Excuse Me While I Die

‘Ohhh, I’m dying!’ That was me. On the speakerphone to the son. Beside me on the sofa, the husband was devouring WhatsApp messages as if they were the next coming of Game of Thrones. Neither eyelid flickered even infinitesimally at my proclamation. Expression remained bland as water.

The son was more in tune with my misery. Maybe it was blood being thicker than water. Maybe it was he got to endure me and my moans only two times a week. Whatever. ‘That bad, huh?’ he said finally. ‘But no one else…’

And that was the truth of the matter. The entire – elderly and extended – Jain family had been vaccinated against Covid-19. The first round, that is. A couple of us had sported a few of the symptoms. But I was a cut above. I had sported the entire range of symptoms on the list the NHS staff gave us at poke time. The ball of fire lodged in my left arm had made its way to the cotton balls lodged in my head. Add shivers, headaches, sore eyes, diarrhoea and a large pinch of assorted aches and pains, and there, I was sorted. In bed. For ten days. And when I got up, the headaches decided they had nowhere better to go.

‘But why you?’ asked the son. Good question. And I had a long – roundabout, as is my wont – explanation to offer. Requiring a bit of a diversion here.

I was brought up by a very girly – read drama queen – mum for the first ten years of my life. An example. When I was in the throes of induced labour, throwing up from one end and enema’d from the other, Amma sat in a corner of the room wringing her hands, crying, ‘This is the moment I’ve feared from the moment I was told I had a daughter! Dear Mother of God, please help my daughter, I’ll say ten rosaries!’ Gabbled prayers followed.

Even amidst all the various pot-shots that were being taken at my body at the time, I was completely enthralled. For twenty-three years, Amma had looked at me and thought of me being in labour? Awesome!

At age ten, I was sent to a convent. Sorry, make that boarding school in a convent. At eleven, by way of a digression caused by my taking communion when I shouldn’t have, I was confirmed as a Catholic. At twelve, I was convinced I wanted to become a nun. At well past fifty, all that remained of that ecclesiastical passion was a barter system with God, honed and polished over the years. ‘If you do this, I’ll do that’ sort of thing.

Revert to present times. Sometime during 2020, with all of us stuck in different time zones and varying levels of lockdown, I knocked on God’s door. For the usual barter. ‘Keep them safe,’ I said, ‘send it all my way.’ Apparently, God was at home.

There was dumbfounded silence at the Geneva end as I told the son this story. Then a sneery kind of snort from the husband: ‘Why don’t you tell him you had a cold when you got the vaccination?’

Yes, that too.

Amma and the Vaccination

While the world was working up a frenzy about vaccinations, I was dreaming. About haircuts. Almost obsessively. I hate hair in my eyes. And this was Month 5 of Lockdown 2.

My dream was shattered. By the son. Who else? ‘We have to get Amma and Appa vaccinated.’ His tone was urgent, almost shrill. Unnaturally so. For this is a child who let the sea in Goa take away his spectacles with utmost equanimity. And spent the next two days half-blind.

The husband jumped into the conversation. Also urgent, shrill. Nothing new there. They traversed the route of online registration, which hospital was best, should Amma and Appa take it in turns in case one of them had any side-effects, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong. I am a fairly filial, if bossy, daughter. I knew my turn would come. No point wasting my breath right away.

And how right I was. For all these plans had to be revealed to Amma. Appa is cool that way, he will just follow instructions on most things. Amma is a different kettle of fish. I could hear her voice dwindling in fear as instructions poured over her head in a conference call. There was just enough voice left by the end of it to wail, ‘Injection?’

Amma is phobic about injections. This is a Jain family fun fact. Also, the phobia is mostly psychological in nature. So every injection is prefaced with some moans, some hand-wringing, some OMGs. Of the old-fashioned ‘why is this happening to me’ kind. And then she gets on with it.

My role in the family is that of bossy woman whom no one can abide. So I stepped up to the plate. ‘Don’t be silly!’ I said briskly. ‘It’s just an injection, nothing to carry on about.’

‘But an injection!’

‘You know it has to be done.’ From the husband, the eternal pacifier. ‘It’ll be okay.’ From the son. The paternal genes are strong there.

‘But the needle?! Will it be a very big needle?’

Time for intervention. ‘Stop moaning, Amma,’ I said impatiently. ‘It’s got to be done, so get it done.’

