It's a present from her mother. There is no special occasion- it isn't her birthday, it isn't Christmas. But her mother, whose face Pria can't even recall unless she glances at photographs, doesn't believe in special occasions. She always phones on Pria's birthday though, and sends cards with doves on them at Christmas. She emails twice a month- not proper emails but the sort you send to a lot of people which talk about the empowerment of women or saving starving children in Africa. Pria never reads them.
About thrice a year however, parcels are delivered to her house- parcels with an English stamp on them. Of course sometimes they have Spanish stamps, sometimes French, sometimes Turkish because Pria's mother is a dazzling, glittering creature and dazzling, glittering creatures never stay in one place for long. Not even at home with their families. Especially not at home with their families.
These parcels usually contain books- strange and wonderful books- or movies that have certainly never been played in any of the theatres Pria knows. Sometimes she rips open the sedate brown paper to find tiny jewel like oil paintings gleaming at her.
It's a painting this time. A painting of a man standing on a bridge, his hands on either side of his head and his mouth opened in a soundless scream. A blood red sky swirls over his head and a deep blue stream runs under the bridge. There are two figures walking casually towards him but Pria feels as if they are moving with a purpose and she can almost hear their quick, light footsteps. She shivers suddenly which is odd, because the day is warm and sultry.
She looks at the screaming man again- of course it could easily be a woman but she feels it is a man. She can't really understand why he is screaming because the sky and the water and the bridge look as if they ought to have been quite beautiful. The figures at the back don't have to be menacing. But they are.
The entire painting is.
Pria shudders slightly and places it inside a drawer. She doesn't really want it hanging on her wall. It speaks too much.
Her father comes home later than usual that evening. The sky has already turned dark and the moon is firmly in its place.
Pria is glad to see her father. She's been very restless all day, pacing up and down her room with an uneasy feeling in her heart. The sort of feeling she gets when she feels she ought to understand something but doesn't. The feeling is becoming more frequent now that she is becoming older. As if there is a blinding golden light inside her that's struggling to break free and lift her into the air and throw her across the skies.
She sits with her father in his study that evening like she always does. He sinks into his little armchair with a Scotch clasped tightly in his hand. Pria sometimes wonders about the tightness of his grip as he holds onto his glass and worries a little, but he never has more than two a day. Pria understands enough to know he never will.
"What did you do today?" he asks.
Pria hesitates. She knows she should tell him about the parcel- he will find out anyway- but she also knows that his lips will turn into a thin, straight line and he won't say anything for the rest of the evening. She'll tell him tomorrow.
"Nothing really. Watched a movie, finished my book, did the crossword, talked on the phone a lot," she says casually, feeling a hot sharp stab of discontent shoot through her.
"Sounds like fun," her father murmurs, turning his attention to the television.
But it isn't fun. None of it is. And she is forced to do it everyday because it is her life. It isn't enough. The light inside her grows brighter, almost dazzling.
Pria looks at her father again. He is sitting so contentedly, nursing his drink and watching his cricket.
She wonders what he is thinking about. Probably nothing. Just like everybody else she knows and for the first time in her life, she looks at her father with disgust.
Pria stretches out on the sofa and starts reading a book: words she can't really feel. She feels bewildered, unhappy. Her stomach is churning and her head feels like it is about to explode. The light inside her is blinding her.
She feels trapped.
Before Pria goes to bed that night, she takes the painting out and glances at it again. There is a small piece of paper that she hadn't noticed earlier, attached to its frame.
Copy of 'The Scream', Edvard Munch, it says in her mother's loopy writing.
Pria studies the painting carefully and this time, she understands just why the sky is painted in such harsh swirls of bright red. Maybe her mother understands too. Maybe that's why she sent it to Pria. The closest she can ever come to an apology.
Pria puts the painting away again and goes to stand at her window. The moon peers at her from behind a cloud and the night is unforgivingly still.