I write therefore I am

Snow White – Second Best

I was flipping through the various fairy tales displayed at the bookstore wondering what to buy for my daughter. Very keen that she too reads all the books I’d read as a child. I picked up Snow White but as I turned the pages another story started taking shape in my head so I came back and wrote it – I just let the thoughts flow without stopping to read or edit. When I was finally done I realised the New Queen (read step-mom) was the main protagonist of my version of Snow White!

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Damn her! She’s not a part of my life then why does she bother me so much? Why is it that every time I look into the mirror, I only see her beautiful face smiling and staring, right back at me?

Mrs White banged her fist on the mirror crying out, ‘why?’ Tears of desperation streamed down her face. It was agonizing that everyone thought so highly of Snow. No acknowledgement at all of what she had done for her – she found it unbearable.

Snow was Mrs White’s step-daughter, beautiful and adorable. Since the marriage, she had known that Snow would be her only competitor. Actually, Snow’s beauty didn’t bother her. It was the fact that she was a replica of her mother who constantly reminded her that she was second best.

Although late Mrs White was the sole heir to an inheritance that could sustain many generations she was kind, humble and sincere. When she was diagnosed of a heart problem everyone was devastated. The doctor put her on strict restrictions and warned that she be careful not to get pregnant. Pregnancy could aggravate the problem, making it fatal for either mother or child or both.

But she desperately wanted a child and succeeded to convince the doctor. Under his guidance she gave birth to Snow, a healthy baby girl with fair skin, big black eyes and curly hair. She was overjoyed. The doctor still tried to supervise but how does one constrain a mother’s emotions? Ironically, such happiness proved fatal. A fortnight later she passed away.

Concerned friends and relatives, suggested Mr White marry again. Someone had to take care of the baby, for surely, Mr White couldn’t. The child needed a mother and soon. A quick search led to selecting current Mrs White as the only one eager to fill in the empty space. Mr White was too shattered to think about this marriage and sat motionless during the ceremony.

The ‘new’ Mrs White always dreamt of marrying into a wealthy family and today that dream was coming true. So what if this was his second marriage? So what if he had a child? So what if he never looked at her even once during the ceremony?

Nothing mattered, except that she was now Mrs White.

She was the youngest amongst four siblings, all fair in complexion. By some quirk of fate she was born darker than the rest who always used it against her. Her dark complexion marked her capability as a person. Her childhood was spent fighting to prove herself. The intense feeling of being different and inferior made her sensitive, so much so that she was affected by every innocent comment, interpreting them as yet another battle to fight.

Her family married her to Mr White because they were having difficulty finding a suitable match. The wedding was her way to get back at them, prove that she was now the wealthiest in the family and no one dare compare with her. No longer did she need to prove anything to anyone!

She had mixed feelings for Snow. In the beginning she felt genuine love for the little girl and cared for her as her own. She wanted to win over Mr White’s affection. He was clearly still in love with his late wife. It was evident from the fact that he didn’t look, leave alone touching her on their wedding night and many nights after. He would arrive late after dinner; just lie in a corner and then wake up before she did. One night when she’d waited for him, he smiled and said, ‘please don’t expect anything from me as I didn’t want to marry again but Snow needed a mother. I’m really grateful for all that you are doing for her. Thank you.’

That night, she realised that the only way he would ever get over his first wife was if she made herself indispensable to Snow. If not love, then his dependency on her as Snow’s mother would bind him to her, always. For the time being, that was enough.

But things changed after Snow’s first birthday. People started making comparisons; they questioned the way she was bringing up Snow and how different her real mother would have been. No matter what she did, how hard she tried to prove that she really did love the child, she was always treated as a surrogate mother.

The comparisons became intense as Snow grew up. The similarity with her mother’s beauty and nature was an unbearable reminder. Every time she looked in the mirror she saw late Mrs White standing tall. The image would slowly transform into Snow’s innocent face.

Would she always remain second best?

This growing sense of inferiority paralysed her. Simultaneously the constant comparisons took their toll. The harder she had to prove herself the more difficult it became. Slowly she looked upon caring for Snow as a burden she didn’t need. It was futile sacrificing her own wants and feelings for the sake of the child. She tried convincing herself that it wasn’t Snow’s fault but the love she felt slowly turned to intense dislike. She blamed Snow and held her responsible for this renewed need to prove herself, yet again.

