I blacked out as I saw what I saw. I had to sit back down because the memories of my little brother that came crowding in left little energy for anything else.
I’m nine. My sister and I have just returned from school, and mom’s not home. We wear our lehengas, pretending to be princesses. Soon enough, there’s a bad fight. We’re rolling around on the bed pulling each other’s hair and screaming. Just as I break the rubber band that holds her ponytail, the doorbell rings. A wave of terror shoots through me. Within a minute I have straightened the bed, tucked my lehenga away and changed into regular clothes. My sister just stands there, holding the broken rubber band and crying. She is six. I marvel at how hair stays put in the shape of a ponytail even without the band. That makes me laugh.
I wait for the bell to ring again. It does. I open the door very gingerly, fully prepared to say we were sleeping. I don’t have to. My clearly overjoyed grandfather stands there. He ordered us to go with him. Bhaiya hua hai. You have been blessed with a baby brother. He doesn’t give us enough time to change or wear our slippers. Soon we’re in the hospital, and my mom is embarrassed. One of her children is wearing a school shirt with a lehenga and has on her head the remnants of a ponytail. The other one is not wearing any footwear.
We demand to see the baby, but he’s been transferred to the nursery. It takes a lot of pleading (me) and fighting (my sister) with the nursery staff before we actually get to see him. And when we do, I can’t look away. He is pink and his skin is peeling off in places. My sister asks the staff, iska chhilka kyon utar raha hai? I laugh and the staff tells me to be quiet.
Once he is home, mom becomes obsessed with him. So do I. Knock before you enter the room and don’t talk so loudly become our standing instructions to my sister. We start buying nursery print bedsheets and curtains in the hopes that he would like the colors. I draw colorful things for him. I pay more attention in crafts class so I can make him stuffed toys.
Soon he’s crawling all over the house. Once, he hides behind a curtain as we frantically search the house for him. Dad finds out and blows his lid. He screams at mom and amid the chaos, I find him tucked behind the Mickey Mouse curtain, sucking on his thumb.
When he learns to babble, he starts calling me eeya. None of us knows why. He calls my sister didi, but I’m always eeya to him. It’s like we’re communicating in a language that’s ours alone, and I like that. As soon as he is old enough to run errands, my sister and I send him to the market to fetch us aam papad and anardana churan on the sly. If he isn’t caught smuggling, he gets 10% of the contraband.
When I’m bored, I make him wear a dresss and my sandals and perch him up on a table to dance to Rang bhare badal se. He complies. He is an obedient kid, and I think I’m a pretty good mom. Then one day, after I am married, he tells me he has a girlfriend. I don’t tell him this, but I feel like he’s slipping from my grasp. The husband doesn’t get it – isn’t this something to be happy about? I tell my him he can’t possibly understand and that it feels like I’m losing my child. No you aren’t, my ex-husband says. Some day he’s going to get married and have children, and you’ll still be his eeya.
That thought brought me back to the present moment.
I have to call Mister and tell him was suddenly the only thought in my head. Calmly, I dialed his number. The phone rang for the longest time, but he didn’t answer, so I called again.
He answered the phone, and I started fumbling because I didn’t know how to say it.
Hey baby, can I call you back? I’m in a meeting.
Sure, I said, relieved. I sent him a text instead.
It’s a positive. We’re going to be parents.
Should I have broken the news to him (and to you) differently? How would you do it?