“Who’s responsible for this?”
After lunch, Noyonika the Boss Lady burst into the office and waving a copy of their freshly launched magazine The New Mom. “Bunch of giggling nincompoops!” She was on a rampage. “What do you get paid for? To sit in the Sun and have lunch? Aditi? What is this? And who’s going to pay for this?”
“What exactly is the issue?” Aditi was cool and unflustered.
“You don’t know what’s the issue?” Noyonika crumpled the magazine in her hand as if it were Aditi neck.
“If it is about the spelling of inaugural that has already been corrected.” Aditi was unmoved.
“Oh really?” Noyonika was spitting fire. “Then what’s this?” she uncurled her fingers and held up the crumpled magazine with the offending inaugral issue emblazoned across it.
“That’s the advance copy.” Aditi went to her cabin and brought out a fresh clean corrected copy. “Here’s the final version.”
“But this must cost money?” Noyonika was still thirsty. “Who will pay for this? And whose fault is this.” Her eyes flashed upon the gathered crowd and zeroed in on Rajani. “You!” She snapped her fingers at her. “You are the proof-reader aren’t you?”
Rajani shivered and shook. “Ye…es Ma’am. I’m sor…”
“She wasn’t on this project,” Aditi stepped in with a quelling glance at Rajani. “I take responsibility, moral and monetary.” My resignation if you so wish. The words hung unsaid in the air as Aditi held Noyonika’s eyes. She waited until Noyonika’s eyes fluttered before taking a step back. “But, don’t worry Ma’am I have already talked to the printer fellow and there’s extra cost involved.” She softened her tone and stance. “How do you like the rest of the stuff Ma’am?”
Noyonika instantly clutched the olive branch and flicked through the pages. “Not bad. But perhaps we can have more pictures next time?”
“Yes of course Ma’am,” she waved away everyone with a flick of her hand and a look at Tanya who took the lead to go back to her station with the rest trailing her, “there were some last minute copyright issues and besides next time we expect a lot more advertisements. But I will keep it in mind.”
Noyonika grunted. “The new proof-reader, what’s her name?”
Within earshot, Rajani stiffened warily not daring to turnaround. Why was she asking about her?!
“Yes Rajani. How is she?”
Rajani held her breath as she strained to hear.
“Hmm. A friend of mine needs some stuff to be proofread. Do you think she could be trusted to do it?”
“She could. But there’s no scope in office. She is overloaded as it is. As I have requested, several times, we require another proofreader.”
“Oh well,” Noyonika said, “ask her if she would like to do it on her own time at home?”
“I’ll ask.” Aditi paused. “But without any incentive I don’t think it would be possible. Her husband would be the first person to object.”
“Hmm. Well I suppose some sort of remuneration could be given. I will talk to my friend. But you sound her out in the meanwhile.”
“I will.” Aditi promised. They moved away discussing other official matters.
“Did you hear what she said?” Rajani stood up as Aditi stopped by her desk.
“I’ll do it Ma’am.” Rajani said.
“What about your in-laws, your husband?”
Rajani twisted her fingers. “It shouldn’t be a problem if I tell them it is office work.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes Ma’am. In fact,” she said in a rush, “it would give me a reason to go in and work rather than sit and watch them drink away the evening and night.”
“I see.” Rajani flushed as Aditi’s eyes bore into hers. She looked away regretting her flash of frankness. “But I will ask her to ensure some sort of remuneration. Why should you work for free?”
“I don’t mind Ma’am.” Rajani was only too happy to have a valid reason to be away from her captors.
“You should.” Aditi walked away. Rajani’s heart flooded with gratefulness. She was beginning to see through the tough exterior of the BBW. And she had called her work good! Coming from her that was high praise. She attacked her work with renewed focus and concentration. She wanted a very good. Or maybe an excellent.
“Did you see the medical reports?” Rajani couldn’t quite keep out the note of gloat and maliciousness out of her voice.
“Yeah so?” Harsha didn’t look up from the paper.
Infuriated at his supercilious tone Rajani didn’t bother to measure her words. “Are you going to tell everyone that it is your fault that we can’t have a baby?”
“What the hell!” He flew up from his seat with a sweep of his hand swept the things of the table, which clattered onto the floor with a resounding crash, “You bloody bitch in heat! I’ll teach you…” He strode towards where she cowered behind a chair.
There was a gasp at the door and he stopped in mid-stride with his hand still raised. His mother stood there with Kirti.
“What’s happening?” Kirti asked in a horrified whisper.
“Aunty!” the dam broke Rajani rushed towards Kirti and into the safety of her arms. “Aunty please take me away from here. Please Aunty.” She begged. “I can’t breathe here. Please Aunty.”
“Of course beta.” Kirti looked at Lalit who grimly nodded his head. “We were on the way back to Chandigarh and thought of just dropping in to say hello. Come along with us.” She shot a disgusted scathing look at Harsha and Sunaina.
“Oh no Bhabhiji,” Sunaina blabbered, “children will fight. It doesn’t mean anything. Just young blood you know. Harsha apologize at once. This is not done.” She scolded.
Harsha stood there unyielding and unresponsive.
“He’s not like this Bhabhiji, he is the mildest and most biddable of sons,” Sunaina went on even as Rajani swiftly gathered her essentials, “I’m sure Rani must have done…”
“Enough!” Kirti raised a hand and put the other one around a shaking Rajani’s shoulders, “come along dear. Let’s get you home.”
“Don’t do this Bhabhiji.” Sunaina’s voice lost its sweet bewildered note and hardened. “You will regret it.”
Kirti didn’t even bother to reply and swiftly descended the stairs.
“Thank you Aunty, thank you,” Rajani shed tears of relief and gratefulness.
“There’s nothing to thank me for. You are just like my daughter. One glance was enough to tell me this is no place for any girl. I don’t know what your parents were thinking.” She pressed her lips and fell silent as Lalit turned to look at her.
It was over. She was free. Rajani couldn’t believe it. She was actually going home. She was free of that hellhole. For a minute there she had thought Harsha would kill her. And probably would have if Aunty hadnt come. Oh what if Aunty hadnt come when she did? She would be dead or injured bleeding hurt with no one of her own. She gulped air in deep gasps.
“Relax beta relax.” Kirti was concerned. “Here drink some water.”
Rajani’s shivered and shook. Her teeth chattered.
“What’s the matter dear?” Kirti drew her into her shawl and held her close. “It’s over Rani. You’re safe.” She rummaged through her purse. “Here have a chocolate. Go on.” She said encouragingly, “I know you like chocolates. It will make you feel better.” She peeled it and popped it in Rajani’s mouth just as she had done when she had been a little girl.
Tears slid down Rajani’s cheeks as the soft gooey chocolate flood her mouth with sweetness.
Thank you Bhagwanji. Thank you.
Click here for the next chapter: Of Choices and Costs