They were walking along the cobbled footpath, heads hung in despair. She sneaked a peak up at her father every now and then. She could feel him hurt from the inside, but she was looking for visible signs. A tear in the eye? A tremble of the lower lip? But all she saw was a frown on his face. The lockdown had ended in India. People were back on the streets. But the corona virus had left a mark on every person in the country. The fear was still prevailing.
It was the last day of her exams and as rituals go, he would pick her up from school and take her to her favourite restaurant to eat a chilly cheese toast with spicy ketchup and mustard sauce. The molten cheese over a bed of crispy bread and the spice of the green chillies… she felt her mouth water as she waited for it today.
On other occasions, her father always spoke much and laughed loudly. It was more like a guffaw, one that was equal parts endearing and embarrassing. But today, he could barely crack into a smile. Finally, the chilly cheese toast presented itself. She dove into it happily, hoping it would make her father’s mood better. But they had only ordered one plate today. He wasn’t eating. She looked into his sad eyes and said, “Papa! Why have you ordered just one plate? It’s your favourite.”
Papa looked at her and smiled a genuine smile after what felt like eons. “No beta. I am full.”
She looked down at her plate and ate in silence. Her father was a carpenter. Most days, he earnt well. But the virus had completely wiped out their disposable income. She came back home with a heavy heart as her papa went out to look for work. And then it struck her.
She waited for him patiently as the clock struck 6. And then the door clicked open. He walked in to see her wearing an apron, sitting by the table with a plate of chilly cheese toast.
“It only tastes good when we eat it together, Papa! Happy summer vacations!”