When a woman keeps calm, you’d better run for your life.
Priya breathed slow and calculated breaths. We stood next to the bench in the back garden in the whereabouts of the lemon tree. As my readers might remember, it was also the backdrop for my fateful showdown with Reva earlier in my story. A casual reader with more time to spare than the others might even flip back a couple of chapters to glance over the aforementioned scene again. Speaking of time to spare, I clearly had aplenty. With Priya resorting to this rather curious form of yoga before me, I devoted my attention to the ripening lemons upon the tree and endeavored to pluck one of them. People who know me well would know that I am a fanatic when it comes to lemonade; and people who know their lemonade well, would know that there is nothing in the lemonade world that comes within touching distance of the one prepared from freshly squeezed lemons. So pluck I did, and being the gracious gentleman that I am, turned around to offer the fruit of my labor to the lady in my vicinity. However, the lady gave me a look that plainly said she would like nothing better than to grab the lemon and stick it into my right eye. It was like she had subtitles.
I backed my hand away slowly. Priya hadn’t spoken for the past couple of minutes, which was rather unusual by her standards. I stared at her, unsure of the situation, as she lowered herself to sit on the bench. I continued to stand and twiddled the lemon between my restless fingers.
“Sit, Hari” she said at length.
I shot glances about. This didn’t look like a trap. I sat beside her, and began polishing the lemon on my shirt. It was a startlingly yellow lemon.
“Could you please put the lemon away?” she said, this time in an all-too-familiar tone. A little jog down memory lane informed me that the tone seemed to have been borrowed from my Chemistry teacher back in school. She hated me. At least ever after I snuck elementary sodium from the lab and flushed it down a lavatory in the school restroom. The resulting explosion was not pretty. I smirked at the memory and turned around to Priya to narrate it to her. Even a pirate with two eye-patches could have told you that she seemed to be in no mood for my anecdote.
“What do you mean you left it there?” she asked, weighing each word before she spoke it.
Her query momentarily drew a blank. With all the foraging for lemons, my mind had been allowed to drift away from the bigger picture. Oh, that’s a pun right there! Big picture, get it? Big picture, also refers to the painting! No? Okay, never mind. I’ll get back to my narration then. Priya tapped her foot impatiently on the gravel. If I had told her about my pun, she would have punched me in the eye. I switched my brain to overdrive to address her question.
“I couldn’t do it.” I said finally, after my brain whirred to a halt at the end of that bit of processing.
Priya was not impressed.
I continued. “I mean, I couldn’t steal from Gopal. He is my own cousin and my closest friend. I really want to help you but that is just not the way to do it. I’m sorry.”
I waited for her to consider this. She didn’t take long at all.
“Balls! You and your moral standards. Why do you have to act all moral in the most desperate situations? You know as well as I do that you have none whatsoever. Why can’t you act your usual self and just get me the damned painting!”
I frowned. I would assure my readers, by the way, that I do have morals. I mean, not so much as to overwhelm you with them if you ever confronted me, but I’m definitely not an empty pail of morals as this woman was depicting me to be.
“Forget it,” I said “there is no way I’m stealing from Gopal. Your moolah would have to be arranged by other means.” Pleased with that definitive statement, I crossed my arms for the effect. Funny how a simple gesture like that adds a sense of grandeur to the whole scene. By the looks of it, it had worked. Priya sighed like a red hot coal being doused with water.
“Fine, so be it.” she said, standing up again. Clearly I had won this round.
“You’d better get to work then.” she said, as she picked up her purse that had been lying on the bench. I felt a bubble burst within me.
“Well, you need to arrange a couple of lakhs, don’t you remember? Stealing from Gopal was just a suggestion from me. You, clearly, don’t want to take my suggestions. So, I will let you carry on with your brilliant ideas. By the way, Mohan will come to meet you tomorrow.”
“Who on earth is Mohan?”
“Mohan, the collector. He should be here in the evening. I gave him the address of this place and told him to ask for Hari Chetlur.”
