Monday, October 29, 2012

They Called Her ‘Fats’ By’ Paro Anand Part 1



They called her ‘Fats’, although her name was Fatima. And she wasn’t even fat. At least, not in that nice, pudgy way that makes little girls look adorable to adults. She wasn’t adorable or sweet, or anything like the sugar and spice and everything nice that little girls are supposedly made of. In fact, she was BAD. Bad in big, bold, capital letters. She was a fighter and had been so ever since she came to the Home as a four year old orphan. She’d been in another home before that. She’d been left there, at the doorstep – abandoned by the mother no one would ever know. That orphanage looked after infants. Now, at four, she was considered old enough to move to a new environment. She’d never been adopted as some of the other babies had.

She hated the new Home from her first day there. She perceived a grayness that filled her with dismay. The forced cheerfulness of the care-mothers and nurses turned to bile inside her and they soon became wary of her sullen, brooding eyes. Never knowing when she’d snap back at them. They kept as much out of the way of this tiny, less than lovely child as they could.

She wasn’t much better with her peers either. The girls returned her sullenness with hostility. In fact, they sniggered behind her back and kept their eyes averted when they came face to face with her. Fatima concluded it was because they feared her obvious unhappiness. As though it were a contagious disease they were afraid they’d catch. They wore their happiness like badges. Fatima wore her grief like armour. And there was no one who cared to find the chinks in that formidable armour to reach the inner depths that must have lurked in this unhappy child.

And the boys. The boys. They laughed at her openly. It was the boys, in fact, who coined the nickname ‘Fats’. They referred to it like a Mafia underworld underling. Like ‘Bugs’ or ‘Lefty’.

They spread malicious stories about her which were mean and untrue. Of how she communed with the spirits of darkness in the middle of the night, of her witchery and her penchant for drinking blood and eating cockroaches off the floor. Stories that made the girls squeal with appealing girlish charm and cling on to the boys’ arms in prettily feigned terror. Some were masters in the art of swooning into convenient arms and could only be revived by the undivided attention of a male admirer.

It made Fatima sick to her stomach. But she also did everything she could to fuel the stories. She dangled cockroaches by their writhing legs and threw them at the screaming girls. She left her dormitory late at night in spite of repeated warnings from the house warden.

What she did outside was nothing more blood thirsty than walk barefoot on the wet grass and rest her head on the cool moss-covered stone walls. For she loved her solitude and guarded it like her most precious treasure. Some nights, she would slip, ghostlike on to the games filed and jog around the track. Bursting now and then into a spirited sprint. She loved the feel of the wind as it whipped past her ears and stung her cheeks. It was about the only time in that place that Fatima allowed herself to laugh out aloud. In a sudden rush of warmth that she dared not describe as happiness, she would leap into the air, arms flailing and whoop with joy.

But then, one night, a couple of girls from her ward, followed her stealthily and watched her strange ritual from behind a bush. The story spread like wildfire. Fats indulged in some sort of witch’s dance – calling spirits and dancing, prancing with them on the games field. And now there were two reliable witnesses to this bizarre ritual to prove the fact. Which they did; gladly and frequently. Word soon reached the hostel warden.

The warden looked at the down-turned dark head. There was no grace, no flicker of softness, no feminine charm to this child. The warden thought as she drummed her fingertips together, not quite sure how to tackle this problem twelve year old. Being in charge of a host of orphans was not the easiest of jobs, but never, in all her years here, had the warden had to handle such a bad apple as Fatima had been termed by the orphanage authorities.

“I’m afraid, Fatima, I have been hearing stories about you…” the warden began. Fatima lifted her head to look steadily just past the warden’s right ear, as though staring at a spider that hung there. Knowing she shouldn’t, the older woman turned her head to check.  No there was no spider, or anything else. There wasn’t, of course not. When she looked back at the girl’s face, she was embarrassed by the brief look of triumph that flickered there.
“I need some explanations from you, my child.”

‘I’m NOT your child!’ screamed Fatima in her head. But she kept her gaze steady and unflinching on the spot just past the warden’s ear. The woman rubbed her ear self-consciously, as though cooling it from that burning gaze.

“What exactly were you doing, young lady, out on the games field in the middle of the night?”
A million answers raced through her mind. Some witty, some smart. Some downright rude. But ‘running’ was all she said.
“And why, my dear, do you choose to run in the middle of the night? Don’t you find the games period enough?”
“No!”

They Called Her ‘Fats’ By’ Paro Anand Part 2



Now that her nightly ritual had been forcibly brought to a halt, Fatima just had to make the most of the allotted games periods. She had never allowed herself to participate wholeheartedly and now she stood on the outskirts of the action, watching her classmates through brooding eye, wondering which game she should join. And more important and infinitely more difficult, was how she would join it.

