“Aal Izz Well!” Sorta!
Have you ever desired, indeed craved, something from the bottom of your heart? Have you talked about it night and day and asked, nay beseeched, only to have your requests fall on deaf ears? Have you single-handedly done everything in your power to possess it? After having done this, have you come tantalizingly close to your object of desire, only to see it slip away or snatched away from your tenuous grasp? And suddenly, if one day, out of the blue, your object of desire just fell into your lap, how would you feel?
It was on a sunny evening in March of 2020 when we took Nikhil to the mall as well as to Costco. These are his two favorite places to visit, indeed Disneyland and Disney World for him. Little did we realize that the Covid Tsunami was bearing down on all of us. Once the restrictions were enforced, we stopped going to the mall but our pilgrimage to Costco continued. The only difference was that I went in with a mask and gloves while the rest of the family waited in the van.
The first few times we pulled into the parking lot in Costco, Nikhil clapped his hands in anticipation of a visit but to his disappointment, he would find himself strapped in his car seat for the twenty to thirty-odd minutes it took me to shop in Costco. It wasn’t just Costco, it was the same with the Indian store, Trader Joe’s, and the grocery store.
At first, Nikhil used his iPad to tell us that he wanted to go to the mall and to Costco. This was, of course, after he had told us that he wanted to go to school. We kept telling him that the mall was closed and that he could not go into Costco. Nikhil is not one to take no for an answer and he kept asking us optimistically only to be turned down. But he persisted.
Last month, Nikhil resumed in-person school. He was ecstatic! This gave him hope and his pleas to visit the mall became even more urgent. Indeed, for the last month, his conversation with me has only dwelt on two topics – mall and Costco. It’s not really a conversation, it is a barrage of hand signs and furious jabs on the iPad with just a pause to see if I would reply in the affirmative. Nikhil got his second dose of Pfizer vaccine three weeks ago and today we finally decided to surprise him with a visit to Costco as well as the mall.
We chose a Monday evening figuring Costco and the mall would be less crowded. As we pulled into Costco, Nikhil must have resigned himself to another thirty-minute wait. His surprise knew no bounds as my wife unstrapped his seat belt. His reaction was spontaneous – a whoop of joy and ecstatic clapping followed. The whoops of joy continued all the way to the entrance. Fortunately, the Caroline’s Cart (adapted cart for special needs children) was available at the entrance. After I had wiped it down, Nikhil sat and looked around with joy and amazement. But there was no time to rest and take in the moment. There were appliances to be seen!
We entered the aisle that I call the “Appliance Hall of Fame”. Nikhil pointed excitedly. There were his familiar buddies, the refrigerators, dishwashers, cooking ranges, and last but not the least, the greatest of them all – the microwave! I had carried a paper towel with me and I had to open each door with the towel in my hand so Nikhil could make sure they were doing alright! I got caught up in the moment too and I rushed Nikhil down the aisle until my wife asked me to slow down. “He has waited 15 months for this moment!” she said. Nikhil wanted to visit every aisle. Even the humble sack of potatoes was worth a “dekho” (a glance).
There were no samples but Nikhil did not seem to mind. His eyes lit up as he saw his familiar food items in the coolers. Ravioli and Taquitos. Creme Brulee and cakes. It was Christmas on a sultry New England summer evening! After a leisurely stroll through Costco, we stood in line to check out the items. Nikhil was still excited and I told the cashier that he was visiting his favorite store after fifteen months. “We could hear him from the other end of the store” she smiled “I’m glad he enjoyed his visit”.
As we pulled out of Costco, our daughter asked Nikhil if he would like to visit the mall. There was no tentative answer today. “Mall yes, yes Mall!” replied Nikhil using his iPad. He must have felt like he won the lottery when we pulled up to the food court and we entered the mall. More whoops of joy! We followed our old ritual. I took him to the restroom where he washed his hands. It was followed by a dinner of Chinese food. As he ate, Nikhil started plotting his next adventure. “mall stairs, elevator,” he said. I must admit it felt surreal sitting in a food court and eating with other people around us.
A quick visit to Target followed where Nikhil was able to ride the elevator up and after a brief reconnaissance, he and I rode the elevator down while the ladies continued with their shopping. I returned to the van with him and barely had I seated him and strapped his seat belt when I felt him tug at my sleeve and point to his shoulder. His way of saying he wanted to visit the mall. “Not again, Nikhil,” I groaned “we were just there!” But he was insistent and I guessed that he wanted a recap of our day. “So, Nikhil, did you enjoy your day at Costco today?” He grinned and looked on in anticipation. And so I recounted his glorious adventure again for him, starting from Costco to the food court and the ritual washing of hands. A grin lit his face all through and he clapped at the good parts.
He sang to himself as we drove back home. Was it a perfect evening for Nikhil? Not quite, his favorite pasta place at the mall had closed down even before Covid. The automatic paper dispenser in the restroom had run out of paper. There were no food samples at Costco. But it was not bad at all and in fact, it felt good. It was the first time all four of us were visiting Costco and the mall. Mundane chores during the best of times but it felt like a special treat to us. Indeed, it felt like a family outing to Disney World! Nikhil does not ask for much and sadly, in the last fifteen months, it was not possible to fulfill his basic wishes. But in the words of Aamir Khan from the Hindi movie “Three Idiots”, “Aal izz well”, at least for the moment.
And as I write this, I can’t stop singing to myself “In his bedroom, his cozy bedroom, Nikhil sleeps peacefully tonight!” Uyimbube! Uyimbube!
Raj Nayak is the author of “Memoirs of an Average Joe (memoirsofanaveragejoe.com). He lives with his family in Massachusetts.