Nanu, you’re already up?

Kya bataun, the fear of bad tea wakes me up earlier than usual.
That bad, nanu?
No beta, it’s not that bad. But every morsel of food that I take, every sip of tea feels so distant since your nani has stopped cooking. It’ll take time to get used to food cooked by someone else.
What keeps you up, today? None of the kids wake up at 4.00 a.m.
I was thinking of feeding the crows. I’m sure they miss nani feeding them but my hands don’t stink. I hope they still eat.
They won’t caw till at least 5.30 or so. Are you here early because you’ll miss me?
Don’t just stand at the door now. Come give me a hug. Here.
Nanu, your hugs are warmer than nani’s. Or maybe I’ve forgotten how her hugs made me feel. But nanu, you should hug people, more. When you hug someone, do they know that you’re doing it because you love them? Is hugging a way to tell people that we love them?
I wonder if ill people’s hugs start feeling warmer. Your nani’s hugs were too warm to be true. But yes, it’s one way of expressing your love. I used to hug your nani a lot.
Is there someone special in your life?
Right now, nani needs all the love there is. I wish I could tie an imaginary cape around her neck so that she gets better. But I’d want her to feel it if not see it.
Did I tell you that you’re one of the few kids who give the best hugs ever? So for now you can give me all the hugs and love. I’ll wrap it well and give it to nani when I go see her. And by the time you’re an old machine, worn off like me you automatically turn warmer; maybe even hotter, who knows. And you’ll have the power to heal people. You’ll heal yourself out of bad sleep, too. You’ll sleep like a baby without painkillers and those obnoxious pills.
And Taanu, you can take our swing, attach it in your room. No one swings here, anymore.
But I come here mostly cause of the swing and then to meet you two. I like the swing here like it’s a better space in the city like that corner piece of cake with extra icing.
Haan, we should get a few slices of tea cake later, bite on them with our cups of tea and coffee.
Nanu, why did you give up on coffee? Remember our bournvita and coffee conversations? I’m here drinking coffee on holidays and I thought at least once you’d accompany me. What happened to our coffee plans?
Your nani’s face used to light up like the Moon with a sip of tea. To see that face every morning, I decided to indulge in. What was I thinking, I’d get more handsome and she would see me like her Amitabh Bachchan.
Also, she often made bad coffee but served me with the best smile in the world that there was. How could I even complain! I surrendered to tea like how I surrendered to her, out of love and only love.
Did you love nani before you married her?
Our times are old and grey, now. We fell in love as children playing in fields. I don’t think either of our fathers would have understood our tender love. And partition threw us on Indian lands, kept us out of the clutches of those who wouldn’t understand us. We were lost souls, hungry for shelter and we didn’t have anyone with us. Our families were wiped out from our lives like chalk from a slate. But we were hurt and left behind. I liked your nani very much, I fell in love with the love she had to offer to me. She was more like the man of the house than I ever was. She’s worn a saree, every day of our life together. And after you came in our lives, I’ve realised that her sarees have been a disguise for the wonder woman’s cape.
Nanu, you know that other day Taani wore a saree to school for a fancy dress competition. Ma made her wear a kumkum wali bindi and chaand balis. Taani looked so adorable. She looked like a desi doll but she didn’t win the competition. Maybe next year, if you tell Ma how to drape the saree like nani’s wonder woman’s cape, she could win the competition.
Hmm… Did you tell your sister that she looked so beautiful?
I don’t remember but Ma said that to her before kissing her forehead. I was looking at them from outside the door. They don’t look so similar but when they both wear Indian clothes, they look like nani’s children from different generations. Off late, I feel that Ma looks older than nani. She has worries and wrinkles, she forgets to wear her bangles, she never lets her hair dry like she used to. She ties them in a bun and doesn’t spend a lot of time waking me up.
You should take the swing home with you, make her sit in there and gently sway it. I used to do that for your nani all the time.
I remember how she made me drink haldi milk. She said that mustard yellow was her favourite color and haldi milk often held a shade of the same. She told me stories about sunflowers and marigolds, butterflies disliking the taste of butter while I asked for butterscotch ice cream instead of milk. She would kiss my forehead instead and divert the topic.
When will she come back from the hospital? I think children should be allowed in those green blue rooms. We don’t always make noise. I just want to see her and tell her that I like drinking haldi milk, it was just the stories that I liked more.
Doctors are strict like that. Their lives are all about medicines, prescriptions and discipline. They can’t take the risk of children making noise. Some patients are very ill, their memories are fading, there’s no space to accommodate new faces, smiles, cries or noise. And they look sad even if they’re physically getting better. It’s depressing to be there, at times.
But nanu, we’re strong people. And nani is the wonder woman of ancient times. Doctors need to know that. You need to take a mustard yellow saree for her to the hospital. She’ll come home sooner, I’m telling you.
That’s a nice idea, Taanu. Will you help me choose the saree from nani’s cupboard?
Of course, I’ll take three nice ones out. So she can choose which one looks better. I don’t know if it’s hot in the hospital. So one cotton, one silk and one function wear saree so when she comes home, she’ll be dressed up for a welcome home party. What do you think, nanu?
You’re getting wiser with time, Taanu.
I already know what we should cook for when she comes home. And I’ll bake a cake with Taani. I have so many ideas but the crows have started to caw. I’m going on the terrace now, they must be hungry. It’s their breakfast time already.
Yes, goo go. Take an extra packet of gathiya to feed them. Tell them that nani misses them, will you?
“Nanu, I finished both those big packets of gathiya. They were so happy. There were raven visitors too.”
“Nanu, did you fall asleep?”

Aekta Khubchandani

Aekta Khubchandani wears the color red on her head but loves to work in black and white. Her short fiction and poetry has been featured in The Aerogram, The Bombay Review, Mad Swirl, Terribly Tiny Tales, Warehouse Zine and Quail Bell Magazine. Her short fiction entry has been longlisted for Toto Awards (2018) for Creative Writng in English by TFA (Toto Funds the Arts). She is also a spoken word poet and has been featured by Airplane Poetry Movement (APM), Why Indian Men Rape (WIMR), Campus Diaries and Ithaka- St. Xavier’s Lit Fest.

She romanticises death and wishes to have conversations with Shakespeare and Plath, someday.