Pia was very excited when she returned home from School that day. The Principal had announced in the Assembly that the school has planned an educational-cum-pleasure trip for the students to the distant National Park.
For her parents, Kevin and Sarah, Pia was always a sacred child. Sarah still remembers how much she had cried after she had a miscarriage after a year of their wedding.
Since her childhood, Sarah had always longed for a girl child for herself and when she conceived, she knew that her long wait was finally over. The day her gynaecologist confirmed her suspicion, she had rushed straight to the church and had knelt before the Lord for she know her prayers had been answered.
However, the miscarriage had dashed all her hopes. It took Kevin almost three years to convince Sarah that the world was not yet over for her. However, the second time through, she was always scared. When the bundle of joy finally arrived, Sarah’s joy knew no bounds.
Time flew before Kevin and Sarah had realized and Pia was now in 10th Standard. She was sixteen now. In the second half of her teens, she was studying in one of the best schools in the area. Kevin and Sarah had made sure that they would leave no stone unturned to give their darling the best of life.
Pia could hardly wait for her school bus to reach her building. She was the first to jump out of the bus and rush home to break this news to her parents. By the time, she reached the door, she was gasping for breath when her mother opened the door for her.
She flung her school bag on the sofa and drew out from her skirt pocket, the notice about the excursion that was announced at the school that morning. She never bothered to allow her mother to read the contents thereof and started explaining verbatim, what was announced at the School.
Sarah had always encouraged her daughter to share everything with her. Pia could always sense the same emotion in Sarah whenever she had any open discussion with her.
Pia was trying to read her mother’s face as she was narrating the story. However, she was not able to decipher the same excitement on her face as she was presently having. In fact Sarah was getting paler in her expressions as she was reading through the paper. Pia could realize that she was hardly lending her ears to what she was telling her.
Sarah and Kevin had never let the apple of their eye, out of their sight even for a single day throughout these sixteen years. A slight delay in Pia reaching home from school due to any reason had always resulted in frantic telephone calls to the School and the Bus Co-coordinator till she reached home.
And that day, the thought of sending her only daughter for a day long excursion away from school was sending shivers down Sarah’s spine. She knew that even if she agreed with a heavy heart, Kevin would never accept the proposition.
Sarah and Kevin had never said no to their daughter before. Whatever Pia had demanded was always provided. Fortunately her demands till date were reasonable as per their standards and within their realistic norms. However, today was an exception. She knew that when Kevin came back home from office that day, she would have to break the story to him, and prepare him much before Pia would return back home from play, eagerly waiting to repeat the narration to her Dad.
Kevin worked in one of the multinationals that believed in pushing their employees to their limits. His work schedule was so hectic that by the time he hit the last staff bus back home, all he could see before his eyes were the beautiful faces of his lovely wife and daughter, the delicious supper laid down on the table by Sarah anxiously waiting for him and various chirpy messages of love from Pia, secretly kept beneath the keyboard on his computer table, where he invariably visits to check his personal mails every night before he retires for the day.
Kevin had a hectic day at office on that day and Sarah could realize it from his face when she opened the door for him. Sarah always knew that it was Kevin at the door, whenever he arrived. He had a typical style of knocking at the door, a sort of coded message for his wife, now religiously learnt by Pia too.
Sarah was ready with the usual cup of tea, by the time Kevin came out of the washroom. As they sank to the comforts of the sofa, Sarah commenced the conversation. She started reminding him of how they used to take turns to carry Pia on their shoulders all through the night, when she just refused to go to sleep in the night as an infant, how much she used to cry for months, when she was admitted for the first time to the kinder-garten, how they had cajoled and prepared her for her first day at school and finally how Pia had grown up into a beautiful young teenager over these years.
Sarah had the habit of recollecting these and other nostalgic moments every evening. She knew how to live by her memories, and Kevin thought that day was no exception. He never had the slightest inkling that she was preparing him for the final assault, a kind of performing the rituals before the sacrifice.
Kevin did not react when Sarah finally told him the story. He was just scared and petrified. He could not imagine, how their little child could be left to fend for herself for one whole day.
Sarah, however, was a total contrast to herself, when she was talking to Kevin. She had mentally prepared herself and now she had stepped into her daughter’s shoes and was trying to convince Kevin to say yes.
Kevin could never object to any suggestions made by her wife. He always knew that his wife had very valid reasons for any or all of his objections. And that day was no different. She explained to him that Pia was a grown up child now and needed some space of her own. She needed to be with her friends once a while, a little way from the warmth of her parents so that she becomes a little independent, before she is ready to face the wicked outside world, by the time she graduates from school.
Kevin, of course had valid reasons for his discomfort with the proposition. Pia was a child who could be very easily fooled by anyone. She was brought up in a world of idealism. She was never exposed to the outside world and hence, had the belief that everyone in the world is good; no one could ever hurt anyone. But the actual world was so different, and Pia never knew it. But she had to learn the bitter truth one day and sooner the better.
