On Tuesday morning, after what seemed like barely hours after I’d gone to bed, the alarm roused me up to find dinner from the previous night still laid out on the dining table. On Monday morning, my wife had announced that she was going out of town – something she’d made a habit of doing every few weeks, always without notice – only this time she’d made sure to time it with the cook’s decision to take a fortnight off, also without notice.
Having seen her off – she wasn’t sure when she’d return, so I suspected she might be away for the fortnight too – I rushed back from office to make sure there was dinner on the table for the children when they came home from work. I opened the fridge, checked the larder, saw to the drinks, and was ready with hors d’oeuvres for my son, a tangy salad for my daughter, ice crushed for anything from shakes to iced tea, and a hot meal into which hours of labour had gone in, when, first, my daughter, then my son, called to say they were not coming home yet, they’d be late, that I should not wait up for them.
“I made pasta,” I complained to my wife over the phone, “and chicken in brown sauce.” “Last time you made it,” she grumbled, “I had a stomach ache” — which wasn’t the sort of thing a woman who’d left home because the cook was away should have said. The following morning, I got up early to organise breakfast and pack their tiffins, but my son complained that he didn’t like yellows in his eggs – I’d failed to separate the yolks from the whites – and my daughter said milkshakes gave her motion-sickness. Neither carried the lunch.
On Tuesday night, I didn’t bother to cook a full meal because, predictably, my daughter called to say she was staying over with a friend, while my son called to say he was dining with one. I could have been out for dinner myself, but had chosen to come home on the off-chance they might want to have dinner with their father. For my troubles, I ended up having leftover pasta, and because there was so much of it, a bowl of yoghurt to follow.
I didn’t bother with packing their tiffins on Wednesday, and they didn’t bother with the breakfast I’d rustled up either, opting instead for bowls of ice-cream with mangoes, which their mother would definitely not have permitted in the morning. They did come home for dinner that night, but insisted that they didn’t want me to cook – even though I’d made all the preparations for a biryani – ordering instead enough pizzas to feed the neighbourhood. I had the leftover pizzas for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following day, while my son and daughter discovered still more friends with whom to share their time away from home.
On Friday, when their mother was still not back, they insisted we go out for dinner, so I put away the fish I’d marinated, and even though the children had invited me, I found myself paying for the meal because the restaurant discount card, my son pointed out regretfully, was in my name. On Saturday, the children informed me that their mother was coming back, so I left office early once again to cook a family dinner. “I’m so happy you’re back, Mom,” said my daughter, giving her a hug “at least now we can eat at home again.”