‘It’s only six days,’ Amma said as she left. I nodded dumbly. Six days of getting up at 6.30 am, when the mercury was plunging below 4 degrees in Delhi. Rolling out of a warm duvet to put together breakfast, tiffin, water bottle and pack a sleepy, mutinous twelve-year-old off to school.
Only six days? Day surfaced for me usually around 9 am, when the sun was safely out, and no monsters lurked in the form of fog, wind or cloud. The only other times I’d seen dawn was when the editor had ordered me to Mumbai on the early morning shuttle. But there I was, committed to the job ahead of me and, despite the odd curse for school principals who thought such drastic measures necessary for the improvement of the wee souls at their mercy, determined to do my best.
Day one passed, and the fact that I’d survived the ordeal unscathed made me deliriously triumphant. I even made the husband his morning cuppa without any of the usual sexist rancour. Plus, it was Friday, I told myself, so I had a whole weekend in which to catch up on my sleep.
I should have known better than to tempt the fates. There was just no excuse. I’d studied Greek tragedy in college. I reckon Oedipus had nothing to complain about when I considered the maelstrom that hit me that afternoon when the son returned from school.
‘Extra German from today,’ the son announced, as I mechanically followed in his wake, picking up all the various bits of clothing he was strewing in my path as if they were roses. The extra German was a bit of a prestige issue. After all, the teacher had told us our boy was good.
‘What time?’ I asked, my tryst with the early bird beginning to numb my faculties.
‘8 to 12 Saturdays, 8 to 9.30 Sundays. I’ll have to get up early, Mum!’ I was there listening to him, but it was almost as if I was floating somewhere up there. He didn’t know the half of it, I thought, the horror of it overcoming me – this couldn’t be happening to me!
I lived through the weekend, I lived through, let’s see, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, I collapsed. Mentally shattered, physically exhausted. The husband lifted me tenderly in his arms. ‘I can’t do this any more,’ I sobbed into his newly dry-cleaned blazer. ‘You’ll have to do it tomorrow. I don’t even know what I’m putting into his sandwiches any more. I could poison him.’ Did I fancy it, or was the husband a little less tender in putting me down on the bed and arranging the duvet around me?
Thursday morning. 6.30 am. The alarm rang. I stirred, moved one leg out of the duvet. Then remembered, it was the husband’s turn. It was a wonderful thought. The husband didn’t budge. The son did, took one look at the husband and said, ‘It’s his turn, isn’t it?’, before snoring off again.
It was seven o’clock before the two of them got up. And switched on all the lights in the room. I pulled the duvet over my face. I was going to get some sleep that day, even if it killed me. It nearly did.
First I heard the son scuffling around. ‘Where’s my long-sleeved shirt?’ he was muttering to himself. ‘Second shelf from bottom, right hand side,’ I called from the depths of the duvet. ‘Don’t forget your cap and gloves.’ I swear I heard him swear. The son sets great store by his latest hairstyle – his peers call him Cactus because of it – and would give his left arm to be allowed to skip the mandatory cap.
Enter the husband. ‘Do you want your milk hot or…er…or…er…or lukewarm?’ he ended weakly. I sympathized. At 7 am, it is difficult to think of anything but ‘hot’.
Enter the husband again. ‘Do you take water in your bottle?’ I sighed. What else would he take?
Enter the husband, for the third time. ‘Cheese spread on your sandwich?’ I could feel my toes curling as the tension built up. What did the man think the child took in his sandwich, for God’s sake, butter? I’d briefed him fully the night before.
Funnily enough, that was the point, I think, at which I fell asleep. When I resurfaced at noon, I found the husband grumpily nursing his tea. ‘Hi love,’ I chirped brightly. He grunted. ‘I think you did great today,’ I continued in my best all’s well with the world voice. ‘I’ve had a marvellous rest. Another night like that, and I’ll be back on track.’
There was a sinister whistling sound. It was the husband falling in a heap at my feet.
First published in The Financial Express.