By Nitasha Thomson
The day of the barbecue dawned fine and clear, with the sun shining down from an incredibly blue sky. It had rained overnight and droplets of moisture fell from the frangipani tree outside Aruna’s bedroom window. The creamy yellow flowers tugged at her emotions. They were deeply cherished in Indian culture, often planted near temples and graveyards, where the fresh blossoms would fall daily upon the tombs.
Aruna laid out a salwar and kameez set on the bed, its rich magenta tones shimmering in the morning light. A gossamer thin gold and magenta dupatta completed the outfit.
Shrugging off her anxiety, Aruna headed for the shower. “There is nothing to worry about, I am sure it will be a lot of fun,” she told herself sternly.
It was nearly noon when they arrived on their neighbour’s doorstep, vegetarian offering in hand. The door swung open and Aruna found herself being engulfed in a warm embrace. “Welcome to our home, don’t you look absolutely beautiful”, gushed Sally Wilkins.
And indeed she did. The elegant outfit showed off Aruna’s caramel coloured skin to perfection. A touch of kohl enhanced the beauty of her eyes and her hair fell in alluring waves around her shoulders. Finely crafted gold earrings adorned her ears and green glass bangles jangled at her wrists, signifying that she was still a newly married woman.
“Thank you Sally, I bought some homemade Indian snacks, I do hope you like them”, she said, handing over the platter of chickpea, spinach and potato fritters.
Adam Wilkins came over, his face flushed with the day’s heat. “It’s so lovely to meet you again Aruna. I hope you are enjoying settling into your new life in Oz.”
“Yes indeed, we are really enjoying your beautiful country, thanks so much for inviting us today”, Aruna responded warmly.
Watching the guests streaming into the house, Aruna suddenly felt over dressed!Shorts, t-shirts and summer dresses seemed to be the order of the day and some of the younger girls were attired in short skirts and tube tops which to a conservative Indian woman appeared to be a tad indecent!
“Live and let live” ,she reminded herself as she and Vishal headed into the yard together.
It hit her then, the sickening, fleshy smell of animal fat emanating from the huge barbecue in the corner. Despite her revulsion, she edged closer. Bloody looking steaks, marbled with fat, sizzled on the hotplates alongside plump, turgid sausages that looked as if they might burst out of their plastic skins.
Adam was presiding over the cooking, resplendent in a red and white striped apron, his brow beaded with sweat.
A wave of nausea threatened to engulf Aruna and she felt a sudden urge to flee.
“I hear you are a vegetarian, this can’t be easy for you” a voice said, startling her. A fit looking young man was standing beside her. “Hi, I’m Jason, Sally’s brother. Actually, I have many Indian friends who tell me that not eating meat is quite common in your country right?” he asked.
“Hello, I’m Aruna”, she responded “yes, millions of Hindus like me are vegetarians so it’s a way of life that’s very familiar to me. The good news is that the traditional Indian vegetarian diet is very nutritious so there is no danger of us being malnourished”, the words tumbled out before she could stop herself.
“What on earth is wrong with me” ,she thought, wondering if the young man’s tanned good looks had prompted the silly comment!
“Aren’t you going to eat something Aruna? Come on, let’s find something for you”, Vishal called, enabling her to beat a hasty retreat!
She followed him to a long table covered with appetising dishes.
There was a Greek salad with cherry tomatoes, olives and cubes of Feta cheese, creamy potato salad and pasta with mushrooms. Aruna noticed that the kids had taken to her vegetable fritters with relish. “They have probably never even heard of chickpeas”, she thought, “It’s a good idea for them to taste some meat free food for a change”.
As she piled food onto her plate, it dawned on Aruna that she needed to be more accepting of the lifestyle in her newly adopted country.
Australia had so much to offer to those who were lucky enough to live here such as the friendliness of its people, beauty of its natural environment and personal freedom and opportunities. “Also, there are no power and water shortages”, she thought gratefully, remembering the hardships that people in India faced almost every day.
After lunch, Aruna surveyed the array of sweets on offer for dessert including her favourite, a black forest cake, resplendent with cherries and cream. “This is not the time to worry about calories”, she mused, as she helped herself to a generous slice.
She looked around her. Masses of pink and yellow petunias created a mosaic of colour along the fence and a jacaranda tree stood in the corner, its exquisite lilac blossoms creating pools of colour as they fell to the ground below.
A kookaburra started its low chuckle, others joined in, and soon their raucous laughter was ringing out across the garden. Aruna could not help but smile, so infectious was their merriment.
She moved close to Vishal and slipped a hand into his.
A new life beckoned and the future was bright with promise. It was time to embrace their good fortune and find a way forward.
Everything was going to be alright.
Nitasha Thomson nee Ogale is the author of Pavlova and Pappadums – a collection of eight short stories. The book is nearing completion and will be submitted for publication early in 2016.
The Barbecue is an abridged version of one of the stories that appears in this book.