I stand by the kitchen island sprinkling chopped coriander on a tray of steaming jeera pulav. I stop to admire the subtle yellow color that the strands of saffron have infused the rice with. The pots of dal, paneer and curry sit side by side. My arms are stiff from the effort of having rolled out two dozen chapattis. The bell rings and I hurry. Shakthi and her children are at the door. We meet like long time friends. Her children and mine rush upstairs to jump on the sofa and continue playing from where they left off a few months back.
She adds thick stuffed aloo parathas and a tall container of carrot raita to a table already groaning from the weight of all the food. We exchange hugs and I put away jackets. Half hour later, our children, five between the two of us are at the table eating and chatting. We hover, the anxious parents that we are insisting that our wards try everything on their plate and beam with happiness when our progeny prove our worth as responsible parents.
They scamper off to the basement having complied with our directives to put away plates and cups. The adults sit at the same table carefully arraying our plates with food. We eat unhurriedly talking about the legal processes that surgically divide families. We talk about formulas that calculate what it takes to support the children. We talk about what it is like to start from scratch, to have the rug yanked from underneath your leg and finding balance. We talk about what it is like to enter the workforce a decade later with significant handicaps. Most of all we talk. We talk about parenting, about balance, about requesting and accepting help.
We clear the table, pack away remnants into tiny boxes, stack the dishwasher and retire to the sectional sofa. Saathi walks downstairs to play with the kids. Shakthi and I sit and touch upon the uncomfortable topics. About panic attacks, about worries that go beyond the present. We talk about reluctant helpers, about money or lack thereof. We talk about government aid, we talk about how scary it is to drive on the highway at night with tractor trailers on either side. We talk about dark roads and desolate parking lots. We talk about safety. We steer clear of the future doggedly staying in the present. We skip the past too knowing all too well that it is best left behind.
She leaves with kids in tow two and half hours later. The kids and I stand at the door and wave until the car is out of sight. I lock myself in the study and go over the morning. I feel proud of her. I feel proud of the progress I can see visually. In the slight rounded face, in the hint of light in once vacant eyes. I see it in the happy children who play with mine. I see it in the determined checklists she maintains. I see it in the set of her jaw, in the steely grip she has on her reality. I see it in the tenacious way she holds on to what is tangible refusing to venture too much into the future. I see it most of all in the dignity she comports. In the squared shoulders and a head held high. In the smile that reaches her eyes. In the warmth that she injects into the hug as she leaves. In the Thank You that is a stand in for everything else she wants to say and is yet to find the words for.