Rajani was restless. It had been over 30 minutes since Tanya had vanished into BBW’s cabin and even though there had been no overt signs of carnage, there had been raised voices. Rajani sat in agonized expectations of the cabin bursting into splinters and Tanya flying out – in bits and pieces.
Rajani gnawed at her fingernail. It was all her fault! She stood up. She would knock on the door and save Tanya. She had to. BBW’s cold unflinching glare flashed upon her. She sat down and stared unseeingly at the neat rows of squiggles on the sheet in front of her. Where was Tanya?
“Done?” Tanya spoke over her head.
“You’re fine!” Rajani gasped in relief.
Tanya spread her arms, “But of course! Why, what did you think?” Her eyes widened and she laughed. “Oh you thought BBW had…?”
Rajani nodded miserably. “I am sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Was she very mad?”
“Who?” Tanya frowned. Her brow cleared. “Oh no. We were discussing work.”
“She didn’t yell at you?”
“Relax! Even if she did, so what?”
“She could throw you out…”
“Yeah right!” Tanya rolled her eyes, “And who’ll do all the work? That reminds me, I have a ton of work waiting for me,” she hurried away, “when you’re done please give it to Nidhi will you?”
Damn. No word on whether she got the job or not. Rajani suddenly wanted to go home. She was cold and tired. She wanted to stretch out under the covers and sleep. Didi would be home. The kids would be jumping, demanding, screaming…
Rajani bent over her work but ever so often she looked up as yet another person entered the office. Including the handsome guy. He grinned at her. She flushed and returned an embarrassed smile. Rajani tried to focus on her work but it was difficult. Not only was she exhausted but there was a buzz of greetings, laughter, ribbing, chairs scrapping, doors banging, phones ringing. But it was a happy place. So many people! How would she get to know all of them? Relax. You haven’t got the job yet.
“Rajani.” Rajani started and looked up at Harsha. “What…?” she bit her tongue as Tanya winked at her and vanished.
Harsha looked around the now packed to capacity office. “You were gone so long so I thought I should come and check if you were okay.”
“Thank you. I am fine.” Rajani mumbled.
“You don’t look it.” He said. “Have you got the job?”
Rajani shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.” She crossed her fingers. “But I think so.”
“Let’s find out.” He looked around searchingly, “where’s the boss?”
“Please Harsha, let me manage please,” Rajani was embarrassed. She could feel the covert (and overt) curious and knowing looks coming their way, “please go. I am fine and will go home once my work is done. I will talk to the boss before I leave. I promise.”
She walked him to the door.
“Will you be able to negotiate your salary?” Rajani looked around wondering if anyone had overheard him. “Please Harsha, let me manage.”
Rajani heaved a sigh of relief when Harsha left, albeit reluctantly.
“Oh somebody is so caring and missing his darling wife!” Nidhi teased as she passed her by.
Rajani flushed and smiled weakly at her. “I finished Ma’am,” Rajani handed the proofs to Tanya. “Ma’am what about my job?” she took the bull by its horns.
Tanya shrugged. “As you can see it’s a madhouse and we desperately need you but the final decision can only be taken by HRH. So you could either wait for her to return from her trip or begin working?” she looked at her hopefully.
“But what about my remunerations and stuff?”
“Look I will try to wrangle the best deal and you can always re-negotiate once you’ve made yourself indispensable. And,” she added, “if you don’t like the terms and conditions you can always take up another job. Right?”
Rajani nodded. “I guess.” She was convinced but Harsha wasn’t.
“How unprofessional! How do they expect you to work without an appointment letter? Are you a daily wager or a laborer?”
“Please Harsha it is not like that.” Rajani tried to explain. “And it’s not like I have another job in hand is it? I can always leave this and take another. I will keep applying for one and until then something is better than nothing isn’t it? Besides this run in period will give me chance to decide whether I like this kind of work or not…”
“Make sure they pay you for this period as well.” Harsha grunted.
“But of course.”
“The office did seem decent.” Harsha said reluctantly.
“Yes.” Rajani said eagerly. “Mostly young girls and one dragon lady boss. Even the chief boss is a lady. Only a few men, mostly in accounts.”
“Stay away from them.” Harsha ended the conversation.
Rajani stuck out her tongue at Harsha – behind his back. After months Rajani had no trouble falling asleep. There was so much data to be assimilated, analyzed and understood that she had no time to brood over dinner. Or lack of it.
