October 6, 2005

butter on her nose

the mother sat on the floor of her sepiatone kitchen – the afternoon sun gently gliding down the groundfloor window, millions of dust dancing in the brown light. slap slap, plop plop. she patted the white mass of butter in the steel container. her fingerprints forming dents in the soft oily dough. she always got it right. her daughters looked on from the kitchen doorstep, imagining the butter melting in their own mouths. soon the mother would look up fondly and ask, “want some?”

they would scramble towards her with their arm extended. sometimes both, if they were feeling greedy that day. the mother would plonk some of the white stuff on their palms, but not too much, “you’ll grow fat otherwise.” the daughters would grin naughtily. one of them would bring her palm in front of her nose, teasing her tongue with the taste of butter, indulging in the experience. the other would be watching her, waiting, every time. suddenly, she would slap her sister’s palm upwards, and the butter would be all over her nose. while she looked on, white with anger, and some butter, the girl would burst in laughter, and pretend to run away from the scene of crime. there would be wailing and anger, and a melodramatic complaint to the mother, asking for justice.

the mother would be looking forward to some time of rest. all this routine, the cooking for four, the washing, the homework-checking, and the daughters quarreling and teasing was eating up her time for herself. on an impulse, she would go to the daughter who initiated the fight, and slap some butter on her own face. “take that, now you know how that feels to your sister!?”

puzzled, the girl would look on, but only for a second. because all the three would be having a butterball fight very soon, laughing till their sides would ache and their eyes squeezed tears down their cheeks.

years would roll by. one afternoon, the three would be together again, connected only by the invisible threads of technology, the internet. they would be trying out the new yahoo voicechat, the webcam, and the headphones one of them had purchased just for this day. one of the daughters would tease the other again, and again the other would complain to the mother mock-wailingly. and then she would ask her sister, “do you remember? the day you slapped butter on my nose, and then amma had done the same to you? remember? don’t you?”

she would not remember it all, neither would the mother. but there was this vague memory of the soft homemade butterballs and the laughter. and she would wonder if that was really her being so naughty. after all, she was the elder one. but then she would return to her computer soon, and write about it all. and she would call it: “butter on her nose.”