Two Years

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Chapter 27

Old Relatives Surface

I lie in the bed, tossing and turning, thoughts of father and Karthik keeping me up. I must have drifted off to sleep sometime in the wee hours, and am woken up by two of my clients, Subramanian, and one Ramanathan, who was getting his house renovated.

Both sound very enthusiastic about the exhibition. Mani has already visited it once, and he tells me to visit specific stalls to check out for sanitary ware. The other client saw some fancy doors.

I assure them that I would take a look later that day just to get them off my back though I have no intentions of stepping out. A day off everything is what I need.

But I was not destined to enjoy a peaceful weekend. Pratap calls around 10 to check how I am and if I am up to visiting the exhibition today. What’s with this exhibition! It happens almost every weekend! But probably this is the most hyped so far, and so we must not miss it, I suppose. He continues sweetly, “Not a must. But some of these things move quite fast, you know. And weekends… you can never be sure. Morning will be relatively free as by evening and tomorrow, the place will be packed… So do you think it can be squeezed in this morning? Vijay is also going that way – you can do some research for him too.” Wait, didn’t he say it was not a must?

But, he is the boss, and I agree.

I get ready and wait for Vijay, who comes in an hour, looking grouchy. “What is it with these guys! Why can’t I sleep in peace? Waking me up early to go for this exhibition! I don’t want fancy stuff. I am calling this whole thing off!” he mutters all along the way. I keep quiet, trying not to let his sour mood depress me further. “You know, I have been up the whole night, cracking a bug, and I have a meeting in the evening. I thought I will sleep the morning off…and here I am! I mean, what are you paid for if you can’t decide what’s good for me! I am paying you, am I not?”

I remain mum, my face growing hot with anger. We both sulk as he drives me down.

He parks and gets out, banging the door behind him. Startled, I giggle nervously, and then melt into anger. He seems such a baby! “What are you doing inside? They don’t have drive-in display!” I tease him, “Is it safe to come out?”

He doesn’t respond, but as he turns I notice his eyes crinkling.

The place is quite crowded; could it get any worse? Vijay just keeps moving forward, without pausing for long anywhere. I am here on work. At one point, unable to keep up and wanting to stay on, I message him to go ahead and leave whenever he is done as I am going to take time.

I move back from where I started for that is where I see the sanitary ware, right near the entrance. I check out the prices, the designs, and suddenly, Vijay whispers in my ear, “Shit! Did I come back for this!”

I laugh involuntarily. “Come to think of it, why not Jacuzzi in your bathroom upstairs?”

He dismisses it, but gets interested nevertheless. As I note down some probable purchases, Vijay points out a toilet model that he would like too. We make our bookings to benefit from the discount rates and move on.

Vijay is distracted by an electronics stall and I stop to look at some jewellery on display right across. Though not much into junk wear, I enjoy looking at them. Vijay joins me and picks out an inordinately large fancy earrings, saying, “Is this to hang towels in?”

I giggle and move away, fearing the scornful look from the lady behind the counter, when I walk into a girl. We look and almost turn away when she lets out a shriek of joy –characteristic of her. “Kalpana! Manni! How unexpected!”

Uma hugs me warmly and I return it hesitantly. In a minute, she will be cold. I myself am a bit put off…after all that happened. But she is almost jumping with joy unmindful of the people milling around. People move away, in fact, giving us some space as she animatedly swings her arms around while saying, “I have been wanting to talk to you for sooo long! How are you?”

It is difficult to ignore her enthusiasm. I touch her cheek lightly as I feel overwhelmed by affection. “I am fine. How are you? You are sparkling!” I say in a choked voice. She grabs my hand and presses it to her cheek. My eyes well up at this simple gesture of love when she should have been cold shouldering me with hate. “Are you here alone?” I ask, worried that Sukumar may be around.

“No, no! I am with Usha and her kids. Aditya is at home…Usha, Usha!” she calls out. Her sister looks back, as does Vijay, as do many others in between.

“Look who is here! Kalpana! Isn’t it simply great!”

Usha smiles half-heartedly from where she is, making no effort to come towards me. I nod and turn back to Uma. She has made enough spectacle of me. “I have to leave, Uma. I am with a client, so can’t linger for long.”

“Yes! But I really have been wanting to meet you and too scared to ask Karthik anna! Tell me, can I come to see you? I have to talk to you.”

I nod, wondering what she could want to talk to me about. I write down my contact details in a piece of paper and join Vijay. I have lost the mood now to look around and mechanically look at the things he points out.

Around lunch time, he says, “Let’s grab a bite. I am hungry.”

I follow him to the food court and he orders some burgers for the two of us as I leave the choice to him.

We take our burgers and cool drinks outside the hall. Under the shade of a tree, he tells me a joke and I don’t laugh. He tries again, then finally complains, “I don’t like competition.”

I look at him, puzzled.

“I am called moody. But you beat me!”

I smile but am unable to respond appropriately.

I return home with a headache. I am disappointed to find that Karthik came and left the bag with the photos and the documents with my neighbour. Couldn’t he have called! Of course, he doesn’t want to see me…

I pick out only the photos, leaving the documents for a later date.

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