Kiran remembered the drive to the country as if it was yesterday, not four decades ago, in the mid-seventies. They had all bundled into the family Nissan Sunny and sped off to a discounted-furniture store in the countryside that smelled of lavender and hay. Her younger brother, Dev, and sister, Leela, had initially been bored out of their minds but later, impossible to extract from their chase-tag games around the echoing displays. Kiran had agreed, as she always ultimately did, with her mother’s preference.
The coffee table was of a dark polished wood and its thin but solid legs carved in the shape of a cat’s legs. Perhaps it was in the style of Queen Anne, she would think as she studied the table over the years, whenever she visited her parents. It would draw you in with its surface of aged-caramel leatherette, gold-leaf embellishment and the smooth sheet of glass that sat snugly within the frame of its carved edges.
The table had remained a constant through many house moves and had outlived many friends and relatives. She couldn’t help thinking of Jyoti who had died young of breast cancer. Jyoti had eloped with Bharat and Kiran’s parents had, much to the children’s amazement given their parents strict views on arranged marriage, offered the brave couple refuge. Jyoti had distractedly flipped over the sugar bowl and created a pool of glistening sugar, mistaking the bowl for an upturned tea cup. Kiran was mortified for Jyoti but Jyoti had been too happy to care. For years, Kiran would spot the sweet sugar crystals embedded in the tiny gap between the table-top glass and wooden frame and it would sadden her.
Kiran studied the photograph of the coffee table that had popped up on her WhatsApp, quickly followed by a brief question from her brother. ‘Anybody want this?’ A simple question, possibly curt? Dev’s question stirred distant emotions in her that saw the daylight less and less, these days. She looked at the petite gnarled legs of the table and its bright, resilient, steadfast surface and knew that she could not give it a home.
A response popped up from her sister. ‘Ah-many memories but I don’t think I will take it. Sorry xx’. Leela, self-effacing as always. She had always struggled to express what she really felt and even now had the compulsion of adding the sweetener of an apology and a couple of kisses to make up. Kiran started to type quickly before she could change her mind. ‘If mum was a table…Sorry, don’t think I can take it.’
Leela was quick to respond. ‘Sorry Dev – leaves you to take care/dispose of it…’ Kiran responded with an instinctive question, an allusion to the fact that, as the only son, Dev was culturally considered responsible for their aging and increasingly forgetful mother. ‘So what’s new?’
Kiran sat in her Stressless armchair, an investment in her own comfort and took a sip of tea, enjoying the almost minty aroma of freshly crushed cardamom. She studied her own coffee table. It was a cheap Ikea affair that she had bought flat-packed and it was part of a patchwork of furniture she had acquired over the years. At least no one would ever send a photograph of her coffee table, she thought to herself.
Original short story by Nia Sharma
Title inspired by a line from ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan 1684