“Yes?” the dusky giantess snarled once again. Her eyes bulged and her nostrils flared. Her cropped hair stood up on its ends as if she had raked her hand through it several times.
Soorpnakha of Rajani’s imagination looked exactly like this, except for the short hair. Rajani had a sudden insane urge to giggle. If she had been well, she would have done just that and beat a hasty retreat.
But she wasn’t well enough. And she needed a job like she needed air to breathe.
“G…good morn…morning Ma’am. I’m Rajani…” She stuttered.
“So? Hurry up girl! I don’t have all day.”
“The advertisement,” she scrabbled through the folder in her hand, “for a proof-reader…” where was the damn newspaper cutting?
“You can start by proof-reading that,” the lady pointed to the scattered sheets on the floor, “Tanya,” she spoke to the girl on the floor picking up the sheets, “brief her and,” she raked Rajani up and down with a scathing look, “Chotu!” She raised her voice. A scrawny dark man (or was it a boy?) came running from the innards, “Where’s my tea?” She asked.
“Yes Madam.” The boy bowed obsequiously.
“Get a cup for her too.” She strode away.
Tanya made an elaborate sweeping motion of her brow as Rajani bent down to help her collect the sheets. They giggled in co-conspiratorial camaraderie.
Ice broken, Tanya introduced herself. “Come sit. You’re Rajani right? I am Tanya, the official punching bag.”
Rajani responded with a weak smile.
“You look as if you are going to collapse. No wonder…did you eat breakfast?”
Rajani ducked to fiddle with the strap of her sandal as tears choked her. When was the last time anybody cared enough to ask?
“Hang on.” Tanya went to her desk.
Rajani hurriedly scrubbed at her face and pulled the papers towards her. She didn’t even know what a proofreader was! She hoped she would be able to do it. At the moment, she didn’t care if the job paid her peanuts, she was ready to work for free – anything to get out of home. She faltered as she recollected the snarling intimidating face of Soorpanakha.
“Here, have a sandwich,” Tanya pulled up a chair.
Rajani flushed. “Oh no! I couldn’t!”
“Why not? Don’t worry I make a decent sandwich.” Tanya bit into her sandwich and pushed the foil with a pile of sandwiches towards her insistently, “Chotu! Chai…oh there he is.” She jerked back as he dumped the steaming cups in front of them. “Wow! Biscuits too eh?” Tanya looked at Chotu.
He jerked his head towards the closed cabin door. “Madamji sent.”
“Hmm so even BBW noticed you were in need of sustenance.”
Embarrassed Rajani flushed bringing color to her pale wan face. “BBW?” She couldn’t help asking.
Tanya leaned closer and whispered, “Big bad wolf.”
Tanya looked up and frowned at Chotu who was still hanging around. “What?”
He wore an injured expression. “Madamji my name is not Chotu it is Parkash.”
Tanya rolled her eyes. “The whole office calls you Chotu and you complain to me?”
“You can tell them, can’t you? Next time anyone calls me Chotu I wont respond,” he threatened and walked off in a huff.
Tanya rolled her eyes. “Everyone is the boss here.” She grumbled. “And everyone thinks they can just order me around. What can I do? Take out an office circular?”
“Maybe you should,” Rajani ventured timidly her heart, going out to Parkash – how upset he must be to confront Tanya.
“It is a Herculean task to remember the office boy’s name! They are replaced faster than our monthly stock of paper reams. Anyway forget him. Have a sandwich. Go on, take it,” she encouraged, “you look so pale as if you are going to faint or something.”
Embarrassed Rajani shook her head, “No it’s just that I had typhoid and I am not yet fully recovered.”
“Oh! All the more reason to eat, come on. Don’t be shy. I always get a couple extra otherwise I don’t get any!” She laughed.
Rajani looked around. “There are others too?”
“Oh yes. They were working on Sunday so they’ve been allowed to come in late today. Anyway,” she flapped her arms, “let’s get you started on this before BBW goes on another rampage.”
Rajani shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know anything about proof…”
“Don’t worry I’ll explain. Eat!” she commanded.
Rajani shyly bit into her sandwich.
