A Larger Design by Rheea Mukherjee

 Mary Joy was studying the pattern on her beige sari, noticing for the first time that there were specks of blue that rested within the black flowers. As the bus swayed her body rhythmically to the roar of its engine, her finger traced the blue. When she looked up, she saw her daughter’s body halfway through the window, her legs dangling in the moving air. In the next second, her daughter was sucked out the opening and her slight body fell onto the road. The bus carried on for what seemed like minutes, but was only seconds. By then the whole bus was screaming, shrill voices created a thick and impenetrable fog around Mary Joy. Ladies pushed her like a herd of wild animals out of the bus. They were a heroic mass of flesh intent on saving the girl who had jumped out of the window.


Her daughter, Meena John, lay crumpled on the ground, her left cheek plastered to the red mud, her right leg twisted back, and her skirt all the way up to her head revealing the Donald Duck panties she had picked out yesterday in Cochin.  Her head was bruised; blood had formed a thick coat on the left side of her forehead. She made neither movement nor sound. Her eyes were open, and Mary Joy felt her heart rise with an entire second’s worth of relief. The bus driver, stalky and sweaty walked with confidence towards her, and as he picked her up, the passengers started to squirm and scream again. Meena John let out a shrill yelp, but did not give any other indication of pain. The driver yelled at everyone to get back in, he would find a way to get her to the hospital. Mary Joy, stunned and malleable walked back into the bus, her mind in fierce denial. Was it her daughter who had done that? Willingly jumped out of a bus? The driver put the fourteen year old on her mother’s lap, her legs stretched across the next seat; her body was inspected by all. Her right leg was ballooning, her head was scraped and her mouth bleeding. She would live for sure; it was the first coherent thought that entered Mary Joy’s head.


She placed her hand on her now whimpering daughter’s face as the bus throttled towards the nearest hospital.


Insanity, she thought, although expansive and potent, could be kept in check. It could be wrapped, stuffed, pushed and coddled into submission. This is what Mary Joy’s mother believed. Mary Joy was the only surviving sibling out of four. Three sisters lost to jumping from buildings, and the other to poisoning herself with a generic brand of rat poison. Only Mary had heeded her mother’s advice. She never allowed darkness to fully penetrate her body, never allowed the raging manic energy that followed to allow her to act out of the ordinary. She was a survivor. So when her mother found a match for her, her sisters were exterminated from history. Their existence not acknowledged. The small town being more helpful than nosy kept their mouths shut too, wanting the last daughter to have a real chance at life.  A well-kept secret. Mary Joy, the successful candidate, the battler of madness had made it through sixteen years of marriage only to be thwarted by her daughter.


Life is a series of tests. One must pass them all, as best as one can.  This was another gem from her mother’s trove of advice.


Meena’s eyes fluttered. The bus swayed to a stop. The bus driver yelled out to an autorickshaw that was parked next to a man selling tender coconut. A passenger throws her luggage into the auto, her daughter is lifted from her lap, and Mary Joy escorted out of the bus and into the auto. Meena groans in pain, her saliva seeping through her lips. The auto driver mumbles words of assurance. No passenger chaperones them, although many offer prayers and wishes from the window. To Mary, they sounded like an energetic chorus of a song she does not know.


‘Why Menu, why you jumped?’


She did not answer, but pointed to her leg that was broken. Mary nodded in acknowledgement. ‘The hospital is near, just few more minutes, just few more minutes.’


At the hospital her daughter is taken in and Mary Joy sits outside wondering if she should call her husband and tell him. But it would raise so many questions, why would Meena jump out of a bus? Why would she be sad? She has no reason to be. She had talked to her father every other night, reporting her daily holiday routine. Her vacation in Cochin was indulgent, her grandmother cooking chicken curry or chicken pepper-fry for her every night. Her evenings were spent with the neighbourhood kids, secrets being told from one teenager to the next. She even knew Meena liked that Mahesh, the neighbour boy. She had seen them holding hands behind the neem tree. She told her father that this had been the best summer ever, grandmother spoiling her as much as possible this time, knowing well she  would enter tenth standard next month, and have to concentrate on her board exams.


So how would her husband understand?


The doctor came out, his face was surprisingly fresh, and his stomach protruded only half an inch above his brown belt. ‘Any personal problem she is having? Some anxiety?’


‘No, Doctor.’


‘Better you talk to her gently, maybe some pressure from studies? She is ok, her ankle is fractured, minimum eight weeks in the cast, and then she can come back for a check-up at a hospital nearest you. You are travelling back to Bangalore, isn’t it? They are putting the cast on now, you please wait for five more minutes then go inside to see her.’


Mary Joy sits back down and looks at the time. 7:03 am. She thinks about the times she had wanted to jump. Once from her Mother’s terrace, it was raining and she was soaked. The darkness was pulling her in, a physical force that pushed her chest together crushing any need or desire to seek out another living moment. But she hadn’t jumped.


She thought of the day after her wedding, after her husband had made love to her. Her mother told her what it would be like, and he was very gentle. In fact she wasn’t shy, she enjoyed it. But after, she felt empty and she walked to the veranda. The sound of traffic from afar was distant, and the hum of his snore, prominent. The overpowering smell of jasmine and roses from her hair made her want to vomit. She wanted to jump then too, but realised she was only on the second floor and it wouldn’t really kill her.


Her daughter was a speck of blue, an offspring of a larger design. Before Mary Joy could think of other instances she had fought, a nurse stood in front of her, her starched outfit so thick, she could smell it. ‘Come inside, Madam, she is fine. Please talk with her.’


Meena was on the third bed. The room smelled of antiseptic and cotton. Her leg was held in white, her bruised forehead had been bandaged. Mary Joy’s heart sank as she captured this image. The line of normalcy blurred so easily. It blurred with the hesitancy in her daughter’s smile. Mary Joy smiled back, if only to assure for the moment, that bleakness was temporary.



Rheea Mukherjee received her MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ultra Violet, Southern Humanities Review, CHA: An Asian Literary Magazine, Bengal Lights, Foreign Flavors Anthology and A Gathering of Tribes. Her previous fiction has been a Top 25 finalist in Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Award. Her unpublished collection of stories, In These Cities We Dreamed, was a Semi-Finalist in the Black Lawrence Press, St Lawrence Book Award, 2011. She co-founded and facilitates Bangalore Writers Workshop. She lives and writes in Bangalore, India.