Jeet stared at his sister Sonali hoping, even for a second, that her face would show some expression. In all the years, they played, fought, were partners in crime and partied together, she had never given him the silent treatment.
“Ok, I get it. You’re mad at me,” he said. “Either that or you’re auditioning for CSI for the dead body’s role.” He forced a laugh in an effort to mask his heart that was knee-deep in tears as she continued staring at him in complete silence. He silently cursed the people who said silence is golden. If only they were in his shoes right now.
“Come on sis, there are other ways to get back at me if you’re mad,” he continued. “Remember your traditional revenge act? You just did it six months ago.”
He minutely observed her face for even the slightest tic or movement. Nothing.
“Don’t tell me you forgot already,” he said very carefully avoiding any sign of irritation or anger in his voice despite his sister’s silence crumbling his spirit piece by piece. “It was the day of Meghna Aunty’s party, remember?”
Jeet put down the magazine he was reading as he heard his sister coming out of the bathroom, wearing her new sari she had specifically bought for the party later that night.
“What do you think?” Sonali asked him as she struck a pose like she was walking the ramp at a fashion show.
Jeet got off the bed and walked closer to his sister. “Let me see. Turn around,” he said while placing his hands on her shoulder. Sonali turned her back to him.
“Now turn back around.” He said. She faced him again.
Wow! Jeet thought. The sari, solid navy blue complemented by tie-dye patches in the shape of feathers, did indeed look beautiful. But of course, Jeet couldn’t tell his sister that. Not without pulling her leg first.
He stood there for a minute with a slight smirk holding the sari’s palloo. He then let go of the border and mockingly tapped his finger on his chin as if reaching a hypothesis for a science experiment.
“Well?” Sonali asked again, this time with a slight annoyance in her voice. “How does it look?”
“Just as I thought it would. This sari is so beautiful it even makes you look good!” Jeet said as he laughed at his own insult.
Sonali’s eyes got wide. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed Jeet’s ear and gave it a twist.
“Hey! Ouch! That hurts!” he cried. “Let go!” He struggled to get free but his sister’s grip was too tight.
Sonali replicated her brother’s smirk from moments ago. “Not till you apologize and tell me how pretty I look.”
Jeet stopped struggling. “Fine,” he said in a much calmer tone. “I’m sorry about the joke. And you’re the most beautiful sister in the world. Now, will you let go?
Sonali let go of his ear. Jeet winced as a second later, she reached for his ear again but relaxed as the twist was now replaced by a gentle rub.
“I must be getting stronger,” she said. “Your ear feels like Play-Doh.”
“Must you do that every time I visit?”
“Must you make fun of me every time you visit?” She retorted.
“It’s my birthright as a younger brother.”
“Your ear is my birthright as an older sister.”
He shook his head as he smiled. “You know, if my American co-workers saw you do that, they’d scratch their heads till they bleed. They’d wonder how a 27-year-old grown man still gets his ear pulled.”
“Ahha!” Sonali laughed. “So that’s why I’m proud of our Indian heritage. Not because of our strong family values, our food or our hospitality. Simply because, being your didi, I can still twist your ear at this age without batting an eyelid.” She patted his back and said, “Thank you Jeet! You’ve given me the epiphany of a lifetime!”
“Glad I could help,” Jeet said sarcastically as they both made their way out of the room.
“You know, one of the guys at work finally found out about your little ‘birthright.’” Jeet said as his sister continued to stare at him in complete silence. “You remember Jerry from my birthday party? The one who kept flirting with you?”
He paused for some kind of response even though he knew it wasn’t likely. He sighed after a few seconds and continued.
“He now ribs me about it incessantly. In fact, every time I go back home after visiting you, he jokingly measures my ears to see if they’re any longer from all the pulling.”
For a split second, he could swear his sister blinked.
Did I imagine that? he thought. He waited for her to do it again. Nothing.
“I’ve got it!” he said snapping his fingers. “Sis, you’ve given me the epiphany of a lifetime,” he said in a high pitched voice as if he were mocking her.
“Now I understand. A while ago, you texted me a pic of your new top. You’re mad cause I made fun of it, right? And you wanted to twist my ear for that. But you couldn’t because I wasn’t with you at the time. And you can’t do it now cause if you moved, that would be admitting defeat, right?”
Sonali blinked! Jeet was sure of it this time because he could see the tiniest drop of a tear around her eye which wasn’t there before. Suddenly, an epiphany struck him, this time for real.
“Come on now,” he said as he gently placed his hand on her shoulder. “You know my compliments don’t come cheap unless I wanna impress my dates.” He flashed a smile. “They’re sold as a pair with my insults. I’d go bankrupt selling them separately. Is that what you want? You want your brother to deliberately take a hit on the stock market just to appease you?”
He couldn’t tell if the split-second vibration he felt in her shoulder was real or wishful thinking.
He didn’t care.
The tiny drop was now turning into a stream as Sonali blinked again. Vibration or no vibration, he thought. I’m getting through to her!
He turned around to quickly wipe his own tear which was also on the verge of flowing uninhibitedly. He couldn’t cry, not now! He knew the only way to let this miracle continue was to keep calm and carry on.
He turned back around. “I’ve got the perfect solution. It’s a win-win situation for both of us,” he said.
