I didn’t want to be late. It was my first date in 4 months (thank you, COVID) and I was hell-bent on not rushing the whole process for once in my life because of my usual inefficiency in picking out an outfit (too long/too short/too pink) or my incompetency while communicating with cab drivers (“it’s the apartment near the trees, bhaiyya”).
But I had no trouble whatsoever looking for an outfit this time; my favorite pair of faded blue jeans that I used to wear for weeks on end literally everywhere – to the movies, parties, college and even occasionally to bed, lay neatly folded deep inside my cupboard, untouched for months now, calling out to me desperately like an old forgotten lover. I almost naturally decided to pair this with my favorite pink top (not too pink, just right) simply because I loved how the bell sleeves would gracefully fall and make me feel like royalty every time I raised my hands for something as small as fixing my hair or waving at somebody. I handpicked minimalistic jewelry to complement this, a simple gold chain that was one outing away from losing its color, and delicate, dangly leaf earrings – a present from my mother because she found them “just too enticing to not own in her house”.
I didn’t want to overdo my make-up either. A quick swish of thick water-proof mascara and a light dab of blush on my cheeks succeeding a textbook moisturizing routine seemed just perfect. I then pulled my hair back into the perfect chignon (after failing to do so twenty million times), and deliberately left out a few loose strands here and there to make it look “effortless” and like I didn’t pay much attention to it (a tip from my best friend). I pouted in the mirror, made funny faces to see if I’d look cute even when I was being goofy and smiled in a myriad different ways till I settled on the perfect one. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed this whole routine.
All dolled up now, I’m ready for dinner just in time. Its half past eleven, an odd and late hour for dinner I’m aware, but I was informed that the novice chef preparing our meal for tonight was having a little trouble locating the whereabouts of the ginger-garlic paste (not to mention how he made a racket about how the spices weren’t all kept in one place for His Highness to work with). Just when I was about to step outside my room, my ten-year old sister peeks in, looks a little taken aback (sporting the “you’re-capable-of-looking-presentable?” look) and courtly says “Ma’am, I’ll be escorting (pronounced ‘ecsorting’) you to your table tonight, dinner is nearly ready”. I breathe a sigh of relief. No communicating with any cab drivers tonight.
Now unfortunately, this little sister of mine has acquired an unhealthy obsession with balloons of late (I say unfortunately because I absolutely detest the very idea of them; with their nasty rubbery smell that teleports you back to that one annoying childhood birthday party, the way they teasingly flirt with the possibility of exploding in your face mid-inflation, the noise, the tacky in-your-face colors, all of it). She ordered a pack of seventy such multi-colored balloons with the intention of “strengthening her lungs during these uncertain times” and she’s made it a point to blow ten each day. My living room now looks exactly like that one annoying childhood birthday party, and it only gets worse with every passing day.
So it’s into this shindig of a living room that I saunter, wearing something other than my PJ’s for the first time in 4 months and I’m weirdly excited for what’s in store. Our dining table is all set up on one end; there’s plates and cutlery neatly lined up for two, placed beside what seems to be an attempt at napkin swans (the little one’s doing). The other end however remains untouched from the evening’s activities – computer and statistics textbooks remain strewn across the table haphazardly, untangled earphones, a laptop and a new pack of color pens scattered everywhere. Behind the closed kitchen door, I hear my father scream out to no one in particular – “OHMYGOD THIS IS THE BEST PIECE OF CHICKEN I’VE EVER COOKED IN MY LIFE, I SHOULD’VE BECOME A CHEF!”.
In short, it’s our very own Shangri-La.
My date is already seated at the table when I arrive. Effortlessly beautiful in her white chikankari salwar kameez and messy bun that she made in the morning, my mother looks up at me from admiring the little napkin swan as I walk towards my usual seat on the table. She smiles at me warmly, looks at me like I’m the most beautiful girl in the world and says “Why, hello there gorgeous, take a seat. Before we begin, I must say – I absolutely love your earrings!”
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