It was the day my son was to join school. My husband gave him a bath, dressed him in his best clothes, handed over to him the new colourful backpack with the accessories for the first day at school. The little fellow hoisted it onto his back immediately, and sat in the cane chair, his face shining from the shower and eyes sparkling with excitement. The rest of us in "Vivien Villa"– my husband, daughter and I- stood there for a moment looking at him, and then we broke up, my husband to the bathroom for his shave and shower, my daughter to her books till the school bus came and I, to the kitchen where I was usually caught multitasking at that time of the day(my niece who has a terrific sense of humour and a way with words always used to tell me that looking at me in the kitchen at that time of the day is like watching a fast forward clip).
I hurriedly put two large frying pans on the stove, poured ghee into them and arranged soaked slices of bread into the frying pan – ten of them –to make Bombay toasts (some call it French toast-but I’m mulish about Bombay). Then I whirled around and laid out four lunch boxes on the kitchen table and then was at the filter filling water bottles. Just then the delicious smell of Bombay toast frying in ghee came wafting up and I whirled around again towards the stove to turn the toasts over. I had just turned the last toast over, looking with satisfaction at the golden brown toast when I heard a loud yell from the bathroom.
I have fixed in my mind certain decibel levels as normal for each member of my family, based on their temperament, age and voice quality. That yell was way above the permissible mark set for my husband, and so, I did a magnificent hop, skip and jump through the rooms, my heart in my mouth.- Geyser shock? Fall? Accidentally cut the jugular vein while shaving? (always imagine the worst - that’s me)
“What’s wrong”, panic, fear in my voice.
“The lock is stuck”. He discovered this trying to come out of the bathroom after the shave in order to get the change of clothes. ”Try opening from outside”
I tried the handle twice. No good. I panicked. I tried it several times repeatedly. No good. I whirled around, and was about to break into a run towards the neighbour’s place when I saw my children standing at the door of the bedroom, looking anxious and scared. Click. I switched on a plastic smile. Then let out a peal of laughter “Papa has got himself locked in. He he he!”
They were not amused. “It’s OK.” I persisted through my plastic smile. “I’ll get Vinni’s father. He’ll open it. Don’t worry.”
My daughter went back to her books (a cool customer and I love her for it). My son went slowly back to his cane chair, with a somber expression in his eyes. “Math", i crooned, "you’ve seen this book? It’s soooo funny”. Avoiding my eyes, he took the picture book from me,looking very serious, his face immobile.
I walked out into the compound nonchalantly, but the minute I was out of his range of vision, I sprinted to the gate, out of it, into the neighbour’s compound and up the steps on to the verandah, all in my duster coat!
“My husband‘s got locked in the bathroom”, I blurted out between gasps. “It’s my son’s first day at school. I have a presentation at 10. He has a meeting at 10.30”
The neighbour, who was a civil engineer came with me immediately. He looked at the stuck handle as though he were a lock psychologist and tried it twice. Then turned it several times noisily in rapid succession. Nothing happened. Hearing sounds of shuffling feet, I turned around and saw all the male members from our immediate neighbourhood entering the room. All of them tried the handle in turns. No good.
They stood around the bathroom door, discussing animatedly.
“Basic rule”, that was the lock psychologist. ”The bathroom locks should be weak. Should open with one kick. Nobody observes the rules”
“What’s to be done now?” neighbour A
“Try removing the lock?” neighbour B
“DO you have a tool kit?” neighbour C
I give them the kit (I am briefly slipping into the present tense for special effect). The lock psycho is trying out the tools. I then take a quick peek into the drawing room and see my son craning his neck to look into the room where we are. His eyes meet mine and click, my plastic smile is on. He drops his eyes.
”This won’t do”, declares the civil engineer turned lock psycho, shaking his head.
I suddenly notice that neighbour B is crinkling his nose and sniffing into the air. “Something burning?”
“Must be some one burning the waste”, I suggest.
Then I find all of them crinkling their noses and sniffing.
“Something on the stove in the kitchen?”
“Oh my God, my Bombay toast”, moaned I clapping my hand over the forehead, and charged towards the kitchen. The frying pans were smoking like a coal engine, and there lay my 10 slices of Bombay toast, black as black can be. I quickly switched off the burners and turned around to return to the scene of the stuck lock drama – and, Oh heck! there at the kitchen entrance stood all the male neighbours and my children looking over each others’ shoulders, anxiety written large on their faces!
Out came the plastic smile to my rescue. “It’s Ok, it doesn’t matter” drawled I in a high pitched voice, and laughed heartily as though burnt Bombay toasts were the funniest things on earth. Just then another yell from the bathroom. Dangerous decibel level and all of us charged in a group to the bathroom door.
”What’s burning? Is something burning in the kitchen?” Panic in the voice from the bathroom.
“It’s ok, ok” I said soothingly “I’ve taken care of it”.
I looked at my children and smiled. My daughter went back to her books. My son walked slowly, gravely back to his seat and looked into the picture book.
Then I heard the sound of water falling in the bathroom. Apparently, my husband had decided to make the best of the bad situation, and started his shower. Another cool customer!
Another ten minutes passed while the trouble shooters debated.
And finally, the neighbour A asked,“Shall we get a locksmith?”
“Yeah better”, opined the lock psycho, carelessly putting his hand on the lock and turning it absent-mindedly - and lo and behold! The lock opened!
There was great rejoicing. My plastic smile metamorphosed into an organic one, rising from the bottom of my heart, streching from ear to ear and travelling to the eyes.
And my son came into the room and stood there, looking at my husband whose turn it was now to sparkle from the shower.
The somber look vanished from the little fellow’s eyes which were now dancing with sheer joy.