On Eid, I wake up to the aroma of sweet seviyan. This hasn’t happened in the last five years. I hug Ammi and ask for some but she says she hasn’t folded in the almonds yet.
Abba is in the bathroom. Ammi asks me to iron his new kurta-pajamas for prayers at the mosque. She then pulls out another set of clothes from the cupboard and lays it on the bed.
Shaheen Bhai, my elder brother, disappeared five Eids ago. Still, every year, the night before Eid, Ammi loads the bobbin with white thread to sew an outfit for him to the measurement of our neighbor’s son. Between running the seams, she rests her head on the Singer’s wheel and weeps.
The never-worn sets of white kurta-pajamas, in increasing sizes, hang behind the sewing table in the tiny room on the terrace.
‘I’m not doing this one,’ I protest. ‘I’ve to iron my clothes and wash my hair. Besides, no one is going to wear it.’
Heat rises to my cheeks. I shouldn’t have said that.
While police searched for Shaheen Bhai, my parents visited seers and sibyls. They brought back strips of cloth Ammi tied to pomegranate trees and talismans she strung around my neck. Eight years old at the time, I buttoned my school shirt to the top to avoid questions and attention.
Abba took buses to distant towns: the steps of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the courtyard of Agra’s Fort. He brought back pebbles embedded in his soles and bags under his eyes. After two years, his money and energy depleted, he started working long hours; on Sundays, he listened to my poems and braided my hair.
Ammi’s hopes didn’t dwindle. She started wearing a burqa to search unnoticed in streets and lanes. She took to fasting on Fridays.
‘Fine, I’ll iron it,’ she quips. Her tunic hangs on her bony shoulders like Shaheen Bhai’s kurtas on hangers. ‘Can’t have my son wear floppy clothes on Eid. I’ve sent him to the corner store to get almonds for the seviyan.’
Ammi, that was five years ago, I want to say but don’t.
I spread out Shaheen Bhai’s outfit. There are no tailor-chalk marks anywhere, the seams are neat, the buttonholes stitched by Ammi’s fingers, perfect.
This year, the clothes are almost the same size as Abba’s.
My brother, if he were anywhere, would be 16 now. He’d have hair on his face and an Adam’s apple protruding from his throat.
Something is burning. I run to the kitchen: Ammi’s standing in front of the stove as milk in the seviyan pot boils over.
Return to Splonk Issue 1