All but 5 years, little Tabassum was busy watching Ilma, her Ammi, pace up and down their studio apartment frantically running some errands, on a rainy day. The trickles of the pearl strings that the raindrops made on the glass window seemed to compete with Ammi’s outburst. No one seemed to be giving up. Their tempo was increasing with every passing moment.
While the rain was making its point clear, the windowpane stood in stoic silence giving patient hearing to rain’s sonorous delivery of whooshing monologue. Whereas Ilma’s monologue, erupting out work-related frustration, divorce proceedings that crawled at snail’s pace and constant complaints from Tabassum’s teacher about self-talk in class et al had the only audience of Tabassum, as always. She sat in silence too as she hardly understood a word. Not knowing what to do or how to react, Tabassum sat on the sofa petting Snowy the puppy who had settled at her feet and Kallu the kitten who was fidgeting on the sofa, trilling all the while, for finding a perfect warm nook near Tabassum. Petting Snowy and Kallu was the most engaging and meaningful activity for Tabassum whether at home or park or even at school.
“Shh. Don’t make a sound. Ammi will be cross”, muttered Tabassum darting her big black eyes towards the kitten while placing her little index finger on her lovely pink lips.
“What’s the whispering for?”, checked Ilma glancing at Tabassum after stopping midway between sofa and kitchen platform.
“I am asking Kallu to settle quickly without disturbing you, Ammi”, replied Tabassum while her curly mop waved in harmony to settle around her chubby baby face as she moved her head.
“Uff! Aren’t you supposed to wear your gumboots and be ready?”, came the inflamed reply.
Surprised that Ilma had not noticed her pink gumboots, putting her leg up, Tabassum chuckled, “Look at that Ammi. I have them already”.
“Oh Ok. Good girl. Let’s go. We are getting late”, hurried Ilma while reaching for the main door.
“Can I take umbrella Ammi?”, checked Tabassum with an infectious innocent smile with the eager urge, one that would even move the stone, melt the iron!
“What for? You already are wearing a raincoat”
“For Snowy and Kallu. Without an umbrella, they will get wet. They will catch a cold”, explained Tabassum earnestly.
“There isn’t any Snowy or Kallu, Tabassum. They are only in your mind”, replied Ilma frustrated.
“Snowy and Kallu have promised not to trouble you when we go outside Ammi. Don’t be cross with them”, pleaded Tabassum thinking that Ilma was upset with the antics of Snowy and Kallu.
“Ohhhh, Tabassum”, sighed Ilma as tears staged an entry. A moment of dud silence descended stilling the rat-a-tat of the rain. Ilma shook her head helplessly, pulled the umbrella from the corner and handed it over to Tabassum, for she couldn’t afford to miss the appointment.
Once out Ilma held Tabassum’s hand firmly, making way and ploughing through the clogged yet busy street. Tabassum trailed behind her as she got towed with the open umbrella in her hand, instructing and urging Kallu to get under the umbrella just like Snowy.
Ilma looked back at Tabassum while waiting for a rickshaw to pull over. Tabassum was busy holding the umbrella, for the empty space if one checked carefully, however with a conviction that there indeed was someone and with whom she was busy having a conversation! Ilma felt a pinch in her heart. Her decision to consult the psychiatrist to help Tabassum pull out from the phantasmic world to a real one was the best gift she could give to her daughter though it seemed to be a punitive gift for she genuinely wondered if the real world was any better place?