A rainy noon is very misleading. You can think of it as an early morning or evening, and it won’t make a difference.
My shoot was over and my eyes were crying for sleep, while the weather played cruel somnolent tricks on me as I waited for her. She had called me to meet up, a day ago, knowing that I was around for work. I had taken a corner table at a fast food counter near the government girls’ school. She said it would be easier for her because her kid’s kindergarten was close by. I had arrived a good twenty minutes earlier because I was hungry. Sitting with my chicken roll and tea, I watched the peepal tree on the right. That must be a hundred years now, I thought. I had seen thirty years of it already. My eyes scoured for her as they flit past the rows of shops selling cigarettes and potato chips on the other side of the road. That’s a charm in small towns. The other side of the road is closer than in cities. A few bikes were parked in the space in front of the fast food joint, their riders standing under the same roof as mine, sipping cups of hot tea and worrying if they’re going to be late.
The floor was wet with the inadvertent spray. It wasn’t raining last night. That’s why we could complete shooting. And thank god we did, because I just wanted to go back to Guwahati. I looked at the holes made in the earth, by the steady pour from the corrugated tin sheets of the roof, and yawned. I was dying to hit the bed.
“Dada, one more tea,” I ordered.
As I took a deep breath, bracing the weather and my cold predicament, a college couple came and sat in front of me. I knew they were a couple because they shared shy, uncomfortable smiles at each other and he offered her the chair. Friends usually don’t care where you sit. They ordered their food and engaged in an uneventful but subtly romantic banter, telling each other about how they managed to bunk their class. The girl, probably the studious of the two, made a quick call to her friend to take tuition notes for her. She’d be busy today.
As I sipped my tea, I remembered how I bunked classes to be with him. Ours was a less adventurous time. A glance or a careless brush of the hand or a brief wordless moment of understanding – was enough. He loved to have his tea slightly lukewarm, while he took ample bites of the gojaa (a kind of sweet made by frying plain flour patties and dipping them in sugar syrup) from Kalita’s corner. I loved mine, piping hot. Still, do. A pang of nostalgia suddenly hit me, almost taking my breath away. I couldn’t look at the couple anymore. A consequential guilt built up inside me, for leaving him to seek greener pastures, leading to nausea. Was I wrong? Should I have stayed back? But how could I? I didn’t abandon him or cheat on him. I just wanted to find out if I could live my dream. And I did, didn’t I? I love what I do. If only, he understood that! My heart rate, which had dramatically shot up in a matter of seconds, slowed down as realisation dawned on me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had had to make sense of what I wanted to be. If I had mattered to him, he’d have waited.
As acceptance took over, I noticed a red Maruti Alto pulling before the bikes. In the chaos of my thoughts, I had forgotten that I was waiting for my old college junior to show up. That must be her, I thought.
“Damn! She parked right in front of my bike. How am I going to go now?” complained someone.
“Relax dada! You can’t leave right now. Look how heavily it’s pouring!” said the young kid who gave the man his tea.
She came out of her driver’s seat with an umbrella and held it over the kid as she opened the shotgun door. “Hold my hand now. Hold my hand!” she said as she walked into the fast food joint.
Seeing me from under her umbrella, she smiled. “Hey Sewali, how are you?”
I waved and stood up. “Good. Long time!”
“Yeah!” she said.
“Is that your kid?”
“Yeah! I just picked her up from school. Damn these rains! I wish it poured only on Sundays. It becomes difficult to handle during the week,” she said, squeezing her annoyance into a smile.
I held her umbrella as she packed her kid into a comfortable position on the chair. “You guys must be hungry. What do you want to eat?” I said.
“What will you eat, ma?” she asked her daughter.
“Roll!” the child said.
“Okay. What about you Sewali?” she asked me.
“I filled myself up while waiting.”
“I’m so sorry we got late! The cars are parked so badly outside their school, you can never pull out in time,” she said.
“It’s alright! We had been shooting for 12 hours straight and my nerves were all jazzed. I’m better now. Anyway, go order first and we can chat after,” I smiled.
She ordered for herself and her daughter at the counter and settled back in her chair. “You must be tired. I won’t take much time,” she said.
“No, no, please go ahead. I’m used to these schedules,” I assured her.
“Okay. I am a little blurry about the details but you make documentaries, don’t you?”
“For the government, is it?”
“Not just them. Actually, I have different clients. I work on a few projects for the government and a few others for private enterprises. I also make my own choice of documentaries, not necessarily funded by either.”
“Oh, okay! And how do you finance them?”
“Um, mostly from my own pocket,” I giggled, “and sometimes through crowd-funding.”
“Hmm! Okay, so it’s not a steady job? Like you don’t get a steady income, right?”
“Well, I couldn’t say that. It is a freelance job, but if I am doing 2-3 projects together, I could be getting a monthly salary three times of a regular. Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t work out that way. But in the last 5 years, I have safely been able to bring home a steady package if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Baideu!” A young boy interrupted with a plate of momos, a roll and two cups of tea for us.
“Here, Sewali, share with me. Maina, eat your roll,” she said, to me and her daughter simultaneously.
“Arey, I am already full!”
“Don’t worry, you’ll digest it!” she winked at me and continued, “Okay, so I was wondering, are you looking for someone to look after your accounts? I’m sure you do, because even though you freelance, you probably handle a lot of money from multiple clients,” she said, biting into a steaming momo.
“I have never quite thought about it. I usually handle my own stuff, but it does get messy sometimes, what with my schedules and all. Why?”
She paused and wiped her daughter’s sauce-smeared cheeks with her handkerchief and turned to me. “I have someone, looking for a job. He was working in a company before this but was let go because of downsizing. He came back home and applied for a few jobs but nothing worked. You know how it works here.”
I gave a knowing nod.
“He has a family and two ailing parents to support. With their condition getting worse, he can’t even leave the state now. And without a job, it’s very difficult. So I was wondering if you are looking for, you know, like a CA to handle your accounts and investments etc.?”
“Well,” I said, “, I could think about it. Ask him to get in touch with me next week. We can work something out.”
“Really? Wow! I didn’t think you’d agree. This is amazing. I have to tell Amar.”
My eyes crinkled into confusion at what she said. She noticed and finally confessed, “I’m sorry for not telling you before. Actually, you know my husband.”
I didn’t reply and continued with a confused look.
“Amar,” she said. “Amar Rajkhowa? You guys used to be friends.”
I took time to reply. “Oh, yeah! We lost touch over the years,” I said, cracking my knuckles out of habit.
“Well, I was looking for the job for him actually. He doesn’t know I am meeting you,” she shrugged into a simper. “He wouldn’t have let me. You know how men are. But Parismita told me the other day that she’s friends with you on Facebook and that you could probably help me out. If not for you, then for someone else.”
I took a deep breath. This was getting longer than I expected. The rain had stopped but the sky remained cloudy. “I’m not certain that I can. Inbox his CV on my Facebook. If anything comes up, I’ll let you know,” I said, asking for my bill.
“Great, thanks a lot. And Sewali, I have another small favour to ask. Don’t let him know I asked for this. I’ll tell him that Parismita fixed up the appointment. Is that good?”
“Okay,” I said, as she took her bag.
“Thanks again. Nice meeting you. I have to rush now. Have to pick up half a dozen gojaa for Amar from Kalita’s corner. It’s his evening tea companion,” she said.