8. fire and fury [OLD]

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By the time I got back home, I was regretting accepting Ian's offer of a burger

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By the time I got back home, I was regretting accepting Ian's offer of a burger. The sensory overload of the day clung to me, and nothing other than crossing the threshold of my home would shed the weariness. As delicious as crisp pickles, juicy beef, and melty cheese sounded, I never felt like leaving the house after I got home. Could I cancel? Was it okay to do that?

"Mom, I'm home!" I called out as I entered the house through the garage. I stopped at the fridge to pour myself a glass of the pink lemonade that I'd made last night.

"Kavya, we're in the living room!"

It was the way she said We that gave me pause. So not Simran and Dad, then. I edged into the living room, wondering if I could creep behind the couch to get to the stairs before they saw me.

No such luck. Mom's guest zeroed in on me with a broad smile.

"Yē, Kavya," said Mrs. Kapoor, waving me over with the hand that wasn't holding a cup of chai. Her lipsticked mouth had left smudges on the rim.

A plate of assorted Indian snacks lay on the coffee table, untouched. Mrs. Kapoor didn't eat packaged food. Instead, she pushed a thali toward me. "Just something I made for tonight's kitty party," she said. "I wanted your mom to have a taste first."

The steel plate held two dozen overlapping round vadas, each vegetarian patty fried golden-brown and embedded with kernels of corn. I slid one loose. It was still warm.

"Arey, eat, eat," said Mrs. Kapoor. "You're too skinny."

I flushed, knowing I wasn't, but I bit into the sweet corn masala vada, anyway. It was crispy and fragrant with the aroma of mint and curry. The little kick of green chili at the end hit the spot, and I smiled around my bulging cheeks.

Mrs. Kapoor leaned back in her chair with satisfaction. "Mona, I'll WhatsApp you the recipe. You always oversoak your chana dal, that's why your vadas aren't crispy. Don't let it sit overnight—just two hours is enough. Haan, and pan fry. I know you like to bake them, but food always tastes better when you stand there and put in the time."

"Haan, haan." Mom nodded. She met my eye and busied herself with refreshing the tea cups.

I swallowed the rest of the vada, wishing she hadn't agreed with Mrs. Kapoor. So what if she oversoaked the lentils and baked the patties instead of frying them? Mom's vadas were fantastic. Even after twenty-two years of marriage, Dad's eyes still lit up when Mom cooked. Even the simplest of dishes was praised as though it was fit for a king.

And why wasn't Mom saying that herself? Why was she agreeing like Mrs. Kapoor knew best?

My stomach clenched. I hated the deference Mom—and every other Indian woman—showed Mrs. Kapoor. And in that second, I hated the helpful little smile on our guest's face, the insensitive way she sat in our living room and criticized my mother's cooking.

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