Usha Akella – 4.30 p.m.

Akella LE P&W Humour June 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Special Edition on Humour June 2024.

4.30 p.m., story by Usha Akella.

4.30 p.m.

‘Hi Mike. How are you?’ Anjana, waved to her neighbor across the fence ushering the kids as a lunch bag fell out of the car; its olive palm trees waving cheerily on a tropical red sunset contrasted with her state of mind. ‘Move it kids, Pooja don’t touch that. Come in and wash your hands first.’ Oak pollen covered the driveway in what looked like heaps of brown wispy tendrils. Her windshield had steaks of yellow, she couldn’t help thinking ‘urine’, every time she got into her car. Her handbag and water bottles slid off her shoulder. ‘Don’t leave your violin in the car, Vish. It’s happened once and was good as firewood.’ She looked at his scuffed shoes shaking her head. The garage door grated upward and they entered, a unit of banging backpacks, instruments, lunch bags and water bottles.

Vish muttered under his breath, ‘It’s Paulson mom, why do you call all Americans Mike. All Indians aren’t Rahul.’

‘Salty, aren’t you,’ said Ankita.

‘Pirate,’ said Vish scowling back.

‘In the garage Vish! Leave your shoes. We go through this every day.’

‘Where are you off to… hey, no slamming doors, no locked doors Ankita, we have an open-door policy,’ Anjana said to the banging sound of the door above the stairs. She turned around, ‘kids, let’s get things going, I have to take a call soon.’

‘Do you have a job mama?’ said Pooja, ‘Payal’s mom goes to work in her car every morning.’

‘Moron, mom doesn’t need to go anywhere, she works from home, she’s an architect, do you know what that means?’ Vish furrowed his brows dramatically.

‘Yes. Mama will you build a doll house for Barbie and Ken?’

‘Double moron,’ Vish said again, chewing his shoelaces.

‘Vish, that’s awful. Put that shoe down. Pooja, get along child, don’t touch that orange. Wash your hands first. ‘

‘They are clean mama, Pooja looked at her hands and waved them. Miss Marshall put santinizer on when Barbie fell into the toilet. Mama, Vish didn’t brush his teeth today.’

‘Now!’ Anjana said. ‘Now!’ Pooja curled her lip rebelliously. Anjana, hoisted her up, turned on the tap. ‘Ouch, it’s hoooot,’ Pooja whined.

‘Vish,’ Anjana called out. Vish had disappeared. ‘Brush your teeth. I know you can hear me.’ Vish appeared. ‘Did you really, that fast?’ Anjana said, her voice rising.

‘Did I what?’ Vish said feigning ignorance.


‘Yup. Kind of.’

Anjana let it go. ‘I’ve made khichadi,’ she said gaily. She opened the school bags, dumping various leftovers from the Nemo and Star Wars lunch boxes, Nature Trail wrappers floated into the trash. ‘Was it so hard to eat 10 grapes, Vish?’

‘They smell mom.’

‘The grapes? Really, I am curious now, like what?’

‘Like dolphin poo,’ Vish said, thinking hard for a moment. Pooja giggled, ‘You’re funny.’

‘You’re not, Anjana said. Try earning 6.99 for a pound of organic seedless grapes. We never wasted food in India…’

Vish rolled his eyes. ‘We don’t live in India. We live in America. But you keep it weird here in Austin mom.’

‘Take your socks off the table Vish,’ she hauled Pooja up on to the dining chair and reached for the plates on the curio.

‘I want my Barbie plate and bowl.’ Anjana opened the pressure cooker lid and moved out of the steam’s way which had already clouded her glasses. She spooned the khichadi into a corning dish while grabbing the Barbie plate from the dishwasher. She was broiling in her jeans even though the AC was on. She served a scoop on to the plate. ‘I want chicken nuggets, Pooja said, ‘I don’t want that.

‘It’s khichadi sweetie, Naani says it is good for health, it’s got carrots, beans and peas as well.’

‘I hate peas,’ Pooja said, ‘I want chicken nuggets and chocolate milk.

‘Did I say peas? I meant the other green thing, lima beans,’ she pretended.

‘Can I have cereal?’ Vish said, texting. ‘Or Mac N’Cheese. American food. Like real people’

‘My tooth is wiggly.’

‘Put your phone away Vish. I barely get enough time with you on Tuesdays, you have karate today.’

‘Face to face,’ Pooja said, giggling, putting her face close up to Vish’s.

‘Get off me, moron!’

‘Vish language!’

‘He always calls me a moro… you’re a moro, moro moro, not me.’

The phone rang.

‘Hi Sara. I know. The charts are almost done. I should be able to meet you here in half. Just need to get the local pricing on the bleached hard wood. See you soon,’ she said, restraining Vish and Pooja making a go at each other.

‘Like animals. This is ridiculous. Where is your sister?

‘Talking to her boyfriend,’ Vish said snickering.

‘Vish, they are friends. Boys and girls talk. In India when we grew up…’

‘India 201,’ Vish said cheekily. ‘I think didi wants to drop out of school.’

