When Devon’s sister, Lil, went off to college, Devon’s stomach felt all twisty. Then Mom said that Siroj, a high-school student from India, would be staying in their house. In Lil’s room. That made Devon’s stomach feel worse. He missed his sister so much.
“What if I can’t understand him?” Devon asked.
“He speaks English well,” Mom said.
On Siroj’s first day, he made some small talk and then disappeared into his room. Lil’s room, thought Devon.
As days went on, Siroj started spending more time in the rest of the house. He was in the kitchen a lot. His cooking filled the air with steam and spice that made Devon’s eyes water.
“Smells wonderful!” Mom said.
When Lil called a few days later, Devon told her about Siroj’s cooking.
“Lucky!” Lil said. “I love Indian food.”
“Seems too spicy for me,” said Devon.
One day, Mom had to work late. “Siroj will stay with you until I get home,” she said. Devon’s stomach flipped. Lil had always stayed with him when Mom had to work late.
When Devon got home from school, Siroj greeted him at the door. “Would you like a snack?” Siroj asked.
Devon shrugged. He and Lil used to cook together after school. They called it “making messes.”
Siroj opened the refrigerator. “How about a yogurt?”
“I had one at breakfast,” said Devon.
Siroj opened a cupboard. “Pretzels?”
Siroj smiled. “Wait here.” He returned with a package. “An Indian snack,” he said. He pulled out a round, thin cracker the size of a small Frisbee.
He poured oil into a pan and fried the cracker. The kitchen filled with a peppery smell.
Siroj handed Devon a plate with the sizzling disk on it. “Papadum,” he said. “Made from lentil flour.”
Devon’s stomach flipped again. But Lil had said she loved Indian food. Should he try it? He broke off a piece.
It was crunchy and snappy on his tongue. He took another bite. “Not bad,” he said. It was actually really good.
Siroj’s face crinkled into a big smile. “My sister made these,” he said. “At home, in India.”
“Do you miss her?” Devon blurted.
“Every day,” Siroj said. He slid another papadum into the pan. “Usually we eat these with sauces.”
“Like tomato sauce?” Devon said. “Lil and I put sauce and cheese on English muffins to make mini pizzas. I wonder how these would taste with . . .” He stopped, suddenly embarrassed. This was Siroj’s special food from home.
But Siroj tilted his head from side to side and said, “Why not?”
Siroj fried up more papadums. Devon added sauce and cheese. Siroj put them in the oven for just a few minutes.
The flat brown pizzas crunched in their mouths when they ate them.
“Not bad,” Siroj said. “I’ll have to tell my sister.” Then he laughed.
Devon couldn’t help laughing too.
They made another batch.
The kitchen smelled of tomatoes, cheese, and zingy pepper when Mom called to say she was on her way home. “Shall I pick up food?” she asked.
“You don’t need to,” said Devon. “We have dinner covered.”
“Really?” Mom sounded surprised.
“Yep,” said Devon. “Siroj and I have been making messes.”
From Highlights magazine