“Hello Rani beta, how are you?” Suryakant called her up as she was walked to the bus stop.
“How does that matter?” She snapped.
“What happened about your job? You didn’t tell us. Did you get it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Meaning? They will tell you later?”
“I have been temporarily hired until I get my contract or am fired.”
“How strange,” remarked her father, “I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
“There are stranger things in the world Papa.”
“You are on the way to office now?”
“Why didn’t you take an auto? You aren’t fully…”
“Either I can take an auto or I can buy lunch for myself. Tell me which one I should opt for?”
“What do you mean beta? Is there money trouble again?”
“No Papa. There is money trouble only when it comes to me. Otherwise they have no problem spending.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying beta. Don’t bother what they say or do. You have my card right? Withdraw money…”
“Why should I Papa? I am earning money why should I have to beg for money from anybody? Why cannot I spend as I wish?” Rajani’s voice rose.
“Relax beta,” Suryakant soothed, “forget them. You need to eat well and be healthy you know right? Otherwise things will be very difficult for you. You do one thing, you buy Complan, some dry fruits, they are very nourishing and give you…”
“I did buy Papa,” Rajani sighed wearily.
“Don’t you want to know what happened then?”
“The next day Sharda the maid said the jar had slipped from the counter and made a mess on the floor.”
“How did it slip?”
“I wasn’t there Papa. Sharda said Mummyji was cleaning the kitchen…”
“She was cleaning? Don’t you have a full time maid?”
“Buy one of those refill packs.”
“God only knows what she will mix in it.”
“Don’t be silly beta. She wouldn’t do that. It was an accident…”
“Like it was with the interview letter?”
“At least you can have almonds?”
“I wonder how many will still be there after I soak them.”
“You are too cynical beta. Soak a few extra…”
“The whole packet you mean? Okay bye Papa.”
“Rani! Did you get your periods?”
“No Papa.” She disconnected her phone. She wanted to cry rail scream shout but this wasn’t the time or place.
It never was.
And never would be.
She swallowed hard and got on to the bus.
Her phone beeped. Maybe you should fix up an appointment with the doctor.
Rajani furiously scrubbed her face as a tear broke through and slipped down her cheek.
A money making machine
A baby-making machine
Was that what she was? A machine?
Did she not have feelings? Did she not matter? Not to anybody?
Surely the whole world couldn’t be wrong?
There must be something wrong with her.
It was all her fault.
If not in this life, in her previous life – it was her karma. She couldn’t avoid it. She had to bear it. But did she have to? She could kill herself….
She pushed open the office door.
Strange. Was today Sunday? Or was she early? But wasn’t she was late?
She looked at her watch – 9.15.
Where was everybody?
She hovered uncertainly near the door. Should she wait inside or should she go out and wait till the others came?
Wasn’t everyone supposed to come by 9 am?
“Come in and shut the door behind you.”
“G…good morning Ma’am.” Rajani clutched her bag tightly. Aditi’s lips curled. “Don’t worry I don’t bite.” She bared her fangs. “Not early in the morning.” She waved her hand towards the workstation closest to her cabin. “You can take that seat. Chotu!” She raised her voice. “Clean that up.” She pointed. “And where’s the tea?” “Two minutes Madamji.” Parkash bowed low.
Rajani felt a giggle bubble up. It looked like a scene from the movies – the Evil Queen the Poor Slave. She coughed.
“Come in,” Aditi walked back inside her cabin. Nervously Rajani followed her. Aditi held out the manuscript that Rajani had been working on yesterday. “I’ve marked your corrections. The ones in black are the ones you missed and the ones in blue are the correct way of marking a copy.”
Rajani turned the pages in dismay. It was all black and blue. “Sorry Ma’am,” Rajani mumbled, “I didn’t know…”
“So long as you don’t repeat these mistakes.” Aditi dismissed her.
Rajani shuffled out. Did that mean she still had a chance at getting a job? Wash she not dismissing her? She hesitated. But she had to know. Now.
“Ma’am,” she ventured drawing upon her strength.
“Yes.” Aditi’s eyes instantly pinned her to the wall – a trapped butterfly without any wings.
“N…nothing Ma’am.” She fled. The office door crashed open and a masked creature strode in.
Rajani fell back in startled shock. A muffled growl and the head snapped off – wait that was the helmet and underneath was the handsome prince. A dazed Rajani leaned against the wall and put a hand to her fluttering heart. He grinned engagingly, cast an agonized glance behind her head at BBW’s cabin and made slashing motions at his throat before tiptoeing away in an exaggerated fashion.
He froze in mid-step. Shaking his head he dumped his helmet and slipped off the bag slung across his shoulders on to the table. He clasped his hands and sent up a silent prayer and to Rajani before marching up to the cabin.
“Good morning Madam.” His voice was smooth, courteous and bland.
Rajani, a mute spectator to his antics, leaned against the wall and gave in to the rising tide of giggles. She giggled. And giggled. Swaying and doubling, oblivious to the world, she giggled.
Rajani straightened and hastily gulped down the still bubbling giggles but they were unruly and escaped through her nose, eyes and, to the discerning, through her ears.
“Y…yes Ma’am.” Her voice wobbled alarmingly. She focused on the stapler lying on Aditi’s table not daring to look up or even sideways. She was sure she would start giggling again. BBW be damned. “Riteish is having trouble designing a poster for newborn care. Help him.”
Rajani panicked. “I don’t know anything…”
“I presume you have common sense?” Aditi cast Riteish a hard look. He shuffled and scratched his head. “Just a few tips,” he coughed, “I’m not very baby-wise,” he excused himself.
Aditi had bent her head and Riteish rolled his eyes and head so much that Rajani was again in danger of losing her gravity.
“Yes Ma’am,” she mumbled and exited the den closely followed by Riteish.
“Phew! That was close. Thanks.” He laughed.
Rajani wrung her hands. “But I really don’t know anything about…”
“Relax,” Riteish said easily picking up his things from the table, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.” He lowered his voice, “Actually I left early last evening and I couldn’t think of another excuse.” With a laugh at her expression, he walked away calling out greetings to the others who had trickled in.
Rajani raised her head. “Thank you Parkash.” She smiled.
His teeth flashed. He held out a plateful of homemade cake. “Pakhi Madam sent.”
“I don’t know her,” Rajani mumbled. The cake looked delicious. “Thank you.” She shook her head and went back to her work. Her stomach growled in protest. At least there was tea. Maybe she could get biscuits. The morning conversations flashed upon her. She pushed them away and forced herself to focus on her work.
“Hello! Rajani right?” She looked up into the smiling face of a young obviously newly married girl, “I’m Pakhi. I also work here and do the typesetting and all. Now you know me!” She twinkled and held out a plate. Embarrassed but warming to Pakhi instantly Rajani laughed and broke off a piece of the cake. “Thanks. Your birthday?”
“Welcome to PWL.” Pakhi put the plate beside her. “It was my MIL’s birthday yesterday. I had baked a cake and we had ordered one too.”
“This is delicious.” Rajani smiled. “But I couldn’t have so many…”
“Then I’ll think it isn’t delicious,” Pakhi turned away, “See you at lunch! I got lots of goodies.” She laughed.