In the minutes before the clock struck three and the cars would start arriving in our driveway, I prowled the first floor of my home, camera in hand. Just as I thought I would head to the basement and snap pictures of the hastily made decorations, I spied Ammu and Pattu by the window. The sunlight filtered at an angle lighting them up like angels. The birthday tiaras seemed just right. They gazed on to the empty road in only what can be termed joyful anticipation. They held fluffy stuffed toys, a paper fan and barely contained happiness. I walked quietly and stood near them. Their conversation was inane, their eyes sought each other out after each synchronized sweep of the roads before them. Breaking their silent conversation, I asked if they would like to tie a balloon to our mailbox so their friends would know where to come. They ran, smiles that burst out of them like sunbeams clutching a pale pink balloon with an equally colorful string.
The past couple of days have been in preparation for what would a dance party for about 15 kids, 3 of which were mine. I returned each day from a random errand clutching bags and surreptitiously stuffing them in the fridge in the basement. Juice, iced tea, soda, salsa, chips, cookies, the list seemed endless. Earlier yesterday morning, Saathi and I set out tables, spread plastic sheets with cheery balloons on them dragged a rickety ladder over the other side to pin up a Happy birthday banner.
A friend arrived with a choreographed list of songs and the children danced, kicked balloons about, sat in corners eating lollipops and clutched handful of cookies each time they passed the food table. The disco lights I borrowed from a friend threw colors around like confetti each time it rotated. I stood in a corner watching, taking pictures and swiftly swooping down on children feeling left out. Eventually, I shook off my reticence and took to the dance floor jiggling flesh and all.
A day later, this afternoon I sat in the study while the rest of the house was busy with opened presents and talking Moana dolls. The pictures transferred to my laptop and I scanned through them slowly, pausing, deleting and moving on. That dancing is a form of release is evident. The pictures show children and mothers swaying, smiles prominent on their faces. The shoulders are relaxed, eyes crinkled, laugh lines etched on those faces. The pictures of mothers and daughters are what make me pause the most. The matching smiles, the look of love as one mom looks at her daughter, the arm over the shoulder in another that conveys a hug more than a pose.
The last of the pictures is the one of my daughters and their cousin all set for a sleepover. They lie too close to each other, snuggling and making the most of each others’ company. Laddu crawls over and plonks herself right in the middle prompting an outcry. The camera flashes and all that is frozen for the future is the look of surprise and joy.