It had been years. A part of her heart stood untouched. She’d known heartbreak. Each time they came close to her, she found herself comparing them to him. Just when she had written off romance forever, the perfect guy showed up. He even shared her love for cheesecake.
She had seen her just last night. She’d been silent with her pain. Still, she allowed her to give a light back massage. The young niece tried to let her fingers do their work, while her eyes kept on filling with tears. As she rubbed her back softly, she looked at the bald head with despair. When she was done, she kissed the bald head without knowing that it would be their last touch. That night, the phone rang, and she knew it was the call that they were dreading since her diagnosis.
“Anil, tomorrow we will be going to the village to meet your father’s cousins,” his mother told him the day he landed in India. “Ma, I am home after three years. Can we go later?” His mother said “no” because the train tickets were bought and his father would be upset.
The next morning, they set out with bottles of water and a tiffin carrier full of food. Anil started munching on the goodies he had missed abroad. “Save your appetite for lunch,” his mother warned. “They will be cooking a big meal for you. It’s been so long, after all.” Anil laughed, thinking that six puris and three sweets were hardly anything.
When they reached the village, his relatives jumped on him, making him feel like a movie star. “Come sit by me, Anil!” “No, I am the oldest. He will sit with me!” The women in the family made a big fuss about him, while the men started a game of cards. “Lunch will be served soon,” Anil’s mother told him. “Just remember to never say ‘no’ to anything they offer you,” she instructed. Anil already felt full from snacking on the train ride and thought he would have a light meal and sleep right after. But his mother interrupted his thoughts saying, “Remember, saying ‘no’ will make them think their food isn’t good. The women will feel bad about their cooking skills.” Anil nodded.
The meal began well with all the women standing around Anil, watching his every bite. He gave them a smile every two minutes. This seemed to send the message that he wanted more. More rice came. More fish came. More potatoes. More of everything came. Anil found himself panting. Still he looked at his mother and said “yes” to all that was being offered. After three helpings of everything, he felt quite ill and had to stop himself from throwing up. Even the women in the house looked worriedly at each other. Their food had almost finished. But imagine telling a guest that there was no more food to be served! They wanted to serve Anil the sweet dish, but he still had not said “no” to the other dishes.
Anil could barely look up. His mother sensed trouble. She asked for the sweet dish. The women were happy but jumped up in chorus, “Anil! You didn’t like our food? Was it too salty? Or too sweet?” Anil shook his head as hard as he could without throwing up. More food came. Some of the women struggled to make more food in the kitchen.
When Anil burped for the tenth time and had almost collapsed, he managed to ask for the sweets. The women put one sweet after the other on his plate, watching him chew and smile. After each sweet came the question, “Did you like it?” Anil nodded and panted. Finally, there were no more sweets left and Anil had to run outside to throw up.
He came back inside with a smile and said, “The food was very tasty.” That day when he left with his parents, the relatives talked about his huge appetite and how they had to go back to the kitchen to rustle up more food! The head of the family was glowing with pride. “My cooking must be the best,” she beamed.
Anil spent the return journey crying, promising to be rude next time.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)