A Bowl of Tom Yum Soup is a short stort written by Tabassum Tahmina Shagufta Hussein and shared with The Ugly Writers for the month of March.
A Bowl of Tom Yum Soup
While looking at her regular stray cat friends, Nivi feels so special today. All she can recall from her 14 years old life, is a dispute between parents, grandparent’s targeted hostility, being treated like a second class. No one has ever made her special. She never knew how it is meant to be treated as special. Today Shirley Aunty is sending her a bowl of Tom Yum soup. Nivi has a cough and cold for a few days. When Aunty found out, she told her that she would be sending her Tom Yum soup cooked by herself. She met Shirley Aunty by chance. Nivi was helping grandpa Inam in the zoom meeting for months since the Covid-19 outbreak. Both grandpa Inam and grandma Anna are in the international club and know Shirley Aunty for years. Nivi met Shirley Aunty in the zoom meeting while helping her grandparents.
While Nivi is wrapped by the bubbles of joy on the ground floor, Anna is furious, and Inam is agitated on the first floor of the same building. They couldn’t understand why Nivi is getting Tom Yum cooked by Shirley. They have known Shirley for years. Shirley never did anything like this for them or for Arusha and Abrar their daughter Diti’s kids. They are adults now and settled in abroad. They used to live with Inam and Anna, their parents and Nivi with Nivi’s parents as a family on the first floor. Shirley was never interested in Arusha and Abrar. Shirley never sends Tom Yum for their Eldest son Asik’s children Anisa and Joshner when they visit each year from abroad.
It always has to be Nivi, Inam and Anna’s youngest son Nick’s only one child. Anna is shouting a loud towards Inam. It is Inam’ s fault that he can’t operate Zoom meetings. Anna couldn’t handle as well. That’s how Nivi, the Zoom and online helping hand became known to Shirley. Inam can’t take Anna’s anger any longer. Inam tells her to think with a cool head. Inam tells Anna that Nivi bewitched Shirley with her fake smiles and sweet words. Anna agrees. Nivi is indeed her mother’s daughter. Nivi is manipulative, shrewd, exploitive, cunning and deceptive just like her mother.
Knock! Knock! Anna and Inam ‘s driver arrive with a bowl of Tom Yum soup in a large container. The driver tells them that it is for Nivi from Shirley Madam. Shirley Madam’s driver dropped the Tom Yum and told him to give it to Nivi’s floor. Anna feels better now. All deliveries, mails, bank papers, bills, packages and whatever are for Nivi’s floor; those have to be brought to them first. They see who has sent and what is inside. Anna thanked herself and Inam for setting such a rule. They both share the same feeling that their son Nick and his family must obey the rules arranged by Anna and Inam. After all, they are the owners of the building. Nivi and her family is not even a tenant. They have no rights of privacy or anything. Son and daughter in law and grand-daughter need to be controlled by the halter; otherwise, Anna and Inam will lose control. Nick’s wife, Neelkonthi, took the land telephone without their permission. They blocked all the bills, and finally, she lost her land phone connection. Because she was not receiving the bills and could not pay the due on time, when she found out, it was too late. She was taught a lesson. They have given them countless such lessons. Inam and Anna control her life. She though herself as a bird with wings. Wings of liberty and freedom. Now the wings are curtailed.
Nick is an obedient son. But Neelkonthi can’t be trusted. Anna and Inam always hated Neelkonthi and Nivi is as wretched as her mother. Inam tells not to send Tom Yum to Nivi. Anna smiles finally and tells Inam that she had no intention. Inam and Anna look at each other with mutual victory smiles. Inam tells Anna that let Nivi tell Shirley that she didn’t receive Tom Yum. If Shirley asks them, then they will deny any information on Tom Yum. Shirley will never believe Nivi’s words over theirs. Shirley then will think of her as a mischievous and notorious one who tried to frame the grandparents with lies of not giving her Tom Yum. Nivi’s hope of joy of having Tom Yum will turn into ashes.
