The Role-play A Short Story By Varalotti Rengasamy “Dad, are you ready for our game? I am going to act as your mom for a while. OK?” Shiva just smiled. As a child Priya used to imitate her grandmother’s voice and order Shiva around. Now years after her grandmother’s death they used to have this role-play quite often especially when she wanted to communicate something important. Priya had lost her mother when she was barely seven. Shiva was devastated by his wife’s untimely death while delivering a stillborn child. Theirs was a fairy-tale marriage with no room for conflicts, not even arguments. This only served to multiply the pain caused by his wife’s death. Priya became his world after that. Shiva who used to work for twelve hours a day in his own business leased it out and spent almost all the time with his daughter. Priya took her father’s love for granted till she started college. Then her aunt, Shiva’s sister, told her about her father’s sacrifice of not marrying a second time for Priya’s sake. Her father was hardly forty and looked great at that age. Priya wanted to do something about that and that prompted her to initiate the role-play now. Priya’s voice changed to the baritone, authoritative voice of Shiva’s mother. “Shiva, you are only forty and still look very young. Why don’t you marry again and bring home a mother for Priya?” Shiva also played along. “But, Ma, you know the last thing I want in this world is step-motherly treatment for my darling Priya.” “All step-mothers do not act in a step-motherly way. Don’t be carried away by the stereotypes you might have seen in the old movies and novels. You choose a girl; let Priya talk to her and approve your selection. OK?” “But Ma, why don’t you leave me alone and let me have my way?” “No Shiva. I won’t. I am using my authority as your mother and order you to marry. If you still refuse, then Priya will leave you and stay in her college hostel. She will not even come home during the weekends. Do you want that to happen, Shiva?” It was only then that Shiva understood the significance of the role-play. He ended the game abruptly and started shouting at his daughter. “Priya, enough is enough. I know you are acting on somebody’s instructions. Why don’t you behave like a teen-aged girl and keep to your ways?” “Shiva, the game is not over. And I meant every word of what I said.” Then Priya shifted to her usual soft voice, which was now choked. “Yes, Dad, I do mean it and I do want a mother. Won’t you do that for me?” All of Shiva’s pleadings and arguments went into Priya’s deaf ears. Within six months Shiva married Rekha, a thirty five year old college professor in a simple ceremony. Priya who had been deprived of her mother’s love for years did not leave Rekha’s side even for a second. She called her Ma and would lie in Rekha’s lap most of the time while she was home. Whenever she wanted to shop for anything she would insist that Rekha should come along with her and approve her selection. When Rekha’s birthday came she conspired with her father to get an exquisite diamond necklace for her stepmother. And she would not go to sleep unless Rekha read some story to her. For a while Rekha was also overwhelmed with Priya’s love and responded to it with equal fervour. Shiva was on Cloud Nine because he had found almost a perfect substitute for Priya’s deceased mother. But slowly Rekha started avoiding Priya’s company. She would come a little late every evening and carefully avoided spending time with Priya. When Priya called her out for shopping she would feign some headache and refuse to go. Rekha was not harsh or cruel to Priya but the fact that she no longer reciprocated Priya’s love was very clear. Then the situation deteriorated even further. One evening Priya had returned late from a shopping trip to which Rekha had flatly refused to go. Shiva was in the study. “Hai Mom, see, what I have brought for you?” Priya was dangling a gift parcel in her hands affectionately, looking at her stepmother. “Priya, it’s almost ten. You are a grown up girl and should have the sense to return home before dark. And never go alone for a shopping trip late in the evening. Okay?” “But Ma, I did call you and you said that you are busy otherwise and so I was forced to go alone. I wanted to buy a good nightdress for you as I heard you telling Papa that you wanted to have one. I had to go to the other end of the town to get good ones. Anyhow I am sorry and I promise I will never be late again.” “And Priya, stop this habit of talking back to your parents. It doesn’t look nice.” Priya was baffled. She saw Rekha sitting on the sofa. Priya’s love towards Rekha was so great that she was not annoyed even by the latter's blatant rebuff. She was only surprised. She ran into Rekha’s lap. “Why Ma, any problem in your college? Looks like somebody has spoilt your moods.” “WILL YOU PLEASE GET UP, PRIYA? You are not a baby to lie in my lap. You are a teenaged girl and try to behave like one. I DON’T WANT YOU TO LIE IN MY LAP OR FOR THAT MATTER EVEN TOUCH ME. IS THAT CLEAR?” Priya was shocked into tears, which she could not control. She ran to her room without a word.