x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Being home alone means more than just a few perks

Friends and neighbours are pulling out all th stops to make sure I am OK and Dad's even cooking omelettes for breakfast.

This October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Cancer affects not only the lives of patients, but also their families. The month is a bittersweet opportunity to show our solidarity with all those whose lives have been irreversibly touched by cancer.

For Zahia, a friend, it has a special significance. Her mum is a breast cancer survivor. An extremely courageous lady, she had to go out of the country for treatment for months on end. This left Zahia and her brothers, Zaki and Zinan, having to cope with living, week after week, without a comforting matriarchal figure who could run the house slickly, juggling all the family's trials and tribulations with ease. While the shadow of cancer loomed large over the household, an equally frightening prospect for the three teenagers was getting along without someone planning a step-by-step daily routine for them.

Zahia's family dealt with the situation admirably. Zinan learnt to cook and surprised the family with a new Nigella Lawson invention every evening. Zaki independently researched universities and arranged to jet off to Canada for a course in fine arts. Zahia, to even her astonishment, discovered where the "on" button of a vacuum cleaner was located. For their dad, family responsibilities took on a whole new meaning.

When their mum returned home, exhausted and weak after rounds of chemotherapy but having finally been given the all-clear signal by the doctors, she was in for a pleasant surprise. The house was clean, having been newly painted. She peered into the dustbin and was puzzled when she couldn't find a trace of takeaway cartons. That was when she tasted the masterpiece of a dinner her son had created. To top it all off, everyone led her into the garage where a spanking new Porsche gleamed in the sunlight, a present to make her smile and help speed up her voyage on her road to recovery.

Watching the whole course of events as Zahia's friend, I was touched by their bravery and the way the family worked to support each other. Now, my mum's had to fly away for a week for a family matter, granting me pretty much free rein of the home. Although I am alone for hardly a few hours until my dad trots back from work, it's a curious feeling to be in charge of, well, everything.

I wouldn't say I've managed quite as well as Zahia. Being only too strong a magnet for accidents, I was thrust a neat list of what I was and was not allowed to do. There were fairly everyday things: vacuum your room; charge your phone regularly; don't open the door for strangers; don't try any silly fad diets; keep your nose clean; don't wreck the house; don't blow yourself up; don't blow anything up. You know, the usual instructions that one would believe rational to present to a nearly grown-up person.

Just to show I could, I decided to do my own laundry. It wasn't too hard, at the beginning at least: I grabbed a bunch of clothes off my bedroom floor, shoved them in the washing machine, filled the little tray with powder and switched the thing on. Easy as Betty Crocker pie. Only it wasn't. Because then the rattling began. It was imperceptible at first, just a clink here and there. But then it grew. And soon the entire machine was clanking and juddering, sounding sort of like a piece of metal had caught pneumonia.

I did the only thing I could. I bolted. If it exploded, I reasoned, at least I'd be out of harm's way. Slowly, after an eon had passed, I eased out from under the dining table and went to check. The noise had stopped. As I opened the door to the flood of clothes tumbling out, I stumbled upon the culprit. A load of loose change fallen out of my jeans pocket. Ah well. I lived to tell the tale.

Also, everyone who knows us even vaguely has been told to "keep checking up on Lavanya" so as soon as I get home from school, the phone calls start pouring in. Still, there are perks. I've gathered enough food from kind neighbours who are convinced I'm being starved to death to keep me feeling full for a century. With all the pizza order-ins and fancy omelettes dad's making for breakfast (blissfully unaware that the standard bowl of Special K would suffice), I'm not complaining.

The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai