The waves broke against the sharp-jagged rocks with a silent swish, their sound soothing. So soothing that even the odd gull that was hopping along the water, didn’t find it necessary to fly away, something that would have happened on a different day. On a day when a slight young girl was not walking by the beach, her innocent young face encased in a warm smile, her eyes glowing in the soft evening light.
The thirteen year old hugged herself as she walked along the beach, the sea washing her dainty little feet with a strange reverence nature only bestowed on its purest creations.
The hazel-green eyes looked up as a flight of some seabird species the young girl didn’t recognize, made its way across the orange skies. A small smile crept up upon that serene face. There was something about this girl that spelled calm and peace even as her eyes shone brilliantly, hazel-green glinting off the evening glow.
Another wave made its way to her feet. Khushi giggled as the warm water touched her feet again. And it was almost as if the sea laughed with her, bouncing with each wave, the froth bubbling just a little extra because her friend was content, just like an thirteen year old without a care in the world would be.
As her soft, walnut hair blew all over her face, Khushi’s feet stumbled upon something sharp. When she pushed her hair away from her face, lifted her skirt a little so she could see what she had felt, she saw a small shell. At first, she considered ignoring the little piece, after all shells and conches were dime a dozen in Goa, weren’t they. But then, when had she ever been able to ignore the sea’s treasure. As she picked up the piece, she realized, it was exquisite - a light fleshy pink, with gradations of nature giving it a texture that only added to its beauty. Unlike most shells she found, this one was whole, no chipping anywhere. She held the shell in her palm, the cold shell warming up as Khushi grazed her thumb over it.
Just like that, the orange in the sky morphed into a warm, loving pink. Khushi smiled.
“Where are you? Mom is already looking for her whip and you know…”
Khushi turned around but she knew no one was there. Her sister’s voice had always been able to filter through to her ears despite distance.
Closing her palm over the shell, Khushi blew the ocean a small kiss and chuckled as she heard the water kiss her back with a low gurgle.
She gathered her skirt and walked away from the water, the sand clinging to her feet as if almost unwilling to leave her company. Khushi shook her head. The things she imagined. No wonder everyone was always calling her crazy and weird. Though it didn’t explain why, the same needed to be extended to the rest of her family.
As if sensing her doubt and the beginning of her despair, darkness crept upon the skies, the sea rose almost dangerously.
“Aditi Alannah Gupta, get your hinny here right now.”
Khushi chuckled as she heard her mother shout as she walked out of the small kitchen adjoining the minimally but warmly decorated living room. Out of habit, Khushi first crossed her chest with a small prayer to the Lord and then folded her hands in a tender “Namaste” in front of the idol of her favorite goddess.
“Mom, how come you never call Khushi by her full name? She was missing for hours. Don’t you think you should address that before you go all Kali-Ma on me?”
Khushi looked for the source of the voice but just as expected, her thirteen year old twin was busy staring at herself in the mirror, her contrastingly thick black hair combed with beads that jingled with every bob of her head.
“Have you finished your homework? I don’t want to hear Mrs. Rodrigues complain again about Math.” Gail O-Reilly Gupta dusted her hand on her apron before loosening the piece of cloth that was stained with splots and spills from cooking for what seemed like a truck-load of people.
“Now, now, Gail.” Hannah O’Reilly walked into the room, her large frame and clumsy walk almost making everything in the old, worn out small little house, jangle. “Leave the poor child be. Plus, we don’t really need Math to do well in life, do we dear?”
Aditi giggled as she turned around to wink at her Aunt Hannah. “So true, Aunty H. Mom is such a bore. Why do we need Math when we have mag..?”
“Aditi” Gail thundered, making Khushi jump. “How many times have I asked you to not say such things?”
The smile on her twin’s face dimmed and Aunt Hannah’s face turned serious, her brows knitting closely. “Gail, it’s not going to…”
“Enough, Hannah. Shashi doesn’t like such frivolous talk, you know that. We’ve talked about this in the past, have we not? I don’t want to hear such things and I thought we had decided to not talk to the children about this? Which part of the fact that I want to have a normal life with the people I love, is Spanish to you?”
