for that walk in the woods tomorrow,” I vowed, picking my way carefully past the chalk drawings on the pavement.
Groups of children were playing on lawns and side streets, the little girls pushing dolls with prams, the boys whooping and jumping at their basketball practice.
Sometimes I wished I had a little brother or sister. Being an only child was a lonely business. I imagined a little girl following me around adoringly. I could teach her things that really mattered - like the wonder of the natural world, the lives of insects and birds and trees.
But I knew that would never happen. I had no little sister. I wasn’t likely to have one either. I know because I had overheard my mother talking to a friend on the phone, "No way Deepa, no second child for me! Who has the time? I’m just about managing with the job and Somu and the mortgage."
Something had clicked shut when I had heard those words.
Now I kicked a stone on the path and