Vennela gathered all her luggage ten minutes before the train reached her destination. After making sure that her phone, charger and water bottle have been put back in her bag properly, she walked ahead and joined the long queue of passengers who were ready to get down.
"Could you please help my mommy? Her bags are so heavy." A four year old little boy tugged her arm.She reached forward and picked up one of the bags while the boy's mother thanked her.
"Mommy, your left arm is free now. Lift me up." The boy asked in his cute voice making everyone laugh. The sight of the mother-son duo was so adorable.
'Just like me and mom' thought Vennela. Her mother used to carry her in her arms always.
'It's not my duty, but my right. My child is never a burden to me.' She used to say whenever people told her to let the child walk.The fact that she was about to return to the place where she had lost her parents made Vennela sad. The train came to a halt and the crowd jolted her forward.
She got off the train and handed over the bag to its owner earning a flying kiss from the little boy. She waved at him and searched for the exit. She felt nostalgic as she entered the city of Vishakhapatnam.
She felt her phone vibrating and answered it " Yes, yes, uncle,I have reached the station.And I'm searching for the car-- wait a moment. I think I found it."
As she reached the car, two men wearing black uniform and sunglasses saluted her. "I didn't know that you sent bodyguards along with the driver" she said over phone and heard her uncle chuckle. One of them came running towards her and took her luggage while the other one opened the car door. She ended the call and was about to get inside when she heard a voice she could recognize anywhere.
" Vennu Akka!! I'm here to pick you up. Put your luggage in the car and come with me" said Shruthi, her favourite cousin. Before she could answer, Shruthi turned to the driver and asked him to take the car home "Tell my dad we'll be home in an hour" she said grabbing Vennela's arm and asking her to follow.
"Isn't it beautiful?" asked Shruthi pointing at a vintage scooter with a sidecar. And a few minutes later they were roaming the streets of Vishakhapatnam with Shruthi driving and Vennela sitting in the sidecar.
The city brought back many childhood memories. 'It has changed a lot' thought Vennela reminiscing the days she spent with her family during summer vacation. It has been 18 years since she last visited the city. She was lost in thought and didn't notice that the scooter has stopped until her cousin offered her an ice candy bought from street vendor.
She refused to take it,"I didn't brush my teeth Shruthi." But Shruthi was in no mood to listen to her. "So what akka? I didn't brush my teeth too. But I had coffee and chocolates in the morning. You just need some practice and you will get used to it." She forced it into Vennela's mouth whose expression changed from disgust to delight the moment she tasted it.
"I missed you very badly. I miss our home sweet home in Hyderabad" Said Shruthi.
"Shruu, it has only been 7 days."
"7 days felt like 7 months without you."
Vennela laughed. She missed her cousin too. And she was sure she will miss her simple double bedroom flat once she enters her grandfather's huge sea-facing mansion. But on the brighter side, she will get to meet her uncles, aunts and cousins.
Uncle Prakash and Aunt Nanditha (Shruthi's parents, they fostered Vennela) stayed in Bangalore while Shruthi, who was in the final year of engineering, stayed with her in Hyderabad. It was hard for them to take time out of their busy schedule to come and visit her. So they were content with meeting her thrice in a year. Uncle Praveen and Aunt Vidya stayed in Sydney with their twin boys. Aunt Meenakshi, the widowed sister of her father, and her daughter Ragini got settled in Mumbai.
Her aunts and uncles doted on her. She loved everyone in her family barring one.
"I know you don't like being here. I can understand." said Shruthi as if reading her mind. They both have this gift of understanding each other's inner feelings. Shruthi didn't share this kind of bonding with her elder sister, Lasya. She keeps telling people that it was God's mistake that she ended up being Lasya's sibling and Vennela, who should have been her sister, became her cousin.
"But this is your last chance to tease and irritate Lasya akka. She is getting married. We may not meet her frequently after that" she continued. "And my parents will head back to Bangalore after the wedding. We will not see them for 6 months. Speaking of my parents, I need to tell you something before we reach home. Our family is determined to make us move from our flat to family mansion in Hyderabad."
"WHAT!!" Vennela exclaimed, " I will never stay in that mansion. I agree it is majestic and luxurious but it belongs to him. And I have nothing to do with him and his belongings. If it weren't for Lasya's wedding, I wouldn't have come to Vishakhapatnam, where I have to live in his house for 3 days" ,she said trying and failing to keep her voice calm.
"Hey! Calm down. I have a plan. How about we start crying immediately after they bring up this topic and say that we are emotionally attached to that flat? We will tell them it's insensitive of them to separate us from our home sweet home. How is it?" Shruthi asked her opinion to which she replied, "Won't that make us look like cry babies?"
" Who cares? Besides, fooling the family is always fun. You know what? Yesterday we tricked that foolish Ragini into drinking mango juice with peanut powder. You should have seen her face. It was red like a tomato. And she was sneezing the entire day", Shruthi giggled.
"You shouldn't have done that. She is allergic to nuts. Poor thing" said Vennela reprovingly.
"That poor thing insulted me yesterday. She asked me not to stand next to her during the wedding or else I would fade out and the groom's side will mistake me for a waitress" ranted Shruthi.
Vennela was outraged. "Did that halfwit really say so? Wait till we reach home. I'll dye her hair yellow while she's asleep..."
After debating for half an hour on how their cousin, Ragini should be punished they finally reached home and parked the vintage scooter.
Vennela took a deep breath and entered the mansion unaware of the storm that awaited her.