“Hands up or I will shoot!”
Sunshine cackled as Ruhi instinctively thrust her hands up. “You don’t have to do that, my dear. That’s JJ! He greets every- body that way.”
“JJ?” Ruhi asked, cautiously scouting for the presence of imminent danger.
“That’s Jeremy Junior, my African gray. He was my husband’s pet and best friend, and I hated him with all my heart! But when Jeremy died, I inherited him, and now I can’t imagine spending a day without the obnoxious bird!”
“Come on in. He doesn’t bite.” Sunshine smiled, waving Ruhi into her small but very neat one-bedroom apartment at the local senior living community. She had invited her for “a bite and a cup of tea.”
“It makes me so happy to see an unlined face in my house once in a while, makes me feel young again.”
Ruhi stepped in tentatively hoping that JJ wasn’t planning on carrying out his threat.
“Here’s JJ! Say hi to Roo…umm, Bee, my lovely friend from India.” Sunshine pointed dramatically toward a large cage, which housed a handsome grey parrot. Ruhi shot Sunshine a suspicious peek before confronting one of JJ’s beady eyes as he examined her with his head cocked to one side and screeched.
Sunshine squealed with delight. “Naughty boy! Always on the lookout for a pretty face!” Then seeing Ruhi’s baffled expression, she added amiably, “Vamos means ‘let’s go’ in Spanish!”
Ruhi smiled. “Oh, how charming!”
Sunshine laughed, deeply amused. “Naah! He’s just a dirty old man or should I say dirty old bird! Aren’t you, my boy? Now, now can you sing you are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”
JJ didn’t bat an eyelid.
“Bad bird! He never listens to me! Not like my Jeremy who used to sing it to me all the time…Oh how I miss him!” Sunshine broke down.
“Oh no, don’t cry, please.” Ruhi hugged her little friend’s frail body, feeling dismally inadequate.
“My dear, you are such an angel! May the good Lord shower all his blessings on you and your young man!” Sunshine said, reaching up to graze her cheek.
“But I don’t have a young man, Sunshine. As I said before, Shaan and I are just friends!”
“Oh yes, yes, I forgot. Blame it on senility and perhaps wishful thinking? You both make such a fetching pair.” Sunshine reflected for a moment. “But why are you just standing there? What a poor host I am! Come let me show you my little queendom!”
With a gnarled hand rooted firmly to her arm, Ruhi was escorted around the tiny abode as pristine and delectable as an enchanting fairy tale. With furniture so dainty and precise upholstered in brightly colored floral patterns, antique beds laid out in linen so fine that not a wrinkle marred the symmetry of their folds, and hordes of rare and unusual dolls filling every nook and cranny, it wasn’t tough for Ruhi to hitch a free ride to the land of make-believe.
“What an exquisite collection you have,” Ruhi exclaimed while admiring a flawless Hindu bride doll, which occupied place of pride on the mantel.
“I started when I was six. My first was a rag doll, a gift from my father on Christmas. I’ve been collecting ever since. I must have at least three hundred lying around,” Sunshine replied with obvious pride. “Each of these has a story to tell.” It was undeniable that the inanimate figurines played a role in filling at least some of the deep vacuum that her husband’s death had left behind.
Later she brought out her “famous” rhubarb pie and zucchini bread and got to taste the Aloo paratha that Ruhi had brought along.
“Oh so delicious, it awakens the taste buds!”
I should have gone easier on the spices, Ruhi thought guiltily as she watched the old dear bravely tackle her cooking. She then had the opportunity of making acquaintance of the illustrious Jeremy when Sunshine shared with her the family album. Ruhi laid eyes on a relatively nondescript man in military uniform displaying one of the most serene faces she had ever seen. She was surprised, for she had expected a much more dashing figure.
Sunshine appeared to have to read her mind. “Jeremy was not my first love rather I’d say that he was my savior.”
With Ruhi’s interest aroused, she went on. “When I was left on the wayside unwed and with child by a man who went to war and never came back, I was ready to bid farewell to this life. But then Jeremy came, he picked me up, and taught me how to live again. He wasn’t flamboyant or charming like my first love, but he was much finer. He was my ray of light and remained so till the day he died.”
Looking intensely at her young companion, she said, “You are wondering how a relationship can sustain for so long without the fire and passion that we all hear so much about, aren’t you?”
Ruhi colored, mortified at being so transparent.
“Well, all that is wonderful in the beginning, but when one gets so old that your joints gripe in protest, what you wish for is someone to hand you a cup of soothing tea or place a warm blanket over your shoulders, which Jeremy did for me until…”
“Until the last four years of his life when he couldn’t recognize my face anymore. He didn’t know who I was because he had lost his mind to a dreaded disease. Yet there was one thing that always remained with him. Whenever he got upset or out of control, the only thing that would give him peace was the feel of my hand. He never forgot his Sunshine’s touch. Oh my poor Jeremy!” Sunshine rocked back and forth in her chair sobbing quietly while her new friend gently smoothed her shoulders and soon she fell asleep.
Ruhi found a blanket to cover her up and occupied her time perusing the pictures on the shelves and then attempted to make conversation with JJ who was working on disemboweling a large walnut with his curved beak.
“Parlez vous francais?” he asked seriously when she approached his cage.
She solemnly shook her head. “No, I don’t know much French, but I’d certainly like to teach you some of my own tongue. Can you say namaste?
“Si senor! You are my sunshine…” He hummed and proceeded to cavort around the cage.
“You bad bird! You knew the song all along but chose not to sing it when your mistress asked you to. You males are all the same!”
JJ didn’t appear particularly offended as he jiggled his head from one side to the other and performed a deft 360 around his perch.
“Show-off!” she railed then wondered why she was getting all worked up at a blameless creature when he abruptly cocked his crown toward the door and squawked, “Hands up or I will shoot!”
After ascertaining her host to be still in a state of suspended animation, she warily attended to the door and was immediately struck dumb when she came upon her estranged spouse standing outside with a bouquet of blooms in his hand.
Appearing almost as put off as she was, he stuttered, “Uh… Ruhi, you here too?”
She fought a desperate urge to cover her cheeks with her hands as they had started to burn uncontrollably.
“I…I guess you might as well…take these.” He extended the fragrant bouquet.
“Oh you heartbreaker! Bringing red roses to an old lady! Scandalous! What will my eighty-year-old neighbor think!” Sunshine chirped in as sprightly as ever, refreshed from her short nap. “They’ll look so much better in Bee’s hands,” she declared, assigning the blooms to Ruhi’s care.
The wily old fox didn’t waste any time, Shaan thought as he tracked her bent frame into the apartment.
Driving Ms. Daisy! Ruhi followed behind, seeking to hide her levity behind the blossoms.
Watch out you two! I’ll have you falling all over each other in no time! Sunshine walked ahead her blue eyes twinkling.
“Amore Mio…!” (JJ singing off key.)