two by two

Appa continued to walk towards the lobby. He never once turned to look at me to see if I was following him. I remembered all those times my mother had to get the four of us out of the car and run behind Appa and I knew if I don’t stand next to him by the time the lift arrives, chances are my father would enter the lift and would not wait for me and I would have no idea where he went.
After all Appa had left us once at Chengannur bus stand. There was a huge crowd going to Kottayam and we were pushed to the back of the queue and my father managed to get inside the bus and the conductor closed the door. My father never even bothered to tell the conductor that his family was still outside. That day fortunately Ammachi had given each of us 5 Rs before we left. If we didn’t have that money, we would have had to borrow bus fare from other passengers. I was so mad at Appa that day.
“Wait till I get back home, I will give Appa a piece of my mind” I told Amma
“You are wasting your time Nina” Amma replied
“What do you mean Amma?”
“Nina, Your father is waiting for a chance to demean you. He will tell you that it was your fault that you didn’t get in to the bus, not his”
“But he could have told the conductor that we are still standing outside!”
“He could have Nina, he certainly could have, but if you tell him that, he would ask you, who are you to tell him that?”
“Then I would tell him I am his daughter”
“Then he would tell you, you hould have stood next to him in the queue”
“But it wasn’t my fault that everyone pushed us to the back Amma”
“True Nina, but you think your father is going to think that way? He would tell you, you should be smart enough to fight for your own survival”
Amma reached her hand and held my hand
“Nina, there is no point in fighting with your father. I gave up long time ago. There is nothing we can do to change him. I tried Nina, I really tried”
“hmm” I thought of telling Amma that may be she didn’t try hard enough. But deep in my heart, I knew Amma was saying the truth.

I walked quickly and stood next to Appa. There was a lady wearing a purdah and two kids waiting for the lift. When the lift door opened, Appa got in and I pushed the lady who was standing in front of me and got inside. I heard her say something in Arabic and I knew she was cursing me. She entered the lift and was staring at me. She kept muttering something. while holding her children close to her. I wanted to tell her that I am sorry for pushing her. I didn’t mean to. I would have never done it normally. I was just so afraid that my father would close the lift door and leave me outside.
I looked at my father to see if he noticed what kind of trouble he was putting me in to. My father was adjusting his neck tie. I had the urge to pull that darned tie as hard as I could.
Lift stopped at the 7th floor and Appa got out. I was surprised to see Appa holding the door open for me. He said something to the lady in Arabic and she nodded her head.
“Come, let us go. Shobha has invited us for dinner” Appa spoke
I thought of asking Appa who is Shobha, but I knew better.
Appa rang the door bell and waited. As I waited I was trying to figure out who this Shobha is. Then it occurred to me, Is this the “Arathu” lady’s house? Oh my goodness, the nerve my father has! How dare he takes me to visit his mistress? I wanted to run, but where to? Where do I go?
I heard someone opening the door.
“Oh, hello Uncle”
A young man wearing spectacles was standing at the door. He then turned his head and shouted
“Shobha, they are here” “Come on in Uncle” He told Appa and then he saw me
“Oh, hi, you must be Nina”
And I wanted to ask him and you must be?
“Come, have a seat” He pointed to the couch in the living room
“Shobha” He called again
“Just a second Achaya” I heard a woman’s voice.
Achaya? Who is Achaya? My father or this kannadi vala? I had no clue.
Few seconds later, a lady came out from the kitchen. She was wearing a simple saree and I noticed immediately that she wasn’t wearing any jewellery. Her neck looked so bare.
“Hi, I am Shobha, you must be Nina” She spoke
“Yes, I am” I replied
“Hello Uncle” She greeted Appa. “She looks just like you” Shobha pointed me to Appa.
Appa laughed. I didn’t feel like laughing. There was a time I was so proud to be my father’s daughter. I no longer felt any pride being his daughter.
“Your father always talks about you” Shobha spoke
I smiled. I didn’t know what else to say.
I looked at Shobha. She was extremely fair complexioned and had long hair. I noticed the hole in the ear lobes. I knew she must have worn earrings at one time. Why doesn’t she wear any jewellery now?
