Draped with intricate swirls and laces, the electric pink frosting caught Pushpa’s eye.  

She bent forward a tinge, clutching the marble counter to avoid a balancing act between her already stooped figure and the heavy bags full of groceries. Now at eye level, the buttercream cake bedazzled, distracting her from the chaos in the background. Two young waiters were working up a frenzy as they doled out fresh cakes to the impatient pre-brunch crowd.  

Looking towards them, she sighed, gathering the bags and gently shuffling out of the store and across the road.  Pushpa paused at the entrance of her building, bracing herself for the three-story climb. At one point she could jeté her way up with barely a thought to spare between each step, her husband giggling as he struggled to keep pace. Not today, she thought with a wince while trudging up as fast as her arthritic knees would permit, pausing between floors with the grace expected of a retired ballerina.  

The door groaned as it creaked open, Pushpa hauled herself to the nearest chair by the table crumpling with a sigh.  She stared across the shadowy living room, humming absent-mindedly. The smile-squinted eyes of siblings, parents,  loved ones and a deceased lover stared back, caught in stasis on the celluloid-adorned walls. Where were the kids? She frowned, fumbling for her clunky mobile phone, the lanyard holding it caught between the folds of her blouse. Two presses of a button, a pulse and a ring…  

“Mummy, all okay?” her daughter’s concerned voice blared from the device, cutting through the silence. Pushpa cleared her through and croaked, “Yeah Reshma… I just got back from the market. But where are the children? The  house is empty…”

A pause, followed by the familiar, loving impatience that reminded Pushpa of her husband. “Oh mummy…did you forget? They’re at school today… It’s Tuesday, no?” Reshma continued, “They’ll be back around  2 o’clock. Anil will drop them home, just in time to give you your insulin shot…” 

Pushpa processed, nodding silently and glared at the refrigerator where the icy fiend awaited her arm. “Yeah beta,  I’ll remember…and, are you okay? Your day’s going well?”, she asked. 

Responding with a sigh, “Yeah mummy,  everything’s fine, just a lot of meetings…Was the trip to the market alright?” 

“Yes, yes. All okay…oh, and I picked up the brinjals for tonight like you asked”, Pushpa smiled, imagining her daughter’s face

“Perfect!” Reshma cried, “Thanks mummy! I’ve got to go now.” The line clicked and went silent.  

“See you soon…” Pushpa trailed off. She was alone again.  

Reticently, she placed the phone on the table and stretched her hands, gently pressing against the embroidered linen.  Her slender fingers, sinewy from the toils of stage work were now worn and weathered out, their muscles fatigued.  She clasped them together, interlocking her fingers while trying to emulate the tender attention that was so regularly anointed to them by her loving husband on their evening walks. The phantom caressing didn’t cut it; the hands felt unattended to – their sole solicitor gone. Pushpa looked around and sighed, her solitary figure dwarfed by their massive dining table.  

The grandfather clock chimed, looming from the corner of the room. Glancing at its hands, Pushpa very slowly let out a coy smile. It was 11 o’clock. She had three more hours before the children came back and the house bustled alive. She took a deep breath, her smile widening, eyes darting around eagerly, lost in thought as she plotted her next moves. Did she have enough time? 

Undercurrents of excitement distracted from her throbbing knees as she slowly lifted herself from the table. With sudden, surprising dexterity, Pushpa shuffled to the kitchen and delicately segregated the groceries. What was the time? Two hours thirty, the old clock read. Enough time for just a bit of fun, she grinned.  

With a strong sense of purpose, Pushpa half glided, half trudged towards her bedroom. Gritting her teeth together,  she hauled open the rusty cupboard, her eyebrows knotted deep in thought; now, where had she kept the stuff? As  Pushpa sifted through decades worth of dresses and gowns, frocks and skirts, the smell of mothballs waltzed through the air, flitting between the memories they smothered. At last, she heaved out a giant plastic bag concealed in the depths of her cupboard, jangling as she moved it to the bed with a groan. Pushpa stooped over and gently laid out everything she needed. She paused for a moment, her face beaming and almost salivating over what was to come.  

