The Scent of Love

Dayaram entered the office and his step faltered.

A new girl sat at the reception.

“Belaji?” he mumbled unable to stop himself.

“Good morning!” The receptionist sang out as she jumped up from her seat. “Myself Geeta, how may I help you?”

Dayaram shied away but he had to know. “Where is Belaji?”

“She’s getting married…”

Dayaram tottered away to his seat.

Married!

An alien sensation enveloped Dayaram – acid, he wondered or was it a heart attack? Wasn’t he too young? Was…was this what they called heart broken? How easily he had said it didn’t matter…but how would he live the rest of his life with this pain, this agonizing crushing pain as if a giant hand had slid into his chest and was squeezing his heart. He couldn’t breathe…

“Daya Babu, are you alright?” The office boy stood at his desk with a sheaf of papers.

Beads of sweat dotted his brow. Dayaram nodded and waved him away. He took deep breaths to calm himself.

He pulled a file and stared at the neat orderly row of numbers.

It had all begun 7 months, 21 days and 13 hours 17 minutes ago.

That day, unlike other days, Dayaram had arrived at the office a little late because he had been to the bank for some official work.

As was his habit, as soon as he entered he touched the feet of Goddess Lakshmi on the calendar that hung by the doorway. The calendar itself was a decade old but nobody dared remove it – after all she was the Goddess of Wealth. Dayaram himself was staunch devotee of Hanumanji and kept a fast every Tuesday, but Devi Lakshmi was hard to ignore. Besides, as head clerk of the Accounts Division, his job was all about money and her blessings were of paramount importance.

Even as he paid his daily obeisance, he could sense something was different in office. He had been coming to this office for the past fifteen years and hard work, perseverance and a love for numbers had made him a valued and reliable member of the company.

His honesty, sincerity and dedication were legendary and all, including the CEO were in awe of his meticulous work. If Daya Babu had passed a bill, a balance sheet, a file, it became God’s gospel – unchallengeable. He was the perfect employee who lived for work and had no time for office chitchat or politics. But he did have a quirk he was a stickler for first-come first-serve policy. The files, bills, vouchers were all handled as and when they were received and not in order of priority – not even if it meant rising rates, irate customers or delayed payments.

No amount of cajoling or pleading worked. He would just stare at the offending file and get back to the pile of files on his desk. Over the years, after many an altercation and brainstorming sessions, he had grudgingly begun to accept files, which had the CEO’s initials with his distinctive scribble “Daya babu plz expedite”.

He would keep these files in a separate pile and deal with them on his time after office hours no matter how late that made him.

The others shook their heads and laughed at him.

“Crazy fellow. No wonder he is still unmarried,” said one.

“I thought his wife had left him?”

“How old is he?”

“He’s thirty-three.”

“Really? He looks so much older.”

Dayaram did look forty plus but that was mostly because of the air of gravity that he wore like a thick mantle and shed only on rare occasions and never in office. The responsibility of providing for his family had fallen on him when he was still in school. A stroke left his father paralyzed. With his father out of commission and four younger siblings to take care of, Dayaram had had to grow up overnight.

He had joined this office as a peon and worked his way up. He had taken his responsibility as head of the family seriously and uncomplainingly unquestioningly earned money to feed his family, school his brothers and marry off his sisters.

The entire office laughed at his penny-pinching ways but he didn’t care. They didn’t know his story and neither did he want to share. He only did what had to be done – did the Sun ever ask why he had to rise everyday? Did he care if people cursed him or prayed to him? No. He did what he was meant to do. Rise and shine – come summer, winter and rain. If someone or something came in front, so be it, He would still rise and shine.

Daya Babu took inspiration from the Sun and drew strength from Hanumanji.

Every morning he would wake up at the crack of dawn and do the Suryanamaskar 32 times and be in office by eight-forty five am. He had a fixed routine that he liked to follow – fifteen minutes grace period to cool off, after a one and a half hour journey by bus and on foot. He would reverentially extract one marigold from his shirt pocket and offer it to the bronze idol of Hanumanji before bowing with folded hands. He had a deal with the flower boy at the temple, ten rupees a month for one marigold for each weekday. Dayaram splurged another ten rupees on Tuesdays for prasad, which he distributed in the office. Rather, he would keep it by the side of his table and his colleagues would feel free to take some and offer a greeting in return. Dayaram would nod in return without looking up from his precious files.

He would take a 10 min break for tea at 11 and 3 pm when the canteen boy arrived with the tea. He would sip the sweet tea with a biscuit from his personal store – one for the morning and one for the afternoon. He would leave his seat at dot one and have his lunch in the Government sponsored Meals on Wheels that stood at a distance from the office. The food wasn’t too great, but it was fresh and cheap. During summers when it was too hot to stand outside, he would carry a tiffin box, collect it and go back to his seat to have it and indulge in a bit of a siesta until the clock struck two. And it was back to work until six pm or later.

And that is how his life had been for the past seven years since he had joined the accounts department. Every morning when he came to office he bowed his head in gratefulness and reverence – for this was his temple, his sanctuary. He had a seat of his own and had even graduated from an office hall with a cooler to an air conditioned hall. At one time his job was in the field delivering collecting, queuing, or walking in the blistering heat just to save the bus fare. And study by night, sleep out in the open, live on the mercy of strangers saving every paisa to send home for his father’s treatment, his sisters’ wedding, brothers’ education. Those days had been the really tough ones even though he hadn’t had time to think so then – he was too busy coping. But now that the worst  was over – his sisters married, a brother on his new job and even father was better, he had nightmares. Sometimes he woke up sweating thinking that he had been just dreaming of his office cubicle, his own desk, chair.

After many years he was finally in a comfortable position and wanted nothing more –  What more could he ask for?

“Get married Daya, I worry about you. All alone…” his mother had taken to saying of late and Dayaram was running out of excuses.

“Don’t worry Mother. I am comfortable and happy. Why do you want to take away my peace?”

“I want you to have a family of your own.”

“You all are my family Mother.”

“You need a wife to take care of you, cook for you…”

“I can cook for myself. She will be more of a headache than an asset.”

“I want a grandchild.”

“Get Sakharam married.”

“He can’t marry before you!”

“Says which law? If you want I will look for a suitable bride for her…”

“Better you look for one for yourself!”

“Over my dead body!”

“Daya!” His mother burst into tears. Daya exerted himself to soothe her and calm her but he stood his ground. He wasn’t going to get married ever.

His mother was equally adamant. If he wasn’t going to marry, neither would his brothers.

And that was that – a stalemate as neither party was willing to blink.

Fate heaved a sigh and sent a gentle waft his way.

He frowned.

What was that fragrance? It took him back to his school days with his mother humming a song as she clipped a gajra on her hair. He took a deep breath – who in the office…?

“Namaste. May I help you?”

“Who are you?” Offended he shot back.

