The Home Coming
Updated: Jan 20
"Hey, it is going to be okay." Brendon places his hand on my thigh, stilling the foot tapping. His warmth across the blue jean fabric tethers me, but a shiver still sweeps from chest to toe.
Through the windshield of the Rover, I gaze at the resort booked by Chacha for Babita's wedding. The Rajasthani-style balconies with domes and spires made of red sandstone rise above the Ashoka trees lining the driveway leading to the resort reception.
My return is a skittish walk on a knife edge five years after I left. Will Pa accept me? I am not alone now. His rejection would mean renouncing everything I have built in my life. I have a husband and five kids to worry about. What if Pa creates a scene? What if he hurts Brendon? Will Pa at least hold his tongue in front of the kids?
"Have we arrived?" Aadvay, the youngest of the triplets, enquires through a yawn.
"Ya, Addy." Brendon turns to the back and ruffles Aadvay's hair. "Wake up, Marshy bears. Time to meet your grandma."
A round of groans is returned from the back seats as the kids wake up from slumber. The rental SUV is soon engulfed in excited chatter like the cacophony of sparrow chirps greeting the rising sun. The kids climb over each other to gaze out the windows, mimicking the tiny speckled birds.
"Is this a palace?"
"Will there be swords and shields?"
"Is Babita Bu a princess?"
"When will we visit the Taj Mahal?"
"I want to see elephants?"
"Uff. Everything in time, mates." Brendon tries in vain to calm them down, but the kids are already on the move. They open the locks and tumble out from both sides of the vehicle. I smile at Brendon's eye roll. How do you hold so much energy in five feet of space? This model of the Rover was the biggest we could find in Delhi. The sixteen-hour flight from Melbourne and two hours of the road trip from Delhi airport do not affect these bundles of animated curiosity.
I step out and lean back to stretch my back, relishing the dew-induced petrichor-filled air of the early morning Delhi winter. The sun peeks through the spires on the resort's rooftop. Our doe-eyed brood taking in the sights and sounds of the place warms my heart.
"Papa, look a peacock." Jiemba's words startle the bird perched on a balcony. He tugs his twin Tau and scampers towards the peacock, who flies at their approach. The triplets join them to track the bird.
"Boys, remember no running off and wandering on your own." Brendon reminds them. We prepared the kids for what to expect in India and gave them a list of do's and don'ts. But kids are kids. The triplets are now almost seven. The twins will be five by June next year. How time has passed. Two months after our marriage, Brendon and I decided to adopt. We had gone to find one child but ended up falling for the two-year-old triplets. So we made space for all three in our hearts and home.
Then, two years ago, Brendon's closest school friend and wife had a horrible accident. They left their twins in Brendon's custody as their godfather. Our family expanded again, traversing a scrappy path through mounds of grief and another arduous adoption process. The twins have only now come out of their shells under the watchful eyes of their elder brothers.
"There are my little monkeys. Welcome to India." Chacha ji greets us. He bypasses Brendon and me, gathering the kids in his arms. They giggle and squirm in his hold as he kisses each of them.
I clear my throat. "Aren't we forgetting something?" Taking my cue, the kids line up to touch Chacha's feet.
"My, my. My kangaroos have grown so much."
I turn at the lilt of voice emphasizing the ka phonetic sound. Gosh, how I have missed her. "Dadi." I open my arms to gather her.
"Shush," She sweeps her walking stick to shoo me away and ambles to the kids. Dadi pats their heads, blessing each of them when they touch her feet. She hugs them and ruffles everyone's hair.
"Shy, you did not tell me there is a second bride here," Brendon smiles at Dadi. God help me. Even on the phone, these two never stop flirting.
Dadi adjusts her resplendent Kanjeevaram peach silk saree with a maroon border. She tucks her errant lock of white hair behind her ears and flicks her pearl danglers. "What a handsome man?" Dadi shimmies and trots to Brendon. She hooks the curve of her stick in Brendon's neck to lower him. He goes to touch her feet, but she stops him. "I don't let charming men like you touch my feet." Dadi plants a kiss on Brendon's cheek and winks. "I am not that oldy-sholdy." She cozies up to him. Brendon goes strawberry pink.
"Oh, God, Dadi. The kids are watching." With hands planted on my hips, I stand between Brendon and her. "Now, if you are free, what about my hug? Don't I have first rights to your love."
