The front door of my apartment is deceptively ornate and sturdy-looking. Many a worldly-wise visitor has remarked on it. I use the word deceptively because, in reality, that door stops only solids that have a volume of more than I cubic litre. Anything smaller and more fluid, not to mention light and sound, passes through it without any effort. At night, if the living room lights are off, you can see my front door bathed in a halo of light that streams in from the corridor lamps.
As for sounds, that’s another matter altogether. Let’s just say that a self-respecting secret agent wouldn’t have to actually press his ears to the keyhole to hear what’s happening inside – he just has to stand within a radius of 20 feet of the door and he’s a part of the conversation inside. Now, this is mighty stressful for me, you see, because I’m bringing up an adolescent whose temper is as fiery as mine. Our decibel levels are directly proportionate to our anger levels. And oh! Did I mention that we both share a flair for histrionics?
“You think I’m evil, don’t you?” he would ask, eyes streaming. I might just have pulled him up for hiding the fact that his notes were not complete. Or, “You’re killing me, ’Ma, you’re killing me.”
From me it would be something like “Now, that’s it. I’m going to whack you, Aditya. I’m going to make sure that you don’t repeat it,” or “I’ll skin you the next time you do that, Adu!” It doesn’t matter that I forgot the last time I’d touched him, expect for a hug or kiss – my words are violent enough. The self-respecting secret agent would have me behind bars in no time if he listens to one our more volatile conversations.
All that aside, when my neighbours’ kids – average age, five – decided to turn our corridor into a playground, my period of rest and recuperation became pure torture. They would ride their scooters or tricycles with abandon through our tiny corridor, with my front door as their abrupt stopping point; they would compete with each other in throwing a million building blocks from one end of the corridor to the other, and greet each throw with cheers – the games varied, but the venue and noise levels remained unchanged. I muttered under my breath about the gang that ensured that I don’t get my peace and quiet in the afternoons, and about their parents who allowed them to do that to me – but then, that did not change anything at all.
One day, as I was coming out from the lift, the lot of them stopped playing and looked at me till I opened my door and entered my home. Though this was a treatment meted out to every person passing through the corridor, I was filled with sudden remorse. It was unfair on my part to expect kids to not behave like kids, whatever that meant. So I decided to make up for my nasty thoughts by giving them some candies I had with me, something Aditya agreed wholeheartedly to do.
The next day, they asked Aditya for candies when he came from school, and he gave them again. When I came, they asked the same of me. This happened the next day and the next day and the day after that – each time either of us passed through the corridor at that – until we ran out of both candies and patience. We had, in that single act of giving them the first set of candies, invited more stress than we could handle – not only were we expected to put up with the incessant noise, but with their constant demand for fodder as well. By then, it was more a game for them than an actual need for candies. Do I need to tell you the effect the situation had on our family?
Today, though, was the limit. This morning, as I walked out of the lift after a visit to the grocer, I was greeted by the collective stare from half-a-dozen pair of eyes as usual. Then the littlest boy of the lot decided to break the silence.
He came up to me and demanded, “You don’t have any more candies, do you?” I admitted that I did not.
A little girl who stood leaning on her scooter said with a superior air, “We don’t want, either.” For a moment I thought I didn’t hear right.
Before I could get over the statement, the littlest boy, ignoring her, continued in the same tone, “And you’re not going to buy any, are you?”
I decided to be firm. “No,” I said with what I hoped was finality. My throat suddenly felt dry.
“Well, then, no need. We’ll buy our own candy!” This was the girl, again.
“Yeah!” the boy echoed triumphantly. “We don’t need your candy, haha! We’ll buy our own.” This was followed by a round of laughter at my expense from the other miniatures standing there. Now my dry throat was accompanied by a thudding heart. I didn’t wait to hear the rest of what they said.
I rushed in through my much-battered front door as quickly as my dignity would allow and locked myself in with relief. Imagine being bullied by a bunch of five-year-olds! I’m sure that back in the eighties, my first day at the co-ed college after eleven years in a convent school had not been so stressful.
Sad, isn’t it? All these years of living have not provided me with the skills necessary to handle the current generation of kindergarten-goers! Now, what does that say about me?