"What are you waiting for?" Vikram cracked open a packet of Nachos. "Open the door, Riri!"
I hated when he called me that! Just one drunk-singing 'Love the way you lie!' phone call to my ex, and I'm forever termed as Riri!
"I feel sleepy!" Veena tossed restlessly, reclining on the couch.
The dilemma with having cool friends who smoke very often is that they can be too cool or too high to care about your problems, sometimes! The very reason to have a lifesaver nerd in your tight-knit group as well.
I looked at Purva, speaking from my eyes which could not have been more lucid.
"There's my room! Go, hide there for a bit, and I'll explain you guys everything later!" Purva commanded.
"Oh, no problem! Why didn't you say that before?" Veena pushed Vikram and gestured him to follow her to Purva's room.
Naturally, Purva rolled her eyes at Veena.
"Open the door!" She tied her long brown hair in a ponytail and started picking up the boxes! "Stall for 10 minutes, and I'll take care of the mess!"
Looking at her handling my messy life, yet again! I gave her my 'What would I do without you?' grin!
"Hello Ma'am! You called for a cleaner?" Suresh Bhaiya flashed me with his extra-white Colgate smile as soon as I opened the door. Never have I ever had the strong urge to hug Suresh Bhaiya until I saw him waiting for me, instead of my mom!
"No! She won't be needing any cleaner!" My mom arrived from the stairs on the side of the door!
"Well! That lasted long." I whispered to Suresh Bhaiya, who gave me a puzzled look.
"My God! Such a posh building with a golden lift, but of course, when you need it, it stops working!" She stopped near apartment 413 to catch her breath!
God has a habit of helping me through silent ways, from making my hair look even better in numerous color splash mistakes at the salon to making a snake ignore me in the woods instead of clean-shot poisoning my leg. Most people would say that all of it is because I'm good-looking. Well, was I too pretty for the snake to bite me as well? Usually, people who find me pretty love biting me.
My mom always told me that her prayers were behind all of the great things that happened to me. Looking at how sweaty she was from climbing five flights of stairs, I don't think she prayed for it this time.
"Come in the morning! I want to spend time with my daughter right now!" She smirked and handed him a twenty.
"Hey, mom! You look so thin! Have you lost weight?" I grabbed the door behind me and closed it. "I was going for my evening jog! Would you accompany me? You look energetic." I blabbed nervously, grabbed the hand of my already tired mother, and started walking towards the stairs.
"You jog wearing slippers?" Mom stopped me and gave me a very much suspicious look.
I could fool everyone, the entire planet, but not this lady right in front of me. "I must've forgotten about the shoes! Stay right here! Let me grab them."
"Do you even have a sports shoe?" Mom chuckled. "What's going on?"
She knew I hated running and people seeing me running. (Weird, right?) In fact, she knew I only wore boots outside to pair them up with my weird t-shirts. (I'm so weird!)
Why do I lose all my lying abilities in front of my mother? Most kids give Oscar-worthy performances in front of their parents! "Ahem, I read a magazine that said it makes you lose more calories than yoga?" I explored a tone that felt more like asking questions about diarrhea than telling her facts about exercise.
"All done!" Purva yelled from inside, and I slapped my hand to my forehead.
"Looks like all the stuff you were worrying about is gone! Can I go inside now?" Mom smiled and opened the door to the apartment.
"Pfft! She was just doing her laundry, mom!" I chuckled. "Ahem, sit! Let me get you some water!" I rushed to the kitchen and took a bottle out of the fridge.
Purva sat on the couch with an appealing smile of satisfaction! "I even made some coffee for your mom!"
"Umm, okay!" I ran to the door and gave my mom the much-needed hydration she needed, and then rushed back to the kitchen, reassuring myself about the fact that at least she didn't find anything.
"What is that?" Mom sat in the dining chair, pointing towards a cigarette box under the deep end of the couch.
"This day keeps getting better and better!" I glanced at Purva with a baffled expression.
"What is she? Superman with X-ray vision?" Purva took out the coffee cups in a serving tray.
"What happened, Mom?" I took the tray from Purva and kept it on the coffee table.
"Well! I'm not surprised that you smoke!" Mom took her coffee and mixed an awful lot of sugar in it. "But darling, have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?"
"Umm!" I stood by the kitchen, wondering why the hell my looks matter in this conversation. Was she going to punish me for smoking by insulting me?
"Such vanilla skin, and not a single blemish on it, not even a freckle! The kind of rosy and honey dewed eyes which only I could've given you with the gift of birth and hair that changes color every six months and still doesn't lose its shine!" My mom tried to embarrass every bone in my body.
A snort like a giggle came out of Purva's room which could only mean Vikram heard all of it!
"I do get heat rashes." I snickered nervously.
"My point is, if you smoke too much from those full lips of yours, you might not be this beautiful for long, my dear!" Mom took a sip from her sweet foaming coffee.
