The notebook was elegant, its thick, creamy pages a tactile delight. Its hard front cover had a magnet; it had two bits that overlapped, the one on top closing over the flap at the bottom with an emphatic click.
This was our nine-year-old girl's new diary, one in which she had decided to faithfully record the minutiae of her days. She was reviving a habit she had developed a couple of years ago — a habit that she had abandoned as impulsively as she had taken up. For the period that she maintained it, she took great pleasure in reading aloud from her diary.
Now things were different. She wanted her diary to be hers, and hers only: only she would read it; my wife and I were barred from so much as even asking about what she had written in it.
Where did this come from, this urgent need for privacy, this firmness about being secretive? We found her unrecognisable from the girl who, two years ago, had bought a spiral notebook with money she had saved, tarted it up, and turned it into her first diary.
She did not hide the diary away. She kept it on the bedside table, on top of her pile of books. It was touching, this faith she showed in us; it was almost like a dare, a test of our integrity. Or was it merely not being as grown-up as we thought she had become?
Events took a different turn within a couple of weeks. One Sunday night, Oishi asked: "Do you want to see what I have written in my diary?" "Yes, of course," my wife and I said nearly in unison, a rare instance of instinctive, vigorous agreement on a subject.
Oishi began either reading out from it every day or making us read what she had recorded. It was interesting to learn how she saw her day, to look at recent events entirely through her eyes.
There was the predictable stuff, of course. But there were things, too, that we had thought were insignificant, but which we found had shaped her day — and her memory of it — in important ways.
We noticed that the one key thing that defined the rhythm of her entries (her thoughts, her memories, her notion of what was significant) was the exclamation mark: one or two or three had been inserted, depending on the import of the event. I don't fancy the exclamation mark, and would use it only with a sense of irony. But in the hands of a nine-year-old, that particular punctuation took on an unsullied, uncliched, childlike quality.
When I returned after being away for a couple of days this week, she took me by the hand, thrust her diary towards me, and said: "Here are all the things that I couldn't tell you on the phone, Baba. This is what happened while you were away."
Things change, but isn't it reassuring to discover that they have also somewhat remained the same?