Khushi shuddered as her mother’s voice grew louder, the expression on her face so scary that the skies darkened, a strong wind blowing against the rickety windows of their old but large mansion.
“Mom, you are making it worse” Aditi began, her eyes suddenly finding Khushi’s. “And see, Khushi is here now. You could ask her where she was, which was the point in the first place…”
Khushi turned around trying to escape but by then it was too late. “Khushi, where were you?”
Khushi turned back again, not failing to miss her twin’s victorious smile and her aunt’s slightly amused countenance. Her mother on the other hand was just as angry as she had been a few minutes before Aditi had called her presence out.
“By the beach, Ma.” She walked up to her mother, her eyes never leaving her mothers, identical hazel-green looking at each other, as if deciding the course life would take next.
“Have you finished your homework?” Gail’s voice was as stern but something seemed to have changed. Khushi should not have been surprised. People rarely stayed angry with her. It was primarily because, she was a beautiful child – inside and out, just what every parent dreams of and yet, it was the only thing that Khushi knew scared her mother.
Khushi looked at Aditi who was now gesturing at her furiously, imploring her to deny and thereby share a little of the burden of the berating that Aditi knew was going to come her way.
“No, Ma. Not completely.” Khushi lied easily and immediately regretted it. She was not a good liar. Especially when she was not convinced about the need to lie. She saw the flicker in her mother’s eyes. Gail O’Reilly-Gupta knew that her older twin was lying. To protect her sister.
“Khushi…” Gail began softly but was interrupted by Hannah.
“Oh, come on Gillie” Hannah’s boisterous voice rang out in the large living room and Khushi heard Aditi giggle furiously. A small smile tugged at her lips too. It was always fun to see her mother and her mother’s younger sister interact. The opposite of each other in every which way possible – a contrast that seemed to have been genetically passed on Gail’s twin girls. “You sound like our Aunt Ida, you know the one with a nasal twang and a thick moustache?”
Khushi broke into a giggle at the sudden break in the otherwise serious conversation. She looked at her twin who was also giggling uncontrollably with a twinkle in her eyes. Khushi turned to look at their mother and sure enough, Gail was also smiling briefly.
“There you are, Gillie. We don’t want Shashi saying that we robbed his beautiful wife of her beautiful smile, do we?” Hannah joked, making Gail shake her head in resignation.
And just like that Khushi was happy again, the brief storm, having passed over so quickly that Khushi even forgot what the root of the storm was. The night was calm again, a cool, balmy breeze fluttered against the large garden that surrounded their house. The stars were beginning to peek out of the navy sky. It was perfect.
“Ma will know soon, Ally,” Khushi said as she plonked herself on her side of the bed. “Lavanya’s mother is going to complain and you know that. Besides, why can’t you just let it go? She doesn’t understand and hence she says what she does. Maybe she is scared?”
Aditi scowled harder than ever. “Why are you defending Lavanya? Did you not hear what she said? She called us, all of us, a bunch of creepy freaks, including Mom and Aunty Hannah. How can you not care?” She pushed herself up to a sitting position and stared at her twin, her eyes blazing.
“I do care but not enough to upset the very people who you think a third person tried to offend. You know Mrs. Kashyap is going to talk to Ma during the upcoming PTA. You called her a whore, Ally. I am not even sure we know exactly what that term means.” Khushi explained, her voice low in the dark room. She could Aditi rolling her eyes even in the dark room, her eyes having adjusted themselves to the absence of light.
“I know exactly what the term means and I think it applies to Lavanya. Have you seen her flirt with every guy in class?” Aditi said flippantly. “Besides she was jealous because she likes Aman.”
“And Aman likes you?” Khushi teased, her laughter tinkling in the otherwise quiet room.
“Ewww no. And I don’t like Aman either. How can you like a guy who was punching you in the stomach a year ago? I like Keith. He is so dreamy.”
Khushi made a face. For the last year or so, Aditi seemed to have developed a crush on every boy in school. Well, almost every boy. “Keith is four years ahead of us, Ally. And I think he has a girlfriend. Plus, I think Aman is a million times better. Keith looks like a hippie, the kind Ma warns Shay to stay away from.”
