The boy looks at the line that he had drawn soft and hard in turns, like someone who changes his mind all the time, but is allowed to because he doesn’t really hurt anyone.
Then there’s the one that didn’t worry about where it was going. It zig-zags all over the sheet, doubling up over itself and creating little pictures with the spaces it leaves untouched. Every time he blinks, he spots a new thing in these empty spaces, a little sleeping kitten, a fat cloud, a shoe. He knows there must be lots of other pictures on the page, still playing hide and seek with him.
The boy turns next to the page that reminds him of a song his father’s friend calls jazz. He uses his finger to trace each one of the bunch of lines that go their own way all over the page, meeting at the top to laugh at their great adventure.
He then looks at his straight line. It rushes timidly across the paper, not stopping to touch or smell anything. It moves across the open space, as though it doesn’t really like being there, like the money plant in the bathroom that moves towards a dusty window, each new leaf smaller than the last one. The line also makes him think of something else, but he can’t remember what. He just knows it’s scary.
That evening, the little boy shows his parents his straight line, and the three stars Miss Puneetha Mary has drawn with her red pen, in a corner of the page.
“You’re the smartest three year old boy in the world!” his father says. “Will you draw another straight line so we can see how you do it?”
The little boy nods and picks up a pencil his mother has sharpened this afternoon. He knows he can draw a hundred, no a thousand straight lines. He just has to shut out all thoughts from his mind and push his pencil hard till the beautiful white paper is cut into two.
The boy’s parents look at each other over their son’s head.
“Engineer,” the mother mouths.
“Daddy’s boy!” the father signals.
As the boy holds up his handiwork, he sees his line through the other side of paper, and suddenly knows why it scares him. It looks like the crack of light that stays on when his parents shut the door of his room every night. That line of light turns his toys into grey monsters, and he has to look at a blank wall on the other side till he falls asleep.
How would you like a big wooden scale, exactly like the one I have?” His father asks, hugging the little boy and his straight line. “A perfect straight line” Miss Puneetha Mary had said, and “Good boy”.
The boy knows now that closed doors and timid lines can’t be that bad. He laughs and hugs his father back.
(-- Ashwini Gowariker was a joint winner of the third prize in the Open Space writing contest 2010.)