“I hear your daughter’s done pretty well for herself, eh, Hansa? Winning that science prize?”
“She has, yes.”
It was hard for Hansa to stop beaming. Ever since Talika’s photograph had appeared in the local paper, she’d been quietly walking on air, although she didn’t like to boast.
“You must be so proud of her. And she’s been given a scholarship to study at university, I hear?”
Hansa stopped packing the shelves long enough to straighten up and ease her back.
“That’s right,” she smiled. “That will make a big difference, I can tell you. She just can’t decide which subjects she’d like to study.”
Talika had always been bright and after primary school she had won a place at the best high school in town.
Hansa checked the cucumbers in the salad section and made a note to have more brought through from the cool room at the back. And the beetroots were past their best. Out they’d go, the minute Savers closed for the night. Hansa prided herself on the way she managed the fruit and vegetable section in the supermarket.
She’d won a prize herself last year, for the Best-Kept Section in the store. Mr Singh had called everyone together just before opening and announced it. She’d won vouchers for a meal for two at an excellent restaurant in town, and Mr Harrison had shaken her hand warmly as he handed over the envelope and everyone clapped.
“Hansa Anand is a real Savers success story,” he said. “She started as a shelf packer at the age of 16 and today she’s manager of the fruit and veg section and one of our most-treasured long-term employees.”
Hansa had blushed scarlet. She hated the fuss. But she’d taken Talika along and they’d enjoyed a lovely meal.
Talika’s room was full of little silver cups and framed awards she’d garnered all through her school career, and Hansa delighted in keeping them dusted, smiling with pride when she did so. She couldn’t understand how her daughter could be so dismissive of these.
“They’re only cups, Mum,” said Talika. “My Maths cup for Form four—honestly, why are you even keeping this?”
“So you can show your own daughter some day,” said Hansa.
“I wish I’d had even one silver cup to boast about!!”
But of course she hadn’t. Hansa had been a very average student, although she’d enjoyed History, but she’d had to leave school at 14 to help her mother raise her three little brothers. Then she’d married herself, and later nursed Arjun through his dreadful final illness—there’d never been the time or opportunity to do what Talika was so casually taking for granted.
“We’re so pleased with Talika,” Miss Muhammed her school’s headmistress had been speaking to Hansa at the final parents’ evening. “She is such a talented child. She’s academic, she’s a wonderful little artist and she’s a natural athlete.”
“I think she’s more or less decided to study Science,” said Hansa, basking in this praise for her daughter.
“I’m delighted. Science is my subject too. But she’ll do well, whatever path she finally chooses, I’m sure.
I don’t mind telling you, Mrs Anand, your daughter is one of the brightest girls it’s ever been my privilege to teach and I shall watch her career with great interest.”
Hansa had savoured every word and gleefully reported back to Talika who was unimpressed.
“I hope she doesn’t think I’m going to spend the rest of my life bending over some smelly test tube,” she said. “I don’t even like Science that much.”
Talika, in fact, seemed less than excited by her academic success. She’d joined a pottery group and now that her finals were over, she was spending every spare moment in the studio, coming home with clay under her nails. The pots she brought back were beautifully glazed and she seemed prouder of them than all her school awards. She’d always loved Art classes but as her teachers had pointed out, she was far too academically gifted to consider Art as a career. Her Maths teacher seemed to think that studying Art was on a par with sweeping the streets.
This morning, as she brought her daughter’s clean laundry and put it on her bed, she ran her hand over Talika’s shelves of school books. Hansa had done her best to keep up with Talika’s English reading, and although she had found it difficult to begin with, she had gradually started to enjoy the classic literature her daughter studied.
King Lear—that one had been so sad, the poor old King. And Hamlet—
she had loved that one. And Merchant of Venice—now that had been a really clever plot. Shakespeare must have been a brilliant man, thought Hansa, what with writing those poems and sonnets and whatnot.
And her History books! Hansa had devoured these, much to Talika’s amusement.
War, Nations and Memory; that one had left Hansa astonished. All that plotting and intrigue from every nation, while the men on both sides were going off to war and getting killed, and for what? Political reasons, and it made her sick. And this big one called The Modern World, her favourite.
Hansa sat down on the bed, opening it at the chapter about the Cold War. She could remember hearing about the Berlin Wall, although at the time she’d never paid much attention. Then all that excitement when it came down and the Germans could be together again. Hansa wished she’d been interested when she was younger, there was just so much to know and she doubted she’d ever catch up.
Lucky Talika, to have all this knowledge already, and to be going off to learn more.
“Hi Mum!” Talika pounded up the stairs. “I wondered where you were. You and these books! I think I’m going to toss out the lot, anyway, and make room for new stuff.”
“Toss these? Cerainly not!” said Hansa indignantly. “I’ll keep them in my room! Well, not the Maths and Physcis books, but all your History textbooks. And your English set works. I loved Catcher in the Rye,
I could read it over and over.”
