Exactly twenty years minus one week – that’s the age gap between my niece and me. But Uma didn’t think so. From the moment she set eyes on me, she believed I was an overgrown baby come expressly to steal away her beloved mother’s attentions. To begin with, she took violent exception to my hugging her mother and charged towards me to remove the offending hand, her brows furrowed in fury.
Strictly speaking, we had no cause for complain. She drove us to exercise more in a day than a week in a gym. We were sternly instructed to chase her (‘Run, Run!’), jump two steps at a time (‘Jump here!’) and skip all over the room. In no time at all we should soon be skilfully qualified to join the circus. As for the occupants of the apartment directly below us, they are, I’m sure, living in perpetual fear of the building falling on their heads.
There’s not enough Vaseline in the world to satisfy Uma, who generously smears her face with it, taking the concept of smoother skin to an altogether new level. The enthusiasm with which she rubs the lip-gloss all over clearly indicates that she is heading towards the world’s first zero-friction lips.
Under her reign, I lost the right to use most drinking glasses save one. The one glass I was permitted to use, she referred to it as ‘some glass.’ I relinquished my claim to the computer chair as she forced me to use the kitchen chair instead. She informed me that ‘teddy wanted to sit on the computer chair.’
Every evening, she returned from the crèche with my sister around six. While trudging up the stairs, she would say wearily ‘I don’t love you’ in her singsong Irish accent. I retorted that it did not matter in the least, as I did not love her either. With impeccable baby logic, she countered ‘Hey, no, you love me!’
From time to time she would point at my feet and say ‘you have got a smelly feet’, and, as an afterthought – ‘I haven’t got a smelly feet’.
And to add a dash of mystery to the whole affair, she started referring to me as ‘somebody’. So if you happened to visit us, you would hear her say things like ‘Somebody’s at home’, ‘Somebody’s sitting in my chair’ etc.
But I’m glad to report that by applying some good old bureaucratic concepts like bribery, relations between aunt and niece improved considerably in the months to follow, so much so that when my birthday rolled around she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me with no small measure of genuine pleasure in her voice.