Her description of my looks buttered with compliments was too much for me. She never appreciated me like that, at least not in front of me.
"So, you're okay with her smoking if she doesn't overload it?" Purva took a shot in the dark, taking advantage of the fact that my mom was okay with finding a cigarette box under the couch. (Wow, that sounds weird!) Meanwhile, I felt like a statue unable to move or run away from the uncanny illusion!
"Of course, It's her life!" Mom smiled at Purva. "I want her to enjoy everything and take care of herself while doing it! In fact, I have decided to enjoy everything along with my daughter! Here take this lighter, and light me one as well!" Mom passed the lighter behind the plant beside her chair.
"Hey, Purva! Just wanted to ask you a simple question." I grabbed Purva and pulled her towards a corner. "What did you mean by 'I'm done!'? Does this look 'Done!' to you?" I whispered with my one hand pointing at the lighter on the plant and the other one pointing at my mom, who was trying to get the cigarettes out of the couch.
"Oh shut up! Your mom wants to smoke with you!" She whispered back. "I am so jealous of you right now!"
"I hear that smoking paired with a cup of coffee can raise your heart rate and give you a calculated high!" Mom took the lighter and lit a mint cigarette. "Oh! Hot and cold!"
"Who the hell thinks about calculating highness? Is it called highness? Oh, whatever!" I spoke under my breath. "This got way too weird." I turned towards Purva.
Most people would feel happy seeing their mom smoke with them, but I was weirded out, beyond bounds. Mom always had a reason for doing things. More often than not, it was a brand-new biodata of a brand-new flathead. She started doing yoga with me in the hopes of influencing me to date her best friend's son. Likewise, she paid for a Money Heist-themed birthday party for me just to introduce me to the son of her Spanish business partner. I don't even like Money Heist, and neither did he! Similar scenarios started popping in my head, and I was concerned her smoking in front of me was the weirdly beautiful sunset before the darkness prevailed!
"Grab a cigarette and sit down, girls!" Mom took a single puff and coughed thrice!
"Sweet! Your mom smokes! Can I join you, aunty?" Veena burst out from Purva's room! "Hey! Vikram fell asleep in your room!"
"Oh, It's alright! I'll kick him out in some time!" Purva continued sipping her black coffee!
"You don't want one, Darling?" Mom coughed twice again, but it seemed like it was Veena's fault this time.
"No! I'm good, mom!" I replied.
"Suit yourself! I'm not missing the opportunity of smoking with an adult!" Purva grabbed a mint cigarette and lit it with a satisfying twinkle in her eye. It was fairly evident that the coffee-cigarette combo calmed her hangover!
"We all are adults!" I squinted at Purva! "Mom, can we talk in private?"
"Sure, Honey!" She stood up and followed me to my room.
"You finally made her a buzzkill like you!" Veena patted Purva on the shoulder.
"Tell me!" I locked the door of my room while mom sat on my blue Bat-futon!
"Tell you what?" She kept her glittered purse on the blue Nightwing-themed table.
My room had a lot of Batfamily merchandise! The bedsheet portraying scenes from Batman: The Animated Series, the Redhood skull lamp, the five bar stools themed after every Robin, and posters of Dick Grayson all around! Ah, Dick Grayson, the cutest of them all. I knew all of our apartment was too geeky, with Purva's room themed after Wonder Woman and mine after the Batfamily, but we loved every bit of it.
"What is going on, mom! I know something's up, and it's stopping me from accepting that you're cool!" I started rushing back and forth.
"Young lady, I am cool, at least cooler than all of your friend's parents!" She laughed and rolled her eyes.
"I know that!" I kept my hand on my burning forehead! "So, all of this being okay with the smoking thing, it's out of nowhere? You have no biodatas, no marriage proposals or settle-down lectures for me?"
"I'm trying to change, Ritika!" Mom smiled with a sparkle of tears in her eyes. "I apologize for everything I did to persuade you to settle down! I understand where you're coming from, and I'm okay with the fact that you get to decide whenever you want to settle down, or even if you want to settle down!"
"Mom! Are you alright?" I asked her with the most baffling expression I ever had in my life! My mom never apologized to anybody. The day was getting weirder by the minute. (I'm pretty sure no mom has ever apologized!)
"Well! I don't want to worry you, honey!" She started wrapping my messy blanket. "I just want to understand you and be friends with you!"
"I am an adult, Mom! I can handle it! If you want us to work as friends, you have to share everything with me, no matter how scary it seems." I stopped in front of her.
"There is...this one thing! It's not a huge deal." She calmed her breathing. "But, you have to promise me that you won't make it a big deal!"
"Well, I didn't even make a big deal when aunt Saina fell from the stairs, and she is my favorite aunt!" I sat down next to her. "What makes you think I will make a big deal this time?"
"Just don't make it a big deal!" She took out a document from her big purse!
"Great, another biodata of an arrange-marriage freak!" I took the document from her hands.
