Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Like most girls, Shreya was crazy about shopping. Much as she loved stacking the shelves of her wardrobe with new buys, she was extremely attached to one particular T-shirt.
As T-shirts go, it was no great shakes. It didn’t have sequins, it didn’t have an unusual print; it didn’t have lace trimmings nor did it have words of sassy wisdom splashed across it. Yet, it enjoyed the pride of the place in Shreya’s wardrobe.
There was a reason for this, of course. (Shreya was a reasonable girl.) She believed, from the bottom of her heart, that this T-shirt brought her luck. She had first worn it during the inter-collegiate culturals and a most bizarre thing happened. An out-of-her-league kind of guy, the kind who wouldn’t have tossed her a second look if she had been the only girl alive, had actually asked her out.
She happened to don it again for an elocution contest she had been pushed into by zealous classmates. Needless to say, she was thoroughly unprepared. Unprepared for the competition, unprepared for the magical burst of oratorical ability she magically acquired, unprepared for the thumping victory that followed.
Was it possible that the T-shirt was her lucky charm? Shreya devised an ingenious plan to confirm her suspicions. Exams were right around the corner. For the last paper alone, she decided not to burn the midnight oil. She did away with the books, carelessly chucked the notes, and turned up at the examination hall in, you guessed it, her lucky T-shirt.
Sure enough, the exam was a cakewalk for her. While her friends struggled for an entire three hours, she flew out of the examination hall in a record one and a half hours. She had all the proof she needed. Her T-shirt was her lucky charm, indeed.
Time flew. College was as good as over. Campus placements were a week away. While everyone bit their nails, Shreya polished hers.
Her friends couldn’t make sense of her attitude. Akansha, the most upfront of the lot confronted her, “Shreya, what’s with you, girl? Don’t you care about your future?” Shreya, smothered a yawn and replied, “Sure, I care. I just don’t worry. Like some other people I know.”
The first day of recruitments sprung surprises galore. The top three companies, the ones most students had set their hearts on, stayed away. Left with little choice, disappointed students went in for the second rung companies. Shreya deliberately teamed up a black blazer with a white shirt and fared miserably at all the group discussions.
She knew exactly what she wanted. Nothing but the best. And till that happened, she would wait it out. After four action-packed days, the top three companies finally showed up. Shreya was the only one recruited that day.
Akansha gave her a big hug but when she drew back, she saw the same matter-of-fact look in Shreya’s eyes. Concerned, she asked Shreya, “What’s the matter, sweety? You don’t look thrilled. This is your dream come true, right? ” Shreya shrugged, “It’s no big deal. I saw it coming.” Shreya walked away from her. Which was kind of symbolic because soon, they went separate ways.
They met years later at Akansha’s wedding. The friends compared notes. “So what’s happening with you? Do I hear wedding bells in the near future?” asked Akansha. “Very near future,” Shreya confirmed with a laugh. “Wow!” squealed Akansha. “So, you found your Prince Charming!” Shreya nodded. Akansha held her at arm’s length and peered into her inscrutable face. “At least show some enthusiasm now, Shreya. Aren’t you happy? Is everything ok?”
Shreya swallowed hard. She could feel a lump rising in her throat. Akansha would have loved to press on further but a gaggle of girls swooped upon them and dragged her away.
Left alone, Shreya was forced to face her fears. What the hell’s wrong with me, she thought. I have everything a girl could possibly want. A great job, a lovely family. Soon, I will be married to a terrific guy. Rumi was the man of her dreams. The kind, caring, VP marketing of a reputed firm had fallen for her the moment he had seen her. It had taken him three meetings to decide she was The One.
At that fateful third meeting, she turned up in a smart denim jacket thrown over a faded blue tee. Rumi didn’t betray any surprise over at the girl’s choice of attire. He was floored by what he assumed was the girl’s feisty spirit. She had known all along that he would say ‘yes’. The charm of the tee was such, she thought bitterly. Surprising herself in the process. All these years, having a lucky mascot by her side had seemed enough. Why was she finding fault with it now? It had served her and well. Not once had it let her down. It was bridal nerves, that’s what it was, Shreya decided.
But the niggling worm of doubt turned a deaf ear to all her justifications. It tailed her all the way home. She kept tossing and turning in bed all night long. Was Akansha right? Was she unhappy? Had knowing things beforehand robbed her of the pleasure of enjoying them when they actually materialised? She tried to visualise all the momentous events in her life. She saw only her vacant eyes and listless expression. She had turned into a zombie.
Heavily accustomed to the good life, she had stopped appreciating the good things in life. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to imagine the bride she would make.
By the time her eyes flew open, her mind was made. She knew what she had to do. At the unearthly hour of five, Shreya tiptoed out of her house.
At six in the morning, Chitra, on her daily morning walk, stumbled upon a small package, washed ashore by the waves. She tore it open only to find a faded blue tee fraying at the edges. At the same time, the hunk who jogged past her every morning, waved at her. For the first time in two years, he shed his indifference and waved at her. There was nothing different about her this morning. Same old ponytail, same old track pants, she thought as her eyes trailed down to the faded blue tee she was clutching in her hands. That’s when she had a Eureka moment. The tee! It was the tee that brought her luck. Overjoyed, Chitra hugged her lucky mascot close and pledged never to let it out of her sight.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
About the Author
Vibha Batra is an Indian citizen. She is a copywriter by profession and fiction writer by passion. Her literary pursuits took off when she translated her grandfather Late Shri Vishnu Kant Shastri’s book on the Ishaavaasya Upanishad. It was published by Rupa and Co in 2007 and well received by the literary world. A collection of satirical poetry titled Tongue in Cheek soon followed. Then came a collection of short stories called A Twist of Lime. Her work has been anthologised in Vanilla Desires, Just Plain Bad Luck, Ripples, Indian Voices, Happy Birthday To Me, and the Chicken Soup series. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in many magazines – Dignity Dialogue, Kritya, Muse, Jaalmag, and LongStoryShort, to name a few. She won the ‘Remix, Retell and Rejoice with Chuskit’ Contest held by Pratham Books earlier this year. She is eagerly awaiting the publication of her first novel and hopes to write a screenplay soon.
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