‘She told you that? You and your sister talk. That’s nice’ said sweetly. ‘She’s not dropping out of anything… she’s got SATS next year. Daddy wants her to go to MIT.’

‘He’s not my boyfriend you idiot…’ Ankita emerged from her room, plugs in her ears. I Phone tucked into her jeans pocket. ‘When’s Papa coming. He needs to sign this,’ she put the form on the table. ‘It’s the forms for the field trip to San Antonio.’

‘I can sign. I went to college,’ Anjana said.

‘Yes, he is.’ Vish said slyly.

‘No, he’s not.’

‘Yes, he is,’ the decibels were spiraling.

‘Well, at least he is real,’ not like Taylor Swift.

Vish blushed and glared at his sister. ‘Do you mind, I am eating my snack here.’

‘We like the khichadi now, do we?’ Ankita said smacking him on his head.

‘Your eyes are still red Anki?’ Anjana was concerned, ‘the allergy medicine didn’t work today? ‘

‘I hate allergies mom, it’s all through the year. I can’t get sick again.’

‘We’ll go back to Dr. Davies next week.’

The gardener knocked on the glass patio door. Anjana was pouring milk in three glasses. He knocked again. ‘Can one of you actually move. I am not Durga with a thousand hands.’

‘Jai Durga Ma,’ said Pooja, making a Namaste. The khichadi landed on the floor from her spoon in wet blobs.

‘You go,’ said Vish. Ankita smacked him on the head again and slid open the door. ‘Ya?’ she said questioningly. ‘Need monies for this month,’ Gonzales said, ‘also for the mulch.’

‘Mom, he needs money.’

‘Don’t yell. I am right here. Can you get the check book out of my bag?’

Ankita got her mom’s handbag and rummaged. ‘I can’t find it.’

As Anjana turned around, she knocked a glass of chocolate milk, the light beige puddle dripped excruciatingly down the counter. ‘Shit.’

‘Language mom.’

‘Mama said a bad word. Mama said a bad word.’  Pooja was thrilled.

Anjana brandished the checkbook at Ankita, ‘It’s right here,’ pulling the ear plugs from her daughter’s ears.’ She got a pen from the stack of pens by the landline and wrote out the check. Handed it to Gonzales and slid the glass door shut. She rubbed her forehead, ‘Where was I?’

‘At home,’ said Pooja. ‘You’re home mama.’

Anjana tore out a bounty and picked up the khichadi from the floor on the way to the kitchen.

‘Not one perfect day!’

‘I love you mama,’ said Pooja, ‘Huggie.’

‘After I clean up, sweetie… no, don’t come into the kitchen.’ The phone rang.

‘Hi amma. Yes, the khichadi was better with the grated adrak. Teek tha. Yes, the kids are enjoying it.’

‘No, we’re not,’ Vish corrected her grinning. Anjana glared at him.

Pooja clung to her. ‘I love naani.’

‘Yes amma. Yaad hai. I remember you wanted the Corning mailed to Sashi. Just haven’t had time to go to the outlet. I did pick up the microwave cooker from Wal Mart. Tell Papa I’ll talk to him later tonight… kids are just back. I have to go.’

Pooja was tugging hard at her shirt.’ What’s up sweetie?’

‘I want to talk to Naani. When is naani coming again?’

The microwave banged shut. ‘Aren’t you having the khichadi?’

‘After the chips n’ salsa. Can you sign my form?’

Anjana signed the form.

‘Mom, did you do my laundry. I need my marathon T-shirt tomorrow?’

‘You had the weekend to do it Ankita, you need to do some house chores and help out.’ She melted, ‘Ok, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, here, help Pooja with her snack. Where is the laundry basket?’

‘In the laundry room. Thanks mom. You’re the best.’

‘When it suits you,’ Anjana smiled wryly.

She walked into the service room, quickly sorting out the whites and put the clothes in the washer. On the way, she picked up Pooja’s bag and put it out of the way.

‘Mama, didi isn’t giving me chips. I don’t want khichadi.’ The salsa looked alarmingly red and juicy. Anjana thought of the mess she’d have to clean up.

‘No Pooja, you have to eat a healthy snack. I told naani how much you love it. “How is my pyaari Pooja,” naani asked. I told her what a good girl Pooja is and how she is eating the khichadi up so fast. Vish, get to your homework before we go to karate.’ Pooja began to cry.

Vish was playing with her IPhone, eating the chips and salsa from Ankita’s plate. The salsa dripped on the phone. She exploded, ‘Do you realizes how expensive that is? I can’t do a thing after you fiddle with it every time. Wipe that right now!’

‘Mom, there’s one more form. It’s for the museum trip in May. You have to write out a check for $150 to the history club. Later?’ Ankita looked apologetic.

She looked at her watch. A quick cup of chai would be good. The doorbell rang. She wiped her hands, straightened up, smoothed her hair, opened the door with a smile wobbly as an overripe banana.

© Usha Akella

Usha Akella has authored five books of poetry, three chapbooks, and scripted/produced two musical dramas. She earned an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge, UK (2018). She is the host of a curated interviews website- She is the founder and director of Matwaala ( a festival and collective initiated to increase the visibility of South Asian poets in the USA.

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