“You know Nina, We are so obligated to your father, without him we would have never been together” Shobha spoke
“Oh no, you don’t have to be obligated to me. God has decided that you two should be together and I did what I could” Appa spoke
God? When did my father start to believe in God? God? My father believes in God? I looked at my father to see if he is the same man I know as my father? My father never believed in God or going to church
“You know Nina, only your father stood by us. My family and Achayan’s family didn’t want us to get married” Shobha spoke
“No Shobha, You can’t blame your family. They have been brought up in the traditional mentality, But one day it will change. don’t you think so Nina?” Appa was looking at me
I had absolutely no clue what was going on, so I looked at my father to see what he was expecting me to say
“How can you blame the parents? Shobha is from a famous Nair family in Kerala and Philip is a Pentecost. You can’t blame the family for objecting their marriage. Can you?” Appa spoke
I wasn’t sure if he was asking me a question. I wasn’t even sure if my father would have been this magnanimous if I told him I was seeing a Naga guy. Would he let Methran Thanmbi’s grand daughter to marry a Naga guy?

“Shall we eat now?” Philip asked Shobha
“Sure Achaya. Give me 10 minutes” Shobha got up
“Can I help you?” I asked Shobha
“Oh, no, you sit here. Everything is ready. I just need to warm the curry”
I didn’t want to sit with Appa and talk, so I followed Shobha to the kitchen.
“So how many more years for you to finish medicine?” Shobha asked while she switched on the gas.
“3 more years”
“What are you planning to do for PG?”
“I haven’t decided yet”
“You know Nina, you are so lucky. I wish I had a father like yours. Your father is so understanding. He even loaned us money to buy furniture for this place. We owe everything to your father.”
I didn’t reply anything. How was I to explain to Shobha that the man she knows as my father and the man who is my father are two totally different people?


We were on our way to fetch Appa, when I noticed a saree shop on the right. Sarees were folded neatly and hung inside the display window. I checked to see if there was any plain colour saree. I never liked sarees with print on them. I preferred plain colour saree with a simple border. There were only printed sarees in the display and I wasn’t interested. Then I remembered Amma. How can I go back without buying a Persian saree (? polyester) for her? My mother was crazy for Persian sarees that never faded, easy to wash and easy to wear, unlike the cotton sarees sold in India.
“Rafiq, What time are we supposed to pick up Appa?”
“By 6.30 Madam”
“Would I have enough time to buy a saree?”
“Sure madam”
“I saw a shop just now over there” I pointed to the back. “Can you take me there?”
“Sure Madam”
Rafiq continued to drive and we were going further and further away from the shop. Did he not hear me? May be he didn’t understand what I said.
“Rafiq, where are you going? I want to go to the shop that I saw just now over there” I pointed to the back again.
“I know madam, I am taking you there”
It didn’t make any sense to me. I knew for sure that we were travelling further away from the shop and I was getting annoyed with Rafiq.
“Rafiq where are you going?” I asked again, this time I knew I sounded annoyed.
“Madam, I am looking for a U turn,” He too sounded annoyed
“I can’t simply take a right turn Madam. I have to find a legal U turn”
I wanted to tell Rafiq that I am sorry for being rude. But I just couldn’t say a simple sorry. He was sitting one row away from me and I just had to mumble a simple sorry. But my ego was too big to say sorry to my father’s driver.
Besides I felt Rafiq knew I am new here and wouldn’t know the traffic rules. I was certain that he wouldn’t get mad at me for my ignorance.
Finally I noticed Rafiq slowing down and there was a signboard on the road divider and I noticed the U turn sign.
I knew I had to apologize, but I couldn’t. There were so many times I wanted to say sorry and never did.
Was it my ego that prevented me from saying Sorry to Liza for raising the knife at her? Why did I not say sorry to Maria when I dropped her favourite nail polish and broke it? Instead of saying sorry, I pretended that I never even touched it.
I remembered the incident very clearly. Molly aunty gave a bottle of pink colour nail polish to Maria when she came from US for a visit. I wanted a bottle of nail polish too. So I asked
“Molly Aunty, will you give me a bottle of nail polish?”
“Nina, I only brought one bottle”
“I want the polish Aunty” I started to cry
“Nina, you are only 5 years old, your sister is a teenager and teenagers use nail polish, not little girls. I promise, I will buy you nail polish when you become a teenager”
I didn’t want to wait another 8 years to get a bottle of nail polish. I hated Maria for being the eldest. She always got everything because she is the oldest.
