Short Story: Love and Ladoos

My name is Fatima, and I have big secret. I am in love with my mother’s best friend, Rina Aunty. But I’ll get to that.  

My mother is much older than Rina Aunty, but she sees a kindred spirit in her. They meet every Tuesday evening for tea, go to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning, and when they’re feeling especially wild, they take a girl’s day to the mall on Sundays.

I met Rina Aunty my first year in college. I was home over winter break, and Rina Aunty had just moved to the neighborhood. When ma had found out that she was also an Indian Muslim (“one of us,” as she liked to say), she couldn’t wait to have her over. Girlfriends were hard to come by for my mother. The other Indian aunties were rude, and the white women in the our Chicago Suburb neighborhood were too (and I quote) “decadent.” But ma never gave up hope on finding a best friend, and she definitely found in one in Rina Aunty.

My first encounter with Rina Aunty was typical. I came down from my room, greeted her, and went back to my room. I noticed she was young, and that she had a bright smile, but didn’t think much of it. I was surprised to see her again two days later, when she was back for lunch. She brought us ladoos, my favorite. I grabbed two and went back to my room.

It would be romantic to say that I fell in love with her when I first tasted the ladoos, but I didn’t fall in love with her until I had graduated college. She had gotten to know us well by then and had even attended my graduation. She gave me a big hug when the ceremony was over, and told me how proud she was of me.

My mother put together a big graduation party for me. She made sure to invite all of the other Indian families we knew. Rina Aunty was a big help. She cooked and got the decorations together and even did my makeup for me. I could have done it myself, but she seemed really excited. While she was doing my makeup, she told me her story. She had gotten married before she could go to college, but she had always wanted to study fashion design.

“You know, I wanted to make bridal saris. But all I could afford was to be an engineer’s housewife.” She said, with a tone of sorrow.

I felt a pang in my heart, but didn’t know what I could do. I reached out to hold her hand. I gave it a squeeze, hoping that would help. I was never good at comforting people, but I tried my best. She squeezed my hand back, a silent thank you. This wasn’t the moment I fell in love with Rina Aunty either.

I fell in love with Rina Aunty at 11 PM on Saturday, May 29th, when my graduation party was over. I was sitting in the living room, exhausted from laughing at all the marriage jokes ever aunty had felt the need to make that night. Rina Aunty brought me a plate of food and sat next to me.

“Here, you haven’t eaten anything this whole time.” She had brought me a heaping plate of biryani and a Pepsi. She leaned closer and said, “I saved you some ladoos as well. You can eat them later.”

I looked at her and smiled, and she smiled back. The same bright smile she had given me all those years ago. As I held the warm plate of food, I realized I loved her. She was never just my mother’s friend. She had become mine too, and she had cemented herself in my life so well that I could not imagine it without her.

From that day forward, I never stopped thinking about Rina Aunty. In just an instant, she had come to the forefront of my mind and my life. It was a horrible time to fall in love because I was set to start a new job in Tennessee in a month. Rina Aunty visited nearly everyday. I usually joined her and ma for tea or shopping trips. That month was so special to me, and I made sure to engrave everyday in my mind. I wanted to make sure I never forgot another moment with Rina Aunty.

When I left home, I exchanged numbers with Rina Aunty. She cried with my mother while I left, knowing it was the end of my time at home. I cried too, knowing I wouldn’t see Rina Aunty as often and knowing that nothing would ever happen past my infatuation. I gave her a hug before getting in my car, and promised to call her.

I did. I called her every Sunday night. We talked for a long time. She told me about what was going on at home, and I told her about work. At first that was all we talked about, but then we talked about our lives. She told me what she would have done if she wasn’t married, and I told her all the fears I harbored.

One day I felt especially brave and told her about my biggest fear. “I’m scared of losing you, Aunty.”

“But what if one day you’re not?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll always be here.” I could feel tears in my eyes as she said that, knowing that it wouldn’t be true. Knowing that she could never be there the way I wanted her to be there.

“I love you, Aunty.”

“I love you too, dear. Stay safe. I have to go now.”

I ended the call, and burst into tears. I loved her so much. I could never be with her the way I wanted to, so I cherished our phone calls. I told her I loved her every time we ended our calls, and she said it back. She never meant it the same way I did. But all I could do was love her.

Nearly two months after I had started my job, Rina Aunty came to Tennessee with my parents to visit me. It was wonderful to see her, and she ran and gave me a hug. I savored her warmth and saved yet another image of her smile in my mind. We had a wonderful day wandering around Knoxville. I walked arm in arm with Rina Aunty and told her all about my job. I think she is the only woman in the world who finds data analysis interesting.

When it was time for them to leave, I squeezed Rina Aunty tight. It wasn’t the last time I would see her, but saying goodbye still stung. Rina Aunty reached inside the car. She turned back towards me handed me a tupperware container with ladoos.

“These are for you. I know you like them.”

I loved them. And I loved her even more.