“You are far too young to be nostalgic for anything!” exclaims Arati , and everyone laughs except Siri, who she’s addressing. Siri’s the youngest of us, fifty-eight, a juvenile in this damn place. In good health, she wouldn’t be here. The rest of us, of course, our families need a few hours a week respite from. If only we could have a few hours respite from ourselves, heh! “Tricycles,” murmurs Siri, “bottled milk”, but no-one but me’s listening, our own answers already said.
The afternoon is still and warm, turmeric sunshine staining our faces, stretching our shadows across the (barely) living area. Arati sighs, content to have stirred the group’s amusement, her own the loudest. Scrabble tiles click against their board. “No, no, Sonny” says Mr Agarwal, playing, “’Discombobulated’ is spelled with a C, not a K.” Plastic tiles click away. Beyond his giant head, someone I can’t quite see raises a scrawny arm, waves for tea.
I sit side-on to the windows, watching Siri from the corner of my eye, lost, I hope, against the light behind me. I knew her as a young woman. Knew the scent of the back of her neck, where her hair fell damply. Knew the incline of her firm round thigh, long before her family found her a husband. I don’t think she remembers this, or me. She worked in my factory. She was a good machinist. Lifetimes ago.
She’s been coming here for the last five Wednesdays. Her daughter drops her off, points to her watch, taps the glass under her mother’s nose, Siri’s face as blank as the surface of my Assam. As warm. Right now, she’s playing with a pastry, pulling it apart, puts a little to her mouth. “It is called a croissant”, I mutter. A daring reaching out. “It comes from France.” “It comes from Tesco!” calls Agarwal. Siri looks between the two of us, then at neither of us. But I think she seems more eager as her fingers return to the plate.
I watch her eat, and drop buttery flakes down her front. Don’t rush back, daughters, I pray to whoever. Leave us both here a little longer today, please.
The shadows drag across the walls.