As soon as the clock struck one on Sunday afternoon, I would find Mama in the kitchen preparing lunch. She’d have flour on her shirt and in her hair and I would tear off a paper towel and gently wipe it from her face. Then I would take the placemats out from the cupboard under the sink and lay the table. We always ate lunch at two on Sundays, even though I got hungry before then.
“Pass me the plate, rani.” Mama flipped over the chapati and browned it on the exposed flame before turning off the stove. Then she folded it over, her hands moving quickly with years of experience, and dropped it on the platter I held out.
“Take it to the table and call everyone. I’ll get the subzi.”
I wrinkled my nose at the dish. Mama was an excellent cook except when she made vegetables.
Alya was already sitting at the dining table, Avi was still upstairs reading. I carefully set down the glass dish and took my seat.
“Alya.” She looked up from the flower she was sketching in her math notebook. “Go call everyone.”
As she disappeared through the living room doors, I surveyed the food on the table. Mama walked in and placed the final plate beside the rice. When I was younger, we’d prepare lunch together and she’d teach me how to make paranthas. Just enough dough, more than needed potato. Always season with salt, chili, and coriander.
Alya came back, Avi in tow and our Dadaji and Dadi trailing close behind.
“Sleeping. He already ate.”
They each took their seats while I stood to greet them. I walked over to Dadaji and bent to touch his feet. His hand rested on my head.
“Bless you, beta.”
Returning to my chair, I passed the rice to Avi who was already reaching for it. We ate quietly — only a slight murmur here and there. The pungent smell of burnt turmeric and cloves was already wafting its way into the air.
My fork scraped lightly against the plate, the sound of satisfaction. I popped the last bite into my mouth, relishing the spice that burned into my tongue and set the cutlery down.
“Is that all you’re eating, beta?” Dadi peered at me from across the table.
I nodded, “I’m full.”
“You’re too thin. You should eat more.”
“I had two helpings, Dadieema.”
She pursed her lips, but let it go.
Afterward, Alya and Avi cleared up the plates while Mama and I cut mango for dessert. Making sure Mama wasn't looking, I sneaked a piece, although I'm sure she knew. Tart, and juicy, I savored the fruit in my mouth. The fibers tore away easily and fizzed on my tongue.
“I have a surprise for you,” Mama pulled out a metal tin from the fridge and pried it open, “kaju katli.”
A faint pealing bell of a memory rang through my mind and I laughed in disbelief as I looked at the delicate diamond-shaped sweets covered in silver foil.
“How did you get this, Mama?”
Her smile faltered before she drew the corners of her mouth back up like they were attached to a string that stretched to the sky.
“Don’t worry about that today. Take some pieces and give them to your grandparents.”
I brought the dish out, making sure to set aside some pieces for Papa to eat later. The sugary smell of syrup and cashews replaced the stink of cauliflower.
“Look, Dadaji, Dadi, Mama brought kaju katli for dessert today.”
Dadi turned to me in surprise. Then she looked at the sweets, the silver tops of them gleaming from the light and held one up. Her eyes softened and she looked at Dadaji.
“Dehko. Look. Your favorite.”
There was silence. And then chuckle rose up into the air, a gasping, gentle sound that even the still wind could not have picked up, had it not have been completely silent. Dadaji carefully plucked a diamond from the container with shaky hands, his fingers running over the velvety points. He glanced at me.
“I used to eat these with your Bua. My sister. I got your Dadi to try her first one when we got married.”
I smiled and beckoned Alya and Avi over from where they sat on the couch. Mama came out of the kitchen, wiping her sticky mango hands on her apron.
“What else did you show Dadi?”
A twinkle appeared in his eye, one that I had not seen since he had last had company over.
“I got her to sit at the back of my scooter when we were twenty.”
A loud laugh echoed from behind me, and Avi turns to Dadi in shock. “You did that, Dadi?”
She winks, and the corners of her mouth curl up the slightest bit.
Avi looks at Mama. “When can I get a scooter?” She rolls her eyes at him and he pouts, before looking at Dadaji pleadingly.
Dadaji only grins and we still. He has not done that in a long time.
“When you beat me at chess, beta, I will get you a scooter.”
He has not made a joke in a long time either.
Mama leans forward. “Make him tell you how he got the bike.”
Avi whips his head towards Dadaji and we all chuckle.
“I will tell you, beta. Maybe then, you can buy your own bike.”
Papa comes down after his nap, and we greet him with hugs and wisecracks. He entraps us with his own childhood memoirs and for the better part of the day, we eat mango and kaju katli, giggling when our hands get sticky. Dadaji and Dadi tell us stories hidden in the wrinkles of their hands and the laughter lines beneath their eyes. They relive their youth in the tales we share.
Together, we sit on the dining table, swapping the stories of three generations, long after the sky turns to dusk and the sun falls asleep under a blanket of stars.