I walk along the perimeter of my home, the bundle in my hand feeling heavier with each step. I pause as I hear the garage door roll. A smile involuntarily creeps up my face. I heave the baby to my shoulders and open the door. The sun rays slant, lighting up a part of the garage. Saathi stands with banana peels in one hand and a lunch bag in another. His face is radiant. I look from him to the kids.
There is an air of suppressed excitement before all three of them begin to speak. I hear three different voices go “You won’t believe…”
My smile is now wide enough to traverse the length of my face. I gather Ammu close to me give her a partial hug. I bend down to take a peek at the gap in her teeth. She holds out a clear ziplock with a tiny tooth edged with blood inside. Her name is spelled outside in black. I feel tears pricking the insides of my eyes. I blink rapidly and get swept into the boisterous celebrations that ensue.
It is late at night. I am busy printing out a certificate from the tooth fairy and cutting paper along solid lines to fashion an envelope. An hour goes by and a tiny gift bag stands at the edge of my table. I am excited. Almost as excited as my daughter. Inside the bag is an envelope addressed to her. Some money. Two bars of candy. The clock shows 10:00 PM.
I tiptoe into Ammu’s room. She shifts and I freeze. Her breathing is even and she seems fast asleep. I trade the bag with the tooth for the tiny gift bag. I look again at the sleeping child and make my way outside. The glow from the street lamp filters into the game room. I stand in the semi darkness, the import of the evening sinking into me. The tears I held back all evening fall noiselessly. I wipe my face with the back of my hand and make my way to bed.
The look of joy on Ammu’s face when she showed me her fallen tooth and the gap in her teeth haunts me. The unbridled nature of her excitement. The way her nose crinkled and her eyes scrunched up as she smiled. A wide open smile that stretched from ear to ear. This is the first of many rites of passage that will follow. Each one marking the years flying past. I reach out to trace the cheeks of my littlest one as if to reassure myself she is only a few months old. And I sleep.
A deep dreamless sleep only to be woken by a very excited child holding a bag.