“Which reminds me where is Shay? I haven’t seen him since this morning. And I wonder why Mom never scolds him. Sure, he is eighteen and everything.”
Khushi could see the scowl deepen on Aditi’s face. “Why are you always at war with Ma, Ally? Isn’t it enough that she has enough to take care of with Papa being away at sea for eight months in a year.” Khushi turned on her side and pulled her duvet up to cover herself. “You answered the question by the way, Shay is eighteen, Aunty Hannah’s son, plus, he is working almost eight hours after college to help us out with money.”
“God, do you ever let up? Talking sense all the time is boring Khushi Kathleen Gupta,” Aditi said superiorly. “And I don’t think Shay is working tonight. I heard him talking to a few friends that they are having a party by the beach today.” Aditi’s tone was almost envious. “I can’t wait to grow up and stop have Mom bugging me all day about school. I can take all the time in the world, to do what I really want to do.” Aditi sighed.
“And that is, to discover my very own magical power.” Aditi clapped her hands together. “I can’t believe you beat me to it, by the way. I started talking first, Mom says.”
Khushi giggled. “You are crazy. And no, I don’t think I’ve found mine.”
“Oh yeah, is it a coincidence that your mood seems to reflect exactly on the weather in Palolem? Just like Mom’s?” Aditi challenged. “Thank you for a perfect evening, by the way. I think I could see the Orion clearly today.”
Khushi shook her head and said seriously, “It makes us weird, Ally. You heard Lavanya. And the others. Except Payal, we have no friends. The digs are becoming more pronounced every day.”
“It makes us unique and powerful, Khushi. Lavanya is a bitch. If she calls you or Mom names one more time, I swear I am going to finish what I started today and chop her “oh-so-lovely” hair away.”
Before Khushi could reply, they heard the wooden stairs just outside their bedroom creak.
“That is Shay.”
Before Khushi could stop her, Aditi had jumped out of the bed and walked over to the door, pulling it apart softly, revealing a dark figure outside their door.
“Shay,” Aditi pulled their eighteen year old cousin in, almost wrenching his arm apart in her enthusiasm. As soon as the lanky, young man was inside the room, Aditi shut the door behind them and switched on the lights, the brightness blinding Khushi for an instant before her pupils began adjusting to the change.
“You girls should be asleep by now. Isn’t it a school night? Does Gail know?” Shyam Shay Gupta chuckled, his dark eyes twinkling at both of them.
“How come you call Mom that instead of Aunt Gail?” Aditi huffed and then immediately changed the topic back to what was bothering her. “Answer that later. First tell me this. How was the party? Was Keith there? Did he play the guitar?” Aditi swayed on the ball of her feet dramatically.
“Hey little sister, talking about boys a lot older than ourselves a lot, aren’t we? I always knew those girlie books you read are not a good idea.” Shyam shook his head and walked over to the bed and plonked himself. “Hey Midget” Shyam patted Khushi’s hair lightly. “Thanks for the wonderful weather. Though there was a slight chill towards the late evening? Gail and Mum fight again?” Shyam asked softly.
“As always, Shay. Ma doesn’t want to hear the word in our home…”
“And Mum and Ally don’t want to talk about anything normal.” Shyam smiled and shook his head. “We are a crazy family. I miss Shashi at such times.”
“You guys, I am right here you know. Or wait, am I invisible? Is that my power?” Aditi almost squealed.
“Aditi, why are you still awake?” Gail’s voice made all three of them jump and then burst out into silent laughter.
“Now, don’t say “I’m not awake” and ruin everything like last week, OK?” Shyam chuckled, winking at Khushi.
“No, she’ll say what she said last month, Mom – I’m sleeping and force Ma to send us to the market to buy vegetables as punishment for staying up late on a school night. And then she’ll complain the whole way to the market and back, as if it was my mistake.”
Aditi slapped both Shyam and Khushi on their backs as their hi-fived with each other amidst more silent laughter.
The leaves rustled outside, the sound of the waves weaving its magic on the people of the small sleepy town of Palolem.