This is where we met first, outside a lemonade stand, on a bright April morning. And this is how we fell in love- over a glass of beet lemonade. Beets? Don’t frown yet. They have great blood purifying properties. Still doubting? Ask your doctor. To be honest, beet lemonade doesn’t taste so bad if you forgo the’ smelling like earthworm’ part.
Coming back to love. Ours was a fairytale romance followed by a fairytale wedding until he met someone else in the seedy bar outside town over a glass of something probably tasting better than the lemonade, leaving me and all our vows behind. Saying I was devastated after receiving his ‘ it’s not me, it’s you’ message would be an understatement. Two weeks of Netflix, Ben & Jerry and expanding waistline later, I took great solace in the fact that the solitude was quite cool when the house didn’t stink of smelly socks anymore.
Back to present. Seeing another lemonade stand in the same spot brings back old memories and mixed feelings. It reminds me of my botched love story- like a lemonade gone bad. At the same time it reminds me of my childhood too - like the ice-cold sweet tea on a warm summer day.
I smiled at my niece who was enthusiastically counting the money and putting it away in her glitzy wallet. For a first-timer, she did quite well today, collecting enough to donate to the pet shelter. We helped her bake the cookies and cakes, but she made four different varieties of lemonade by herself. Fifth one was mine. When I offered to make Grandma’s special lemonade, at first she made a face. It seems she overheard my mom’s comment about it tasting like herbal cough syrup. Frankly speaking, she was right. I found the recipe in Grandma’s old, tattered cookbook and decided to give a try once. Took me a while to hunt for some of the herbs though. The original did taste like a herbal concoction leaving a weird aftertaste. I tweaked it a bit...ok...a lot...I omitted all the herbs except mint and rosemary and gave it another try. It was really good and we even managed to find some takers for it at the lemonade stand. So according to my niece, my sister and my mom- I own the recipe now, not my Grandma anymore.
I watched my niece carrying the trays of leftovers home and I was about to follow her…
Came a voice, from not too far away, startling me and almost making me drop the pitchers.
I turned around, eager to find the owner of the voice. And there she is.
A young woman was standing on the other side of the brick wall separating my house from the neighbor’s, waving at me to get attention.
When our eyes met, her face broke out into a welcoming smile. She looked so tiny that more than half of her body was hidden behind the wall. Wait. She looks familiar. Where do I know her from? Oh. She is the new neighbor who moved in a few months back. She almost looks unrecognizable without the makeup. I have seen her a few times, never had the confidence to approach though. Flawless skin, Designer clothes and Porsche driving husband. Way out of my league.
When did I become so insecure and self-conscious? Since my husband left me for a younger and richer girl, to be precise. Last I heard, they are expecting twins. May God bless them.
“Hellooo.” She repeated, her eyes scanning my blank face cautiously.
“Oh. Hi. “I said, cringing inside, hearing my own croaky voice.
I kept the pitchers back on the tray, signaling my niece who had just come back to clear off the rest of the items on the table, and walked towards my neighbour. I couldn’t help but stare at her face in awe. Devoid of makeup, she still has a gorgeous face. Way better than what I can do with my makeup kit, mirror and couple of hours.
“Hi.” I repeated, unsure how to start the conversation.
“So I was watching you guys in action from my window. Thought to come by and say a hi. I was surprised you chose a quiet street like this to set up the lemonade stand when you can do it in a busier area for a better turn out.”
She said it all in one breath, a part of her statement sounding more like a question.
“Well. My niece insisted that she wanted it here itself, because this is where her mom and I used to set up our stands too. She had some friends bringing people over to buy goodies from her, in the form of help. Instead of simply accepting the charity, she felt good working for it. “
“Wow. That’s a very honorable thought.”
“Thank you.” My smile is more genuine this time.
“Oh. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Nita. I moved here 4 months back.”
“ I know you ...I mean… I have seen you from far. I am Laila. This is my family home, but I live here now.”
“Laila! That’s a beautiful name. Straight out of Arabian nights! So what do you do Laila?”
“I..I am a teacher. I teach philosophy.”
