What is it to you?
Why were you there on the staircase just outside the flat, waiting for me to come over? You missed your train, offered to stay at night because I might get scared of ghosts or something and there might be a powercut and what not. Why did you sound apologetic that day when my friends came over and you had to go? What was with the "Please stay back. She needs friends. She's not well. And she shouldn't be here alone." Of course, I wanted to sink through the earth but the bigger issue here is that of course you needed to go and be with Swapna. She’s your daughter. Why would you even ask me? Just go.
No, it’s not you and your insistence that I rescue the papaya rotting in the refrigerator. I’m just angry it’s you and not him. Because he wasn’t waiting for me and you were. And because your eyes lingered on that "hot Habib’s haircut" that was supposed to make him smile.
You don’t bat an eyelid when I take your photograph. You don’t even pose. And I don’t caption it and put it up on Facebook. You don’t exclaim when you realise the heavy curtains in the drawing room have come undone and that I have minutes before I leave for the airport. You treat it like your house and your room and it goes without saying that it has to be perfect. The curtain is a symbol of status quo ante, as my grandfather would have put it, when he lived in the same apartment.
I didn’t even plan for what fruits and vegetables to have what day. I didn’t have to tell you my days are incomplete without that morning cup of tea. You just had it ready. I planted myself on that chair beside the television set and poured out my heart and soul on a cell phone that hardly simulated the warmth of a relationship in its small, metallic frame. It didn’t strike me that I was shutting myself from you. I never asked them to hold or hang up because it was important to me to talk about obscure intellectual events in English or Hindi and brush my hair as I scan the newspaper and go to that place inside my head that’s private and out of your reach. You asked me if you should buy the paneer and you should buy the chicken and I thought you and me should only be about a yes or a no to specific questions.
You cleared the cobwebs and mopped the floors and washed the utensils and got the tap running and the house smelling like home. The sound of the chillies hissing in the oil and the bayleaves crackling as you cough and open the windows skims only the surface of the character that you lend to the apartment.
I wish the liftman would know what you do when you scurry up and politely ask to be taken to the 10th floor. He got a piece of my mind for his new “rules” about who can use the lift. I’m not sure it’s going to help when I’m not around but it’s worth it. You’re the last thing on my mind when I leave the city and I mean it in a good way. You don’t just see me off when I take a cab and make sure I leave in time. It’s that smile that follows the sigh when you realise everything went off smoothly and when you brush the sweat off your forehead, leaning into the cab with your final queries, “So if you take a flight from Kolkata to Delhi will you reach the same day? And will you let me know you reached safely?”