The Pictures On the Wall
By: Anuradha Dev
Akshay: Rhea, show me your home.
Akshay: I wanna see it. Take a video 📸 and send it to me.
Rhea: What? No. I’m busy.
Akshay: Doing what? Tweeting how pissed you are at the way minorities are being treated in India. What’s the point? You are not a celebrity. Nobody follows you.
Rhea: You obviously do. Ha!
“Mom, Akshay is coming over,” my sixteen-year-old daughter Rhea says, pausing the video before resuming ‘Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj’ on Netflix.
“Okay.” Then I do a double-take. “Who is coming?”
“Akshay. I told you about him. He is a friend.”
I nod and go to my room. Sitting on the bed I close my eyes, trying to calm my racing heart.
Technically, I don’t know Akshay.
I only know him through the chats I have read between him and Rhea.
I know he writes poetry and stories. He loves reading. Paulo Coelho is his favorite author. Like me, he is an atheist. He is the youngest of four siblings and the only boy. He plays squash at The Residency Club daily. He is playful and cocky. He is smart and sensitive. Rhea’s jokes make him laugh. He likes Rhea. And I like him.
He is a sixteen-year-old boy for god’s sake. Get a grip.
I stand to tidy my room. While organizing the bookshelf, I realize the futility of the act as I am pretty sure he won’t step a foot in here. Moving over to the living room, I nag Rhea to clean her room. Rhea picks up her cellphone. I picture her texting Akshay.
Rhia: I hate you. Because of you, I have to clean my room now.
Akshay: I’m sorry. 😔 Don’t do it. I would like to see your mess.
Rhia: Ah, it’s okay. I’ll do it. My mom wouldn’t let me off.
Akshay: Be ready. I’m coming. 🏃
Not that I have to imagine what is being said. At night when Rhea surrenders her phone, I read their chat. I have been doing this for a while. She doesn’t know that I know her password. It’s my guilty pleasure. My youth was humdrum. Kids these days are doing more and interacting with each other openly. I want to be part of this. And this is the only way I can.
It feels wrong. But I can’t seem to stop myself.
Rhea: I am bored.
Akshay: Let’s play a game. I will say a word and you have to tell any bizarre fact about it and if you can’t you can make it up.
Rhea: I am not as creative as you.
Akshay: You never know.
Rhea: Okay. Never back down from a challenge. 😎
Akshay: That’s my girl. 😤
Rhea: I am not your girl.
Rhea: Lol. Start the game.
Rhea: What? I don’t know. This is stupid. No, wait. Sylvia Plath. She commited suicide by sticking her head in an oven.
Reading her chats with Akshay is like reading a fascinating dialogue-driven story. A story whose characters I have fallen in love with. I know so many things about my daughter now. She is smart, funny, and passionate about fighting for minorities. Although Akshay makes fun of her, I can sense he admires her for that.
I have never seen him. Not even a picture.
He comes at 3:45 pm, fifteen minutes early. He is tall and lean with long locks falling on his forehead. With a pair of spectacles, a backpack on the left shoulder, dressed in a black hoodie and jeans, he looks good. His walk is tentative.
I want to sit with them and discuss school politics, Shadow hunters books, Marvel movies and Lauv music. But I have become a teenager myself. I say an awkward, “hi,” and dismiss them.
They go to Rhea’s room and close the door. But it’s okay. I know this guy and trust him.
I sit in the living room, debating whether to ask if they would like something to eat or drink. But I don’t want them to think I am checking on them, so I don’t.
They have a class together at 6 p.m. Rhea comes running down the stairs. They are late.
“Mom, can we go to the class together in Akshay’s car?”
I watch him coming down the stairs slowly, one step at a time, taking in all the pictures of Rhea’s childhood on the wall and the books on the bookcase in the living room. And then, he looks at me.
He gives me a sideways glance without a smile.
I have never wanted to be in a person’s mind so much.
I watch them go, hoping to see him again, knowing very well that I am just an interesting thing, like the pictures on the wall, for him. Nothing more.