Chataka Birds part 19

Part 19

Geetha gawked at Tapathi, read to pounce on her, she was fuming. She was embarrassed in front of the police and the neighbor because of her. I will never forgive you.
Tapathi poured herself a cup of coffee, and started to recount the story.

She had received a phone call from a group home in New York. The gist of it was a young woman named Sheethro was in their group home, and she gave Tapathi’s number as a contact number.

Tapathi asked a couple of questions and was convinced that it was Chitra. She told them she would go there as soon as she could, and took the next available flight to New York.
At the group home, Tapathi learned that there was an accident and Jamie Bhai had died on the spot. The police made a few inquiries and found that Sheethro was developmentally challenged, and had no other relatives or friends except Jamie. The police sent her to the group home, temporarily. The manager at the group home spent some time with Sheethro and found out that she had Tapathi’s phone number. For some inexplicable reason, Sheethro had a small box in which she kept the first paint brush Tapathi had given her, some paint accessories , and Tapathi’s phone number. The manager was thrilled to find them and made that phone call to Tapathi.

Tapathi finished her story and said to Geetha, “I am sorry I did not tell you. The news was overwhelming, I could barely think straight. I was so happy to find that Sheethro was safe and took the first flight to New York. I thought I would call you from there, but then, there was so many things I had to take care of, I just got lost.”

Geetha calmed down, “Okay. What is next?”

“Call Gayatri and Somalingam garu.”

Tapathi called Gayatri and gave her the good news. Both the parents came as fast as they could. They were so happy to Chitra, hugged her tight like they would not let her go again.

“We were so worried. I am glad to see you,” Gayatri said, with tearful eyes.
Somalingam asked Tapathi why she did not call them the moment she had learned about news. Tapathi explained the best she could. She wanted to make sure it was Chitra; she was too scared to get their hopes up without confirming it herself first.

“Never mind all that. Let’s go home,” Gayatri said, with her arm around Chitra’s shoulders.

Chitra pulled back. Somalingam tried again and Chitra pushed him away again.
After a little discussion, Tapathi said, “Let her stay here for a couple of days. Probably, she needs some time to get adjusted to this environment again.”

Chitra’s face lit up.

Her parents left, grudgingly.

After they left, Tapathi turned to Geetha and asked, “What shall we do now?”
“That’s nice. What do I know? What can I say?”

“Whom else can I ask? You have no children. I have two, but I am done with them. They are living their lives. Therefore, we two are responsible for this little one.”

Geetha laughed. “What kind of logic is that?”

“Okay, there is no logic. However, I have to find a way to keep her safe and happy. And YOU are going to help me.”

“Well, you did not expect all this drama when you had introduced Jamie to her; nobody expected it. You are right. Let’s wait for a couple of days and see how things shape up. Maybe, she will tell us herself. After all, she did have the brains to save your phone number and give it to the manager there.”

Tapathi said yes.
A week passed by. Chitra showed no signs of any interest in going home. One day, Chitra came into Tapathi’s room. She never went there. In fact, her presence in the home was barely perceptible.

Tapathi invited her in, “Come,” and moved the books on the bed, making room for her to sit.

Chitra sat on the edge of the bed and handed her an envelope.

“What’s that?” Tapathi asked. She took it, and opened and found government bonds for $25,000.

Tapathi, startled, asked her, “How did you get these? Who gave you?”

“I don’t know. Jamie Bhai gave me.”

That was not consistent with the impression he had given by his actions; his running away with Chitra, that is. Tapathi was a bit annoyed too. Things just started settling. Why this new wave, out of nowhere? What would Gayatri and her husband think of it?

The phone rang before she could decide what to do with the bonds.

Gayatri called to tell Tapathi that her sons had arrived to see Chitra, and asked what was a good time for them to pay a visit.

Tapathi asked them to come in the evening and told Chitra that her brothers were coming to see her.

“Um,” Chitra said. That was it, no trace of any emotion.

In the evening, her parents and brothers arrived. Tapathi invited them in.
While chatting, Tapathi told them about the bonds. They reacted exactly the way she had expected. “They had been doing business in New York for a few years and made only 25k? It should be half a million at least,” the brothers balked at her.

Tapathi, struggling to hide her ire, said, “I don’t know anything about any business. Even these bonds, I came to know only today, and I have told you right away, didn’t I? You do know the life in this country; it is all loans–mortgage, credit card debts, car loan, and what not. You deal with the probate court yourself,” she retorted.

“We will take our sister home,” the older brother said.

The younger brother was a programmer. He said he would create a website for her and sell her paintings.

Gayatri did not like it at all. “Enough of it, all the drama we have had so far. No sites, no selling. Just leave her alone,” she said.

“We don’t have to make it a business, like James did. However, it is not a bad idea for her to have a purpose,” Somalingam said.

Tapathi took Chitra to a side and asked, “What do you say?”

“I don’t know. You tell me,” she replied.

“I think your brothers are sincere.”

Chitra was quiet. Tapathi had no choice but to take matters into her hands. “She is just back. We don’t know what her life had been like there. Let’s give her some time to settle, first,” she said to all of them.

They all agreed to let it be for now.
Hari returned on Sunday, as promised. He was bubbling with joy. “I got the job. I have to report to work in ten days.”

Geetha was very happy. She told Tapathi. Tapathi was also happy, congratulated Hari on his new job.

Hari got on the phone and called all his friends and passed on the good news. They all congratulated him, were sorry he was moving away, and glad Chicago was not that far. They also insisted he should throw a party.

After all that hubbub about congratulations and feeling sorry for his departure, Hari said to Geetha, “We have to start packing. There isn’t much time.”

Then, it hit her, what his job in a new city meant. They would have to move. The next thing that came to her mind was her job. Her first job! She recalled the conversation they both had had at their first meeting. Probably, it escaped Hari’s mind.

“That means I have to leave my job,” she said.

“So what? You can find another in Chicago,” Hari replied casually, shuffling papers in front of him.

That hurt her. It may not be a great job but it gave her a sense of identity, a special place in the community. Obviously, Hari had no idea of that change in her. For a second time in her life, she felt like she had lost everything. She was downcast all day.

Next day, Hari called Madhav. Radha picked up the phone. She said Madhav was not home, and asked casually when they were leaving.

“Soon. New office and new job, you know. Lot of work.”

“It must be hard for Geetha. She will have to leave her job.”

“Why would it be hard? She can find another in Chicage very easily. No, I don’t think it is a big deal at all.”

“Probably, you are right,” Radha said and hung up.

After the chat, it took several minutes for Hari to sink in the underlying message in Radha’s words. He went into the bedroom.

Geetha was watching some news channel. He took a few minutes and said, “I was thinking.”

“About what?”

“Our move. Maybe, you should stay here and continue in your job. Don’t tell anybody in your office yet. Let me go to Chicago first, and check the things out. You can join me later. What do you say?”

Geetha stared at him for a few seconds and said, “Okay.”

“I can come home for weekends.”

She nodded. She felt a little embarrassed also for feeling relieved.

(October 24, 2022)

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