Linger (Jaya Wagle)

On winter weekend mornings, my sister and I hauled four woolen razais, bound in white muslin—our backs bent with the weight and the breadth and the length—out to the balcony of our house. We spread them on the wrought iron railing to warm in the sun.

In a corner of that balcony, Papa hung a small mirror on a nail, and on a small stool arranged his red and blue tin of Godrej shaving cream, a glass of warm water: he soaked the shaving brush in it to soften the bristles while he massaged his scalp with Cantherdine oil. His hair slick and shiny, he lathered his chin with the softened brush, the sweet smell of sandalwood oil mixing with the astringent scent of shaving cream.

We liked to linger on that sunny rectangle ‘til Ma’s summons sent us scurrying, squinting inside the dark cold house to finish our Sunday chores—sweeping and dusting, loading week’s laundry in the washer, spreading it on the line to dry in the sun’s warmth. Ma spent most of the morning in front of the two burner Sunflame gas stove in the small galley kitchen, cooking chole in an onion-tomato-ginger-garlic gravy, making ghee, heating water in the round aluminum pot for our baths, making sure we oiled our long, thick hair before taking our once a week head bath.

By mid-afternoon, we—Papa, Ma, my younger sister and me—sat down on the warm balcony tiles, cross-legged, our backs to the soft sun that was just hot enough to dry our damp hair while we ate in the shadow of the baking razais. We sat there, long after lunch was done, and talked about school, friends, work, while old Hindi movie songs played on Vividh Bharti radio station. On the street below, vendors pushed their vegetable carts, children played cricket, neighborhood aunties sat on their stoops knitting sweaters, men cleaned and oiled mopeds and scooters. As the sun moved south, we piled up the dirty dishes and the empty pots and carried them all into the kitchen.

 Our bellies full, each of us claimed our heated razai, trooped back into the dim house, and settled down for an afternoon nap, our bellies full, our bodies warm.

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Twenty years later, my three-year old son spent countless hours on that balcony watching the street below, school rickshaws picking up kids, neighborhood uncles riding their Vespas and Kinetic Hondas to work, neighborhood aunties in their house gowns and duppattas buying vegetables from the sabziwalla, haggling over the price of tomatoes and eggplant, cows ambling down the street, eating vegetable clippings thrown on the threshold corners by thoughtful homeowners.

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Seven years ago, Pappa sold that house with the balcony and built another one on my Aaji’s plot next door. The new house also has a balcony, but no one sits there. Its stone bench bakes in the sun and Ma’s jasmine creeper drapes over the railing.

On winter weekend mornings, Ma stays downstairs in her bright kitchen. Pappa shaves in the tiled bathroom. Their children and grandchildren scattered in faraway cities and countries have formed their own weekend routines.

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Jaya Wagle is a former Indian expat and current American citizen. She graduated with an MA in Creative Non-fiction from University of North Texas where she is now an adjunct professor of World Literature and Technical Writing. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming in Barrell HouseHobartJellyfish ReviewLittle Fiction, Big Truths, and elsewhere. She lives in Texas with her husband and 14-year old son. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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image: Alan Tenhoeve