After reading about the district painting contest Mia spends her days working on her entry. Being engrossed in her art makes her more receptive to her family’s atypical functioning.

 

It had been three weeks since Max had left. The last date for submitting an entry in the painting competition was in one week’s time. Mia had worked hard each day. She hadn’t set out to win the contest, but the painting had engrossed her so much that she spent hours working on it every day. Earlier, the service room smelled like their old housekeeper, but now it only smelled of paint.

After dinner, her mother told her to get some milk for her father. It was a chilly night but Mia liked that, so she didn’t mind the two-mile return journey. She bumped into Jimmy Thomas on her way back.

“Hey, fancy running into you here, Mia!” he said. His short and curled black hair and blue, effervescent eyes always flustered her. His broad smile and perpetually lifted eyebrows made it seem like he was either holding back his laughter or trying his best to keep a secret. His raised eyebrows stretched the skin on his cheeks, hiding the small mole under his right eyelid.

“It’s a small town we live in, Jimmy, so it’s nothing to get excited about. I thought you would have understood that by now. How long has it been since you moved here?”

“I moved here at the start of the term. Anyway, let me get that for you,” he said and took the bottle of milk away from Mia’s hand. She tried protesting, but Jimmy’s wide smile made her smile as well.

“It’s such a lovely night. You wouldn’t mind if I walk you home, would you?”

“My house is on the other side of town. If you don’t mind the long walk back home, be my guest,” said Mia. She turned around and started walking, but she wanted Jimmy to walk with her. On realizing that the milk bottle was with him, she started to turn around, but he was already by her side. He just smiled at her, and once again she smiled back at him, a little shyly this time. After they passed the busy marketplace they reached the road to her house. It was typically quiet.

“You never told me that you paint,” said Jimmy inquisitively.

“I didn’t? It must have never come up in conversation then. Besides, one doesn’t really blow one’s own trumpet,” said Mia, trying to sound casual.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I’d love to see your paintings, though.”

“You can come and see them whenever you want to.”

“Fine, I’ll see what you’re painting right now!” he said excitedly.

“Oh! Um, I’d rather not show you that one, Jimmy. For one thing, it’s not finished, but to be honest, I haven’t shown it to anyone till now. I’m keeping it kind of a secret,” said Mia, giving him a meek smile.

“Secret work for a secret somebody?” he said, nudging Mia on her shoulder.

“No, it’s something for a contest.”

“Oh, that’s fine then. Tell you what, I’d dance if you win,” he said. Mia produced a surprised and confused expression, smiling at him in disbelief.

“No, seriously, I’m a great dancer! Wait, I’ll show you,” said Jimmy, and sprang towards the centre of the dirt road. He started prancing around gaily. The road was quite deserted, but Mia turned her head to be sure anyway. She didn’t want anyone to see this. On looking back towards the marketplace, she could see two blinking lights and a puff of dust. She knew what that meant.

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“Jimmy, look out!” she said and jumped towards him. The car missed them narrowly as it sped towards her house.

“Hey, watch it, jerk!” shouted Jimmy, raising and shaking his fist at Connor’s disappearing vehicle. Mia remained looking at the car, shaking her head in dismay. “Thanks for saving me, Mia. That crazy fellow would have run me over!” said Jimmy.

“I really can’t believe he has not hit someone till now. He’s one lucky father of mine,” said Mia as she dusted off Jimmy’s clothes and started walking towards her house.

“That’s your father?” asked Jimmy, tidying himself. Mia nodded.

“Everyone in town knows him. But it’s alright, you haven’t been here long enough,” she said, chuckling.

“Well, I’d rather not go to your house right now. He might have heard me yelling! Here, take this bottle. I’ll drop by sometime to see your paintings,” said Jimmy. Before Mia could say anything he had already thrust the bottle into her hand, given her a soft peck on the cheek, and started running back towards the town. Her cheeks were flushed even when she entered the house a few minutes later.

“It must be warmer than I thought. Your face is all red,” said Brandy as Mia walked in. It only made her more uncomfortable and nervous.

“Mia!” yelled Joshua and jumped from his seat on the dining table on her. He landed on her bosom, and if it wasn’t for her quick reaction, he would have gone crashing to the floor. Joshua never planned on saving himself from the fall; he relied on the other person for that.

As Mia struggled to lift his soft but heavy body up and hold him, he giggled and ruffled her hair, twisting and pulling them here and there. He knew Mia hated that but he always did it anyway, not to tease her but because he liked her hair so much. At least that’s what he always said. On another day, Mia would have scolded him, but today, she laughed with him and shook him playfully before putting him back on his seat.

“Now, finish your vegetables. You’re a clever boy, aren’t you? Always trying to get out of eating them by diverting mom’s attention,” said Mia.

“Ah, your sister’s right, Joshua. Eat your vegetables and drink lots of milk. That’s why your father’s so strong. See? I’m drinking milk even now,” said Connor as he took his place on the table. Joshua’s cheeks doubled in size as he sulked over it. His eyes met Brandy’s, who was standing next to Connor with her arms folded, looking back at him. He knew there was no getting out of eating his vegetables.

“Guess what, dad. I found someone today who didn’t recognize your reckless driving,” said Mia. She couldn’t hold back her laughter and neither could her mother.

“Hey, it’s not a nice thing to say during dinner,” said Connor in a calm voice.

“You nearly killed him a few minutes ago. If I hadn’t saved him you wouldn’t be having dinner right now!”

“Well, it’s a good thing you saved him. What’s the fuss about then? No harm done. I say, these lamb chops are delectable, Brandy!”

Mia chuckled at Connor’s unruffled attitude towards the peril caused by his driving and shook her head. “It really surprises me sometimes, dad. You’re such a kind person and yet you don’t have the smallest shred of concern for the people who face death by your driving.” It was Connor’s turn to chuckle now.

“I don’t know, Mia, it’s like something takes over my body when I get behind the wheel. My foot pushes on the gas pedal on its own! To be honest, even I’m quite worried and frightened while I drive! I don’t show it at the time but that’s what I feel inside. But it feels as if the only thing under my control then is the steering wheel, and I make full use of it to keep myself out of danger,” said Connor. He always spoke in a genial and professional manner but with a hint of amusement, as if he was a doctor who had known the family for years. Well, he was a doctor, and he had known all families in the town since he was a little kid, but the way he uttered them made even mildly amusing phrases absolutely hilarious.

Mia smiled at him and shook her head again at his description of his driving. If anything, it made her think he was even crazier than she had thought. She looked at her mother.

“You know how your father is, dear. Don’t worry, though. He’s too kind to hurt someone,” she said, putting her hands on Connor’s shoulders and leaning over him.

“I know that, mom, but accidents don’t happen because we want them to happen.”

“I assure you, he won’t hit anyone by his car,” said Brandy, rubbing Connor’s shoulder lovingly. He was busy playing with Joshua between stuffing his mouth with the lamb chops. “Besides,” continued Brandy, “he’s a good doctor, so even if he hurts someone, he can make sure they get immediate medical assistance.” Mia was surprised to hear her mother say that, but Joshua had taken Connor’s stethoscope out from his coat and was putting it on Mia’s arm, yelling ‘Doctor! Doctor!’

Mia sighed at their collective hopelessness, and she smiled at their collective hopelessness.

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