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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Third Place | The Tale of Fried Okra, Porridge and Mutton Curry

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Annika Esseku | Senior Staff Illustrator

The sweet smell of jasmine warm on my scalp, her soft hands, calloused palms weaving through my hair with scented oil aged rich by generations, braids in my hair donned like armor. Fried okra, mutton curry, and porridge humming lightly against the base of my chest. I ate too much. One day in second grade I told her these are the things I like best, and since then this has been the first meal I have at her house, always. It tastes the same, always. I overeat, always. 

She takes me out to see her roses, and we sit on the big swing on the porch, my head on her lap staining her saree … tradition. Her wearing a darker shade anticipating things I don’t even give second thoughts to … love. 

“You are my favorite, you know that right?” My head shoots up; she doesn’t look at me.

“You know, Aaji, if you tell all your grandkids that they’re your favorite, it kind of loses its charm. Isn’t that like grandma treason?”

“But you are, I do not see a point in lying and not playing favorites.”

“Aaji, I —” I chuckle. 

“You know I always wanted a daughter, never a son.”

“Wha — please tell me you have a story.”

“I was really disappointed when your father was born, bless his heart — you know what I mean — and then your uncle after that, bless his heart too. ”

“Is that why my uncle is rocking a frock in every single baby picture of his?”

“Yes, well, I was convinced he was going to be a girl. My stitching skills got a bit carried away.”

“Why didn’t you stitch pants then instead, after?”

“Ah child, we didn’t have money then, tougher times. This house is not where we lived always. We used to live in a single rented room, your grandfather, me, and then the babies all in one room.” 

“One room? That can not be right. Wha — !” 

“I finally got it, you know?”

“What, a big house?” 

Her hand gently strokes my hair, patting my head with each stroke.

“No … a daughter.” She looks at me and smiles, the lines around her eyes falling right in place like puzzle pieces.

Dusty roads and low buildings surrounded the neighborhood. A small city tucked in the hottest parts of India. I leave the house, running downstairs at the echo of my friends. My grandmother watches me from the balcony, her voice in the background trailing … “Be back before seven!”

“Yes, Grandma,” I say, my back to her, but I know she smiles.

 

***

 

I look at my nine-year-old cousin for the first time in my life at the airport. She runs into my arms, blood recognising blood. I laugh at her innocence and stroke her hair; it doesn’t smell like jasmine. 

She asks if she can go home to nap before we see Grandmother in the hospital. I find my father’s gaze, and a nod tells me to not say anything. My uncle whispered to me gently that she doesn’t know yet. 

My uncle moved to America and never visited India even once in 13 years. His daughter has never seen this house, her family, or even me till today. All of our necks craned up in anticipation for her to come out, asking us to stop playing because it was seven now. 

Silence.

Cheap, worn, mud-colored sandals in the doorway, countless, making a beeline to the porch, underneath the swing, all the way up to the roses. The smell of jasmines, fifteen incense sticks pulling me in. 

My cousin-sister looks at the ceremony she can’t comprehend and the tradition she doesn’t understand. She runs to her father howling in tears. I feel heavy again, the base of my chest pulled down by something heavier than tears, thicker than blood … love.

My grandmother always wanted daughters. She has two today.

“Ah let me take a photo with you. You guys look so pretty, stand by the roses,” she says.

“You guys look so pretty, stand by the roses,” she would have said.

She would have said. She would have said this if only my uncle had made it home three days early. 

She wore a dark saree the day she passed. Maybe it is me rambling, or she knew I would be coming soon to see her … love.

She packed a bowl of porridge in the fridge the day she passed. Maybe it is me rambling, or she knew I would be coming soon to see her … tradition.

I sit now, on the porch, among the dying roses with my cousin-sister. Oiling her hair with jasmine oil, she sits there with the last batch of porridge my grandmother ever made heavy against the base of her chest. She smiles.