“I know, Didi, you’ve told me a million times. I’ve babysat Nick before, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.”
“I know Raju, but Nick’s in that stage where he’s run-”
“Running everywhere, I know. I promise I won’t lose him. And yes, I know about his milk allergy, I will be very careful. Now go have fun with Javi, I don’t want to hear from you the rest of this weekend.” He said suggestively. “Nick needs a little sibling to drive him nuts like I do to you.”
“Do you really want to tell your sister to have hot, amazing sex this weekend?” Anjali asked with a laugh, already picturing Raj’s disgusted expression.
“I merely hinted at it. There was no need to elaborate.” He said, wrinkling his nose. He glanced down at his nephew with a fond smile. He balanced the phone on his shoulder, swinging Nick up into the seat of the shopping cart. Nick’s face immediately crumpled when Raj turned away, and he let out a loud wail of distress.
“Raj, is that Nick? Is he okay? Are you-”
“Di, I promise it’s fine. Go have fun. I’ll take care of him.” He hung up on his sister before she could panic any further, turning to comfort his nephew.
The tears subsided as quickly as they came with Nick. Raj had always adored his nephew, who was a joy to take care of. Everyone said that about their own family, of course, but Nick was genuinely one of the best kids he had ever interacted with.
He reached for a banana absentmindedly, only to accidentally touch another person’s hand. He raised his eyes, intending to deliver an apology when he realized who it was.
“Amma?” The word slipped out from a force of habit, and Radha Iyer’s eyes widened. She collected herself quickly, giving him a polite smile.
“Raj. I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you doing?”
He swallowed uncomfortably. He doubted Radha Iyer would like to hear of what had happened a week ago at Pooja’s engagement.
“I’m doing fine, thank you. And you? How is Appa doing?” He inquired.
“Vishwanathan is doing well.” She said quietly, a soft smile on her face. “You remembered.” She said after a pause, staring at him with a glimmer of surprise.
He shifted on his feet, shrugging. “Amma – uh, my Amma – had mentioned it. She asked after him.” He said, attempting to distance himself. It was the truth, but it was also true that he genuinely cared about Ananya’s family, despite his disagreements with Radha herself.
She nodded, but it was clear that she was thinking of something else. He stood awkwardly for a moment, unsure of what to do.
“Well, I should uh… get going.”
“Raj wait.” He stopped, regarding her warily. He didn’t particularly want to get into a confrontation with her in the middle of a grocery store.
“I owe you an apology.”
His eyes widened in shock. “What?” The word slipped out before he could stop himself, and he hastily bit his tongue. “I’m sorry, that must have sounded so rude.”
She shook her head, waving him off. “I made a mistake with you. You genuinely loved my daughter.”
“I wanted to marry her.” He said through gritted teeth, the resentment quickly bubbling back. He struggled to restrain it, set on edge.
“I know. But I was blinded by what I saw as you misleading her.”
“I would never have done that to Ananya.” He said sharply, anger lacing his words. Radha smiled sadly, a faint sheen in her eyes.
“I know that now.” She said simply. “But at that time, I was looking out for my only daughter.”
He remained silent, not wanting to say anything that he might regret. She sighed heavily, adjusting her cart so that they were out of the way of the curious shoppers that threw looks their way. “I’m sorry, this is such an odd place to do this. I just don’t know where else I could, and I need to tell you this.” She paused for a moment, shaking her head apologetically.
“When my father passed away from complications relating to diabetes, I was in sixth grade. My mother had no means of supporting me. She didn’t have a formal degree, but she somehow got me through high school by running a catering business.” She blinked back tears, looking at Raj earnestly. “I never wanted Ananya to go through that, so I insisted that she pick a career that would give her the ability to stand on her own two feet.” She paused for a moment. “Just like my mom taught me.” She said quietly.
She pressed her lips together, shaking her head. “I didn’t realize how unhappy I was making her.” She drew a deep breath, smiling sadly.
He suddenly saw how much Radha had aged in that moment, beyond the streaks of grey that now swept through her hair. Her eyes were sadder, laden with regret. His throat tightened, and he briefly realized how Ananya must have felt in that moment.
“You don’t need to apologize, Amma.” He said softly, reaching for her hand. Radha turned a surprised face on him, her lashes wet with tears.
“I didn’t understand you then. I’m not going to deny that I was angry and resentful, but I… can see where you were coming from.” He said, gaining perspective.
“I just wanted to protect Anu.” She said. “She is everything to me.”
Raj smiled. “I know. She was everything to me too.” He added quietly, acknowledging it for the first time. He glanced back at his nephew, who looked at him curiously.
“Raju Mama sad?” He asked, stretching out his arms. Raj and Radha both chuckled, and he reached down to give Nicholas a ruffle on his head.
“Anjali’s son?” Radha asked, smiling warmly. A proud smile stretched across Raj’s face as he nodded.
“Yeah. He’s the best kid in the world.”
“Everyone thinks that of their own.” Radha noted dryly. He laughed.
“He’s got a ton of energy, that’s for sure.”
“They always do at that age. Ananya would not stay in one place. I spent most of my time chasing her.”
Raj couldn’t stop his snort of amusement. “That sounds like Anya today too.”
“It is. She’s working at Promega and on her new novel. I come home to her clicking away at that keyboard and staring at it with such deeply furrowed brows that I think it’s wronged her in some way.” She shook her head in exasperation but there was pride in her voice.
They fell silent, bound by one person. Raj cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the thoughts Radha had left him with.
