Chataka Birds part 16

Part 16

Geetha was stunned. She did not think that she had no right to ask to repay a debt Hari had loaned. She and Hari never made such distinctions.
“No, that is not it Sumathi garu! I came across this loan while balancing checkbook. We two don’t have separate accounts,” she said apologetically.
Sumathi did not hold back. “Give the phone to Hari. I will ask him what kind of games he is playing,” she gnarled.
Geetha was taken aback. “Sorry, he is not home. I will tell him to call you. You two can settle it yourselves,” she said and hung up.
Later in the evening, Geetha related the story. Hari too was surprised. He could not understand why Sumathi talked to so harshly. After that encounter, Sumathi kept her distance from Geetha each time they met at some party.
A couple of months went by. One day, Radha saw Geetha at a grocery store. She asked why Geetha did not attend Sumathi and Tesh’s wedding. The two got married in the temple in Chicago the previous week. Geetha did not know about the wedding. She said, “We were not invited,” with a grim smile.
Geetha felt bad about it for quite a while. She had no problem she being left out of the occasion. But, why leave out Hari? They all had been friends for years; did it not count? It made no sense. Befuddled, she called Tapathi for a few comforting words.
“That is the way friends are here,” Tapathi said in a matter-of-fact tone. Then she added, “I cannot explain why Sumathi and Tesh did not invite you to their wedding. But the one thing I can say is, people change after they arriving here. On one hand, their faces light up like fireworks as they see a Telugu face; they feel a strong pull toward our folks; they want to bond together. On the other, they want to assimilate with local people, which means keeping distance and watching for their interests. On one hand, their privacy is precious, they protect it like hawks; and, on the other, go about dragging everybody else’s life through mud. All I am saying is we become an odd mix of incongruent parts after arriving here.”
“What do you mean an odd mix of incongruent parts?”
“You know, back home, there is no such thing as privacy. We all speak whatever is on our mind whenever and wherever. Everything is in the open. That in itself is a therapy for us. I however must admit that I don’t understand the idea of privacy here. They are so particular about privacy, but there is so much out in the open. The internet gives away so much of your private matters, journalists pursue celebrities and dig into plenty of their private lives, in the name of ‘people have a right to know’.”
Geetha spent a lot of time trying to figure out Sumathi’s psyche and her behavior. She found no comfort in Tapathi’s words. She was perpetually befuddled and dismayed by Sumathi’s attitude. She could not shake the feeling of being lost. Finally, she grabbed a bunch of white sheets and started putting her thoughts into words. She could not stop even for lunch.
By about 2:00, she completed the story. It was 6 pages long. She read it a couple of times. It seemed to be alright. Yes, she was satisfied with it. But how about somebody else? She called Tapathi and confirmed she was home.
“I wrote a story. Tell me what you think,” Geetha gave the sheaf of papers to Tapathi.
“I didn’t know you write stories.”
“I don’t either. Don’t use plural. This is the only story I’ve written. Just as a way of relief. I couldn’t take it anymore, I mean the heartache. You read and tell me what you think. I will make coffee,” she said, walking toward the kitchen.
Tapathi finished reading in five minutes. She went into the kitchen and said, “This is good. Hard to believe this is your first story.”
“Really? You think so.”
“Really, yes. I mean it. Actually, that is how it happens. When something pierces through the heart, the pain seems through into the pen, and readers respond at the same level. Unlike trashy stories, the stories that are written with honesty reach readers.
The two sat down with coffee and fine-tuned it by making a few changes. Around 8:00, Hari called Tapathi and asked playfully, “Any sign of Geetha coming home today?”
Tapathi looked at Geetha. Both of them had a hearty laugh.
“You too come here. We are celebrating the birth of Geetha as a writer.”
He said okay and came within a few minutes.
“I did not know you write stories?” he said to Geetha.
I didn’t, either. This is first. Just felt like scribbling something,” Geetha dismissed it as if it was no big deal.
Hari read the story and understood how much Sumati’s behavior hurt Geetha. Also, Geetha did not use the real names and places in the story. She skillfully crafted the story of a person, who was struggling with cultural conflict in the new environment, after leaving behind hometown and close relatives. He could not help but appreciate Geetha’s keen sense of commitment.
All the three finished eating and a hearty chat. Geetha felt good about it. For the first time saw Hari in a lighter mood, since he had lost job. She credited it to her story; felt like her story had accomplished something. She looked at Tapathi’s face. Tapathi nodded; she understood.
It was a month since Hari had lost his job. For Geetha, it was more like a few centuries. It was getting harder for both of them.
One day, Tapathi called Geetha and asked, “There is an opening in my bank, a small job. Would you like to try it?”
Ho ho ho, a job! For me? Truly? “Job for me, really?” she screamed, almost.
“Yes, a job, yes for you. It is a small job but I thought it might give you some respite from your present situation. And it is also an opportunity to put your computer skills to use.”
Geetha wanted to jump for joy and then her enthusiasm fizzled away. “I am not sure what Hari would say,” she said. He was looking for a job and a job just fell into her lap! A miracle!?
“Okay, ask him and let me know.”
She asked Hari. He said good.
Geetha was in a fix. Is it proper for her to take a job while he is unemployed? How would he feel? Would it not be embarrassing for him? But then again, she remembered all those days when she went nuts for sitting at home, doing nothing. There were times she wished she had a job, just as an excuse to get out of the house, if nothing else. Advantages outweighed disadvantages.
“I would like to take the job, if you don’t mind,” she said.
“Why would I mind? Take it, if that is what you want,” Hari said.

