Many stories begin when we decide to pay attention towards something that is awkward and out of the normal. This one is no different. This is the story of a girl. Or perhaps I should say this is the story of a father. I tend to change my stance because we are, at birth, equal halves of both of our parents. With time, the one parent who inspires us more, takes over the other half part, carves our identity and makes us a certain person for the rest of our lives. The same happened with the girl whose story I am going to tell you now. Her father used to tell her everyday that she is beautiful. Some of the days she believed him. The other days, she was unable to trust the soothing words and wouldn’t react at the love his father poured at her. During those sad days, when nothing could cheer her up, she felt a darkness growing around her. A darkness. Constantly. Growing.
Her father never felt sad about his motherless daughter. He knew it was something she had to deal with all her life. He was a good man with a big heart and he was ready to do everything in his power to make his daughter smile. In such an attempt, he happened to address her by a new name every week. Moreover, he would make note of the names he had given to her, in order to not repeat a name ever. He would choose her names wisely, the ones that would cheer her up. Of all the names she had been named, she had her special favorite: Precious. She loved the name so much that she decided to use it forever. So, in that context, in order to make her feel good, shall we use the name Precious while I tell her story to you? You might think it doesn’t matter what name we use, but trust me, it does. Every name has a precious story about it.
Ah! I have an idea! Instead of the story that I was going to tell you, let me tell you the story about why she began to love Precious as her name. Wouldn’t that be great to know why a girl, whose father addressed her by a different name, wanted to get named by a particular name? All right then, here we go. I have made up my mind. You can read ahead, whenever you make your mind to do so.
Once upon a day, when she was eight years old, she and her father were traveling by train to their home. Yes, you guessed right. This was one of the days of that particular week when she was being addressed as Precious by her father. It was lovely summer morning and Precious’s father was in a rush to leave the hotel. Oh dear, wasn’t he excited that morning to reach home as soon as possible! While in the process of getting ready, he stumbled on the sofa, slipped in bathroom, twice, and forgot to comb his hair until Precious told him to do so. All this while, Precious was looking at her father with wide open eyes, like she had never seen him before. Such was the energy her father was radiating that morning that she was unable to take her eyes off from him.
On their way to the railway station, she stuck her head out of the window of the bus and waved goodbye at every passer by.
“Look daddy! Hat!” she exclaimed upon seeing a fat man wearing a huge hat. Her father beamed back at her and nodded, “Yes Precious! That is a beautiful hat!”
They had arrived in the city two weeks ago and it wasn’t that Precious was missing her home, but these two weeks had miraculously changed her life. She was savoring the last moments of her very first experience of the city, of everything. As they approached at the railway station, she was stunned on seeing a long train waiting for passengers at the platform.
“Daddy! Train!” she shouted, startling most of the passengers who were standing in line to board the train. To all of their surprise, the girl’s father shouted back at her, “Yes Precious! This is a very long train and it will take us to home!”
“Is every train that long daddy?” Precious asked.
“Yes Precious. Every train is that long. And, there are many types of train, as you have already read in school. Haven’t you?”
“Yes daddy I have. But, I didn’t know a train could actually be that long!” she pointed towards the end of the train and started laughing.
They boarded the train few minutes later and occupied their seats to travel back home, which was at a four hours journey. The train had a little time to depart and Precious face was glowing with happiness. She was looking at the fellow passengers, waving at them, smiling at them, welcoming them. She looked at her faint reflection in the window and noticed her ruffled hair. She ran her fingers through her hair and checked her reflection again. Much better, she thought.
The woman sitting opposite to Precious was constantly looking at her all the while Precious’s eyes were busy checking out everyone in the compartment. She looked at everyone as if she wanted to remember how they looked. She looked in their eyes, nose, lips, teeth, tongue, necks, clothes, hands, shoes, luggage, everything. She looked at the interior of the train, felt the seat with her hands over and over again and looked at it repeatedly.
“That’s not original leather you know. I mean it looks like it is original, but if you touch it, you can feel the difference”, Precious said to her father.
“I know dear, we all know it is not original leather”, the woman sitting opposite to her replied in a cautious tone.
Precious’s father looked at the woman and nodded in appreciation. Precious looked at the woman, once again, from top to bottom, and her gaze stopped at the woman’s purse.
“Can I see your purse?” Precious’s tone was more that of a demand, than that of a request. She actually stood up and walked towards the woman with her index finger pointing towards the woman’s purse. Her father caught her by the waist just in time to pull her back, “No precious, we don’t behave rude with fellow passengers! You better sit on your seat and enjoy the view outside. The train is about to leave!” he smiled at her.
“Is it? Wow!” Precious seemed to forgot all about the purse and locked her eyes at the window. At the moment, all the passengers moved into a rhythm as the train jerked forward and began to crawl out of the station.
“Better teach your girl some manners mister”, the woman said to Precious’s father in a sarcastic tone. He apologized politely, for the happiness of her daughter mattered more to him, but even then he could not have grabbed a stranger’s purse and handed it over to her daughter.
The train passed through the city outskirts and then in about half an hour or so, there were green fields spread as far as the human eye could see. Precious was constantly asking questions to her father, and constantly disturbing all the other fellow passengers.
“Is that green grass?” she asked.
“Yes!” he answered.
“Is that a river?” she asked.
“Yes!” he answered.
“Are we passing over a bridge now?” she asked.
“Yes!” he answered.
“Look, there is a herd of cows grazing!” she said.
