‘Maximum’ by Puspita Das Barbara

Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

He couldn’t see when he was born. But then that’s natural for pups. Their eyes open only about two weeks after their birth. And he was the tiniest. His hearing more than made up for his lack of sight though.  Even at that tiny, bite sized mass of fur he could hear far and wide. From the rapid beating of his mother’s heart to the growling noise of her tummy, all were sounds he associated with comfort and security. He liked it there, hating his small frameevery time his bigger and stronger siblings pushed him away and finished all the milk leaving him hungry and whimpering. His mom would lovingly lick him all over, as if she was trying to assure him that he would be taken care of, his hunger would not be a prolonged one. And like all moms she was right.

Nina was a plaid child. She didn’t have either the charming looks of her twin Jay or the lively exuberance of their elder sister, Sunita. A full ten minutes late in birth, it was as if the world had silently decided that she would thus be late in everything. Her mother never discriminated, but Nina could feel her silent look of pity at the fact that this offspring of hers was just so plain. And so from the very beginning, Nina with childlike understanding, accepted her twin’s and her elder sister’s superiority over her. She neither questioned it, nor fretted about it. She just accepted it as simply as she accepted the fact that Jay was handsome and didi was smart. Maturity, which is often mistakenly considered an adult domain, was Nina’s forte. But of course, no one noticed that, because no one looked for a so called adult emotion in a child’s world.

While her siblings squealed and delighted over their litter of pups, five in total, three males and two females, Nina was quick to notice the tiniest of the lot getting left out of the drinking competition that its brothers and sisters seemed to be indulging in permanently. On its part, having been pushed out of the suckling competition, the tiny brown ball of fur was free to turn its attention to other facets of the world that was to be its home for full doggy years of its life. He noticed with his well-tuned in hearing, the presence of some creatures obviously different from himself and his family. But somehow he knew from the squeals and voices that they belonged to children like him, albeit of a different species. He just knew. Perhaps nature had made up for his smallness of size by giving him some extra dose of perception. He could also sense a third presence, a quieter less exuberant creation from that species which doted over him and his siblings. He was fascinated by this third extension. He could sense the one; if he concentrated real hard he could even distinguish the scent from the other more loud factions and though his eyes were closed, nay shut tight actually, he just knew that he was the centre of attention in those eyes.

“Papa, do you have a moment?” Nina asked shyly standing at the door of her dad’s study. From behind his glasses, large gentle eyes suddenly lost all the tension and stress that had been clouding them a second ago. Nina had that effect on a lot of people. Her calmness somehow rubbed off on the ones she interacted with. As for her dad, though he never said so ever, not even to himself; deep inside this child of his had made a special place for herself the moment she had been placed in his arms after a few tense moments of doubt on her survival. Ten minutes of tension had been replaced by a lifetime of pure bliss when those tiny crinkled eyes had opened for a moment to look into his soul and then closed in satisfaction that she was in safe hands. She had never stopped having that calming effect on him ever since. The presentation could wait, the laptop was closed and his arms stretched out towards Nina even as his smile that had started in his heart reached his eyes and then his lips. Nina on her part had her moments of childhood every time she was around him. She knew that with him there was no need to understand, just to feel, the safety of his arms and the warmth of his love. With an otherwise uncharacteristic jump and a gleeful squeal she plopped into his lap faster than his smile could complete its journey.

“Papa, I think one puppy is not getting enough milk from Jenny. Its brothers and sisters push it away easily, it’s so tiny. And when Jenny pulls it close later she has no milk left to feed it. I don’t want it to be hungry papa. Will you come and see once? Can I help it? Can’t we give it some milk through a bottle?” the questions rushed out tumbling over one another as desperate to be heard as the pup was desperate to be fed. This time father and child went together to appraise the situation. And then a short trip was made to the pet store to get a feeding apparatus and some more additives. Nina could hardly contain her excitement as they walked towards Jenny and her litter. Her dad could not stop smiling at the pressure of a tight fist around his finger. He had never seen such a show of emotion in Nina. He gently ruffled her hair as they walked.

“Hey Jenny, this tiny one is missing out isn’t it?” he said gently. Her gentle, tired eyes seemed to agree as she licked her master’s hand. “Nina will take care of it in her room from now okay? Your son will be in good hands Jenny.” An extra-large and wet lick was Jenny’s answer. She gently nudged the tiny ball of fur towards her master giving it one last grooming before she let go if it into the hands of the one whom she trusted with her life. In her room the tiny basket lay ready, lined, warm and soft.

“What shall you call him Nina?” asked her dad. ‘Max’, she said promptly, ‘because he needs maximum care and I shall love him maximum too.’ Max was gently put into his new home. Dad softly closed the door with one look at his darling carefully feeding Max oblivious to his words, ‘call me if you need any help sweetheart.’

Max, glad to finally stop feeling hungry was the first of Jenny’s litter to understand what Jenny did. Having a caring master was a wonderful thing.

About the Author:

Puspita Das Barbara is an Indian, a law graduate who later trained in the service industry and worked for American Express pre childbirth. She is now 37 years old and post motherhood, by choice she put her career on the backseat and has been a full time dedicated mother of two girls aged 7 and 3, as of today. When her elder daughter was of school going age she joined as a Kindergarten teacher in Maple Bear, a Canadian international school and worked there till the birth of her second child.

Her stint with writing started about two years ago when a few poems and articles that she had put forward in her blog were appreciated by her friends and family. At the insistence of one such friend she took part in a national level short story writing competition. She made it into the winning list and had her first published story in the book. She has also had a poem and short story featured in an e-magazine and another’s blog. She has since continued to create and write for herself and her close knit ones. Getting her work published is not really on her mind as of now.Currently, between homeworks, annual days, swimming classes, etc. she manages to do a little bit of freelance content writing. You can visit her blog at pdasbarbara.wordpress.com

Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)


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