By Aditi Kapoor
MY EARLIEST memories are of my mom and I shifting to Bangkok. Daddy dearest promised to join us soon, but he did not. He had to stay in Delhi with his parents. He promised to visit, but he did not. Home was a quiet place.
That’s why the TV was always on at full blast. To scare away any ghosts that my dad was not there to fight. I would jump at sudden noises. I would whine accusingly at my mom, “You startled me!” when she turned on the mixer-grinder. Keeping a constant stream of loud, familiar noise going seemed the best way to shut out unfriendly sounds.
Our apartment was right above mom’s office. But I could not go down until after office hours. As I had to keep myself busy till 5 pm, my mom equipped me with some useful skills — how to find my way to the yoghurt packets and the cookie jar, how to whip up a sandwich for myself and how to use Microsoft Word to type my murder mysteries. The minute that the clock struck five, I would turn the friendly din off and tear downstairs to settle comfortably on my mom’s lap.
I became a latchkey kid when we shifted to Bengaluru. I was all of 12. This time too, my dad was supposed to come with us, but his parents had grown older and needed him more. My mom had to work a shift from one in the afternoon to 11 at night, and not below our apartment anymore but somewhere far away.
She warned me, “Don’t open the door to strangers!” At first, I felt important, letting myself in when I came back home. But staying alone the whole day could be scary.
Once, an old woman rang the doorbell. I knew the “no strangers” rule, but it hardly seemed to apply. I opened the door and a stream of gibberish flew at me. A large, hairy finger wagged at me and twisted itself into weird gestures that did not make sense. Then she squeezed herself past the door and hit me. Screaming, I pushed with all my might and finally closed the door on her snarling face. She proceeded to bang violently for about 10 minutes, then spat some nasty abuse and finally, went away.
I was so shaken I stopped opening the door to the neighbour, even the maid. Tiptoeing till the door, I would peer through the peep-hole and crouch down, hoping to hear the footsteps fade away. I started calling my mom every time the bell rang. Once my mom let a courier agent in. She stepped out of the room for a minute and the man asked if I would give him a glass of water. I acidly responded, “We don’t drink water in this house” and turned my back on him.
Mom found ways to distract me from my fears. She made me cook my own meals in the holidays and got me interested in baking. She convinced me to join dance classes. “Why have you suddenly stopped reading?” she would ask and give me increasingly difficult books to read. When I was bored, I listened to a lot of music. Of course, there was always homework to do and errands to run. With time, I could take care of a week’s worth of food supply, I was a music buff, I had read books my peers had not. And I had no apprehensions whatsoever about being alone. I could take care of myself.
My dad’s visits grew shorter. I once watched him get smaller and smaller, his back to me, on the way to board his flight back to Delhi, and realised he would never permanently stay with us. He was too set in his own ways there. I accepted his absence and his love for me. I realised I had to face violent old women, thirsty mailmen, cooking, accounting, doing odd jobs… and I began enjoying the independence. My mom and I built our own happy life in our cosy apartment, and she’s been everything to me. Our lives are filled with popcorn, wacky stories, good food and discussions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Aditi Kapoor is 19. She is a student of Communication Studies and lives in Bengaluru