He jettisoned the plan of talking his way through when he heard the angry mob outside. The hum had now turned to a roar. It sent a chill down his spine. There was no way he was going to bluster through this one. The mood of the crowd was definitely ugly. It was now inconceivable that they would behave themselves and leave him unscathed for a tomorrow when he could somehow recover what had been wrecked.
It had seemed such a good idea at the time, starting what they called a ‘blade company’. Even in his agitated state he smiled at the name. One had to be sharper than the sharpest of blades to be in this business. That had been from old Pappachan, who had worked in a successfully run blade company for years. He had been too, sharper than the sharpest. No one could fault him on that. His sharp eyes missed nothing of what was happening. He swooped down on debtors turned defaulters ruthlessly, sometimes making examples of them for others to be clear what not to emulate. But his eyes had missed what was happening behind his immediate back. Bitterness welled up in him. How could they? ‘No, that should be: How could she?’ he thought. The focus of his anger and dismay was his beautiful young wife.
Petite, doe-eyed, Beena. It had been love at first sight for him. He certainly had no illusions about himself or his looks; an average guy, dark complexioned, short and leaning towards stoutness. He was sure beautiful Beena would not give him a second glance. But she had. He was ecstatic the day she had shed tears of frustration, called him a moron for being ignorant of the fact that she loved him. He was her slave from then on. He wanted to do everything for her. He wanted to be rich and get her everything money could offer. His heart was hers anyways.
It was during the long talks with his neighbour Pappachan during lazy evenings that the idea had germinated in his mind, of loaning out money at cut-throat rates to the many in dire need and willing to pay any amount as interest. The capital needed was lying all around him for the asking. He had too many relatives swimming in the stuff. His glib tongue could do the rest. He mulled over the idea and decided it was worth a try. Pappachan was all encouragement. He agreed to help with insider know-how of setting it all up and the necessary connections.
After the simple wedding that was solemnised at the nearby Sri Krishna temple, Beena had moved to his house. Her father, a widower who stayed all alone now that Beena was with him, made frequent visits. It was he who suggested that his father-in-law move in permanently with them. It would make Beena happy. After all it was only he and Beena in the house, his mother having gone to stay with his sister.
One day at dinner he casually talked of what was in his mind. Beena was not too happy about him giving up the clerical post at the AG’s office which he had managed getting with some difficulty, to start something which she felt was uncertain. He convinced her it would be okay. He was starting on a small scale. If it did not work, he promised he’d go to Dubai like Beena asked him to. Her cousin had offered him a job over there. His father-in-law was enthusiastic about the loan business. Since Pappachan had the contacts and was willing to help, things would move along just fine, he opined.
His eloquence combined with their own avarice was enough for the near and dear ones to flock to him with the moolah. The high rate of interest he quoted had them salivating. Though cautious at first, they loosened up their purse strings for him in due course. After all he was family. He wouldn’t cheat them. Within no time he had the necessary capital. He lent the money out to others at astounding rates of interest. Pappachan spent his ample free time overseeing things. Business slowly and steadily flourished.
He was as good as his word and promptly paid the dues to depositors. They were his clan. He did not want them bad-mouthing him and start an avalanche of withdrawals from his ‘blade’ company, giving it a bad name. His promptness got him more goodwill. They came to him with more and more of the stuff to deposit greedy for more returns. After all, the banks gave so little in return for their money. This was so much more lucrative.
Word got around and those other than family began to trickle in. Now he had more money to lend at atrocious rates. He prospered beyond his wildest imagination. He rebuilt his house to Beena’s specifications; he bought her gold, expensive saris, diamonds, and perfumes. Food they ate was of the best quality, shopped for from the big city, not the small shops in their town. The latest model luxury car that stood in his porch was a source of amazement to the small town people.
Meanwhile Pappachan had fallen ill and one fine morning breathed his last. Without Pappachan to keep an eye on things he found it difficult to manage. He missed the sincere and expert advice given by the old man. By now his interest had diversified and Pappachan had been literally running the office in his absence. But with him gone, he needed someone to oversee the ‘blade’ activities, someone he could trust. That is how his father-in-law stepped in. He was happy to have someone reliable and also capable looking after things for him. Now he was free to travel and look into other things.
One day he lost a huge sum of money in the share market. He wanted some funds transferred from his joint account he had with his wife. Much to his chagrin he found it did not have the necessary balance. What had Beena used the money for? He was puzzled. He was shocked to find the next account also was wiped out. He checked a third one. It was overdrawn. Not enough money in the fourth either. Frantic, he called up his father-in-law who pleaded ignorance. He smelled a rat, a real smelly one at that.