Sonali blinked for the third time.
“Relax,” Jeet said as if she had asked a question. “You’ll get what you want without admitting defeat. I’ll be right back. No cheating, ok?” He said as he got up and walked out of the room.
Jeet tried to compose himself as he stood outside Sonali’s room. He allowed himself a moment to stand there and cry.
After wiping his face dry for the umpteenth time, he finally stopped crying and walked down the halls keeping an eye out for who he was looking for.
He stopped as he saw her coming out with a clipboard in her hand out of the corner office at the end of the hall.
“Angie!” He called out to her. The twenty-five-year-old Chinese-American nurse turned around.
“Hey, Jeet!” She yelled. “Stay right there. I’ll join you in a second.” Jeet saw her take a left turn and disappear. Seconds later, she was back sans the clipboard, walking toward Jeet.
Without thinking, Jeet leapt towards her and hugged her tightly as the tears started coming back. Realizing what he was doing, he backed up a couple of inches, embarrassed.
“Sorry,” he said. “But I just witnessed the greatest miracle ever! She blinked, Angie. Sonali actually blinked!”
“What!? Are you sure?”
“I swear, Angie!” He replied. “Each time she did it, a tear came out.”
Angie’s heartbeat rose as she tried to process what she was hearing. Over the past three months, she had cared for Sonali like a member of the family. She fed her, bathed her and washed her hair even after Dr. Prasad had told her and Sonali’s family to not get their hopes up. She had even gone to the trouble of getting Sonali her favourite Indian breakfast, halwa poori, hoping the smell might invigorate her mind even though she wasn’t in a condition to eat it.
Angie squeezed Jeet’s shoulder and said, “That’s great! Let me go get Dr. Prasad.”
“No don’t!” Jeet said, almost screaming.
“What? Jeet, I have to. He’s her doctor.”
“Sorry. I’m just anxious. I meant, yes definitely tell him. But first, I need a favour.”
“Jeet, I know you’re excited but the doctor…”
“Please listen to me,” he interrupted. “Please. I know how to get her to move. We have to do it now before any amount of catatonia returns. It’ll take just a minute. I’m begging you, Angie. I KNOW this will work. Do this one favor for me and THEN get the doctor.”
“I don’t know, Jeet. I could get in trouble.” She sighed. “Tell me what you have in mind.”
Minutes later, Angie and Jeet entered Sonali’s room.
“Hi Sonali,” Angie said. She went closer and gently touched her cheek. It was wet. “Did Jeet make you cry? Men!” She exclaimed with a smile. “When will they ever learn?” She looked at Jeet. He gave her a thumbs up as a signal to start his plan.
“Your brother tells me that you’re mad at him,” Angie said as she touched Sonali’s shoulder. “He told me he made fun of your top.” She looked at Jeet. “Right?”
“Guilty as charged,” Jeet said.
Angie looked at Sonali again. “You hear that? He even has the audacity to admit it.”
Sonali blinked. Angie’s eyes got wide as she finally saw the miracle for herself. Speechless for a second, she regained her composure and said, “We can’t let him get away with that, can we?” Angie got up and went near Jeet.
“Tell me,” she said. “How should we punish him?”
“His ear?” Angie asked. “I don’t know Sonali. I could get fired that.” She put her hands on her hips. “I’ll tell you what. If anyone asks, YOU did it ok? Catatonia or no catatonia, YOU twisted Jeet’s ear, ok?”
Angie reached for Jeet’s ear. She hesitated for a second, pulling her hand down a couple of times after raising it. Jeet looked at her and nodded to reassure her.
She grabbed Jeet’s ear as softly as she could, careful not to hurt him. “Jeet, tell your sister what she wants to hear.” Jeet motioned his hand as if he were turning a key signaling Angie to twist it more. She sighed and reluctantly applied a little more pressure hoping nobody would walk by and see it.
“Sonali’s getting impatient, Jeet,” Angie said. “Be a good brother and tell her what she wants to hear.”
“Sis, that top looked fabulous on you,” he said. “How could it not? You’re the most beautiful sister in the world. Remember?” he said as a tear rolled down from his eye to his lips.
Angie let go of Jeet’s ear and stood there shocked. She touched Jeet’s arm and pointed to Sonali’s left pinky finger which was moving ever so slightly.
This was the first time any part of her body had moved since the horrific accident three months ago.
The room was filled with all three people’s tears as Angie hugged Jeet, even tighter than he had hugged her outside when he first saw her. She finally let go and said, “I’ve got to get Dr. Prasad here.” Wiping her face, she rushed out of the room.
Jeet sat down next to his sister. Through all his tears, he managed to crack a smile and say, “Remember your end of the deal when Dr. Prasad comes, ok sis? We don’t want to get Angie in trouble.”
Sonali blinked and slowly lifted her pinky finger. It took her more than two minutes but somehow she managed to rest it on Jeet’s hand. He had no idea how long it would take for the finger to reach his ear again. But for the first time in three months, he had a good feeling it would eventually. After all, he had built up quite a repertoire of insults to make up for lost time!
Neel Trivedi is a freelance journalist and in the advertising business in Dallas, TX. He writes poetry and fiction. His work has been featured in Drabblez Magazine and Rhythm & Bones. He can be reached on Twitter at @Neelt2001.