I submitted a short story recently for a non-fiction writing contest in Canada and although I didn’t make the final five, I wanted to post what I wrote ...
“I was 5 years old when I first discovered the “comfort” in food. Like many other families from our birthplace, our family had moved from the fire intensity of Delhi, India to the cool, open space of Western Canada. We, transplanted Indians, gathered together on the weekends, to relax in the comfort of our first language and soak in the aroma of our spicy food . This weekend was a weekend like most others. My Ma helped me get ready. She began by vigorously massaging my scalp with coconut oil, the magic potion for strong hair. Now sticky, Ma would slick my hair back with care, using it’s length to create two, neat pigtails. I could select my party frock, matching socks, and ballet slippers, Ma would battle me over my coat, a rainbow coloured poncho with a dark purple fringe. Like Linus and his blanket from Charlie Brown, my poncho came everywhere with me. It was my cover and my protection.
Dad had the quintessential Indian mans’ moustache, wore thick rimmed glasses and taught Mathematics to budding Engineers. He drove carefully, so as not to disturb his train of thought. This mobilized Ma's impatience as she stated in her thick accent “if you continue at this speed, the party will be over by the time we get there”. You couldn’t argue with her because really, she had a point. As we drove up to driveway, I noticed how all the homes seemed to look the same. Each lot had cement block steps spiraling up to a bungalow or bi-level split house, covered in sparkly stucco facade with fringed cheap siding. With busted up lawn mowers sitting idle next to the house, most of the lawns were unkept with dandelions and weeds carelessly hacked away. Yet thanks to the aroma wafting out from inside the house, you knew where the party was. My initial feeling was one of embarrassment. Just one time it would have been nice to smell meatloaf instead of chicken curry. I wondered if the neighbors thought the same as the pungent smell must have made its way to their doorstep as well.
I quickly made my way to the top of the steps. Our familiar hosts were all ready for us as they propped open their metal screen door with a piston like holder. The usual greetings were very loud as everyone talked over each other in hopes to acknowledge all for their presence. After what felt like forever, we were finally able to take off our outside shoes only to be ushered to the basement where the other children play. I viewed it as the parting of the ways with the big kids or Parents upstairs and the little kids downstairs. We all understood that we would meet two times again, dinner and departure. Skipping over a few steps I could feel the sting of the ice cold tile floors leading to the room. I was hoping it would be much warmer yet the cozy low ceiling just accentuated the random mis-match furniture. Even the bright floral patterns didn’t add any cheer. The room just felt plain dreary. Straight away I found my friends playing near the back of the room behind the large couch. They glanced over at me and then went back to their business. Usually they would be jumping up and down to get my attention so something didn’t feel right. Also it was oddly quiet, with lonely voices coming from the television. We all loved to sing along with The Lawrence Welk Show as we imagined our roles within the studio audience. But this time my sister and I felt as if someone was angry or a fight had taken place. It was as if only the two of us were there and no one else was even in the room.
I made my way over to the group and joined in. We were building Lego-type structures but no one would make eye contact. Thinking it may be a newly invented game, I just fell in line and thought to take their lead. Eventually someone has got to share what is going on. Then I noticed that one of us little kids would get up and make their way towards the big folding closet doors at the front of the room. Those doors were floor to ceiling, stark white with large plastic handles. Accompanied by an eerie creek, the doors would open, someone would walk in, and then the doors would shut quickly. It seemed like eternity as I wondered what was going on in there? Upon exiting, they would tap the next in our circle to go. Pick me! Pick me! I wished and as luck must have been on my side, I got tapped. Excited and curious, I skipped my way over to the secret doors. As I entered I was startled to find one of the older boys in the closet. With the doors shut, I could only see his face barely lit by the light coming through the closet door shutters. I remember looking into his dark eyes as he took my hands and put them down his pants. It felt soft, mushy, and just disgusting.
Time just seemed to stand still as all the sounds in the room fell into a black hole. I looked out towards the shutter with tears in my eyes. All I could think was why are you doing this bhai (brother)? I tried to speak out but It seemed as though I had lost my voice. I couldn’t call out to my own sister who was watching TV. I couldn’t call out to my friends who seemed relieved to have not been chosen. Even my protective poncho seem to lose it powers. Finally, my time was up and I got out. I felt dirty and used. My hands were wet and sticky. My face was flushed. I didn’t dare to make eye contact with anyone. I felt as if they would blame me for what happened so I told myself, get the hell out of the room and run to the bathroom. Tears rolled down my hot cheeks as I scrubbed my hands to rid the filth of what I had just touched. I couldn’t understand how this could happen and I realized I wasn’t so lucky after all. At that moment an Auntie opened the main door to the room and said “okay children, it’s dinner time”. Right then and there I decided not to tell anyone. I didn’t have to. I could just eat dinner and pretend nothing happened. Maybe it would just go away. I knew the others had the same shame, the same guilt because I looked at their hands. They were raw from scrubbing too.
We never spoke to each other about it and I didn’t tell my parents. I thought it was my fault. I was just a kid and I didn’t know what to do. I just knew that eating pushed those feelings aside. The more I thought about it, the more I ate, the better I felt. Food gave me the comfort I needed to make things seem normal again. At least this is what I told myself as I started on the next plate.”