It was the first week of July, one month since her school began and exactly five long days after her birthday. Maya was now nine years old and as beautiful and energetic as a nine year old can be. She finally woke up to the noises of all the traffic of Brindavan Street, one of the busiest roads of Chennai and it was hardly seven in the morning. Apart from the traffic, she could also hear a faint voice, of someone calling her name, "Maya, its getting late for school! Are you going to wake up now or shall I call your Dad?" and to that, Maya bolted out of the bed, not because she was afraid of her father, but because if she didn't wake up now, her father will come into the room, switch the fan off and tell her that she wasn't going to get her quota of the day (it was a deal between her father and her that everyday she wakes up early, she'd get a rupee to spend and sometimes even more) and of all the days, today, she didn't want to miss out on her extra savings. So she finally got out of her bed and happened to glance at the dress she had kept aside to wear to school today.
She was happy all of a sudden because it was the third friday of the month and it meant she can wear colour dress to the school, not just any dress but her birthday dress which she could not wear to school since it was on a Sunday that year. It was a pretty frilled pink frock and she loved it. She said to herself "Today, I'm going to look the best in my pretty dress and everyone will love the dress, so I better get ready soon." Her friends from School, Dimple and Rakesh always came home every morning to walk with her to School. Her Dad allowed her to go to School without adult company now not only because he trusted her, but also because the entire neighbourhood knew Maya and her two friends. He'd come to know if anything happened to any of them within minutes and moreover the school was just a 10 minute walk from their house.
After her excitement over the dress, she ran to the bathroom to brush her teeth. With her brush and paste in hand she was standing in her balcony and gazing at the teashop as she always does every morning. She saw the crowd there. Everyone ordering their teas, coffees, buns and wadas. She recognized most of the people there, some were her neighbours down the road and some were people who stayed accross the road. There was one boy who stayed in the opposite flat from her house who always used to look at her and laugh from his balcony, making her feel uneasy. She liked the boy but he made her feel uneasy, so she always remembered refusing to play with him or his brother. Now she was looking at the house and saw him there, almost ready to go to his school. She thought to herself "Someday when I grow up, I'm going to hit you if you even look at me, you arrogant mongrel, ufff" and with that note she rushed to have her bath. Ten long minutes and she was nearly ready to come out when she heard absolutely no noise, no traffic commotion. She came out and she looked out of the terrace, and she could see more unknown faces in the teashop. She looked at the boy in the opposite house, he was still there looking out just like her and she smiled. At least this, they had in common, maybe he's not bad after all. She's been living with her parents in this tiny one bedroom house for nearly two years now, and because of her childishness, innocence and frendliness, she'd made many friends in the nieghbourhood, she knew everyone in the grocery store, the bike shop below her house, the barber shop and even the teashop opposite her house. Everyone knew her and loved her and now, looking there to say hi to her older friends in the teashop like she usually does every morning, she began to worry because Anand anna seemed to be scared and sweating. She could see it on his face even from this distance. Then there were even more people gathering. Now her heart was beating faster but she didn't know why. She didn't like the silence. She glanced at her right and she saw people looking out from the neighbouring buildings and she was wondering what she was missing. She could see the traffic at a stand-still. So she ran to the neighbouring empty terrace which lets her have a closer look down the road where there was a vast rubbish disposal area. There were people gathering on both sides of the road and she could now hear her mom calling her name. She knew her father was busy listening to his morning news with his head phones on and that her mother was busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast for them and also packing their lunches. She was afraid now, afraid to ruin the silence, afraid to call her mom. All she knew was something bad was going to happen. Her palms began to sweat and get cold, but she didn't know why. Then she suddenly saw a big burly man in a dhoti, exposing his long striped underwear and burly knees, she looked to see his face and she knew him from all the posters they usually hung during festivals but she didn't know why he was important enough. She had never seen him in person and that too carrying a big Aruval (an extended sickle) which she had obviously seen in many of the tamil movies which usually was carried by the villains. She didn't like the feeling. Something in her asked to go inside the house and by now she knew that she should have known better not to stand there.
She looked at the boy opposite and he was showing signs asking her to go inside her house. He was 14 years old and maybe he knew better than her and that was why he was warning her to go away but she was nine years old and she thought to herself "who is he to ask me to go?". She hadn't even finished her thought when she saw the guy from the opposite little side lane running towards the garbage disposal area, to her right below from where she standing and she could hear the wail. She thought she was going deaf. She knew the guy who was running, she knew him well, he was her auto anna, Raja. He looked like he was running for his life and he was, with the poster guy right behind him. He was begging for his life but then it was just a swift moment and there was a lot of blood, lots of blood everywhere. She saw the Poster Guy taking the sickle off the neck of her auto anna and just another swift movement and another wail, she could see his leg flying.
She knew she was crying. She suddenly felt movement behind her, she felt herself being carried and taken inside the house, with a hand closing her mouth, a soft whisper asking her not to make any noise and and dropped on her mom who was trying to comfort her. She was in shock. She felt salty tears down her cheek. All she could mumble was "Raja Anna". She closed her eyes but she didn't know for how long she was like that in her mother's arms and her dad beside her. She could hear the police sirens and all the commotion now. She could hear the buses moving and people yelling, then the arrival of an ambulance. Even at her age she knew from watching all those tamil movies with her neighbours that Raja Anna was dead, he can't be alive with all that blood around him. Thinking of blood made her sick. She felt faint and now she could feel her mothers tears falling on her cheeks and also hear her accusing her father now for bringing them to live in that unsafe area. They did not belong in this neighbourhood. She had always known it and so did her mother that they were living there temporarily, till their housing was being built in Ashok Nagar. She didn't understand why her mother was making a big issue out of it now and then again the blood came back to her and she began to whimper. Her mother was silent now and hugging her, praying to all her favourite Gods, praying that her daughter would forget this day ever happened. Maya finally fell asleep. Her father carried her to the bed, her mother began undressing her, folding her clothes back and arranged it back on the shelf where her daughter had placed it the night before.
