Layla walks with her parents, beaming with pride. She has ranked first in her class and second in all the sections of 6th grade. At the parent-teacher meeting, all her teachers were all praise for her, gushing about her performance in her exams and her conduct throughout the academic year. Layla’s parents are proud. Underneath the smiles, however, a deep frown is etched.
Layla’s mother is a housewife who occasionally takes to stitching and weaving when the family is unable to make ends meet. Her husband regularly sweeps the streets and empty’s the dustbins into a large trash container that the municipality trucks come to carry away every morning. Layla’s grandmother screams at the top of her lungs almost all the time. She keeps complaining about things and the family’s behavior when clearly the family does her no wrong.
Layla’s mother explains this to her as old age. But as far as Layla could remember, her grandma always whined about something or the other. When she slept, the entire house breathed a sigh of relief. Layla was guilty to harbor negative feelings for her grandmother but she couldn’t hold them back either. The day when 6th grade ended and summer vacation commenced was a particularly happy one for Layla though. She didn’t even feel annoyed or hurt when her grandmother screamed at her for not getting her food for her on time.
Layla was ready to kill the summer break with plays and games with her friends from the neighbor. But as the days stretched from June to July, Layla’s mother kept training her on domestic work. Household work, she said, was a woman’s jewel. Layla didn’t agree though. She dreamt big. She wanted to stand in front of a class and teach the young ones. She didn’t care about which spice to add to a certain dish.
Layla rolls up her sleeves. The cold pricks her skin and her the tiny hair on her arm stands. In no time, however, they settle down, as her muscles heat up with the movement of her arms that knead the dough with warm water. The kind neighbor’s lady who hired Layla instructs her about her next task of doing the launder before putting the round chapattis on the stove. Her dough is almost ready. As she prepares to cover it up with a cloth, Layla traces an ‘A’ through the soft skin of the kneaded dough.
She smiles lightly and twists the dough to shift its position. Layla kneads the dough a little more to ensure that the A is erased and then sets it aside. The tiles of the little washroom where Layla does the launder are cold. The water is extra cold and Layla’s hands turn crisp, as she mixes the surf in the cold water and starts washing off the stains from the dresses. Later on, as Layla hangs the clothes on a line to dry them, she peers inside and sees fat books sitting open on the floor inside. Her employer’s arrogant daughter, who shares Layla’s age, has the least respect for her books.