“I am Bela, the new receptionist.”

Dayaram walked inside without bothering to respond to her. Someone would tell her who he was. Besides, as the receptionist, it was her job to find out who was who, he sniffed.

“Good evening Dayaji.” She chirped when he left for the evening.

Showing off, he grumbled to himself, that she knew who he was and that she wasn’t a slacker like him, who came late to office and left early.

“I have to give these cheques to the Chief at his home,” he snapped.

Her smile flickered but she held on to it. “Very good Sir.”

He grunted annoyed with himself. What was the need to justify to her, a newcomer? Who was she? Oh what did it matter, his and her paths were different. They needn’t meet ever. He would be in office before her and leave after her. Today was an exception, he told himself firmly and put her out of his mind.

Or so he thought.

The entire night, the scent of mogra haunted him. How could one dream about scents? And why did he? She didn’t have much to her credit – dusky glowing skin, large kohl lined eyes, a long plait with the bunch of mogras peeking out, a mole on the upper corner of her lip…stop it! He told himself sternly.

When had he noticed so much about her? And why her? There were other girls in the office, they laughed and giggled whenever he passed them by but he barely noticed them. What was so special about her?

Dayaram sneaked into office half an hour before his usual time. He slid into his seat and soaked in the silence and the familiar musty smell of files. He felt safe as if he had crawled into his mother’s lap. He even looked up to greet a colleague or two as they passed by his table.

Dayaram was neck deep in numbers when his breath faltered. Head still bent over his file, he froze, he gripped his pencil tightly and the numbers blurred.

What if she wished him? He wouldn’t look up. He would nod distantly. Like he did the others.

Simple.

“Namaste Dayaji.”

Daya’s breath left him. Almost helplessly, he looked up and of their own will his lips moved and he echoed, “Namaste Belaji.”

She rewarded him with a smile that stretched ear to ear, crinkled her eyes and even her shiny button nose. He stared bemusedly until she swished away her thick black plait swaying gently.

Dayaram put down his pencil. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair and replayed the ultra-short clip over and over again. His heart thudded, he was back in his village running through the yellow mustard fields the wind blowing through his hair until he was flying high, high…

“Dayaramji? Is everything okay?” It was Sukrit, the office manager.

“Y…yes.” He straightened. “Just a bit tired, didn’t sleep well,” he said shortly.

“Sorry to disturb you but could you please do this file urgently?” Sukrit was close to begging, “Please it is very urgent. The Chief is out of station otherwise I would have had it initialled, please…”

“Okay.” Dayaram took the file. “I’ll do it.”

Sukrit stared.

“I wonder what’s wrong with Dayaji,” he mused over a cup of tea with his colleagues, “he broke his own rule! He took the file. I was prepared to fight tooth and nail just to allow me to keep the file on his desk. But he smiled and tokk the file!”

“I am sure this is a new delaying tactic. He’ll just sit on the file.”

“While I get an earful from both the Chief and the customer.” Sukrit fretted.

But by evening, the file was on Sukrit’s table. And he couldn’t even say thank you for Daya Babu had left for the day. Another first! He must be coming down with something serious.

Dayaram was restless. He had to meet her once more, speak to her, perhaps look at her…he flushed.

At the ripe old age of 33 he was turning into a pervert.

He left without wishing her and spent a miserable night cursing himself.

What on earth was wrong with him? Where was the unruffled placidity that had been his constant companion and strength in times of his greatest challenges. Was he losing it in his dotage? But didn’t people become steadier as they aged? He tossed and turned the whole night unable to sleep, the scent of jasmine wafted in from the open window, teasing him, disturbing him, inciting him…

Quite at his wits end, Dayaram upped this exercise regimen, went to the temple, tried meditating in an attempt to regain control over himself. It was a slow, uphill task – one step forward and two steps backwards.

He avoided her in the office but she always came by his desk to wish him, as she did the others. Nothing special. But she was the only girl in his office who was bold enough to help herself to the prasad on Tuesdays.

“I am a devotee of Sri Krishna,” she confessed, “but I love this prasad.”

He began getting a little extra packed separately for her, which he would slide towards her as she came by his seat.

Then one day, she requested him to help her with her tax, and on anohter, requested his advice regarding her investments. Dayaram went deeper and deeper into the chakravyuh. And like Abhimanyu he entered the complex tangled web easily enough but lost his way out.

Unlike Abhimanyu, Dayaram was oblivious to his entrapment and was in fact loving it. He lost his air of gravity, shrugged of the invisible burden that weighed him down, he looked younger, fresher.

Fate seemed to be pleased with the revised version of Dayaram. She laughed with glee and cooked up ways to throw them together. There was a new circular to transcribe physical files into electronic files. He was asked to take the help of Bela in extracting and computing the expenditure data. She spent longer times at his desk, leaning over his shoulder, fiddling with her dupatta, worrying her nail and sometimes throwing back her head to laugh at her own stupidity.

He could only stare at her in wonder. How could anyone laugh at oneself? How could anyone not mind making a fool of oneself?

He stopped avoiding her. He made excuses to pass by her table – the photocopier machine, the washroom, drinking water, in search of the elusive mobile signal, his creativity blossomed. He changed the angle of his chair even though he got a crick in the neck. His colleagues snickered and although nobody dared say anything to the man himself, the girls teased Bela no end.

She began noticing his visits, his shuffling even steps, the way it faltered by her seat. She would continue to type diligently with a small smile on her lips and her heart rate would speed up just the tiniest bit.

There is no saying how long this gentle romance would have continued for one day, Bela dropped by Dayaram’s seat.

“I finished typing the 1998 records.”

“Give it to Ramesh to proof read.” He didn’t look up. “And take this file and correct the typos. So many errors this time. You need to pay more attention…”

“I…I…my engagement has been fixed.”

He looked up. The pencil slipped from his fingers.

He blinked.

“Cong…” he cleared his throat, “Congratulations. I hope you will be very happy.”

She drew in a sharp breath as if he had thrust a knife into her. She turned on her heel and went back to her seat.

After about an hour or so, Dayaram came to her seat carrying a file.

He shifted from one foot to the other.

He handed the file to her. “You forgot this.”

“You came to give this?”

“Yes.”

“You could have called me.”

“I thought I would stretch my legs.”

“You wanted to stretch your legs?”

“Yes. Why?”

“There’s nothing else?”

“What else could be there?”

“I thought you came to ask about my…”

“Your what?”

“M…my wedding.”

“What is there to ask?”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Fine.”

He walked away but not before he heard her sniff.

He felt slow and dull. He hadnt anticipated this. He had never given future a thought. He had been too exhilarated from soaring on the clouds living in the present moment, her presence, her fragrance, her smile.

But she wasn’t smiling now.

And she seemed to be angry with him.

