Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hard Cash

Unlocking the wooden door coated with cheap green paint in gaudy patterns, Shyam marched indoors with the mechanical resolve of the working class. A cup of tea would help, he reckoned.

He was wrong. Staring at the black remains of the beverage floating at the bottom of the cup, he measured the sad thought. May be, he still had time, maybe he read it all wrong, a glimmer of hope seemed to assure him. After all, Mehta is a noble soul. And why should anybody know at all? By the month end, he would quietly square it off. Bhai had given his word. Just a matter of five days more…. what difference would it make?

He tried to recollect the last time Mehta had asked for the balance. Not for months…yes, yes… last year it was, just before the internal audit. Just once in almost eight months. And there was no audit in sight now. Not for the next three months.

The beaming face of Radha made a delightful intrusion into his reverie. She had come for some sugar, as always. A pickled housewife, she was in her early forties, voluptuous, much like the over-sized vamps of South Indian films but more importantly, with looks that would not merit a second look. Just right for his exclusive attention. And she was also a mother of two. Somehow, the social certificate of chastity came so easy with motherhood, he wondered. That was a great help, her marriage.

He greedily savored her belly and its alluring button that peeped out of the shifting pallu now and then; little did he know the display was intentional, one that followed careful mock sessions before the mirror from every possible angle. Radha derived loads of earthy pleasure, throwing a basketful of voyeuristic opportunities at him whenever she could. Though she fancied her chances all the time, it was difficult, what with an obnoxious, drunkard that her husband was, unabashedly patrolling her whenever he was home.

But Shyam was precious in every way. And he was no ordinary hand, a cashier in a private company, not a stupid mill worker like the father of her kids. Amidst the children, the chores and the demands of her black and white married life, she was keen to play the young maiden. She turned back, but not before flashing an inviting smile, offering a delightful view of her swaying behind through her fading nylon saree. It was magic no doubt, he forgot all about office and the cash, if only for a while.

Yes, he needed Radha, to fill his dreams, if not his life… .to please his eyes, if not his loins…. a welcome oasis in the murky desert of his spinster life. The thoughts came back with vengeance, 10,000, that was huge for him no doubt, but peanuts for Mehta all the same. Why should he bother? And was there an option? Did not Bhai’s request wrap a silent threat? The initial help with the room, the rent for the first few months, the ultimatum to the landlord on his behalf? Give and take... It was expected..… some day.

The sound of Mehta’s car in the driveway the next day sent a cold chill down his spine. And before he tried to cope with his fear, the peon declared, “Sahib wants to talk to you”

Was the end near? He could hear his heartbeats drumming to death. “Jadhav, get me the cash count now”

No sooner had the words left Mehta’s rugged lips, the panic consumed Shyam in one mighty blow ……and… he broke down. The confession took less than 10 minutes. The crime had taken a lifetime.

Shyam Jadhav lost his job within a week. “If he did it once, he would do it again” was Mehta’s cold logic behind the judgement that sealed Jadhav’s fate.

Jobless at home, he has taken to liquor. Worse, Radha has distanced herself from him lately, having caught a glimpse of her vulnerable husband in his dithering movements. But what has made him a nervous wreck is not the lost job or the wrecked affair but a double blow of fate.

One, Mehta’s question about the cash balance was just a random inquiry of the current status of cash-in-hand…

and two, Bhai was promptly at his doorstep five days later, with 10,000 rupees in hard cash. As promised.

What if………….