“Twenty years we’ve been married, Amit! Twenty years! And you are still clueless about what I would like for my birthday. So pathetic!“
“Don’t start again Shalu…please… I’ve told you many times I cannot read your mind! Why can’t you just tell me what you want?”
“I have! I do… you are so daft ya! I am constantly dropping hints, You just don’t pay attention. Where is the element of romance, of fun, of surprise if I spell out exactly what I want? And, if that is the case I might as well go buy my own gift. If you cared enough to listen, you wouldn’t have to struggle.“
“I’m not daft! Your clues are cryptic! Last year you said you would love to gaze at the stars on a clear night!”
“So you bought me a telescope! What I wanted was to go for a long drive with you and gaze at the stars with you by my side. Where is the time between the kids, my job, your mom and Rocky to peer into a telescope? And that time when I said I want to spend more time reading…..you know I admire Michelle Obama and I even discussed that I’d read rave reviews of her book- why was it so difficult to put two and two together and buy me a copy of ‘Becoming’? Instead, you bought me a reading light?”
“Hey! In my defense you get plenty of books from the library. You always complain that you can’t read in bed because I can’t sleep with the light on. That’s why I got you a reading light – and such a cool one at that- that way you could continue to read even after I sleep. I still think it’s a good gift – useful and long lasting.”
“Not everything is about practicality Amit, especially the little moments in life. They need to be spontaneous. It’s not about it being expensive or grand.. I’m not expecting diamonds from you. I just want you to care enough to know the small things that bring me joy.” Tears well up in my eyes.
“Hey…hey.. hey… I’m sorry. Don’t cry. I care.. I really do. I love you Shalu, and you know that. I would do anything for you.”
“You know, I’m secretly glad that we are still in lockdown. Five years ago I ended up planning my own 40th surprise party or else it would have been a disaster. You had asked Aruna to organize it! I don’t even like Aruna! It’s a good thing Neeta found out and told me about it so I could take over.”
“ I thought Aruna was one of your best friends! She was so insistent on taking charge. I didn’t know how to say no.”
“See, that’s what I mean. Taruna is one of my best friends, not Aruna. You don’t listen.”
“I do. You have so many friends, you are part of so many WhatsApp groups, and on top of that you women have so many levels of friendship. I don’t understand it. Anyways, what’s over is over. I’ll be more attentive I promise. Cheer up dudette! What can I do to make your day special tomorrow?”
“I’ll make it easy for you. Nothing cryptic here. I need a break from the kitchen Amit. I’m exhausted. Between Nandhu’s gluten allergies and Shruthi turning vegan and Amma’s no onion, no garlic, no spice diet I’m fed up just trying to figure out what to cook each day. Can you take over one day without me having to make any decisions about what to feed whom. I just want to lounge in bed, read and not worry about cooking and cleaning.”
“Done. Go to bed, Shalu and when you wake up tomorrow I promise the most lavish spread will be ready. “
So saying, Amit gently kissed me on my forehead. “Good night, Jaan*”
The next morning when I awoke, my family rushed into the bedroom to give me a hug, Sounds of “Happy Birthday” filled the air. The kids held my hand and led me to the dining room. It was indeed the most lavish spread I had ever laid her eyes on. There was pongal and chutney for me, idli for Amma, vegan pancakes for Shruthi, paneer 65 for Nandhu, a bowl of fruit salad, and a jar of green smoothie for all.”
“How did I do, Jaan? “ Amit whispered in my ear. “Happy?”
This time, tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks as I nodded vigorously.
“And this is just the beginning, aage, aage dekho hota hai kya*!” he announced.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my gown. I turned to see if it was little Nandhu pulling me but there was nobody. It was strange but I was so overjoyed with what was in front of me that I did not pay much heed to it.
“Come, sit and let us serve you,” Amit said as the family took their places around the table. I couldn’t wait to dig into all the delish food. “Here, try some steaming pongal and chutney first, Shalu”
I was just about to eat the first spoonful when I felt the tug again. I brushed it off, probably it was Rocky begging for table food. I didn’t want to indulge him. But the tugs got stronger and stronger until I felt like I was being shaken.
“Shalu, Shalu… are you awake? Emergency Shalu… wake up. Rocky ate a whole bunch of grapes. I have to take him to ER.”
I opened my eyes with a jolt but was still groggy, and I was desperate to go back to the world I was abruptly snatched from. “What happened, Amit?”
“Nandhu was setting the table for you and she kept the bowl of grapes on the floor while changing the tablecloth and before she knew it, Rocky had gobbled it up. Don’t worry, I’m on it and will take him to the vet right away but could you call the clinic and let them know I’m on the way? Amma’s gone for a walk. The rice and dal for the Pongal are in the cooker. All you have to do is give tadka* in ghee. (As if I didn’t know). The girls said they would eat cereal so no need to make anything for them. Just order lunch and once I’m back, I’ll take care of dinner I promise. And, Happy Birthday, Jaan.”
By now, I was wide awake.
* Aage Aage Dekho Hota Hai Kya – just wait and watch what’s unfolding ahead.
* Tadka – seasoning
* Jaan – love of my life.
Author’s Note: This story was written to the word prompt – Awake. A big thanks to the FB group, Did You Write Today for the nudge and opportunity to create and write a story each week.
This story also won the writing competition for the prompt.