Pride month is an important time for the queer community. It marks a milestone in a long history of struggle and reminds us all of the hard fight ahead. It’s also a time to honour love and identity.
The family dining table is where we gather to mark the end of the day with our loved ones. Along with a hot dinner, we serve up silent expressions of love. It may be as simple as pouring someone an unasked glass of water, or letting them have the last piece of cake. Here’s a collection of true stories of little moments of love, shared over a meal, as told by real voices of the queer community.
“I’m so excited to meet your parents!”
Such an American, I think to myself. But Asta is always excited. In the time it takes me to park my car, she’s befriended a stray dog outside the apartment. He gives me the nod of approval.
We begin the slow task of hauling her oversized suitcase up two flights of stairs.
“God, Asta . It’s just a weekend. What did you bring?”
I can tell she wants to say something, from the way she’s wringing her hands.
“So,” she says slowly. “They think…?”
Her enquiring tone trails off, meaningfully.
“That we’re friends, I guess.”
“But they know you’re gay,” she prodded. “Why not tell them?”
I shrug. “They know, kind of. We don’t talk about relationships, you won’t get it.”
She looks affronted. “Of course I get it, I have Indian parents too.”
“NRI’s” I scoff, “Not the same.”
Before she can protest, the front door swings open. My mother is on the phone, looking exasperated. Asta leaps forward, with a smile. My mother eyes her curiously
“Ya, listen” she mutters to her phone, “I’ll have to call you back.”
She’s barely hung up before Asta gets started. “Aunty, it’s so nice to see you again!”
She looks so baffled, I can’t help but feel sorry.
“Ma, you remember Asta,”
She nods, vaguely “Ah yes, the… sustainability girl.”
“Yes, that’s me” Asta’s smile widens. “Thank you so much for having me.”
“Yes yes, it’s nice to see you,” my mother initiates a graceful retreat. “I’ll go check on lunch.”
“Let me help!”
My mother is flummoxed. Her role in the kitchen doesn’t usually extend beyond hastily issued instructions to our elderly cook, Padma Akaa. But it’s a safe haven from enthusiastic guests.
“There’s no need-
“No, I want to.” Asta looks earnest. “I can make pappu”, she offers.
Immediately, my mother’s face softens.
“You know Pappu? You’re Telegu?”
She allows Asta to lead her to the kitchen. Skepticism is replaced by maternal tolerance. As Asta prods at the steel vessel filled with soaking lentils my mother extracts a plate of sliced raw mango from the fridge.
“Oh, I don’t need those.” said Asta, casually, “I don’t like sour pappu.”
My mother looks at me accusingly.
“I’ve never met a Telugu girl who didn’t like sour pappu,” she says, stiffly.
“I don’t” Asta replied cheerfully, “But I make it really well.”
My mother turns briskly to Padma Akaa.
“This is Rhea’’s friend. Help her with anything she needs.”
“Hi Padma Akka! It’s so nice to meet you! Is there any mustard?”
Padma Akka looks at my mother, blankly. Asta’s already questionable Telugu is further garbled with a strong American accent.
“She wants… Oh never mind, I’ll help.” My mother pauses to shoot me a dirty look “Rhea it’s so crowded in here. If you’re not helping, go somewhere else.”
I use the opportunity to scroll through Airbnb. Instinct tells me Asta might want to leave soon. Inauspiciously, my mother storms out and buries herself in yesterday’s newspaper.
Padma Akka sweeps out with bowls of steaming rice and cold curd. We’re joined by my father and grandmother. I glance at the clock nervously. It’s about fifteen minutes later than we usually eat. Just as I’m ready to give up hope, Asta emerges in a blaze of glory, her flushed face glowing in triumph. She walks carefully, carrying a visibly hot bowl that’s practically overflowing with bright yellow pappu. She places it on a coaster in a position of pride, before seating herself next to me.
With a look as sour as the pappu she would have liked, my mother ladles generous portions onto all our plates.
Blissfully unaware of the tense moment, my father takes a bite. Asta can’t contain herself.
“How is it?”, she asks.
He looks at Asta with some confusion.
“Pa, you remember Asta.”
“Oh, the sustainability girl.”
“Rhea’s friend made the pappu today”, my mother’s tone is a tad apologetic.
“It’s nice”, he nods, “Very nice. Good job.”
With a skeptical look, my mother edges a tiny portion of rice and pappu onto her spoon.
“Oh, it is good! Very nice, Asta.”
A lesser being may have been offended by her blatant surprise, but Asta beamed openly.
“I’m so glad you like it, I added cumin.”
She turns excited, to face me “Rhea, do you like it?”
“I’m sure I’ll love it.”