“Watch out, stupid!” A scream broke into her thoughts. Suddenly she was conscious of people screaming at her. A flash of silver whistled past her face and she watched in shocked amazement as the wooden pole slithered to a halt just beyond her. Almost in a trance, she bent down and picked up the pole and gingerly fingered the sharply pointed end.

“Are you all right? You’re not hurt, are you?” Mrs. Whitbread, the games teacher grabbed the girl by the shoulders and turned her around.
“No, no…” Fatima stuttered, still holding onto the pole.

“What an idiot you are Fats,” hissed a girl into her ear, “what were you thinking of, witches?”
“Hush, quiet, it wasn’t her fault,” Mrs. Whitbread quietened the other as she led Fatima away, arm still around her shoulders.
“You oughtn’t stand here. If you want to watch, stand across there, at that corner. Here now, let me have the javelin…” but the teacher was surprised as the silent girl held on to it, in a grip so tight that her knuckled had turned white. And she didn’t let it go. They stood like that a full, silent minute, both holding the spiked instrument. Then the girl abruptly released it as though it had become red hot.

“Sorry,” she said as she walked rapidly away. Something in the girl’s silence, something in her lingering hold over the javelin, kept Mrs. Whitbread rooted to the spot, looking at the girl’s retreating back.
During the next day’s class, Mrs. Whitbread had the absurd feeling that someone was staring at her. Hard. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the slight frame which stood stock still. Staring. It was Fatima. Margaret Whitbread called out and waved her over, but the girl was gone, speeding away like a frightened rabbit. It happened again, the next two classes. Just when the games teacher had expected to see her standing at her usual corner, the teacher was surprised when on the third day, Fatima was nowhere in sight. Mrs. Whitbread shrugged off the terrible feeling of disappointment that was stealing over her and got back into training the children around her. Being a former British international javelin thrower herself, the teacher gave a lot of personal attention to that sport although she was the general sports in-charge.

Just as she became absorbed in a promising young boy, a voice from behind startled her.

“Alright, I’ll join for javelin!” short, abrupt, to the point. She wasn’t seeking permission. Just stating her acquiescence. It was, of course, Fatima. In spite of the abruptness of the pronouncement, the teacher could not suppress a smile.

And so it was that Fatima began to learn to throw the javelin.

An hour later, it was the talk of the staff room.
“Oh poor you!” was the general consensus of all the teachers when Margaret Whitbread announced this new development. “Poor you, now you’ve had it.”
“I don’t know,” she answered, “maybe. But then again, maybe not…”
“Oh that girl is nothing but trouble.”
“She’s the most disruptive child anyone’s ever had the misfortune to deal with.”
“True,” agreed Margaret, “But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is the first positive move the child has made in all her stay here. The first time she’s shown an interest in doing something.”
“Oh, don’t waste your optimism on her; there are better candidates for that.”
“I’m going to give it a shot.” Margaret insisted.
“Well, best of luck is all I’d care to say to you, love.” Said a teacher laughing.
“Right,” agreed another, “I wouldn’t care to be in your shoes. Not for all the money in the world…”

They Called Her ‘Fats’ By’ Paro Anand Part 3



The warden pursed her lips in astonishment at the abrupt, instant reply. She gathered herself up, “And why, may I ask, do you feel it’s not enough?”

No reply. Fatima just stared steadily at the spot beyond that right ear.
“Hmmm?” asked the warden, again involuntarily glancing over her shoulder to ascertain what it was that this unsettling girl was staring at.

Answers whirled through Fatima’s head. A part of her wanted to tell of her love for running. How it was the only time she felt free. Really, really free. She wanted to tell of her love for true solitude. She wanted, so desperately needed, to tell of the pain she felt when the girls sniggered, at the humiliation of them whispering, “Shhh! Here come Fats to bite your tongue out!” Of the boys who taunted her of being a half boy half girl. She had so much boiling up inside her.

But she stood her ground. She held her silence. Biting back her words of hurt. Fighting back the tears that threatened to break loose and show the world that she was, after all, human.

Instead, she stood still and silent. For she had trained herself, over the years, to speak only when spoken to and then only in uncommunicative monosyllables that discouraged conversation. She gave nothing of herself away, maintaining a stony calm on the outside while her emotions raged inside her.

“Well, if you’re not going to answer, there’s very little I can do to help you, is there?” asked the cold voice.
‘There’s very little you can do anyway…” thought Fatima, biting back the words in the nick of time. A twitching in the jaw was the only indication that this was a living girl and not a cold waxwork that stood so stone-faced and still.

