TWI Fiction: The Invitation

Closure. Or not?

A short story by Supreet Bains Sharma

“…… and now I don’t know what to do,” admitted Aisha to her husband, Sunil. She was explaining to Sunil her dilemma over sending out invite to Rakhi and her husband, who had just moved into the same building they lived in, to their annual Satyanarayan puja. The family was sitting and talking after a late breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning. 

The puja, an annual event which Sunil insisted upon as a way for the children to know and remember their roots, was a week away. They invited the whole neighborhood – everyone with ties to India in their building was asked. After the puja, they served an Indian vegetarian dinner. The dress code was traditional Indian outfits and Aisha loved how everyone participated in the aarti. It felt like she had a community not too different from the one she had left behind in Noida. 

Sunil looked at her curiously, but before he could respond, Samaira chimed in “Mummy, you’ve been talking of this Rakhi Aunty in a strange way ever since she moved into our building, which is quite unlike you. I know there is something you haven’t shared with us kids. Don’t you think it’s time we kids know what’s going on?” As a freshman in college, Samaira had the supreme confidence of knowing her future was secure but as a conflicted teenager, she didn’t consider her candor rude. 

Twelve year old Sidharth looked up from his ‘pretend-I’m-doing-homework’ pose expectantly. 

Aisha thought for a moment and seeing Sunil nod imperceptibly, said, “I suppose you should have some idea of the background now that Rakhi and Madhav live next door. Sidharth – this is confidential – which means it’s among the four of us ONLY. You do not share this outside with anyone!” 

She waited. Both her children nodded, knowing she wouldn’t proceed till they agreed. 

“Do you remember when we visited Anil Chachu four years ago in Bethesda? It was just after we moved to USA and lived in a rented one-bedroom flat.”

“Yes I do!” said Samaira, “We went for Thanksgiving.”

Aisha nodded. “Actually, we were not planning to go to them. We had stayed with them for two weeks in June after arriving here, while Daddy looked for a place to stay and started his job. They had just moved into a new, bigger house and we did not want to look like we were self-inviting ourselves every time. Our plan was to go to Washington D.C. and visit with Priya mami who had invited us to spend Thanksgiving with her. But her daughter, Riddhi came down with measles. We were just about to start from home when Priya called to cancel. The timing was really bad for her as she had to cancel many guests. Since we were all packed and ready to hit the road, at the spur-of-the-moment, we decided to go to Anil Chachu. He was a bit tepid in his response when we called but we thought it’s because we were doing this without giving them notice. When we reached there, we realized they were having a house warming party! Of course, Dad put on his best shirt and luckily I was carrying a nice dress so we were ok to attend. I helped Mintu Chachi set up things as soon as we reached and did my best to help her throughout the evening.”

“What does this have to do with Rakhi Aunty? Why can’t you stay on the topic for once, Mummy? I don’t want a full discourse about our trip!!” Samaira said, exasperatedly.  

“I’m getting to it, be patient. If you remember, when we met Rakhi Aunty in the elevator last week, she spoke of Mintu Chachi. She and Chachi are fast friends – Rakhi used to live in New Haven, where Chachi is from, they’ve grown up together. As it happens, that day Rakhi was also visiting in that area, and was invited to Chachu’s housewarming party. I had met her earlier, of course, since she is such a close friend of Chachi’s.”

“So, what happened?” Samaira asked impatiently. Sidharth had lost interest, and had found a loose thread in a cushion, the origin of which he was busy investigating. Aisha swatted his hand away and continued. 

“I was in the kitchen with Chachi, we were putting snacks on the counter, when Rakhi walked in, with 3-4 other friends of Chachi. I was expecting a Hello, but instead, she looked at me – a long blank look, literally ignoring me and my ‘Hello’. After a moment, she turned to Chachi and said ‘I didn’t know she was going to be here!’ “

Sidharth was bored by now, he had no interest in other people. He tried to trace the loose thread with his eyes, wondering if he could yank it out. 

Aisha paused, controlling the hurt that threatened to rise. “Her tone was both dismissive and aggressive, if that’s possible. I was taken aback, but kept quiet out of politeness. It was the start to a horrible evening which made me feel very small as a person, for no fault of my own. Rakhi and some of Chachi’s friends treated me like I was pariah. They would smile when I helped with the food or cleaning, but no one really spoke to me, beyond a perfunctory niceties. I didn’t tell daddy because I didn’t want to spoil his mood that time. Later, he told me he felt unwelcomed, too. That’s when I we realized that Chachi hadn’t wanted us at the housewarming at all – which is why we didn’t know about it till we reached their house.”

 “Mummy, you’re such a drama queen! You exaggerate everything sooo much!” Aisha was taken aback at Samaira’s outburst. 

