Alisha woke up with a start, looking around the room with droopy eyes. Soft yellow light bathed the walls, candle lights flickering softly in the mild breeze that the curtained windows let in. Squinting at the silver and gold streamers shimmering on the wall across from her, she gasped. Large lettering shone off the wall ahead, though she could only see the first bits and the last, thanks to her parents crowding her and blocking her view. ‘HA … Y’ stood tall over ‘BIR …DAY’ at the bottom. Confetti floated around her and settled everywhere – in her hair, in the folds of the bed sheets, on the cake that her mom held in her hands. For a second, her face fell. Why had she thought her friends would be here? She was three hundred kilometers away from home. ‘Ex-home, Alisha.’ she said to herself. This, here, was home now, thanks to her father’s official transfers as part of an active army life.
And then, her eyes fell on the cake. Thirteen little candles flickered, hot wax slowly melting in the heat. As she moved close to it, heavenly aromas – chocolate and berries, she decided as she sniffed the air – wafted up to her nose. Looking up at her mom, a pang of guilt suddenly seized her. Her parents had been trying hard to get her settled in, filling in the void left by friends, trying to make her feel comfortable in the new alien land so she wouldn't feel left out, and yet Alisha had been acting difficult. But deep down in her heart, she knew her rebellion was simply an act she was putting on to prove her point that the move was a bad idea. In reality, there were bits and pieces here that were starting to interest her.
“Happy Birthday, beta! You’re going to love this! Here …” Her father sang, as he handed over a guitar to his daughter. Alisha's heart sang with joy at the sight of the guitar but she couldn’t bear to meet his eye. Her first report card at the new school, a mix of Cs and Ds, had been the worst so far; she had barely scraped through. She had been so mortified that she had hidden it under her pillow as soon as she had come home from school. Now, she felt the stinging sensation of shame deep within. And she knew she had to confess, get it off her chest.
“There is something I have to tell you first. I lied to you. The report card …” She started, unwilling to look up at any of their faces.
“But it’s your birthday today. We can talk about all this later.” Her mother replied softly.
“But Ma … I feel so …I’m … I’m sorry. The report card … I didn't …” She stammered.
“We already know about it, Alisha. Tough to keep secrets from your Mom.” Her father remarked with a chuckle.
Alisha’s eyes opened wide at the realization that her embarrassment was out in the open.
“But how … and still you bought me the guitar?” Her face was a mix of expressions – incredulity clouding the shame underneath.
Her parents exchanged a knowing smile.
“Because your teacher also told us about your school trip to the Heritage Elder care home. I heard you sang for the seniors? And you didn't want to leave them even as the others couldn’t wait to get out? Ms. Kannan couldn’t stop talking about you – she was so full of awe.” Her father answered.
“I’m not too worried about your grades, Alisha. I trust you, and your Dad and I are always around to help you. I know you will figure it out. Knowing you, you will catch up pretty easily. But you got to be a good human being first. Compassionate and helpful. And that trumps everything else." Her mother said softly.
“Literacy comes easy. Education has got to be earned. And you, my child, you've made us so proud today.” Her father remarked.
“Now come on, make a wish and blow the candles out. Otherwise, I’ll make you eat the wax too.” Her mom said with a smile.
Alisha felt warm inside. No wonder she had resonated with the elders at the old age home. It was a beautiful feeling to be cared for. She still missed her friends and it would be tough to fill the void, but she also knew she would be fine. Leaning forward, she closed her eyes and made her wish. Sooner or later, she would fall in love with this place too!
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