"WHAT!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "IS THIS A JOKE, MOM! Please tell me it's a joke!" I read the document with tears brimming in my eyes. "How is THIS not a big deal?" I read it over and over again.
"Darling, calm down! It's really not that big, I've always lived my life to the fullest, and I'm enjoying everything now as well!" She smiled at me. "They caught it early, and you know how strong your Ma is! I am going to make it, I assure you!"
That document shattered everything inside of me in a second. Unable to speak, I just hugged her, with my world crumbling, praying in my lost thoughts about her well-being, praying it was an illusion, and aching to wake up from the nightmare more than ever.
"Everything's going to work out!" She wiped the tears from my face and gave me a tissue from her purse.
It wasn't enough for me! The thought of her not being with me was more than I could ever bear in my entire life. I didn't speak for a long time while she explained things to me. I started reassuring her as soon as I got my conscience back.
We talked for a while about everything. Mom made sure I was going to be okay while I made sure dad took care of her health! She left the apartment, bidding goodbye to everyone right after dad sent her car back! I begged her to stay, but she had some appointments she had to attend with dad.
After a while, Veena, Purva, and Vikram checked up on me and tried to ask what was going on! However, I was in no mood to chat or discuss my worries with anyone yet! I hated crying in front of people who were not my mom.
"What kind of a daughter am I? Here my mom was suffering, and I was thanking my stars for making her climb five flights of stairs!" I criticized every decision I ever made and thought a lot about how I let her down.
After 4 hours of tossing and turning while ignoring everyone outside my door! I got up from my bed, changed into my black polo t-shirt and ripped jeans, and sneaked out of the house.
"How did you guys find me!" I asked Purva, Vikram, and Veena when they entered 100% Rock.
"Well, it was either the loud rock club or the nearby hair color salon!" Veena sat down right next to me! "We thought checking the rock club first would be more fun!"
"What is going on, Rits? We've never seen you this upset." Purva held my hand.
"What about that cat movie? When the cat held hands with a dog! She was pretty upset!" Vikram said in an attempt to make me laugh.
"Well, cats are cooler, and dogs are stupid. Their friendship makes no sense!" Tears started brimming yet again! It's so stupid when people try to make you laugh, and you end up crying instead.
"Oh no! Please don't cry! Here, you can have my gold lighter if that will cheer you up." Vikram rubbed my tears from his sturdy hands.
"You know we're there for you, no matter what! Right?" Purva hugged me from behind.
"Okay, enough love and cringe! I'm fine." I wiped my face from the tissue on the lit bar table and gestured for a cigarette. "It's my mom!"
"What about your mom?" Vikram handed me a Classic Double-switch.
"She has skin cancer!" I looked at the cigarette and kept it down.
"WHAT!" Purva screamed at the top of her lungs. "Oh my God! Are you alright?"
Vikram and Purva started blabbing nervously.
"What stage? If it's the first one, I'm sure she'll make it!" Vikram sat on the barstool and patted on my back.
"Aunty is strong, Rits! I know her, and I know she's going to make it" Purva was convincing herself more than she was convincing me. "Why was she smoking when she's sick? She should take care of her health! We should've taken care of her health!"
"Guys! Can you stop babbling for a minute!" Veena stood up! "Rits, tell us everything! We're here for you!"
"It's something known as melanoma, and it's supposed to be entirely curable in the early stages, but it spreads very quickly." I gulped, "My mom is very squeamish about moles, so as soon as she developed one near her ear, she went to a dermatologist to get it removed, but then one thing led to another, and they found out she had cancer!" I gasped for air and looked at everyone staring at me! "We talked about everything! She's in treatment with our family doctor, Dr. Lalwani!" I sighed. "She has to avoid sunlight, the reason why she visited us at night. She didn't even know how much time her check-up would take. Therefore, the one-hour prior notification became a ten-minute thing!"
"What about the smoking thing?" Purva questioned, looking very much concerned.
"She wanted to spend time with us, Purva! She wanted to be friends with all of us, especially you and me! She has always talked about you taking care of me like a little sister since we were kids." My voice started shaking. "She just figured, if she truly becomes one of us, we'll spend more time with her." I looked at the cigarette in my hand. "I bet you're not jealous anymore!"
"She was playing with her health like that?" Purva slapped her hand to her mouth, gasped, and started weeping.
"There was some hope in her eyes!" Vikram reassured.
"I don't know what to do!" I gasped. "I want to make her happy. I want to give her everything she wants. I know, in my heart, she's going to make it, she's strong, but I don't want to take any chances!" I gasped. "I finally want to be the daughter that she has always wanted! I don't want to make another deplorable decision in my life."
"I know where this is going! So you're doing it?" Veena broke her silence!
"Mom prayed for my every wish to come true, Vee! It's time that I focus on making all her wishes come true!" I lit my cigarette and took a puff. "I'm going to do it!"