Bangalore Cousin and I have been sitting drinking tea and eating snacks. Despite not exercising in a week and snacking twice a day, I have not gained an ounce. I am beginning to think so much of my American life is so unhealthy including my diet that consists mostly of chips, Diet Coke and wine. Then again, I bet I’d be a great eater if I had a maid cooking for me!
“Massi?” Bangalore Nieces asks and sits down next to me. “Yes?” I reply. “Do you go on dates?” she asks. “Ah yes, I do. Do you,” I reply. She laughs and shakes her head. “No. I am not allowed until I’m 18,” she says. “I think that sounds about right. I think 15 is too young and 18 is just right, you’ll see how much your self-confidence matures in three years. And at your age, it is too easy to fall prey to the way a boy makes you feel,” I share and look her square in the eye, making it clear that I’m talking about sex, but in desi-side-speak. “What about drinking? Do you drink?” Bangalore Niece asks. “Oh yes, boy do I ever…” I reply and glance at my cousin. She is doing everything she can not to have an anxiety attack. Her daughter is talking about adult themes and she is torn between knowing and not knowing.
“Cigarettes? Do you smoke?” Bangalore Niece asks. “I did. For a long time, a closet smoker. Only smoked with smoker friends or alone. And it is disgusting. Don’t even try smoking,” I warn with an edge in my voice that I know she hears because a startled look crawls across her face. “Drugs? Did you do drugs?” Bangalore Niece. “Nope, that is one thing I never got into…” I reply. “Thank God. Finally something you don’t condone everything for my daughter…” Bangalore Cousin mutters.
“Listen Bangalore Niece,” I say and ignore her mother. “I have made a lot of mistakes. A shit-load actually. And man if I could turn time back I’d fix so much. I have dated the wrong guys, gotten drunk, was really fat, have a poor diet so much to change… I also think the questions you are asking are too mature for a 15 year old. But when you’re 18, which makes you an adult, I will come back to India and you can ask me anything and I will tell you everything you want to know. But you have to promise to protect my confidence and I’ll do the same for you, sound okay?” I ask. My niece thinks for a long moment and nods. “Okay. You have never lied to me, so I’ll wait three years, because you promise right? You promise to tell me? Everything I ask?” she asks. “If you promise to keep my secrets,” I reply. She nods and goes into the other room to watch television.
My cousin finally breathes again. “I don’t know if I want to hear those answers you give her. Or what she tells you. But of all my cousins, you live the furthest and they see you the least, but you have the most impact and impression on them. I have never heard my son offer to take anyone drinks. Nor does my daughter speak to anyone else the way she does you – she trusts you and I trust you, and I am glad she’ll have someone to talk to about boys and booze. God knows we didn’t,” Bangalore Cousin says and shakes her head as though her memories film-strip through her head.
Agreed. Growing up caught between America and India, I definitely didn’t have a sounding board either. So I am happy to be a place of trust and safety for Bangalore Niece. Isn't this what family is all about? I guess this is what sustains you through the fights and disagreements - the love and trust.