The invite

The smell of crackling kadi patta was wafting past Timmie as she hopped her way back home from the bus stop, probably another happy mother putting the final tadka to the dal that her kid loves. It was July, a month that Timmie shared a love-hate relationship with, it was humid but it got her the smell of wet earth.

But the cheerful hopping was coming from today being Friday! But it wasn’t just another Friday.

Last weekend, when the colony’s usual ‘playing group’ again embarked on a Five Findouter journey, Timmie learnt that it was Jeenal’s birthday next Saturday. This is how it happened.

Timmie’s mom packed up a bottle of lemonade, a small bar of chocolate and cucumber sandwiches for her ‘playing-group’. They were on an expedition to find out the letterbox which had Mrs. Subramanium’s missing letter, probably a mystery idea given by Venkat, who would have actually searched for it in real. Timmie was usually the one who got the eateries; probably her admission pass to their journeys.

They crossed the lonely tunnels between buildings, tip-toed on the edges of feet-drowning deep, wide, black, muddy rivers running along side, the gang almost gasped and scurried in self-created fear with Timmie almost overdoing it with her little shrieks as she was backing the entire group and keeping them safe from behind.

They searched one letter box to another, sometimes the rustic ones like that of the Aroras that had so many cracks and holes that surely little postcards would have sunk and fallen out of it often, sometimes ones like the Sharmas’ clean, wooden one that was painted so white, white right to its lock, the lock that the kids managed to just dangle and they wondered maybe it was this one in which the missing letter hid; or sometimes angry, snarly letterboxes like that of the Chandels’ that had spoky wires, ready to scratch the naughty thumbs.

But they could find nothing but unpaid bills, notices, property dealer’s lucrative deals, early bird Rakhis and oops, an in-courtship man’s admittance of his love. And for the last one, they all, of course, poured in a circle and giggled over, snatching the letter to read into it first hand and notice the small hearts that signed it off.

Finally they all retired under a shahtoot tree that grew unabashedly alongside an unused ground floor flat, ripening those juicy shahtoots that the kids yummed on. And this was the best and the most real part of their afternoon escapade, as they got to eat Timmie’s fragrant food and the still-cool lemonade.

As Neha stuffed a shahtoot inside the layers of cucumber to give it a saucy effect, she turned to Jeenal and abruptly asked her what she was wearing on the coming Saturday. Timmie looked at Jeenal for the answer but simultaneously asked Neha what was special coming Saturday. Jeenal proudly replied, ‘A pink long dress’, Timmie’s question was still unanswered but she echoed the customary ‘wow’ with Neha. While dresses did not interest Rohan but return gifts did, so he asked Jeenal what gift was she getting from her parents to which Jeenal replied , ‘It is a surprise I think, maybe a new doll house’. Sahil knew that Rohan was not interested in her gift but his own so he teased Rohan saying, ‘Go on, ask what is for the return gift’, to which Neha proudly replied, ‘Mom is going to buy it from Golden Bakery, they have the best return gifts, so be happy’. Timmie had now understood what was on Saturday and her sandwich seemed tastier.

So she was glad it was just Friday today and Jeenal had the full evening to come and invite her. Every time she saw Jeenal’s mom speaking to her mom, Timmie was sure that she had intended to invite her but as Jeenal’s mom is, very forgetful, she always ended up just asking about Kamla, their maid, and that when does her mom think Kamla would return from her gaon. But today evening, she knew Jeenal’s mom would not miss the main thing she was coming to meet her mom for.

After lunch, when Timmie’s mom started patting Timmie into a nap, Timmie instantly feigned deep sleep so that her mom could sleep and not get late for her evening walk for which she often complained going late because Timmie takes time to doze off after lunch.

And then under the clucking fan, wading the heavy afternoon air, Timmie started day dreaming. What would she gift Jeenal, no not the old gifts this time that mom stowed away after her birthdays, she would tell mother to buy a doll’s clothes set, she knew Jeenal would love it; what would she say to Jeenal, would she make a clever remark about Rohan’s greed for return gifts or would she compliment her for her lovely dress, maybe just a birthday wish would be all for now; what would she wear, would mom let her wear the red dress which Bua gifted on Rakhi or she would ask her to stick to her fairy dress that she was wearing for all of this season’s get togethers, maybe she would stick to the fairy one as she had matching hair clips with it! And then her mind started drifting to food to winning the musical chairs game to the shahtoot trees to her tooth fairies and into further randomness.

It cuckooed 5 pm, a clock that was one of the family’s prized possesions and that Timmie loved in the evenings and of course hated in the mornings. Mom was making her evening tea as Timmie knew by the pestle pounding sound which was characteristic to her mom’s famous elaichi wali chai, the recipe of which was as difficult to recreate as it was easy to make.

Timmie, with half eyes open, looked towards the dressing table searching for her mom’s walking shoes, were they there still, has mom not got ready yet, she would miss Jeenal’s mom again! She screamed and called for mom to which mom scolded her back. Unaware of Timmie’s agitation, mom leasurily sipped on her tea, half-sitting on the dining table chair, listening to Kamla’s homogenous sounds of husband-cribbing. As Timmie came out of the room and saw this, she could just react by breaking into an alaap of tears to which mom started laughing-in-love, she kept her tea cup on the table and picked up her groggy baby and placed her on her lap. Groggy probably wasn’t the right word actually. After the initial soothing of her mother’s cuddling, Timmie threw up her back like a bow and almost slid down her mother’s thighs and threw the final tantrum on her legs and asked mom to get ready for her walk. Mom gave into this final one and gulped down the remaining tea and headed to wear her shoes.