Why was she angry with him? What did she want from him? What could he have to say to her? Had he not done the right thing and congratulated her?

What did she want from him?

The question haunted him day and night. He wrestled with it like he would when his numbers wouldn’t tally. He went over and over the question but it just didn’t add up.

“Why are you angry with me?” He confronted her.

“Why would I be angry with you? What right do I have to be angry with you?”

He shook his head bewildered. “I don’t know. But I know you are angry with me. I can feel it.”

Feel? Don’t make me laugh.” She walked away.

He wrestled some more with his feelings but drew a blank.

“I don’t understand. What do you want from me?” He went back to her.

“What do you want?”

“Me?” He was taken aback. This question had never ever come up in his life. “What do I want?” He looked lost and confused.

Bela sighed. “Yes. What do you want?”

“What I want doesn’t matter.” He reported back to her the next morning.

“But the question is what do you want?” She insisted.

“I don’t matter.”

“Then what matters?”

He shrugged. “Others?”

“W…who others?”

“Everyone.” He waved his hand vaguely.

“Am I included in that?”

Unable to breathe, he could only stare at her.

“Well? Do I matter?”

His throat closed up choking him. Sweat broke out on his brow. This was something terribly important he could make that much out. But what exactly it was eluded him. He had to get to the bottom of it.

“W…what about you matters?” He managed to say.

“T…that…that I,” she faltered but held his eyes, “that I am getting married.”

He was silent.

“To another.”

Rage engulfed him. He wanted to smash everything in sight. He wanted to strangle her. He felt like running to the terrace and jumping off.

He walked to his seat.

She was getting married to another.

And he could do nothing but watch in dreadful silence.

His feet would drag as he passed her seat. She no longer wore the flowers in her hair nor did she wish him good morning. He wished he could say them but the words stuck in his throat.

Despair settled over him like the thick blanket of smog after Diwali. He was suffocating and the clock was ticking. Each day he lived in dread of seeing her empty seat. And each day he saw her sitting, was as if his death sentence had been commuted at the last minute.

But today the axe had fallen.

Her seat was empty.

She was gone and his life would never be the same again. A searing anguish ripped through his soul. Had he felt this bad when his world had come crashing down when he was barely out of his teens? He didn’t think so. His tender years would not have been able to take this raw bleeding gaping gash that didn’t let him sleep or work. Work which had been his panacea was abhorrent to him – the numbers mocked him and slipped away from his grasp. He messed up the accounts.

“Daya Babu, you are overworked.” The Chief had been apprised of the real situation. “Take a holiday. Go home. Meet your family.”

Dayaram looked at his boss with something akin to hope. Meet his family. His mother. She would know what to do with him. She would take care of him. He couldn’t wait to see her. It had been five years since he had gone home. The money was better utilized in paying off the debts incurred for his sister’s wedding.

“Amma…” He choked up.

His mother shed tears of joy and sorrow. “Look at you my son! So thin! Don’t you eat? Are you not well?”

“I am fine Amma.” But he was listless and dull. He only perked up when his sister put her toddler in his lap. He sat for hours playing with her.

“It’s decided Daya,” his mother was firm, “you are getting married. Your Uncle even has a girl in mind. Very…”

“Amma please! You know I don’t want to get married. I barely sustain myself. How will sustain a family?”

“By God’s grace, we have enough for our needs. Sakharam has a job at the post office and God willing Munna will start earning soon. You can stop sending money to us. It is time you thought of your own family.”

“But you are my family Amma.”

“I don’t want any arguments. I have decided you are getting married and that’s it.”

“Amma, listen to me…”

“No you listen to me. You are getting married otherwise you arent going back to the city.”

“Fine I won’t go back to the city. I’ll just sit at home and eat home-cooked food.”

“You will see my dead face if you don’t get married.”

There wasn’t much to be said after that.

If only he hadnt come home! How could he marry? What about Bela?

What about her? She’s already married to another.

But I couldn’t marry anyone else.

Fine then see your mother die.

Dayaram was the most morose groom ever. He refused to cooperate. Not that it mattered. He was anointed with turmeric, bathed, dressed and led to the mandap for the wedding. He exchanged garlands with the bride, went through the motions as directed by the pundit and ended with the seven circambulations around the holy fire.

And he was married.

But he was also free.

Free from his mother’s blackmailing tactics. He had been an obedient son and done as she wished.

Now he would do his duty as a responsible son and leave his wife behind to serve his family.

That would serve Amma right for forcing his hand.

But before that he had to bypass the obligatory first night rituals.

He got drunk and passed out on the nuptial bed decorated with marigold and rose petals.

Dayaram managed a peaceful night but the morning brought no respite. If anything it was worse than before – his heart was as sore and resentful as ever only now it was compounded by a massive headache.

His sisters fussed over him and scolded him. “What made you drink? That too on your wedding night? What will Bhabhi think?”

He couldn’t care less and the less she thought about him the better it was for his peace of him. He snarled at his sisters.

They left him to sleep off his hangover.

With no alcohol to deaden his senses he thrashed and tossed about on the bed, groaning and moaning as the scent of jasmine assualted his senses. Would he never escape? Would he never forget?

“Bela!” He called out in anguish.

“I am here.” Her voice washed over him like a soothing gush of cool water. He never wanted to wake up from this dream.

“Bela?” He reached out blindly.

A soft small hand slipped into his. He gripped it tightly. She moaned. He sat up and stared.

Bela was rubbing her hands.

“You are here!” he said stupidly. “You’re married!”

“Yes.” She said simply.

“What are you doing here?” He hurriedly got up from the bed. “What will about your husband?”

“What about him?”

“What will he say?”

“Ask him yourself.” She said coyly.

Dayaram back away. “He’s here!”

“There.”

He followed the direction of her finger.

“But…what…how?”

Bela came up beside him and looked at him through the mirror. “You may not matter to you, but you matter to me.”

Dayaram gave up trying to make sense of it. He did what he had been yearning to do since the day he had met her. He buried his face in the white bunch of jasmine nestling on the base of her neck.

***

A short story with a local flavor inspired by O. Henry’s  The Romance of a Busy Broker as described in Story Club #11.

Thanks for reading and go on, say it!

 

 

 

The Inheritance

“Ann, why didn’t you tell me about the inheritance?” Polly asked.

Ann started. “How do you know?” she asked warily. “Did you read the letter?”

“No I didn’t. You know I don’t much care for reading and writing. Tidger told me. He read the letter by mistake.”

“Oh.”

“Ann, now that you are an heiress, you better keep your wits about you,” Polly cautioned her elder widowed sister.

“What do you mean?” Ann was bewildered.

“Ah Ann, ever the fool. Didn’t you notice the doddering fools Wigget and Miller praising you to the skies?”

Ann pinked. “Oh I thought they were being sweet.”

“You’ve been here for the past 6 months and all of a sudden they became sweet? It’s the inheritance, mark my words.”

