Coffee for one by Geetha Nair

Vini and I were sisters; she was exactly two years older but we were frequently taken for twins. There was just one feature that demarcated us clearly; the colour of our skin. Vini was fair, really fair for an Indian, while I was brown, like the coffee with milk in it that we drank when we were old enough to graduate from just milk. We had the same tastes, the same interests, ranging from feasting on storm-shed fruit from under the old mango tree in the backyard to devouring the American comics and British books for children which were the staple reading of our time.

Strange how our tastes and lives moved apart as adolescence arrived with sweat and blood, smell and desire… I opted for Humanities and after post-graduation, found a teaching job in a college near my home. Vini completed her B. Arch and joined a reputed firm of architects in Mumbai. From teenage days, Vini had had a dream - to live in America, as we called the U S in our part of India. I, on the contrary, had no desire to leave Kerala, let alone India. It was not a surprise to me when Vini revealed one evening that she was getting married to Jem, a white American she had met and worked with on a project. I had had a couple of conversations with him over the phone and had found him a nice-enough person, open, non-judgmental, humorous. But it hit our parents hard. Our father raged, our mother needed tranquilizers and much counselling before she could even think of contemplating the idea. The wedding was in the US; none of us attended. But Jem and Vini returned soon as the project wasn’t yet complete. Jem took up another project near Kolkatta and it was nearly nine years before Vini could finally settle in her Promised Land.

Their first year together had gifted Jem and Vini a daughter. Sherry was the spitting image of her mother and aunt, but for the white skin and the blonde hair. I paid a visit to see my little niece; my parents refused to accompany me. I fell in love instantly with little Sherry and as the years flew by, she reciprocated my feeling. Those were early days when electronic mail was still a novelty. Sherry was a precocious learner and from the time she learned how to use a pc, she and I kept up a lively exchange of mails. I visited them several times to spend time with my niece. Sherry had switched to calling me Auntie Minnie after her favourite cartoon character. We bonded so well that Jem joked that he would have to take two mothers back to the US. The family left for the US when Sherry was ten. Our exchange of mails continued. Soon, I was happy that she had been absorbed by the land of her father. 

Of course, I planned a trip to the US and it materialized when Sherry was twelve. 

I reached on a Friday evening in May. I felt that I was perpetually gazing into a twirling kaleidoscope; a strange, bright world! I found Sherry a tall and well-grown blonde American child. She was as loving as ever. From the next evening on, when the jet lag had lessened, we spoke together for hours. Vini and I too had happy sessions, reliving our shared past, unfolding our wrapped-up love again.

I got up from bed early on Monday morning; actually, I hadn’t slept all night. Sherry was dressed for school and she was tucking into her bowl of cereal. She waved the spoon at me, saying, “Auntie Minnie, I‘ll be back by two.” She swung her satchel on her shoulder, kissed her mother and gave me a kiss and a bear hug. I walked out with the cup of strong coffee that Vini had just made. Sherry was standing at the end of the drive, hopping from foot to foot, yellow pony tail dancing to the rhythm. “Sherry!” I called to her, “I want to see you off.” She spun around and stared at me. Then she rushed up the drive. “Auntie Minnie”, she said, eyes averted, plucking the petals off one of the pretty flowers that bloomed by the drive. “Go in, please go in. Please. The bus will arrive any moment now.”

Sensing my bewilderment, she continued, “If my friends and the others see you, they will know I have coloured relatives…You understand, don’t you?” She ran back to the edge of the road.

As I hurried back to the house, I must have stumbled; the coffee in my cup spilled, making a deepening stain on the gray drive. 

GEETHA NAIR G. is the author of a collection of short stories titled Wine, Woman and Wrong and two collections of poetry: Shored Fragments and Drawing Flame. Her poetry has been reviewed and published in The Journal of the Poetry Society, India, The Matrubhumi International Festival of Letters Anthology, samyuktaapoetry and several other notable journals and anthologies. Her short stories have been selected to national and international publications of repute, like The Punch Magazine Anthology, The Pine Cone Review, The sawaa Literary Review, Chipmunk and Literary Vibes. She is an active member of Poetry Chain, a group devoted to popularising Indian poetry in English. Her second collection of short stories, Love, Lies and Laundry is ready for publication. She is also the co-editor of an upcoming anthology of short stories titled Morning Glory.

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