by Rudy Ravindra
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Geeta and Bhaskar want to come to Dallas. They will spend time with Deepak and family... and... um... erm... well...she wants me to buy their tickets.”
Gopal laughed. “So, we are forgiven at last! That greedy lady must think you are made of gold! That’s a lot of money, almost five thousand dollars for two airplane tickets! But what happened to all that moola she got from Mama?”
“Who knows? Bhaskar might have invested in some funds or real estate. But I feel bad to say no.”
“No ifs or buts. Tell her I said no.”
* * *
Gopal said, “How can we invite that charlatan to our house? He’s a swindler. He took your money!”
“They are in Dallas for a few months. It seems Deepak paid for their tickets. If we don’t invite them to visit us, it won’t look good. Please, I beg you, don’t bear a grudge. Past is past. They are family, you know. Forgive and forget.”
“How can we forgive! How can we forget! Rani, you are too generous for your own good!” He stormed out of the house.
Rani sat with her face buried in her hands and wept silently. She knew that Gopal was right. But she couldn’t simply ignore her sister, however greedy she might be.
Following more heated discussions and Rani’s passionate pleas, Gopal reluctantly relented.
On the dreaded day the unwanted couple were picked up at the RDU airport.
While Geeta and Rani babbled in the backyard, Gopal had the unenviable task of entertaining the despicable Bhaskar.
* * *
“Rani, how can I bear this horrid fellow for seven more days?” In the quiet of their bedroom, Gopal was drowning his sorrows in a nightcap, a double shot in view of the stressful circumstances. “Bhaskar talks nonstop. About his dear, departed father. About his dead brother. About his fat sister-in-law. About his profligate nephew. About his sister who grabbed their mother’s jewelry when the old lady passed. About how he narrowly missed becoming a doctor and ended up instead a bookkeeper. He’s a bloody bore.”
“Gopal, I beg you, please be patient. I’ll reward you, I promise. I’ll be your slave. Okay?” She kissed him and caressed him here and there.
Gopal sipped his single malt. “Do you know that Bhaskar and Geeta will relocate to Dallas? He’ll retire next year. Deepak will sponsor them for green cards.”
“How come Geeta didn’t say anything?” She sipped her whiskey. “You know what? I think she was too engrossed with the jewelry that your mom gave me. Her eyes got bigger and bigger at the diamond-studded gold waist band and the arm cuff band. And the diamond necklace and the gold hair braid. She asked me, ‘What are you going do with all these? Who you are going to give these?’ I was stunned, my own sister asking such a question. She’s at least five years older than me. If anything, she’ll conk off long before my departure to the pearly gates. I was so mad, but I kept quiet.”
Gopal laughed. “Maybe she wants you to bequeath all that gold to her obedient daughter-in-law.”
* * *
“Deepak wants to send Geeta and Vasu for a month.”
“Isn’t that wimpy kid now in middle school?”
“Yeah, yeah. He is bugging his father for a summer trip. It seems he has to write a report about his summer break. And Deepak thought we can take him around, to the beach, museums and, and...”
“What the hell! I just can’t stand your sister, always stroking her double chin saying she doesn’t know what to do. She’s forever confused and clueless. And Vasu, for god’s sake, that monkey-faced kid gives me the heebie-jeebies.” He shivered dramatically.
“Anyway, what’s the point taking him to the beach? The last time they were here, remember we took them to the beach? He’s terrified of water, stands a mile away from the surf. I will not be responsible for someone else’s kid. Rani, we got to be firm. A boy’s summer experience should be with his parents and siblings, not with relatives.”
When Rani told her nephew that she was unable entertain Geeta and Vasu, there was deafening silence at the other end.
Rani became a persona non grata.
Diplomatic relations between Raleigh and Dallas were restored only after lavish Christmas gifts were sent.
* * *
Without checking with his aunt, Deepak proposed that his parents stay at Raleigh for a month while he and his family visited India. Since neither Bhaskar nor Geeta could drive in the U.S., Deepak felt that his parents might not be able to manage by themselves in Dallas.
“Geeta is such a klutz that I don’t trust her in my kitchen. And that Bhaskar, he and his endless cups of coffee. He leaves used cups, water glasses everywhere. He expects to be waited upon.” Rani was agitated.
“Last time they were here, you cooked and cooked all the time, and I washed and washed. Having once experienced Bhaskar’s scintillating company, I’m not keen on an encore. We somehow put up with them for a week. But a whole month?” He paced up and down the living room.
“But how can I say no, how can I?” She sat glumly and gulped her Malbec. She was fuming to be put in such a tricky situation. Rani and Gopal worked out a method wherein they were comfortable eating soup and fish or chicken for dinner. But with two guests who were strict vegetarians, the menu had to be varied, different curries and dals every day. Rani, with her rudimentary repertoire, would have difficulty to come up with a variety of dishes for an entire month.
By the time she came home in the evening, she was dog-tired dealing with demanding patients. But with guests in the house, she would be forced to make an effort to entertain them.
“If I refuse, they will not speak to me again.”
“What’s new? It won’t be the first time. I’ll celebrate if they stop harassing you. Anyway, I don’t understand why you bend over backwards to be in their good books.”
“Ramesh never calls me. He feels that I besmirched the family name by marrying a man from a different caste. Geeta and her family are the only ones that keep in touch.”
“But they don’t really love you; they only love your money.”
“Oh, stop it! Stop it!”