“Philosophy...that sounds wonderful. So you must be giving a lot of life altering advice to people right?” She said, adding a chuckle at the end.
“Something like that.” I mumbled.
Life altering advice. I repeated the word. Irony, it’s your clue to make an entrance.
“ So what do you do Nita?” I am equally curious too, naturally.
“Well, I used to be a Pilates instructor. But I opened my own studio a month ago, right across Plaza Mall. You should come and check it out sometime.”
Yes, you should...says my love handles.
She comes across as a very lively person, and her chattiness has started to make me feel...less intimidated.
She went on talking about how she found her calling in Pilates and what made her open her own studio.
I kept nodding my head, smiling at the passion in her voice and gestures. I used to be her, passionate about life and dreams, once upon a time- before I decided that I was happier playing a stepford wife.
Look how that turned out to be…
“I can’t believe Easter is here already. I haven’t started my preparations at all!”
Wait. When did the topic change from Pilates to Easter?
“What are your plans for Easter Laila?”
Easter. Let me think. I haven’t even decided what my plan for next week is.
“Nothing special. My niece is the one usually doing all the planning. We just follow her. What about you?”
“Oh. I am going to visit my brother. They just had a baby. I can’t wait to see my nephew!”
“ How about your in-laws? Are you planning to visit them too?’’
“In-laws? My in-laws? I don’t have any. What makes you think that I am married?”
Seeing the look of confusion on her face, alarm bells started ringing in my head.
“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to spy on you or something. But I have seen you leaving home in the mornings with a guy. So I just assumed. Was that your boyfriend then? Or brother?”
She replied, her voice lacking the earlier energy.
I waited, for more, for her to explain. I was born nosy. Can’t help it.
Even with her eyes down, I could envision the shame glittering in her eyes. Why should she feel ashamed to admit her relationship with someone?
“He is... just..some guy I see casually. I am ready to take it to the next level. He is not. Looks like it’s not going anywhere. And I haven’t heard from him for more than a week. So I guess it’s officially over.”
A wistful look crossed her face, casting a shadow of sorrow. You don’t have to be a shrink to know that the shadow on her face extends deep into her soul.
“ Enough about my tragic story. It’s not that interesting anyways.”
She switched back to her chirpy, bubbly self just like that- showing some admirable acting skills there. And it made me wonder. What all she must be hiding under her high-spirited, vibrant exterior?
Sometimes we look at different people in different situations and just assume that they have it better and what we have isn’t good enough. Like the saying, grass isn’t always greener on the other side...of the wall.
Everyone comes with emotional baggage. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how flawless your skin is, or how you want the outside world to see you- at some point we all get hurt, we all get our hearts broken.
“How about you Laila? Do you have anyone special in your life?” She asked, cleverly changing the topic.
“I thought I had. But I was wrong. Like you said, it’s not interesting either.” I said, grinning.
She leaned forward a little and focused her gaze on me. A flash of something passed through her face- surprise, understanding or sympathy. Maybe a little bit of everything.
“Aunt Laila. Come in for tea.” My niece yelled, forcing me to glance at my watch. It’s 4 pm! I had been standing and chatting away for more than an hour.
“Ok. I will leave you for your family time now. It was nice talking to you Laila.”
Nita was already walking back towards her house.
“Nita. Wait!” I shouted, making her stop on her tracks.
“Do you ...want to come and join us for tea?”
She looked up in surprise at my suggestion.
“Are you sure it’s alright? I don’t want to impose.” A look of doubt creased on her brows.
“Of course it is alright. Consider it as a welcome to neighborhood tea party.”
She laughed loudly at my mocking tone.
“ In that case I graciously accept your invitation. Let me quickly change my clothes and I will be over at your place in 10 minutes.
And Laila. I want one of those peanut butter cookies you served in the stand. They smelled incredible.”
“ Of course yes. See you soon Nita.”
One lemonade season must have given me a chance in love before snatching it back after so many seasons. Maybe this season is giving me something else- a start of a new friendship between kindred spirits, under the most unlikely circumstances.
Here’s to us...
Here’s to those like us...
Here’s to our bonding over botched fairy tales and brick walls.