A few days later, the vaccination appointments had been booked. Online by the son. We huddled together once again on how to break the news to Amma, what precautions, order in food or cook in advance in case she had side-effects, etc., etc.

And the next day we made another conference call. It was the day after the Harry-Meghan interview, so the husband was half an eye off course.

Amma sounded unnaturally bright and chirpy. ‘How did you know?’ she demanded almost immediately.

‘We called to tell you we’ve booked your vaccination appointments…’ the son had already begun on our rehearsed route. ‘Wait… what? What do we know?’

‘That I got my vaccination today? The neighbour said EC Hospital was offering it. So I went with Ajoy and got it done.’ Ajoy being a very helpful – and very long-suffering – family friend who’s made it his mission in life to rescue Amma from disasters.

Gobsmacked silence ensued. It was a record for the Jain family.

Did I tell you Amma was also good at throwing googlies?

A Step Too Far

‘Shall we go for a walk?’ It was Sunday. The husband’s buzzing like a bee day.

I might have mentioned this before. The husband and I are born at opposite ends of the zodiac spectrum. It does not make for a restful life. I could extrapolate. Write a book. I will desist.

Suffice it to say I consider Sunday a day of rest. Gazing at my navel. If it’s good weather, that is. The kind of weather we’ve been having lately, I would be hard-pressed to find anything on my body. Or feel it.

The husband looks at Sunday the way a whirling dervish might contemplate God. Going round in circles. Rattling the washing machine. Doing the vacuum cleaner dance. Looking balefully at my growing wool stash. Making unkind remarks about said stash. Ignoring the boxes that contain his papers from his last two jobs. Then, finally, with a sigh, ‘We really need to get rid of some of this stuff. This flat is going under.’

Therefore, the going for a walk seemed like the easier option. It was also a bit of a sacrifice, let me add. I am a walker. I have a Fitbit. When I set out, ten thousand steps are the only option. The thing I miss most in the lockdown is my walking group – seven Welsh men and I boldly conquering all kinds of Welsh terrain.

The husband’s preferred form of exercise is usually doing five push-ups – fifty by his count! – and jumping up and down for about a minute afterwards. So you see? The sacrifice was called for. And I was a willing lamb. For once.

‘After twelve?’ I said brightly. ‘The weather will be better.’

Moan of despair in response. ‘Sainsbury’s will run out of eggs.’ Aha! That’s what this was all about.

We set out. I turned left. He turned right. ‘Where are you going?’ The question was decidedly querulous.

‘I thought we’d take the longer route to the bridge.’

‘We’ll go this way, but okay, we’ll go around the new construction. That long enough?’ Maybe not, but when did sacrificial lambs get a say?

We’d got past the construction and were on due course for the bridge when the winds shifted. As they do on the half hour in Swansea.

‘It’s raining!’ The querulous quotient had shifted up a gear. ‘Shall we go back and take the car?’

‘It’s only mizzling,’ I said as gently as I could. ‘Here, shall I help you with that hood?’ I even held his hand as we made our way across the bridge.

‘Second lock?’ I asked when we were safely past. The mizzle had taken one look at the husband’s intrepid-ness and dwindled away.

‘Why? This first one is just fine.’

I sighed. Gave it up as a lost cause. My Fitbit beeped in sympathy. Tomorrow was Monday. The husband would do five push-ups. And I would walk.

The Big Cheeze

In the aftermath of the gajrela incident, I moped. And I sulked. The husband didn’t notice. So I made a loud declaration. I would cook no more. And I switched off my hob.

There was a twitch of the eyebrow from the husband. Hope sprung. No, that was for the latest farmers’ rally video he was watching.

What I did not reveal was the ace up my sleeve. M&S had sent me a pizza offer that was too good to resist. And so I set off for the store. Please note: I do not usually shop for food at M&S. Tesco is more my style. And my wallet. But this was an offer. And I’m a sucker for those.

I joined the queue outside the store. Then the queue before the sanitiser dispenser. Then the one for the sanitising fluid for wiping down the basket. Then the one for the basket. By then I was too tired to shop. Only that firmly turned down hob spurred me on. I am a woman of my word.

That and the fact that the husband had been food shopping for the last two months. And deciding our food choices. And I was gagging on the daily lunch menu of flatbreads and hummus. The winter was decidedly one of discontent. And for more than one reason.

Back to the store. It looked strangely depleted. Till I realised they’d closed off one side of each aisle. I had to ask directions to the pizzas. And found myself there. Alongside another woman.

