Growing pains

A woman in her seventies has lost movement in half of her right side, her will to walk and, recently, her partner. Her mind and emotions though, are constantly in motion.

“I will be out of town for three to four days.”
“Why do you have to go now?”
“We’ve talked about this.”
“Is it really necessary?”
“You’ve known the reasons for two weeks now.”
“You don’t have to go.”
“You’re not being left alone, not one bit. There are three people right here. I’m not running away either.”

She slumps in her wheelchair. Het misgivings are swirling in her silence and her eyes are fixed to the floor.

“See you in a few days.”

“How are you?”
“Well.”
“How was it for you?”
“Very nice. I can feel my confidence returning.”
“That’s wonderful!”

“What happened yesterday?”
“Nothing.”
“Why were you so distant while yapping on the phone?”
“I think i was just disappointed that you were not coming back yesterday itself.”
“Oh… How are you feeling now?”
“I know i can stay on my own now!”

Coffee@300 at coffeeshop – festive cheer offer!

I was at a coffee shop in a new city. Part of a global chain, i used it for their free wi-fi & co-working tables. This one was in a Tony neighbourhood. The month of festivities had just begun – they had poster ads all over the place talking about it. I was seeing the colourful posters when two men walked in.

They stood at the entrance, looked around & whispered to each other. The older amongst the two began to turn when the younger one nudged him back. They walked towards the order counter. Their walk told me they were new. My seat was close to the counter. So when they approached the attendant, I could hear them.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

How much for coffee? the younger of the two asked.

After a split second pause, the attendant said –Three hundred.

Three hundred? The elder repeated with his eyes shot up.

Three hundred! the attendants voice boomed loud. So this time there could be no mistake. In what he said & what they heard.

Three hundred! the younger one repeated the words. They faced each at the same time, exchanged a look. Then they turned & walk towards the door. I watched the attendant watch them walk. Behind him are the posters that said –

Spreading Festive cheer – Grab your fav. coffee now!

5 things a teetotaller can do around a wine shop

One place near dad’s house is a wineshop. A place me as a teetotaller had no use for.

Until one day…

I quit drinking a while back. So now, except on the one odd occasion with friends, I rarely frequent drinking joints. But a visit to a wineshop has just not happened – there’s simply no occasion. On that restless evening, i was just riding, to no place in particular. That’s when I noticed it.

I have passed it a million times, but it never registered in my head. Like the post box or the trash basket on service roads – you know they are there but seldom use them. That day, the wineshop on the service road stood out, simply because of the crowds swelling around it.

I realised there were things even I could still do around a wineshop. They were –

No. 1: Find out if they stock non-alcoholic beer.

I parked the bike a little ahead of their neon signboard –  Big R wines. I searched for the words ‘SALE – DISCOUNT – FREE’, nothing of that sort. I checked Google calendar – no holiday, no public event, no elections – then why the crowds? Then it registered – 6th Nov., first Saturday of the month – payday. Money + small town + nothing to do + addiction = wineshop!

The crowds at their counter kept swelling. I moved with them, looking, searching, till I found myself also at the counter. What the hell! Why did I do this? What took over? All valid questions with no answers.

McDowells quarter. Antiquity half. Bacardi pint. Ek bottle KF strong. Old monk

Brand names flew across while credit cards, cash, and bottles in all shapes and sizes exchanged hands on either side of the counter.

Bola kay?

The man at the counter was staring at me asking, what I wanted. A defining question. Why is a tea-totaller at a wine-shop?

Non-alcoholic beer?

Kay?

Thinking he hadn’t heard right, he turned his face sideways, getting his ear closer to my mouth.

‘NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER‘, I said, this time surer & louder. He heard it all right. He looked straight at me and grinned, like I had asked him the way to the moon.

No, we don’t stock it, his tone was sympathetic. Still, I felt embarrassed as I sheepishly moved out.

On my way to the bike, I saw the hangers-on, individuals – read freeloaders – waiting for anyone they knew. Then there were the friends, colleagues and groups collected with common cause, all standing back and waiting for that chosen, brave one gone to wrestle with the crowds ahead to return safely with the stuff. My eyes wandered till they hit the tandoori shop.

