By Swati Moheet Agrawal
“I know it sounds preposterous, but you’ve got to believe me,” Yuko says, her lips twitching nervously, her voice shaky with fear.
We are sitting in her study and her hands tremble as she narrates the incident to me.
“You are taking it a bit too far. How do you conjure up such stories?” I refuse to believe her.
“I am telling you mom is not her usual…” she stops in mid-sentence. Mrs. Yoshimoto saunters in.
“Hi Koko, how have you been?”
“Happy as a lark, Mrs. Yoshimoto.”
“All play and no work make Yuko and Koko dull girls,” she chuckles as she leaves a tray filled with miso soup and katsudon at the chabudai.
I always admired Mrs. Yoshimoto for her unselfish ambition to live for others. She was patient, self-sacrificing and bore her pain uncomplainingly. She had lost her husband very early in life. I marveled at the way she had raised and supported Yuko – fiercely and singlehandedly. What I loved most about her was that she never accepted favours she could not return. She was a feisty, self-made woman. Her meaningful life made me judge my own mother’s frivolous and indolent existence.
Mrs. Yoshimoto’s husband, Yuko’s father, had jumped into the ominous river when Yuko was six years old.
“See, I told you. Something is off. Mom is not her usual self,” Yuko’s shrill voice dropped to a whisper.
“Yuko-san, relax! Perhaps it’s work stress, and it slipped off her mind,” I say reassuringly.
“Koko, a mother cannot forget about her daughter’s strongest aversion to katsudon. It gives me the creeps, she knows it. I totally hate it.”
“So you think someone is masquerading as your mother?” I ask peevishly.
“Koko, she looks like my mom but she is not her, I know that in my gut. She walked to the damn river in the middle of the night yesterday – the drowning shithole. She’s been a different person ever since.”
“Maybe she needed some fresh air. You are just being paranoid.”
“Please do me a favour. Please come along with me to the river tonight. I want to know what exactly transpired yesterday,” Yuko implores me to accompany her.
“Are you out of your mind? There’s no way I’m going there,” I vehemently deny.
“Please, Koko-san, you have to help me unravel this mystery.”
“Rumours are rife about that damn river. It repulses me to say the least. And I’m sure you are overthinking it. Your mom looks absolutely normal to me. Please get a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
Yuko is late to school the next morning. She is pensive all through History class. She looks worn out with fatigue and sleeplessness. It is a piteous sight – the once bubbly face so changed and vacant, the once smiling mouth puckered into a wearied grimace, and the once well-kept hair all disheveled and tangled up.
“Are you okay? You look zonked out. Why did you come late?” I inquire.
“I woke up late and missed the bus,” she deadpans.
She looks distant and withdrawn. I artfully lead the conversation to boys, hoping it will take her mind off all that bunkum and balderdash. It doesn’t help. I long to say something tender and comforting, but no fitting words come to me, I stand still, gently stroking her head like her father used to do when she was a little girl. It was the best thing I could have done, far more soothing than the most eloquent words.
She rummages through her backpack and digs out her lunch.
“What have you got today?” I ask.
She doesn’t reply.
She devours the entire bowl of katsudon greedily and unreservedly. In fact, she licks the bowl clean.
About the Author:
Swati Moheet Agrawal lives in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in Ariel Chart, Café Dissensus, Friday Flash Fiction, Indian Periodical, ActiveMuse, Setu, Kitaab, Storizen, Twist & Twain, Indian Economy & Market Magazine, Life Positive and elsewhere. When not buried between the pages of a book, she likes to dabble in decoupage art. Follow her on Instagram @ swatiwhowrites