One day, she just stopped trying.

It didn’t matter anymore. She just didn’t care. She wanted Snow out of her life. She treated her badly and whenever Mr White tried to intervene she reminded him that he was responsible for this. His inability to accept her as his wife gave people the liberty to comment. He was too bogged down with desolation after loosing his wife to take care of his child and she was brought in only as a caretaker. She made him feel so guilty that he stopped correcting her. He escaped by removing himself completely from her life and letting her do as she pleased.

Snow grew up to be confused and distraught. She loved her parents but found them mired in their own problems. Her father seemed aloof while her mother’s affection vacillated between concern and hatred. Desperate to escape from this stifling environment, she went to live with her maternal aunt and her seven children when she turned 18.

‘At last Snow is out of sight – but why can’t I take her out of my mind?’ Staring at the mirror the feeling of helplessness gripped Mrs White with jealousy again.

Then, she had a thought. What if? Yes, maybe that was the only way out. It had to be. She would kill Snow, finally bringing an end to years of pain. No, wait! Perhaps there was an even more gratifying way out. She would hurt her instead – hurt her so much that Snow would feel compelled to kill herself. Now, that would be perfect. She smiled.

Sifting through her phone-book she started identifying people who had been sympathetic to her in the past. She knew that they would definitely reach out to Snow to tell her how much she had hurt her parents. The message was the same always, ‘my girl, why did you run away from home? You’ve hurt us so much. I may not be your real mother but I have always taken good care of you, have sacrificed my own needs to bring you up, painstakingly created a loving home for you, cooked your favourite food, bought you everything you’ve ever wanted. And now you’ve gone away. Do you know that people are saying, that I’m your step-mom and that’s why you’ve run away as I’ve failed to love you like your own mother. It breaks my heart to hear such things but I guess it’s my destiny to care for others and not hope that it will be reciprocated’.

The guilt devastated Snow. Yes, mother had taken care of her but what about the hurt? She tried but couldn’t convince these people that although she left home, it wasn’t for the reasons her mother had cited. The harder she tried the more it hurt till her cousins asked her to stop trying, to shut out these people from her life for good.

Mrs White then turned to her husband – accusing him for his lack of support which in turn forced Snow to leave home. ‘If only you had cared for me and respected me, people wouldn’t disregard me. Our daughter wouldn’t ‘run’ away. If you hadn’t shirked your responsibilities as a husband then no one dared point fingers at me. You never protected me or lauded me for the things that I have done for Snow. Today when Snow is gone, more than ever people are blaming me’.

The constant complaints sickened Mr White. He found it difficult to work, eat or sleep. He was loosing weight, had dark circles under his eyes. She hounded him. News of her father’s illness reached Snow but she couldn’t come to see him. Her mother wouldn’t allow it. She felt helpless. If only she hadn’t left. But how could she endure that living hell?

Snow found comfort in sharing her feelings with Prince who lived nearby. He was a good friend whose calming presence always made her feel better. He was with her when she came to know that Mrs White was selling off her inheritance, slowly wiping away all traces of her late mother. Snow choked with sorrow. Prince couldn’t see her so depressed. He wanted her to be happy and knew he could take care of her only if he was with her, always.  So in consultation with her cousins he proposed marriage promising to invite everyone who was important to her.

When the news came Mrs White was angry. So Snow had decided to marry without waiting for their approval or consent? She didn’t want to attend the wedding but had to see for herself. In addition, there was also the need to keep up pretenses!

She couldn’t decide what to wear. No matter what she wore, it made her feel that Snow would look more beautiful. She felt knotted up inside.

At the ceremony, Snow stood tall and beautiful beside Prince in the most exquisite wedding dress. Her glowing face exuded such happiness that Mrs White stood rooted to the ground. She felt her world falling apart. Someone said, ‘oh, they look adorable. Can you imagine how happy Mrs White would have been to see her daughter today?’

What? Had she heard right? Mrs White?

Then who was she?

She turned to scream at the person who made the comment, but there was no sound. Her face contorted yet no words came out. What was happening? Groping her throat she felt the voices around her grow louder. Her vision blurred. Gasping for breath she fell. Everything grew dark.

And then there was just silence.

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