"Hush, six footya. You always have my love. I have seen you since the day you were born. But I am meeting the little kangaroos and my dapper son-in-law for the first time." Dadi moves past me and entwines her arm in Brendon's.
The kids giggle, whispering six footya. I silence them with a glare and turn to Dadi, narrowing my eyes into slits. "This is what I get after being away for five years." I fake a sniffle and rub my nose.
Brendon snorts. Dadi scrunches her nose and moves closer to Brendon. The kids laugh at her antics. Chacha ji comes to my rescue. "Ma, don't upset our guests. They have come after so many years and a lot of pleading."
I lower my head at his words. Chacha ji called after I turned down Babita's pleas. He threatened to conduct the wedding in a simple temple without fanfare if I did not bring Brendon and the children. Babita always had grand ideas for her wedding. I did not want to deny her her dream. She had done so much for Brendon and me by taking on the broader family and rebelling against Pa. The mere thought of those dark lonesome days makes my eyes burn.
"Hey." Brendon pulls me to his side and plants a kiss on my forehead.
"Saaransh." We turn toward Ma. "You are here." Her voice chokes. She stands near the entrance, holding a tray with an earthen lamp, kumkum, and rice grains.
I rush to her and place the tray to the side. "Ma, I have missed you." Ma kisses all over my face. Our tears mingle as I squeeze her in my arms.
"Let me meet Brendon." At her request, I release my hold. Brendon steps forward. Before he can bend, Ma gathers him in her arms. "Thank you for loving my son." She whispers. Brendon goes to say something, but she stops him by placing her fingers on his mouth. Ma extends her hand to pull me next to Brendon and encircles us in her arms. With our height difference, she is cocooned between Brendon and me.
Our huddle is shaken by tiny bodies slamming into us. The kids form a circle around our legs. Brendon and I step aside. "Ma, meet Dheerash, Brihat, Aadvay, Tau, and Jiemba." The triplets and the twins compete to touch Ma's feet. Tears pour from her eyes; Ma crouches and hugs each of them, kissing their heads.
My eyes brim with tears. Brendon steps to my side and places his hand across my shoulder. "See, I told you." He whispers.
A cough draws my attention to the first floor. I catch a glimpse of Pa as he moves inside and shuts the multi-colored glass window. Brendon follows my gaze, and our eyes meet. He gives a slow blink in understanding, but a mountain settles on my chest.
"You are such a stinking Allium cepa, making everyone cry." Babita knocks the wind out of me by slamming her fist on my back. "Hi, handsome." She hugs Brendon, who has to double down to meet my favorite five-foot-two bombshell of a cousin.
Babita is so cute when she uses scientific plant names like cusses. But I am no onion puree in her dish. "Hands off, my man, you bumbling botanist," I bop Babita's nose. She teases me by poking her tongue and rushes to meet her nephews gathered around Ma and Dadi. Squeals and laughter fill the space around us. I grab Brendon's hand and squeeze. My world is right again.
What inspired this short story?
Saaransh and Brendon are the main characters from my MM romance novel- Shy. During the beta-read stages of working on the manuscript, one reader asked me whether Brendon would ever meet Saaransh's family. I had no answers at the time. However, this scene has been on my mind since finishing the final edits.
When the novel finally met the world, a reader made this request in their review.
"@Ashish Rastogi- if you are reading this, please write us an epilogue of Saaransh's mom and dadi meeting Brendon."
What does an author do for such a heartfelt request?
Ans: Pen down the scene.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Saaransh and Brendon's world.
If you want to read what Brendon gifted Saaransh on their first Valentine, read this short scene.
Chacha- (Hindi) Father's younger brother
Dheerash- (Hindi) Boys name meaning -the one who is patient
Brihat- (Hindi) Boys name meaning- massive
Aadvay- (Hindi) Boys name meaning- unparalleled
Tau- (Aboriginal; Kaurna) Boys name meaning- twilight
Jiemba- (Aboriginal; Wiradjuri) Boys name meaning- the laughing star
Dadi- (Hindi) Paternal grandmother
Kumkum- (Hindi) A red powder used in India to mark the forehead.
Background and SUV graphics from Canva
Character illustrations- Ashish Rastogi