“Yes!” he replied.
“Look! The clouds are running along with the train!” she exclaimed.
“Yes!” he replied.
“Oh! A bee just hit the window glass and fell down”, she said.
“That’s bad. It would probably be dead by now”, he said.
“Daddy! An airplane!” she shouted.
“Yes!” he said.
“Look, there is a pond over there. There must be fishes swimming in it!” she said.
“Yes dear, that’s correct. But, we cannot stop the train at will and go see the fishes.”
Her face fell for a moment until she saw something else out of the window and her excitement rose again. During the entire journey of four hours, she didn’t stay silent for a single moment. She constantly kept telling her father everything she saw. The look on every fellow passenger’s face was that of irritation. None of them felt comfortable and none of them was able to rest or sleep for a single moment because of Precious’s constant chattering with her father. Finally, their ordeal came to an end, when the father and daughter prepared to get down from the train, their station was about to arrive. The woman sitting opposite to them dragged out her luggage as well from under her seat.
The sun outside was beginning to calm down and the perfect summer evening was on its way to follow a rather hot afternoon. Precious and her father walked out of the station, with the woman, their fellow passenger following behind, dragging her heavy suitcase. The three of them took a bus and Precious’s father started a conversation with the woman while Precious was, once again, marveling at the sights outside the bus. It came to his knowledge that the woman was traveling to the town where he lived. She had a distant cousin living there she hadn’t seen in a decade. Precious was constantly telling her father about whatever she was looking at, the farmers working in a field, kids playing a game of football, a beggar searching for food in the dustbin. The woman eventually figured out that the girl was mentally challenged. So, she decided not to ask about it from the girl’s father and just smiled every time the girl interrupted the conversation.
The tedious bus journey came to an end after forty five minutes and the woman was surprised to see a small crowd of about twenty people at the bus stand. They stood with bouquets in their hands. She wondered if the welcome had been arranged for her by her distant cousin. As soon as the three, Precious, her father and the woman, stepped out of the bus, the crowd came running towards them and encircled all three of them. Precious was looking at everyone’s face as if she had never seen those faces ever in her life. But, the woman noticed that the girl was happy to see all those people. And finally, the girl began to name the people.
“Uncle Charles!” she said while hugging a man with a huge moustache.
“Yes my love, Charles it is”, the man hugged her back.
“Can’t forget your moustache!” she said.
“Oh! Should’ve have cleaned it up and then see if you recognized me without it!” the man said, laughing loudly at his own joke.
There were several others the girl recognized. A woman with one arm missing, Aunt Catherine. A boy her age who rubbed his nose with hers, Jim. A girl wearing scarf on her head, Marie, and many more.
“Excuse me, mister”, the woman spotted the girl’s father standing outside the crowd, looking at how happy her daughter was.
“Oh, I am sorry I didn’t notice you. May I help you finding the address of your cousin?” he said to the woman.
“Oh no, thank you. I know the place. The town hasn’t changed much from as I remember it”, the woman said.
“Well, the progress comes slowly to this part of the town. We have everything we need”, he gave her a warm smile.
“Actually, I was wondering about something else. Your daughter. I am sorry, but I must know what she is suffering from”, the woman bluntly asked the man.
“What do you mean by that? She is not suffering from anything now. We just came back from the hospital. The doctor said she was fine!” the man seemed to be offended by woman’s question.
“Oh, I am sorry if I offended you. But, I am a doctor myself and I know a patient when I see one. Your daughter was mentally ill, wasn’t she? Let me give you a bit of an advice. Such patients never recover completely. Not until you stop treating them like kids. I saw the way she was behaving throughout the journey and it was equally painful to see you think that your daughter is perfectly normal. She is not. You should continue her treatment for a little while. She behaves too childish to be a nine year old or so.”
“Eight years, doctor”, the man emphasized on the word doctor as if he was making fun of her.
“All right, eight years old. But inside, in her mind, she is a child and you need to help her grow that mental child or else you would be dealing with a child all your life”, the woman declared the truth to the man.
“Well doctor, what kind of doctor you are?”
“I’m a psychiatrist.”
The man laughed at the woman’s answer and said, “That describes your observation about my little girl but let me tell you one thing, your being a psychologist doesn’t mean that every person who behaves childishly is mentally ill. My daughter was suffering from blindness until she was operated two weeks ago. Her bandages were removed just yesterday evening and it was the first time she has ever seen me, seen a hospital or seen anything at all in her life.”
The woman was dumbstruck. All she could manage to say was an apology. All she could manage to feel was how stupid she had been. All she could manage to do was to direct her vision away from the angry eyes of Precious’s father and walk towards her destination.
So, that’s it. That’s how she, Precious, loved this particular name, because while she was being called Precious, her father made it possible for her to possess something so precious that everyone else just took for granted.
Now, before you close this webpage, or share this story among your friend circle, let me ask you something. Have you understood the message in this story? Have you ever tried to bind your eyes with a piece of cloth and survive a day in utter darkness? It is suffocating. I did it today, yet again, and I did it just to understand how happy Precious would have felt once her bandages were removed. I have lived through many days of darkness, because I wanted to understand how happy she would have felt when she opened her eyes and she saw light, and her hands, and the doctors around her and her father. I bind my eyes for just eight hours a day in comparison to eight years of her blindness because I wanted to feel what she felt when she saw me, standing near the door, away from the doctors, with tears in my eyes and she knew who I was.
She spread her arms towards me and said, “Daddy!”