“Okay, your job is to check if all corrections marked on this draft are incorporated in the final printout. And once you are done, just go over it once to check for any additional grammatical errors and oversights. Be careful, that BBW can sniff out a typo from a mile away.” she walked away with her cup of tea.
“Your sandwiches!” Rajani called out.
Tanya held up hers, “Those are yours. Now hurry up before BBW comes snorting and snarling.”
Rajani cast a horrified scandalized glance around – was it safe to pass such comments in public? What if Soorpanakha overheard?
Rajani hurriedly bent her head to the task at hand, which to tell the truth seemed too easy to be true.
“Done?” Tanya was back in no time.
Rajani’s eyes strayed guiltily towards the empty foil cover. “I finished all the sandwiches.” She mumbled indistinctly.
“I am glad. And you are looking better. Have you finished?” She held out her hand.” She jerked her head towards a closed cabin door and rolled her eyes.
Rajani suddenly felt as if she were giving an exam. “Y…yes. I was just re-checking.”
Tanya smiled kindly at her and took the papers from her.
She walked away flipping through her markings. She stopped halfway through to make some notations of her own before disappearing inside.
Rajani chewed her nail. Had she missed something? Would she get the job? Her heart sank as Tanya exited the lion’s den almost instantly.
She hadnt got the job.
She would have to go back home.
No! No! She couldn’t she couldn’t.
“Wh…at happened?” Rajani’s eyes were overly big in her thin wan face.
“She’s is busy. I’ll get these corrections incorporated by Nidhi.” She waved to the girl working at a computer. She turned back to Rajani. “Here I got another set for you. Can you do it? Are you free? This is urgent. Actually everything is urgent here. Gayatri our regular proofreader is expecting and has some complications so she’s been advised bed rest. I have been taking care of her job but then you are here now.”
Rajani’s heart gave a leap. “Does that mean…?” she asked eagerly.
“Are you sure you want to work here?” Tanya said, “this is a madhouse. Six days a week with an entry time of 9.30 and no exit time. And the Big Boss doesn’t believe in holidays. If he had his way he wouldn’t give leave on Independence Day or Republic Day either.” Tanya made a face.
Rajani’s eyes strayed towards the cabin but Tanya shook her head. “No, no she isn’t the Big Boss. Anyway, let’s get this done shall we? I have to send it to print.”
Rajani nodded and bent over the manuscript and proofs that Tanya left.
Rajani massaged her protesting neck muscles and looked at her watch. Past one pm! She hurriedly pulled out her phone. She had forgotten that she had put it on silent. Just one message.
Got the job?
Don’t know yet. She texted back. “Come let’s go for lunch.” Tanya stood at her elbow. “Lunch?”
She shuffled the papers, “you carry on. I’m not hungry. I had so many sandwiches…”
“There were just two sandwiches!” Tanya exclaimed, “and hours ago.”
Rajani smiled and shook her head. “Thanks but…”
“Please come,” Tanya coaxed, “I’m starving and I am sure you must be too. Come!” She insisted. “Please? I’ll show you our lunch room with a magnificent view.” She tempted.
Rajani fumbled with her papers. “I haven’t got…”
“I have enough for both of us. Come on. We’ll share.” Tanya pulled her to her feet. The other girl also stood there smiling. “That’s Nidhi, she does the typesetting and prepares the manuscript for you to check. Nidhi, this is Rajani who’s joining in place of Gayatri.”
“Hello.” Nidhi welcomed her.
“But have I got the job?” Rajani asked worriedly.
“Well hello!” Tanya walked ahead and pushed open the door. “Do you see another proofreader? Cho…Parkash we are going for lunch.”
“What if Gayatri comes back…?” Rajani wore a pinched harassed look.
“You’d be lucky not to get this job!” Nidhi said, “Any other…”
“No!” Rajani reacted instinctively, “I…I can’t not have a job.” She flushed. “I mean…I…”
“It’s okay Rajani chill,” Tanya put a hand on her shoulder and smiled kindly. “I am sure it will work out fine.”
“But why doesn’t Madam say anything?” Rajani was all but wringing her hands.
“Who knows the ways of the BBW,” the other two girls looked at each other rolled their eyes and giggled. “But to tell the truth, with BBW – no news is good news. Look! Isn’t the view amazing?”
Click here for the next chapter: Lunch Talk