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‘Priya, did you call Mr.Pratap?’
My dad was lying on the bed, with a bandage around his neck. The bandage, I suppose was a good thing in a way. This would now suffice to make my workaholic father stay at home.
‘Dad, for god’s sake, Relax!’ I told him as I drew up the curtains. ‘The sales tax returns will take care of itself. All you need to worry about right now is your health.’
The morning light pierced into the room through the windows.
‘What about that meeting with the advertising agent?’ he enquired. ‘That lazy prick of a manager needs more than one push to get him working.’
‘It’s all taken care of dad.’ I was growing tired. Literally, I could have crashed on the floor right then and slipped into a deep slumber. I was exhausted both emotionally and physically.
‘My baby girl has so much to handle right now. I’m so sorry dear.’ he said,echoing my thoughts. His father telepathy was kicking in, and I shook my head.
‘Dad please!’ I rolled my eyes as I went to get the door. There was no force on this planet that could convince him of my capabilities. ‘I’m an MBA graduate specialized in the field of Industrial management. I was trained to deal with this kind of stuff.’
His face remained tight and unimpressed as ever. I sighed and grabbed a magazine that lay on the coffee table. The doorbell beeped.
When Anthony Kurup was at my door step, it was a full twenty eight hours since Dad got home from the hospital and each one of those hours had passed with arguments and conflicts. I could not blame him, though. I lost my mom when I was seven and since then he had been doing his best to raise me and his industry, without having to make any compromises between the two. Single parenting and entrepreneurship did not go hand in hand in modern India.
For fifteen years he ran the house on a tight schedule. I could bet life on a Cruise ship was easier. Only he knew how rightly the plants had to be watered, how many times the floor had to be mopped and he decided the menu for each day. I never understood why he worked so hard, because it was mostly the maid’s job. It was all a part of his workaholic attitude, part of which, I was scared I had inherited.
The same tight schedule applied to his factories as well. He held the reins of control over every brick and pebble. He supervised every machine and the working of every department. It was again completely unnecessary, because he had three hundred and thirty five staff members working under him. He did not trust anyone that easily. Not even me.
When his health started deteriorating, I told him I’d like to step into the administration and help, so that he could stay at home. Though deep down he knew I would make an efficient industrialist, he turned down my offer because I had one more exam to go before I completed my MBA, and he hired only professionals.
Anthony Kurup was my father’s physiotherapist. He was a tall dark man in his late fifties or early sixties. He wore a simple Khadi dress, a kind smile and a thick Malyali accent. He fit into our tiny family very soon and dad was considerable easier to handle when he was around.
‘Priya mol’ Anthony Kurup said after he had finished his day’s work . ‘You look tired. Would you like some chai?’
I was more of a coffee person. But I was too tired that I nodded. He clambered into the kitchen, and returned after a few minutes with an aromatic cup of tea. I gratefully accepted it and took a sip. The strong flavor of ginger and cinnamon sent sharp stings to my brain and calmed my nerves. I was quiet surprised that tea could be so good. It was like an A.R.Rahman melody was playing in my mind. I was relaxed and energized at the same time.
‘You like my chai, mol?’ he enquired eager eyed.
‘Oh, I love it.’ I said as I indulged into another sip.
He smiled a satisfactory smile and got up to leave.
That was how Anthony Kurup became a member of our family. It was either the aromatic chai or the way he called me Priya mol (mol meaning darling daughter in Malayalam) that made me feel comfortable when he was around. Dad was getting better with each passing day and I could say that he was satisfied with the way I was handling the Factories without his support.
More than a fortnight passed and I had settled down into my new routine. I woke up by five, did a simple yoga routine with dad, had a quick breakfast and left for work. At the factory it was even more tedious. I had to take care of all the audit processes since it was the closing of a fiscal year and we were having a major labor problem at one of our plants.
I never stopped. This was my only chance to convince dad that I could handle it. But amongst the hectic routine I had forgotten something important. Someone important.
I was sipping into Anthony’s special chai on a beautiful Thursday evening when the doorbell rang. I got up, clicked the door open and there he was.
A tall fair guy with dark messy hair and a smug smile. My sweet silver lining. My hero.
‘Amrit!!’ I was exhilarated. He was supposed to be on training. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect him to be back so soon.
‘No.’ he said with the smuggish smile still pasted over his face.
I was still enchanted by his sudden presence at my doorstep that I was smiling like a child watching fireworks.
‘ACP Amrit’ he corrected.
‘What? Really?’ I was so excited that I forgot we were home and collapsed into his arms.
‘How’s dad?’ he asked. ‘Can I see him?’
We were on our way to his room when it happened.
Anthony Kurup walked out of the kitchen and froze in his place when he saw Amrit. A weird silence filled the room and I looked at them both in confusion. Unlike Amrit, Kurup was usually a very talkative and seeing him uncomfortable like that made me wonder what could have possibly gone wrong. I asked Amrit to take his seat as Anthony Kurup hurried nervously down to the kitchen. Amrit was restlessly juggling his keys. I suspected the two of them knew each other and it was not a very healthy relationship that they shared.
‘Mr. Kurup? Can we have some chai, please?’ I called out to him and trying to break the ice.
He walked out of the kitchen, all packed up and ready to leave. There was something unusual to his eyes and I wasn’t sure if it was guilt or fear or both.