No. 2: Enter a tandoori shop.

During my drinking days, 99 out of 100 times I’d had meat while drinking. I found it only logical to discover the tandoori shop right next to the wine shop – how convenient!

The menu at the counter said they had kebabs, and tandoori dishes in chicken and cottage cheese – the usual fare. The giant glass case displayed headless meat and square cottage cheese coated with traditional red masala skewered on sticks. The prices were a bit steep but while drinking, budgets did expand miraculously. I put the menu down and moved on.

No 3: Check the selection at the cigarette shop.

Milk and butter, guns and gods, cigarettes and wine – you get the drift. The cigarette seller was strategically located. Not too close to the chaos of the wineshop and yet, not too far. It was just across. Turn your neck a 180 degrees from the wineshop and it fell in your eye-line. Unmissable.

The makeshift shop was on a platform raised with beer cartons piled one on top of the other. Right on top in a wooden box were the cigarettes, tobacco pouches and all sorts of contraband. It was manned by a youngish chap. All a person had to ask. The money was sought and the stuff passed with a slight of hand too fast for someone not observing keenly. The shop was illegal, that’s why it was built that way. In case of a raid, just grab the main box & run. But I bet the chap was paying the local beat cops. The counter looked busy, not like the wineshop but active enough.

The guy looked at me and raised his eyebrows in a what?

Not a man to ask about tobaccoless cigarettes, I quickly shook my head, walked away and made my way towards the snack charts.

No 4: Check out cheap snack carts.

Chakna, tastings, chaks, etc were names snacks were called by across the land. One stall catered exclusively to veg fare – roasted groundnuts, bhel, packaged snacks all lined up. If you took more than two they even gave you the wafer thin plastic bags to carry it in. Your job then was to find your space to drink and munch in some hidden corner, carefully timing that the munchies last through the drinks.  

The man there had a small stove operation where he was busy roasting the groundnuts. Before he could raise his head – I asked anda hai? Are there eggs? 

He didn’t even look up, just said – that side.

The other cart was loaded with meat – mainly fish and chicken. All kinds of pomfret, bangda, prawns, chicken leg, breast, liver, gizzards were stacked side by side. They had photos of meat made in Chinese and Indian styles. A lady made the food while two guys were busy handling customers. The shop was teeming with people either eating or waiting..

A few bikers were having a drink and eating there, but they hid their drinks in the shadows. It was a busy corner and there was no way for them to pay attention to someone like me.

I saw the cigarette shop chap throw suspicious glances towards me, maybe because I was my mobile the way one holds it to take pictures and because I wasn’t buying anything.

Then I noticed the fifth thing I could do –

No 5 – Chat with omelette seller whose shop was empty.

His counter sporting white eggs stacked one atop the other. The giant pan was spick & span. I checked the items written on a board – boiled eggs, omelette, bhurji, decent prices. But his shop was empty.

The stall was just next to the busy non-veg snacks cart but didn’t have a single customer. The guy at the counter was sitting on a raised plastic stool with his head cradles in one arm, his eyes shut.

What’s there?

He opened his eyes – surprised to see me look at him, he quickly answered –

Sab hai – everything.

I felt sorry for the guy. Even though eggs sold well with wine there were no customers. It didn’t look like anyone was coming there. I took another look at him. he didn’t belong to this place. Just like I didn’t belong here -too naïve for our own goods.

Double omelette?  

He nodded a yes.

That night I had the omelette for dinner thinking of how my list could grow of things a teetotaller could do outside a wine shop. I realised very quickly the list couldn’t grow – because for that I would have to frequent the wine shop again. And no amount of money or articles could make me do that.

Sudden rain & its consequences

It has started raining here

What?

Yeah, proper rains, but (beat) it will pass in a bit.

You sure?

He didn’t reply. One of his many names was ‘mountain man’, ‘Mr. Trekker’ etc. If he said the rain would stop it would. Another thought struck me –

If it’s raining towards your end, then– i looked at the sky, grey pregnant clouds, – it could rain anytime here as well!

