This is a short story depicting the daily struggles of an Indian homemaker living abroad with an interesting twist.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the month of May and while sipping some hot coffee, Rachana could see the morning joggers in the boulevard across her house. It was almost a year since she had moved to Albany with Amit, her husband, leaving the commotion of her hometown back in India. They had rented an apartment in Grove Avenue in the Helderberg neighborhood. She had bickered a lot regarding his choice of housing. She wanted to settle in New York City, but Amit’s office was in the vicinity from where they currently resided and the middle class tenements also suited his budget. As she finished her coffee, she sighed and got back to making breakfast.
After she was almost finished, Amit walked in adorning his usual office attire. At 5’11”, with a 5 o’clock shadow on his chiseled jaw and gelled black hair, he was really attractive. Rachana raised her brow questioning him.
“I know it’s a Saturday, but you know how desperately I want that promotion. I need to work extra baby.” He said in his fake American accent. When Rachana stayed quiet, he pressed further, “Baby, you know we have to send some money to our parents every month and we also want to start a family right? We need every single penny.”
She was seething in anger, but calmed down when he played the family card.
Instead, she said, “I understand Amit. But, please be back early. We have to go for dinner at the Shah’s residence. Vyomi is making paneer tikka masala for me!”
“Oh my god!’ exclaimed Amit. “You have seriously become obsessed with panir. Every single day you want panir. Panir this panir that. I am sick of this panir. Make me some fish for God’s sake!”
Rachana was amused by his rant and said, “Oh but they don’t eat fish you know. They are pure vegetarians. And looks like you are obsessed with fish”, she said pointing her index finger at him.
Irritated, Amit turned around to leave, but stopped when Rachana called him again.
“By the way honey,” Rachana said, “It’s not panir, it is pa-neer.”
Feeling annoyed, he stomped his foot and slammed the door.
“What a brilliant start to my weekend.” Rachana thought. She missed him. The caring and loving Amit that had courted her during their engagement days had transformed into a workaholic one. They had moved immediately to Albany post marriage when he got the transfer. And Rachana being just a commerce graduate with no experience, did not have much to do. Amit wanted to save as much as he could so that they could have a better house and start a family, hence he wouldn’t spare a dime for her in order that she could study further. Hell, she didn’t even want to study, rather she wanted to start her own private investigator firm. She had a knack for it; she had extremely good observation and reasoning skills and she simply enjoyed the challenges. But no, Amit wanted her to do any job that would earn some bucks. There was nothing much here for someone with just a commerce background. And she was just not interested to immerse herself in books.
As Amit left, Anita came from her hiding place under the dining table and jumped on Rachana. Startled by that sudden movement, Rachana almost dropped the bowl of fruits in her hand but somehow regained her balance at the end moment.
“Anita, calm down!” she yelled. “Here, take your food.” She instructed the little cat.
She had named the cat in memory of her maid back in India. Oh! How much she missed her; here, she had to do everything right from cleaning the house to cooking to washing clothes, on her own.
As the clock struck 10 am, she realized she had an appointment with the dentist at the local medical center. Her tooth was troubling her since a few days, so she decided to get a checkup to be safe. She got ready and decided to walk till the center. Depending on the outcome at the dentists’, she may have to hire a cab back home and she could definitely use some extra bucks. Besides, walking was her favorite exercise. Apart from keeping her fit, it helped her to delve in her surroundings.
As she locked the door, she left Anita out and instructed her to stay around. On the street, she met Mrs. Gomes, the septuagenarian next door neighbor. She loved that old lady. Why wouldn’t she? After all, Mrs. Gomes had paid her a hundred dollars for finding her missing dog. That’s when she decided to take her passion seriously and after finding a couple more lost pets, she had made a few hundred bucks! And that is how she had met Anita about four months back. She found a little cat hovering around her door on that cold January morning. Taking pity on the poor little thing, Rachana had provided it food and shelter. Though Amit despised all four legged creatures, Rachana had insisted to keep the cat until they found the owner. She had named her just a couple of months back when she discerned that nobody would be coming to claim the cat.
As she waved goodbye to Mrs. Gomes, and passed by the Shah’s residence, a few doors down the line, she couldn’t help but feel excited for the dinner. She then met Holly, who had sought her help to find out whether her boyfriend was cheating on her. So, after tailing him for a week, Rachana had confirmed that he was a genuine fellow. Holly had then paid her generously. After a brief chat with Holly, she then rushed to the medical center to get the business with the dentist done.
