## (x + y)2 =?

by Tawsif

The clouds appear ineffably mysterious when they reshape themselves. They form assorted impressions in your mind—sometimes of birds, sometimes cars, sometimes human-faces and suchlike.

I'm feasting my eyes on these beautiful clouds right now. I do this more or less every day—the mystery in the shapes of clouds never got old for me. But today the intention is not to feel fascinated; I’m desperately trying to find myself a distraction.

It seems the eastern clouds are separating themselves from the rest of their family, forming a pattern of their own. The pattern is bizarre, but at the same time quite familiar to me. It says: (x + y)2=?

I take my eyes off the sky—knowing that the equation will disappear when I take another look—and turn my head downwards on the tiled floor.

There I make out the uneaten slice of pizza—the one my sister was too lazy to dispose of when dropped from her hand last night. By now, numberless ants have gathered there, trying to make a feast out of it. They’re all wriggling in a remarkable pattern, at least the way I see it. The pattern says the same question: (x + y)2=?

I shut my eyes, trying to soothe my knocking heart and get hold of myself

The last 48 hours has been the worst period of my life. I couldn't talk, I couldn't eat, I couldn't feel anything but a burning sensation in my heart, and everywhere, I saw the same question: (x + y)2 =?

It all began two days ago with the 'Family Show'—sort of a homely function that my cousins and I arranged on the day of Eid (A Muslim festival) in our grandparents' cottage. We've been doing it for a couple of years, only to add some spice to the celebration of Eids. Our shows were all strokes of genius as we had what it took to bring off a fantastic show.

All my cousins were intensely enthusiastic about the shows. But Parihan, the only daughter of my eldest uncle, was simply unparalleled in this regard. She possessed a melodious singing voice, had quick hands and legs which could set off a storm while dancing, and was a brilliant reciter of the modern abstract poems. She used to start preparing herself for the show months before the Eids; and the moment I'd set foot in the village, she'd rush to me and say, "Tawsif, I've got a new plan! Come and see."

What she'd display afterwards—a song, a dance, or a poem—would never cease to enthral me to the bone.

But no matter how hard she tried and how well she performed, to her mother's eyes, she could never cut the mustard. Her mother would always find stupid and silly mistakes—the ones I could call anything but 'Mistakes'—in everything she performed and scolded her at all times, claiming she should've done better.

Parihan had presented a classical dance on this year's 'Family-Show'. Her delivery earned a rapturous ovation from all, except for her stern mother. As soon as Parihan finished the dance, her mother gripped her hand and took her away inside the cottage. I followed them, and immediately a quiver climbed up my chest as I picked up the loud noise of a slap coming from the cottage.

I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. But hardly had I stepped inside before an ear-piercing scream broke into my eardrums, "How many times did I tell you not to make lazy steps while dancing? Can't you be stronger?"

"Aunty, just leave her alone!" I seized her away to another room.

I sat on the bed in that room and made her sit beside me. She was in tears, her body shaking violently every second. I never really understood why her mother was so angry with her all the time, but she had nothing to with it. The thought of her helplessness, and the out-and-out grief in her tearful face sent a spasm of sympathy to my skin. I began to caress her hairs and whisper, "There, there! Mothers can be cruel. You know we love to watch you dance. Don't you cry."

What I did that day was only the reflection of my brotherly affection towards her. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this could imply, from a very subtle angle, a deeper and tenderer emotion.

Parihan came to me in the morning the following day, her cheeks rosy and her eyes dilated with excitement. She gave a torn piece of paper in my hand and said, "Tawsif, can you crack this equation real quick? I need to pee!" And then she left the room, blushing.

I looked at the paper. It said "If x2=I, xy=5ve and y2=U; then (x + y)2 =?"

Algebra's the easiest of subjects to me, so I finished the math quick as a flash. The answer, as I found, was "I + 10ve + U".

When I sprawled on the bed being befuddled by the strange math, Parihan came back. She said with a smile, "Well?"

"It's done," I retorted, "You had me worried—this was too easy. Here." I returned the paper.

She took the paper, cast an eye over it, and instantly, her face turned gloomy. She uttered, "Is that the answer?"

"Course, it's I plus Ten-V-E plus U. It's a weird math though."

