Good things often lead to better things. A casual picture prompt given yesterday turned into a well-received post. The timely prompt from Janani Srikanth got me out of a blogging lull. That was the good. The better? It made other friends give me prompts. Whether or not I do justice to them is another issue. But I sure am going to try.
The prompt for today is from a dear friend. I remember giving the same image as a prompt for another friend to write a story (that eventually never came) some years ago. When this image arrived in my chat window, the story formed in my brain. I should have known, from the sender’s usual quirks, that there would be a limitation. Only she could have thought to mix the word ‘rebel’ with this soft image.
Today’s story was ‘prompted’ by my soul-sister, the ice-cream to my brownie, the chilli to my vada pav, Aparna Aravindakshan.
The lush and colourful garden was filled with the scent of the blooming chrysanthemums. The hedges were cut with geometric precision, and the lawn moved once every day. No blade of grass was longer than three centimetres, and no flower plucked without appropriate shears. Joanna sat in the uncomfortable straight-backed oak-wood chair, gently massaging her temples.
“Did you not take your headache medicine today afternoon? Why are you sitting here massaging your head?”
Joanna refused to answer, knowing she wouldn’t get away with it another time. She slumped into her chair, her thoughts astray. The chirping of the birds gave her a headache, and the evening sun that framed the palatial house hit her in the eye. Everything about the evening was irritable, though familiar. Be it the fancy lace table cloth, or the ostentatious filigreed tea cup that her mother was pouring the Earl Grey tea into, and the mitten she wore in her left hand.
Still unable to overcome the feeling that her house had somehow stopped developing sometime since the last 7 decades, she absently picked up the tea with her left hand, earning a disapproving glare. It took her a moment to look down and notice that she had not added the mandatory sugar cube as prescribed, and she had taken the cup without stirring the tea. That was two rules of the household flouted in as many seconds.
Sighing, she corrected her mistakes, earning a mild upward curve of the lips. An approval, if not appreciation. Her headache intensified as her mother Cassandra took the precise number of sips from the still smoking tea and placed the cup back with the handle aligned with that of the saucer. Joanna dearly wanted to snort. But it was not worth the trouble, especially since she had bigger things to worry about.
The torment quickly finished, Joanna got up before her mother did, not turning back to see the glare. It did not happen if she did not see it. She quickened her stride lest she be called out and rushed into her room feigning discomfiture. The huge envelope on the table seemed to mock at her, and Joanna kicked the sturdy nightstand so hard that the lampshade quivered.
Though she knew the contents by heart, she opened the envelope once again and read through her acceptance letter from one of the most prestigious universities from the USA. Coming from a family of academics, it should not have been that difficult for her to get permission to study abroad. But she dearly wished that the university was not thousands of miles away. Wondering if she could pull the place closer to home just by the sheer force of mental will, she plopped on her bed.
The permission would be the hardest to obtain. The logistics and accommodation would be her second and third concerns. The exhilarating thrill of a totally foreign land beckoned her. But even the idea of broaching the topic with her mother seemed laughable. She could very well envision how it would go. The shock at the audacity, the downright refusal that stamped down on her wishes mercilessly, and the perfectly arched eyebrow of disdain that would ask her why she would need to go overseas with better options back home.
Joanna wanted none of that. She did not think she could get away with something this huge, seeing the success rate of her occasional flouting of rules. Feeling older by decades, she heard a knock on the door. The house butler entered with her headache medicine, uncalled for. As she stared at the fizzing drink in mild disbelief, her mother’s note caught her eye.
I think you should wear corsets for dinner. You slouch too much.
This time, she actually snorted. That was setting her back by another ten years. Was there no limit to all this? The incandescent rage decided things for her. Taking up the envelope, she walked purposefully towards her mother’s chambers.
Of all the things she had feared about the new city, adjusting to the driving was the worst. Everything seemed to happen on the opposite side, and she spent her first week in the Big Apple totally disoriented. As she entered her dormitory from one evening walk, she grinned to herself, whooping gleefully. Joanna still remembered the stunned reaction on Cassandra’s face at her declaration and the subsequent drama that ensued before things worked out. It was one of the best decisions of her life.
Her eyes fell on the huge, sloppy coffee mug that sat on her bed with the remnants of her afternoon coffee. Her first purchase on entering the USA had been her best. Joanna couldn’t stop grinning as she slouched onto her beanbag.