Gopal yelled, “You can’t buy love! These people are perpetual parasites! You got screwed so many times. You gave away so much money to that devious Deepak, you let Bhaskar swindle you in that apartment deal, and then let him occupy the apartment for four years without paying rent. And then your own mother deprived you of your rightful share of the property. And you talk of family loyalty. Was anybody in your entire family ever loyal to you? They all exploited you.” He went into his den and slammed the door shut.
* * *
During the long, lonely nights, Rani stared at the ceiling, tossed and turned and slept fitfully. She missed the pillow talk, she missed his warm body, his kisses, his ardent embraces. And, above all, she missed waking up to his kind, smiling face. Age hadn’t diminished their ardor, didn’t diminish the urgency, and didn’t diminish the joy of coupling.
Yes, she had aged a bit through the course of the past years of hope, joy and occasional despair. Although most women her age had a nip and a tuck and a bit of Botox, she steadfastly refused to intervene with the course of nature, and decided to age gracefully.
Notwithstanding Rani’s crow’s feet, Gopal said her big, beautiful eyes were still striking, and she found his craggy face, framed by the salt and pepper hair, still attractive. Ever since he came into her life, Gopal had been her guiding light, a beacon of hope in the turbulent waters of her life.
Night after night, she was troubled at the dire domestic situation, perhaps of her own making, and questioned if she was being pig-headed. After all, what he said was true. And that was also the persistent opinion of Durga, her buddy from grade school to college to medical school. It was Durga who dressed her wounds, and scheduled her shoulder surgery. It was Durga who whisked her away from the oppressive house, away from that monster. It was Durga who encouraged her to sign up for the singles’ websites. It was Durga who soundly endorsed Gopal. And it was Durga, when she came to know of their move to Dallas, who warned her of the conniving couple.
Durga and Gopal, two people she trusted most, had the same low opinion of her greedy relatives. Why then was she so stubborn not to distance herself? Why oh why? Was it her pride? Was it fear of abandonment? The time had finally come to be brutally honest with herself.
* * *
Rani was fed up with Geeta’s frequent calls about her upcoming trip to Raleigh. It appeared as if she took it for granted that she was a welcome guest in Rani’s house. This time, she said, Rani must take the entire month off and drive them to Williamsburg, Washington D.C., New York city and Orlando. Here she was despairing of alienating a loving and caring man, while Geeta prattled on and on about cruising up and down the east coast.
When Rani did not pick up or call back, Geeta would text furiously. Why did she not return her calls? Is she so busy that she can’t talk to her own sister? Rani was frustrated that Geeta failed to fathom the stress of patient care, the frequent trips to the hospital and nursing homes, and the hours upon hours of documenting, thanks to the new regulations.
* * *
At the end of a long, hard day, while unwinding with a glass of Merlot, she glared at the chiming cell phone and reluctantly accepted the tedious call. Geeta said that she would be booking their airplane tickets to Raleigh, and gave the exact dates so that Rani could apply for vacation.
Rani was taken aback at this premature plan to purchase tickets. In the first place she had yet to make up her mind about Geeta’s and Bhaskar’s stay at Raleigh. Her nerves were already frayed with unaccustomed marital discord. Rani curtly told that her schedule would definitely not permit to entertain guests for a whole month. And she hung up in disgust.
Now that the deed was done, she sighed deeply and gulped down the remainder of the wine. She was, at long last, at peace with herself and hoped and prayed that Geeta and her family would butt out of her life and stop demanding this or that.
She thought, For too long this house has been like a funeral parlor. She popped a CD into the stereo, and the living room came alive with the lilting lyrics of the amazing Asha Bhonsle:
aao huzoor tumko sitaron mein le chalun
dil jhoom jaye aise baharon mein le chalun
Come, let me take you to the stars. Our hearts will be filled with excitement. Let me take you far away.
Gopal came out of his den and smiled at the melodious song and kissed his wife, who appeared to have emerged from her self-imposed exile. She kissed him deeply, got rid of her tank top and shorts and drew him down to the carpet.
Gopal stroked her silky hair and kissed her slender neck. “I missed you.”
She wiped the sweat off his brow. “Yes, yes, yes. It’s been a long time, baby. I’m sorry.”
* * *
Rani was livid at Geeta’s terse texts. “This is the last straw! She calls me disloyal, cold, heartless. She says I don’t care even if they starve for a whole month while Deepak is in India. She says I have no compassion, no decency.” She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She looked at Gopal sadly.
Gopal said, “But what I don’t understand is, why can’t Deepak ask his friends to keep an eye on his parents. Surely, Bhaskar can call a cab to go grocery shopping, right?”
“She hurt me, she hurt me real bad. She says you are manipulating me. She says you hate them. Ever since I married you, I changed. You control my every move. You are just a poor teacher who married me for my money.” She broke down started to bawl loudly.
Gopal hugged her. “If you want to make peace, tell them it’s okay for them to come. I’m fine, we’ll manage, we’ll manage. In a lifetime, what’s a month?”
Rani wiped her tears. “No, no, no. After what she’s said, there’s no way she will cross this threshold. That’s it, they are history. I’ll block them, no more texts, no more e-mails.”
“Are you sure? Relations will be as frigid as the Siberian winters.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I was always nice to them. But now she has crossed the line. She hates that I have a good man to protect me, to stand by me. Even after all these years, I still remember her shock and skepticism when she came to know of our engagement. She thought no man would come forward to marry a woman like me. ‘Damaged goods’, she said.” She shook her head.
Copyright © 2016 by Rudy Ravindra