Geetha was going to work as usual but she did not give up on Chitra. She kept making phone calls and searching various sites. Hari was getting nervous by the minute. She was hoping and praying for that call from Williams.
Geetha’s job was another story. One of friends one day commented, “Good thing Geetha has a job. Helps a bit financially, you know.” That was not a comforting thought for Hari. To him, it sounded like a comment on his joblessness. He struggled to take in in stride but it was hard, very hard.
Then came another blow like beating a whitlow with a pounder[ A Telugu proverb– goruchuttumeeda rokati potu. ]. Hari got a telegram from India. The Post Office worker tried to call but there was no answer. So, they mailed a copy of the telegram. Hari looked at the telegram in his hand and checked the time. It was time for Geetha to return home.
Geetha walked in, stared into Hari’s face and stopped.
Hari waited until she came closer to her and said gently, “Telegram from home,”
“Telegram?” Geetha’s heart beat twice as fast.
“Your mother passed away,” he handed the telegram to her.
Geetha was dumbfounded. She felt like she was hit by a boulder. She slumped into the sofa. Something happened. Somewhere something happened. The line “mother passed away” did not register in her head. Something happened to somebody? Where? To whom?
Geetha was in a shock, totally lost. She could not think straight anymore.
Hari moved closer to her and asked, “Want to go?”
Geetha threw a blank look. Yes, she should go, she need to see mother, and tell her that she came to see her.
Phone rang. Bhagyam called just to say hello. Hari picked up the phone and conveyed her the bad news. Bhagyam expressed her condolences and said she was coming right away. She conveyed the news to a few other friends.
By 7:00 pm, several friends gathered around Geetha to console her. Geetha sat like a sculpure; no sign of any feeling; her heart and brain froze.
Hari came to her and said, “I’ll book the ticket.” To be frank, the issues on his mind were different. This is not a good time for India trip. It is not that easy; it is not like going to Chicago or Philadelphia. To find a reservation at such a short notice is one problem. And then, no guarantee that the family would keep the body until Geetha gets there.
The people gathered there expressed their concerns.
“So, is Geetha going?”
“Booking a ticket at a short notice could be a problem.”
“Anyway, what is the point of going there now? If she was alive and ailing, that is a different story. But now she is gone, we don’t even know if they keep the body for a final goodbye.”
“Yes, also, it is different if mother had lot of jewelry and other assets.”
“Aha, do you think they would keep the jewelry just like that? My mother-in-law was draped in jewelry, head to foot. You won’t believe, she was like the Goddess Lakshmi, with all the diamonds and gold pieces she was bedecked with. By the time we arrived there, there was nothing but a chain of black beads. You cannot trust anybody nowadays.”
All that chat was no consolation to Geetha. She wanted to scream ‘Shut up.’ Tapathi noticed it, took her hand and walked to the bedroom. Then, she returned to the living room and asked the guests politely to go home; she assured them that she would call them, if needed.
Bhagyam went into the kitchen, made coffee and brought a cup to Geetha. “Have a sip, it feels better, just a little,” said lovingly.
Geetha took the cup and put it by her side. “Call me if you need anything, anything at all,” she said before leaving.
Hari pulled Tapathi to a side and asked, “What do you suggest I do? I really can’t think; what am I supposed to do?”
“You mean about travel?”
“I don’t know either. Maybe you should ask her.”
“What can I say? I know she would like to go. But, look at the situation. Here, I don’t have a job. And she just started a new job. It sounds harsh but the reality is what it is. Like somebody said earlier, there is really nothing she could accomplish by going now.”
“I understand. I think you need to tell her yourself.”
Hari went and sat next to Geetha and said slowly, “If you want to go, I will make the reservation.” He struggled to say it. He did not have the heart to say anything beyond that. Had he said it was not a good time for a trip, it sure would sound like he was stingy, more interested in saving money rather than let her have the consolation of visiting her mother for the last time. No, he was not prepared to take such blame.
“What is the point? What can I do?” Geetha said.
Hari took it as ‘no’, returned to Tapathi, and said, “She says not now.”
Tapathi sighed a deep sigh. It would have been different if they were in another city in India. Geetha would have rushed home to be by her mother’s side in a heartbeat. Times like these remind us how forlorn our lives are on a foreign soil. We refuse to accept it but that is the harsh reality of immigrant life.
Geetha set out for office the next day.
“Take a leave of absence for a couple of days,” Hari suggested.
It was hard for her to sit at home doing nothing. Work might give a bit relief. “It’s okay. I will go to work,” she said and left.
That was no surprise. Her colleagues at work respected her. Her computer skills came in handy. She was helping anytime somebody ran into a glitch on their computer. Her manager was impressed with her computer skills and hard work, and promised to make her a loan officer soon. She also made friends there, which was an additional treat. But
for Tapathi, she had no other friends, up until then.
Williams called Hari and said he was going to Chicago to make further arrangements to open the new branch there. He suggested Hari to meet him in Chicago to discuss his appointment.
Hari agreed. He told Geetha that he would be back on Sunday and left for Chicago on Friday.
Geetha called Tapathi on Saturday but there was no answer. She thought she might have gone out to run errands. She called after a couple of hours but no answer. She tried later in the evening and again no answer. Geetha got nervous. Tapathi never would be out at that hour. Her fears were growing by the minute, and overtaking her like a huge chunk of dark cloud. She called Radha and asked if she had heard from Tapathi. Radha said no, and said that Tapathi might have gone to visit her son or daughter. And said not to worry; Tapathi knew her way around.
Geetha was not convinced. If Tapathi had gone to visit her son or daughter, she would definitely tell Geetha. She could not hold on any longer. Jumped into her car and went to Tapathi’s home.
She knocked on the door, no answer. Peeked into the garage. The car was there. Geetha looked around, losing hope and saw the neighbor digging holes for plants. She asked him if he had seen Tapathi.
He had not seen her either for about two days, and suggested reporting to the police. The worst of her fears took over; she was a nervous wreck. The neighbor saw her predicament and offered to make the call himself.
Within minutes, two police cars and an ambulance arrived. They asked several questions: When did you see her last? When did you talk to her the last time? Why do you think she is missing? Does she have any friends or relatives she might be visiting?
Geetha answered all the questions. With each question, her heart was sinking lower and lower. The neighbor noticed it and gave the possible scenarios. While the police continued their questions, a taxi stopped in front of the house. Tapathi got out of the taxi. She was just as confused as everybody else, for different reasons though.
As she walked towards the front door, police stopped her.
Geetha dashed to her, hugged her, and asked, gasping for breath, “Where did you go? Why didn’t you tell me? I was dead, almost, for fear of your life,” she shouted with a mixed feeling of frustration and relief.
Tapathi was equally bewildered. “What happened? Why the police are here?”
The neighbor was the first to grasp the entire situation. He told the police that was the woman they thought was missing and offered a few more explanations. The police and ambulance left. Then he explained the situation to Tapathi.
“Oh God! I am so so sorry for causing all this confusion and giving you trouble. Please, forgive me,” she said, genuinely feeling miserable.
He said it was okay, these things happen, and left.
Geetha took a good look at the girl standing next to the car. She was absolutely certain that girl was Chitra, the same Sheethro Behanji.
Tapathi went back to the car, took the suitcases from the trunk, and said to Geetha, “Let’s go in. I will explain everything to you.”
Tapathi held Chitra’s hand and walked to the front door. Geetha followed them with suitcases.
Tapathi told Chitra to go and freshen up, and said to Geetha, “Make coffee. I will change and be back.”
(October 16, 2022)