We sized each other up. Then looked at the pizzas on display. Far too few of them. One pepperoni only. She grabbed it. I sighed. I would have to think sideways if I wanted to win this one. And I moved crab-like, circuiting around her. She looked at me suspiciously. I looked at her, nonchalant quotient turned to full. And reached for the three-cheese pizza. Aha, got it! I’d have to stop by Tesco and pick up the pepperoni to put on it, but at least I’d got a pizza. On offer.

When I got home, the husband unpacked my offerings. He’s kind like that. The backpack was full. The ‘stop by’ Tesco had got extended by a bit, I’ll admit.

Then came a loud splutter from the husband. Accompanied by words that would not be polite to put down here. The politer version might run thus: ‘What on earth is this?’

‘A three-cheese pizza?’ I said brightly. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got pepperoni to put on top.’

The husband was ominously silent. And he ominously silently showed me the label on the pizza. Which said ‘cheeze’. Which I’d been too busy to read in the store. Because I’d been too busy feinting with my co-shopper.

I’d got home a pizza all right. But a vegan pizza. The ‘cheeze’ was – I kid you not! – coconut-based cheese alternatives and cauliflower transformed into mozzarella, cheddar and what they called Italian-style cheese lookalikes. Lookalike about summed it up.

I think I’m going to cry off shopping for a while.

How Brown Is Brown Enough?

‘What are you making?’ asked the son plaintively. Maternal heartstrings were firmly tugged. I put down the spatula and replied, ‘Moong dal halwa.’

‘I also want some.’ More plaint in the voice. Maternal heartstrings pulled to max stretch. Just short of pinging. I hadn’t seen him for a full year. My poor darling, all on his own, I thought, heart bursting with love.

Interjection from the husband: ‘We’ll send you the recipe.’ Maternal love moment shattered.

Plaint also disappeared pronto. ‘Oh good. I’ll make it tomorrow.’ Just like that.

‘It’s not easy,’ I growled. And with good cause. I’d been at work all morning, first soaking the dal, then grinding it. The last two hours had been spent stirring the halwa. Arm muscles that had been wallowing in retirement had been pressed into service, raising pain awareness to hitherto unknown levels. This at a time when I was weaning myself off my paracetamol habit.

And yet the mess in my pan was not brown enough. Not Haldiram’s brown at least. It looked pasty, what a generous person might call oatmeal.

Nevertheless, the inveterate taster in my life – otherwise known as the husband – already had the spatula to his lips. ‘Ummm!’ His approval was resounding. I gave up on the stirring. Both the halwa and the muscles. And piled the halwa into a bowl instead. He was right. It tasted better than it looked.

It was the success of the appam that had inspired this culinary stretch. That and Tarla Dalal, may God rest her soul. It had looked easy enough. At least when reading the recipe. Reality had crash-landed me on my knees before the hob.

The maternal code does not permit me to call the son unless I am at death’s door. And I was not. At death’s door, that is. It just seemed that way. So I had to content myself with pacing the carpet instead. And waiting. And waiting. Till he surfaced two days later.

‘Did you make the halwa?’ I asked in great excitement. Now he would tell me what hard work it had been. How wonderful I was to even attempt it. How lucky Dad was, etc., etc.

Instead came, ‘Yes.’ Typical son-speak. Why use five words when one will do?

‘And…?’ Questions dripped off my tongue, culminating in, ‘How did it turn out?’

‘Oh, very well,’ came the response. ‘Wait, I’ll send you a photo.’

And the winner is…

Photo pinged through. Of the most marvellous halwa. Mr Haldiram would have wept tears of pride at its brown-ness. I could only feel myself glowing an unhealthy green.

‘How?’ I stuttered finally.

‘I put it in the oven,’ he said. Just like that.

I was struck dumb, but the husband chirped in sideways, ‘Wow, that’s amazing! How come ours did not….’ His voice trailed off at the look on my face.

Speech returned, albeit slowly. ‘I’m going to make gajrela,’ I said finally. For the uninitiated, gajrela is carrot halwa. Involves much grating of carrots and reducing of milk. And stirring. I could feel my muscles rise in agitation. But this was a gauntlet that had to be thrown down. Maternal love be damned.

‘Send me the recipe?’

Let me not stretch this sorry tale any further. He won again.