Find a spot & wait it out, won’t be a long one, he assured me. I hung up & thought about what he said. While thinking, I switched on Spotify & held the handle of my motor-bike. In 10 seconds I heard it say – let’s put as much distance between here & your destination – may. The racy music, swollen skies, light dust all added to the thoughts as I kickstarted the bike & off.

In exactly 8 minutes we were forced to stop.

We had reached the racecourse. Almost. There was an arc just before – traffic slowed down as I felt the first drops on my helmet glass. Instinctively i looked left – blue tarpaulin roof under which was a raised platform with cigarette packets & tea flask – road side tea stall. I thought no further, parked at the curb & ran in to take shelter under the tarpaulin.

My parked bike became a beacon of sorts – soon other two wheelers -motor bikes, scooters even cycles parked ahead, behind & even besides my vehicle. The number of vehicles that parked besides grew – it made the arch of the road so narrow that cars had to resort to a single file to move ahead. No one stopped to complain because all the regulars knew the unsaid rule during a sudden downpour – 4 wheelers slow down two wheelers halt & traffic crawls. 

Since I was the first I took the vantage point to observe everyone. The couples were the first to stop – some partners waited/helped the riders while others ran in to save their skin. A few ran in with their bags while others found the patience to store them in their storage space. Then came the single riders who were generally reluctant to get off & didn’t mind a few rain drops, but the downpour was intense. They ran in with different emotions writ on their face – laughter, irritation surprise, anger while a few still had their helmets on. Each person had one goal – take shelter from the rain, wait it out.

Soon there was a nice group of odd balls gathered – office execs, delivery guys, young couples, working women, single men, even kids and guardians. Each reacted differently – some texted/phoned on their mobiles, others eyed the skies-discussed downpours, some cracked jokes while a couple of them still refused to remove their helmets. Some of them in uniform others not wearing one but behaving like the ones wearing it. Each of us at some point eyed the four wheelers who still managed to move ahead leaving the lot of us behind to deal with the deluge.

In the middle of this – I paid special attention to the main man, the owner of the tea stall. A man of slight built, droopy eyes & permanent worried look on his face – he looked like someone used to selling all sorts of things on dusty highways across the land. But this place was so rundown I knew it was one of these reasons or a combination of them that he was there –

  1. he was a newbie fresh in town
  2. he had shit luck at whatever he tried before (this didn’t look it was getting any better)
  3. A friend/relative/well-wisher tricked him by saying the usual crap like – there’s money in tea. Sure – like justice in courts & satisfaction in manual scavenging.

Just to confirm my thoughts I had a good look at the shop & its surroundings. He couldn’t have picked a worst spot – the road would had constant moving traffic & except in such bizarre situations had no place for vehicles to park for people to get tea. The nearest shanty was at a distance & I suspected had better tea shops, plus he had a public toilet just meters away from the shop. it was a losing proposition all the way.

But that flash rain for the tea-seller proved to be a god-send.

Once they realised they were stuck, the droopy eyed seller became their go to man. Tea, cigarettes,  beedi, tobacco, supari, cheap candy everything was being sought and bought. The tea-seller didn’t know what hit him – he tried to cope as best – took cash first, put another pot of tea, asked a small boy to run away & buy more cigarettes – because he was running out of stock. He couldn’t cope – ended up serving people who hadn’t paid or worse – he refused a guy who had paid.

A fight broke out – but now he looked in his element – confident and sure – not that the guy had paid or not but, in his ability, to fight, to survive. When a couple of other people explained things to him – he understood. Things simmered down – he made and served tea to the man. Someone cracked a naughty joke about rains & rage. The school kid laughed hard shocking their guardian who dragged her out of the shelter & walked. The school girl continued laughing as she walked. On their way the small boy returned back with cigarettes & flask of tea.  The tea seller turned to his gods (placed just above the tobacco pouches) to say thank you.

That’s when the rains tricked him. It stopped just like they had started – suddenly.

The first to react were the helmet wearing guys. They climbed onto the wet seats, didn’t bother wiping & were off. The couples double checked the skies, satisfied they made their way out, cleaned their seats as best & went – the rest also followed. I paid for my tea, so did some of the others & made our way to the bikes.