‘What happened?’ I enquired in a puzzled tone.
‘It’s time for me to leave’ he said not meeting my eyes.
‘But you haven’t given dad the evening therapy yet!’ I said. It was staring to get weird.
‘No, Priya mol…I have some errands to run’ He seemed extremely uncomfortable that I decided to let him go.
A few minutes after he left,Amrit gave me a deep speculator look.
‘Well, he is usually a nice person….I don’t know what got into him today. So weird.’ I said in a low tone as he looked at me depper.
‘Hmmm…’ He locked his hands into mine as I rested my head on his shoulders. ‘Not so weird in my opinion actually.’
I looked up at him, utterly confused.
There was definitely something I was missing here.
‘What else do you expect a repeatedly convicted criminal to do in front of a Police Officer?’ He smirked at me. ‘Smile and offer chai?’
‘What?!?’ I was convinced I must have heard him wrong.
There was no way Anthony Kurup could have been a criminal.
‘Darling, I am sure I can identify the ones that I thrash up behind the bars. Especially the ones that visit us more than once.’ This time he giggled and winked at me as if he had made a great joke. ‘What did you think you were doing, making friends with a criminal…you are the future wife of an ACP, remember?’
Amrit had a very cruel sense of humor and the fact that he had just disclosed came like a lightning bolt to my heart. I still could not believe that the man I had made friends with was a convict. I thought I knew Anthony Kurup like I knew my father and it was just too hard to believe.
Furthermore, the fact that I had had a criminal running about in my house made me shudder and I did not even dare think on the fact that I had left him with my dad, unsupervised quite often.
‘What an Idiot I have been’ I muttered to him still not overcome with the terror.
‘Well, no arguing there….but you have been an adorable idiot, while you were.’ He pulled me into a hug.
‘Anything could have happened!’ I squeaked in shock.
‘Not when I’m around.’ He said planting a soft third eye kiss. I knew he was right but I couldn’t help feeling angry and guilty at the same time.
Amrit left late that evening after having an extensive chat with my dad and some elaborate dinner. Although I was excited to see him after a long time, I found my mind drifting away quite often. I had been so careless and I couldn’t come into forgiving myself for being an idiot. I tried to compose myself every once in a while that I should focus on my fiance’s flattering compliments and my dad’s outdated jokes, but all that I could think of was about the mysterious physiotherapist.
The dinner conversation did not have my full attention.
The next morning I woke up to a cranky mood and a very bad headache. I decided to call Amrit and vent out my feelings out to him. He was an expert decision maker and I knew he would tell me what to do. I did not want to discuss the issue with dad either. As my rotten luck would have it, my phone was missing.
I spent the next forty minutes of the morning rummaging around the messy dimensions of my room. I stopped caring about the decision making process and a wave of stress took over as I realized I had lost one of the most prized possessions of my life.
The phone had been an engagement gift from Amrit.
I shifted my cot, dug through my closet, unearthed the laundry, investigated the book shelf and even took a peek at the refrigerator, but no mobile. I finally collapsed on the couch and started crying. I never had a proper understanding of the various superstitions, but I knew it was bad omen to have lost my true love’s first gift.
The very next second, I was convinced that Anthony Kurup was responsible for the missing mobile.
What else can one expect from a former convict?
I now had a reason to fire him. I was angry enough to carry out the act when he came home.
‘Mr.Kurup, we need to talk.’ I said in a cold bossy tone that came very easily.
‘Yes, mol?’ he wasn’t his usual happy self. He looked sad and guilty. As if he knew what was coming.
‘We don’t need you here anymore’ I said.
‘But mol, your father still needs a few more exercises to completely recover.’ He said.
Oh? And now he was giving me instructions on how to take care of dad?
I was fuming on the inside.
‘I know. But we just don’t need you any more.’ I said emphasizing on the ‘you’.
His eyes pleaded with unsaid words but my heart did not soften. I looked at him sternly.
‘It’s about what ACP sir said, isn’t it, mol?’ his question took me off guard. I did not want to reply. If at all two years of Buinsess school had taught me anything it was that bosses should never listen to the explanations workers give.
‘Well, I’m not denying that any of it isn’t true, mol, but I decided to turn over a new leaf after my last sentence. I thought I was doing a good job here. But I guess convicts like me can never rub their slates clean. But thanks for everything, mol. Your father is a good man and you are just like him.’
I did not budge. It was raining heavily. I saw him gather all his stuff, step out, stretch his umbrella and turn back at me for one last time.
‘ACP Amrit is a really righteous chap. He is just too talented and honorable for his age. And I’m glad you get to marry him, mol. It’s the best I could wish for someone quite as extraordinary as you.’ He smiled.
I was dumbfounded at his words. What boggled my mind was that he did not utter even a single word in his defense.
No lies, no denials.
Just a small farewell statement.
The look on his face as he saw me for the last time wounded my heart much deeper than I had thought it would.
For a moment, I thought maybe I had been too quick and heartless with the whole episode. But I quickly convinced myself that I had done the right thing for my safety and my dad’s. However, his one question continued to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Weren’t criminals and convicts allowed to turn over a new leaf?
I was sipping into a cup of masala chai two days after the incident when I found my mobile tucked into the side compartment of my backpack.
My heart didn’t feel any lighter and the chai didn’t taste so good after that.