“OMG! OMG! OMG! I can’t believe this is happening!”
In case you were wondering, I wasn’t the one squealing. It was my 35 years old mother! (Was I embarrassed? Slightly. Was I happy and wished that I was jumping up and down and squealing beside her? Absolutely! But well, I was trying to act all calm and composed at that moment.)
It wasn’t every day one got to see their mother in a beautiful white bridal dress, and fussing about her appearance before walking down the aisle.
It had been so long since I’d seen such a beautiful glow radiate from her face. Her wide smile lit up the whole room and it was so infectious, that I couldn’t help but share her enthusiasm.
Finally, that joyous moment had arrived. My mom Pooja and her love James exchanged their vows and they shared their first sweet and tender kiss as husband and wife. (Nope, I wasn’t crying! Some dust fell into my eyes, that’s all!)
“Mom, you do remember the birds and the bees talk which we had, right?” I said to her, with a mischievous twinkle in my eye.
James laughed while my mom blushed beet-red and said, “I never imagined a day would come where I would be on the receiving end while having this talk with my daughter!”
Just to make her blush again, James asked me with a wink, “So Keerthana, tell me, do you want a baby brother or sister?”
Mom choked on the wine she was having, while I replied with a straight and innocent face, “I want a puppy, preferably a husky.” Turning to my mom, I fake-gasped and said, “Ah, now I know the reason for this hasty marriage, Mrs.Kirkwood. Seems like I should have given you the birds and the bees talk much earlier!”
She swatted my arm playfully and said, “Oh, hush now, both of you. I’m not pregnant.”
Just then, James’s son Kevin, (My half-brother! Though saying that aloud still feels very surreal to me) approached us and exclaimed loudly, “What, pregnant?”, which earned us a few raised brows from nearby people making my mom blush yet again.
Although Kevin is two years older than me (I’m sixteen, by the way) we managed to bond and become good friends in the brief period our parents dated. Mom and I had moved to San Francisco just ten months ago from India. All our life we had lived there, and suddenly a new change in location, climate, food, schooling, and what-nots freaked me out very badly. Kevin was the one who taught me various things about the American culture and also helped me learn American English.
I still remember the incident where I went to a local bakery, and the shopkeeper told me they do not sell biscuits! I wouldn’t have become so flustered if it wasn’t practically placed on the display in front of my eyes! When I pointed my finger at them and told him I wanted a packet of those, he replied cheerfully, “Oh, you meant cookies! You should have just asked for cookies then.” At that moment, I vowed to learn American English but forgot about my vow the moment I left the bakery and had a taste of the delicious coconut-flavored biscuits, sorry, cookies!
Adapting to the American culture was still very new to me, even after a month of living with the Kirkwoods.
“Keerthu, next week we are having a Christmas party. A few of James’s relatives and our neighbors would be present. Would you like to invite your best friend Alexa and her mom, dear? I remember you telling that she wasn’t planning on going to her grandparents’ place this year.”
All I heard was “party” and “relatives”. To say that I’m not a fan of family gatherings is an understatement.
One of the main reasons I accepted when my mom got the transfer was that I don’t have to sit for hours at family gatherings anymore and listen to the sugar-coated criticisms and advice my relatives “bestow” upon me. I hated how they never failed to comment on my solid five feet stature and how small and tiny I look every time they met up with me. I repeat, Every. Single. Time.
Expecting politeness and genuine advice from them is like expecting the sky to rain food instead of water. (Though how I wish it did, as in the movie Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.)
I mean, I don’t do around telling Aunt Priya (The worst part is, she isn’t my actual aunt! She's just some random distant relative who claims to be everyone’s aunt) that she has blown to the size of a mini hippopotamus! (angry sigh)
Oh yeah, mom was still going on about the party, while Capone – Oh No song was playing in my head. (I’d developed a recent obsession with that song ever since I heard in an Instagram video.)
Seeing my deer in the head lights expression, Kevin chuckled and promised to explain their Christmas traditions, once he returns from his football (or is it soccer?) practice.
Kevin told me that people send cards to their loved ones to convey their Christmas greetings and on the morning of Christmas, people usually attend the church services. These traditions weren’t new to me, as in India too, we used to send cards to our near and dear ones for various other festivals and visit the temples on auspicious days.
He also told me that they usually have a marathon movie night, on Christmas Eve, where they watch a lot of Christmas related movies like “White Christmas”, “A Christmas Carol” etc. (I asked him if they watch “Frozen” too, to which he only raised a brow………..But, it was a genuine doubt!!!)
That evening Kevin and I started decorating the Christmas tree. James even offered to drive me to the stores so that I could buy and add my own favorite ornaments for the tree, but I refused initially as I had no idea how to decorate one. I really didn’t want to make our tree look like Dobby’s outfit, full of mismatched items.
I was a bit touched when James said, “Don’t worry about what others are going to think. Decorate our tree as per your heart’s desire. It is, after all, our tree.” I then agreed to go with him to get a few ornaments and mom joined us too. We went to shop for the presents after that.
It was the day of the party. Casually, I asked Kevin, “So, whom all have you invited for the party?”
“Why do you ask? Do you want someone to attend in particular, who also happens to have sandy brown hair and blue eyes?” he asked with a grin.