He had resented her for so long, but it was difficult to resent her when…
“You were good for Ananya. She was happy. And I haven’t seen her that happy since you left.” Radha said suddenly. She paused, smiling wryly. “Anu would kill me if she knew this, but… Well, I guess my aim is still to see her happy. What to do?”
Raj didn’t say anything, his gaze on the woman approaching her.
“What to do about what, Amma?”
Radha jumped, a warm smile enveloping her face as she saw Ananya. Ananya looked up from placing the limes in the shopping cart, inhaling sharply when she saw Raj.
“Hey.” He said quietly, meeting her gaze. She swallowed audibly, clearly struggling between turning on her heel and keeping her mother from realizing that there was something amiss.
Radha glanced between the two of them, distinctly uncomfortable. “I was just talking to Raj, Anu.” She interjected, trying to ease the tension that had settled over them.
Ananya raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you ‘talk’ to Raj?” She asked, her words sharper than she had intended. Radha flinched, glancing quickly at him,
“Don’t worry, Ananya, we didn’t kill each other.”
Ananya barely glanced at him, pressing her lips together in a tight smile. “Well that’s certainly a relief. Shall we leave, Amma? Appa is waiting at home.” She turned to her mother, avoiding his gaze.
“Why don’t I go check out, and you can stay for a moment and speak to Raj?”
Ananya’s eyes widened and she began to shake her head, but Radha was already on her way out. Raj heard her curse furiously underneath her breath, and withheld a smile of amusement.
“There’s a child here, Ananya.” He admonished lightly.
“Stop it.” She snapped quietly, keeping her voice out of earshot of Nick, who was playing with Raj’s keys.
Raj’s face immediately darkened, his jaw tightening. “I don’t want to fight in front of Nick.” He said sharply, glancing at his nephew. She nodded in understanding. There was a tense pause before she spoke again.
“What did my mom say?” She asked, trying to come off as nonchalant.
“She apologized.” Ananya opened her mouth but Raj cut her off. “Even though she didn’t need to. She was just looking out for you.” He said, holding her gaze.
“I know. But I didn’t need looking after, I needed people who would support me no matter what decision I made.”
They both knew she wasn’t just talking about her mother. She looked away, shoving her hands into her pockets. “But you live and you learn, right?”
He stared at her for a long moment before nodding, a regretful smile on his face. “Yeah, you live and you learn.”
She gave him a half-smile, turning to walk towards her mother. Raj turned back to Nicholas, who looked up at him with wide eyes. He ran a hand over his head, placing the banana he had picked up earlier in the basket.
“What do you say we finish grocery shopping, Nick?”
“So what was that about?” Ananya asked, glancing at her mother. Radha shrugged, staring out at the road in front of her.
“I apologized to him.” Radha said quietly, sliding her sunglasses down. Ananya stared at her, taken aback. Radha had never given any indication of amending her view of Raj.
“I… I was unfair to him. I didn’t realize that he…” She let out a breath of frustration, turning to look at Ananya as they came to a red light. “He loved you just as much as I did. If not more.”
Ananya’s heart constricted painfully and she looked away from her mother’s earnest gaze, turning to stare out the windshield. “Don’t be ridiculous, Amma. You’re my mom. He was my boyfriend.”
“He wanted to marry you, Anu.”
“Is this because I’m not married yet?” Ananya asked defensively, turning to her mother. Radha restrained her frustration, swallowing down her angry retort.
“No, Ananya. Why does everything I say have to have some sort of hidden agenda?”
Ananya closed her eyes, leaning her head back. “I’m sorry, Amma.” She said quietly after a moment. “I just… I wasn’t expecting to see him, and it’s just frustrating.
Radha stayed quiet, leaving Ananya to her thoughts. The low vibration of Ananya’s phone interrupted the silence.
Pooja Nair: Dinner tonight? Sorry I didn’t respond yesterday, I was being dragged to various stores for makeup.
Ananya smiled, quickly texting her back.
Ananya Iyer: Sure. Just let me know what time 🙂
Pooja Nair: 3:30 work?
Ananya Iyer: Yup. See you then.
“What happened?” Radha interrupted her thoughts, and Ananya turned to look to her mother with a brief smile.
“Uh… nothing. Pooja has been busy the last week and we haven’t seen each other, so she asked if I could join her for dinner.” She said. Radha simply nodded, pulling into their driveway. Ananya quickly helped her mother take the groceries out of the car, leaning against the counter as her mother rummaged through the fridge.
“You never told me that you had changed your opinion on Raj.” She said, watching her mom. Radha paused for a moment but then shook her head and continued.
“It was only natural. I still do think that medicine would have been a better career for you, Ananya.” She held up her hand at Ananya’s exasperated look. “Wait. There is a but coming. I am getting used to the idea, and in the end… I just want you to be happy.” She said, shrugging nonchalantly.
Ananya’s heart warmed as she watched her mother take things out to cook. Radha had never been particularly vocal with her approval, insisting that praise was pointless. Her ideology had always been that there was always something that could be made better, and while she wasn’t wrong, Ananya had struggled to understand that point of view.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. Radha turned around, her standard, no-nonsense expression back on her face. “Are you going to just stand there, or do you plan on helping me with this too?” She asked, handing Ananya two onions and a direction to cut.
Ananya shook her head, rolling her eyes. It had been nice while it had lasted.
Song: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Note: I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I’ll try to be back two Tuesdays from today, but my classes start on September 6th so I can’t promise anything yet. But I will certainly do my best. As always, follow buttons are on the right and if you find that you aren’t getting notifications, try unfollowing and re-following again. Let me know your thoughts! I do love to read them. 🙂