WHAT’S A HOME? – I

The milk had boiled down onto the stove, hissing angrily onto the burner, the revolting stench of burnt milk filling the tiny kitchen. Meghana muttered tame curses under her breath. She began mopping up the spilt milk when the doorbell rang. ‘Manu! Please, get the door.’

Three seconds later, the doorbell rang again.

Manu?!’ No response.

She rushed to open the door for the milkman, paid him, slammed the door shut and ran to her son’s bedroom to wake him up. For the fifth time.

‘Kabir, beta, get up. It’s seven already, you have to be out by eight. Hurry!’ She threw his quilt back and picked up her eight-year-old in a bid to break his slumber. ‘Come on, wake up,’ she prodded him, ‘If you get late and miss the bus, I’ll have to drop you by the Metro. You don’t like the Metro, do you?’ He moaned a sleepy no. ‘Then go brush your teeth, bathe and come out and eat your breakfast.’ Off she went to the kitchen again, where she found her husband lazily reading the newspaper. ‘Manu, I called for you so many times. Where were you?’ That was more of a complaint than an actual question.

Arey baba, I was in the balcony reading the newspaper. Didn’t hear you.’ He replied, without so much as a hint of compunction.

Wah! You keep reading the newspaper, and I run around here barely managing to accomplish everything.’ She muttered.

Uff oh, stop nagging in the morning! Where’s my breakfast?’

‘Here,’ she handed him two plates of food and added, ‘Make sure Kabir finishes everything.’

She busied herself with their lunches. By the time she was done, it was nearly eight. She ran to the dining room with their lunches and found Kabir still picking at his food. ‘Kabir! Why haven’t you eaten anything? And Manu why didn’t you urge him to eat?’

No response again. She sighed and sat down on the table to help Kabir. After a few seconds she cleared her throat and said, ‘Manu, I have my dentist’s appointment in the afternoon.’

Manu humphed.

‘So, could you pick me up after the procedure is finished?’

His head jerked up, ‘What procedure?’

‘Extraction. My wisdom tooth. No rickshaws or cabs go there because it’s far. I won’t be able to talk much either. It will get difficult to come back by myself. Can you do it? Please…’

‘Tsk, Meghana. You know I hate this! I’m not going to be your chauffeur.’ He said dismissively.

‘Manu its only for today. I’ll be groggy with anaesthesia…’

‘No! Not today. Just write the address down on a piece of paper and show it to the rickshaw or cab walla.’

She stared at him, stunned. Then asked, ‘And what if he’s illiterate; because most of them are?’

‘Then don’t go. I can’t come with you today. I’m busy. Take another appointment.’ He got up and went to the bedroom to get his things.

She just sat there in silence, digesting his outright refusal and callousness. After twelve years of marriage, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her but it did. And every time that happened she would go on a guilt trip – He’s busy. He’s got too much work. But of late she had noticed that he just didn’t want any responsibility beyond working and paying off the bills. She managed everything, right from Kabir’s PTA’s to the household chores and grocery shopping all by herself. And it was okay, really. It’s just that, sometimes, she thought, it would be nice if he could help, or just say – I’m there for you.

Manu and Kabir left, calling out byes to her that she didn’t hear because her head was muddled up. Maybe she was over-reacting. Maybe she was expecting too much. But today, she told herself, I don’t care. Anger surged over her.

I want to get away, she thought.

Forget the dentist. Forget everyone.

For just one day.

Within the hour, she was bathed, dressed, and without paying any heed to her household responsibilities, she was out of the house; she didn’t know where to, but she didn’t care…

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