#1 – Luncheon

“Lunch is ready!” Her shrill voice somehow managed to reach all corners of the house no matter where she stood. “Lunch is ready, run and come, I don’t want it getting cold over here!” she sang again. I ran up to the kitchen, and sat cross-legged on the floor, waiting for Aunt to hand over the plate.

“What do you think you are doing?” she said in a third shrill tone. This tone usually meant something had gone miserably wrong and I immediately stood up, not knowing what went wrong this time. I had washed my hands, Mother had told me to remember to do that invariably whenever I was to be at Aunt’s place. “What?” I said feebly, because for some unknown reason, Aunt always gave me the creeps. She was thirty, and I was only seven years old. “At our house, mister, we don’t sit on the dirty floors. Try that when you go back home; now go to the dining hall and sit at a chair,” she said, handing me a napkin. I looked at the napkin, unsure of what was to be done with it. I wiped my hands with it, but Aunt glared at me even sterner. I was clueless. Nothing such ever happened at home. At home, there was one plate, Mother and I sat on the ground, and we both hogged from it as fast as possible; it was a kind of race for us. For every morsel that Mother fed me, she used to take one bite. That way I knew we both ate equally, though I always knew she fed me more than what she ate herself.

Aunt was still glaring at me, and I, completely clueless of what to do with the napkin, sneezed into it. She looked at me with utter disbelief. “Did you just sneeze into that?” she shouted. “Tell me you did not.” My eyes were swollen now, she snatched the napkin and through it into the basket where all the dirty laundry was kept. She handed me a new napkin. “Now go!” she cried. I ran into the dining hall with the napkin, and sat on the table. Cousin Sam was already sitting there, and he eyed me slowly, and waved his hands to show that I was to kind of wear the napkin like he did. He looked like a baby, who wasn’t sure if he could eat without spilling all the food on his clothes. The idea of wearing a napkin to eat didn’t make sense to me at all. But then Uncle was wearing one too, and I thought When at Rome, do as Romans do. So I wrapped it somehow, though it looked rather clumsy and did not fit as well as it did on Sam.

Food was served, and I was almost about to eat when Uncle said in a stern voice, “Let us say our prayers.” And in a blink, all of them had closed their eyes and murmured in a slow voice,
“Bless us O Lord,
And these Thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive,
From Thy bounty.”
I closed my eyes, but then I had no clue what this meant and I was definitely not going to say them before eating. Why should I? Mother never did, neither did Father. As they said Amen, Sam eyed at me that we could start eating now. And then all of a sudden, Aunt shrieked again. This shriek was akin to what she did if there was a calamity, not like an earthquake, but rather one like the gas was over in the cylinder, or a rat was lurking in the attic. I looked up to see all of them sternly gazing at me.

“What happened now?” I asked.
“Mister, what do you think you are doing?” she retorted.
“What?” I asked now, meekly; her voice definitely meant I had done something wrong.
Cousin Sam whispered softly, “Eat with the spoon.”
“What?” I looked at him. “Why did you make me wash my hands then?”
Aunt looked at me, as if I were an apple which just fell from a mango tree.
“Go wash your hands again, come back, and eat with the spoon,” she said sternly.
I walked off.

And that was how I got my first lesson of mixing with people who presumed to have a higher status than us in society.

Return – Chapter 4

As I walked back, I pondered on how she would feel if she knew of this. She had always been patient when it came to listening to stories about Shaena. She was beautiful. We were beautiful. Irtiqa. When we first met, we had talked for a couple of hours before we exchanged our names, and by then it had been too late for us to back out. How everything went after that, and what it led to, only we knew. Irtiqa, she said, meant progression. She had kept the entire thing afloat, and somehow I had felt it was her who I owed so much in my life. But life is a strange affair, and we were meant to not be. If she were here today, she would probably have walked with me, discussed if it were right, whatever I was doing, and maybe even encourage me a little, boost up my confidence, that pretty smile that changed everything, those instantaneous hugs and pats on the head… it had been a good time together.

I sat in the drawing room, waiting for Shaena to come downstairs. On the opposite wall, there was a poster, which reminded me of a stanza which she had read out to me ages ago.

“For when the sky is dark,
The rains will come,
And when the rains do come,
The dust will wash off,
And when the dust washes off,
New dust will settle,
Until the sky turns dark again.”

It seemed so true and so clearly untrue at the same time. Indeed life was a circle. Not one big one, but many small circles. You kept going round and round unless you found the way out. For me, I still hadn’t discovered the way, and was engulfed in it, round and round and round. I looked up at the ceiling, the fan moving persistently, in slow circles, never tiring. I wondered what would happen if the fan rotated counter clockwise instead of clockwise, and whether it would just break out of the ceiling and fall on my head if I were to close my eyes. I kept my eyes open. Irtiqa kept interrupting my thoughts. I thought of the day when I had finally decided I would ask her out, and then the tumultuous events that led to me deciding for once and all, that it was never meant to be. Once a while I looked up the stairs to see if she was coming down.

