Two figures stood in the doorway of the house, their silhouettes outlined by the light from inside.
The fifteen-year-old girl watched the lamps in front of each house in the street dim as people turned in for the night. She looked upwards at the sky, at the twinkling stars. They looked different here. Not like what they were at home.
Despite living with her grandparents for six months, the other place was still home. With her family, her parents, her little brother and sister. Perhaps they missed her. Of course, it’s a well proven fact that the people you’re missing can never miss you with the same intensity, the same depth of feeling, no matter how much they assure you otherwise.
And of course, she had her grandparents. Who she liked. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Of course, she had TWO rooms here, after years of sharing one with her sister. AND a swing in one of the rooms.
AND she could go where she liked, in autos, on her own, until six pm, because after that, her grandfather tended to fret, even though her grandmother muttered under her breath about old fools. AND she had pocket money, for the first time ever. AND she now went shopping every month, on her own, and chose creams and soaps and lotions and spritzes. AND she was in college now so she couldn’t cry anymore.
Shake, shake, shake.
“Ai. C by 2 na?” growled her grandfather.
The girl looked at him through the corner of her eye. She loved her grandfather. They were of the same ‘nakshatra’ , the same ‘rashi’, and had the same ‘tarle’, or idiosyncrasies – or so her grandmother was fond of saying when the girl didn’t do what her grandmother wanted her to. Of course, her grandfather never did what grandmother wanted him to. But mostly, she loved her grandfather because they both could pick at each other, continuously, without needing to stop – and neither could do that with anyone else.
“What is C by 2?” asked the girl.
“Kannada nalli kelu,” said the grandfather. (Ask me in Kannada)
Concentrating, trying to remember the shape of words from years of eavesdropping on her parents, the girl stuttered out “C by 2 andre?” (C by 2 means?)
“Haiyo. Phull Yamerican accentu. You don’t know C by 2?” sneered Thatha.
The girl shook her head again. Climbing on to the gate, she swung it forward, holding on while it creaked its way forward.
“If it breaks no, I’ll make your father pay,” threatened Thatha. (If it breaks, I’ll send your dad the bill!)
The girl only smiled and swung harder.
“C by 2 andre yenu?” she asked again, sounding like an American. It still stung that people in her college wouldn’t speak to her because they thought she was putting on an accent. Knowing that she had the best vocabulary amongst them eased the sting, but not by much. It’s not fun knowing meanings of words no one else has even heard of.
“Haiyo. Shobachu. C by 2 means half crack.” chortled Thatha.
The girl wrinkled her nose. Another word. “Shoba-what?”
Thatha threw back his head and roared with laughter. “Shoba-what! Hahahah!”
The girl smiled and waited. It wasn’t her move yet.
Her grandmother walked slowly up to the front verandah. “Hucchu na? Hanondu gante aitu. Yellaru malkond irtare. Saaku banni. Naale college ide avalage”, she admonished. (Are you mad? It’s eleven o clock. Everyone must be sleeping. Enough, come in. She’s got college tomorrow.)
The girl smiled slyly, “Ammamma, Thatha is teasing me.”
Ammamma hissed, “Yak-ri? Paapa magu!” (Why I say?? Poor child!)
Thatha shot a hand out towards the girl’s ear – the girl deftly jumped off the gate and raced inside, giggling loudly.
Thatha mock yelled “All acting. Pah! Come on. Time to lock the door.”
Ammamma shook her head at the stupidity of mankind, or rather one man in particular and shuffled back in.
Thatha shut the door – and looked at the girl expectantly, ready for their daily night time ritual. Paranoid by nature, he had eleven locks on the door, and one huge iron bar across it.
It was decided, by him, that the girl would lock up every night, under strict supervision of course.
She got to it, her fingers quickly shooting the bolts home, turning locks and finally hefting the iron bar across the door.
Now came inspection. Where Thatha would try to unlock a bolt without her noticing, so that he could grumble at her. And where she’d keep an eagle eye on things, so she could grumble back at him.
“SEE! You’ve not locked this one!” He cried triumphantly.
“I LOCKED THAT! I LOCKED THAT! YOU UNLOCKED IT! I SAW YOU!” she squealed in excitement.
Giggling, both of them re-locked the door and headed inside, the girl still evading her grandfather’s attempts to twist her ear.
“Shobachu means what?” the girl repeated.
“Haiyo. Kannada nalli,” Thatha smirked. (Ask me in Kannada)
The girl pouted. “Tell me or I’ll tell Ammamma you’re pinching me.”
“Ai! Dirty blackmailer!” Thatha chortled, thrilled. “Shobachu means dirty goose!” He crowed.
Wrinkling her nose, the girl said “Sho-ba-chu. I can say it in college?”
Thatha chortled again. “Yes, yes, go on.”
The girl smiled. That meant no. “Okay, I’ll call my paternal grandmother that when I see her. And I’ll tell her you said to.”
“AI! C by 2! Don’t do that!” growled Thatha.
Giggling, the girl ran it.
She’d won tonight.
That night, while burrowing into her rug, she murmured to herself “C by 2. Shobachu.” She’d have to call her brother and sister that when they called this Friday. Smiling, she closed her eyes.