Her fantasies were interrupted by a chime from the living room. Two hours left. Time to get going. Stocked to the brim with an army’s supply of sugar, Pushpa groaned as she hoisted her ancient candy jar under one arm and contraband baking equipment under the other. She slowly shuffled to the kitchen, careful not to drop anything along the way. Placing the jar and tools on the counter with a gentle clutter, she organized the bowls, measuring spoons and whisks in a neat sequence before moving around to collect all the ingredients she needed. She could barely contain her excitement while trudging back to the counter and letting out a nervous half-whistle while cracking a pair of eggs open, separating their golden yolks with sudden aplomb. Flour sifted, and a spoon full of icing sugar cheekily swallowed, she sighed with glee while mixing in the remaining ingredients. Her weak fingers ached as she tried to whisk the batter together. Clicking her tongue in frustration, she threw the whisk across the counter in uncharacteristic chagrin, it landed with a clang amidst the spilt flour. She grunted, mumbling while reaching for the oven and decided to improvise; directly using her arms to whisk and fold in the batter. As the yellow, cardamom-speckled mixture glided through her fingers, she arched her creaking back, moaning gently while basking in the glory of being back in the kitchen. Her arms lingered as they massaged the velvet-like batter, its cool consistency sending a slight shiver down her spine, and a wide smile across her face. The folding was therapeutic. The clock sharply chastised from the living room, shattering her thoughts and sending Pushpa into a muted panic. Only one hour left, and lots to do!

She wiped her batter-lubricated arms on the blouse and started pouring the mixture into a baking tin. Desperately clutching the tin, she tried steadying the heavy bowl as it slipped through her oily fingers, falling to the counter and spilling batter all over. She screamed, momentarily losing composure as the mixture dribbled to the floor and all over her blouse. Pushpa staggered back, breathing heavily while clutching the flour-laden counter for balance. She surveyed the damage, questioned herself, and whimpered softly. With a deep breath and renewed resolve, she nimbly staggered forward, scooping the leftover batter from bowl to tin and rushed towards the oven. Satisfied with her sudden salvage, she smiled, nervously laughing at all the chaos caused. Now all she needed to do was clean up. And wait.  

Thirty minutes left. Equipment back in their hiding space. Kitchen all tidied up. Blouse replaced. Pushpa dragged a chair before the oven and sat down, exhausted. She fidgeted as it ticked away, staring intently at her bubbling labour of love. A minute later the timer shrieked, her progeny, gold crusted and ready. Ecstatic and just about mittened up, she reached in and transferred the tray to the counter, cooing and blowing at it with a sense of urgency. She was nearly giddy with joy as she slowly shuffled with her creation to the dining table.  She beamed at the baking tray, and a solitary cupcake radiated in return, cheerfully wafting its vanilla-cardamom spirit all over the quiet house. Trembling with excitement, Pushpa sighed, licked her lips and stooped forward. She tested the cake’s temperature with her finger, hoping it had cooled down already. Just about, but that would do, she thought, and immediately began shovelling the cake into her gaping mouth. Pushpa sighed while licking her lips, and leaned back, extremely satisfied with her clandestine foray. All elegance lost, she let out a petite burp. Ten minutes to 2 o’clock. The kids would be back any minute now, she thought and sheepishly giggled, marinating in her solitude. 

Thinking of DOA 1 by Sukilaku

About the author:

Tushar Gidwani is a producer, photographer & writer whose capabilities span sales, operations, creative direction, brand management, and analytics. After spending 6 years leading media, marketing & content for a B2B fashion platform based in Singapore, he decided to give it all up, throw a middle finger in the air, and chase his dreams. Today, he’s building an experimental creative studio across Southeast Asia. In parallel, he muses & weaves narratives together for VICE Asia. A native of Bombay, India, he currently lives in Saigon, Vietnam.

Feature image by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash