I tend to work mostly to school terms and take time off over the summer holidays. It’s not a big trip to go to Havenport but it seems like I should stay there from Christmas until my birthday instead of going down twice. And every time I go, I remember that three weeks is a really long time to be around Mum, and end up going home in the middle.
Mum accuses me of avoiding Mani. I’m not trying to avoid Mani—I’m trying to avoid Mum. I don’t avoid Mani on purpose. But neither of us really seek each other out… so we just sort of exist in each other’s lives.
I tell people I don’t have kids. I tell people I don’t want kids. In some ways I think that’s wishful thinking, like that’s the way I should be, since I noped out of parenting the kid I did have. Maybe I’m scared I missed out on something, and now I can’t go back and change my mind about it. So I have to keep justifying my past actions by the way I act now.
But I do see Mani sometimes when I visit.
At Christmas we play Kerala and afterwards Mani is doodling with a pen that’s mangled on the end. All the pens seem to be like that at their place.
I ask if they have any pens that haven’t been chewed on.
“Not usually,” Mani answers. “Pa chews on them.”
“Gross,” I say. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I tend to chew on my pens too…” Mani shrugs. “So that would be kind of hypocritical of me.”
“I don’t think I usually notice,” says Alan Sebastian.
“Dad wouldn’t say anything negative about Pa anyway.” Mani rolls his eyes. “He’s incapable of it.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” says Alan Sebastian.
“You can’t do it!” says Mani. “Say that it bothers you that Pa chews on everything.”
“It doesn’t though.”
“See, you can’t say anything bothers you about Pa.”
“If you want me to say something that annoys me about Scott I could tell you that he doesn’t stack the dishwasher correctly, when he is sick he snores very loudly and it keeps me awake, his hair clogs up the shower drain, and he is very untidy and forgetful. But if you want to know if it bothers me that Scott likes to put things in his mouth, the answer is no.” He looks at the ceiling above my head as he says it, and one corner of his mouth quirks up in a smile.
“Oh my god!” Mani puts his hands over his face and sinks down in his chair.
“I think you brought that on yourself, Mani,” I say.
And that might have been the first time we laughed together. And it’s like some kind of invisible wall has cracked a little bit and we finally have something we can connect over. Alan Sebastian wanders off and I ask Mani how he’s feeling about going to Uni. He says he doesn’t really know how to go about finding both a job and a place to live when he hasn’t moved to Sydney yet, and I tell him that he can stay with me if he has share-houses to visit or a job interview. That way he won’t have to travel back and forth in one day. He seems very relieved and he probably will.
“I’ve never had to look for a job before. I’ve only ever worked for Gran,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s bad that the only person who can give me a reference is my grandmother.”
I never know what to say when Mani talks about Mum. He clearly loves her so much and I know that’s good. Because she didn’t hurt him the way she hurt me… but I just don’t know what to say.
“Why do you hate Gran so much?” he asks.
I don’t know how not to tell him.
“… what the fuck,” he says.
I shrug. “I feel like maybe I shouldn’t see her at all. But she comes bundled with you lot… so.”
He just looks sort of shocked and small and sad. “…I don’t know how to think about her now.”
“She didn’t do anything to you,” I say. “You can just have your own relationship with her.”
He’s looking down at the floor and he blinks away tears.
“Please don’t cry,” I say. “You crying as a baby literally made me want to kill myself.”
He walks out of the room and I’m alone in my brother’s lounge room, so I leave without saying goodbye.
And when Mani moves to Sydney, he doesn’t ask for my help at all.