Twenty-four

I had these cousins, two beautiful girls, happened to be my mom’s third elder brother’s daughters. We were friends, went to same school, were of same age group. Had gotten along quite well. Whenever I went to their house in Kanata for a day or two, we’d have an amazing time together playing kuntepille, cricket, badminton and several other games that belonged to homeland. Danced together and cooked together. On a weekend, one sunny day, we had built a perfect two storeyed building with fine clay, moulding rooms for beds, toilet and kitchen. A train of stair curving up to the terrace from the anterior and a shed in a space separate for parking vehicles that never existed. The house we built reached up till our knees. We had then cooked food. My cousins possessed something, which comprised of plastic utensils, cute little cups and mugs, plates, bowls in all sizes, spoons and forks, and everything a kitchen set would have. We’d take handful of mud, little amount of water and then maybe leaves for the decoration purpose around the corners of the plate after the food would be ready to serve. Tea was made, cake – by patting the clomp of mud into desired shape, noodles – by picking decayed coconut shell which would have holes in the centre and squeezed through for long stripes what we called as noodles. Everything of mud was made and served to those who came to watch our cookery show, who were supposed to pretend as though they ate and liked it. Most of the times my cousins’ grandma who’d be glanced at taking rounds in the garden was made to eat – pretend ofcourse. I had known only little about cooking, I showed less interest than my cousins. They knew how to make a glass of tea while they were in class 2 and cooked chicken biriyani by class 7. While for me, even the simple tea took me so long. It was during my graduation break that every evening I’d make two cups of it for mum and myself.
There was one time when we had prepared real tea, using tea powder and sugar, tinkling the kitchen set. We had used fire to heat the tea, two bricks in support for whatever was being cooked and in between were the fallen leaves under fire. Boiled and served the hot tea to the grandma, their mother’s mother. I never liked her because she wouldn’t treat me like one of her grandchildren. Their mother, my Aunt, too would be busy inside the house. She owned a beauty parlour. And she would have a friend, male, visit her every evening. He owned a medical shop metres away from the house. And then my uncle, he was an employee in Karnataka bank, Virla. He’d leave at 9 in the morning and return by 6 or 6:30 sometimes. The medical guy and my uncle were however in good terms. But I always felt bad for my uncle, because he was the only one there, who truly loved me. He’d hold me tight in his arms and talk, of his mother – my grandmother, his brothers and sisters, and family matters, he’d ask me what’s happening back home, as though I was his family news reporter. Deep inside, I knew he felt lonely.
I’d sense change in behaviour with my cousins as my holidays at their place extended. And it would hurt. I’d suddenly start missing my home back in Saline. Mom, my little brother. Tears would roll down my cheeks when everyone was sound asleep at night. Or while pouring mugs of water inside bathroom. The feeling of home would haunt me and I wanted to rush back. You don’t have to haver and shiver all night long when the high speed fan is running up at the ceiling and the skinny blanket you’ve been given with is nowhere of help and you try pulling the corners of your cousin’s woolly blanket, only to watch it depart as the cousin sleeping next to you turns round and round and there you are, again, shivering, gritting your teeth throughout the night. If you were at home, without delaying, you would wake your Mumma up from sleep and simply tell her that you’re feeling cold. And she would somehow put you into sleep in no time.
The chilly night would pass and as the sun creeked into the room through the lanky curtains, things would seem to have settled a bit. I’d no longer feel cold as I laid there, covered with my wafer-thin blanket. My Aunt who would wake up much earlier than us would curve a smile at me as she’d pass along my side, to her parlour room. Are y’all up, she’d ask in her low voice. Uncle all dressed up, giving us alarms to wake up as he strolled from one room to the other. My cousins would then slowly open their eyes and we’d lay there on the beds for a long time, playing with the cat and running fingers through it’s fur, telling stories of who kicked whom the previous night, who snored louder, who pulled one other’s blankets.
I liked trying their fiddle-fitting outfits. They were unlike the oversized clothes that my dad would make me wear, which I’d just jump into and settle feeling more than comfortable. There was no room for girly or fancy clothes in my wardrobe, but dispersed with generously cut shirts and rammies of all fashion.
The 9 year old child that I was, never failed to compare my things with that of my cousins, or with my bestfriend Shaku.
Monday morning we were getting ready to go to school. The two days of leisure at their place had come to an end. And on that evening, after school, I was supposed to return home in my school jeep. I was happy and sad. After our books were put in order by my uncle, he came about at the sitout to polish his daughters’ shoes, today grabbing mine as well. At home, my shoes hardly got polished, I’d just rub them up and down with my socks while PT Ma’am would come to check.
After he returned our glossy shoes, we began working out with the lacing and while we waited for the lunch bags to arrive from inside, Aunt was getting them, I noticed the hole in my shoe at the toe which I always tried my best to cover. This time my school bag was burying it.

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