When They Came Home

Last weekend the news was announced. Well it wasn’t really announced. I overheard Mom speaking on the phone and put two and two together. Kurian Uncle and Sarah Aunty were coming to town. Mom was, as always hesitant to tell us the news. It was just two days before the ‘event’ and if I hadn’t overheard the phone conversation I have no idea how I would have come to know at all, I later wondered. Maybe Mom planned it as a surprise. An unpleasant one, I thought ruefully.

Kurian Uncle is balding old man with snow white hair around his head shaped in a kind of blunt cut. It somehow doesn’t look half as bad on him as the description sounds. He is short, almost delicate with a smile that makes his eyes crinkle. And he always smells of smoke. Partly because of the fact that he only smokes ‘beedis’. He tried a beedi once during his youth and remained loyal to it forever.

Sarah Aunty is my mother’s oldest sister and the age difference between them is considerable. She is my mother’s only sister (out of her six sisters) who bears great resemblance to my mom. Though, not quite. The same features that make my mother’s face so lively, make hers look harsh. The shapes of their eyes are the same. However on my mother those eyes can look naughty, loving and happy. On Sarah aunty, they look a little less soft, a little sadder. Maybe more interesting though. Those eyes tell a story.

We don’t hate them. Far from it. We love them to bits. A love mixed with fear though. Them coming over means every move of ours being scrutinized.

The most important issue to be sorted out before they came was whose room they were going to be staying in. More like, who had to give up their room. I gave up my room last time, I pleaded. My brother gave his all time classic argument. My room is a mess, he said. A quick inspection by my mom revealed that my brother’s room truly was unsuitable for anyone to stay in. He was given a dressing down by mom while I was left with the worse punishment. Sleeping on the couch in the tiny extra room was never a nice option.

They arrived two days later, early in the morning. They arrived at 5.30am and were escorted to my room. I had slept in the small room and it being a holiday, woke up at 8.00 am. I hastily brushed my teeth, washed my face and went to meet them.

“You’ve grown into a young woman” said Sarah Aunty smiling, “Were you working till late night yesterday?” asked Kurian Uncle. “You’re up late”. I hastily avoided the question unable to bring myself to tell uncle that I in fact had woken up early as on holidays I usually slept till noon.

The day chugged along quite uneventfully. Sarah Aunty asked me who the boy in all the pictures in my room was. I told her he was my boyfriend. I considered lying, though in some kind of stubbornness blurted out the truth. I watched her press her lips firmly together. I waited for say to say something but she didn’t.

Kurian Uncle asked me whether I had gotten a first division at college. I told him I did. Then he proceeded to ask me whether I had come among the top three in my class. I politely told him that I hadn’t even come among the top ten. “Not even among the top ten” he repeated shaking his head. I felt myself prick with irritation and hastily left the room.

Comments continued throughout the day. My brother was asked how come he didn’t make it to the top law college in Bangalore. I was asked why I didn’t eat green vegetables as that was probably the reason for all the pimples on my face.

Three days were finally over and it was time for them to leave. I felt a prick of pain when I saw my uncle bring his suitcase to the living room.I looked at aunt’s face. I knew they felt bad about leaving. I wondered for a moment what their life was like. Just the two of them in their sprawling bungalow in Kerala. They didn’t have children and that was their life’s biggest tragedy I had heard.

Just before leaving, Sarah Aunty gave me a warm hug. She then looked into my eyes and said “You are such a wonderful girl. I have always wanted a daughter just like you.” I thought her eyes glistened a little. I saw Uncle smiling at my brother and me.

They left and I strangely felt empty. I watched them through my window and found myself wishing that they had stayed longer. Though maybe, not quite.

Aditi Jain