It is so hot that I am pretty sure the asphalt outside is melting. And I am melting inside this room. The air conditioner is out of service and the fan is trying its best. I even gave up lying on the bed or couch and just starfished on the floor, hoping I could leech off some chill from the cement floor. I live on the ground floor of a modest four-storey flat, and I thank god for the trees outside my window. But goodness, the heat is unbearable.
I could get up and go outside, grab some ice cream, maybe some cold drinks, but the heat has turned my limbs to jelly and the lethargy is real. On weekends, I usually catch up with all the chores I ignore during the weekday, but it is just impossible today. Maybe I can try when it gets cooler in the evening. Maybe I am just very good at lying to myself. Maybe.
As I am wondering whether the sweat will make me stick to the marble floor, the doorbell rings. I cry a little—a small, choked, painful noise. Why must I be summoned! The doorbell rings again and again and again. I groan and get up (and I was proven right when my skin does stick just the tiniest bit to the floor). I open the door and find Helen standing in front of me. At thirteen, she hardly comes up to my head but her schemes are bigger than her, and when I find her with an orange popsicle in her mouth, I wonder what she wants. She raises the plastic bag and grins, “Here, grandma said to also get you some.”
I take the plastic bag and find another orange popsicle. My mood lifts, but I feel wary. I peel open the popsicle and do not even bother inviting the brat in. Helen has been my bane of existence ever since I moved to this cooperative complex three years ago. She lives with her mother and grandmother on the first floor, and since her grandmother and I come from the same town, the old lady took a shining to me. While I appreciate the many delicious things I get to eat, her granddaughter is a future quiz master. She probably has more questions to ask me than men on Bumble or Hinge do. Sometimes I wonder if she is compiling a secret Shaadi.com account for me. I would not put it past her.
“Whaddya want?’ I mumble.
“Grandma said to check on you. Maa is making dinner tonight, so she said to ask if you would be free,” she says. Then, her eyes gleam with mischief and her smile takes on a certain Cheshire-cat-quality, “I told her, of course, you’d be free. Like you have any friends to hang out with on a Sunday.”
I am feeling charitable thanks to the popsicle, so I muster the kindest smile and retort, “Then why are you spending your Sunday buying me ice cream?”
Helen’s eyes narrow, and I smirk when I know I got her. Yes, I know, at my big age of twenty-seven, I should not be beefing with someone fourteen years younger than me, but if you met her, you’d know.
Since she cannot find an answer, she changes the topic and says, “Anyway, Suki, Saru, and Tina will be coming too.” She skips towards the stairs after that, and as she takes the first step, she turns around and grins, “I swear, I’m gonna move out as soon as I’m old enough or else I would become a part of the spinsters in this complex.”
I feel a vein popping in my temple but I hold my smile. I close the door and quickly send a text to the girls mentioned. Suki, Saru, and Tina are other girls living in this complex. For some strange reason, we all flocked to the Gomez family, and they welcomed us.
We all come from far-flung towns, and Mrs Gomez reminded us all of our grandmothers. She does not only have a good relationship with us but also with most other tenants and even the vegetable and fruit vendors outside. She is probably this complex’s mascot.
It is funny how it came to be. Three years ago, when I had moved into this one BHK flat, I was new to the city and I would be so homesick. One fine morning, I was in the wet market and I was staring at the shrimps, thinking of the way my mother would make them and wondering if I could bother her for the recipe when this old lady hobbled up to me and ordered the woman selling the fish to pack her some shrimp. The woman seemed to know this customer of hers and quietly asks after her. When she asks what the old lady will make with this shrimp, the old lady giggles, “Oh, nothing special, just some fried shrimp with coconut flakes.”
I was surprised; that is exactly what I wanted to eat! The old lady feels my gaze on her and says, “Ah, you’re the new girl on the ground floor flat! Looking to buy fish? Bhumi here keeps the best surmai, you know.”
I blushed and scratched my neck, “No, I just wanted some shrimp, though I don’t know how to cook it.”
“Oh dear, what did you want to make? Maybe we can help?”
I told her I wanted fried shrimp with coconut flakes. Her eyes widened, and she asked where I was from. And when I told her, she chuckled, “Oh my, this is so wonderful! Why don’t you come for dinner tonight? We live on the floor above yours!”
I tried to put down the invitation, feeling terribly like I was imposing but she would not take a no for an answer, so that night, I ended up at the Gomez flat and met her wonderful daughter and her demon of a granddaughter.
Soon, Suki, Tina, and Saru became part of the Gomez dining table too. Over the years, it is kind of endearing how much of a family we have become. We take care of Mrs Gomez when her daughter is busy. I help the granddaughter with her maths homework, Saru taught her how to bake, Tina often gives her unhelpful boy advice, and Suki thinks she should give Helen self-defence lessons. Helen’s mother thinks it is wonderful her daughter has so many older sisters. I think the poor child will only grow up even more confused.
As I lie back down on the floor, popsicle in my mouth, I smile still. Family truly does not end in blood. I do not even remember what homesickness feels like at times.
Cover Image from iStock by Getty Images.
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