As I kickstarted I took one last look at the shop. the flask full of tea, cigarettes & tobacco displayed – it was the turn of the tea seller to be dazed. He was back where he started.

Part 3 Chicken Sagar sagas – the treachery of South Goans

I had ordered 2 two kilo chickens. Why did you not deliver at home?

Arrey Patrao what to tell you –

I was at Chicken Sagar’s chicken shop again. There was a party/small gathering at the house today & no chicken on hand. She had sent me – I protested as to why he didn’t give us home delivery as promised the day before. Chicken Sagar, the brave bald & bold man heard me patiently. Then replied

What to tell you Mashe – I got tricked.

Tricked – how?

Then in his most emotive voice he shared with me  

Mashe, the chicken farmers from south – his voice shivered – they are against us chicken sellers in the north. Not sending trucks on time, sending sick chickens, fighting on phone & always asking for higher price.

What has that got to do with my order? I interrupted  him.  

Am telling you Mashe – he continued ignoring my interuptions – this south people they are all together. One group.

But

I’m telling you sir – he spoke fast – see my relative, the old Patrao, you know my wife’s uncle he is also from the south.

I realised there’s no point interrupting him, let him talk.

Yesterday, I had to take the Patrao to the hospital tied to my delivery scooter. That too during the day in curfew time!

Why? What was wrong with him? I asked forgetting the very reason why I had gone there.

Chicken Sagar’s relative lived further down the road. His wife called to tell Sagar’s wife that the man was having a bad acidity attack, had to be taken to hospital.

And this was when I was just coming out to deliver your chickens – they were on the bike, tied up with other orders. All of them were two kilo chickens ….

Yeah right – I thought.

I went to the house on the slope on my scooter with the chickens. The man looked okay – his eyes were shut, like he was sleeping. But I knew no ambulance would come there. And that day, my assistant also did not come to work.

I looked at the assistant who was busy cutting chicken, least bothered.

His family is also from the south – chicken Sagar whispered before continuing – I had no choice but to take him to the hospital on my bike.

I imagined a Rayban weilding, maskless Chicken Sagar with his relative (whose face he had masked) tied to his back dodging his way through the treacherous streets of Goa. It was filled with cops/authorities on the lookout for people like Chicken Sagar transporting illegal goods or sick people who had suddenly become more dangerous than illegal goods.

I approached one big naka-bandi – big check post.

Then what happened?

There was no way out, but straight to them – too late to dodge. Chicken Sagar’s face grew pensive. So did his assistant who had disappeared into the shadows on the mention of the relative & had now emerged again.

In Goa because of the curfew they were putting you straight in jail. Big money to be spent to get out. Plus my bike would be confisticated But most important –

The old relative? I asked.

My chickens would be gone he countered.

Aah.

Then?

Then what – no choice, I rode ahead. I quickly told my relative to breathe heavily at the checkpost – Chicken Sagar squinted his nose –i didn’t hear any reply, so I said – You want to reach hospital or I should leave you on the road. But he still said nothing. The checkpost was very near. I got scared.

Scared? I asked looking at my fearless crusader.

Not scared – he corrected – little afraid, that’s all.

Then what?

As soon as we came, a senior inspector stopped us. I read his surname. He also from the south. Big trouble.

That’s when I noticed a couple of other buyers had also joined in Chicken Sagar’s saga telling class. All of us were now listening in rapt attention to his story.

As the senior stopped us, Patrao was not just breathing heavily, he was moving from side to side, tore buttons of his shirt, hands shaking – spit coming out of his mouth and all!

Wow slipped out of my mouth.

Yes! You know cops never asked me anything – the senior inspector put Patrao in police van. I was on bike, he made another constable sit behind me on scooter.

So you got a police van to carry your relative – wow!

Not just that Mashe Chicken Sagar began counting cash in his counter – me with my chickens & constable on scooter, behind the driver & my uncle in big police van with siren. Behind all this also senior inspector in the jeep also put red light on following us!

