Short Story - The Sudden Makeover - Mehreen Ahmed
By: Mehreen Ahmed
Once, there lived three friends, Una, Ulle and Ursula. While they were all outgoing, Una was a bit shy, Usha was not and Ursula, the happy medium, perfectly poised between the two. Ulle’s vivacity sometimes angered Una to the hilt. One day, they went out to have coffee and as they were looking for a place to sit down, Una said haltingly as always that she wanted to sit at the far end of the room. This enraged Ulle.
“You’re really awkward, you know!” She said. “And why can’t we sit in the middle?”
“Because, I’m embarrassed.”
“Who do you think would look at you?”
“May be no-one!”
“Still you’re, the way you are! You will not change.”
“I can’t change; you should know that by now.”
“Now, now let’s not waste time arguing over seats,” Ursula chimed in. “Why can’t we all sit in that corner next to the wall, best of both worlds?”
They both nodded in agreement as they walked through the crowded restaurant towards the semi-dark corner of the room. Una sat down with her back towards people so she didn’t have to look at them and vice versa, and Ulle sat grudgingly opposite her with Ursula in the middle. Once settled in their seats, they ordered coffee and orange almond which they loved so much. The friends soon forgot their differences and started to chat. They were in their mid-life but when they got together, became ageless. Nothing could change the way they giggled and the way they nattered.
“Well! I’m going to buy flowers on my way home to-day.” Ursula said suddenly becoming aware of her surrounding. Quietly she lowered her gaze towards the coffee cup.
“For whom! I hope you haven’t got a secret admirer?”
“May be I do Ulle, who knows?” she said stirring the coffee as she poured more milk and added half a spoon of sugar to it.
“No! Not at our age, I don’t think,” said Una.
“It’s a deep secret,” she said rolling her eyes in mischief. “However, I may tell you one-day.”
“May?” asked Una apprehensively. “Why may, is there a reason?”
“No! Oh God no! I need to get going; I am a bit rushed today.”
They finished coffee rather hurriedly and picked up their hand bags. This was not how they parted. They would usually sail out of the café in pure euphoria laughing, rejoicing and promising to meet again. But today it was somewhat different. Ursula said goodbye and quickly dashed off in the opposite direction to both Una and Ulle’s surprise.
“I wonder what she’s up to,” Ulle muttered.
“Dunno, she didn’t really want to share it with us, hey.”
They left it at that.
Ursula walked hastily towards her car and turned the key in the ignition. She headed off North and stopped by a corner shop to pick up some flowers. Her car disappeared slowly over the horizon as it sped down the hump of the road.
The next morning, the phone rang and Una let it ring for awhile until it stopped. She had a pot of beef casserole on the stove. She quickly finished stirring it and then turned it off. The phone rang again and this time she picked it up.
"Yeah, how’s it going?” Ulle said clearing her throat.
“Not bad, how’re you?”
“Any news from our mysterious friend?”
“Not yet, I wonder what she’s up to.”
“Why not ask her?”
“O, look I don’t think I could, why don’t you?”
“Yeah, well in that case I shall, I shall ask her to meet up tomorrow.”
“That’s a good idea; see you tomorrow then.”
“Sure, bye for now.”
Ulle could not wait to see Ursula the next day. Both Una and Ulle went to the café a little early bubbling with excitement. The mystery would be solved soon. They would most certainly find out who that secret admirer is. This was most unnatural for somebody as unromantic as Ursula to buy flowers for anyone … someone so rational almost to the point of being dispassionate. Why? Didn’t she take a vow that she would remain single because she did not like children? Oh, here she comes! Both Ulle and Una sat up eagerly looking at her from their table as Ursula sauntered in.
“No fights over the seats today?” she commented.
“Goodness me! I didn’t even realize that I was sitting in the middle of this madding crowd!” Una screamed.
Ulle looked at Una and then at Ursula, aghast.
Ursula kept looking at them both as she took her seat a little bewildered. They ordered the usual but there was an unexpected silence. No one made any utterance at all. Una signaled Ulle who cringed back as words suddenly iced-up. It was unbelievable that Ulle of all people could be so coy. This was extraordinary indeed! Friends have swapped personalities, revealing an entirely new side to their characters. So, when they asked nothing, Ursula thought it was up to her to break the ice.
“I guess, you’re wondering, what secrets I’m keeping from you guys?” She said openly amused as she sipped the fuming coffee.
“Yes!” They both said together.
“Well, I would like to show you something.”
She opened her bag and her hands delved into it as she took her mobile phone out. Then she pressed the buttons on the phone until she came to ‘view photos.’ Flicking the photos one after another in the mobile, she chose one and then clicked it to open. Walla! It was a photo of a beautiful child.
“This is who I take the flowers for,” she said.
“But who is she?” Una asked.
“My little girl!”
“Your little girl? Since when? You don’t even like children!”
“I never said that.”
“Yes you did!” Ulle said with eyes wide open.
“I said, I couldn’t raise one,” a furtive, Mona Lisa smile appeared in the corner of her lips as she replied nonchalantly. She’s an orphan, I pay for her upkeep.”
“Really! How long have you had her?” Una asked.
“You didn’t tell us all this time. Why tell us now?” Ulle harangued.
“Because, I got caught out! I didn’t think I would.”
“Do you love her?” Una asked softly.
“I think so.
“Does she like flowers? Perhaps she would like chocolates better,” Ulle suggested.
“May be, but I do! I like buying flowers! For others and for me,” she paused. “Besides it’s spring; look around you, look at the mad colours as flowers blossom in infinite profusion! We ought to celebrate, oughtn’t we?”
“Incredible!” said Ulle.
“Indeed,” said Una.
“Bizarre?” said Ursula.
No one knew for sure when, how or why the change of heart ever occurred! It was suspected that it might have to do with instinct.