Stray Wonder

Credits: Zara Walker, UnSplash

Gowri rocks in the living room chair,
exclaims to her mother:
“Mommy, how did all those birds know where to fly?
There were no street signs in the sky.”
They’d been to the beach just the evening before, 
and as the tides rolled in and out, 
her father had pointed upwards-
shown her a flock of Brown Ibises, flying in a perfect ‘V’.
They looked like tiny ninja fairies to her shining eyes,
and all that stray wonder found its way home.

Her mother sighs,
barely looks up from her newspaper,
“You’ll find out when you start going to school.”

Her stray wonder just grew,
fed off the way her grandmother’s chapathis* blew- up like the moon,
feasted on the twinkling stars and how the trees always seemed to follow her home.

It’s June, and Gowri is five.
it’s her first day and she can’t wait!
armed with all that stray wonder and wondrous eyes,
Gowri walks inside.

Her suspenders match her rain boots,
in class, she learns how to paint her fingers with all the colours of a rainbow,
she learns how to look for the universe in the confines of a picture book,
this school holds secrets her wonder can’t wait to unravel.

It’s June, and Gowri is eight.
she’s up before her “wake up time”
checks if her model of the earth has dried,
worries if it’s good enough- is comforted by her father’s smile.

Summer meant castles in the beaches and castles in her grandmother’s stories,
this is the year her hands learn to caress a piano,
her fingers flow-
remind her of the ocean and the water.
Summer has been so much fun, maybe even better than science classes,
her stray wonder nuzzles, comfortably, between the rims of her glasses.

It’s June, and Gowri is thirteen.
she covers her ears- begs for an another ounce of sleep;
her assignments lie on the bed- sloppy and incomplete;
school just feels like a bad dream.

Her teachers tell her they are “worried”,
for she’s always buried
under artwork that has far too many shades of grey,
Her stray wonder wonders if it has gone astray.
Is it not welcome anymore?
Should it just go away?

It’s June, the girl is seventeen.
Her phone wakes her up with what used to be her favourite song,
reminds her of the word of the day: conformity.

Conformity, 
which has turned her flowing piano key fingers into rigid clatters against a calculator.
Packaged all her stray wonder into neatly wrapped answers and theories
(So many answers, but none she ever asked for.)
Her poems never rhymed, so she learnt not to write,
It has turned her water into ice,
Put fancy bumper stickers on hollowed out curiosity-
called it an “education”, “progress”, “maturity”.

It’s June, and Gowri is thirty two.
Her daughter walks in- wide eyes and all that marvel in her mind.
“Mommy, does it rain because clouds are like water balloons
and somebody pops them from atop?”
Gowri doesn’t even look away from her laptop screen,
Her stray wonder quietly stirs in its grave,
“You’ll find out when you start going to school.”

*chapathi: a kind of Indian bread, sort of like tortillas.

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