Dosas and samosas
“Ammuji, I’ve had enough,” I mutter, rolling my eyes after stuffing in another glob of rice drenched in an unfamiliar cocktail of curries. Ah, holidays: that time of year filled with laughter, the aroma of cardamom, the fragrance of cumin, dancing on blanched blankets of basmati and faces, faces that were foreign from the familiarity of food. Peering up from the stoneware, I was barraged by the gaze of my aunt. Cold, black, like the 9:30 sky so familiar to me leaving the subway after work. I hesitantly managed to look at her forehead— just not the eyes, don’t look at the eyes. My tired eyes then fell to her nose, a protruding beak with escaping whiskers. Realizing my mistake, I quickly glance at my cousin. An awkward teenager, just transitioning into his senior self, wearing a horrific combination of a bright blue polo and athletic shorts; his bright, red bibhuti residing in the colonies of his unibrow. I’m suddenly cut off by the shrill decree my mother sends.
“You’re only eating one?” she looks at me quizzically. “Ay Bhagvan, I work day and night chopping the okra, skinning the potatoes and boiling the dal and this is how you repay me?”
I bow my head, avoiding a glare identical to her sister’s, as I reach for the wooden ladle. However, I found myself grasping at thin air, as the bowl of sambar is dragged by my father’s impatient, bear-like arms. I sigh from my defeat and begin to slouch in my seat just as my uncle interjects with the dreaded question.
“So how are the studies going?”
A million thoughts race through my head. What excuse can I come up with this time to leave the table? Uhhhh what school did mom tell him I was attending? Is this the uncle where I’m the business major or the pre-med? Dazed by his interrogation, I stare at the cafe au lait wall dejectedly when my Ammuji scolds me for blatant disrespect. Her cat-like eyes were now judging me—except more coldly than all the times she judged a friend that I would bring into our iron fortress, home. I didn’t need to consult her to know what she wanted escaping from my mouth. I pause for a second, and then push myself to utter the very words I say everytime I’m with family. But like the double doors that barricaded the cold December air from entering the store where I worked at, a self-conscious emotion grasps my tongue. Whether it was an internal sense of rebelliousness or just the fatigue I experienced that winter break trying to balance my classes at the community college and my work at the gas station market, the words that came out did not match “I’m really enjoying Columbia.” I did not remember what the exact dialogue was. Only a fury of emotional accusations from my aunt and my mother raising her voice in denial. My chair scrapes across the opulent tiles of my aunt’s grandiose suburban home, as I rush to the door and pull on my thin hoodie before greeting the serenity of the sideways Oakland rain, spraying in my face as I hear my mother admit to my cousin.
“He’s such a bad role model.”
I draw my worn-out card for the underground, scratched by the coins in my grey pockets, staring at unfamiliar ID photo. Using the illumination of the Christmas lights, I navigate the two blocks to the subway. It was empty, the windows peering at the dark expanse ahead. No comfort was present, except for the unfashionable plush seats and the old man on the other end, his puffed nose buried in a newspaper. I dozed in the gentle cotton fleece of my hoodie. Then the stop arrived.
Breaking free from the dark corridors of the station, the friendly nostalgic holiday memoria of the city greeted me. I wandered toward the empty gas station where the 24 hour market remained open even on Christmas eve.
The bell rang to declare my entrance although no one was inside the restaurant except one of the kids I saw around campus. She was a year my senior, and I never caught her name, but she was the girl with the unkempt blonde hair and cheap Kmart lipstick that was already starting to wear off, even though I could tell she had just put it on a few minutes ago.
I managed a subtle “Hey” as I walk to the counter.
“Rough night?” she speculates.
I just look quietly down and grab a pack of gum and slide the few quarters in my possession across the counter. She rings me up and then quickly decides.
“Let’s get food.”
Before I can produce a response she grabs her oversized coat and sneaks in her feet into fuzzy bedroom slippers twice her size before running out into the cool city air. I hesitantly follow her to the Indian fast-food restaurant on the corner lot nestled between a dumpster and a tax firm. Not the ideal restaurant location. She barges in and I manage to squeeze in before the sluggish restaurant door came to a stop. We walked out with two flimsy bags with bright red happy faces and “THANK YOU’s” on them. There was a curb a fair distance away from the dumpster that looked out on the empty streets and the desolate sky above, and we both sat there with our take out food. My hands went scavenging for the plastic carton that was mine and successfully finding their target, opened it to the cheap smell of potatoes and fried samosa. She opens her take out box to reveal a folded up dosa. She looks for the sambar as I dip my delicacy in chutney.
“Sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Mary,” she replies. We say nothing else. The two of us just sat there, appreciating the sounds of our fast-food feast and the dazzling stars up above in a blanket of December sky.