She got Timmie ready too and missed to notice the so-easily-complying Timmie today, throwing no tantrum on what she took out for her to wear. Little did she know that today she could also make her eat karela for the walk.

Finally they were in the park, the wet grainy sands got scooped up and down with walking shoes, shoes that printed directions on the walkway. Timmie was on her cycle that her father bought for her last birthday, it was her best birthday gift till now, what would Jeenal’s dad gift her this time, she wondered. With every round of the park, Timmie tried to spot aunty, her typical loose T-shirt, pyjama and chunni couldn’t be missed in the park as it brought loads of talking with it. But even after 4 rounds, Timmie couldn’t spot her. She was keeping an eye on mom as well, as she brisk walked with Sahil’s mother. She thought whether the two would discuss about tomorrow, but how would they, even Sahil’s mom must have not met Jeenal’s mom yet.

As mom was approaching Timmie, she had a stern walk which meant it was time to go home. But had they missed Jeenal’s mom or did she miss her walk today. Timmie didn’t want to fuss anymore and cycled back to their block and as they were approaching Jeenal’s house, Timmie became more tired, slowed her pedalling and as mother would never let her kid down, she pushed her cycle into speed which Timmie always loved, mostly loved.

As mom pushed Timmie out of Jeenal’s house’s sight, she asked Timmie what she would want to eat for dinner. The question which was generally answered by a thrilled, ‘noodles!’, was answered the same but without any excitement, as if the tongue was tantalized but did not salivate.

Mom was probably trying to cheer up Timmie, probably thinking that her evening scolding was a little too harsh, afterall a groggy Timmie called for her only in love.

As is the bliss of distraction at times at that age, Bua made a surprise visit the next morning, bringing along Timmie’s little toy, her little cousin baby brother, who Timmie mothered quite often, fed him milk spoons and checked his heartbeats with her little stethescope.

The two played all morning and then it was nearing lunch time. Bua and mom stood against the kitchen slab and discussed about the upcoming wedding planning, the dresses for the kids and how each had a worse time than each other, getting money for all the shopping from the husbands. Timmie had always enjoyed these conversations and often she would excitedly start getting her dolls dressed up with her mom’s chunnis, ready for the celebrations.

Timmie’s baby cousin was now fast asleep and Timmie went up to the balcony and clung to the railing, ducking down to poke her nose out of the gap and search for her gang. She could finally spot Rohan on his cycle, making screeching sounds with his breaks, show-offing his skills even at this afternoon hour when there were only disinterested audiences.

As he noticed Timmie, he shouted out asking her what time she was coming for the party, to which she replied that her bua had come over and she might not be able to make it. Now Timmie knew that Rohan was invited and maybe even the others.

After lunch, Timmie just clung on to her baby cousin brother and slept in his Baby lotion plus soft sweat smelling fragrance. He was her friend today.

As it clocked 5 pm, Timmie, rubbing her eyes, could hear Fufaji and she sprung up to see her cousin there no more beside her. She went out and clung to her mom and started crying, to which bua affectionately said, ‘I will bring him next week again, pukka’. But Timmie was uncontrollable. Bua with an expression of guilt, looked at mom, to which mom gestured that it was fine and that Timmie will be fine, alas.

Mom, consoling Timmie, asked her if she wanted to go cycling. Timmie cried out louder at this. But mom, convinced that cycling would make Timmie feel better, shoved on Timmie’s shoes and carried her downstairs.

As Timmie relunctantly got on on her cycle, mom made extra effort to push her into speed. And as is the blessing of that age, Timmie enjoyed the effortless cycling and the speed. As they crossed Jeenal’s house twice, mom noticed some kids in party dresses, with gifts in their hands. Mom also noticed no kids of their group playing outside. She didn’t ask Timmie why as she guessed it herself perhaps. Whether to take Timmie back home or to let her stride through was her dilemma.

But they decided to stay.

Mom did all her usuals, after some rounds of the colony, the duo went to buy their veggies, stopped by Masterji to check if mom’s blouse was done. And as they now, for the last time, crossed Jeenal’s house, Jeenal and her mom were bidding goodbye to one of Jeenal’s aunts. Looking at Timmie and her mom, Jeenal’s mom exclaimed, ‘Why didn’t you come beta?’. Timmie’s mom, a very pleasant neighbour but a very straight forward mom, replied, ‘You forgot to invite us.’

Timmie looked at her mom, who just said it, just like plucking a thin piece of wood from the finger, attacking the cause head on, removing all the pain.

Jeenal’s mom, stumped, turned towards Jeenal, hiding her embarassed face, ‘You didn’t invite Timmie, very wrong’.

I, the writer could go on telling you about what happened next, but that would be of less significance.

But yes, Timmie rode back home happy. She wouldn’t understand the reason for that today but I can tell you that Timmie enjoyed her noodles and Timmie’s mom did accept the cake piece that Jeenal’s mom offered them; she wouldn’t let Timmie have pity on herself. About the invite, yes Timmie would remember it and many more of such invites in different forms but she would surely remember her cycle rides too, the lovely monsoon pitter-patters, her evening veggie shopping with her mom and many birthday parties that she would take presents too, even Jeenal’s.