Fiction

The Happiness Quotient

by Sanjaya Mishra 

As she looks at it, the expanse of whiteness seems expansive and unending under the thin rays of sunlight filtering in through the window. The paper is crisp; in a square shape, its corners and edges sharp in her hands. Yet it’s so tiny.

She looks at the four pairs of expectant eyes.

“Come on Anita Di, make it,” Sandy says, “I want an elephant.”

“No, it has to be the crane. That’s the easiest to do, they say,” says Eva, her voice condescending.

“But I want the wet ones, like the ones Akira does, see,” Ram buts in, flipping through the photos on the cell phone and flashing out one for everyone to see.

Anita rues her decision to babysit the kids. Helpless, she looks at the paper for the umpteenth time, the flickering dust incessantly creating an enigma that she can’t untangle.

“You can create whatever you want to, but make an origami fast,” the youngest one says, her voice betraying the impatience in her tiny self.

Frustrated at the tangible immediacy of the prospect of letting herself down, Anita looks up, averting their eyes – the off-white ceiling, the whirring fan, the painted walls, the couple of windows on both sides, and finally at the door leading out to the hall.

Carefully, she folds the paper once, and again. The deftness of her fingers startles her for once. She lifts the piece of paper and holds it against the light. As the shadow falls on the wall, she puts another tiny piece over it.

“Isn’t it a house,” she says, pointing at the wall.

The eyes shift to the wall. Yes, there it was, the darkness of a hut, like the ones the kids draw on paper.

“But it’s not an origami,” they shout in unison.

“Don’t you think it resembles one nonetheless,” she asks.

The room echoes with their laughter; a wise laugh, as much at her woeful and strange attempt to make origami as with themselves, perhaps for their misplaced reliance on her ability. Disappointed, surely, yet jubilant in a peculiar way, as Anita finds in their gestures, they file out to the garden.

‘Creating an origami house is not everybody’s cup of tea, much like life,’ thinks Anita before picking up the broom to clean the house.

‘But they are happy,’ she says aloud and follows them to the garden.

Back home, her son, after getting promoted, has received a brand-new bicycle from school, the result of a government-sponsored scheme. The lad gets up early these days, unlike earlier days when he had to struggle with the morning chores and be ready for school. Riding the bicycle, he zips through the narrow lanes to the open field nearby with two stray dogs in tow, all the way honking the horn, an attachment for which she had to fish out 200 rupees. The good thing is that he returns home on time and gets ready for school. Anita knows the bicycle has made things a little easier on her home front.

But not quite. Jugnu, her husband, has been sulking ever since the women in the locality have gone berserk, as the men claim, and forcibly closed the toddy shop a fortnight ago, bringing the thriving business and the accompanied commotion in the shop and most of the houses in the area to a grinding halt. Anita has been in the front, leading the movement–from getting the petition filed through the ma’am who runs the NGO whose house she works in, to mobilising the women to sit in ‘dharna’ in front of the Collector’s office. Jugnu, already bereft of his daily share of liquor, is obviously angry but only that much. The good man that he is, unlike the other scoundrels of the slums, can’t do anything more than not seeing eye to eye with her.

Anita laughs. Jugnu is a good man if you leave aside his indulgence in liquor; a perfect man to live with happily.

The ladies who are visiting the house for the Puja holidays, and whose children Anita has been babysitting for the last couple of hours, return from shopping with Memsahib when she finishes cleaning the verandah. The children are still busy playing in the garden. Memsahib looks askance at her, and she reassures her, smiling, that everything is alright. Perhaps the guests will tip her handsomely while leaving. But they don’t look happy. The shopping, as she gathers from their conversation, has gone haywire despite the heap of garments and other items flooding the sofas, and table. Picking up the polythene and paper covers from the floor, she goes out to stuff them in the dust-bin.

She finds it on top of the garbage – the paper, in all its whiteness in the mellowed evening light, the tiny thing that makes her the butt of a joke, and yet somehow breaks the unease, ushering in a level of comfort between her and the children. Her thought again goes back to the tip that she might fetch. For a moment, she considers keeping it, but the visiting ladies don’t seem to be so pleased at present.

Looking at it wistfully, she dumps the rest of the garbage in her hand on top of it. The happiness quotient can be so difficult to understand, she knows; you have to keep on probing for it constantly.

About the Author:

Sanjaya Mishra works as a geologist, searching for groundwater in underdeveloped areas. His numerous field trips to remote places often provide him with the footage for his stories.

Sanjaya’s stories have been published in desilit.org, dispatchlit.org, BTW magazine, splitlipmagazine.com, “At Home and Abroad: Prize-Winning Stories” by Joyous Publishing, Lost Coast Review by Avignon Press Books. His other publications include stories in ‘Anything Goes Volume I’, ‘Flash It’, ‘Heroes and Villains, ‘Coldnoon,’ ‘The Other.’

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