True Courage

People are brave in different ways. Some in more obvious ways and some in ways that are more interesting! 

Courage, to Aparna had always meant something spectacular- like rescuing people from a river or braving a raging fire. But that was before the end of the year treat. The end of the year treat was a tradition for Aparna’s group and this year they planned to watch a film before eating their favourite fast food. But the day before the treat Aparna heard two bits of upsetting news that took all the joy out of the outing.

The first was that her little sister Arpita wanted to join them. Aparna didn’t want to take her, but unable to resist the tears in Arpita’s pleading eyes, she had to agree. But any fears she had about Arpita joining the treat seemed tame when she heard the other news – that their classmate Uma was joining them.

 “Can you imagine?” Rina moaned. “Having Uma with us?” 

It was a truly horrible idea, having Uma along on a day you were supposed to enjoy. Uma was the sort of girl who always found something nasty to say to others. She seemed to have the gift of saying things that hurt people. If you were in the wrong uniform, it would always be Uma’s gleeful voice that called out, “Looks like someone is going to get into trouble!” It was always Uma who found something funny about people’s names. And it had to be Uma who had started calling Amber, Amberger, Uma’s evil genius that had renamed   Aparna Aprona, Shalini Shall-we and so on. And to think of spending a fun day with this same Uma!

By the time she was ready for the day Aparna had decided it was doomed to failure. Arpita, on the other hand, was bouncing around in joy at the thought of going out with her sister’s friends.

Her friends were waiting for her and when Rina said, “Uma isn’t here. Perhaps she’s not coming….?” Aparna allowed hope to surge for a minute.  Uma walked up at that moment, eyes darting around, looking for things to poke fun at, details that would transform normal,
happy people into embarrassed ones.

“Hi Aprona, Rin! Hi Shall-we!” she said cheerfully, just as she always did, blind to the fact that no one was laughing at the silly names. “And who,” she asked, noticing Arpita, “is this?”

“My sister,” Aparna said. “Arpita!”

“Hi,” Uma said. “Harpic!” Aparna and her friends gasped. How could Uma pick on a little girl?

“Hi,” Arpita said and her matter-of-fact manner made Aparna feel suddenly proud of her sister. “What’s your name?”

“Uma,” Uma said. “So…”

“Upma?” Arpita asked with an innocent look. Everyone looked at Uma, wondering how she was going to react to being made the butt of her own joke. For a minute Uma stood frozen.

Then she laughed loudly. “Nice,” she said. “Arpita. Don’t you agree Shalini? Rina?”

Aparna stared in amazement at her sister, who had opened her eyes to the different kinds of courage and helped her see that they didn’t all require leaping into burning buildings or raging rivers.

This story was published in Young World, the children’s pages of The Hindu.


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