What the –

Yes Mashe! Just imagine, everyone in shop & Shiolim saw me riding. My photo on whatapp in shiolim got famous. People from Bombay, Goa, even London send me my own photo!

You became famous!

For a little time – he smiled, before he stopped – but I knew, once we reach hospital, they would know old man is acting. Then what?

Then what? The old uncle with white cloth bag next to me asked Chicken Sagar.

When we reached, the van had overtaken the scooter. By the time I reached in, they had taken the Patrao inside. No one was allowed inside. We were all waiting out. The constable at behind me at the hospital entrance, me at a distance with my chickens on the scooter, the senior in his police jeep, the police van with other policemen were waiting.

Chicken Sagar stopped talking when the assistant came up, gave him some instructions – then he looked at some bills to count them. He knew we were waiting for more answers –

Then what happened? I couldn’t wait & asked. Old uncle with the cloth bag gave me a disapproving look.

Chicken Sagar looked up – like he was surprised to see us. then his eyes shone, he remembered.

Tomorrow Sunday we are saying prayers for the Patrao for his soul.  

What?

Heart attack – not acidity, the hospital told, Chicken Sagar confirmed.

The sudden turn in the story made us all quiet. That’s when Chicken sagar added,

That’s why there are no two kilo chickens now?

Suddenly I remembered why I was there again.

But what does two kilo chickens have to do with anything?

Arrey I told you na – it is this south people always. Uncle from south died – senior inspector from south gave escort – so for him & other police I had to give all the chickens – cannot send them hungry no.

But today you can get fresh chicken na – I quickly told him

I told you no – this south people they sent me chicken but only one kilo, small size. I have to give chicken for tomorrow’s lunch at Patrao’s house. All of south will be coming for his funeral & we have to start making the chicken today.

My head was reeling. North-south- I didn’t know what to respond.

Okay – so you don’t have chicken to give then? I said half turning away.

Mashe how can I turn you away? Don’t worry.

I smiled – Chicken Sagar smiled back. He told me. I had no choice – so said yes.

That evening boneless chicken pieces fried in Goan style , cut ready breast, leg, liver & gizzard. Of course they were meant for Patrao’s place but a portion had been arranged by Chicken Sagar to be delivered by his assistant who called me once near our gates. Since she had been busy through the past two days, all I had to do was ‘manage’ the cook & set it up. She didn’t have a clue.

Until next morning….

Why has this chicken Sagar sent a bill for 1200? Two kilos of chicken is barely 500. Did he deliver more?

I hung my head. Caught.

You know Chicken Sagar is a North goan and his chickens come from the south…

She rolled her eyes, left the room.

Back at the cinemas

I was thinking of going to G-7 single screens.

G-7 isn’t a single screen–, H shook his head, –it’s a multiplex.

Just because they put 7 theatres together, doesn’t make it a multiplex.

Does too –

A few back & forth later we agreed to disagree. Bottom line – the cinemas were open again. And I wanted to catch a movie. H couldn’t be bothered either way. But that day onwards, my mind kept going back to the subject. The first lockdown had lifted & I was back at the theatres. I felt the itch. Could be any movie – I didn’t care.

I wanted to watch it in a single screen theatre, but that now was more of a pipe-dream. Even before the pandemic, single screens were suffering due to stiff competition from the multiplexes. Covid struck them a fatal body-blow. Many had now converted into banquet halls, conference halls & private screening spaces. I didn’t have much choice but look at multiplexes.

A more important problem, with all the working, writing & wheeling I was doing cropped up. Finding 2 hours to kill at a theatre hall was now at a premium.  

This one time I was in town, a scheduled meeting got over way before time. Another got cancelled & I found myself with the time on hand. ‘Movie’ popped into my head; I took the mobile out, scrolled on a web browser & checked the theatres around. When I saw the ticket prices I almost threw up my breakfast. That’s when I realised, I was in the tony part of town.

I gave up the thought, got to the nearest mall. My feet soon found a coffee shop which surprise! had opened up next to a multiplex. Check it out – the words made my feet turn towards the ticket counter. I looked at the selection –

Latest BOND movie – started

Latest Marvel movie – starts too late

Hindi superstar movie – Don’t want  see

Hindi web movie – Don’t want to see

KURUP – Malayalam movie – starts in 10 minutes.

