Saturday, 17 January 2009

Short Story: The Perfect Wife

Inderjit looked Cheryl squarely in the eye. 'Can you work under pressure? Can you deal with chaos? Will you run away if things get messy?'

Cheryl did not bat an eyelid. 'I guess that means everything is in a mess right now.' She gave Inderjit a grin. 'That's fine. I can deal with chaos.' Inderjit did not look convinced. Cheryl wearied of grinning and looked over Inderjit's shoulder. Nineteen storeys below, the traffic rushed past. None of the sounds or smells associated with traffic, blaring horns, screeching tyres or gut-searing smoke fumes, reached the air-conditioned comfort of the glass-paneled office at Nariman Point.

Inderjit ran his fingers through his hair. He could not afford yet another mistake. This would be his fourth secretary after he became the company's CEO three years ago. He had fired the third one after he discovered nine typos in a two page letter he had dictated. Each time a secretary left, things only got worse. Right now, there were mountains of unanswered letters, his personal accounts were in a mess and he had no clue if his membership fee for the Bagpiper's Club had been paid yet. Unlike his first and second secretaries, Cheryl was not a looker. However, she looked chic and smart, unlike his third secretary who was the sloppiest dresser he had ever met. A friend of his had come up with the theory that pretty secretaries were not good at their work. After two bad experiences with attractive secretaries, he had accepted that theory and stupidly assumed that his third secretary, a very average looking woman with atrocious dress sense, would be smart and efficient.

A week after Cheryl started work, things became noticeably better. Every day Cheryl stayed back and worked for an additional hour to get things in order. By the end of the month, Inderjit decided that he had won the lottery. Cheryl got a pay hike and Inderjit got back his piece of mind.

Inderjit worked long hours. He did not have any family in Mumbai. His parents lived in faraway Kolkata. His marriage had ended in a divorce many years ago and he had been living on his own since then. His ex-wife had been very beautiful and very messy – her clothes strewn all over the sofa and dining table most of the time.

A year after Cheryl starting working for him, an idea slowly entered Inderjit's head. Initially he dismissed it as silly, but it would not go away and after a few weeks he decided that it was not a bad plan after all. Once he made up his mind, he moved fast. 'What plans for the weekend? he asked Cheryl one Thursday evening. He took her to the Khyber where they ate Afghani kebabs and thin roomali rotis, interspersed with Kingfisher beer and thick mango lassi. Cheryl was pleasant and a good conversationalist. And she was not bad looking in her sober skirt and blouse. Unlike the time when Inderjit dated his first wife, his heart did not beat faster, nor did his palms get sweaty. But Inderjit knew where his priorities lay. A clean and orderly home run by an efficient wife was infinitely preferable to a beautiful wife and a messy home.

Cheryl accepted his proposal with alacrity and little fuss. They had dated for six weeks and reached a stage where Inderjit would kiss her deep and hard before she ran out of his car into her home. Cheryl's parents were not too happy with their forty-year old son-in-law, who was not only not a Goan catholic, but was also a divorcee. But they were progressive people and respected Cheryl's choice. In any event, Inderjit looked reliable, the sort of man who would take good care of their darling daughter. Cheryl found another secretary for Inderjit, a woman in her late forties, who she assured Inderjit was as good as her in terms of secretarial skills.

A few days after their honeymoon in Mauritius, Inderjit noticed that his flat in Cuffe Parade was getting messier by the day. Cheryl's clothes were strewn all over the sofa in the living room. The kitchen was a mess as well, even though a domestic help turned up everyday to wash the dishes and sweep the entire flat with a broom. Initial days, Inderjit told himself. Cheryl was a newly married bride. She would soon be her normal self and have everything under control. True, the flat hadn't been spick and span when he was on his own. However he had always kept it functionally tidy and it never took him more than a minute to locate something.

Things did not get better. Actually they got worse. And finally one weekend when Inderjit found that his music CDs were not being put back in the same order, his temper snapped.

'What the heck is wrong with you?' he screamed at Cheryl. 'Can't you make sure you put the CDs back in their proper place after you've listened to them?'

Cheryl gave him a stony look. 'Fine, I won't listen to your CDs. And I'll keep my collection separate from yours.'

'I don't care if it's your CD or mine. I want you to put back each CD in its cover once you've listened to it.'

'I'll try, but no promises.' Cheryl smiled indulgently at Inderjit.

'But, but, you were never like this at office.'

It was now Cheryl's turn to turn on the fury. 'Did you expect me to be a secretary at home? Did you want a wife or a housekeeper?'

'But I thought you were naturally clean and tidy. I thought …'

'No, I've always been a messy girl,' Cheryl said with a toss of her head. 'You should have seen my room when I was at my hostel.'

'Oh! I didn't know that.'

'Well, now you know.'

Cheryl walked over to the pile of CDs and DVDs kept on a shelf near the DVD player and picked up a CD. She ejected the CD inside the player and replaced it with the one she had taken out. She kept the ejected CD on top of the pile which had many empty covers and quite a few DVDs and CDs without their covers and walked over to the sofa. As she put her feet up and let the soothing music wash over her, Inderjit asked, ‘after all that I said, was it too much to have put that CD back in its cover?’

‘If it’s so important to you, why don’t you do it yourself?’ Cheryl asked Inderjit and closed her eyes, allowing the soothing music to wash over her once again.

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