And then, she left the place, saying nothing more.

Hours later, dad discovered Parihan in the storeroom hanging with the ceiling fan. Her eyes were lifeless. Her visage, which used to be an ever-smiling one, had lost all its colour, turning horrifyingly pale.

The suicide induced a pin-drop silence among my cousins. They forgot to play and just stood stock-still here and there, their faces blank and confused, as if they couldn’t understand what was happening.

And the adults let out all the emotions inside with their cries, as if they’d forgotten their adulthood and turned into children. Nobody could accept the fact that she was there with us minutes ago, but yet she wouldn't be anymore.

And I felt completely numb; I was bleeding inside, but the ache was too deep and heavy to be expressed. All I had inside my head was a painful question buzzing like a bad headache: "Why?"

With a heavy and shattered heart, we buried her beside the garden. Every time I released a handful of mud on the grave, my inside was somewhat different, like the house which has been returned to after a long journey—everything unchanged, yet so foreign.

The heartrending burial finished, I began to walk back to the cottage with my cousins and uncles. My mind was a mess; I wanted to believe this was all just a nightmare, that I'd just suddenly wake up from this dreadful dream and find Parihan with all her life, playing and running and laughing as she always did. But that belief was merely a consolation, but not the reality.

When I was only a couple of feet away from the cottage, my eyes lit on the paper-piece—the one Parihan handed to me—lying on the mud. It was all twisted. Perhaps it had flown outside through the window and fallen on the mud.

I picked it up and unfolded it. The equation and the answer I'd written once again appeared before my eyes.

Though I'd written the answer myself, I felt at that moment as if something about it wasn't right. I gave the paper a closer look.

"I + 10ve + U". It's so weird. Where did she find this from? I thought.

And my heart leapt to my throat as I realized something I should've realized long before..........

Suddenly the sky reappears before my eyes, breaking the painful flashback. I feel the burn in my chest, firing up more frightfully than ever.

The eastern clouds, as if to ridicule my stupid sense of maths, have now added a slight extension in their pattern. It says, "(x + y)2= I Love U."

Warm tears mist my eyes......

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Is this a review?

Points: 7140
Reviews: 114

Sun Apr 28, 2019 11:30 pm
FabihaNeera wrote a review...

Hello,

This is a really good story! I was hooked throughout the entire story until the end. Honestly, when I saw the title, I expected this to maybe be something about the MC trying to study for a math test... but then this happened. I really didn't expect this, so really well done! You are really good at using imagery and conveying a character's thoughts into emotions. I could really feel for this character. I also thought it was really well done how you revealed the meaning of this equation to the readers before the MC could realize it himself... if that makes sense. That sort of allowed me to feel even more emotion towards this story because I knew what that equation was saying before the MC realized what it meant. Anyway, you did a really great job on the idea of this story!

The only thing I would want to point out is the character of the mother. I think you can go more into depth about why the mother gets that mad over Parihan messing up a few dance moves. Especially since this "Family Show" is a family event, wouldn't this have happened many times in the past as well? Maybe you can bring in a past event in this "Family Show" to really hone in on how the mother became like this in the first place.

That's all from me! Overall, this is a well written story that contained really deep and realistic emotions!

Keep Writing

Points: 921
Reviews: 97

Fri Apr 19, 2019 12:41 am

Hi there. This is a really good story, and I enjoyed reading it. In terms of review there are some things I noticed that could be revised.

First off, there are some inconsistencies and unanswered questions, that, though in some cases unnecessary to answer, feel like they need answering this time.

1: I can reason that a part of why Parihan killed herself could have to do with her cruel and abusive mother. But it seems that you want to focus the reason why on the resolved math equation that spelled "I Love You". If the message was "I Love You", then a) who wrote the message? and b) why would someone telling her she was loved make her commit suicide if all she wanted was love and affection? A person with abusive parents wants to find love in others such as friends and other family. The message and the event that followed did not line up.

2: How could someone as intelligent as your character Tawsif not recognize that "I + 10ve + U" spelled visually the message "I Love U"? If it is obvious to the reader, why not it be obvious to the narrator? And here's a thought: What if your narrator character sees that the message means "I Love You", and is now wanting to know who sent the message? That would add a great mystery to it (even though it is sort of there in your current draft, more emphasis placed on it would make it more noticeable).