Nivi is feeling great. Nivi always sets up Zoom meetings, sends confirmation emails, helps the grandparents with apps, social media. She talks to Shirley aunty when her grandparent’s sessions are over. Shirley Aunty talks about the school, hobbies and both of them are foodies. They talk about cuisine all the time. An email notification sound distracts Nivi. Its Shirley aunty. She wanted to know whether she has received Tom Yum. She sent it three hours ago. Nivi instantly replies that she didn’t. “ARE YOU SURE? IT IS NOT POSSIBLE. MY DRIVER HANDED TO INAM AND ANNA’S DRIVER AND TOLD HIM TO DROP IT AT YOUR FLOOR. THAT DRIVER TOLD HIM THAT HE WOULD”. Nivi was surprised! Shirley Aunty is writing in block letters. May be its nothing.
After an hour, Nivi went to the first floor to see her grandparents, her regular habit. Nivi opened the door of the living room of her grandparents and froze. Grandma is about to warm the bowl of Tom Yum in the microwave. She feels the shiver in her spine. Flashes from the past visit her. Grandparents were shouting, tantrums toward her and her mum. She could barely move her lips, let alone legs. “Would you like to have some Tom Yum?” both Anna and Inam ask. “No, thank you,” Nivi replies. None of them mentions Shirley’s, Tom Yum. She doesn’t either.
Nivi goes back to her floor. Nivi tells her mum what she has just seen. Neelkonthi bursts out with anger. “Why, Nivi, Why? Why do you have to be friendly with Shirley and everyone? Why didn’t you refuse Shirley’s, Tom Yum? Haven’t you learnt anything from the past? Why you are so naïve?” Nivi is numb. Her mum’s questions are not reaching her ears. “Nivi, Nivi !!!, Are you listening?” Nivi comes back to reality from her short-lived semi -blackout. Nivi slowly gathers her courage and says, “four hours ago, Shirley Aunty wrote in the email that she had sent the Tom Yum. I wrote to her that I didn’t. Aunty was not convinced” Her mum raises her voice and says, “You are a fool as I used to be. Tell Shirley that you received the Tom Yum four hours ago, but you forgot to inform her.” Nivi says with a strong voice, “It’s not true”. Her mum intensely says,” You write what I tell you to write. If you write the truth, it will show what your grandparents did and do. Telling such mean things is below my standard and, it should be yours. Besides Shirley won’t believe you. She will misunderstand you grossly. You must take the blame”. Nivi says, “Why you keep doing like this? I mean taking the blame. You make me do the same. Why?”. After a moment of silence and pause Neelkonthi replies, “Survival”. Puzzled Nivi asks, “What you mean?” Void has replaced the anger in Neelkonthi’s voice. She says, “You won’t understand until you experience the malice, the torture, the humiliation, the abuse and digesting all those for twenty years”. Nivi wanted to tell her mother that she knows what trauma and mental torture are, and how does it feel to live in the constant fear and pain. Instead, Nivi starts typing to Shirley Aunty taking all the blame.
The dinner is over. Mum is busy in her room, reading books. Dad is in his room and not to be disturbed. Her parents are like flat mates. Her dad spends time only on the dinner table as a family. Nivi covers her body with a shawl and goes to the veranda from where she can call and talk to her cat stray friends. Nivi tries to call the stray cats, but flashes from the past appear. Her parents’ quarrel, domestic violence, she is traumatized by the clashes, she is not treated equally like her cousins by her grandparents, she being always taking the blame, unfairly accused, always the target of being guilty, no one standing up for her. She wants to run away from this house. It’s a prison. Dad is not bothered. Mum sometimes tries, but she always puts her “survival” first. Nivi is alone. She has no one. Nivi’s voice breaks while calling out the stray cats. Tears flow, the Moon and the stars look down at the helpless girl in the deepest pain and became the witnesses silently. At the same time, the leftover of the bowl of Tom Yum soup rests in anna and Inam’s refrigerator peacefully.
© Tabassum Tahmina Shagufta Hussein, December 3, 2020
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