| THE YOUNG TEACHER
Anirudh hoped that a car would come by and give them a ride. He was walking by the side of the highway. Beside him walked his daughter Jodie, her little right hand curled around his left index finger.
He was relieved when he heard the siren of a police van. The van stopped and an officer jumped out.
"Good afternoon officer!"
"Good afternoon." The officer replied. Anirudh did not like the expression on his face.
"Our car broke down. I was taking my daughter home after her ballet classes. My phone did not catch a signal. We were hoping to get a ride."
"Could I see some ID please?" The officer sounded curt.
He showed them their IDs.
"She is my daughter," Anirudh explained.
"I am sorry, sir. But you will have to come with us." The officer announced.
He made no attempt to reply. But Anirudh knew why. He was an Indian walking in the middle of nowhere with a white, blonde child. The officer doubted that he had probably kidnapped her. He was acutely reminded that his white wife and child were racially different from him.
"He is my father." Jodie announced in a determined voice. Anirudh could sense that she understood why the officer was doing this. He sighed. This would not be good for her.
He did not try to explain any further. He would have to explain to the officer that Jodie was his 'step-daughter', and he hated that term and he did not want the child to hear it either. She was his daughter.
He scooped Jodie in his arms and carried her to the vehicle. She put her little arms around her father's neck, as if to comfort him. There was sufficient space in the police car, but she chose to sit on her father's lap. Anirudh drew her closer, her small head resting on his chest. She put her hand in his. Both father and daughter felt a bonding they had never experienced before as they rode to the police department office in silence.
Jodie had lost her father a year and a half back. Her mother Christi had married Anirudh six months back after a brief romance. The couple was worried about the effect this marriage would have on the child as she had been deeply attached to her father. It was Christi's idea that Jodie should spend more time alone with her new father.
At the department, Anirudh seated the child in the waiting room and met the officer-in-charge, explaining his position. They called his wife.
He was asked to wait. He went to the waiting room and sat next to Jodie, putting his arm around her.
"Your mom will get us out of here soon. Do not worry," he comforted her.
"I am sorry," she said in a quiet voice.
"What for baby?" He asked looking at her. Her eyes looked red. Perhaps she had been crying.
"They are doing this because you look different," she offered kindly.
Anirudh smiled at her wryly. "They are only doing their job, honey. Such things do happen. We have to take them in our stride."
She did not look convinced.
Anirudh probed her further. "Does it bother you, that I look different?"
The hurt in her eyes showed that he had asked a wrong question.
"Off course not. You take good care of my mom. She used to be so sad before she met you," she replied promptly.
"Don't I take care of you Jodie?"
"You do." Her voice lacked conviction.
She paused for some time, before continuing. "Last time I had my skit in school. Alice, Cathy, Ron were there with their dads."
The message was clear. He remembered that event clearly. Christi had wanted him to go, but he had avoided. He was not sure how the other kids would react when they saw him. He winced. He had hurt the child.
"Can I ask you something?" She said.
"Why don't you come to church with us?"
It was a simple question. But his impressive education and exalted degrees could not help him answer it. He had always avoided going to church with his family because he thought his religion was different. But was it? Did his education teach him that? Did his Hindu religion prohibit him from going to church? Was his God different from his wife's? Did his Indian culture teach discrimination? The answer was no every time. It was a difference he had created in his mind. This child had made him conscious of his hypocrisy.
He had no answer. He was helped out of his embarrassment by the officer who announced that his wife had come. The officer apologized to the family. There had actually been some incidents on that road and he just wanted to be careful. Anirudh complimented him for doing his job well.
That night, the couple was alone after dinner.
Anirudh held his wife and looked into her eyes. "Mind if I ask something."
"Sure honey," she replied resting her head on his shoulders.
"Can I take Jodie to school every morning?"
"If you really want."
"I would love to." They kissed each other with much tenderness, wishing that moment to never pass.
Next Sunday, Christi and Jodie were getting ready to leave for church. They met Anirudh at the door.
"Mind if I come?" he asked.
"Off course not honey," his wife answered.
Both father and daughter looked at each other. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. He stretched his arms towards her. She came running to him, her golden curls flying. He lifted her up in his arms. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him on his cheek. "My young teacher," Anirudh thought as he caressed her curls. Christi looked at the scene with pleasure, a wide smile forming on her face.
At last Anirudh had become a husband and a father.
Word Count: 997