3: I can assume that Parihan's mother has some sort of perfectionist problem and has anger issues and is essentially pure evil. But here's what is missing - a reason why she is the way she is. That would help the reader believe the abuse scene better instead of wondering "Why would her mother get so worked up over lazy dance steps?"

Now for a couple of minor tweaks:

Take a look at your opening paragraph for a second. The word "suchlike" doesn't fit with the style and mood of the story at all and should be switched out with a slightly less intellectual term. There's nothing wrong with using the word, but there is a time and a place and that feels out of place.

"... trying to get a hold of myself" ---- you just forgot the period at the end of the sentence, that's all.

Other than that, great work! And I'll leave you with one last thought: This short story, being a drama, should have a distinct message or moral intended by the author for the reader to get. After revising whatever small details you want to revise, consider proofreading your story all the way through and answer that question for yourself, the question being "What is the moral of the story? What do I want my readers to learn from this?" If you find yourself conflicted or not having an answer, create one! From there you will be able to gain a clearer view on where you want your story to go.

Tawsif says...

Thanks for the really well-thought review. I guess I'll need to work a lot for this piece.

Points: 408
Reviews: 10

Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:03 pm
ayushinav says...

Hello twasif,
ayushinav here for a quick review.
I found your piece really interesting. It was short but nice. I'll talk of the characterisation first. I have issues with the way you characterise Parihan. Initially, Parihan seemed a strong girl. Her mother's scoldings could not get her down which implies she was strong at heart and a girl who does not give up easily but then she gives up at once because the narrator does not understand her confession. That seemed a bit vague. Also, in the scene when her mother took her inside after the dance performance, the mother allows the narrator to take her child away without any sign of protest. I doubt any mother would allow anyone to do that, especially when she is angry enough.
Secondly, I'd suggest you show, not tell. You do not need to do the narration part much. Using imageries will be a good option.
Also, I'd advise you to slow down your story. Eid, Parihan's death, and everything as such came and went without making many impressions on the reader.
I liked the usage of dialogue but you need to work upon them a bit so that they sound more realistic.
Do not take any point negatively.

Tawsif says...

Thanks for the comments. You have picked up some very good points here.

I noticed the rush in the story too. Actually, I wrote it first for a flash fiction contest, with word count under 1000. Then I added some more details and posted it here. Maybe I should broaden it a little more. Before you, many others have pointed out the same thing as well.

ayushinav says...

Cool, take care next time!

Points: 408
Reviews: 10

Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:01 pm
ayushinav wrote a review...

Hello twasif,
ayushinav here for a quick review.
I found your piece really interesting. It was short but nice. I'll talk of the characterisation first. I have issues with the way you characterise Parihan. Initially, Parihan seemed a strong girl. Her mother's scoldings could not get her down which implies she was strong at heart and a girl who does not give up easily but then she gives up at once because the narrator does not understand her confession. That seemed a bit vague. Also, in the scene when her mother took her inside after the dance performance, the mother allows the narrator to take her child away without any sign of protest. I doubt any mother would allow anyone to do that, especially when she is angry enough.
Secondly, I'd suggest you show, not tell. You do not need to do the narration part much. Using imageries will be a good option.
Also, I'd advise you to slow down your story. Eid, Parihan's death, and everything as such came and went without making many impressions on the reader.
I liked the usage of dialogue but you need to work upon them a bit so that they sound more realistic.
Do not take any point negatively.

Points: 0
Reviews: 19

Wed Apr 17, 2019 12:44 am
itsCate says...

Hellooo! I thought this was good, I would have liked more detail. But other than that it was really good. I would like to see more of the story and more of the characters.
You have a really amazing start and can't wait to read more of this book!

Tawsif says...

I'm surprised! It's actually a complete story, not a book.

What details are needed? Which are the things you didn't understand? Please let me know.

itsCate says...

Ofc, I'll pm them to you.

Tawsif says...

I'm sorry if I'm being stupid, but what's 'Ofc', and 'pm'?

itsCate says...

lol, you're not stupid. It means I will text you and ofc means of course

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.
— Charles Mingus