Geetha decided to go for it. Whatever was on Hari’s mind, he did not let it known. For all outward appearances, he was calm and quiet. After she started at the bank, both felt relieved. It was a lot better than sitting at home, watching each other 24 hours a day.
Hari was busy with looking for a job and Geetha with her job at bank. Geetha’s income was not much but it gave her great satisfaction. She recalled the saying her mother used to say: man gets his strength from possessions, animal from consumption.[1]manishiki unnadi balam, pasuvuki tinnadi balam. The little cash she received at the end of each month was a precious possession for her.
Uncle Ramana phoned Geetha. He just returned to New York from Germany after a year’s stay there on business.
The sound of his voice made Geetha jump; she was ecstatic.
“Oh, Mamayya, I am so glad to hear from you.”
“Sorry I could not call you earlier. You know I was not in the country. Anyway, how are you?” Ramana said. He was just as happy as Geetha.
“I am fine,” she said.
“And Hari? How is he doing?”
“He is okay,” she said. There was a slight hesitation in her tone. Ramana asked straight and she had to tell that Hari had lost his job.
Ramana said sorry and told her to tell Hari to call him; he assured her Hari soon would find a job. Ramana also apologized for not receiving her when she arrived in New York. He was in Germany at the time. “You should visit us sometime,” he added.
Geetha said yes, yes to everything he said, promised that she and Hari would him soon.
Ramana told her one more time that he would help Hari get a job and hung up.
She told Hari about the call she had received from Ramana Mamayya and that he offered to help Hari find a job. “Um,” Hari said, barely excited. After supper she repeated Ramana’s offer.
“Why did you tell him I lost my job?” he screamed. Geetha was afraid that might happen. Well, it happened. Nevertheless, it hit her hard. Up until now, he never raised his voice like that. She left the room in tears. She went into the kitchen, put the left overs in the fridge, dirty dishes in the sink, and went into the bedroom.
Hari cooled down, felt bad for yelling at her. Why did he yell at her? She did nothing wrong. He was frustrated and he took it out on her. Hari went into the bedroom, sat next to her, and said, “You go first. I will join you in a couple of days.”
Both were equally frustrated for being helpless. “I don’t want to go alone. We will go together whenever we can,” she said.
“Okay,” he said, and returned to the living room. He knew how painful the situation was to her. He was wishing sincerely that she would go and spend a few days with her uncle; that would be a relief, however, temporary it might be.
She was wishing sincerely that Hari went with her because Ramana Mamayya might find a job for him; that would be a big relief for both of them.
Hari got on the phone and talked to several of friends through most of the night. They all advised him to go to New York. He might find a job there, they said. Also, he could show Geetha the city, and that would be a change of pace they both needed badly.
Before he could come to a decision, Ramana called again. Hari had no choice but talk to him.
“We could not attend your wedding. Please, visit us. We can meet both of you,” Ramana said, amicably.
“Sure, we will. Let me think.”
“No, no, not think. It is a good time for me too, to show you around the city. I really like see you two,” Ramana insisted.
“Okay, Mamayya garu. Let me look into reservations. Here, talk to Geetha,” he said, and handed the phone to Geetha. She talked for a couple of minutes and ended the call.
She thought Hari would yell at her again, but he did not. He said he would book the tickets later.

“We can visit Peter and Susan also,” she said. They were the first two people she had met after landing in New York; so, she was particularly fond of them.
“The broke up. Peter moved to Berkley, California. I don’t know where Susan is,” Hari said.
Oh, no, Geetha thought. She had spent barely a day with them, yet it felt like something bad happened to someone in her family.

September 29, 2022


1 manishiki unnadi balam, pasuvuki tinnadi balam.

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