Nirmala checked her list once again. Only ‘cheese slices’ was left. She ran her finger through the wide collection in the frozen section, reading the names silently. Only her moving lips revealed her attention. ‘Go, Britannia, Govardhan, Happy Cow.’ She turned towards the young girl standing beside her. She looked smart in her maroon coat. ‘Why is she doing this? She looks intelligent. Might be to earn some pocket money. What will Esha be when she grows up?’
“I need 5 packets of Amul Cheese slices. Don’t you have any?” Nirmala asked.
“It’s sold out, ma’am. We’ll get a fresh supply tomorrow afternoon.”
“I can’t come tomorrow. I need it now.”
“Did you check the nearby shops?”
“Nobody has it. I need it. It’s urgent.”
“Why don’t you try Britannia? It tastes the same.”
“No. Esha will have only Amul. Britannia has this slight yellow tinge but Amul is milk white, and she likes it like that.”
“Kids are so particular now days.” The young girl gave a polite smile and walked away.
Nirmala paid her bill and left the store. As she walked towards home, she kept ticking off the items in her mental checklist.
‘Pavithra will drop and pick up Esha from school.’ Check.
‘Paying the crèche fees.’ Check.
‘Fixing cook.’ Check.
‘Asking maid to pack all tiffins.’ Check.
‘Make list of Esha’s usual medicines and dosage.’ Check.
‘Vegetable shopping.’ Check.
‘Grocery shopping.’ Check. ‘Oh no, I didn’t get the cheese slices. Maybe, I should have just taken Britannia. Esha can no longer have all her wishes fulfilled. She will have to settle for the second best – the second best to her mother. ’
Nirmala could feel her grief in her throat. It was a lump she couldn’t swallow. It was a scream waiting to explode. She sat down on the pavement, unable to move, with tears washing down her cheeks. She had wanted to be brave for Esha, but she could no longer be brave because of Esha. She can delay no further. Her chemotherapy sessions begin tomorrow.
“Ma’am,” Nirmala looked up. The young girl from the supermarket stood before her. “I had kept one packet of Amul Cheese slices to take home. You seemed so much in need of it. You can have it, if it is urgent.” The girl’s wonder at Nirmala’s tears seemed evident. Nirmala took the packet from the girl, paid her and thanked her.
She continued her walk back home. The single packet had reminded her to take it one day at a time. She might be back home, in time, to buy the next one.