Returned home with a missing tooth, she thought whether she would be able to have dinner. But she waved the thought off thinking that she would only have paneer, which was soft. Oh! How her mouth started watering just thinking about that!
She rested on her bed with a bowl of ice cream and was binge watching a few reality shows on her laptop, when her phone rang.
“Mrs. Basu, Aniket here” there was an urgency in his voice that made her gut clench.
“Aniket, please call me Rachana. What happened?” she asked.
“The dinner is cancelled.” Oh no! My paneer, she thought. But before she could say anything, Aniket continued, “Please can you just come over? Please.”
She swiftly changed into a dress, tying her shoulder length wavy hair into a pony and after a quick glimpse into the mirror, she left. She saw a police car parked outside the Shah’s, and with her heart hammering in her chest, she entered the house.
She saw Aniket answering a few questions that the policeman was asking him and another one was inspecting the house. They questioned her presence in the house to which Aniket mentioned that she was a friend and he had called her for moral support. He then handed a picture to the police man and they left. Aniket had tears in his eyes by the time Rachana approached him.
“What’s wrong Aniket?” she enquired.
“I’m sorry to bother you Rachana, but I really didn’t know who to call. Amit was not answering his phone. I had left Vyomi in the house to go to the mall and get some stuff. When I came back she wasn’t there! I thought that she must have gone out to run some errand, so I tried calling her, but her phone was switched off. So I waited and waited. But it’s been almost three hours now. And I’m really worried. So, I had to call 911.” He sat down on the sofa clutching his hair and sobbing.
“She will come back, don’t worry.” It was all that Rachana managed to say.
The Shahs had shifted here about four months back with the start of the New Year. Rachana wasn’t very close to Aniket as much as she was to Vyomi. She really couldn’t understand how to console him. But considering the time that had elapsed since Vyomi disappeared, Rachana felt fear creeping up on her insides. They were relatively new in the area and she had hardly seen Vyomi loitering around except meeting the neighbors.
“Do you mind if I look around?” She asked him.
Aniket nodded in affirmation and Rachana’s detective instincts kicked in. As she was about to enter the kitchen, Aniket said, “She was boiling milk and was getting the ingredients to make paneer when I left. But when I came back, she wasn’t there and so was the paneer.”
Before she could start inspecting anything, she heard Aniket sobbing uncontrollably. Rachana thought he was over reacting, but nevertheless she pushed him into his room and asked him to rest.
My husband would be happy if I went missing. She regarded sadly. Putting all those thoughts aside, she decided to snoop around. First, she went into the kitchen. There were remnants of paneer in a dish near the sink, but other than that she couldn’t find the remaining ingredients for the recipe. ‘Looks like Vyomi made the dish and ate it all by herself and then decided to disappear.’ She silently mused. Where could she have gone? The Shahs dint look like they were billionaires unless there was hidden treasure in the house for which Vyomi would be kidnapped for ransom. She also noticed that there were very limited things in the kitchen; hardly any herbs and spices, a few cereal packets and a couple of milk cartons in the fridge. It all looked very suspicious, like they were ready to pack and run.
Rachana quickly looked over in the drawing room for anything suspicious, but except for bare shelves, she found nothing. She had come to their house probably just for the second time in the last four months as she and Vyomi would meet at her place often when Vyomi would bring delicious cooked paneer for her. She went near the dining table that was adjacent to the kitchen and suddenly she felt a shot of pain in her left foot. She bent down to find a small, round and sharp object. She gasped at the sight of it. “Oh my God! It’s a diamond.” She whispered. After inspecting it thoroughly she left it exactly where she had found it and went to meet Aniket.
She wanted to inspect his room as well, but couldn’t, as he was wide awake when she entered the room.
‘I think I’m going to head back. Amit would be home soon. Don’t worry, I’m sure Vyomi would be alright and she’ll be back.”
He mumbled his thanks and Rachana left. As she entered her own house, her phone rang.
“Hi, baby.” Amit said.
On hearing that tone, Rachana understood that he was going to pull an all-nighter again.
“Don’t Amit,” she hollered. “You always do that. Always.” She was on the verge of breaking down. “All I need is to spend a little time with you, but no. Your work is more important.”
“Rachana, please understand. I’m doing this for our future.”
“Cut the crap Amit. You have been telling me this since the last six months.”
“A few months more, baby. Please baby.”
“Don’t ‘baby’ me! Are you so bored of me now? You are not even home on weekends! Is there someone else?”
“Oh! For God’s sake Rachana, don’t start with all the accusations again!” He yelled. “Screw you and your perverted thoughts. I have better things to do.”
