The barista hands me my piping hot mocha latte. I chug it down ignoring the burning sensation as it slides down my throat. I need the caffeine. Sleep has not been a priority lately. I’ve been hailed for my ability to delegate and prioritize by my tie-sporting, smartphone-wielding colleagues who praise my efforts as I close another major account. If they only knew how easily I let the little things slip through the cracks.
My reflection in the sleek glass display at the counter attests to this fact. My hair is dishevelled from the frenzied drive to the airport, my tie is askew from multiple subconscious tugs at my throat to relieve the metaphorical strangling of my corporate attire and my once smooth visage is now roughly as a consequence of disregarding my shaving kit for weeks. A rumbling sensation in my midriff jars me from my thoughts. Yet another thing that I have not prioritized lately. I buy myself a sandwich to satiate the beast.
Past security checks and boarding, I settle myself into my requested window seat. The flight was uneventful except for the strategically seated infants whose wailing went up a few decibels every time we hit turbulence. The intensity of the dull pounding in my head followed this upward trajectory. Coincidence? I think not.
The city greets me with torrential rains but my spirits refuse to be dampened. I am home for the first time in months. My mood only continues to improve as the cab pulls onto familiar streets and finally arrives at its final destination. I smile at the pristine and brilliantly lit home. My mother always seemed to gain extra speed and strength during the holidays. Who says superheroes don’t exist?
She greets me at the door with her signature bear hug and my father follows suit. Dad immediately barrages me with questions about work and my financial situation. Once he deems my answers satisfactory, he returns to his designated seat on the couch and resumes glaring at the TV.
My mother has been quiet during this exchange but I notice her giving me the once-over. A familiar concern begins to creep onto her usually calm features. I try my best not to slouch but she isn’t fooled. I see her eyes linger on the creases on my shirt, the dark circles under my eyes and my belt buckle that has been fastened tighter than usual to keep up with my shrinking waistline. She does her best to hide her troubled expression as she tells me to head upstairs to get ready for dinner before our relatives arrive.
As I unpack, I see a crisp new kurta laid out for me on my bed. Teal. My favourite colour. I hold it up and see myself in the mirror. I see flashes of the worry in my mother’s eyes and quickly make up my mind.
I dig up my grooming kit and head to the washroom. After a vigorous shower, I squeeze out a generous amount of hair product onto my palm and work it into my hair. Once my wild locks are tamed, I lather up and pick up my razor. 20 minutes later I dab on some aftershave. Refreshed, I get ready, taking care not to wrinkle my new kurta. One last look in the mirror. The transformation is striking. I smile as I make my way downstairs.
I can already hear my dad loudly declaring my accomplishments to the approval of various relatives that have gathered in the living room. I shake hands and exchange pleasantries before glancing at dad who nods and gestures towards the kitchen.
I enter the kitchen to see my mom in a whirlwind of activity as she prepares dinner. She turns and sees me standing in the doorway. She slowly puts down a tray of entrées and walks towards me. She pulls me into another hug and filters every concern, proud moment and unspoken word into it. I do my best to reciprocate the gesture. Her eyes are slightly moist as she lets me go. One hand on my shoulder, she runs the other through my hair and pats my now baby-soft face. She smiles. ‘Welcome home, beta’.