By the time Rajani had served everyone and sat down for dinner there was only a bit of rice and dal left. Mr Goel was pleased. “Sunaina this is the right amount of food you should cook everyday.”
“Actually, I cooked some extra today,” Sunaina said, “But the sabji was so tasty that everyone just gobbled it up.” Sunaina laughed proudly. “Sorry that you didn’t get any Rajani. But then in any case you don’t like to eat.”
That’s because there never is anything for me to eat.
Rajani was starving and feeling terribly weak. In a fit of rebellion, she poured herself a tall glass of milk. Horrible people. Now that she was going to be earning she would make sure there was back up. She needed her energy. She would get cornflakes and Maggi and fruits…oh! She would need to take lunch to office. And going by the trend of sharing food it would have to be something interesting and substantial. What could she make? Upma? Poha? Or idli? No Tanya had said she would get idlis. Imagine having to make 50 puris before office!
“Sharda, make two, no three aloo parathas for me and pack it up.” Rajani instructed the maid in the kitchen.
“That won’t be possible right now.” Sunaina came inside. “She has to make breakfast and pack lunch for the others. She can make aloo parathas only after that.”
“But I’ll get late for office.” Rajani protested. “I have to leave by eight. The others leave only by ten.”
“Have you seen the time? It’s 7.30, where’s the time to boil the potatoes, make parathas? Sharda, have you been drinking the milk again?” “
Auntyji!” Sharda gasped.
“I never…” “Where did all the milk go? This morning there was hardly any left.”
“I had the milk Mummyji. There wasn’t enough din…” Rajani hesitated as Sharda was there, “I was hungry and feeling weak. But Mummyji I need to take lunch.”
“But you never took lunch in the earlier office.” “That’s because I was in sales and traveling. There was no fixed time or place for lunch. But now this is an office job.”
“Sharda make one plain paratha for Bhabhi…” “Two!” Rajani asserted. “Sharda I want two parathas. And whatever vegetable you are making.”
“Oh but she’s making beans,” Sunaina said, “You don’t like beans…”
“I don’t mind beans.” Rajani interrupted. “Rajma doesn’t suit me that’s all.”
“Vegetable prices are skyrocketing. Take beans – one hundred rupees a kilo. Can you imagine that? Your FIL keeps scolding me for wasteful expenditure but what can I do?” Sunaina shook her head and hobbled out of the kitchen as if struggling against the weight of the expenses – an extra serving of beans.
“Sharda, just give me two parathas and some pickle.” Rajani didn’t want to take the parathas either but she had to eat.
“I want some money.” She accosted Harsha. “Why? I gave you money just yesterday.”
“I need money and that’s it,” Rajani snapped, “I am getting late and I don’t have time for all this accounting. Are you giving me the money or not?”
“That’s the problem with you – a spoilt rich brat, with no respect for money. You think money grows on trees?”
“Look Harsha, I am earning money now…”
“Have you got the job? How much are they going to pay you? Peanuts for salary and you want to eat almonds?”
“I will eat something won’t I? I have earned lakhs in the last year and I don’t even deserve a few beans for lunch?” Tears choked Rajani.
“I never said anything!” Sunaina was at the door.
“I never said you said anything!” Rajani retorted.
“Mind your tone!” Harsha jumped in. Sunaina sniffed.
“I didn’t mean anything beta. I just said there was no time to make aloo paratha. She has to leave by eight and she wants her lunch and breakfast now. But you know your father right? He gets so furious if there is any delay in his tea and breakfast…”
“I wasn’t talking about that! I was talking about my lunch, anything…” “But you don’t eat beans beta.” Sunaina dabbed her eyes.
“Then why cook beans?” Rajani was furious at her manipulative tactics. “Am I not supposed to eat anything? Last night for dinner too…”
“Enough!” Harsha cracked the whip. “This is no way to talk to my mother. Apologize to her at once.”
“Let it be beta,” Sunaina’s voice was faint.
“Sure!” Rajani trembled with anger. ‘Mummyji, please forgive me,” she clapped her hands together and bowed obsequiously, “I shouldn’t have spoken the truth.” She grabbed her towel and banged the washroom door shut. She stood under the shower and let the tears flow.
Click here for the next chapter: Breathing Space