“Chikki called in the morning,” Amma begins, seated at the dining table.
Dinner conversations at home have always been severely orchestrated, progressing into a chaotic crescendo. It always begins with the most neutral subject, me. And usually Achan sits silent, regarding his food with empirical interest. He is on standby for his cue.
“She’s had fever for two days now,” Amma continues.
“Has she been taking medicines? Ask her not to self- medicate.”
“Why would she self-medicate?”
“Alla, isn’t that what everyone in your family does?” Achan asks.
“I’ll be grateful if Chikki doesn’t inherit your arrogance.”
“You should be grateful if she turns out like me,” Achan responds grimly. “God forbid she becomes like you.”
That was an unusually bad start. Usually they manage to get through the first serving before beginning their daily duel.
I am the buffer between my parents. The buoy that keeps their marriage from drowning. The only child propping up two unhappy adults. The memory of my childhood is spotted with their irate silences. There are no normal meals, no calm weekends, and no decent holidays there. I am the Babel fish that translates their silences. In through the ear, out through the mouth. Their silences have circulated through me for so long that my most elemental self knows exactly how they will play out. Even now, when I am almost a subcontinent away from them.
“Is this all the chapati there is?”
“I made ten. I ate only two.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
“No, there is no more chapati left.”
“Why do you have to be stingy with food? Why can’t you make more?”
“There are only two people in this house. How many chapatis should I have made?”
“What are you going to do with all the money you save on food? Are you going to take it with you when you die?” Pleased with his punch dialogue, Achan gets up to wash his hands as his half-eaten meal looks on, crestfallen.
“Yes, maybe that’s what I will do,” Amma mutters. She waits till she hears Achan switch on the nine pm news. Sitting down by the TV she says, “Reduce the volume, I am going to call Chikki.”
“Let me watch the news. You can call afterwards.”
“Nothing will happen if you don’t watch the news for a day. Pinne, it’s not like you are preparing for IAS exams!” Because she knows she has stepped too far into enemy territory, she quickly adds, “Kutty will sleep. Let’s call before that.” With that she dials my number.
“Hello Amma, I am half asleep.”
“How is your fever, kutty? Should I courier some Dashamoolarishtam to you? Take one ounce every morning and evening and your fever will disappear. Pamba Kadakkum!”
“There is no need for that, Amma. I will be fine in a week. I am already better.”
“Ask her what medicine she is taking,” I can hear Achan prompt.
“I took Crocin for the last two days. This morning I started Amoxycillin. Another girl in my batch has fever with similar symptoms, and she met a doctor. He gave her antibiotics. He said viral fever is doing the rounds. I should be fine by the end of this course.”
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