“Oh Polly,” Ann wrung her hands, “You are the clever one. Tell me what should I do? I don’t like either of them but nobody else will marry me at this age.”

“Humph!” snorted Polly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if my own Tidger wouldn’t marry you himself.”

“Polly!” Ann gasped scandalized, “Do you know what you are saying?”

“Of course I know.” Polly said. “I know my Tidger. He has a weakness for money. Besides, he’s worried about the mortgage on the…”

“But that doesn’t mean…”

“It doesn’t mean, but it could, is all I am saying. And now that the children have flown the nest, we don’t have much in common.”

“Oh Polly aren’t you happy in your marriage?”

“Now don’t be a romantic fool Ann.” Polly briskly set about cleaning up her tiny makeshift kitchen. “Does anyone get married for happiness’ sake?”

“Then why get married?”

“Women get married to have children and stability. Men get married to get an unpaid servant and nurse for life.” Polly attacked the dishes with vigor.

“Polly!”

“Tell me Ann, were you happy in your marriage?”

“It was alright.” Ann crossed herself. “May his soul rest in peace.”

“Do you miss him?”

Ann was silent. “Not really.” She said at last. “But I do wish we had a house of our own. That I was independent…”

“Well with your inheritance you could easily set up house by yourself.”

“But that would be so lonely. What would I do alone?”

“I…I could join you.”

“That would be lovely Polly! Will Tidger agree?”

“He doesn’t need to.”

“Meaning?”

“I am baking his favorite cake today.” Polly held up a bottle. “With a special flavor.”

“Polly!”

Polly shrugged. “He’s outlived his usefulness. He’s more of a bother and a pain to be with. I thought I would send him to a happier place.”

“What on earth is the matter with you Polly?”

“You are a fine one to talk Ann,” Polly rounded on her, “Making sheep eyes at my husband.”

“How dare you Polly!”

“Oh I dare alright. Do you think I am blind? You always had a soft spot my Tidger didn’t you? And now the money is making him lean towards you.”

“You are crazy Polly.”

“No I am not. He’s always been a sleep talker. And these days all he says are Ann and mutter about ways to bump me off.” She held up the bottle. “I had bought this poison for you. But since the money I thought it better to get rid of him. After all you are my sister.”

“Polly please…”

“Don’t worry Ann, you and I will get along well together. Won’t we?”

Ann paled. She wrung her hands but wilted under Polly’s unblinking glare. She nodded.

“Good.” Polly sounded strange and her eyes glittered dangerously.

“You are looking funny Polly. Your blood pressure seems to have shot up. You need to rest. Let me make dinner…”

“No! I am baking the cake.”

“Okay after you bake the cake,” Ann said soothingly, “you go and rest. Let me take care of the dinner, while I think how best to handle this. And you know I love cooking.”

Polly expertly sifted the floor, broke the eggs, crushed the sugar, emptied the bottle and slid the cake batter into the oven.

“Done!” Polly dusted her hands and slipped off her apron. “I am going. You think all you like, but remember that cake is for my Tidger.” She sniffled. “He was a good man. Until you and your money came along.” With a sob she left the kitchen.

Ann heaved a heavy sigh. But there was dinner to be made. She worked swiftly around the kitchen and didn’t pause until she had set the table to her satisfaction.

“Polly,” she walked up to her room, “It’s all set Polly. And I have decided to accept Miller’s invitation for dinner. That way I will be out of the way and you can claim that Tidger had a heart attack.”

“Good thinking.” Polly approved of the plan. Besides, she couldn’t wait to see Tidger’s face as Ann left for a date right under his nose. Oh how she would rub it in.

He would die of a heart attack, she chortled to herself.

Bump her off would he? She would show him – who would bump off whom.

Ann and Miller were enjoying a quiet dinner when the concierge came and interrupted them. He spoke in a low whisper to Miller.

“Ann, my dear,” Miller laid his hand on hers, “We have to go.”

Ann stared at him and paled. “What’s the matter?”

“Come let’s go.” He was gentle with her as he led her out of the restaurant.

The scene at home was one of utter chaos. The dinner Ann had labored over, lay spattered all over the floor. Alongside it, Polly lay senseless while Tidger was weeping softly in one corner.

“What happened?” It was the doctor.

Tidger wiped his face and attempted to gather himself. “I…I don’t know doctor. We were having dinner. She had finished eating and I was almost done. She got up to get the cake and appeared to get dizzy. She gave a gasp and grabbed the tablecloth before keeling over. She…” he choked, “she hasn’t moved since then.”

“ You ate the same thing?” The Inspector peered at the dishes. “What was in this empty bowl?” He sniffed suspiciously at it.

“Soup. I finished it.”

“What soup?

Tidger shrugged. “Don’t know but it was real tasty.”

“The bowl looks clean, as if it has been been washed.” He pinned Tidger with his eyes, who flushed and blustered, “Look here Inspector…”

“It was clear soup Inspector,” Ann controlled her sobs, “I…I helped her make it.”

“She was fine before that?” The doctor interrupted.

“Yes. She was perfectly fine. She cooked dinner. She even made my favorite cake.” Tidger paused. “She did complain of uneasiness once or twice.”

“Hmm, looks like she had a heart attack.” The doctor stood up. “She did have high blood pressure and diabetes.”

“My poor Polly. What will happen to me now?”

Ann was too busy crying in Miller’s arms to console Tidger.

She didn’t even speak to him at Polly’s funeral. She moved out of his house the same day.

It was only months later, after the doctor had declared Polly’s death to be due to natural causes and police had given Tidger a clean chit that Ann met Tidger at a common friend’s house.

“How are you?” She looked at him critically. “You’ve lost weight.”

He gave a tired smile. “I am not much of a cook. And,” he coughed, “I haven’t been sleeping too well either.”

“Come over for dinner tomorrow. Miller, you come too. Around 7.30 pm?”

They nodded.

Tidger was early.

“How’s the paperwork for the inheritance progressing?” Ann asked as she cut him a piece of his favorite cake.

He bit into it and closed his eyes in bliss. “Almost done.” He mumbled indistinctly through a full mouth. “Shouldn’t take more than a month now.”

“Good. Poor Polly must be turning in her grave to know that she was the one who got the inheritance not me.”

Tidger grinned. “Aren’t I smart?”

“Only in showing me the letter first. You shouldn’t have washed the soup bowl.”

“I thought there could be traces of the poison.”

“They wouldn’t have been able to detect it.” Ann was confident.

“I am sorry.” He deferred to her greater wisdom. “What next?”

The doorbell rang.

Ann rewarded him with a kiss. “Now it’s time for you to woo me. Make it nice and slow.”

She went to let Miller in.

Just enough delay to raise suspicion but not confirm it.

As always, patience was the key to success.

