It happened again. Somebody in class put the apostrophe in the wrong place and Veena was angry. Her classmates thought that she was a nice girl, but they didn’t understand why punctuation mattered so much to her.
“You are not our English teacher,” they complained sometimes. But Mr. Ghosh, the English teacher, supported Veena.
“Yes class,” he told them. “An incorrectly placed apostrophe or comma can cause a disaster.”
Yet nobody took Veena seriously. The girls called her crazy and the boys said she should stop being so bossy. It was nothing new as Veena had been serious about her punctuation since Class 1. It was in that class that Mrs. Mitra had scolded her for putting three exclamation marks at the end of a sentence. Veena never repeated the same mistake again. Instead, she vowed to protect everyone around her from punctuation mistakes.
One day in school, the principal Mrs. Lal announced, “Children, we are going to start a school magazine.”
Veena was busy trying to find missing commas, periods and apostrophes in a new geography book. She did not look up until she heard the line, “We will need somebody to make sure that the sentences are well written and that the English is fine.”
Every pair of eyes in the room was focused on her. Even the principal stared at her. “They could just ask me to be editor instead of staring like this,” thought Veena. Too much attention made her turn as red as a tomato. Finally, she raised her hand and asked, “Ma’am, may I be the editor please?”
When Veena used the word “editor”, she heard surprised gasps nearby. These gasps did not make Veena turn less red. She wanted to hide under her desk then. Mrs. Lal asked her how she knew about editors. It was a question that Veena did not expect at this age. “Ma’am, I am twelve and half years old and have found the perfect job for myself. For when I grow up, I mean.”
The principal did not know what to say. Veena tried to be patient. She explained that her father was an editor at a newspaper. Nobody was confused anymore. Of course, an editor in the family would make one want to be an editor too. So Veena was made the editor of the school magazine, giving her hope that she could teach the other kids to use better punctuation.
At home, Veena told her parents the good news. Papa was proud. He immediately showed her a funny post on his computer. It was a cartoon showing two kittens telling the mother cat to eat. “See how a missing comma can change that line to ‘let’s eat mother’ which is incorrect and quite scary,” Papa pointed out.
Veena almost cried at the thought of the mother cat being eaten by her own kittens. She distracted herself with the sandwich that Mommy had made for her after school snack. It was true that these little marks were important, but why did so many people laugh at her? She was only trying to help.
In school the next day, Veena was still thinking about this. It was not nice being called strange or crazy. Still, this was her chance to show her classmates how she could make their magazine famous with her editing skills. The other schools in the city would be jealous. Feeling confident, Veena sat down to check the articles that a few seniors at school had submitted. They were too excited to wait.
“Oh no! This essay has put an apostrophe in every its,” she exclaimed loudly.
Mr. Ghosh came over to see. He shook his head sadly. Veena took out her red pen to put in an apostrophe wherever the its was short for it is.
Then another essay had no commas. It also had an exclamation point at the end of every other sentence. Veena checked the student details. “Phew! At least this student is younger than us,” she muttered to herself. Then she did her job and crossed out almost every exclamation mark and added in the commas needed. After two essays, she was tired.
As Veena edited essay after essay for the first issue of the magazine, there were angry juniors and seniors. They wanted to know how such a little girl, a student like them, could dare to fill their papers with red ink. One senior came and asked her to stop hating exclamation marks. Another apologised for forgetting the difference between its and it’s. Hence, Veena was a busy girl that week.
When the magazine came out, Veena was praised by the teachers. Even the students whose work she had edited were happy. “My essay is reading much better with the commas that you put in,” said Rimi. Veena smiled and said thank you. “A little pause is natural. We cannot go on rambling without catching our breath,” she told Rimi. Rimi’s friendly smile changed to a frown. “This girl thinks she is the Punctuation Goddess,” she thought.
This episode left Rimi and some of the others unhappy. They decided not to write for the magazine again. Mrs. Lal asked them to stop fighting about nothing. Mr. Ghosh told them to brush up on their grammar and punctuation chapters. Confused Veena wondered if she should give the editor’s job to someone else.
“Mr. Ghosh, I think I should resign,” she said with a few tears coming down her cheeks. Her teacher patted her head and said no. “We need you, child. You’ll see,” he added.
Since the others working in the magazine team did not feel the same way, Veena stayed to herself. She edited the essays and stories and left them for printing. She only heard what the other team members were planning as she worked in the library. “We can raise a lot of money for the animal shelter there,” she heard a senior say. One of her classmates replied to the senior saying, “Yes, this event will help.”
So they were planning an event without sharing any information with Veena! She was hurt. “I’m being ignored by my team because I care about making writing look and sound good,” she realised.
It was terrible how mean people could be even when you meant well, she thought. And then she saw them walk by with a stack of flyers in their hands – all of them said It’s raining, cats and dogs.
Veena could not stop herself at first. She laughed a little. But then she remembered that the school was getting many copies printed for the neighbourhood, parks and grocery shops. Those flyers could not be printed because there was no point telling cats and dogs that it was raining!
The event was supposed to invite animal lovers to adopt a cat or dog from the shelter. Even though the apostrophe was in the correct position, the comma was making it silly. Somebody had to remove that comma and that somebody would have to be Veena.
She ran after them shouting, “Hey, there’s a comma in the flyers that shouldn’t be there!” But they didn’t stop. Maybe they did not hear her, or they did not wish to hear her advice. Instead, they kept the stack in the teacher’s lunch room. She followed them and hid behind a tall steel cupboard.
Once they left, she went into the room, grabbed the flyers and headed to the library again. “Miss Dey, may I borrow that white glue that makes wrong writing disappear, please?”
Veena worked until her mother called the school to see where she was. Mommy was pleased when she found out why Veena was so late. Papa was pleased too. The next day the magazine team did not know about her hard work until Miss Dey told them because Veena had used the correction fluid so carefully. Nobody called her crazy again.