It's truly embarrassing when I get good grades at school. I hate being called a geek. When I got here 5 years ago, I had no idea why nobody liked being friends with me. Everyone would erupt into laughter the minute I raised my hand in class. They all started calling me "little miss know-it-all". I had very few friends. Going to school made me miserable. But coming back home was worse. Whenever Papa and Mama fought, I'd try to think of scenarios where my school bus just crashed on the way back home so that I'd not have to live through that day. Because all their arguments ended in the exact same way. The door would be locked and we'd hear scuffling noises from within. Pushing and pulling. Banging and beating. My mother's muffled screams would haunt my sister and I. And we'd try to go to sleep as early as 7 in the evening, pillows pressed against out ears, praying for sleep to take over our consciousness.
Soon enough, I learned how to survive at school. School started becoming more bearable when I pretended to be dumb and stopped raising my hand to even the most obvious and easiest of questions. They teachers were suspicious at first, but when the grades were announced, they were always happy with me. Because without fail, I'd score well. I'd top the class. Not because I wanted to. But because I had to. Or else, Papa would dedicate that evening to beating me, instead of my mother or my sister Rosie. He let Rosie go with time, once he realized that she wasn't miraculously going to start doing well in school. She was hardly ever interested in any subject and as her younger sister, the teachers probably expected the same from me. It came as a pleasant surprise to both them and my father when I showed my true potential in the initial years. That became the bane of my life, as Papa knew what to expect from me now. And I couldn't stop performing well, even if it meant a better time at school.
Today after the exam, when they asked me how it was, I told them the usual lie, "Oh, it was so hard, wasn't it? Wonder which asshole set the question paper this time!". Every single time. The same old lie. And the best thing is, it truly makes them happy when I say that. They don't pick at me. I don't have to worry about anything till the results are announced because that's when they start telling me how I always say exams are tough but end up scoring well anyway. But technically, I only said it was hard. Not that it was bad. There's a difference. Unfortunately for me, Papa was picking me up after the exam because the school bus does not operate during the exams. When I got into the car, he asked me the same question and because I was still tired from the exam and wasn't paying attention, I parroted the same answer that I was well-versed with over the years, except that I parroted the wrong answer and told him what I always tell my friends. That did it. For almost the entire ride home, let's just say he roared in the car, not giving me a chance to explain, making me hide my face in shame at all the red lights, telling me without even pausing for breath that I was a disappointment and that he was wasting his money on me by sending me to school. When he finally stopped talking, I could tell him that I was joking and that I actually did well and didn't even get a single question wrong. He remained silent for about 15 seconds and then roared again. This time, accusing me of lying to him. "So you've started lying to me as well.", he said. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible and lock myself in the bathroom because that's one place where nobody tries to get to me.
Mama is always fidgety and tense on days like these when Papa stays home so that he can drive us to school. On other days, she laughs too much and giggles like a child. I don't know which version I hate more. The first one spills food and apologizes too much. The second one giggles without reason and apologizes anyway. But there was something about her demeanor today that was strange. She seemed extra careful, extra fidgety and sometimes broke into whispers. I knew something bad was coming. And then she broke it to him. The bills had arrived. It's that time of the month when he blames us (mostly Mama) for even a single dollar increase in the bills. And as luck would have it, this month's phone bill was a lot worse than last month's because Mama's sister had undergone a surgery and she had to make a few international calls.
You know things are going to get worse when, after dinner, Papa fixes himself a drink and begins to smoke near the window. Mama cleans up in seconds on such days and retires to the bedroom, switching off all the lights and locking all the doors. Rosie and I lock our bedroom door and switch off the lights although we don't go to bed immediately. I try to read under the covers with a torch sometimes if it's peaceful. But today was not peaceful. We heard their bedroom door getting banged shut, followed by Mama's screams. I looked at Rosie who turned away from me on the bed and covered her exposed ear with a pillow. I put on my headphones, trying to shut out the noise and began writing this while tears ran down my cheeks, falling on to these pages so I'll know the next time I open this book that I'd been crying for my mother.
I don't know if all the noise has stopped but I'm going to. I just hope sleep comes fast.
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