He drove home. The house was empty. There were signs of a hurried departure. The safe had been emptied of Beena’s ornaments. The papers, bonds, certificates were all missing from the secret locker. Distraught, he sat in the drawing room with his head in his hands. The old servant woman who had been with his family since ages, hobbled in with the evening tea and snacks, just the way he liked them. He shook his head. Whatever he took in now would be splattered all over the drawing room carpet. He felt sick. Yes, Saar and Chechi had left with bags. Saar had said that they would be away for a couple of days, she said in answer to his questions.
He gathered himself together with difficulty and drove to the office. The building was closed. The clerk Babu was in the back room, entering figures into a ledger. Babu was the son of an old friend who had fallen on hard times. He was a hard worker and very sincere fellow. From Babu he heard tales of unauthorised money transfers, withdrawals and overdrafts. The boss’s father-in-law was in charge. None of them dared question him. Yes, he had tried contacting Madam one day. But he had been told off by the old man, Babu confessed unhappily. He had kept mum out of fear of losing his job. Sir must know what the job meant to his family, he added with folded hands. It was the same with the other staff too. Some of them were in with the older man, the rest kept their peace so as not to lose their job.
By the time both of them finished going through the papers to get an idea of the damage and what they could salvage, it was very late. He went to the make-shift room upstairs to get some sleep. The clerk made himself comfortable by dragging a few chairs together in the backroom.
The next day, he made arrangements for his car to be driven away to the mechanic on the pretext of a small repair. If they saw the car, people might know he was here. If news spread (which it sure would ultimately, but he wanted to buy time), of the disaster, depositors would come in droves like vultures. Beena, why did you do this to me? His insides churned over as he thought of her.
The first call came from one of his cousins. He wanted his money back. Fifteen lakhs. The next wanted his twenty lakhs. He assured them both it would be returned. There was an avalanche of calls following these, Friends and relatives alike called him, till he took the phone off the hook. For two days he tried to raise loans from people he knew. None were touching him with even a barge pole. The sharks were ready to bail him out, but at what cost.
Suddenly it dawned on him; Why? Why should he bother? His Beena had left him. She was not even answering his calls. What did anything matter? His friends and relatives came, raided his home and took away whatever they could. They found his car. His uncle drove it away after abusing him roundly. He did not blame the man. The money he lost had been from his pension fund.
Soon he started getting threatening calls and switched off his call phone. He barricaded himself inside the office rooms. The building was locked from the outside giving the impression to whoever came along that there was no one around. He saw some circling the building and walk away in frustration. Two days went by in uncertainty. His depression knew no bounds. His thoughts veered towards suicide on more occasions than one. It was just as well that the faithful Babu refused to leave him alone.
Today there was a roaring angry mob outside, ready to break open into the premises and probably lynch him in the process. The police had been informed. But they were taking an eternity coming. He pressed his temples with sweaty hands. Below he could hear the doors being broken open. There was a loud crash and the sound of feet rushing in. Tables and chairs were being banged, glass being broken. It would be just seconds before he was found.
His cell phone lights began to flash just then. An unknown number. He was about to dismiss the call when something made him answer. He held the receiver to his ear but did not say a word.
:”Hello..” came a frightened whisper from the other end.
He did not know what to say.
“Ravi.. are you there?” The urgency in her voice got to him.
“Say something!” she said. “I am in the abandoned shed behind the building. My father was cheating us. I have got all the papers and….”
The dam burst then. Tears flowed unrestrained down his cheeks. Outside he heard the police vehicle come to a halt and boots running into the building. The crowd was being controlled. He was saved from being lynched. But all that seemed nothing beside the fact that Beena was here. Beena hadn’t cheated him.
He hadn’t yet heard of how Beena had signed papers in good faith whenever her father had asked her to. He hadn’t yet heard how she had been lied to that he, her husband who loved her more than the world, had run away with all the money leaving the business orphaned and how the blame and wrath of the people would have to be faced by the father-daughter duo. He hadn’t yet heard how her father had persuaded her to go into hiding because of that. He hadn’t yet heard how she had found out the truth about her father’s treachery, how his father-in-law tried persuading her to divorce him, how she had overheard him settling her marriage with a man as old as him in return for a partnership in his business. He hadn’t yet heard how she had skilfully managed to get the bag containing all the important papers and escaped back to him.
He did not have to. Beena was here. That was what mattered the most. Everything was going to be alright with his world. What if a part of it had collapsed and was lying in rubbles around them? He was ready to rebuild it again with Beena by his side. He wiped his eyes and smiled at Babu who was looking at him anxiously.
“I am coming thankam….” he said into the phone even as he hurried down the little used back stairs to the abandoned shed where Beena was waiting.
Written for 3WW CCXLVIII
Prompt words: jettison, behave, mob
Psst! I couldn’t think of a title. Can you help me by suggesting one?