Chapter 2

"Hiro, what did I say? Get this family portrait hung," Sehrish chided her husband. "And, daughter, I need you to go to the market—"

"Mom," Valla interrupted, "our appointment is in two hours."

"To the market," she continued, shaking a nearly empty tin. "And bring back cumin and cardamum. I don't like how low we are on garam masala."

"We're going into lockdown. We don't need more spices!"

"Oh no? What about that hallway panel where something's always breaking?" The service panel in the Tanaka residence had inexplicably been ground zero for 90% of the block's brownouts. "What if the Cloud Strider comes to fix it, hm? And then wants to make himself a nice lunch for his trouble. Don't we owe Rohan a nicely stocked kitchen?"

Valla stared, dumbfounded by the logic. "If he wants a lunch, he can get a chana masala from the food printer. It's fine!"

"It is not fine," her voice cracked. "That machine has no soul. Cooking is love. You've got to put something of yourself into it."

"You know how important this is for the community. For the whole city!" Valla dropped her bag by the door. "You voted for this lockdown!" She expected another of her mother's twists of logic but, instead, Sehrish slumped her shoulders and shuddered softly. It took the young woman too long to realize her mother was crying.

"Your father and I applied for this larger apartment when I was pregnant with you." The older woman wiped away a tear. "And we were always so busy raising you we never had time to finish all the things we wanted to do with it. How can I move on when I'm not done here?"

"Aw, Mom." She pulled her mother tight, then felt larger arms pull them both together and smelled her father's aftershave.

"That life in the computer. It doesn't feel like our home," she admitted, looking surprised.

"Of course, it doesn't feel like home yet, Sehrish," Hiro rumbled softly. "You have to put something of yourself into it."