Racing to make it to the biometric attendance machine, Reena came up short. It was Khili near the school gate, family driver balancing a humongous bunch of anthuriums and plenty of other flower arrangement accessories. The teacher swiped her vibrating phone impatiently, motioning at the guard with her free hand to let the two in. Khili suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and would need help.
“Khili has practised putting together an ikebana Ma’am,” it was the mother on the other end of the phone. Laden with notebooks and other teaching paraphernalia, Reena beat back her impatience. The parent was apologetic and anxious, “We expect Khili’s participation in the flower arrangement competition to be therapeutic at best. Do keep an eye on her, she should be fine.” The teacher and taught made a bee line for the junior wing lobby, the driver lumbering at a deferential distance.
Tall for her age, Khili was of a striking Chitpavan Brahmin pedigree. Her golden brown mane contrasted beautifully with her blue green eyes. An acute dysgraphia notwithstanding, she occasionally responded in class with graceful articulation. The teachers were fond of her and let her be.
“Madam, Saab will pick up Khili after school. I have to go on another errand,” the driver was staring at Reena’s feet, eyes shifting. Too busy to take much note, Reena frowned at him, vaguely wondering at the dislike that rose in her heart at the expression on the swarthy face. “Khili’s parents are legal luminaries, both. They dote on their only child. Surely their driver is an old faithful, they would not trust him with Khili otherwise,” went her thoughts as she made her way to the staircase going up to the next floor. “It must be terrible to have to depend so heavily on a third person to take care of your most precious loved one, one never knew these days.”
There was no time to think any further. Your typical day at school went its roller coaster way. The first half was well and truly upon Reena when a colleague sent for her to come to the competition venue.
The hall was curiously silent as she entered. Muted music played in the background as usual, over and around the feast of colour and beauty, painstakingly arranged by the students on tables aligned for the purpose. The three judges were huddled around Khili’s handiwork, frowning at what they saw. The blue vase contained a single, dried, thorny twig rammed viciously into the tiniest metal frog. All the fancy flowers sent by her mother lay in a mussed heap on the side. “Send for our counsellor,” Reena barked, reaching for the phone to dial back the last received number.