‘Pass me the water, Vini. ’
She belched loudly, the armchair shifting under her weight. I rose from my place on the couch, sighing. ‘And the pills, Dadi?’
‘White. The ones I take in the afternoon. ’
The kitchen shone enamoured through a hallway of darkness, the smells of roasted coffee and leftover plum pudding emerging from its hidden recesses. A young woman sat on her haunches just outside, her face and hands visibly breached with sweat, pouring chilled buttermilk into large steel tumblers.
‘What can I get you, Bhabhi? ’
I smiled, motioning for her to sit down. ‘Just some water and my grandmother’s medicine. Which shelf is it on, Diya? ’
She pointed to a low counter beside the stove, saying somewhat mischievously, ‘She keeps her stash in a tray next to the family picture, your Dadi. If you finish this errand quickly, she might let you have a bauble.’
‘I don’t want her trinkets, they’re…ugly.’
But I lingered near the photograph anyway, drawn by the essence of esotericity it seemed to hold, much like the rest of the house; it was a picture of my grandparents and their only son, taken almost thirty years ago.
They looked young, and happy. My grandmother was wearing a saree the colour of plain sky, its furtive ends embroidered with pieces of moist twill. She had on a smile that struggled now to reach her beautiful eyes; eyes whose knowledge of sadness was profound. Eyes I had unashamedly inherited.
I could not bear to look at my father.
Khaki trousers that were too long for him spooned around his skinny ankles, a faded shirt that bore soporific traces of rice and dhal; a fleeting schoolboy’s smirk everyone had adored and I still missed.
Mother and son, an arm each draped across the other’s shoulder, ready to share a kiss once the photographer’s hand moved away.
The fear in her voice was unmistakable; it was the fear of losing someone, again, of torrid bereavement playing itself out in the deepened lines on her face. She grieved not only for the son she had lost, but also the daughter he had left behind.
‘Coming, Dadi,’ I said.