It was hard to say when Neeti got double vision. It wasn’t there one minute and the very next it was. Suddenly, the road turned terribly crowded. People were jostling each other, pushing to get ahead. She rubbed her eyes, shook her head violently. But that instant crowd didn’t disappear – it rushed on at her.
Then…she realised what had happened. All of a sudden, everyone had multiplied into two, sprouted a twin – like a shadow walking next to them. Neeti’s heart leapt up.
Dazed, she turned to look for her own twin, a skinny, bright-eyed 11-year-old, but for some strange reason she didn’t have any. She felt disappointed, relieved and scared at the same time. There was a feeling of being left out, but also a sense of relief. She wasn’t sure she wanted an instant twin.
She made her way down the road, turning this way and that to avoid the crowd. All the same she couldn’t avoid bumping into one or two people who gave her irritable looks. What a problem! Neeti fervently hoped it would go off soon on its own the way it had come.
Then she saw Shreya, or rather two Shreyas coming down the road. Shreya was in her class – a girl she didn’t like. She had the habit of saying the nastiest things to your face.
“Hi Shortie!” Shreya cried. Neeti wanted to kick her. She knew she was the shortest girl in her class. Nobody needed to rub it in.
Then, she saw it – a huge spider crawling up Shreya’s arm! In a moment it would reach her face. She had to do something. No matter how awful Shreya was, she couldn’t let a spider crawl all over her. Immediately, she reached out to brush it off.
“What are you up to?” Shreya cried, “waving your arms about like that. Have you gone nuts!”
Oops! She’d got the wrong Shreya! “There’s a spider on you!” she exclaimed, brushing at the real one.
“Oooh!” Shreya screamed, as she saw the spider scuttling off.
But Neeti’s head was spinning. Suddenly she couldn’t take any more of this. She had to get home. Maybe she would suddenly wake up and find it was just a bad dream.
When she got home, sure enough there were two Mammas instead of one and she didn’t know which one to hug! Then, as she looked from one to the other, she noticed something. The expressions on their faces were different. One looked tired and careworn, the other bright and perky.
On an impulse she leapt forward and hugged the cheery-looking Mamma. And turned out to be right. Because she hugged her back, saying, “What’s the matter? Why are you looking so puzzled and confused? Well…come, have lunch.”
“Okay!” Neeti said, trying to sound as normal as possible. If only she could tell Ma what was happening to her. But would she believe it?
Suddenly she felt horribly tired. So tired that she couldn’t even do her homework after lunch and found herself flopping on to her bed and dozing off right away.
When she woke up the room was already filled with smoky evening light. Her mother was saying, “Wake up! Wake up!” Groggily she got up. It was only when Mamma brought her a glass of milk and some biscuits that she realised what had changed. There was only one of Mamma now!
Neeti wanted to jump up and dance and sing. It was such a relief being free of that awful double vision. But something seemed to stop her. It took her a little while to realise what it was. It was her mother’s face. It was the tired and careworn mother she saw now instead of the bright and perky one.
“What’s the matter, Ma?” she cried out.
Her mother sighed and sank onto the sofa. “I have an awful headache,” she said.
Neeti reached out to touch her forehead. It was burning with fever! “Ma, you’re ill!” she exclaimed.
After giving her some tablets to bring the fever down Neeti tucked her mother into bed. The soup was bubbling on the stove by the time Papa came home. Both of them prepared dinner together.
But Neeti couldn’t help thinking of the second mother she had seen in the afternoon. The tired looking one…and she had turned out to be the real one!
What did this double vision mean, though it had gone now. She began to think of the other people she had seen, such as the other Shreya, for instance. She had looked a rather unhappy and troubled-looking girl – quite unlike the fierce, belligerent person Neeti knew her as.
The following day at school, during lunch break, she saw Shreya standing alone in the playground. Neeti couldn’t help glancing at her. What she saw almost made her jump out of her skin! Shreya looked so unhappy, so troubled.
As Neeti stood there staring, Shreya walked up to her and said softly, “Neeti, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”
“For what?” Neeti asked.
“For getting rid of the spider. I-I hate spiders.” And to Neeti’s amazement her mouth quivered and a large tear rolled out of her eye.
Shreya crying! This was serious. “What’s the matter?” Neeti asked.
Shreya was silent for a moment. “It’s my father,” she said. “He’s very, very ill. In hospital.”
“Oh I’m so sorry,” Neeti cried, putting her arm around her.
“I’ve always been so awful to you,” Shreya sobbed. “To everyone. But he’s been ill for a long time… I just couldn’t stand it.”
“Never mind,” Neeti whispered. “We all understand. Come, would you like to share my tiffin?” Shreya wiped her tears, and tried to smile.
All this was thanks to double vision, Neeti thought later. She would never have given Shreya a second glance otherwise.
But later, when she got home and was washing her face in the bathroom, she happened to glance at herself in the mirror. She got a real shock. There was someone standing behind her – a girl much taller than her, but with the same face. A second Neeti!
What could it mean? That she was taller than she imagined? Or would become so? I don’t really care, she thought. But it was fun to have double vision again.