“Maybe she had a bad day, maybe you’re imagining things! And you know what – how is Rakhi aunty’s behavior connected to Chacha not wanting us there? We know Chacha-Chachi don’t like us and that’s why we’ve stopped going to their house. But that doesn’t mean Rakhi Aunty has some … some hidden agenda! OMG, Mummy, why do you blow insignificant things out of proportion in your head! Just forget this and call Rakhi Aunty for the puja!” 

Before Aisha could defend herself, or explain further, Samaira flounced away. Sidharth quickly followed, realizing it was better to get away from his parents when one child had misbehaved. He certainly didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire! 

But both Sunil and Aisha were too distracted to worry about Sidharth. Aisha was on the verge of tears at her daughter’s response. She asked Sunil, “Am I over-reacting?” 

Sunil looked at his wife, “Initially…..you know I thought you were. But now,” he paused, searching for words, “it took me a long time to see how Mintu’s behavior affects the entire relationship. I’m beginning to accept that Anil and I are drifting apart.”

“You know, Sunil, at that time, I didn’t realize why I was so upset. I understand now that I was being put down as a person. We had just moved to USA, didn’t have anything other than basics, no friends, whereas Mintu was showing off her new-found ‘status’ to her friends at the party. Her friends were at their best ‘mean girl behavior’ with me. Anil and Mintu did not want us there, which is why we were not invited. Had we known, we wouldn’t have gone.” 

“Let it go, Aisha.” Sunil said, wearily. Aisha looked at her husband as a question nagged her – could she have done something differently? 

The conversation was soon forgotten by the children, but Aisha’s dilemma was not resolved. For the next three nights, try as she might, Aisha couldn’t sleep. It was such a small thing, she knew so why was she agonizing over it? 

She should just do what Sunil said – not invite them. He was clear that people had to know where the boundary line was. He said that people who were rude, or did not treat him and his wife well, were not welcome in his house. Aisha understood and also agreed, yet somehow felt conflicted. Now that Rakhi had moved next door – just a few floors away in the huge condominium complex, she didn’t want any bad blood or bad vibes. Maybe, just maybe it was time to move on, to forget the pettiness of the past, the small insults which had been meted out. After all, catty girls grow up too, and hopefully so had Rakhi. 

It was the thought of community which helped her decide to invite Rakhi and Madhav as well. As she told Sunil, it was time to move on from this pettiness. She needed to open her heart and be prepared to accept Rakhi as a neighbor. More than anything, Aisha wanted to stop feeling hurt at how she had been treated for no fault of her own. Sunil didn’t stop her though he didn’t agree. So the invite was sent to Rakhi and Madhav.  

Aisha had half-expected Rakhi to decline. However, she had an acceptance within a day. Tentatively cheerful, Aisha hoped her message had been received and interpreted correctly, and that this was an opportunity for them to mend things. She felt good that her olive branch had been accepted. Aisha was looking forward to Sunday, the day of the puja, with more anticipation than before. She felt lighter and finally she hoped to close this chapter of hurt and move on. 

The morning of the puja, Aisha received a text from Rakhi. “Hey, we had plans of joining but something has come up at the last minute. Won’t be able to make it for the puja after all. You guys have fun!” Too busy to spend time thinking about it, Rakhi put it out of mind. The puja always gave her a sense of calm and serenity and nothing was going to disturb that. 

The day went off beautifully. Aisha thought Sunil looked handsome in his navy blue kurta and cream Nehru jacket. Sidharth looked gangly and adorable in a maroon kurta with a pink men’s scarf. Even Samaira had put aside her teenage angst ridden scowl and her blossoming beauty shone through as she twirled around in her fuchsia lehnga. The pundit performed a simple ceremony which felt pure and right. 

Once everyone left, the family sat together in the living room soaking in the joy of being together. Filled with that unique contentment only prayer can bring, Aisha said to Sunil, “I’m so glad I invited Rakhi. I would have felt mean if I hadn’t. Besides now Rakhi won’t be petty, even if she decided not to come for the puja. Finally, I can close this chapter of ‘mean girl behavior.”

Sunil smiled at his wife. Privately, he thought she was being too gullible but he was wise enough to know when to pick his battles. He hugged her and felt thankful to have her. Everyone went to bed that night happy, bellies filled with aloo-puri, heart with love and minds with thoughts of a higher power’s blessings. 

____________________

Miles away, Mintu grabbed the phone as soon as it rang. “I knew you would be waiting!” said Rakhi gleefully. “Don’t worry, my dear, I am keeping my promise to you. There is no way I would have attended that puja in their house! I just sent her a vague text. Oh, and I thought of a way I can get under her skin now that I live here. You are going to love this….”

Mintu settled herself comfortably into her couch, coffee beside her, and listened carefully. 

A public speaker and trainer, Supreet Bains-Sharma expresses her creativity through words – both written and spoken. Her mantra is ‘you won’t know till you try’, and this has made her an accidental poet. Her poetry, public speaking, writing and blogging are all driven by her purpose to help and honor people, especially women. 

 

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