Instead, I Insta-ed It

Ten days ago, I made my first appam. It was beautiful – fluffy and light with a deep, firm centre. I could have had it framed. Instead, I Insta-ed it. A small step for womankind, but a giant step for me.

For it’s been a long journey. Long, long ago, in the dim and distant past, when I was still in the throes of not-yet-married-a-year domesticatedness (yes, I know that’s not a word!), I offered to help the MIL in the kitchen. Looks were exchanged between her and the FIL. Nothing about my acquaintance thus far had prepared them for this.

‘Why don’t you make the salad?’ The MIL is generous like that. Also cautious. How far can you go wrong with a tomato and a cucumber, she must have thought. She had no idea of my talents.

I eyed said tomatoes and cucumber dubiously. My offer to help had been imbued with shades of being asked to stir an already cooking pot. This was more proactive than warranted by my daydream of domesticity (there, I told you I knew the right word!).

But this was my chance. So I went to with gusto. And was still there by the time the MIL had cooked two veg, one dal and one raita. And chapatis. To feed six-and-a-half of us. She then took the cucumber from my hands.

Merrily unaware of my tryst with the knife, the husband took one look at the tomatoes and gasped, ‘Who butchered those?!’ He’s not much more tactful thirty-four years later.

What can I say? Amma and Appa were gadget freaks. I grew up amidst tomato slicers and egg separators. Amidst might be stretching the truth a bit though. I never ever ventured into the kitchen willingly. It was too hot most of the time. Besides, both Amma and the MIL were amazing cooks. Why would you tamper with perfection?

Also, I was thinking of the son. His wife would never have to hear, ‘Your boiled rice just doesn’t taste like my mother’s.’ The sacrifices a mother makes for her son’s future happiness!

Fast-forward a quarter of a century or thereabouts. When we announced our plans to move to London, there were telling silences from both Amma and the MIL. When they recovered, the MIL told her son to learn to make omelettes. Amma told her daughter unnecessarily cheerfully, ‘I suppose they’ll have ready prepared meals.’

They did, but, living on a scholarship, we were too poor to afford them. I will say this for the husband. He is patient. And kind. And hungry. When the turkey leg remained raw after six hours, he put eggs to boil instead. And ‘cooked’ toast. His word, not mine.

I’ve climbed the cooking curve considerably since the turkey. Hunger, and nostalgia, in that order, are powerful motivators. As are YouTube videos. And the Internet. Which can tell you how much a medium onion should weigh. Or the difference between one cup of water and one glass. In short, I’m impressed with myself. And that beautiful appam. Who cares about daughters-in-law?

      

Eggs-igency!

‘I’ve run out of eggs!’ The husband was visibly agitated. Red lights flashed. Sirens wailed.

For the husband likes his eggs. That’s to put it mildly. The more exciting version would run thus: if the flat were burning down, the husband would run out with his eggs. I have had more than three decades to learn my station in life. And it’s definitely lower than eggs.

I bent my head to the task at hand. My task. Joining my Swansea Bay blanket. Or at least Swansea Bay if I could see it now, Swansea having fallen prey to varying forms of precipitation all through the new year.

The dots connected for the husband. ‘I’ll go get them then,’ he said, resignation dripping off every word.

I twitched back to attention. ‘I’ll make you a grocery list.’ The resignation drip became a shower. Close competition with the world outside.

I began scribbling a hurried list. Then checked myself into a slower, more laborious pace of writing. The last time I had entrusted a grocery list to the husband, he’d come back without half the things on it. ‘Oh, is that what that scribble was?’

Stuff and nonsense, of course. True my handwriting is not what it used to be, thanks to everything being typed these days, but it is still better than the son’s chicken scratches. And the husband can read that.

There’s also the small issue of optimal quantities. Cooking doesn’t come easy to me. So when I cook, I like to make sure the freezer is as well stocked as our tummies. Whereas the husband, let’s just say he genuinely believes seven loaves and five fish can feed a multitude. And then wonders at the empty feeling in his middle region.

The truth of the matter is that the husband is a one bag shopper. When the bag is full, he stops shopping. Only eggs might break that barrier. But then, they’re usually the first to enter the bag.

The husband took one look at the list and shuddered. ‘This is going to be a full shop then?’

I took pity. ‘Weekly shop?’ I said, gently rubbing his arm. He disappeared into his man cave. Some minutes later, I heard the plaintive refrain, ‘While my guitar gently weeps…’.

