They say anger and fear are like steroids. They push your limits and make you do things you normally wouldn’t do.
They pushed mine way too far.
I was lying on my bed facing down. It helped me breathe and calm myself. I could also hide away my tears and my anger.
I had fought again with my mother. It was the third time this week. And we had managed to crawl to Thursday.
Someone knocked at my door. I knew it would be my mother. She was always the first one to wave the white flag.
“Iva, I am sorry, baby. Please don’t chain yourself to the room. Come out, lunch is ready. I have made pancakes,”
A smile slipped onto my lips. The thought of pancakes cooled me further. I knew pancakes would be accompanied by maple syrup as a wholesome peace offering.
‘What was I fighting about again?’,
I tried to pull my thoughts back to the battle that raged a few moments ago. But then, I was too tired to carry on.
The bleak aroma of fresh pancakes crept into my room. I wasn’t prepared for a battle against temptation and lost. My mother won half the wars this way.
I turned and pushed the bed down to pull myself up. It was a task I had to do. I didn’t want to fight my stomach too. I was hungry after expending a lot of energy in the first duel of the day. I put on my navy blue slippers that belonged to my elder sister and headed out.
The moment I opened the bedroom door, the fury washed away and guilt gnawed at me. Here I was, standing shamelessly after putting my mother through that ordeal, again, ready to devour her pancakes, again.
My father was sitting on the couch fiddling with his mobile. Even while facing away, I could see his eyeballs map my steps towards the hot food that marked my victory.
‘Or did it?’
I pushed the annoying thought of failure away and dropped three pancakes one after the other on my plate. The cream and brown texture waited to be drenched in the exotic sweetness of the maple gold. I picked up the bottle and did the honour.
My mother’s peace offering was rather sweet. I could feel her eyeing me from behind the kitchen door smiling to herself in self-defeat.
It had been three years that Natasha, my elder sister, left us for higher studies. Life changed a lot after that. All of my parents’ expectations from her were transferred to me. Suddenly, I was supposed to take care of the house and make everyone’s lives easier.
Agreed, I was seventeen now, but as a fourteen-year-old, I was subjected to a lot of abrupt changes. All of a sudden, I was expected to get up early in the morning and make coffee for my father while my mother prepared the meals. Now it was me taking care of the laundry and grocery shopping list.
If milk was missing when my mother sat down for her well-deserved cup of comfort, I would get scolded for not reminding them on time. I would have to do the dishes when mom was tired and dad was stuck at work.
'Was it really Natasha doing all that earlier?', I had started to wonder.
I never realised my sister’s role in the house until her chores became a part of my job profile. Initially, I took on the responsibilities excitedly until I realised this could be permanent.
For the first time in my life, I was expected to act maturely. I was supposed to be the Natasha of the house.
My parents were trying to fill the void created by her departure through me!
Then, there was no looking back.
At first, fear took over. The anxiety of losing my childhood to household chores. There were days when I would ward them off. It was stupid of me to think that way. I was just helping out my parents.
When I kept it under wraps, it bubbled into ire, then anger. Pure, unadulterated, bobbing rage.
Before I could name it, the dreaded feeling started altering my behaviour, my personality. I started getting into daily fights with my mother. My father was less around to participate.
They say time heals. In my case, it healed and deleted the memories of my sister when she was my age. She was never asked to spend time doing household chores during exams. I, on the other hand, was expected to manage time effectively on all days.
Fear won the battle on days when my mother fell sick, which was often. Natasha’s calls reduced from daily to as scant as desert rain. She was not even available to guide me when I needed it the most. I was on my own.
After training for three years, one would think it becomes easier. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. It is as difficult for me today as it was three years ago. So I have made it a habit of venting out when the going gets tough for me.
Today was just another day, just another fight. but pancakes came to the rescue, to throw some water on the parched ground of our relationship.
Once I was done with the meal, I got up to put the dishes away. It was a Saturday and my father was busy watching football, but I knew his hearing was focused on how this mother-daughter duel was coming to an end.
I went to the kitchen where my mother was roaming around aimlessly, waiting eagerly to speak with me without raising her voice this time.
She stopped pretending to work and waited for me to initiate the peace treaty. When I was about a foot away from her, she turned around. I could hold my smile no longer and it turned contagious. The next moment, we were hugging and sobbing. It was water under the bridge.
Our stupor was broken by the ringing of the phone.
“I’ll take that!”, my father jumped to the task without wasting a second, “You both continue hugging out your differences for the day.”
Mom giggled and I rolled my eyes. My father was terrible at expressing his feelings through words, but he compensated through his actions.
He attended to the caller while I and mom pulled apart. We called it a truce once more and headed back to our tasks.
“I’m going to my room for some light reading, while you make some tea for me. It’s been a tough morning”, mom halted in her path to wink at me. I couldn’t say no to her wicked smile and headed to the kitchen to accomplish the newly assigned task.