Hmmn – This one I did want to watch. I asked the attendant –

Excuse me, the Malayalam movie what’s the price?

She took her time pronouncing the name all wrong. Then she told me the price. Like buying a gram of gold when the share market has collapsed!

Still, I may have considered if she hadn’t added –

But sir, they will be showing the Hindi version.

That ended any further discussion. No way was I watching a dubbed version & that too paying so much money. I made way to the coffee shop, sat there for 3 hours, ended up making the same bill as the goddamn ticket. But then I had three hours of writing to show for that.

Over the next weeks the thoughts did enter my mind – but work & travel kept me busy. Till again, last minute cancellation. Truth be told, I was a bit haggard, travelling back & forth from Dad’s house to town almost for a week on my bike. I decided to take it easy, had Chinese for lunch, then a little siesta, snuggled into my pillow & snoozed away the afternoon.

KURUP!

I fluttered my eyelids open to the name. on autopilot, still in bed found my mobile, downloaded book my show, scrolled cinemas near me. The movie showed up, decent prices too. One and a half hours till the show began. I could make this easy. I checked one more time making double sure it was Malayalam, not a dubbed version. Here goes nothing, I booked the ticket.

Time flew. One shower-banter-ride-mall later I reached the multiplex. Armed with my mobile I made my way in only to be stopped at the entry point by security.

Sir problem hai.

Problem?! Kya – What? That’s when I remembered- the 4 people minimum rule to screen a movie. There weren’t four?! Also, did I really check if this is in Hindi? Can they change your language if they don’t have enough people watching? Does Covid allow them to do that now. No- not now – not so CLOSSEE!

Sir, you have not downloaded your ticket.

Oh that.

The guards sudden statement made me awkward & embarrassed. I looked into the ticketing apps message all confused trying to figure out how to download the ticket. When the security guy took over. Feeling like a child or the unlettered I watched as he used his gloved hands to download the ticket the seat number appeared he scanned it & I let out a deep sigh. He laughed – I couldn’t see it behind his mask, but I heard it. automatically I laughed with him as he made way & I entered the hallowed space again.

Once I was in the sitting area that I realised I was a good twenty minutes early. I saw the seating arrangement – lots of round love seats. The kind where you can sit but not get too comfortable. Then I saw a couple sharing a love seat, more than comfortable. I made my way to a seat at a distance with mixed feelings.

I looked around – the place had some early evening activity. I sat down to play the game I invented. It’s called

‘Guess who else is going for the same movie as you’  

The couple were definitely out – too northern features. Two-O clock, young girls in denims supervised by a youngish married couple, all in curves & right shades of brown – my movie definitely. At six, curly hair wife, half sleeve white shirt guy, little child in zebra coloured frock – dead giveaway. 12 behind, two men talking in Malayalam – another tick. My phone rang. Before I could pick up two thoughts ran in my head –

  1. My game was racist, casteist, sexist, in fact so many ists I stopped counting.
  2. We had crossed the minimum viewers required list of 4. The movie is on baby!!

It was M. I had not spoken to him for some time. M is a good friend, but at times can go on and on about his favourite sport – speed walking. Now he couldn’t go speed walking because he had the flu, because the roads near his house were under constructions, because his partner was stressed, because he was stressed. M kept talking, I responded in short bursts, looked at my watch – time. But how to cut M’s call? Wasn’t the kinda guy who would get it. Ads play before the movie – I said to myself. Then saw the sign, MENS – decided to use the loo. As soon as I entered, I couldn’t hear a thing M said.

Problem solved. No network. I sent a text message bad network & about to enter a meeting. I wish I could have added – ‘take your pick’ but wisely didn’t do that.

I entered the hall – dark & inviting. Inside I was like a panther, found my seats in the sparsely occupied theatre with ease. Right on time – just before the titles played. The movie started – I got lost in the wonderland – this time for good I hope 😊  

The edge

The woman stands where the sea laps the beach, gently bathing her feet with sand and salt. She has been screaming into the void and her mind is as full as the beach is empty. She is thankful it is a weekday and grateful for the expanse all around.

