The more things change

One night, my vile brother caught me. 'Who you talkin' to?' 'Anita.' 'Liar! Mom!'

It is Valentine’s Day, and I’m not feeling the love between my children. Sia throws a towel at my son, who scampers out, sniggering. I look after him and years fall away as I am transported back to when I was 17, brimming with sibling-hatred.

It was 1994. I would wake up at the crack of dawn every morning to blow-dry my hair to shiny perfection and try on every outfit before leaving for college. All this, for Raj. And one fine, glorious day, Raj looked at me. With both eyes. And said, “Hi.” It was more a grunt than a word. Realistically, it may have even been a cough. But it was in my general direction, so, close enough. I was over the moon.

A few days later, he sat next to me in Math class. “Nice jeans.” I tried not to swoon. When class ended, Raj took down my number. “For notes,” he clarified. Notes, my denim-wrapped ass. He called that night. We spoke for an hour and I burst into love.

Before long, we were talking every night. One such night my vile brother slithered into my room. “Who you talkin’ to?” “Anita.” “Liar! Mom!” I shrieked and pleaded and he let me off the hook.

And then, on Valentine’s Day, Raj handed me a box of chocolates. My brother wanted his share of the loot, but I refused to part with a single chocolate. That night, when I was on the phone, mother stormed into my bedroom. Although my heart stopped, I carried on talking like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like I was talking to Anita.

“Do you know the time?” “I’m discussing a math problem with her.” Now mother was not stupid. She held out her hand. “Let me say hi to her.” “Talk to mom,” I said into the line. I presumed Raj would have the brains to hang up. Sadly, not. “Oy, heroine! My Valentine!” he roared, into mother’s ears.

“Hello, son.” Raj slammed down the phone so hard, I heard it through my walls all the way from across the city.  Mom turned to me. “No cordless in your room for the rest of the year. If you need to talk, you can call from my room.”

“But..” In addition to narrowing and widening, mother’s eyes could also shoot daggers. I shut up, pulled out the one in my chest, reached for a pillow and flung it at my brother. He ducked, grabbed my box of chocolates, and bounded out of the room, sniggering. I stared after him, when Sia’s wailing broke through my thoughts. 

“What did your brother do?” “His hour is up! I want the iPad!” iPad? I’m not sure if I’m relieved. I call out to my son and take it from him. “No electronics for a week. Learn to stick to the time-limit.” Sia leaps into my arms, ravishes me with sloppy kisses and flies out, iPad in hand.

I turn to my son with an offering of peace. A chocolate. “Happy Valentine’s Day love.” The way he looks at me! Anguish pours out of every pore. I laugh, thinking of my brother. Revenge. Too late, slightly misdirected, but so sweet.

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