A beautiful Bach Sonata ringtone did not prepare me for what I was about to hear. Barely had I answered the phone, the heavy Samsung note bothering my frozen shoulder, that I hear a soft sob giving me the news that I was dreading and hoping would not come.

Calming myself, I sat down…. not noticing the wetness on the chair where someone had just dropped a glass of water- or was it green tea? Dark circles of disappointment slowly make their way in front of my eyes, increasing the intensity and speed at which they were forming, refusing to go away. Excruciatingly and ever so slowly, they now tighten their arms around me, my breath coming in gasps as I hurriedly rummage my bag for the mostly unused asthma inhaler.

FAILED- she has not been able to clear her 12th standard International Baccalaureate examination- the voice on the other end of the phone now came back repeatedly, spiraling me into an abyss of deep dark and chilling cold- as I started shivering, in the warm pantry of our office.

“Guilty!!”- my inner voice crucified me, even before I could clear the fog of thoughts and understand what I had just heard. How did this happen? I had supported and provided everything- from expensive tuition to online classes to night-out teaching. Just as I was steadying myself, I managed to read the message that had landed with a loud beep on my phone … reading it through my tears, any thought of all this being a dream faded away.

Kiasu, the quaint term coined in my part of the world, to label the notion of always being first and ahead, never losing – always winning, obviously did not apply to my younger daughter.

Looking back, I try to walk through my darkness and disappointment which is now bordering on delirium, with honesty and I find all fingers pointing at me. My chagrin at this accusation makes my face flush a crimson red – or is it Aubergine purple for I am olive-skinned? Not accepting this revelation, the self-righteous Tiger mom in me refuses to give in.

“Of course not!” I had said when she asked two years earlier if she could take liberal arts subjects to pursue a career in Global policy study. Pushing her into the practical world of Physics and Chemistry, when she wanted Psychology and politics- I thought I knew what was best for a 16-year-old. Quietly, but ever so determinedly, she had pushed me away from her thoughts, not arguing but also not engaging. Resisting the urge to hold her and shake her at that time, I had let her be. Shaking out of my reverie, her pleading face dances before my eyes, as I shuffle towards the elevator to go back home.

Tightly clutching the office bag to my chest, I felt the eyes of the world piercing through me, reading in my glossy tear-filled eyes, the inner world that I tried to shut out. Unhurriedly, my steps make their way towards the car. Vividly I remember the day I had held the Valentine baby in my arms, dreaming of a bright world for her, shielding her from the vagaries of the world.

“Watch what you tell her as you reach home, for this is her most vulnerable moment,” the voice said. “Xanax”- the voice reminded me as I tried to recall the name of the medicine my friend had been taking for her anxiety I had been trying to get into the car for a full minute, but the car that I had walked towards was not mine.

Zero- that’s what I had scored in my momhood, or so I thought….

I get into my car. I drive home slowly. Not trusting to say the right things. My mind whirring- how will we make this right?