“What was it like, when you were both young? I mean were you like Aniya and me?”
It was just the two of us that night. An extremely rare occurrence. Dad and uncle were working over time, a deadline nearing too quick they said. Neither was mom in the mood to cook, nor I to eat. Which was why we settled for instant ramen, with an omelette each to go with the ramen. Sunny side up, just the way I liked eggs best. I popped the yellow bulge as I popped the question, enjoying the sight of the gooey yolk spreading over the white and onto the deep yellow ramen. Mom gave her usual expression, calling it disgusting as it reminded her of the poop of someone suffering from a bad stomach. I laughed as usual at her expression, not hesitating before forking yolk dipped ramen into my mouth, loudly expressing my enjoyment.
“You’re a nasty kid, you know that?” mom asked.
I could only nod vigorously in agreement, enjoying the hot ramen burning my tongue.
“Just like Vini,” mom continued. “Nasty, and crazy is what you two are. Actually even Aniya. All three of you share the nastiness. And no, we weren’t like you and Aniya. I don't think there could be anyone in the world like the two of you. You’re specimens with no replica. Vini and I were just great friends. Inseparable. Saw so much madness together, growing up. I guess it brought us together.”
“Could you be any more cryptic?”
Mom laughed out at my question. I could understand why she would look at me with that expression. Even to myself, I sounded less like me and more like Aniya. She was the greatest with sarcasm. All I could ever hope to be was a cheap imitation. Arousing laughs at best. I could never match up to the drama she could build up.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” mom shot back immediately. “It’s amazing how the two of you could just switch between each other. It’s like you are each the both of you. You understand what I mean?”
I didn’t understand, but I nodded as if I did. That wasn’t what I wanted to know. I could ask about it later. Right then, I wanted to hear about mom and aunt, even more so since mom had started to tell. I didn’t want her to digress or stop.
“We didn’t have that. Actually, don’t tell Vini I told you, but when we first met, we weren’t that close. It took a while for us to change our views, and become friends. That’s a story for another time. To answer your question, we were two girls who were a little weird, a little different. But we had each other and that was sufficient.”
It was a warm feeling looking at her. The gentle expression on her face, flowing into her smile, as she spoke about the old times. I could see how much she loved aunt. They really were great friends. I wondered what I looked like talking about Aniya and me. Did I look the same as mom?
“We were together through college too, when we met the boys who’d be your dad and uncle.” She was grinning, and I smiling. That was a story they had told me only recently. How dad and mom had met. It was also where aunt and uncle met.
“You know, the early days were just so confusing. It used to be Vini and I, in our flat. We had settled into a perfect rhythm. So smooth. Even when we were together, your dad and I, it was still Vini and I in our flat. Only after marriage, we moved into our new homes. And the early days, were so difficult. It was some challenge, getting used to seeing your dad’s face first in the morning rather than Vini’s. It was the same for Vini too. It was only when you both showed up, that we found our rhythm again. So you see, you kids made us normal again. Doesn’t that make you feel special?”
Now she was teasing. Strangely though, I enjoyed it just as much.
“Let’s just eat now, shall we? With some good tv?”
“Yes ma’am, let’s just do that,” I agreed.
Mom and aunt were friends since they were kids, like Aniya and me. But not the same. What did she mean? Even after pointing myself along the direction to proceed, I find myself facing more questions. The more I look, the more questions I find. It is right there, in front of me, whatever it is. There is something I am not seeing, something that is keeping me from the answers.
Nothing has changed. Aniya is the same, still tied to the bed and the machines. Far from awake. And I still stand by her, looking and waiting. Hoping for her to wake. Hoping for a miracle that will take us back to how things used to be. Back to the party. Back to the drive home.
Maybe I can change something. Maybe I can prevent the accident. Maybe I can save us.
Following an especially short shower, I was out putting on the new tee and jeans that mom had laid out on my bed. I wasn’t the most handsome boy I had ever seen, but even I loved what I saw in the mirror. I looked good. Was it because of the grin on my face? The happiness I seemed to be drowning in? Whatever it was, I certainly wasn’t the same as everyday. I would have spent longer, trying to figure out what was different if Aniya hadn't come waltzing in. She had changed into matching light blue jeans, and tee the exact same as mine. Though not as new. It was my first pair of torn jeans, so very like the many pairs that filled her cupboard, and the exact replica of the one she was wearing.
“Don’t we look adorable?” she asked, as she joined me at the mirror.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Such an adorable pair.”
“Couple,” she corrected, in a soft whisper just loud enough for the two of us, mimicking dad’s tone.
A good laugh followed. At the end of which she took my hand, her fingers closing around mine, as always leading us down. As was tradition, the gifts were handed before we left for dinner. I knew what I was getting, mostly. Dad had bought me the Waterman fountain pen we had been pouring over the last month at his favourite pen store. Dad had a love for pens that could rival any other, his collection nearing a thousand. Mom had got me an unlimited subscription with the electronic library I loved. So very like her. She knew me the best, even better than Aniya. But then she was my mom, who could possibly beat her.
Uncle and aunt had got me a year’s worth of sodexo passes, essentially plugging the biggest drain of my pocket money. Of course they knew that the greater part of the coupons would be Aniya’s. They were her parents after all, who could know her better.
Last was Aniya’s. The one I was waiting for with the greatest anticipation. To be met with empty hands, a smile reaching the ends of the universe, and a tall shrug. Walking over, hugging hard, she whispered her present. Only for my ears. And it was the best. Hugging her back, harder, was my appreciation. My acceptance.
“Ok love birds, we should get started now.”
It was aunt who spoke, beating dad to the punch and surprising everyone. We all broke out laughing, even more at the embarrassed shade of pink Aniya and I were. If only they knew.
“Alright, let’s go,” Aniya agreed, leading everyone to the car.
Reaching over, mom pulled me close. She smiled her question, and I answered with the tiniest nod and a smaller smile, reaching around her to let her know it couldn’t be better. I couldn’t be better. That was more than mom could ask for. Pulling me impossibly closer, kissing my head lightly, she pulled me along.
We were walking to the car, knowing well how we were going to sit in.
Long after the closing hour, long after all the others had left, we were still at the table. The entire staff of the restaurant singing me the birthday song again, before sending us off. We were all laughs, even tired as we were. The grown ups could hold their liquor much better than Aniya could hold her ale. Falling over, needing me to hold her up. But maybe that was just sleep. We were in the back of the car, mom and aunt in the middle, dad and uncle in the front. Even dad couldn’t tease, smiling with the rest, at us. Aniya was asleep, a satisfied smile on her face, as she rested her head on my shoulder, her arm around mine. And I had my head on hers, though my eyes were open. Meeting the four pairs of eyes staring.
It was beauty at its best. Our warmth filling the inside of the car, fighting away the cold of the night. And the darkness too.
Then, it all blew up. Noise deafening. Sparks lighting up the night, blinding. Broken glass flying everywhere like snow. The world spinning uncontrollably like a roller coaster going too fast. Sickening. So sudden, numbing us from the pain. Then, thankfully, came the darkness.
What had I hoped to achieve? It is only memories I am looking at. Not the past. However much I might try, I cannot undo what was done. I cannot change anything. Disheartening as it might be, I have to accept the truth. As painful as it is. I have to let go. I have to free myself, allow myself to feel fully what I am feeling. Denying isn’t going help.
And to do that, I must see them.