“Now, I’m accusing you? Really?” She said. When there was no response, she realized that Amit had unceremoniously cut the phone again.
Mouthing some cuss words for her husband, she opened the freezer and started gulping ice cream to calm her nerves. She then headed up to her room. So much for having paneer for dinner, she thought. Amit wouldn’t be back until the next day and after their bitter argument, she doubted he would even come back. She was getting sick of being holed up in the house even on weekends.
But right now, her mind wouldn’t stop pondering about the bizarre things that she found in Vyomi’s house. A diamond, the missing paneer, the bare essentials in their house; she kept ruminating about all of that and didn’t realize when she fell asleep.
She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.
Squeezing her temples with her fingers, she got out of the bed and saw that it was almost noon. Her tooth was lost forever, but her spouse should be back soon, she thought.
She went into the kitchen, quickly gulped some milk and cereal and then took paracetamol for her headache. She couldn’t reach any conclusion regarding Vyomi, the diamond and the missing paneer. Sighing, she removed the fish from the deep freezer and left it to thaw. Time to treat Amit, she thought. She showered and changed into a loose t-shirt and yoga pants. As soon as she entered the kitchen, the doorbell rang.
‘Must be Amit’, she anticipated. But, when she opened the door, there was no Amit. Instead, a brown paper bag was placed by the door. She peeked around to see who had left it, but on finding no one, she shrugged, took it inside and closed the door. Before the door shut, she caught a glimpse of a sleek black Audi passing on the street.
She placed the parcel on the dining table and sat down to open it. She found an air tight container and a letter inside the bag. Curious to know who had sent it, she opened the letter.
I must say that you are a really smart and honest investigator. You saw the diamond but left it there itself. Hats off! But you see, you need a little more training to excel. And I know that you are short on resources, so that’s why I have sent something to help you. Hope you make good use of it.
P.S.: The ‘missing’ drama was fake just to divert the attention of a few people who had caught onto our shenanigans. It bought us some time to plan our next move. Anyways, you may never meet us again. Good luck to you and Amit for your future!
Aniket and Vyomi Shah.
Rachana kept the letter back and proceeded to examine the contents of the container. She was astonished at what she saw.
There were five mouthwatering pieces of her favorite paneer tikka. Below the pieces was a sticky note on which the words ‘enjoy the missing paneer’ were written. After internally debating whether to leave a couple for Amit, she decided against it.
As she began to chew a mouthwatering piece of it, she felt something crunchy and spat it out. ‘Ouch!’ She cried. There was a diamond in the paneer! Finally realizing what Vyomi meant, she removed another four pieces from the remaining paneer. Now, she was the possessor of five glittering diamonds that would change her life forever.
She already started dreaming of her new house with an extra room that she could convert into her office. She couldn’t wait for Amit to come home and give him the good news! And so she went on a cleaning spree and cooked his favorite fish curry.
A few hours later, when Amit came home, he was surprised to find his otherwise badgering wife in an extremely cheerful mood. And after he learned about her weekend adventure, he relished his fish curry even more and showered her with a passionate lovemaking.
All the while, there was just one lingering thought at the back of Rachana’s mind. She would never know who the Shahs were. If that was even their real name. Except that the lady made delicious paneer. She would never know whether they were conmen on a heist or undercover cops on some secret mission. But they did give her five beautiful diamonds. So, who they were didn’t really matter, or did it?
At the same time, somewhere on the streets of Albany, a couple was heavily making out on the back seat of a black Audi.
“We did it Aniket! I can’t believe that we ravaged a hundred diamonds from that old woman’s hidden basement!”
“Ninety five sweetheart. You gave away five of them to your friend.”
“But, she deserves it. She’s taking care of our Fluffy after all. Can you believe that she has named her Anita?” Vyomi said.
“I thought we had lost her.”
“Yes, me too, but then I found her happy with Rachana, so I let her be. Besides she would make us too conspicuous in the long run.”
“Imagine the headlines. ‘A couple with a white cat on prowl. Beware’. Aniket burst out laughing.
“Why the missing drama?” Vyomi quizzed.
“It was a perfect cover. I suspected that the Morgans who live across saw us leaving Mrs. Gomes’ house. I didn’t want to take any chances.” Aniket pecked her on the lips and said. “So, what’s our next plan?”
“I think we should take a break. We deserve it. Let’s go to Seychelles. It’s my dream destination!”
“To Seychelles it is then!” they both said. And sped off.
Meanwhile, Rachana was fast asleep with the missing paneer now rested in her gut. She dreamt about solving new mysteries and embracing exhilarating challenges that included motherhood as well.