Two figures stood in the doorway of the house, their silhouettes outlined by the tubelight from inside.
As one of them, a girl of fifteen watched, the lamps in front of each house in the street were turned off as people turned in for the night.
The girl stood there, with her grandfather, watching the stars twinkle. Even the stars looked different here. Not like what they were at home.
After living with her grandparents for six months, she still thought of the other place as home. After all, she’d spent the last four years there. And her family, her parents, her little brother and sister, were still there. Possibly missing her as well. Of course, it’s a well proven fact that the people you’re missing can never miss you with the same intensity, the same depth of feeling, no matter how much they assure you otherwise.
Of course, she had her grandparents. Who she’d lived with before. And who she liked. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Well, she had TWO rooms here, after years of sharing one with her sister. AND a swing in one of the rooms.
AND she could go where she liked, in autos, on her own, until six pm, because after that, her grandfather tended to fret, even though her grandmother muttered under her breath about old fools. AND she had pocket money, for the first time ever. AND she now went every month to the medical shop and chose a different brand of face cream and soap and face powder and body lotion and deodorant EVERY single time, feeling very grown up. AND she was in college now so she couldn’t cry anymore.
AND anyway, she couldn’t have stayed. So. Shaking her head vigourously, she tried to flick off the memory of her mother’s voice. The chugging sound of the AC in her room at night. The memory of her sister, sitting on their bed with her thumb in her mouth, watching as she, the elder sister, danced and lip synced to Take That.
Shake, shake, shake.
“Ai. Yenu? C by 2 na?” growled her grandfather. (Yenu = What?)
The girl looked at him through the corner of her eye. She loved her grandfather. They were of the same ‘nakshatra’ , the same ‘rashi’, and had the same ‘tarle’ as her grandmother was so fond of saying when the girl didn’t do what her grandmother wanted her to. Her grandfather never did what grandmother wanted him to. But mostly, she loved her grandfather because they both could pick at each other, continuously, without a break until her grandmother screamed on both their behalfs.
“C by 2 means what?” asked the girl.
“Kannada nalli kelu,” said the grandfather. (Ask me in Kannada)
“Thatha!” wailed the girl, knowing that it was beyond her.
“Seri Telegu loni adugu,” said the grandfather magnanimously. (Okay, ask me in Telegu.)
Concentrating, trying to remember the shape of words from years of eavesdropping on her parents, the girl stuttered out “C by 2 andre?” (C by 2 means?)
“Haiyo. Phull yamerican accentu. C by 2 gottilva?” sneered Thatha. (Full American accent. You don’t know C by 2?)
The girl shook her head again. Climbing on to the gate, she swung it foward, holding on while it creaked its way forward.
“Murdodre nim appan ge bill kalistini!” threatened Thatha. (If it breaks, I’ll send your dad the bill!)
The girl only smiled and swung harder.
“C by 2 andre yenu?” she asked again, sounding like an American. It still stung that people in her college wouldn’t speak to her because they thought she was putting on an accent. Knowing that she had the best vocabulary amongst them eased the sting, but not by much. It’s not fun knowing meanings of words no one else has even heard of.
“Haiyo. Shobachu. C by 2 andre half crack.” chortled Thatha.
The girl wrinkled her nose. Another word. “Shoba-what?”
Thatha threw back his head and roared with laughter. “Shoba-what! Hahahah!”
The girl smiled and waited. It wasn’t her move yet.
Her grandmother walked slowly up to the front verandah. “Hucchu na? Hanondu gante aitu. Yellaru malkond irtare. Saaku banni. Naale college ide avalage”, she admonished. (Are you mad? It’s eleven o clock. Everyone must be sleeping. Enough, come in. She’s got college tomorrow.)
The girl smiled. “Ammamma, Thatha nanni sata-is-tu-na-ru.” She said haltingly. (Telegu – Ammamma, Thatha is troubling me.)
Ammamma hissed “Yaak ri? Paapa magu!” (Why I say?? Poor child!)
Thatha shot out a hand towards the girl’s ear – the girl deftly jumped off the gate and raced inside, giggling loudly.
Thatha mock yelled “Yella actingu. Pah! Baa re! door lock maadbeku!” (All acting. Bah! Come here! We have to lock the door!)
Ammamma shook her head at the stupidity of mankind, or rather one man in particular and shuffled back in.
The girl came out again, her eyes shining.
Thatha shut the door – and looked at her expectantly. In the last six months, this had become their daily night time ritual.
Paranoid by nature, Thatha had eleven locks on the door, and one huge iron bar across it.
It was decided that the girl would lock up every night, under strict supervision of course.
She got to it, her fingers quickly shooting the bolts home, turning locks and finally hefting the iron bar across the door.
Now came inspection. Where Thatha would try to unlock a bolt without her noticing, so that he could grumble at her. And where she’d keep an eagle eye on things, so she could grumble back at him.
“HAA! You’ve not locked this one! Yene neenu!” he cried triumphantly. (Yene neenu = transliterates to What are you doing?)
“I LOCKED THAT! I LOCKED THAT! YOU UNLOCKED IT! I SAW YOU!” she squealed in excitement.
Giggling, both of them re-locked the door and headed inside, the girl still evading her grandfather’s attempts to twist her ear.
“Shobachu means what?” the girl asked.
“Haiyo. Kannada nalli kelu”, Thatha smirked. (Ask me in Kannada)
The girl pouted. “Tell me or I’ll tell Ammamma you’re pinching me.”
“Ai! Nange blackmaila??” Thatha chortled, thrilled. (Oooh! Blackmailing me is it?)
“Shobachu andre dirty goose!” He crowed.
Wrinkling her nose, the girl said “Sho-ba-chu. I can say it in college?”
Thatha chortled again. “Ashte mathe. Hahahahaa. Helu helu!” (That’s all then. Hahaha. Yes, yes, Say it!)
The girl smiled. That laugh meant no. “Okay, I’ll call Nainamma that when I see her. And I’ll tell her you said to.” (Nainamma = the girl’s paternal grandmother. And mother in law to the girl’s mother. Thatha and Ammamma were maternal grandparents.)
“AI! C by 2!!! Adella maadbeda!” growled Thatha. (Ai! C by 2! Don’t do all that.)
Giggling, the girl ran it.
She’d won tonight.
That night, while burrowing her way into her rug, she murmured to herself “C by 2. Shobachu.” She’d have to call her brother and sister that when they called this Friday. Smiling, she closed her eyes.