Pia had the world under her feet when she realized that her parents had agreed. She could not wait for the next morning to go to school, break the news to her friends, and give her name to the tour co-coordinator.
The countdown to the D-day was scarier to both Sarah and Kevin than the tensions of their daily chores and more exciting to Pia than anything in the world. When the day finally arrived, Kevin and Sarah set aside their commitments for the day and made sure that they took Pia to school and left the school gate only after they made sure that she had got into the Bus and they proceeded for the excursion. Kevin even suggested to his wife the idea of hanging around near the National Park gates for the day, which was refuted by her citing the same valid reasons, which he finally had to agree.
The day seemed longer than ever for Sarah and Kevin who were just waiting for the evening, when Pia would return back from the excursion. Sarah just finished her daily assignments at the kitchen that afternoon, when the telephone bell rang. The ring never bothered Sarah who had been used to these calls since noon from Kevin who had lost track of time and had been calling up from office every hour to enquire whether she had already left for school to collect their daughter.
Sarah felt the earth slip beneath her feet when she heard the voice on the other side inform her that some children on the picnic from Pia’s School had met with an accident. The telephone receiver just dropped from her hand as she sank to the ground. She could hear some feeble sound emanating from the receiver and the person at the other end was trying to communicate with her. But she just could not muster the courage to pick up the phone to listen any further.
By the time Kevin and Sarah reached the National Park gates, there was already a huge commotion there. Many parents had already assembled there.
No one really knew what exactly had transpired but the only information that they could gather was that the school principal and some other teachers were already led in by the park officials and the police personnel.
Kevin and a few other parents tried to persuade and negotiate with the officials at the gate to allow them inside or at least provide them with the exact information. Fearing uproar, the officials gathered into a quick deliberation and it was not long before they decided that it was more prudent to allow them in rather than face the public retaliation.
The students had gathered at a waterfall site for their picnic. The students were playing under the falling waters when suddenly some students were drifted away by the strong current. Though they were supposed to be under the watchful eyes of the teachers, these students had ventured a bit too far and before they realized, they were being swept away. Their cries for help were dimmed in the sound of the people and it was then that Pia and another two of her friends sitting and chatting nearby saw them drowning.
Realising that their dear classmates were in danger, it took not more than a split second for Pia to decide and plunge into the water with her friends following suit. The strong pull of the water current however was much more than Pia and her friends had anticipated and her friends could hardly go any further.
Pia was thanking her dear parents for the hours they used to sit and watch her swimming, encouraging her at every stroke, when they used to take her for swimming classes when she was just five years old. Being an expert swimmer now, soon she was pulling out the students to safety, in the meantime, explaining to them as to how they should be clinging on to the rocks and stay there till they would be rescued.
All of sixteen, her tiny arms and legs could not withstand the pressure for long and she saw her body giving way. She had reached all her friends to safety but she herself was not able to muster enough strength in her body to swim across. She could see the smiling face of her dear parents before she could not even lift her eyebrows and she felt complete darkness all around.
When Pia opened her eyes, she was surrounded by the School Principal and her friends, who were all around. Pia had managed to save all the students and by that time the life guards had arrived who could pull Pia out of the beastly waters.
Once inside, the parents were making frantic enquiries at all junctions before they reached the site. Kevin and Sarah were frantically eyeing or a glimpse of their daughter in the crowd when almost with synchronized precision; they both saw Pia sitting with the Principal and the teachers along with a few other students.
Before even they knew, they were near their daughter, running as fast as their legs could carry them. No sooner did Sarah reach her daughter, she was hugging her daughter who was clinging on to her mother and she hardly bothered what Kevin and the other parents were discussing about the incident. For Sarah, the fact that the apple of their eye was safe and sound was more than anything else.
When the School principal saw Kevin and Sarah, she could not contain her emotion. She was folding her arms in submission and thanking them profusely. She briefed the parents as to how Pia had saved the lives of her many friends.
It was a great moment for Kevin and Sarah when they saw Pia’s photograph with the news brief of the previous day’s incident at the school picnic in the morning newspaper. Their chests puffed with pride when they read the news article referring to them not by their names or their positions, but as Pia’s proud parents.
Life was usual as ever for Pia when she left for school the next morning. Once inside the School, she realized the difference when many students were rushing to congratulate her or just have a glimpse of her. The School Assembly announcement about the previous day incident and a brief felicitation by the Principal for Pia was something she had never anticipated.
For Pia it was not anything unusual or extraordinary. She had been taught by her parents that life was worth living only when you live it for others. For her, helping her classmates when they were in trouble was her foremost duty. And she had just did it.
No marks would be awarded to Pia for her deeds and no grades would be given. Her act would be forgotten by the time she passed out of the 10th Standard and it would not be reflected in her report card anywhere. But Pia had achieved much more than that. She had done something no scholar could do; only a simple human could.