“Very well, then,” the warden stood up, pulling self-consciously at her ear, “if that’s the attitude, you may go…” Fatima turned on her heel immediately.
“…but let me warn you, young lady. I do not tolerate the rules being broken. If I have any more complaints against you, I shall have to suspend your games outings altogether. Is that clear?” Sometimes the only way to discipline a wayward ward was to threaten to withdraw a favorite privilege.
“Yes Ma’am!” the voice was so quiet, so cold, that it sent an involuntary shiver down the warden’s back.
“You may go.”

Fatima strode to the door and opened it when a softening in the warden’s voice drew her up short.
“If, however, you need to talk to me about – about anything – er – anything at all, you’re always welcome to come to me. Any time at all, alright?”

Fatima nodded, hesitated and looked back at the older woman. Almost as if she was about to indeed say something. But then, she quickly stepped out and shut the door firmly behind her, hurrying away. Burying her words and feelings yet again.

The warden looked out through her window. Fatima passed along the periphery of the field. A group of children laughed pointedly at the solitary figure as it slipped away and was soon lost amongst the bushes. The warden knew the interview had not gone at all well. She wished she could do more for this closed, closed child. But she just didn’t know where to start.

They Called Her ‘Fats’ By’ Paro Anand Part 4



Now that her nightly ritual had been forcibly brought to a halt, Fatima just had to make the most of the allotted games periods. She had never allowed herself to participate wholeheartedly and now she stood on the outskirts of the action, watching her classmates through brooding eye, wondering which game she should join. And more important and infinitely more difficult, was how she would join it.

“Watch out, stupid!” A scream broke into her thoughts. Suddenly she was conscious of people screaming at her. A flash of silver whistled past her face and she watched in shocked amazement as the wooden pole slithered to a halt just beyond her. Almost in a trance, she bent down and picked up the pole and gingerly fingered the sharply pointed end.

“Are you all right? You’re not hurt, are you?” Mrs. Whitbread, the games teacher grabbed the girl by the shoulders and turned her around.
“No, no…” Fatima stuttered, still holding onto the pole.

“What an idiot you are Fats,” hissed a girl into her ear, “what were you thinking of, witches?”
“Hush, quiet, it wasn’t her fault,” Mrs. Whitbread quietened the other as she led Fatima away, arm still around her shoulders.
“You oughtn’t stand here. If you want to watch, stand across there, at that corner. Here now, let me have the javelin…” but the teacher was surprised as the silent girl held on to it, in a grip so tight that her knuckled had turned white. And she didn’t let it go. They stood like that a full, silent minute, both holding the spiked instrument. Then the girl abruptly released it as though it had become red hot.

“Sorry,” she said as she walked rapidly away. Something in the girl’s silence, something in her lingering hold over the javelin, kept Mrs. Whitbread rooted to the spot, looking at the girl’s retreating back.
During the next day’s class, Mrs. Whitbread had the absurd feeling that someone was staring at her. Hard. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the slight frame which stood stock still. Staring. It was Fatima. Margaret Whitbread called out and waved her over, but the girl was gone, speeding away like a frightened rabbit. It happened again, the next two classes. Just when the games teacher had expected to see her standing at her usual corner, the teacher was surprised when on the third day, Fatima was nowhere in sight. Mrs. Whitbread shrugged off the terrible feeling of disappointment that was stealing over her and got back into training the children around her. Being a former British international javelin thrower herself, the teacher gave a lot of personal attention to that sport although she was the general sports in-charge.

Just as she became absorbed in a promising young boy, a voice from behind startled her.

“Alright, I’ll join for javelin!” short, abrupt, to the point. She wasn’t seeking permission. Just stating her acquiescence. It was, of course, Fatima. In spite of the abruptness of the pronouncement, the teacher could not suppress a smile.

And so it was that Fatima began to learn to throw the javelin.

An hour later, it was the talk of the staff room.
“Oh poor you!” was the general consensus of all the teachers when Margaret Whitbread announced this new development. “Poor you, now you’ve had it.”
“I don’t know,” she answered, “maybe. But then again, maybe not…”
“Oh that girl is nothing but trouble.”
“She’s the most disruptive child anyone’s ever had the misfortune to deal with.”
“True,” agreed Margaret, “But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is the first positive move the child has made in all her stay here. The first time she’s shown an interest in doing something.”
“Oh, don’t waste your optimism on her; there are better candidates for that.”
“I’m going to give it a shot.” Margaret insisted.
“Well, best of luck is all I’d care to say to you, love.” Said a teacher laughing.
“Right,” agreed another, “I wouldn’t care to be in your shoes. Not for all the money in the world…”