When the kids come home
If the children are not fighting, they are not normal kids
"I wanna sit inside," she said, spotting a shopping cart abandoned near our house by a hypermarket customer.
"Do it," he said, holding the cart tight on a cobbled pavement. Being a fitness enthusiast of late, it wasn't so strenuous for her to launch herself into the trolley. It was New Year's Eve and people were flowing around us after the dazzling fireworks at the Dubai Frame, but the siblings didn't give a damn. They aren't kids; both are doctors. He is married and she of nuptial age, but still lived the footpath moment deliriously. He carted her around our house for a couple of minutes and Instagram-ed the photos.
"When kids come home." That's how my best friend captioned the picture. "Stop calling them kids. They aren't anymore; they are adult persons in their own rights," a former colleague used to tell me. "Kids never grow up for parents, however old they are," I always replied to the lady, one of the most eligible bachelorettes in town.
This is what happens when kids come home together for the first family reunion after five long years. They bring home lots of parenting memories, some beautiful and some frightening. They dust off some old wounds and rivalries and relive them differently.
They speak languages only known to them, mostly Singlish, a concoction of English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. They go hunting for their childhood short eats. They toddle back into their old tantrums. They fight for the last potato flake at the bottom of the tetra pack. They fight for the last French fry, breaking the china in the melee and accusing each other of the crime. They battle a Word War for the last sip from the 7 Up bottle, spilling the drink on their clothes and blaming Amma for not serving it in two cups.
"Where did you get this iPhone?" he confronted her while travelling in the Metro from the airport.
"Don't sweat over it, dude. Amma got it with her new data package," pat came her reply. She later told me she had kept the answer ready.
"Dad, don't spoil her with expensive gadgets," he craned his neck through the New Year revellers headed for the Burj Khalifa.
"Excuse me, when did I ever get a new phone? I was like a dumping ground, with old phones passed down by you, dad or Amma," she shot back.
"Old or new doesn't matter if a phone works perfectly. Let's exchange. You take my Samsung," he passed her a wink.
"Stop being a male chauvinist, bro. When you passed out, dad rewarded you with a brand-new bike. When I graduated, I was condemned to a solitary life and two years of hard labour in a Bangalore clinic in return for peanuts. I was a victim of patriarchy," she was in no mood to give up.
Back home, she shot the first salvo. "The boy is home and Amma has locked herself up in the kitchen. This poor girl has been here for over two months and had to literally beg for food."
"I don't get to eat much Indian food in Germany," he argued.
"You have been so selfish when it comes to food. In Singapore, you brought home masala dosa from Little India, spread it on the centre table and shouted when I approached, Don't touch."
With an ear-to-ear grin, he opened his bag and took out a slew of things he brought for her - from shea butter to generic medicines. "Do you know how to use these?"
"Don't teach a priest to preach. I'm a doctor, too. By the way, who kept this tea cup here? Listen bro, there's no maid. This is not a hotel, either. Do it yourself. Don't you help your wife with house chores?" she said, getting ready for her gym session.
"Can't you wear some decent clothes? Didn't your boyfriend teach you this?"
She didn't answer him, but looked disappointed as she walked off. On her way to the gym, she messaged me: "Dad, tell him I am a grown-up individual who knows what to wear and what not to. It's my choice. He or my boyfriend, if any, has no business in that."
Later in the night, after a nostalgic trip to their old shawarma, paani puri and beef fry joints, they slept in the same bed like two little puppies, scheming to bring in a Labrador against Amma's wishes.
When she travelled in the back seat, he shouted: "Why don't you wear the seat belt?" When she was in the driver's seat, he scolded her: "Why didn't you brake at the stop sign? It's a punishable offence."
"Stop it bro. I have been driving for a while now." Her temper revved up like the car engine.
At the BBZ sale, he asked her: "Why two pairs?"
"Because you are taking as many," she snapped back, and headed for a drink together. Of course, one each.
That night, wifey sounded heartbroken. "They are always fighting," she observed.
"Let them. If they are fighting, they are normal kids." I laughed out loud.