I was not to be moved. A glance at the world outside my window strengthened my resolve. No way I was going out in that.

I like to believe I had bonded with my blue and pink backpack during the Summer Lockdown. That my backpack and I were a source of inspiration for the people we passed. Making them believe that shopping can be fun even without access to car and bus. All you needed for perfection was pain spray when you finally slid the backpack off your shoulders at home. And the sight of the guilt on the husband’s face. Heaven!

But this was the wild, wet Winter Lockdown. ‘No way,’ said my backpack. I agreed.

The husband re-emerged from his tryst with the weeping guitar in the afternoon. ‘Where’s that list then?’ He winced visibly when I handed it over.

He was back within the hour. I was suspicious. Needlessly, as it happened. Every last thing on my list was there in that bag. All I could do was swipe left for the suspicion. And swipe right back on my face the appropriate expression of guilt. It was the least I could do.

Amma and the Cold Wave

‘Any ideas on what to look for when I order a room heater?’ asked the son.

‘I thought you had radiators in your flat?’

‘Not for me,’ he replied, ‘for Amma and Appa.’

‘For Amma and Appa?’ I asked in amazement. ‘I ordered them two heaters in November!’

‘So why is Amma complaining of the cold?’ Typical of the son. He is posed a problem. Ergo, he turns it into a puzzle for me. Side train of thought: Why does Amma communicate more to the son? Am I a bad daughter? Is this what the son is internalising? Is he being overburdened with all this? Does that make me a bad mother? Oh, I don’t like where this is going!

Return to conversation at hand. The ‘Why?’ continues to hang in the air. Then we both sigh collectively, with the husband lending full-lung support. ‘Amma!’

For Amma it is. True Delhi is in the midst of a bitter cold wave. True also that Amma is like a child. So the call the next day is predictable.

‘It’s so cold, beta, I can’t feel the teeth in my mouth.’ The video call shows Amma in scarf, hat, sweater, fleece jacket, faux fur booties…. If I didn’t know the tip of Amma’s nose so well, I’d have cried ‘Wrong number’ and called off.

‘Have you taken out the fleece blanket?’

‘That is too thin.’

‘Ma, you have to spread it over your bedsheet.’

‘So we sleep over it?’

‘Just give it to Appa. He knows what to do with it.’

‘Appa’s always sleeping.’ Time to interject. Start her on the topic of Appa’s dastardly crimes and we could be continuing into tomorrow. I don’t think WhatsApp would approve.

‘Why are you not using the heater?’

‘Who said I am not using? I use it when I watch TV.’

‘Watch TV in your bedroom. It’s a smaller room. Both of you sit there and put on the heater there. Keep the door closed.’

‘But the heater is not plugged in there and I can’t reach the power point.’

‘Ask the Jeeves to plug it in.’

‘But today’s Sunday.’

‘Yes, Ma, but tomorrow is Monday, ask him then.’

There was a pause in which Amma debated with herself the matter of raising with me what all this heater use would do to the electricity bill. After having graced the earth for eighty-one years, Amma still does not believe herself entitled to a winter’s worth of room heater. Her alter ego obviously advised her against the move for she moved in with a lateral argument, ‘Room heaters are very drying to the skin. I start itching.’

My turn to facepalm. When the husband first rolled out this itchy brainwave, the son and I laughed it out of court. But over the years, I’ve become brainwashed. The son is holding out. Amma slipped into willing complicity. It came from the Son-in-Law after all. And there it was now, come back to bite.

An aside here. Amma has always had an itchy back. The only reasons she has remained married to Appa are generational holdbacks and his immense skills as a back scratcher. So, the heater causing her itch was asking my imagination to stretch like a rubber band. I could already hear the snap.

The husband cut in. ‘Amma, use the heater!’

‘Okay, beta.’ The plaintive note persisted. Amma felt put upon.

I sighed as I called off. Despite the SIL intervention, this conversation was propped for repeat mode for the next few weeks. Till the winter was over. And summer began. And we moved to the AC conversation.

In Search of a Resolute Resolution

The conversation with the son was trying to wind itself down. And failing. Partly it was him. Trying to be nice to his ageing, needy mum. Partly it was me. How do you tell the product of years of your sweat and toil, ‘Sorry, but my toast is getting cold.’

There was also the small matter of whom he’d spent New Year’s Eve with. Me baiting, him slipping off the hook. That could be the only reason why, apropos of nothing, came the question, ‘Any new year resolutions, Ma?’

