talking about bananas
(First attempt at a short story in recent years because my Creative Writing course required me to. The idea was to make a random object the emotional centre of the story and I picked bananas because why not. This story however, never ended up being used because I had a crisis about life and writing and what not.)
It was around 2 pm and we were all extremely hungry thanks to the wonderful smell of biriyani that had filled the apartment by now. My brother and I were watching television, waiting for our dad to come home so that we could eat lunch together and my mother was busy in the kitchen. It was a mark of how hungry we were that as soon as there were knocks on the door I immediately got up to open the door and my brother dutifully went to the kitchen to start eating.
After the heavy lunch of Chicken Biriyani and then dessert Semiya Payasam, all 4 of us collapsed on my parent’s bed almost sleeping on top of each other, feeling very content that Sunday afternoon. My dad undid his shirt and took his place at the right end of the bed and covered his face with a bedsheet announcing that he was going to sleep. My mother started complaining about how untidy our rooms were and how we didn’t help her clean up after lunch; the usual, and we both quietly ignored her knowing better than to argue with her. I was almost going to fall asleep with my head resting on my dad’s leg when he suddenly got up realising that he hadn’t eaten his routine banana after the meal; my dad was a man of routine. So he sent my brother to get him a banana and my brother went to the kitchen mumbling why I wasn’t the one being sent. The apartment was small, so my brother shouted from the kitchen asking him which type of banana he wanted. In our house, there were always different varieties of bananas available because everyone liked a different type. I like the yellow robusta, my mother likes ethapazham, my brother likes green robusta and my dad likes njali poovan. My dad shouted out njali poovan and my mother asked him to get her a yellow robusta as well. He brought back the bananas, he was eating one as well and gave them each their respective preferences.
My father ate the small banana quickly and resumed his position pretending to be asleep. My mother took her time eating and after she was done, she still held on to the peel. Looking at my dad, she told us the story of the time he spent a night in jail.
This was back when we were all living in Muscat and my dad used to run a company that sold air-conditioners. He drove every other weekend to Dubai where his brother lived and worked to settle business dues and the like. It’s a five-hour drive and my dad could always make it in four and half hours. “Acha was driving to Dubai one weekend when it happened”, she started. At the border, he was asked for his Visa and Passport which he handed over after small talk with the border police who he had become familiar with. Looking at the Visa, they told him that it had expired exactly the previous day. My dad had completely forgotten to renew it but assured them that he would do the same as soon as he reached Dubai. Though the Police in the Gulf is known to be extremely strict, they let him pass on goodwill. He stopped by the side of the road and called my mom from a telephone booth. My mother said that the conversation went somewhat like this.
Dad: “Crossed the border. Visa expired yesterday it seems. How are the kids?”
Mom: (over the screaming and crying of my brother and I) They’re fine. Won’t the visa be an issue?”
Dad: “No, it’s fine. I’ll get it sorted tomorrow itself. Don’t worry.”
Mom: “Okay. Call me when you reach.”
Dad: “I will. It’ll probably take two hours or so.”
After this conversation, my mother apparently put us down to sleep and went and ate some dinner in peace. Whilst she was doing this, my dad apparently got pulled over by Police for checking. They asked for his Visa and my dad explained to them that he had already sorted it out with the Border Police. But as it is with humans, sometimes they are just in a bad mood. The Police refused to listen to him and asked him to get into their car. They took him to a deserted police station on the highway and shut him in the lockup.
My mother who was saying this story in a more or less enjoyable and funny manner missed a beat there and her voice cracked ever so lightly that I wouldn’t have even noticed if I wasn’t paying such close attention. “They put Achan in the lockup?” my brother asked, and she nodded. “It was very scary”, she continued.
She was at home waiting impatiently beside the landline and more than three hours had passed since the promised two hours when my dad was supposed to call. She tried calling the brother to whose house he was driving to, asking him if he had reached. He hadn’t. She then called another family friend who lived in Dubai hoping that he had gone there. He was pragmatic and asked my mom which route my dad had taken, telling her he’d drive till there and see what had happened, hinting at a car accident. While my mother was waiting next to the landline for some news, my father was in the lock-up trying to use his conversational Arabic to try and reason with the cops to allow him to make a call. They refused and my dad was left desperate knowing that no one would come looking for him in this desolate station. Hours were slipping by and my dad who is usually able to get out of all sorts of tight spots with his words suddenly found himself tongue-tied. A kindly cleaner in the station slipped him a banana and a water bottle that my dad took thankfully.
My dad uncovered his face, waking up from his pretend-sleep. “He then asked me “naatil evideya?” (where in Kerala are you from)” my dad said and laughed. He took over the story from my mom.
He said that he had never felt Malayali feels so intensely ever before. Those two words spoken in Malayalam filled him up more than the banana and the water. The Malayali cleaner asked him quietly if there was someone he could call to help. My dad whispered back that he had a brother in Dubai who could come down there. Picking up the peel of the banana that he had eaten, my dad had an idea. He traced his brother’s phone number onto the soft side of the banana peel with his nail and handed it over to the cleaner. The cleaner on the pretence of throwing the peel away, went outside.
Some time passed and my dad had started to nod off. The next thing he remembers is seeing his brother and the family friend at the station, talking to the officers. ID cards were shown, money slipped under the table and the officers nodded in agreement and one of them opened the lock-up door.
“You kids will think I’m being dramatic and this will sound funny to you I guess, but I felt at that moment that I was looking at an avataram (incarnation) of God himself. We couldn’t say anything to each other but I think he understood how thankful I was.”
His brother later told him as they were driving, after my dad called my mother and told her he was fine, that the Malayali cleaner had called him explaining the situation and asked him to come to the station with some money. My brother and I were concentrated completely on my dad up until that point and turned to look at my mother only when she started speaking. She was unconsciously tracing things onto the soft side of the peel and said to my dad mainly, “It sounds so different and unreal when we say it out loud like this. As though it’s a story that didn’t actually happen to us.”
I sat there wondering how they got past it, how my dad drives past police stations, how my mom gets through nights when my dad’s driving out of town, how they look at banana peels so simply. I asked my mother this and she laughed and said, “That’s just how life is. Things happen, you move on.” And as literally as that she started shouting at my brother when she saw his clothes were still hanging on the balcony when he was supposed to have folded and put them away.