“Ma’am,” Rajani stuttered, but Aditi was on the warpath. “How unprofessional can you be? You couldn’t even be bothered to leave a message?”
Hanging by a thin thread battling despair and ill health, Rajani snapped. She collapsed on to the nearest chair and burst into sobs.
“Bloody hell!” Aditi stomped out of the room and shut the door behind her. Rajani gave in to the luxury of releasing her pent up emotions until a knock on the door recalled her. She hurriedly scrubbed her face and buried her face in a manuscript.
It was Parkash. With two cups of hot steaming tea. “Namaste Madam.” He said cheerily. Rajani could only nod. “Madam…?” he began concernedly but Aditi cut him short. “You may go now.” She said curtly. “Rajani,” she turned to her when he had left, “go and wash your face and come back here.”
“Yes Ma’am.” She stumbled out.
“Shut the door.” Aditi ordered. “Have your tea.” She pushed a box with a couple of sandwiches towards her.
“No Ma’am. I couldn’t.” Rajani refused.
“When did you last eat?”
Tears started in Rajani’s eyes.
Aditi rolled her eyes. “Not again! Have the sandwiches. And it’s an order. Take this proof and check it.”
Rajani took it and got up.
Aditi looked up. “Did I tell you to go?”
Rajani sat down and hurriedly picked up a sandwich as Aditi’s eyes flickered towards the untouched box. Nibbling at the sandwich and sipping the hot tea, going through the proof, her woes faded into the background. The tight band around her chest eased even though her head throbbed.
“Okay now tell me what happened.” Aditi raised her hand. “Without crying. I can’t abide tears.”
Rajani swallowed. “I’m sorry Ma’am. I…I wasn’t well. I had high fever.”
“Didn’t you see the missed calls? You could have asked somebody to leave a message?”
Rajani was silent.
“Do you have fever today?”
Rajani shook her head.
“One day high fever?”
Rajani’s eyes flew to Aditi’s and dropped.
Aditi’s pushed back her chair and stood up. “As you wish Rajani. But with this kind of attitude you can’t go far in this organization. Mr Bansal was here yesterday and he was furious that you were absent without intimation and instructed me to issue you a memo. Three memos and you’ll be out of a job with no recommendations.”
“I’m sorry Ma’am,” Rajani panicked. “I promise it won’t happen again. Please Ma’am.” She begged. “I am having some issues with my husband,” she blabbered, “and it escalated day before evening. Aunty came and took me away but Papa forced me to go back. I couldn’t sleep and then I had high fever. I saw the missed calls but I was in no condition to speak and then my phone discharged…”
Aditi raised a hand. “Nobody cares about your sob story. Least of all Mr Bansal. He’s only interested in his returns and your output. So if you want the job, be professional. Emergencies happen. Inform somebody. That isn’t too much to ask is it?”
“No Ma’am. Sorry Ma’am.”
“And you are old enough now. Learn to take control of your life. Why do you let your husband or your father dictate how or where you should lead your life?”
“It was nothing Ma’am,” Rajani covered up, “just a minor misunderstanding it was my fault, I over-reacted.”
“Is that what they told you?”
Rajani’s eyes flickered and dropped.
“Well anyway,” Aditi shuffled the papers on her desk, “it’s your life. But my advice would be to get out before you have a baby. Once you have a child, you are well and truly stuck.” Her face twisted. And if you…” she cleared her throat, “give that to Tanya and get it corrected.” She dismissed her.
“All okay?” Tanya asked worriedly looking at Rajani’s pale and downcast face.
“Yes. Sorry I didn’t inform yesterday. I had high fever.”
“Oh you poor thing.” Tanya commiserated. “I was worried about you when you didn’t pick up the phone. I even thought of swinging by your house after office but then yesterday was an awful and busy day. First Mr Bansal came and threw a fit over several things.” Tanya sighed. “Apparently business isn’t doing as well. You didn’t come. And neither did Alka.”
“Oh! What happened to her?”
Tanya shrugged. “No idea. She also didn’t pick up her phone. And she still hasn’t come or informed. Anyway, take this and this,” she handed her a sheaf of papers, “get cracking. Both have to go to print today. You may have to stay late.”
“No problem.” Rajani said. I could even stay the night.
“You okay?” Riteish came and hovered over her desk.
“Yeah.” Rajani mumbled without looking at him.
“You didn’t come yesterday?”
“I…I wasn’t well.”
He shuffled around a bit and then strode away.
A little later, Tanya called her up, “Rajani can you just help Riteish finalize the pictures for the First Day of School article?”
