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Stories. 
Of Horns and Bumps
by Devika Rangachari

“I wonder,” said my mother, a trifle pensively, “if you’ll still be talking to me this time next week.”

My hands flew to my throat and I felt anxiously for bumps.

“What do you mean?” I demanded. “My tonsils haven’t swollen or anything.”

My mother smiled and shook her head. “My baby will be a teenager this time next week. That’s why.”

“Why—are teenagers silent people or what?”

“No, no,” my mother laughed. “It’s just that teenagers seem to grow up so fast and….you know—you’ll probably be so busy with a hundred and one things that you won’t have any time for chatting with your good old Mum.”

“I’ll always have time for my good old Mum—even when I’m hundred and one,” I chanted.

“Gosh! I’m a poet—that nearly rhymes.”

“Get on with you,” my mother tweaked my plait and I ran off to the bus-stop. I caught up with Uma at the corner.

“Just wait till you hear what my mother said,” I chuckled.

“Wait till you hear what mine said,” Uma sounded really exasperated. “It’s as if I’ll be growing horns in ten days time and I’ll be this crazy monster in the house—snapping and snarling and baring my fangs.”

“Don’t tell me!” I was deeply impressed. “This thirteenth birthday is really something, isn’t it?”

“I am not looking forward to it,” grumbled Uma. “I wish I could be twelve for ever and ever.”

“Don’t be silly,” I said briskly. “I can’t wait to be a teenager if it means all this! And,” I added solemnly, “I’ll let you know if I grow horns or anything—so that you’re prepared.”

Uma’s birthday was three days after mine but, as she always reminded me, she was the wiser and more sensible one of the two of us.

I fingered my spectacles and said thoughtfully—“You know, if I grew horns, I could hang my specs on them. I won’t need a specs-case then. What do you think?”

Uma tossed her head irritably and punched my arm. “You’re such a pain,” she barked. “I just don’t know why I put up with you.”

I didn’t blame her for her bad mood. The poor girl had been having a rough time these past few weeks. Her mother was so full of strange ideas and dire prophecies about teenagers that it often felt as if we would metamorphose into these unpleasant, ghastly creatures the very instant we turned thirteen.

That evening, Vasu and I walked over to Uma’s place. Vasu was jabbering excitedly about some complex algebraic homework that we had been set. She wanted to know if I had solved the fifth question and if so, how exactly did one multiply a and b and..

“Vasu, please!” I begged. “I did those sums in a trance. They were really awful and I don’t want to think about them again.”

“I know,” Vasu said sympathetically. “You must be so excited about turning thirteen. Gosh! You two are really lucky! I have a full year to catch up—I’m such a kid.”

I hastened to cheer her up—she sounded so doleful.

“Look, Vasu, I don’t think it’s such a big deal. And sometimes it seems quite scary, you know. People say so many things about becoming a teenager and..”

The door opened and Uma’s mother looked out.

“Come in,” she said. “I hope you girls will pay attention to your studies too. Your chatting sessions will just grow longer and longer from next week.”

Vasu looked slightly puzzled but I hustled her into Uma’s room where we beheld the occupant staring distractedly into the mirror.

“What’s up?” I chirped.

“A nasty red boil,” she snapped. “And—let me warn you—Mummy says teenagers usually have a forest of pimples and bumps on their faces.”

“Really? This grows more and more interesting!” I remarked. “What else happens? Ask Aunty whether our hair will twist into coils or stand up like spikes or..”

“Ask her yourself,” Uma retorted. “What will I do if my face is full of boils?”

“Why don’t you wait till that happens and then decide?” I said. “For all you know, they could prove a boon. You could tell everyone you’re boiling with rage and show your face as proof or..”

Uma threw a cushion at me.

“Hey, you two, “ Vasu chimed in nervously. “Let’s decide what to do for your birthdays. I’ll be baking you cakes—you know that.”

We nodded and licked our lips in anticipation. Vasu was something of a baking expert.

