Going up to a height of 1,353 feet can be pretty exhausting, even if it was an elevator that did all the hard work. We returned to Candlewood, tired but pleased. Amar’s friend Ujjal, who was in Chicago, wanted to take us out for dinner at a Greek restaurant, and there we went. We found the restaurant bustling with people – a welcome change from the streets where you find only cars and hardly any humans on the pavements, sorry, sidewalks. Once again, we encountered huge portions. Just looking at the thick noodles and chicken I had ordered took care of my hunger.

VK went for a chicken sandwich, Amar for spaghetti while Ujjal ordered a leg of lamb. After a whispered consultation with Amar, Ujjal added octopus to his order. I stared with fascination at the dish when it arrived – Greek marinated octopus in oil and vinegar.

The octopus’s appendage curled on the plate like a well-fed little snake – the sight put me off. My primeval fear of snakes extended to lookalikes garnished with onions.

Ujjal did the honours – he cut it with great panache and offered it to us. I refused outright, happy to offer my allergy to squid as an excuse. I declared I didn’t wish to take a chance with its cousin.

VK, on the other hand, a conservative eater who is always happy with the dish he’s ordered – mostly noodles – actually nodded his head to say yes. I was shocked. ‘Are you going to eat OC-TO-PUS?’ I asked, sounding suitably bewildered. He who says no to squid, frowns at crab and turns away from oyster, now nods his head like an eager schoolboy and wishes to eat octopus? How could one explain this?

‘Yes, I’ll taste it,’ he nodded once again, an adventurous gleam in his eyes. Ujjal placed two small slices on VK’s plate before he and Amar proceeded to serve themselves generously from the dish. I soon noticed that VK, who had been waxing eloquent pre-octopus, had become silent.

Now, I’ve heard that octopus meat is a delicacy. He was relishing the taste, I thought, a little envious. Savouring it slowly, giving it his complete attention. And I wasn’t wrong, for he was – in a way. He turned to me and whispered he had blisters in his mouth. Blisters! How could blisters develop so quickly!

‘The mayonnaise!’ I exclaimed, worried. I recalled his adverse reaction to mayonnaise on a couple of occasions. The starters had come with a dash of mayonnaise. He should’ve avoided those. Or maybe the giant sandwich was the culprit. I alerted the others and we gave unsolicited advice while VK sat there, looking sick. ‘Don’t touch the starters. Stop eating the sandwich.’ ‘Spit out the oct...’ We looked at one another with a wild surmise.

‘Yus. It must be the octopus,’ we chorused. VK’s lips had now become thick. It was clearly an allergic reaction to something. He stopped eating but signalled that we carry on. I stopped too. The other two paid scant justice to the food. We decided to call it a night.

VK thanked Ujjal, reassuring him through ballooning lips that he was fine and would sleep this off. We returned to Candlewood, the food boxed, Ujjal took the bowed octopus. When we last heard, he, Ujjal, I mean, was hale and hearty. We found we hadn’t brought along any anti-allergy medicine—an unfortunate omission. Amar hovered around, looking anxious till VK insisted he was okay and asked him to get some well-deserved rest – he had had a long day. Amar went off to make his bed on the living room sofa and lie on it.

VK wanted to turn in and I was relieved, thinking the rest would do him good. But after some tossing and turning, he held his stomach and demanded an antacid. I gave him a tablet, but that didn’t help. A little later be threw up ... and threw up ... and threw up. I was reminded of the limerick about the young lady from Spain, who got sick as she rode on a train. Not once, but again. And again, and again and again and again and again. I was amazed at the quantity he brought up. There was no co-relation between input and output.

This time I was on surer ground for I had the medicine for putting a stop to vomiting VK’s stomach settled after he took the pill, but he was totally exhausted and soon was fast asleep. I lay awake for some time, relieved and at the same time, worried.

This was only our second full day in the US. How were we going to survive the rest of the trip? But one thing was certain there was never going to be any love lost between VK and the octopus.

Amar, meanwhile, tired out after all that driving, slept through this entire drama and light and sound effect. He couldn’t believe he had slept better than a log when we updated him the next morning, VK woke up still feeling drained but much better. We checked out at 10.30 am. We were on the road again. VK had had only chocolates for breakfast – he said he was planning on going without food for a day, to settle his stomach, chocolates not counting as proper food, merely energy providers. I soon realised that Amar was also planning to keep his father company and stay hungry for there had been no mention of breakfast when we checked out and now we were driving from Chicago to Neenah. Hunger pangs began the moment I realised this but I decided to wait stoically till I was dose to fainting.

Excerpted with permission from Chuckle Merry Spin: Us in the US, Khyrunnisa A, Westland Books.