Mrs S stood in her kitchen looking at the stove and seeing nothing. The skillet was there. The chicken and the spices were sauteeing and dinner was in the process of coming together. But through the stream of the chicken heating and evaporating and the spices bubbling and astringently scouring her eyes, Mrs S blinked back a moment of sensation she would usually recognize as the precursor to a crying jag.
Being a woman married to a successful man and having made a family, she realized at this stage in her life how far the walls were apart in her home here in the Gulf. Her nest while not empty was not full. She had two beautiful daughters she was very proud of but alas they were all the way in Australia and that was about as far away from the Gulf as you could get unless heaven forbid one of the girls joined the space program. She glanced down, blinked a stinging tear and quickly moved the chicken and the skillet off the gas hob. There was no use being upset and ruining a perfectly good meal.
Luckily her elder daughter Ava was - how would one say this without being unkind - she was unlucky? No, that was not the right word. She was an “eventful child.” Yes, the word eventful was much closer to what in her heart she wanted to use.
She couldn’t blame Ava for being spontaneous. Just look at the example Ava’s mother and father had set by moving from Sri Lanka to Tasmania and then bouncing back and forth between the Gulf and Australia. In fact, as Mrs S started working with the onions and the tomatoes, she wondered how two sisters could be so different - the younger being a bit more staid and less flexible. And if Mrs S could say so, (she looked around the kitchen to see there were no witnesses) the other more “wilfull.” She murmured the word as she slipped the chopped condiments onto another platter.
She smiled as she thought of her beautiful Ava in Melbourne working in her career. She had come back from Japan and had to do a readjustment into mainstream life. Mrs S attributed this to reverse culture shock. The thought made her momentarily stop and she checked herself - "yes, I want the small glass French pitcher for juice today” and she reached up into the cabinet to find it. She would not call out to her husband in their large home. The silence was extreme. There were no laughs or screams or sudden blasts of music that the household had experienced in the girls’ teenage years. They were grown and they were gone. So be it. But deep in her heart, they would always be her precious girls she had sat down and plaited their hair and tied ribbons to. How different would it be now to raise children? She smiled and thought of her husband.
Mr S perhaps missed the girls more. A mother will know things about a daughter, a father will happily turn a blind eye. Your wife was the one you chose and married, your daughter was the woman you helped make.
He would look at his wife from time to time and she would see that look that meant, “where are our girls now?” And Mrs S would reach for her husband's hand and squeeze it. She could read his thoughts as well as he could not begin to fathom hers. That was how a married couple worked. He was an open book and she was inscrutable.
He was in his den. It was best to leave his wife to the kitchen. He was in the way and he knew he could be drafted to do dangerous culinary things he would prefer to avoid. Onions were a particular menace to him. The eyes were ok with the sulfuric vapors but the nose would catch and suddenly he was congested. It wasn’t seemly to be running around the house looking like a weeping wonder. Especially if Mrs S were missing the girls.
Mr S was sitting at his desk tapping his right hand on the table top in an absent-minded fashion. He was rather perturbed with his daughter, Ava. Again he caught himself shaking his head in a mild frustration. Trying to get the girl to stop moving was like chasing mercury back into a flask once spilt. It was simply impossible to deal with her and a direct answer. She either could not or would not say what her immediate plans were.
Part of this irritation was having elderly Sri Lankan parents still back home. An ill family member meant that logistical planning might suddenly need to come into play. It was frustrating to deal with so many variables that were unknown. When life was orderly it could be planned for. In Mr S’s experience surprises were rarely welcome and seldom within the range of what one might say is expected. Trying to figure out that Ava was going to be in one place or another without her being specific was one of those moments.
Mr S sighed and smiled that his daughters were happy and reasonably healthy. He thought wryly both possessed the witch’s skill of driving him nearly insane with the least amount of exerted effort on their part. He should have learned long ago that his precious butterfly’s wings would not be so easily pinned for display. Ava was a free spirit. And he should take joy in that.
What parent didn’t secretly wish they could have their child’s experiences? Again Mr S sat up straight and decided thoughts had veered a bit too uncomfortably. He cast his eye to the door and the sounds of his wife in the kitchen. Was it so long ago that there would be small thin fingers wrapping around the the door with one eye peering slyly to see if perhaps just maybe some time could be spent in a game? Would papa have time to spare?
How quickly little girls grew up. They left your home but not your thoughts.
So here he hid in his den to avoid Mrs S and her barrage of questions. “Where will she be?” “Why is it so hard to get an answer from her?” “You would think she was trying to avoid answering a question.” and Mr S could feel that little throb in his temple which meant his head was going to pound a headache’s worth of tension. He could smell the product of his wife’s cooking and knew it would be timely to come out of the safety of his den once she called that food was at the table. The table - he thought which seemed so much bigger without the girls. His wife would joke, “a long table and we sit and yell from the ends or we sit across at the middle” - but those are the girls’ places. Or we sit next to each other and stare at a wall. No, that was far too depressing. And the two sitting at a corner reminded him of a movie where people clung to a piece of wood bobbing around in the ocean desperately waiting for rescue. No, no corner seating either.
Mr S waited, sitting at his desk avoiding the computer because he would search for a mail from Ava or her sister which wasn’t there and that would not be good. Calling too often was also frowned upon. Instead, he reached for a paper clip and a rubber eraser and placed the eraser on the clip and played with it like it was a race car. Rooooooom! It manoeuvred around the mouse of the computer and then it went around his old calculator and some small object. He mouthed the sound and guiltily shrugged. He was acting like a boy which was how he had wanted to feel when he used to make paper boats for the girls as the monsoons inundated the yard and made lakes and rivers across the sand in Colombo.
Where had all the time gone? He looked again at the eraser, put it back and placed the paperclip in his pocket for no reason whatsoever.
The door bell rang and rang again. Someone was impatient and probably rushing to finish a delivery. He started to rise from his chair when he heard Mrs S calling out. “It’s Ava, it’s Ava! Oh my God, it’s Ava!”
Instinctively he knew it was a joyous voice that called to the back of the house. There would not be bad news at the end of a phone ringing. And as he turned the corner there was his beautiful daughter standing with his elated wife in the home that was thousands of miles from where his daughter should have been. Here was the daughter from his heart to his embrace. In a micro second as he hugged her he thought, “She has always been such an eventful child.”