“Careful, Samaya. You will burn the naan if you let it sit too long. Flip it now!”
Samaya flipped the flat dough in the furnace obediently and sighed. Her ammi knew all too well, how impatient her oldest child was. What the twelve year old wouldn’t give to run off and join the boys racing their bicycles in the next community. Samaya never cared that her parents would never afford a brand new bicycle. Her friends would share theirs because Samaya was almost faster than the speediest of the juvenile lot.
“You shouldn’t be playing with boys anymore, Samaya. This is not the age for that.”
“You will bleed soon, you are taking a big risk by racing with them. You will understand my words when your body begins to change.”
“You think they are your friends now, but wait and see how they look at you, how they speak to you when you have breasts, when your hips show.”
“Your father disapproves, Samaya. He will be angry if he finds out you’ve been over there again. Your father disapproves. So does your grandmother.”
Ammi didn’t really want to say all those things to her daughter, so vibrant, competitive, adventurous, living the dreams she dreamed as she slept soundlessly. She didn’t want to take away the innocence of play time, the drive to run off, keep running, running. Teaching her how to mix and knead the dough, roll it out and put it on the flame, this was tradition. Samaya understood that too. But there was always times for making naan, it was made every single day. It wasn’t every evening that the boys took their cycles out. Samaya was angry at her father, she knew it was he who choreographed this. He and her grumpy grandmother who stayed in bed all day, never lifting a finger. Ammi was an angel. She only chastised Samaya as she ran off, never before. So Samaya sacrificed an evening of cold biting winds knocking the cotton dupatta off her head and ruffling her curls as she sped down hill, weaved around potholes and made hair pin turns.
The neighborhood gossips twittered about Samaya, fashioning her out to be a whore in the making, craving the company and attention of young boys at such a fertile age. Samaya and her ammi jaan knew they were lies, words for the hens to chew on, instead of paan. Only the truth hurt Samaya, however. These four boys had already begun to look at her through different eyes. Not because Samaya was changing, but because they were. Their shoulders broadened, their hips looked narrow, their voices deepened, the hair on their faces thickened, their hands turned rough as their touched lingered.
Of course they weren’t malignant, none of them.Their bodies were only morphing, puzzling their spirits, setting the stage for new discovery. Samaya made this day about recalculation. She can decide to oppose the wishes of the snarky old woman and her son, continue seeking the rush of racing on two wheels in the face of the setting sun. Or she could realize that these days will end, and at the end she wanted to have her own bicycle. If she were to acquire one by herself, with her own earnings, no one could take her joys away from her. Not the warble of society, not the furrows of her family, not even the sense of belonging in the adjacent neighborhood. She would have a choice. She could do both. Race the chill winds in the afternoon and then snuggle beside the furnace, breathing in the smell of butter spreading on the warm naan.
She looked at ammi. Her old eyes, older hands punching the ball of dough, pulling, rolling, balling some more. Samaya turned to the pile of freshly cooked bread, broke off a piece, blew onto it and leaned over to her mother, interrupting the process.
Ammi took the food into her mouth, felt Samaya’s long fingers cover her hand and heard a voice full of assertion.
“Don’t worry ammi. It will not burn.”