“Be my guest.” Talika took down the books and started to pile them up. “Mum, I’ve got to tell you something.”
Hansa went cold. Talika sounded so serious.
“I’ve decided I want to study Ceramics.”
“You mean, pottery? But they don’t offer that at University, sweetheart.”
“I know Mum. I don’t want to go to university.”
Hansa’s knees literally gave way and she sat down with a thump.
“There’s this amazing potter I’ve met, Aaral Kuma,” went on Talika. “She’s world-famous, Mum, she’s won all sorts of international awards. And she’s just started offering full-time classes and she’ll take four students as residents in her studio. I’ll get to learn everything, Mum; she’s the best!”
“But making pots isn’t education!” said Hansa. “It’s a craft. Like-like knitting.”
“You’re wrong Mum, these days it’s called ceramic sculpture and it’s an art form. And I’m absolutely loving these pottery classes I’m doing. I just feel I’ve found what I want to do.”
“But sweetheart, you’ve got such excellent prospects if you study Science. Miss Muhammed told me.”
“Miss Muhammed loves science and wants everyone to do her pet subject. Mum, I know I did okay-“
“Okay? ‘A+’ all the way through school is more than okay-” interrupted Hansa. “And the same for Maths. You can’t let a brain like yours go to waste, Talika, it would be a crime!”
“It would be a crime to start doing something I don’t want to do, just to please my old headmistress,” said Talika firmly. “All through school, everyone’s told me I’m such an academic star. But I’m a creative person too, Mum, like you, and it’s the creative part of me that I want to develop.”
“Like me? I’m not one bit creative,” said Hansa faintly.
“Of course, you are. What about the sweaters you knit, without even a pattern? And that lovely wall hanging you made from bits of old fabric and beads all mixed together?”
“I just like to keep my hands busy.”
“Yes, well… I’ve spoken to Aaral Kuma and shown her the pottery I made and she’s willing to accept me as a student, which is a huge honour, I’m very lucky.”
“But you have a full bursary for the university, how can we hope to pay for this new idea of yours? And boarding with her? That will cost a fortune.”
“No, it won’t Mum. She’s agreed to let me work in the studio to pay for the course. I’ll mix the glazes and stack the kilns and do all the donkey-work in exchange for my tuition. And I’ll be learning all the time. She usually only lets the students mix glazes in their second year.”
Talika looked so excited and hopeful, Hansa didn’t have the heart to protest any more.
“Perhaps they’ll keep your place at the university,” she said bleakly. “For when you change your mind.”
“I’m not going to, Mum. I didn’t want to tell you before, but honestly, I haven’t really been looking forward to going to university at all. Now I have that fantastic bubbly feeling inside me that tells me I’ve made the right decision. Aaral Kuma has a website, I’ll show you on the computer. Wait till you see her work, I know you’ll be impressed.”
Talika opened up her laptop and showed her mother. All right, so this lady was world famous. Successful too, from the look of her beautiful home in the country where she had her studio. But it was very hard to adjust her thoughts about Talika’s future. From what Hansa could glean from the information on the website, she’d be spending her days up to her elbows in wet clay, stirring sludgy-looking stuff in buckets to mix glazes, and staying awake for 36 hours at a stretch to watch the kiln temperatures.
Instead of studying in those beautiful old halls, surrounded by all that learning, all those interesting, intelligent people. Perhaps discovering new things in some well-equipped laboratory, maybe breaking new ground in something scientific—Hansa actually didn’t have a very clear vision of Talika’s future once she’d finished studying, but now she didn’t have to worry because her daughter wasn’t even going to start.
It was all a disappointing waste of a wonderful opportunity, and even though Talika was pleased as a punch about everything, Hansa mourned the loss of her daughter’s chance at a university education.
Hansa was leafing through a detective book in the library, trying to remember if she’d read it or not, when a pamphlet slipped out from between the pages.
Why not study for your degree part-time?
Tailor your degree to fit your life… Arts, Science, or Engineering offered.
An Arts degree, she thought idly. That’s what she would have chosen if she’d had Talika’s opportunity. Three years of reading history, studying the best English literature and being able to discuss the interesting points with like-minded people! What heaven that would be!
And then she thought, but I could do that! Fifty-three certainly qualifies as mature, I should think. She found a chair and read the rest of the pamphlet.
Apparently, she could choose her subjects from an amazing number of courses. There were grants available. The lectures were after hours so she could fit them in after work. She’d have plenty of time now that Talika was leaving home.
Hansa was shaking with excitement when she reached her front door.
“Talika,” she called. “I’ve something to tell you.”
She couldn’t wait to tell her daughter about the decision she’d made. The one she should have made a long time ago, the one that gave her that wonderful bubbly feeling inside. Just like Talika’s.