***

A/N This story is inspired by WW Jacobs short story A Golden Venture and linked to Story Club # 10

So what do you think? Plausible? Any loopholes? Doubts? Loose ends? Go on say it, I am sure you found something!

The Test

The air was thick with excitement and stifled giggles. The prospective groom, Ranjit had arrived with his family to see Juhi, the eldest daughter of the house.

“He’s so handsome!” gushed her friends as they peered from the doorway and ran back to report to Juhi who sat demurely inside, waiting to be summoned.

Juhi adjusted her flowing dupatta and flicked back her long plait. “And he is a doctor,” she couldn’t help boasting.

“Doctor, my foot,” sneered Reeta, “he’s just a compounder. All he does is dispense medicines.”

“Rubbish!” Juhi’s sister was up in arms, “He is a doctor. We went to his clinic. There was a huge queue of patients.”

“He may call himself a doctor but I know the truth.” Reeta shot back.

“What truth?”

“That he is only a registered medical practitioner – an RMP, not a doctor.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“That’s what you think.”

“You are just jealous.”

“Why would I be jealous?” Reeta retorted. “I am going to marry a ‘real’ doctor in the city, not some remote village which doesn’t even have electricity.”

“It does have…”

“Juhi!” Her mother came bustling in trembling with excitement and nervousness, “come along. They want to see you. Now behave yourself. Keep your head down. Don’t forget to touch their feet. Speak but only when spoken to and speak softly….”

She led Juhi out, muttering instructions.

“What is your name?” The elderly man with the big mustache asked.

“Juhi.” Her voice was barely audible.

“Can you cook? And sew?”

Juhi inclined her head.

“Have you been to school?”

“Yes, I studied till Class 5.”

“Did you just go to school or can you also read and write?”

Juhi’s eyes flew up to meet Ranjit’s mocking eyes.

“I can.” She said.

“Which? Read or write?” He smirked. “Don’t mind but I am the only doctor in the entire village. I have a certain standard to live up to. My wife cannot be illiterate…”

“I can read and write.” She asserted.

He pushed forward a notepad. “How about a little test?”

She looked at her mother, who nodded encouragingly. “I know only Hindi.” She said.

“Don’t worry. I don’t have such high expectations!” They laughed.

Ranjit began the dictation.

Juhi bent her head and laboriously wrote them down with her tongue sticking out from one corner of her mouth.

After the dictation was over, everyone held their collective breaths as he scanned the notebook.

After an eon, he lifted his head and smiled. “She passed the test.” He looked at his father. “We may put her on the shortlist…”

“Wait a minute,” Juhi spoke up, ignoring the gasps, “I want you to also take the test.”

“Me?”

“Yes.” She looked at him in the eye. “Please take down my dictation.”

He went red. He looked at his father for guidance and support in dealing with the unheard of insult.

Her mother nudged her. “Juhi! Apologize this very instant.”

But the groom’s father laughed and slapped him on the back. “Go ahead son and show her who you are – a respected and highly educated doctor.

Ranjit gave in and accepted the challenge. But not before his eyes had burned into hers, promising retribution.

“Please check it, Madamji.” He said mockingly as he handed the diary back to her after the dictation was done. “Happy?” He turned to his father and declared, “I like her spirit. Can we finalize her?”

“You may.” Juhi spoke up. Her eyes were glittering. “But I refuse to marry you.”

There was pin drop silence.

She held up the diary. “He failed the test.”

***

Written for the Daily Post’s one word prompt – Better

A/N This story was inspired by a incident reported in the news last week. Hats off to her.

The Vacation

“Soup!” She sang out as she arrived with two steaming bowls to where he sat hunched over his laptop.

“What soup?”

She almost laughed at his look of suspicion and mistrust as he looked from her to the tray in her hand.

“It’s my own recipe. Try it.”

“It must have a name?” He grumbled as he accepted his bowl.

“What’s in a name? Careful! It’s hot.”

“I like to know what I am eating.”

“First taste it. If you like it, you can name it.”

He took a cautious sip. “Hmm, not bad.”

“There you have it – The Not Bad Soup!”

He grunted and went back to his laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“Planning our next vacation.”

“I don’t want to go to any hill station. It’s too cold and everything is so uphill.”

“There’s downhill too.”

She rolled her eyes. “Let’s go to the sea side. Goa would be lovely this time of the year.”

“Goa’s all booked up and expensive.”

“Andamans?”

“Same problem.”

“Hill stations aren’t expensive?”

“Not in this season.”

“I don’t see the fun in spending money to freeze. We can do that at home.” She pulled her wrapper closer.

“Think of the view. The clear blue skies, the snow capped mountains.”

“Kerala is lovely.”

“Their cuisine is too spicy.”

“They have multi-cuisine restaurants.”

“They are all spicy.”

“Come on! Not everything is spicy.”

“Name one.” He challenged.

“Appam and stew? Avial…”

“You haven’t made avial in quite a while now.”

“That’s because it is too spicy for you!”

“Very funny.” He said sourly. “I can’t live on avial and appam for days on end.”

“As if at hill stations they will serve food to your exacting standards.”

“Some places do! Remember Kasauli…”

“That was Kasauni and it was a guest house…”

“It was Kasauli…”

“I remember very clearly it was Kasauni.”

“Who made the arrangements? You or me?”

“Who forgot the key in the door? You or me?”

“That’s different…”

“How’s that different? We could have been robbed. The key was hanging on the door the entire night.”

“But we weren’t were we?”

“We could still be! Who knows if somebody made a copy of it?”

“You and your overactive imagination.”

“Yeah right! What if I had left the key hanging on the door?” She glared at him.

“Let’s go to Munnar. That’s in Kerala.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch. We’ll visit Thekkady too, see the elephants…”

“Wow! That sounds lovely.” She smiled.

“And finish off in style with a stay in a houseboat, take leisurely trip down the picturesque backwaters of God’s own country.”

“Let’s not make it a rushed tour. Let’s take our own time at each place. I don’t want to run from one place to another like we usually do. That’s very exhausting.”

“There you go complaining again. We aren’t traveling thousands of kilometers and spending lakhs of rupees just to stay in a hotel room are we?”

“Lakhs of rupees?”

“But of course. Especially if you want to take your own time at each place.”

“It’s too expensive.”

“And wasted on you. You don’t have any stamina and to be able to truly get your money’s worth, you need to walk a lot. But you…”

“As if you can walk for miles…” She jeered.

“Of course I can! I slow down for your sake…”

“That’s right, put the blame on me. Lucky for you that I tire out just before you do.”

“Nonsense!”

“Why don’t we plan a trip and gift it to Raja for his wedding anniversary? They both work so hard, I am sure they will enjoy the trip. And ever since he was a baby he has been crazy about wildlife.”

“Sometimes…just sometimes,” he scratched his beard as he reluctantly admitted, “you manage to give a sensible suggestion.”