After half an hour she did. She looked mesmerizing. It would have been wrong to say she looked just pretty, or gorgeous. She looked different. Different from how she looked yesterday, when we met for the first time in years. Of course, she didn’t realize she was talking to me then. She had drank more than she was capable of. We had talked as if we were strangers, until Saeeka turned up. Things changed, and I instantaneously left that place. But how she talked today didn’t really suggest she had any idea of what happened yesterday. And maybe that was for the good, because it would have been the worst possible reunion I could have imagined if it were to happen that way. But things happen, they just, happen. They are not always under your control. Two years back, when Irtiqa and I first kissed (and it was the last time too), it just happened. We never talked about it again, pretending as if it never happened. Could it be Shaena was pretending too? Whatever it was, I decided to let it be as it was. She came down the stairs. “Let’s go?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, and we walked out.

On our way, she chattered consistently. It felt nice to listen to her, after such a long time. The wind blew through her hair, so she took it up all in a bun, but then she saw the dismayed face that I had involuntarily and unintentionally made, and she left it open again. It was only after she smiled that I realized my face was crooked. “Have you read A Song of Ice and Fire?” she asked. “Oh yes, it is one of my favorite series,” I replied. It had been fifteen minutes since the last time I spoke, and so I had to grab this opportunity. But she didn’t let me. Instead, she prattled about her friends, college, life, thoughts, plans, wishes, memories and what not. Even so, it felt good. The winter wind on my face, the damp sun after the rain, and the snowy streets, all reminded me of times long gone by. We crossed a pond, where in the summer you would spot lots of fishermen trying to grab their lot of fishes for the day. Now, however, it was covered with a sheet of ice. The trees were white too, as if they had white leaves. The aroma of Christmas floated. It was less than a fortnight away. “I have a friend, her name is Irtiqa,” I said. “Oh, nice name,” she said, before continuing with whatever she was talking about. It was five minutes later that she realized I wanted to tell her something, and then she finally stopped talking. It was my turn.

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Those Complete Days

The cool breeze brought in with it an essence, an essence of happiness, a fragrance of hope, and a perfume of completeness, as I sat at my desk, completing my homework. It was less cold today, I hadn’t put on my pullover after waking up, and though after every five sums I went to my bed to feel the warmth of my quilt, the cool breeze still soothed me, and for a change, being wrapped by it felt better than the quilt. My mother brought in the tea, with two biscuits; I was not supposed to have tea empty-stomached, and sat by me for some time. Then she went off, continuing with her daily chores, whilst I sat at the window sill, looking out. Today was special.

The trees had just bore new leaves yesterday. They were small, they were green. As green as the eyes of that girl, whom I had seen yesterday under the tree, waiting for the rain to stop so she could resume her way back. She was wearing a white top, and a red skirt, and it looked more like a school uniform. She didn’t see me, I didn’t want to be seen either, for I felt ashamed to be spotted the first time with me wearing a vest and bermuda. I had seen her from the space in between the two curtains, which were at two corners of the pelmet today, allowing the light inside the room, so that I did not have to switch on the lamp to study. I gave one biscuit to the crow, one to the dog, and had the tea myself. They were always around at this time of the day, it had become a routine for them to get the biscuits. They did not wait for more, they knew they would get only one.

I heard the motorcycle’s engine start, rushed to the balcony to wave my father good-bye as he went to work; I did this every day. Sometimes I would go off with him when he left and would stop at a shop, buying myself a chocolate, and then walk my way home. My mother would be surprised when occasionally I brought in a samosa for her, not knowing that I had bought myself no chocolate that day. And as she smashed the samosa and mix it with puffed rice, put a spoon of mustard oil, and some onion, I would stand by her, smiling. That was my mother’s favorite breakfast.

Sometimes she would make herself a cup of tea after breakfast, softly so as I do not get to know about it, but the sound as the hot tea touched the dry heated upper part of the saucepan while pouring it, clearly alerted me, and I would rush into the kitchen, and she would smile, pouring the tea into two cups, and we drank half a cup of tea each, chatting throughout. She would ask me what I wanted for lunch, telling me the names of all the vegetables in the refrigerator, and I would choose one, and she would make something out of it for lunch that day.

I would return to my room, which was no more cool, but hot due to the asbestos roof heating up quickly. I would retire to my chair, take a book in my hand and continue reading, whilst my mother cooked for me and father, who would be shortly arriving then, for his lunch. By the time he would come home for lunch, I would already be sleeping; I needed a nap in the afternoons to keep me awake through the evenings. When in the evening he finally returned from his office after it closed, he would sometimes bring two jalebees for us, mother and me, and would smile as we ate them after tea. I couldn’t have it before tea; the tea wouldn’t taste sweet then, a phenomena I couldn’t reason out why.

Then we all went back to our work, mother to the kitchen, I to my studies, and dad, well, to the television. He needed some rest after the day’s hard work. In two hours we would have finished with dinner. Sometimes we played a game of cards before everyone finally felt too sleepy. And there it would end, another special day. Tomorrow will be special again.