Gayatri was in the living room and sobbing. Somalingam was making phone calls to relatives and friends. They were hoping against hope that James might have taken her to the mall or park, just for a change.
Gayatri hit the roof as soon as she saw Tapathi. “Had you not introduced him to us, we would not be in this plight now,” she said.
Tapathi had no answer to her. There was some truth in what Gayatri had said. All the good that had happened so far was wiped out in one second, ironic! Trying to calm her down, Tapathi said, “I’ve made some inquiries at the office. James took a leave of absence for a week, I was told. I am thinking, maybe, he has taken her to Chicago to an art gallery or something.”
“Shouldn’t he ask us first?” Gayatri yelled.
Their neighbor, Henry, came, said sorry for what had happened, and suggested they should file a complaint with the police.
Somalingam said, desperately, “We live quietly, minding our own business. I don’t even know where the police station is. I don’t know what questions they would ask, and what I should to say.”
Henry offered to go with him to the police station and help him out.
At the police station. The police officer said they would have to wait 24 hours before file a report. And he added the girl, maybe, went to a friend’s place; or, was upset for something and ran way.
Somalingam tried to tell him that his girl was not that like that. She had no friends and was not the type that would be upset and run away.
Henry intervened, did some tough talk and made the officer take the report. He took the report alright but did nothing. It was not a high profile case. Chitra was one of the hundreds of no-name kids that disappeared everyday. There was no big reward. The case went cold.
Tapathi received an earful of accusations: We should never have trusted you; You should have known, maybe, you do, what kind of person he is; what did you get in return?
The accusations and not calling continued by the other Indians in town as well.
Tapathi had not choice but to keep quiet. She avoided the all on purpose. She did not however remain inactive. She promised Gayatri she would do everything in her power to find Chitra.
Four months went by. One day Tapathi received a postcard from James. The gist of it was, Chitra’s brothers were jealous of she getting so much attention, and kept bothering her. He added that he was not sure whether the parents were aware of it but Chitra was unhappy and getting restless. The ended the letter, “In hindsight, maybe, I should have talked to her parents or you, but at that time, the only solution I could come up with was to move her out out of that situation.”
He had her to New York, started selling Chitra’s art work on sidewalks and to small stores. Chitra was fine and he was fine. James did not give his phone number or address.
Geetha listened to the story and said, “That’s good. She has a life now.”
“No, nobody thought on those lines. They attacked me every which way. They referred to my second marriage and had no morals; I was hell-bent on demoralizing other girls in town; asked if I would do so, if it was my daughter. And then, they his entire race is like that, no morals, predicted that he would use her as long as he could and then throw her to the dogs.”
Geetha was flabbergasted. She could not believe it. “Did they really talk like that.”
A lifeless smile spread on Tapathi’s face. “You don’t know how cruel people could be. Yes, they all are civilized people. Some of them spoke politely but the message was could not be any less clear. That is why I stayed away from all of them. Lucky me, this house is away from town, so, I have my peace of mind.”
“Her parents could be happy at least. The girl is happy, wherever she is, isn’t it?”
“That’s what I am sick of, too. In stead of feeling good about her present situation, they continue to imagine things that may never happen and weep; seems like they take pleasure in wallowing. Then they turn to me and bash me for introducing James to them. ”
“Okay, let’s set that aside. Tell me what do you think? Do think she is happy?”
“Why? You want to blame me, too?”
Geetha laughed heartily, clearing the air.
“I don’t know. Only Chitra can answer that.”
Hari was getting busier at work, which meant spending less time at home. His travels increased considerably. At the same rate, Tapathi and Geetha’s meeting increased. They got closer. Geetha started learning computer skills, in addition to music lessons.
Hari was totally submerged in his work. Geetha was spending more time with Tapathi. Hari taken over completely by his vocation, and Geetha by her avocation, did not realize that the distance between the two was growing, and vague shadows were spreading.
One day Hari came home early; his face was colorless. He looked exhausted.
“What happened?” Geetha asked with concern.
“Lost my job,” Hari said weakly, and crashed on the sofa.
He, then explained to Geetha, “There have been discussions about revitalizing the office. At first, they told us that they were planning to expand the company; planning was in progress for a while. Then, they said they were merging with another company. In the process, some employees were handed pink slips. Today, I got mine.”
Geetha sat next to him.
So what? Who knows, you may land a much better job; this is not the end of the world. You have been such a great asset to the company, they call you back.
Plenty of inspiring words were hovering in her mind, none would come out of her mouth. In her heart of hearts, she knew the words sounded empty.
Hari never talked about his job with her. He asked regularly what she wanted, but never talked about what was happening in his life. Now, she was at a loss for words.
Hari was on the phone for about an hour and stood. “Don’t you worry about it. I can find another job. I am going out, will be back soon,” he said and left in a hurry.
Geetha was perplexed, could not think straight. Sat for a while, trying to make sense of what had happened, and then she called Tapathi. Tapathi listened and assured her that Hari, with his qualifications and experience, would land another job in no time; don’t you worry, she said. Vapid words; they meant nothing to either of them. To both of them, it became clear how empty the words sound in real life; there are really no words that could comfort, when one is stuck in a terrifying situation.
After hanging up the phone, Geetha sat there for a long time imagining various scenarios. It was 9:00 by the time Hari returned. He did not mention where he had been to. She did not ask him where he had been to. She thought he might have gone to a friend to vent his frustration, just like her.
Hari was trying his hardest to find another job. He contacted everyone he knew and those whom he had barely known. He called those, who were recommended by his friends.
Geetha was talking less with Tapathi. She wanted to talk, but then felt like there was nothing to talk about. She did not feel like going out either. She knew there was nothing she could do by staying home, but there was nothing she could do by going out either. Suddenly, life came to a screeching halt.
One day, Geetha, while going over their financial papers, she found a canceled check, written to Sumati. She checked the bank statements; there was no sign of paying it back.
She asked Hari. He said he had loaned the money to Sumati for something; he did not remember what it was for.
“Did she pay it back?”
“I don’t remember.”
“There was no record of getting it back.”
“Maybe, she forgot. You ask her,” he said, and left the room.
Geetha felt awkward at first. Then she decided to ask Sumati. She thought there was nothing wrong with it, since they were going through hard times and 2000 dollars could certainly come in handy.
Geetha called Sumati. Sumati was all bubbly and chatty until the matter of money came up.
As soon as Geetha mentioned it, Sumati became uptight; she was annoyed. “Did Hari tell you to ask for the money?” she growled.
September 21, 2022