“I always make brilliant suggestions but it is you who refuses to accept them.”

“Hmphh. One word of praise and there you go flying high. Come down to earth and find out from your son when he is free.”

“I am not asking him! That would spoil the fun. Besides he would then insist we go along.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

“No! Who wants their in-laws along for their wedding anniversary?”

“I wouldn’t mind!”

“You mean you wouldn’t mind my in-laws going along. But if it were your in-laws…”

“What are you going on about? My in-laws, your in-laws, why do you always complicate matters?”

“I don’t complicate matters – it’s you who is unable to deal with home truths.”

“What home truths?”

“That you would be okay with your parents going along with us for our wedding anniversary but if it were my parents…”

“Don’t assume things…”

“I am not assuming things. Remember when…”

“Oh there you go again, digging up buried incidents and airing your imagined grievances…”

“Imagined? Excuse me, they are all real…”

“That’s what all crazy psychos say.”

“What did you call me? A crazy psycho?”

“I know. It was wrong of me. I apologize.”

“What?! I don’t believe this!”

“What?” He looked at her.

“You apologizing…”

“I have no issues apologizing when I am in the wrong.” He wore a self-righteous expression. “And I admit I was wrong to insult the ‘crazy psychos’ by lumping you with them…” he shot her a sly look.

“What! I swear I will murder you one of these days.” She fumed but her lips twitched.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Your heart – served raw dripping with blood.”

“Hmm interesting. Do you think I will be able to eat it…?”

“Oh forget it! You are impossible.” She stood up.

“Hey hang on! Where are you going? We haven’t decided where to go for our vacation.”

“To the kitchen – to make dinner.”

“How about avial? May as well enjoy Kerala right at home.”

“You should have said so right in the beginning that you wanted avial, rather than make a song and dance about a vacation to…”

“Just to refresh your memory, I suggested hill station…”

“That was just a red herring. You knew I would object and then you would lead…”

“You have such a suspicious mind…”

“You are such a conniver and manipulator…”

“You are getting smart in your old age.”

“So you admit…

“I don’t admit to anything.”

“But you just…”

“I was just trying to give you a compliment but you…”

“That’s because you…

“Because I what….

***

A/N This was meant to be a flash fiction submission but it just went out of control and as you can see they are still at it 😉

I thought this could fit the daily post prompt – None

Do let me know if this worked or not – thanks for reading, hope you have a good 

 

Bestsellers Galore

Sameer washed down on the last bit of the burger with a healthy swig of beer. He was sick of airport food, which was all that he got these days. On the flight from Chennai to Delhi, he had had a wonderful dream of dal and rice, just the way she used to make.

How can the cook mess up something as simple as rice and dal? I could do it better, if only I had the time.

Liar! You hate going into the kitchen because it reminds you of her.

Everything reminds me of her dammit.

Then why did you let her go?

She didn’t want to stay.

Did you ask her to stay?

Why would she listen to me?

When has she not?

She left didn’t she?

You left her no choice. You forced her to choose between self-respect and her love.

So fine! She chose herself.

What did you expect? That she would prefer to choose a moody obnoxious…

Whose side are you on?

Hers obviously. I am sick of you and your blasted ego. Just because you don’t like to say sorry, admit your mistakes, you let her go.

Oh stop whining. Move on. It’s been two years…

Oh so you’ve been keeping track?

What’s there to keep track?

You lie even to yourself. Hey isn’t that her?

Where? Shut the hell up and stop messing with my mind.

I am not messing with you! And even if I am, what can you do? Push me away like you did her? Just because she told you a few home truths?

What rot! I didn’t push her away.

That’s what you think. And deny as much as you like and the way I see it, she still has a firm clasp over your heart.

Nonsense.

And every now and then she gives it a squeeze.

His heart stopped. There she was – at the bookshop.

Go to her! Don’t let her go away again.

Stop being so Bollywood. What do I have to say to her?

Tons.

But I can’t say it. I wrote it all down. I even published it.

You should have sent her a copy.

What if she laughed at my face?

She has the right. Besides the book is funny.

Very funny.

If you hadn’t used a penname, she would have known by now. She couldn’t have missed it.

I couldn’t make fool of myself.

So you used a female penname?

Oh shut up.

For once be honest with yourself. Do you or do you not believe what you wrote? If you do, do not let her go. Fate has handed this chance do not let it slip.

I couldn’t.

Why can’t you? Just say hello?

What if she refuses to talk to me?

Just the kind of tonic your oversized ego needs.

What?

I told you I am on her side.

Help me dammit.

Go to her and apologize to her.

What if she insults me?

What if she doesn’t?

What if she does?

That’s the risk you have to take. That’s what you have to decide. Whether you love her or yourself.

She had finished purchasing her book and was moving away towards the boarding gates.

 He couldn’t let her go. Not again.

“He…hello?”

“How are you?” No surprise. No flicker of recognition or emotion.

“Fine.” Limbs and heart leaden, he turned away.

“Do you mind autographing this book?”

 She held out his book.

“Y…You know?” He held his breath.

“Yes. I read the book.”

“How did you like it?” He couldn’t quite hide his smug expression. His book was good. The reviews and sales proved it.

She looked at the book in her hand. “The book is good. I especially liked the twist in the end.” She met his eyes.

His heart thudded. “When he walked away?”

She nodded.

He shrugged. “It is what the protagonist deserved. To be punished. To be alone, forever.” He cleared his throat. “If you have already read it why did you buy it?”

“I wondered if it was all mere talk. I wanted to find out for myself.”

“And?” His breath eased and his heart steadied. He felt on top of the world. He could picture her in his their home. Nothing would have changed. It would be as if these two years had never happened. He at his table tapping away, a delicious fragrance wafting around him while she pottered about…

“I better go that’s my flight.”

“But…”

“I’ll mail you my thoughts.” She paused. “Or maybe I won’t. You can buy the book and read it. Stay well.” She walked away.

***

Depending on whom you’ve been rooting for I hope I managed to jolt you or extract a chuckle or two 😉

Thanks for reading! I would appreciate if you let me know your thoughts 😉 Or would you prefer me to wait for the bestseller? 😀

Die Another Day

On account of bad weather, the seat belt sign has been switched on. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts.”

Sia looked up from her Ipad as the air hostess aboard the Mumbai-Delhi flight made the announcement.

Deeply entrenched in the twists and turns of Chake De! India, she hadn’t quite noticed the turbulence.

Sia’s co-passenger on the window seat shifted uncomfortably “Just look at that!”

Accepting the invitation, Sia leaned forward.

She gasped – a thick swirl of grey-brown lay directly below them and seemed to be growing bigger.

“There is a dust storm over Delhi and we are diverting to Jaipur. Sit back and relax.” The Captain’s reassuring boom echoed from the cockpit.