“Sure.” Rajani went over to his station. His eyes widened as he saw her swollen blotchy face.
“What happened?” He asked.
“Nothing.” She shook her head. “Which pictures do you have?”
He continued to look at her with concern.
“Nothing’s wrong!” she forced a smile. “I had high fever yesterday…”
“No fever today?”
Rajani shifted uncomfortably. “I have a lot of work. Can we get on with this?”
“It’s okay I got this,” Riteish said, “You go and take things easy.”
“May as well have a look since I’m here.” Rajani objected. “What will Tanya think?”
“Let her think what she likes.” Her eyes fell before the intensity in his.
“Never mind.” She stared determinedly at the computer screen. “Let me see the pictures. I like seeing them.”
Hard as he tried, Riteish couldn’t elicit a single giggle or even a smile from her. “Okay. Thanks.” He said down but not out. “Did you get lunch?”
“Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nothing.” He shrugged. “I was going out for lunch so if you want something…”
“What kind of lunch?” Tempted she asked.
“Anything. Rajma chawal. Chole chawal. Kadi chawal…”
“Kadi chawal!” Rajani interrupted, her mouth watering. “I’ll give you the money.”
“No! If you don’t take…”
“Okay fine!” He raised his hand defensively. “But I must warn you,” she stiffened and looked at him warily, “I take delivery charges as well.”
A smile lit up her face. “Fat chance!” she stuck out her tongue at him before tripping away.
The kadi-chawal was a big hit with the lunch gang. There was loads of it for just 20 rupees. But that wasn’t the highlight of lunch.
It was Pakhi’s excited announcement. “I’m pregnant!”
They fell over each other to congratulate her and overload her with good wishes. Nidhi insisted on feeding her one whole laddoo and Pakhi promptly disappeared to throw up.
“So that’s why you were avoiding lunch with us!” Avantika said. “And the fruity lunch wasn’t because you were on a diet?”
Pakhi laughed and shook her head. “My MIL instructed me not to tell anyone until I was at least three months gone. It was tough to sit and eat with you all when all I wanted to do was puke.”
“How awful for you,” commiserated Nidhi, “but you are over the worst phase.” She declared knowledgeably.
“How would you know?” Avantika said slyly. “Have you been pregnant?”
“Ha ha,” Nidhi mocked her. “I have two sisters. I’ve been with them during the pregnancies.
“Okay enough chatter. Pack up and let’s go down.” Tanya stood up.
“How was the kadi-chawal?” Riteish stopped by to ask.
“It was great! So cheap too.” She frowned. “Are you sure it’s just for 20 bucks?” She looked at him suspiciously.
“Yeah I am sure! You can ask Parkash if you like.”
“I will.” She warned.
“Please do.” He put a packet on her table. “For later.” He vanished before she could protest.
Curious she opened it – two big fat paneer pakoras and a couple of juicy jalebis!
Now it wouldn’t matter if she didn’t get any dinner.
A/N Hello friends, how have you been? Me? Oh I’ve been terribly busy, especially last weekend when I didn’t even have time to work on Moonshine. No…no I’m not asking for leave, at least not just yet 😉 When I started this blog, it was with the primary intention of sharing Rajani’s story. And while that still remains my priority, I have over the last couple of years also built up a neat little portfolio of short stories and photo features. But unlike Moonshine chapters, which remain where they are and are easy to retrieve, these are forever lost in the scrolling maze of new posts and updates.
I spent the entire weekend on reorganizing and categorizing my blog indexes. Yes! I have several indexes to cater to your individual tastes and my diverse whimsical flights of fancies 😀 And now since I have done all the hard work there’s no point if I don’t brag about it is there? So my dear friends what I am trying to say in my usual rambling style is that if you like Moonshine you may also like Some Short Stories or More Short Stories which are less emotionally draining and require less of your time – particularly flash fiction which are usually under a couple of minute reads. These are separately indexed under Bunch of Stories. And if you happen to like photos – fun fotos, black and white photos or simply want to cheer up after a depressing update of MS there’s Just for Fun or the amazing world of Inspiring Trees categorized under Clicks and Pics.
I do hope you will click on at least some of these links and find it worth your while. And if you do, I would appreciate if you could share with your friends and family. A range of share buttons (including Facebook) are available at the bottom of each page and importantly does not require you to login or be a blogger to do so.
This is my resolution for 2018 – to make a greater effort to publicize my posts and I start with you my friends with whom for some reason I feel more connected despite so few of you commenting. Thank you for putting up with my ramblings!
Click here for the next chapter: A Family Visit