“You can have one,” said a voice to my left, pointing at the food plate where a couple of tiny fingers made a tentative claim on one of the crisps. Just as I blinked, the fist retreated.
“Good. Now chew slowly … One bite at a time … Keep your mouth closed … Good girl.”
I dug into my modest plate of sandwiches and looked up to meet a furtive pair of emerald eyes. She sat upright, and signed off on the bite with a minor gulp, almost eyeing her mother for feedback.
I continued eating, slouching, and pausing to nip at the wispy rings. I was half-heartedly hoping the mother would politely remind me about the dismal future of crisp-eating and how we would end up in a friendly discussion about rebel kids. But her trained eyes were scanning her daughter’s face, something a policeman would find comforting.
While we remained stationed at our corner table, my neighbor in a flaming red sari, was hoofing it left to right, arms outstretched with a goggle-eyed expression at guests, almost forgetting she’d invited them all in the first place. In the background, the decibel levels of music kept fluctuating, and an angry pot-belly hovered close to the DJ with a wobbly whisky glass, shouting instructions to repeat a song that pulled half the men to congregate at the centre for a community thrust.
The kid in front of me, the silent chewer of all things green, now wore a saintly, faraway look. Following its crumbs, I unexpectedly landed at the ice-cream counter, where a bow-tied skinny young man, was summoning up all his strength to scoop out stubborn whirls of strawberry-vanilla to feed a jostling crowd. Taking cue, I rose up and strode there like an arrow and returned with a plateful.
I could feel the mother’s hot stare melting some of the strawberry cream on my plate, while the kid shifted uneasily in her seat. Like a happy Labrador unmindful of how its floppy tail has whipped the person standing close to it, I happily took in mouthfuls and heard a loud sigh followed by: “Let’s go. I’ll take you round the back to introduce you to Mehta aunty and then we will go home.”
“But mumma, can I…”
The chorus of “Baby Doll” drowned all else.
[Photo by Evan-Amos (Own work) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]