Oh good! She would be able to finish her movie. Sia smiled to herself as she turned her attention back to her downloaded movie.

“How can you watch a movie at this time?” The guy next to Sia glared accusingly at her. “We are all going to die and you are sitting here watching a movie?”

Sia sighed and took off her earphones. “We aren’t going to die. We are…”

“Yes we are! Can’t you see the thick billowing clouds? Can you not smell the dust?”

“Relax! Didn’t you hear the Captain? We are diverting to Jaipur. It’s all clear there.”

“But what if we die en route? What if…?”

“Yikes!” Sia jerked up straight in her seat. “I never thought of that! I better get back to my movie, it has been on my bucket list for ages…”

“It’s not funny!”

“No it isn’t.” Sia straightened her expression as it slipped. Her eyes strayed to her Ipad.

She sighed and held out her hand. “Hello I am Sia.”

“Whatever.”

“What’s your problem?” Sia asked.

“My problem is that you don’t have any problem!” His voice rose in affronted indignation. “We are going to die and all you are concerned about is your stupid movie.”

“So what would you have me do? Die before it is time to die?”

Frustrated, he glared at her. “At least…”

“I could panic a bit?” Sia twinkled at him. “Have a fit or two?” She twitched and rolled about her seat.

He rolled his eyes.

The aircraft dived and steadied. His knuckles turned white.

“Is this your first trip to India?”

“Last trip.” He mumbled, his eyes determined closed.

Sia laughed.

He opened his eyes. “How can you laugh?”

“How can you begrudge me my last laugh before I die?” Sia shot back.

He rolled his head as they hit another bad patch.

“At least tell me your name.” Sia coaxed.

“What good would that do? We are all going to die…”

“Talk about yourself.” Sia settled herself comfortably. “I am not going to die.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

“Yeah right! So Ms Know-it-all, do tell me, am I going to die?”

Sia looked at him over.

She pursed her lips and tapped her head with a contemplative finger.

He rolled his eyes. “Hey come on! Cut the dramatics would ya?”

Smothering a laugh, Sia finally shook her head. “Nope.”

His lips twitched.

“So when am I going to die Ms Sia?” He folded his hands and bowed.

Sia raised her hand in blessing. “I say never.”

She was rewarded with a laugh.

“The dust storm has passed and we are heading back to Delhi. The seat belt sign has been switched off but for…”

As the announcement droned on, Sia pinned him down with a smug expression.

He returned her look expressionlessly but gave up. He threw up his hands in defeat. “Sia maiyya ki jai!”

Sia clapped her hands. “Very good! I am impressed.”

“I thought you would be depressed.” He looked out of the window trying to hide his embarrassment.

“Never mind,” Sia consoled, “it happens to the best of us.”

“But I am better than the best!” He turned to her. “Tell me weren’t you scared? Not even a bit?”

“Of course I was.”Sia confirmed. “But not of dying. Of crashing down, breaking bones, hospitalization…”

“Oh those! That’s all reversible. I am talking about dying.”

“I knew I wasn’t going to die.” Sia said.

“But how?” He was all at sea.

“It’s all thanks to you.”

“Excuse me?”

Sia burst out laughing at his confused expression. I knew I wasn’t going to die because you didn’t let me watch the movie. And I wasn’t going to die without seeing the whole movie.”

“Whaaa!” He stared at her open- mouthed. “Crazy.”

“Yep! We Indians are like that. Crazy.”

He shook his head. “How do you do it?”

“Complete and unquestioning faith in destiny. “ Sia was serious. “If it is meant to be, it will be, if it is not,” Sia shrugged.

“Well your way of thinking beats me.” He scratched his head. “But thank you for not letting me make a fool of myself.”

“My pleasure, and more than happy make the Lufthansa TVC a reality.” Sia grinned mischievously at him.

He frowned.

“When you have time, check out the advertisement, but for now, after that near-death experience,” she twinkled, “do you think you could tell me your name?”

He held out his hand.

“Bond, my name is James Bond.”

***

A/N This is my first time participating in an indiblogger contest. I found the details in the mailbox this morning and voila! this happened. 😀 😀

Thank you for reading and do let me a note. Have a super day.

#MoreIndianThanYouThink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Ordinary

 

It had been a long day at the office and Sonali was looking forward to putting up her feet with a cup of tea.

Raja, her 12-year-old-son, opened the door. “Mom, my scholarship money which was in the drawer has been stolen.”

Sonali suppressed a groan.

There went her hopes of relaxing. “Are you sure? Did you check properly?”

“Yes Mom.”

“Let me see.” She hunted high and low with Raja prowling about like a bear that had misplaced her cubs.

“Perhaps you spent it and forgot?” Sonali asked hoping against hope.

“No! I didn’t. I had Rs 7122. Now there is only Rs 122.”

“Why would a thief take only part of the money?” Sonali wondered.

“Probably because she was in a hurry?”

“She?” Sonali turned to her husband.

He shrugged. “It’s obviously one of the girls.”

Sonali looked at him in dismay. Who else indeed? Nobody else entered Raja’s room.

“Mom, are you going to call the police? Will they go to jail?” The bear wanted blood.

“I am not going to do any such thing.”

“Why not? They are thieves and they should be in jail.”

“There are three of them and I don’t know who has taken the money. I can’t just call the police.” Sonali was aghast. “This is a domestic matter and not a very big issue. I will sort it out.”

“Not a big issue? It was my scholarship money!”

“How will you sort it out? You do realize this is a tricky situation, which could blow up in our faces? What if they bring counter allegations of harassment?”

Mama and Papa bears pulled her in two different directions.

“Let me think! I haven’t even been to the washroom.” Sonali snarled. “And you,” Sonali turned to Raja, “It’s all your fault. How many times did I tell you to take care of it?”

“So it’s my fault? Not the thieves? You want to put me in jail and let them go scot free?” He followed his mother to the washroom.

Sonali slammed the door for some peace and quiet.

Her husband was right. This was indeed a tricky situation. She couldn’t –shouldn’t talk to the girls. Who knew how they would react? They would of course deny culpability. It would be better to talk to their mother, Sheila.

In the privacy of the loo, Sonali allowed herself the luxury of a groan. If only Raj was still around. None of this would have happened.

“I can’t come to work from tomorrow.” Raj, Sonali’s longtime and trusted house help, had said not so long ago.

Disaster!

Raj was Sonali’s right and left hand. A delicate health, a full time job, a hungry teenager, breakfast, tiffin, lunch, high tea, and dinner – the heat! How would she manage?

“I am sorry but the family is shifting far from here. You know I can’t read bus numbers. Besides I have never traveled alone. So.” She raised her hands in a helpless gesture.

“Can you suggest someone as a replacement? Someone trustworthy?” Seeing no other option Sonali asked.

“I will see. But I won’t be able to vouch for trustworthiness.”

