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I slowly walked up the steps. They seemed to have been refurbished. In fact, the entire grand bungalow seemed different. I took a deep breath before ringing the bell. I could hear footsteps moving closer towards the door. I was staring at the plants surrounding it but once it opened, I almost fell down the stairs. I was in shock to find an old man with a long moustache and a black turban on his head standing with hands on hips.
“Who are you, young man?” he said in an aggressive tone.
“I am Shreyas Patel, son of Jeetan Patel, I live here.”
“Well… you think wrong! This is my house which Mr Patel gave to me. He said his family no longer had enough money to afford it.”
My heart sank. How could this be happening?
“W...Where are they?”
“He said they would have to move to the slums. Apparently, they haven’t earned much money over the last few years. Now, please go away.” He said, slamming the door loudly behind me.
I dialled my dad’s number. Knots were forming in my stomach. Eventually, someone answered.
‘’Hello? Who is it?” The voice was rather high and unsettling.
“Hi Aunt Piku, is my dad around?” I was hoping she would tell me where they were now staying.
She gave me some directions and it took nearly half an hour to get to the place that I would now call ‘home’. As slums go, it wasn’t that bad- two bedrooms and a TV but nothing compared to the house.
Friends of my mum and my aunt were sitting on the rough chairs in the small living room. They stared at my khaki uniform and then looked at their threadbare, probably in envy. They glared at me again.
“Hello everyone. Nice to see you again.” I tried to shake their hands but they pulled away. There continued to be a deathly silence and slowly, I walked past them into the kitchen where my mum and dad were cooking dinner. While my mum just gazed into my eyes from afar, my father widened his arms and hugged me.
“So…how was your trip Shreyas?” murmured my mother.
“Good. The Londoners were very friendly.” Her visual expression that followed showed her surprise at my slight accent change which had become more British…
6 hours had gone by since my arrival. Big plates of curry and biryani were being set out on the table. The smells were magnificent and the first bite of butter chicken made me close my eyes and meditate. I remember the food in London: bland, without much taste, but eating proper Indian food again was a relief. I opened my eyes and saw my relatives looking rather bewildered. I was wondering whether it was due to my reaction at the taste or the fact that I was eating with a knife and fork instead of my hands.
“When did you learn to eat with cutlery?” my mum said.
“In Lon-‘’ I didn’t complete the sentence.
“Did you learn to lose tradition? Shreyas, we always eat with our hands.” she said in slight anger.
“With all due respect, Mummy, it is unhealthy and unsanitary. It is easier and more professional to eat like this.”
“Professional? How dare you speak like this! London has changed you!” she gasped.
I could see everybody nodding their heads and I impulsively stormed into the bedroom.
The clock struck 11pm. This was not the welcome I was expecting; how things change over five years.
Everyone else had left barring my mum, dad. The door creaked and I saw her peering in. She sat next to me placing her hand on my knee.
“I’m so sorry, Shreyas. I just wasn’t sure.”
“Whether you should have come back. Your sister, Rasika is getting married but we still don’t have enough money for a big celebration. You’re the only one who earns money in the family.” she said in a begging tone.
“You expect me to go back again. I have come all the way back here to hear this!”
But as I thought about it more, I realised that earning more money for the wedding was more important. To be honest, I would feel relieved to be on my own again. The truth was, I had returned home too soon.