“Natasha’s coming tomorrow!”, my father shouted at the top of his lungs so people three blocks away could hear too.
Had it been the first year of her departure, my parents would have gone into a frenzy to prepare for a grand welcome for their first child after months of bereavement.
This time, mom planned just another round of pancakes.
The rest of the day swept past. The next morning, I was woken up by the sound of dad dusting the bed in Natasha’s room. He was whipping it with a cloth frantically as if trying to flatten it.
When the lashing didn’t stop after many strikes, my mother rushed to the room,
“Errr..honey, are you angry that your daughter is coming home?”
Dad stopped and grinned sheepishly.
“You know you can simply change the bedsheet, right? No need to punish the bed for it.”
I passed the room giving a fleeting glance to my father. He was happily embarrassed about his poor housekeeping skills.
At one in the afternoon, the doorbell rang and my father vanished from next to me and apparated in the doorway.
He opened the door with a swing and almost fell to tears as if God had appeared himself. Natasha was beaming ear to ear. My dad almost beat her in the width of the grin.
After the hugging and kissing session was over, she took a bath and settled down on the dining table to be fed sumptuously. Instead of showering her with all her attention, my mother placed the plate of pancakes with maple syrup on the table and sat next to her. Dad grabbed the only seat left adjacent to his daughter, whom he was seeing after eight months.
Natasha drowned her pancakes in the gilded liquid and began gobbling. The Questions and Answers session thus began.
After the ‘How are your studies going?’, ‘Where are you planning to take the internship?’ and ‘I hope your roommate is minding her own business now?’, it was Natasha’s turn to question.
She turned to me, “How is my little sister doing?”
“Good! I am not little anymore, you see!”
“Oh, really? What, you do the laundry now?”, she gave a sarcastic smirk and returned to hogging her pancakes.
I opened my mouth to give her a riposte, but mom interrupted me,
“Laundry, dishes, tea whenever I want, and a lending ear when we truly need.”
Her remark took me by surprise and Natasha by shock. She stopped midway, the morsel of pancake losing its maple gold drop by drop on the table.
Had I fainted, I would not have heard anger, and a tinge of shame, bubble up in Natasha and my father gasp.
She put the piece down on her plate and spoke without looking up,
“Seriously, mom? You want to get into that discussion half an hour after I enter the house?”
“No, dear, I am not trying to fight. I am just giving credit where it is due.”
I felt my throat choke at the acknowledgement. I couldn’t believe my mother was supporting me over her favourite child!
Natasha was beyond enraged.
“And you don’t think it was due to me? I used to help you out with household chores as a kid too!”, she grumbled through gritted teeth at our mother.
“Yes, my love. I am just telling you that Ivanka was there to support us when you were engrossed in your new life. She took care of me and managed household chores every time I fell sick, even when she was busy with her studies.”
“So you want me to leave my career and come back home to take care of you?”, Natasha retorted.
“Nutty, no need to be rude. All your mother is saying, a call more than once a month would be great. It just seems like you have forgotten your family,” my dad tried to intervene with as minimal yet impactful words as possible.
“I cannot believe you guys! Do you understand how fearful it is to be on your own in the world out there? I was all alone to handle it all! I was angry at myself, at everyone else. I was battling everything all by myself”, Natasha was shouting now.
Her last statement stuck with me and I decided to break my silence.
“I can understand you, sister”, Natasha looked at me with anger bursting through her eyes, “I was here all alone managing everything too.”
I waited for her to retort and silence me. But she skipped a beat and I knew I had struck a nerve.
“I was very scared too in the beginning, felt like my childhood was getting overshadowed with household responsibilities. I wished you would guide me, but I was left alone. There were times when anger and fear would take over, but I didn’t shut myself up, I vented the anger out and freed myself.”
I wanted to say more but felt this was enough. I wanted her to understand that I genuinely loved her but I didn’t need her guidance anymore. I had grown a decade’s worth in the past three years. I knew what to do.
I was no more fearful. Anger didn’t control me either anymore.
Everyone fell silent around me. I sensed the fire in Natasha douse. She didn’t speak to any of us the whole day.
The next day, I woke up to the aroma of mac and cheese, Nutty’s special.
I looked at my phone. It was seven-fifteen in the morning. The time when Natasha used to take over the kitchen when she was living with us.
I floated on the aromatic waves out of my bedroom and bumped into my dad. We shared silent glances of elation and headed out.
My mother was leaning on the kitchen doorway looking at the old chef return to her territory. When I and my father joined her, Natasha turned to face us and smiled,
“I can’t change how I behaved the past three years, but I can do something to make today special.”
She then looked directly at me,
“I am sorry, Iva, I let anger and fear take the best of me.”
I sensed the old calm resurface in my sister. She stepped closer and took my hands in hers,
“Let me try again, li’l sister, with courage this time.”