“Could you make mine big?” I asked suddenly. “For thirteen candles?”

“What?” Vasu exclaimed. “They wouldn’t fit. No-one has these many candles on a cake.”

“I will,” I said obstinately. “This is a special birthday. “I won’t be thirteen every other day.”

“You can’t have thirteen candles then,” Vasu’s chin wobbled in apprehension. “It’s bad luck. You should have fourteen—one for good luck, you know.”

“Whatever you say,” I said affably. “You’re sure it’s no problem making the cake?”

“No.”

My head was suddenly bursting with brilliant ideas. “And I’ll have thirteen balloons and thirteen streamers and..”

“And thirteen guests and thirteen dishes?” Uma asked sarcastically. “My mother says teenagers are usually unreasonable and stubborn—and here you are proving what she says.”

Before I could respond, Uma’s mother walked in with a laden tray.

“Would you like samosas?”

“Yes, please,” we chorused.

“And cream wafers?”

“Yes!”

“And orange squash?”

“Yes!”

She put the tray down. “Mark my words,” she said darkly. “You won’t be saying ‘yes’ for too long. The first word a teenager usually learns is ‘no’.”

Uma raised her eyebrows in mock despair and I waggled mine back in sympathetic response. Vasu simply looked dumbstruck.

That night I thought I would put myself to the test—just to check if I was going to be pure teenage material. I said ‘no’ to the hot, stuffed parathas and to potatoes and peas jostling in a delectable gravy, and nibbled perversely on bits of crunchy, boring salad. But my resolution failed me when the ice-cream was passed round. As chunks of vanilla slid down my throat, I felt faintly worried. What if I wasn’t a proper teenager?

Over the next few days, Uma informed me that I would probably take to wearing outrageously mismatched clothes, spend all my free time on the ’phone, wear myself away in giggling fits and weep and throw tantrums at a moment’s notice. Well, I did three of those already. The ’phone was a good friend, my giggling was a byword in the family and the sight of any Maths. work usually unlocked my tears and tantrums. But what did this mean—that I was already part-teenager? It was all very confusing.

The night before my thirteenth birthday, I thought of the year gone by and of the morrow. And suddenly, all my excitement dissolved in a rising wave of panic.

“Something the matter?’ my mother asked. “You’re usually dancing about on the eve of your birthday.”

“Mummy,” my voice quavered, “Isn’t there some way to skip my thirteenth birthday? You know—just jump across to my fourteenth birthday somehow?”

“But why?’ my mother laughed. “I thought you were looking forward to it.”

“I was. But..” I paused, my head a jumble of thoughts. And then it all came out—all that bit about changing and doing weird things and becoming hugely different and so on.

At the end of it, my mother ruffled my hair and said firmly—“Your teenage years will be some of the most wonderful years of your life—starting from tomorrow. Just wait and see. Don’t you realize—you’ll be finishing school and joining college all in your teenage years? So you will grow, you will change—everyone does—but in a nice way. I’m sure of that. No horns or anything.” And we giggled together.

Uma called very early the next morning. “Look, if you’re still stuck on that ‘thirteen’ thing, I thought I’d sing ‘Happy birthday’ to you thirteen times.”

“Not fourteen?” I asked. “Remember what Vasu said?”

“Don’t push your luck,” she said sourly and I settled back to enjoy myself.

Well, it’s been a month since my thirteenth birthday—and Uma’s. Neither of us feel a bit different—no growing horns, no sprouting face and no funny behavior. Nothing at all. And the odd thing is, Uma’s mother is back to normal. No more prophecies, no more dark threats. Uma thinks she was just being jittery about the birthday since it’s an important one but I think she was just trying to tease Uma. Sometimes parents can behave as strangely as teenagers are supposed to do!

Anyway, it’s rather nice to be thirteen. It makes you feel grown up and special—the kind of feeling you get at the start of the holidays when you know that lots of nice days lie ahead. Vasu can’t wait to catch up!   

Image under license with gettyimages.com

2-Jul-2006
 
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