It starts innocuously enough. I steam the rice on high, fluff it with a fork and set it on the island.
“Are you sure they can eat it without yogurt?” You ask, the demand hidden behind the question. I acquiescence my head demurring. I set the two bowls out and your dad rounds the two of you up and has you seated for dinner.
I pick up the phone, the stress of making you dinner getting a little overwhelming. The first few spoons disappear rather rapidly, hunger counting for something. You slow down. I feel the stirrings of unease.
Your dad holds the spoon near your mouth the battle lines drawn. You keep your face down eyes staring at your feet determined to ignore. I hang up the phone prepared to intervene. “Ammu, look up” I say. “Your daddy is waiting for you.”. Your eyes rove up and you purse your lips. Daddy puts the spoon down forcefully and in a swift motion removes the bowl away from you. You sit unmoving. Pattu recognizes a battle when she sees one. “My tummy hurts” she says feigning pain and rubbing her eyes meaningfully. Another bowl moves away in a swift motion.
I see your dad stride purposefully upstairs. I survey the room and make a quick decision. “Bananas anyone?” I ask. More than half of each banana disappears quickly before you both give up. I recognize you really are tired. I wipe your mouths and lead you upstairs knowing the next hour is going to be hard. I am halfway up when your dad attired to walk in the cold grazes past me his eyes unseeing.
Ammu sits down refusing to move. I carry Pattu up and put her to bed. I come back for Ammu who is sobbing loudly now. “I want Daddy!”. “I miss him.”. “I can’t find him anywhere”.
The sentences come out jerkily in between sobs. I lay you down on our vast bed where you clamber away before I can change you into PJs. I run after you pinning you by sheer size and change you quickly. You dig your heels at the talk of bed.
I stop. Tired.
I sit on the couch in the semi darkness with you next to me. I promise you daddy will be home shortly. You lie down and Appa will be here I bargain. I sense no give in your position. Resigning myself I close my eyes. I hear and feel you shuffle and move. You talk to yourself in a soft voice. Something about daddy being big and strong and grumpy. I feel a lump in my throat. “Amma shali!” you interrupt my eyes misting. I carry you to the bathroom to clean you up. I silently take you to your bedroom to put you to bed. You will have none of it.
I am exasperated by now. I leave you in the darkness and walk down when I hear the door open. I sit on the stairs and prepare myself to watch the rest.
Ammu dodges me on her way down. She stands by the door as you hang up your coat. You ignore her. She follows you silently. The charade goes on for a minute too longer for me to handle. I question you.
I hear the two of you whispering as you put her to bed. The whimper now turns to sounds of kisses and a baby going to bed knowing she won this round.
It has just begun I realize and I drown my sadness in a red velvet cupcake.