“There isn’t even an onion in the house” exclaims my husband scornfully. He has decided to grace the kitchen, with one his rare bi-annual visits, and is apparently making himself a (gourmet) omelette.
“Why can’t you stock these things?” he continues, the scornful tone beginning to show tinges of sarcasm. At this stage, I am beginning to visualise how this ‘revenge drama ‘will unfold.
Rewind to the day before: Husband asks wife to prepare prawn curry. Wife prepares prawn curry. Husbands tucks into prawn curry and all is well with the world. Wife (who incidentally has a heart of gold) generously gives away the rest of the prawn curry to the maid. Husband finds out and swears revenge.
So with my housekeeping skills under the scanner, (the best way to get back at me, is to point out flaws in my housekeeping) I decide to knock on my neighbours door, with a steel bowl and beg, borrow or steal some onions. It turns out that I don’t have to do any of the above mentioned activities, as the neighbour does not have any onions. Seeing my petrified face, she informs me that the apartment has a lady, who sells vegetables within its premises every evening and the vegetables are organic to boot .She mentions something about a yoga teacher, who can cure anxiety attacks.
My vote of thanks speech almost makes her tear up; apparently she has never seen anyone so grateful for onions before.
I whizz down the stairs and there she is; the goddess of herbs, greens and...Onions! I notice her smile even before I notice the onions. It is one of those smiles, that can transform a person’s face completely; like somehow the facial features have rearranged themselves, to create something arresting. She smiles at me with her eyes, the smile punctuated with deep dimples on either cheek.
The vegetable lady and I soon become good friends. She keeps aside her best produce for me and even calls me up to warn me, that the last of the spring onions are being eyed by the bossy Mrs’ so and so’ and that I better hurry up if I want to serve my “mister’ ‘Chinese rice' for dinner or that the ‘palak’ bunch is being carried away by the uncle on the third floor, who never smiles.
Soon, I find out that the vegetable lady is everyone’s friend .With her ready smiles and positive nature, she has a kind word for everyone, enquiring after their kids or their family. Whenever we meet, the first thing she tells me is to smile. I tell her that it is difficult to smile, when you are in the middle of a project with an impossible deadline, a full blown migraine attack, a sick child, or whatever my ‘excuse- to- not- smile -for –the- day’ is.
She nods her head, and tells me ,”.. but you have such a beautiful smile. What a waste.”
I sit with her sometimes in the evenings, watching my son play and she tells me little nuggets from her life; how she was widowed at twenty three, how she has singlehandedly brought up her kids, how proud she is, that her youngest is now an engineer. Not once does she sound bitter at the blows life has dealt her with, nor does she pity herself. My admiration for this lady, who seems to have mastered the ‘art of living’ grows day by day.
Then out of the blue, she stops coming, her phone perpetually switched off. After a couple of weeks,she calls me and informs me that she is back. I go down with my basket and I am greeted with smiles and she admonishes me on how much weight I have lost. I tell her about my aches and pains and migraine . Just as I pay her and am about to leave, I casually enquire about her absence. “Oh nothing, ma” she waves me off. “I was at the hospital, taking my course of chemo” “Wwhat?” I manage to sputter out. “Oh! That radiation- vadiation stuff’” she explains.” I am in the advanced stage right, so doctor said we will try this and see”
I stand there, rooted to the spot, with tears streaming down my face as she quietly takes my hand in hers.” We all have to go one day ma, I still have this day, this evening with you”
We all grow up with stories and movies of super heroes and wanting to be like them. I am honoured to have met mine today.