“I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” Mrs. Mehta smiled, her voice warm again. “I’ve put out fresh towels for you but this room doesn’t have an attached bathroom. You’ll have to use the one in the hallway. I’ll ask the maid to bring your bags in,” she added as she started to walk out.
She turned around suddenly and looked Rhea straight in the eye. “It’s nice to have a girl in here again.”
Rhea sat down heavily on the queen-sized bed. Her shoulders ached, and her eyes felt dry. The walls of the room were milky white and unadorned. There were no pictures and no streaks of dirt, just the stark white of the sterile paint. “Like a hospital,” she thought.
A single rose leaned languidly against the rim of its tubular vase on the dressing table. The water, reaching more than half way up the stem, was clean, barring the specks of dust roaming about in it lazily, like infinitesimal babies in amniotic fluid. The edges of the rose’s petals curled downward petulantly, seeming unhappy at the barren surroundings of the bare room.
The maid dragged Rhea’s suitcase in a few minutes later and told her dinner would be ready in half an hour. Rhea stretched back on the bed and shut her eyes.
Maya talked about her grandmother all the time, her voice always full of awe. They were stories of childhood summers spent in Delhi with Mrs. Mehta, long walks in Lodhi Gardens, post-lunch treats of ice cream and kulfi and the late night drives down Rajpath to buy big, bubblegum-pink balloons.
Rhea loved the stories. She would listen to Maya and see herself in those memories. She imagined not one but two little girls with pig-tails and denim shorts walking on either side of Mrs. Mehta, holding her hands as she told them about how Shivji chopped off his son Ganesh’s head and then replaced it with that of an elephant.
Now Rhea was in that same grandmother’s home and all the stories came flooding back; stories she never had in her own childhood. Her own grandparents had either died before she was born or soon after, leaving her with few memories of the time she spent with them.
“Dinner!” Mrs. Mehta’s voice trilled from down the hall.
Rhea jumped up, rubbing her eyes awake. She pulled out a pair of linen shorts from her suitcase and replaced her aeroplane jeans with them. She smoothed the shorts down, flattening the fabric against her thighs and easing out the creases with her palms. As she left the room, she silently mouthed three syllables over and over again: “An-ja-ni.”
© Ayesha Sindhu 2013