“You did not! Tell him the whole thing is off!”
“Too late. He must already be on his train.”
“What?! He will be furious if he gets here and there is no painting for him to buy!”
“Oh my god! Do something!”
“All that is to be done is to be done by you, not me.”
“I hate you!”
“Oh really?! Well, if I remember …”
“Guys?” Reva’s voice cut Priya off. I looked over Priya’s shoulder to spot her descending the steps from the kitchen. Priya continued to glare at me. “Are you guys fighting about something?”
Before I could react, Priya swung around and said “No no no! Hari was just offering to make lemonade for all of us. So we just stepped out here to make pluck lemons for it.” She swung back towards me with the smile of an innocent school girl. I can never get my head around Priya.
Reva beamed. “Oh wow! I love lemonade! It’s as hot as hell today too. Thanks, Hari. You guys should hurry back though. We are waiting on you guys for the evening snacks.” She gave a wide smile and disappeared back up the stairs.
A sheepish smile stayed on my face as Reva left the crime scene. Priya, meanwhile, had put on her poker face on. “Have you ever seen yourself blushing?”
“Lucky you. It is a disgusting sight.”
She thrust a couple of lemons in my hand that seemed to have magically plucked themselves and landed in her grasp. “You heard her. She loves lemonade. Now go in and make some. Try not to make a fool of youself.”
I frowned at her.
Indoors, the air was saturated with the delicious smell of hot bajjis being prepared. I savored the aroma before rushing into the kitchen. Aunt Sreeja was at the stove, lowering a new batch of bajjis into the frying pan. Aunt Jaya supervised proceedings. She gave me a stern look as I entered with a handful of lemons.
“Ei.” she snapped, as I clumsily dropped a lemon to the floor and attempted to pick it up with my already full hands. “you boy! What kundraavi is this?” she said as her gaze followed me chasing the lemon that kept rolling away. “What on earth are you doing with all these baleful lemons?”
“I’m making lemonade.” I said, as I stood up straight again, the runaway lemon safe in my clutches.
“Do you have nothing better to do? Just have some coffee and go back to the living room. Sreeja, give him some coffee.”
“No no Aunt Jaya. I’ve had way too much coffee already. I need some lemonade.”
“This young generation, I tell you.” she sniffed as my phone rang and I struggled to get it out of my pocket. “Mobile phones everywhere, no respect for elders, and go around calling lemon juice ‘lemonade’. The world is going to the dogs I tell you Sreeja.”
Meanwhile, I had glided out of the kitchen and back into the garden again. The call was from Uncle Sudarshan; I couldn’t risk taking it indoors.
“Hello, Hari?” he yelled.
“Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“Can you do me one favor, boy?”
“Anything you want, uncle.”
“Good. Go tell Aunt Sreeja that I won’t be making it for this thread ceremony thingy.”
“Ya, I’ll be a little delayed here.”
“Uncle! You CAN NOT do this! Why on earth are you delayed?”
“Man, that useless fellow from Palakkad simply ran off.”
“Ran off? Where?”
“How do I know. I can’t contact him at all, he’s not picking up my phone.”
“So what are you doing there?”
“I’m sitting in front of his house.”
“What do you mean? What are you doing there?”
“That rascal has to come back some day!”
Tambrahm relatives are frequently hard to understand.
“So, are you going to sit there till he returns?”
“What choice do I have?”
“Well, you could come back home.”
“No no, Hari. I have to sell these pups. If they grow too old, they will get attached to me. I can’t sell them later.”
I contemplated this. It was bad enough having Cleo alone attached to him. Imagine having half a dozen chihuahuas running riot around the place. I sympathized with the man. But then, the situation didn’t allow for it.
“Uncle. You can sell them off later! For god’s sake, get on a bus right now and head home!”
“You don’t understand…”
“Uncle. I will take care of it. I promise. But first, we need you here for the thread ceremony.”
“No, Hari. I cannot do that.” He hung up.
I stared at the phone for a second and then dialed his number again. No response. He refused to pick up my call. Drat!