Maya stirred in her bed. Her mother came beside her and asked her softly if she wanted to eat anything, feeling her forehead. It was mildly hot which worried her mother. Maya could hear voices in the distance. Her mother let her sleep some more. When she finally woke it was after 2.00 p.m, which meant she did not get to go to School. She got out of her bed and walked to the kitchen to see her mother mixing her rice with ghee, and dhall and along with hot fried potato slices. She smiled at her mom. She felt her eyes burning and she remembered the tears, the sickle, all the blood and she ran to the smaller balcony to look out. She saw the tea shop, it was as normal as it could be at that time of the day. She saw Anand anna talking animatedly to his customers and felt relieved. Maybe it was all her imagination. Her mother saw the smile on Maya's face and told her that she was having fever and so her father did not want her to go to school today. Her mother told her she could wear the birthday dress the next third friday to School. She knew she should have been happy to hear that but she wasn't. She was feeling exhausted. She continued looking at all the shops and she observed there were no strange people now and everything seemed normal. She wasn't sure if she should ask her mother if anything happened in the morning but she did however ask if Dimple and Rakesh came home. She saw the hesitation on her mother's face but she told Maya that her father informed their parents that Maya was unwell and unable to walk to school. Maya believed her mother since there was no reason not to. She asked her mother if she could walk to the terrace and again her mother hesitated but agreed, warning her that she was not well and that she should rest.
So, Maya went to gaze from her terrace. There was no blood anywhere. People were walking around everywhere carrying on with their normal doings on a Friday, she could see a man laying on his cot outside the housing colony, having his afternoon nap. She could see those little kids playing on the side almost near the garbage disposal. She looked again, absolutely no blood. Maybe she told herself, it was the many Tamil Movies she had been watching recently. She walked back inside the house and her mother began feeding her. She switched on the television and there was Tom and Jerry and realised it was 3.00 pm already. She missed being at school, showing off her new dress to her best friends but then she said there'll be a next time. She told her mother not to encourage her to watch anymore violent movies because she thought she had a bad dream in the morning. Her mother told she would and gave her a knowing smile. She drank a glass of warm water after all the food and was tired and exhausted. She wanted to go back to sleep and so she did. She saw the man in the poster and the sickle and woke up crying. Her mother was lying next to her, comforting her that it was just a dream.
Maya was true to her name, an illusion. She was magic. She touched everyone's lives with her kindness and laughter. That was her secret to knowing everyone in the whole colony and the busiest street in Chennai. But that day something changed in her. She had never been afraid of anything until that day. She told herself it was all a dream but the nightmare just wouldn't go. That evening her father came back from work as usual, with few of her favourite story books and puzzle books. He asked her how she was feeling and she said she was better and asked him what happened in the morning? He told her that nothing happened except that she was sick and he didn't want to wake her up. She had her doubts but she believed him. She told herself that once she's better she'll walk to Raja anna's house and see for herself how he and his baby are doing. She said "Tomorrow, I'll be better and I'll walk around"
Saturday morning came, Maya woke up but she was not excited because it was a holiday. Her father worked half a day every Saturday, so she knew she'll be bored till he was back from work. She told herself she'll go out and play. She still had the memories from her nightmare. Her mother told her then that they were going to move out of the house pretty soon and she should start discarding things that she did not want to take to the new house. That was bad news because it meant leaving all the known faces, all her friends and pals, all the anna's and everyone else she knew. She did not know what to do. She asked her mother if she could go visit Raja anna's house. Her mother was angry at her for mentioning the name and asked her to be a good girl and stay at home and do some work. Maya was furious. She told herself she'll wait till her father was around and she'll have her way then.
Maya was in the balcony looking out to see her father walk up and she asked him if she could go and play? He said yes. Maya jumped and hugged him. She had missed him all day. Even though she thought it was all a bad dream, she just pictured what if it had happened to her father and hugged him even more tightly, not letting go. Her father understood her the most and the best. He hugged her back and called her "precious". She chose this moment to ask him if she could to Raja anna's house. Her father hesitated but just for a moment and told her that Raja anna wasn't at home since he left for Dubai yesterday morning. Maya couldn't believe it but atleast the thought if him being safe in Dubai made her feel better and she went back inside the house with her father. She was tired again. She did not anyways have the energy to play now. She watched the cartoons for sometime and told herself to get better.
A week later, after going to school for just the last two days, Maya was still having the same nightmares. Her father decided to take her to a Psychiatrist, but then, they were busy packing their things and trying to move to their new house. So her visit to the doctor was postponed. Maya was busy looking out of the balcony and saw the boy opposite and for the first time they both smiled at each other. She wondered why but felt that something had changed, he was not laughing at her anymore, simply smiling. It felt nice, but she went back inside. She continued to look outside through the grilled window from the living room and now saw the strangest thing ever, which she saw only in the movies, and sometimes old ladies like that who lost their husbands. She saw Raja Anna's wife, with her baby, trying to feed him rice, wearing a white saree, she saw even from this distance that she was not having any flowers on her hair and the plain forehead. She had seen enough movies to understand the significance of all that. She knew then that her nightmare wasn't a nightmare at all, it was reality.
She thought she was going crazy but she wasn't. All along she was right, everything came back to her. She saw the blood again. She saw everything in a flash and that was the loss of her innocence. She cried uncontrollably. Her father simply held her and whispered "I'm Sorry". She just replied "I don't want to be a Doctor Papa!"