Molly aunty showed Maria how to shake the nail polish bottle. She explained about the lead ball inside the bottle that would help to mix the polish.
“Can I shake the bottle?” I asked Maria. I just wanted to feel the lead ball shaking inside.
“No, it is mine. Molly Aunty gave it to me” Maria spoke.
Molly Aunty helped Maria to apply the polish on her nails.
“Can you put the polish on my nail too?” I asked Molly aunty
“Sure, come here” Molly aunty called me
As I walked towards her, I heard Amma speaking
“There is nothing there to put the polish on. She bites her nail”
Molly Aunty took my hands and checked the nails. I too noticed my nails. I had the ugliest nails on earth, flat and crooked nails.
“See, I told you” Amma was looking over Molly aunty at my ugly nails. I looked at Maria. She had both her hands resting on the dining table. Her nails looked so pretty.
“Oh Nina, you hardly have any nails to put the polish on” Molly aunty spoke
“Why do you bite you nails? Look at your sisters nails, look how pretty they are?”
I knew my sister had pretty nails, I didn’t need my mother’s brother’s wife to tell me that. I pulled my hand from her and walked off
I heard Amma talking
“Just like her father, she doesn’t like anyone telling her that she was wrong”
I wanted pretty nails, I wanted pink nail polish, and I didn’t want to be like Appa. But the truth was, I had lousy nails and much as I tried to shake my father’s traits in me, I couldn’t. I looked like him; I even had the same birthmarks like him. This must be my destiny, I thought.
But I still wanted to shake the nail polish bottle and feel the lead ball inside. Maria had left the nail polish on the dining table and when no one was around, I took the bottle and tried to shake it. In an instant, the bottle flew from my hand and dropped to the ground and I ran outside and sat down on the rattan chair as though nothing happened.
Amma had heard the bottle falling down and came to inspect. I didn’t get caught because I was still sitting outside and Maria got in to trouble because Amma felt Maria was careless and kept the bottle on the edge of the dining table and the wind blew it down. I felt a sense of joy when Amma and Molly aunty scolded Maria. I could still see Maria trying to scoop out the polish from the floor and trying to put it in an empty medicine bottle. It was her first nail polish and I broke it and never once said sorry. All these years I had so many chances to tell her that I am sorry. But I never did.
Rafiq parked the car in front of the shop and I got out. There were few women inside the shop buying sarees. I had never bought a saree on my own. I wasn’t even sure what I should be asking/looking for.
It took me a while to choose a saree for Amma. I bought her brown saree with orange flowers on it. As I was leaving the shop, I saw a white colour saree with tiny brown flowers on it. Although I was never fond of printed sarees, there was something about the flower print on it. Tiny brown flowers with a yellow spot in the center. Only the bottom half of the saree had print on it and I decided to buy the saree for myself.
Rafiq started the car, when I got back
“Do you want to buy anything else Madam?”
“I need to buy some nail polish, but we will buy that tomorrow. I don’t want Appa to get angry waiting for us”
“Ok Madam”
Rafiq drove silently and I took Amma’s list from my handbag. I still hadn’t bought shoes for my sisters. I will have to buy all that tomorrow.
When we reached Appa’s office, he was already waiting outside. One look at his face and I knew, I am going to be in trouble.
He marched to the car, opened the door and slammed the door shut. Then he turned to look at me.
I looked at me father’s eyes. Amma was right. She used to say Appa’s eyes become small when he gets angry. I waited for the outburst.
“Where were you till now?” He was screaming
“Shopping” I pointed to the bags on the seat next to me
“Why were you late?”
Late? What late? I checked the clock on the dashboard. It was 6.38pm. I was only 8 minutes late.
“We were supposed to be there at 7 pm”
“Shut your bloody mouth Nina. You are questioning me? How dare you?”
I thought of asking my father what in the world has got in to him? But I knew from experience that shutting my mouth was the only way I could survive this storm.
I heard Appa telling Rafiq some address and asking him to Hurry up.
Uncle Murphy must have been working over time, because soon we were following cars that were travelling at a much lower speed than that required by law. Appa continued to scream and shout at me.Eventually we arrived at the destination and Appa got out of the car and started to walk. Before I got out, I checked the time. It was 6.57. We did reach on time and my father didn’t bother to apologize for screaming at me.