Oops, seems like I was not too discreet in ogling his best friend/our neighbor, Daniel Morgan. I met him a few weeks ago, when Kevin introduced me to our neighbors. The first time I saw him, I was too caught in his baby-blue eyes that when he introduced himself, I replied with, “Hi, I’m Daniel”. Only when Kevin started laughing did I realize my folly and quickly corrected myself.
After that embarrassing first meeting, we crossed paths a few times when Daniel used to come over to hang out with Kevin, and I got into my new role of “annoying little sister” very spectacularly (if I may say so myself) by popping into his room when he had company and asking to borrow his headphones or stationery items.
Coming back to the present, I replied, “What? No! I was merely curious.” Okay, maybe my response was a bit too quick.
“Alright, if you say so.” He said in a tone which meant he was not at all convinced with my reply.
“But just so you know, Daniel and his family are going to attend the party. Even he seemed a bit too eager to attend this year’s party, even though he had come to all our parties for the last ten years. Hmm, I wonder why.” he mused while pretending to stroke his invisible beard.
I rolled my eyes at him (while I did a happy dance inside my head) and quickly changed the topic, before he decided to question me further about Daniel.
I felt that the evening came too soon. I hadn’t finished dressing, my make-up was incomplete, and not to mention, I couldn’t find my favorite pair of shoes! Meanwhile, Kevin was all dressed up and helping our mom in the kitchen. (Ha! When I said helping, I actually meant helping himself to the dessert.)
Finally, I became presentable, and just in time too, as the guests started arriving then. I tried not to look too disappointed each time someone rang the bell but weren’t the Morgans, but I wasn’t successful.
Soon, James ushered mom and me to meet a few people. We mingled with the crowd for a while and were about the start the party games when I heard Kevin exclaim (a bit too loudly), “Ah, there you are, my man! I thought you weren’t going to show up.”
“Sorry bro, something came up and we got a bit delayed.” Daniel replied abashedly. (I’m pretty sure I heard Mr. Morgan snort and say, “Something came up? You changed your shirt three times before settling on one after half an hour!”)
Most of us engaged in a few of the games and we had a lot of fun. After a while, the adults went to have some wine and relax while we lazed around. Kevin’s cousins, Alexa, Daniel and I lounged on a sofa and we were making plans for the New year. Somehow, I ended up next to Daniel. (shocking, right)
I turned towards him, only to find him already staring at me.
“So, this is the first time you are celebrating Christmas?” he asked after an awkward pause.
“Yep.” Feeling the need to explain further, I continued, “I never had any close Christian friend back in my place, so I never got to experience all these. We celebrate other festivals like Diwali, Pongal, Onam, Navarathri and many others back in my native place, but we’ve never hosted parties like this and celebrated. This is a pretty new experience for me.” (I decided to stop my rambling then.)
Daniel smiled and then proceeded to tell me about his childhood Christmas tradition where his family used to visit his grandparents’ place and have karaoke contests with their neighbors.
After sitting cramped up in the same position for a long time, Alexa beckoned us to the balcony. (Though why she did that with a sly expression, I did not understand at that moment.)
“Hey Keerthu, look up, will ya?” Suddenly, Kevin told me while he went to fetch some drinks for us.
Daniel and I looked up. Suddenly, Daniel blushed a bit and told me, “We are standing under a mistletoe.”
“Oh! That is, um, a very attractive looking decoration!” I nodded enthusiastically and told him. (I couldn’t understand why they had hung a small plant twig from the ceiling when a whole tree was placed in the living room! But apparently Daniel found it cute, I guess, so I decided to humor him.)
“Um, you don’t know the mistletoe tradition, do you?” he asked with a wry grin while rubbing the back of his neck.
Before I could reply, Kevin, Alexa and a few of our friends noticed our position, and started chanting, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” (Wait a minute, is that my mom who is chanting along with the crowd?? Oh Earth, swallow me now!!!)
I was too shocked to even react, when Daniel leaned into me and whispered very close to my mouth, “If we don’t kiss now, they won’t stop their chanting. So, um, shall we?”
I only nodded (I think I didn’t even breathe during those few seconds…could that be the reason why I was feeling slightly dizzy? Maybe) and then Daniel brushed his lips against mine very softly. My brain decided to start functioning at that moment and I stood on my toes and twined my fingers around his neck, while Daniel deepened the kiss. We broke off with a shy smile only when the others started hooting and Kevin thumped Daniel on his back and said with mock anger, “Hey, that’s my sister you are kissing.”
Alexa rolled her eyes at him and pointed out that he was the one who initiated the chanting.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly. A few of us went to have second serving of the dessert. Slowly, the guests started leaving one-by-one.
I was actually surprised when I realized that I did not want the day to end. I had a very wonderful time that day. And it was not only because Daniel asked me out before he left, but also because I enjoyed the time I spent playing party games with my new cousins, helping James and Kevin organize the events and getting to know their traditions very well. Oh, and of course, unwrapping the gifts!
Overall, it had been an amazing day. I couldn’t wait to celebrate many more lovely festivals with my new family, learning their traditions, being a part of it and teaching them the Indian cultures and traditions one day as well.