“I suppose not. But at least send someone who is regular and doesn’t take too many offs. You know how things are at home.”

After a frenetic week, a middle-aged woman turned up. “Memsahib, you are looking for a maid? Raj sent me.”

“Oh.” Sonali wiped the soapsuds off her hands. “What’s your name?”

“Sheila.”

“Are you new? I haven’t seen you around.”

“No Memsahib. I have been here for longer than Raj has. I was the one who arranged for her accommodation near my house when she first came to town.”

“Okay Sheila,” Sonali interrupted her self-righteous affronted speech, “I do need someone to help me with the housework. But you have to come early morning before I leave for work and after I come back from work.”

“But Raj used to…”

“Yes Raj had a key. But she’s been with me for more than a decade now. I can’t just…” Sonali trailed off for fear of offending her.

“Don’t think like that of us Memsahib. We are of good family Memsahib. It’s just that we have fallen upon bad times.”

“I am sure! I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t trustworthy. But you do agree trust takes time? Even with Raj…”

“Okay Memsahib. As you think best.”

“And I don’t want you to take any leave without information. At least give me a call, if you can’t come.”

Sheila nodded.

Relieved, Sonali agreed to Sheila’s demands of a salary hike and handed over the reins of the cleaning to her. She could go back to having a cup of tea in peace.

After a bit of tussle with the men of the house who didn’t like the idea of a strange woman roaming the house and encroaching upon their activities.

“Why do I have to go out? My room is clean.”

“Who is she? What are her credentials? What if she steals something?”

“Whoever has objections can take her place. I will even pay for it.” Sonali smartly turned the tables. They backed off mumbling and grumbling.

Sheila turned out to be a God sent – she was regular, clean and a reliable worker. Sonali relaxed and bonded with her new ‘friend’ and life savior. Saturday was Sonali’s day off and Sheila would share a cup of tea her life’s woes and joys while the bears were away.

“Memsahib, this morning breakfast that you are kind enough to give me everyday? I really appreciate it. I come for work without having breakfast. It saves me time. And money.”

“My husband is a good man, Memsahib. No smoking no drinking, no bad habits. I feel sorry for him that he got me as a wife. I couldn’t give him a son.”

“Without a son, there is no respect in society, Memsahib. I gave birth to five daughters but no son.”

“My husband can’t sleep nights for worry. The other day he fainted because of high blood pressure. Running around the hospital is no woman’s job. I cannot even read and write. If only we had a son.”

“My husband is taking a life insurance policy. He has been advised to make his nephew as the beneficiary not me or my daughters.”

“My youngest says she is my son. She said she would never leave me and go.”

“Daughters’ weddings are expensive business. We are still dealing with the burden of loan for our two elder daughters’ marriage.“

“I don’t know how to control my daughters Memsahib. They are driving us crazy with their demands for an early marriage. The middle one especially is running out of control and is straying. She has a boyfriend. She has no shame in flaunting him. She carries on publicly with him. She cares more for him than us. She gave us an ultimatum, either we get her married or she will run away with him. Think of the shame Memsahib, we will lose face in society.”

“We can’t put off their wedding much longer. But where will we get the money to marry them off?”

“Sweets for you Memsahib. I am very happy today. My daughter’s second child is a boy. Now nobody can taunt her or me. Our ‘sonless’ curse is broken.”

“Memsahib, I need leave to take care of my husband. He’s had a heart attack.”

Sonali looked at her in dismay. “Oh no!”

“Don’t worry Memsahib. Your work won’t suffer. I know you also don’t keep a good health and I will make sure that at least one of my three daughters comes to do your house work.”

Seeing no other option, Sonali agreed. Besides, it was considerate of Sheila to keep her comfort in mind in this situation. But her neat orderly house running like clockwork was thrown into disarray. It’s not that the girls didn’t come, but each had a different way of working and special area of slipshoddiness. But Sonali had little choice but to bear it as well as she could.

And now money was missing. And who knows what else was missing.

“Mom, you are still letting thieves walk about the house?”

“I don’t know which of the three took the money. Besides, I don’t want to say anything to them. Sheila will have to deal with them.” Sonali said. “Until she comes to work, things will carry on as usual, except that we will have to keep a closer watch on their activities.”

A long drawn out altercation followed but Sonali was adamant.

Much to everyone’s disgust.

Sheila reported for work four days later.

“Sheila,” Sonali was uncomfortable and apprehensive, “I wanted to tell you that some money is missing from my son’s room.”

Sheila stared.

She turned off the tap.

“My youngest would never do it.” She said at last.

Relieved not to have Sheila take offence or fly off the handle, Sonali said carefully measuring each word, “You know your daughters best. I didn’t say anything to any of them because I thought you were best suited to deal with the situation. And there is no doubt I am afraid that one of them must have taken it.”

Sheila didn’t say anything and went about her work as usual.

Sonali escaped to office but she was bombarded with dire warnings and advice from all quarters.

“Be careful of these people. They are very cunning. They will land up in hordes and create a ruckus. Worse they can also file a harassment complaint at the police station.”

“So what should I do?” Sonali was getting more and more apprehensive.

“Forget about the money.”

“And continue to let her work?”

“That’s a bit tricky. Best you deal with it diplomatically.”

“But how?”

“Oh look at the time! And I have tons of work…”

That’s it work – work was the only distraction and Sonali pushed the domestic crisis for later.

When Sonali returned from office, she found Sheila and her husband waiting for them.

Now what?

Sonali looked at her husband. He set his lips and walked inside.

Sonali steeled herself for the worst.

“Yes Sheila.” Sonali hated the defensiveness in her own tone.

“Memsahib, we came to apologise and offer compensation. I know my middle daughter has taken the money. Please don’t call the police.”

Sonali stared at Sheila unable to believe her ears. “How do you know?”

“Like you said Memsahib, I know my children best. I knew my youngest couldn’t have done it. And my middle one has been getting desperate about her lover. I confronted all three of them. They all denied. So I accused her outright. She denied vociferously. Then I told her ‘Memsahib has a CCTV camera and she saw you take it.’ She broke down and confessed.”

Sheila wrung her hands waiting for the axe to fall.

The wind taken completely out of her sails, Sonali was dumbstruck.

In all the scenarios that they had painstakingly constructed, they had never ever considered that Sheila would accept culpability or identify the culprit.

“Memsahib, we have brought some money. Please take how much ever she stole from you. She confessed that she stole for her boyfriend and has already given it to him. We would have thrown her out Memsahib, but her wedding cards have distributed. Think of the bad name our family will get. How will I get my other two daughters married? Please don’t call the police. We just have Rs 5000 with us right now. We will give back the rest to you as soon as we can.”

Sonali felt humbled yet victorious, small yet exhilarated.

***

A/N Based on a true incident.

In response to the Daily post’s one-word prompt – Outlier