In her exhausted state, her mind begins to process all that she knows.

“He has the beginnings of dementia. She is showing signs of Parkinsons,” she says to herself.

She stops. It is difficult to handle what is happening. It would different with her parents, but what is there to talk about with his parents? Where is the relationship when there is nothing in common?

How do i live the life i want for myself? What do i tell him?

The questions swirl as scenarios become cinematic and choices become a little more consequential.

What does she do next?

Chicken Sagar’s saga 2 – the smiling man & the angry assistant

I was just going to come there, he said while checking on his chickens in their pen.

I was back at Chicken Sagar’s shop. He hadn’t delivered the last order as usual.

Yea right, I muttered to myself.

Chicken Sagar was wearing his run-down shorts, tight T-shirt ending at his navel & flip-flops so thread-bare that except for a poop-smothered butcher shop, one wouldn’t dream of wearing it anywhere else.

Mashe you forgot me, I turned around to the voice who had made that statement.  

The voice that had addressed Chicken Sagar with the prefix of a sir in local lingo belonged to a middle-aged man, reed thin, protruding stomach & bow legs. His face shone a bloated red that came to people who indulged in alcohol on a daily basis. In his long Bermudas & a young Mohammed Ali T-shirt, he stood there with a smile – the smile of a man who wanted something.

Patrao you are the reason for my very existence, chimed Chicken Sagar on cue. He didn’t even look up & said it with a straight face.

Chicken Sagar’s undivided attention was with his beloved chickens as he separated some errant ones who had decided to walk about instead of sitting down. The errant chickens had broken their agreement – a lifetime of food & shelter in exchange for their life. So now he separated that lot so the others didn’t get affected.

Can your highness wait or should we leave everything & tend to your orders first?

That statement posed as a question & dipped in sarcasm as made by Chicken Sagar’s assistant. He was at the other end – busy chopping, cutting & cleaning up my order. Just about reached the gut & spilled it out when the smiling man had made his statement. This disrupted his rhythm. And in his business routine & rhythm were everything.

But I am waiting – who said I’m in a hurry,  the smiling man now looked hurt & said that still looking towards Chicken Sagar. Chicken Sagar continued to attend to his errant chicken. When the smiling man didn’t get a reply he turned to face the assistant and said –

Why are you telling me things? You mind?

It couldn’t have been worse timing. My chicken was cut & ready. All the assistant had to do was bag it, hand it over & I would be off. But after smiling man’s emotional outburst no way was the assistant going to let it go.

I am telling you will have to wait – the assistant turned to face him.

Let Mashe say that – smiling man countered.

I’m telling you that! Now the assistant was pointing the  huge butcher knife pointed at the smiling man.

I was sure there was history there between the two. Something about Chicken Sagar’s beer joint hidden behind where the assistant worked when business was slow at the chicken shop. That would have been the place where smiling man boosted the red on his face & broadened his smiles. Somehow things had begun over alcohol place & spilled over to the meat shop.

Now we were at an impasse. And I was stuck in the middle.

The battle lines were drawn. They had Chicken Sagar’s attention. On the one side he had his assistant – an irritating requirement in his shop that he needed to get things done. On the other end was the smiling man – the  customer who drank on credit – way past his due date but still kept showing up, kept the show running.  Sagar couldn’t sit the fence out on this one.

Chicken Sagar stopped minding his chickens, looked up towards the two. A decision had been made – he took a stand.

You will have to wait for some more time Patrao – Chicken Sagar told the smiling man.

The smiling man immediately stopped smiling. This brougbt a smile on the assistants face.

And it takes you a year to pack one chicken’s order – this, Chicken Sagar told the assistant.

The assistant’s smile changed hands. The waiting man became the smiling man again.

The assistant went back to cutting chicken, a new swish in his blade. The waiting man looked to the sky, twiddled his thumbs, pretending to care a damn. Clearly this was not over.

508 is your total – Chicken Sagar told me. I paid up.

Next time, I will come there – you just call up.

Its okay. I will come.

No way was the missing out on this.   

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