‘No, not really.’

‘Why?’ Several suggestions hung expectantly in the air. Up the exercise ante. Stop wearing nighties all day. Stop fishing for information on my sex life. Stop writing ridiculous stuff about Dad and me. Sadly, none of them appealed. Not to me at least.

I cast around for buying time options. ‘I don’t know. New year resolutions have never really appealed. I have a really bad track record…’

Well, in my defence, I do. The first resolution I remember was in 1980. It was Board exam year and I resolved to give the study books my best shot. No radio. No fiction. Only Maths, Physics and Chemistry. Ugh! And what happened? The Board moved the exam to February 1981. I still maintain that it’s easier to give something your best shot when the event in question is happening this year, not next.

Fast forward some eight years. Newly married, hormones sated for the time being, I resolved to concentrate on my career. God had other ideas. He gave me a new set of hormones. The pregnancy ones.

That’s been the cycle thus far. After years of no resolutions, last year, I looked at my hips and shook my head sadly. ‘You have to go,’ I told them. And joined a gym. In February. We all know how that played out.

So, no new year resolutions for me. But the son is more of an optimist. And more like a dog with a ball. Won’t let go. I stalled for time, knowing it would come back to head-butt me.

Two days later, I checked – as I frequently do, what you gonna do? – the list of Bollywood films released in 2020. And how many of them I’d watched. I was horrified. Only twenty-five? That was just two films a month! In a good year, I average more than one a week.

‘I’ve made a new year resolution,’ I told the son brightly the next time he called. ‘I’m going to watch all the films that were released in 2020. And I’m already thirty down. Another sixty-eight to go. It’s working this time.’

I could hear the thwack of the facepalm some eight hundred miles away. But the son is my son. Just the teeniest pause later came the retort, ‘When will you watch the films of 2021?’

Smile Please!

‘Christmas is over. New Year is over. Now shall we do the Passport?’ chirruped the husband rather too chirpily. On the fourth of January.

Before you do a double take, let me assure you, Passport isn’t a newly resuscitated pagan festival. Also, New Year’s Eve had been sedate. Very sedate. The husband will vouch that I was snoring in bed by 22.30 hours. With a cold.

So, it wasn’t celebration overdose that had pulled the reins on the form-filling process. It might have been that we were busy filing my income-tax returns. It might also have had something to do with a certain someone having rediscovered his guitar, but I am a good wife, my lips are sealed, I will say no more.

In any case, there was no need at all to chirrup. That loud. I looked bleary-eyed at him. ‘Now?’ I asked through red-rimmed eyes. ‘I have a cold. An aching head.’

The husband gave me a look. One of his famous ones. One that is usually supposed to take the place of a scathing retort. As the son will vouch. But today, it seemed, I deserved more.

‘If we had to wait for when you didn’t have a cold….’

‘Okay, okay,’ I jumped in hastily, muffling a sneeze. ‘Let’s do it.’

The husband was right in that I do have more than anyone’s fair share of colds. It could have something to do with my adenoids being yanked out in my early teens. Or it could be that it was January and we were in the middle of a cold wave.

But that was not the point of dissension. It was that the husband had a cauldron full of bubbles and boils that were supposed to make me cold-free. And I had allergies – mythical or otherwise – to most of them. This is an argument we’ll probably be continuing when we sit in matching urns placed side by side on the son’s sideboard. Or relegated to the topmost kitchen shelf from where we’ll have a vantage view of how the probable bahu is not cooking that dish the way we did.

Right now, it was our laptops that were side by side. ‘Right,’ said the husband, ‘where’s your phone? We have to take photos of you.’

I stared at him aghast. ‘Like this?’ I wailed out aloud. ‘Have you taken a look at me? My eyes? My nose?’ I rushed to the mirror. ‘And that pimple is still there!’ The Overbooked book club’s play had not evoked chicken pox in me after all, only a pimple. Still, a rare event in my life. And it was still there. On the tip of my nose.

‘It’s okay,’ said the husband impatiently. ‘You look fine. Let’s just get it done with.’

And we did.

Now I’m waiting uneasily to hear back from the authorities. Uneasily because no country worth its salt would issue a passport to anything that looks like I do in that photo. Worse thought: if they do issue me that passport, I’ll have to live with that photo for the next ten years. Time to go into hibernation, I’m thinking.