Rupini peeped into the dining room. They were playing ‘Elephant’ with Pappathy walking on all fours and Nidhi on top of her. Girish was looking on amused, as if he wouldn’t be caught dead doing something like that, though he hadn’t been very different when he was Nidhi’s age. It was such a pity that Pappathy had to go, Rupini thought.
Once again, Rupini rehearsed in her mind what she was planning to tell Pappathy. You are good with the children, but I can’t keep you on after what you did last week, she would tell Pappathy. There would be protestations and appeals. Pappathy would remind her of her usual good and charitable nature and beg to be given another chance. But no, Rupini would be firm. Should she allow Pappathy to say goodbye to the kids? No, it would be better if she just left. Actually, she wasn’t too sure. What was the harm in allowing Pappathy to bid adieu to Girish and Nidhi?
Both the kids would be upset when they were told that Pappathy was leaving or had gone already, but it couldn’t be helped. Hopefully the new girl would fit in and the kids would eventually get used to her.
Rupini went in search of Shekar who was in his study surfing the internet, though he had claimed he
needed a couple of hours to finish off some office work he had brought home.
‘Shekar, can you please take the kids to the terrace? I am going to deal with Pappathy.’
Shekar grunted, scratched his balls, the baggy shorts he was wearing leaving ample space for his fingers to do their job, and said, ‘ask them to come here.’
‘You don’t want them in your study, do you?’ Rupini asked with a smile.
‘No, no, of course not. Okay I’ll take them to the terrace.’
Rupini stood where she was and a few moments later, she heard whoops of joy. A patter of feet followed by the opening of the entrance door and the click of the latch as the door was locked from behind. Shekar spent so little time with the kids that even a brief outing to the terrace made the kids so happy!
Slowly and deliberately Rupini made her way to the dinning room where Pappathy was flipping through the pages of one of Shekar’s IT journals. Normally Rupini would have shouted at Pappathy, but today she was patient.
She stood by the door and waited for Pappathy to notice her presence, which she did after a few moments.
‘Amma, I was only looking at the pictures,’ Pappathy guiltily said as she closed the magazine and pushed it away from her.
‘No, I thought you had become an expert on computers, considering the speed with which you flipped through the pages.’
Pappathy giggled. She was slightly younger than Rupini, but she looked ten years older, her hair almost entirely grey.
‘Let me go and see to the lunch. Have you decided what you want me to make?’
Pappathy, forget lunch. Tell me, last week when you went shopping, didn’t you tell me that you lost the receipt?’
Pappathy looked surprised. Then she said, ‘yes Amma. It fell from my hand as I walked home.’
‘And that was the third time you’ve lost the receipt, isn’t it?’
‘Amma, I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.’ Pappathy had the air of one who had made a mistake that didn’t matter at all.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve got the receipt,’ Rupini said very smoothly.
Pappathy’s face registered shock and surprise as Rupini took out the duplicate receipt she had got from the shopkeeper.
‘Look, this says three hundred and forty rupees.’
Pappathy was silent, guilt splashed all over her face.
‘When you lost the receipt for the second time, we became suspicious. Didn’t you think we would suspect something? All shopkeepers have a duplicate of the receipt they give you, didn’t you know that?’
‘How much did you steal the first time? And how much the second time? Was it always forty rupees?’ Rupini’s voice lost its calm and rose to a high pitch. Shekar slogged so hard five days a week, putting in such long hours at his firm that he almost never spent any time with the kids during weekdays and this wretched woman had the nerve to steal their money!
Pappathy was in tears. ‘Amma I’m so very sorry. Please forgive me. I won’t do it again.’
‘How can we every trust you again Pappathy? Haven’t we treated you as one of the family? Have I given you so many of my sarees? All of the clothes Girish and Nidhi outgrew, I’ve given to you. New clothes for Deepavali, we’ve done so much for you. And yet you had to ….. steal.’
The word ‘steal’ brought on a fresh outflow of tears from Pappathy.
‘Can you count how many of Ayya’s shirts and trousers I’ve given you for your husband?’ Can you?’ With that Rupini broke down.
‘Amma, please forgive me,’ Pappathy begged.
‘How can I?’ Rupini asked Pappathy, wiping away her tears.
Pappathy was silent. ‘How can I forgive you Pappathy?’ Rupini asked once again, her voice hoarse with anger.
‘Pappathy, you must leave!’ Rupini declared. ‘Just leave right now.’
‘Amma, please have mercy. I have three children, I needed money, that’s why I….’
‘If you needed money, you should have asked me. How many times have I lent you money?’
‘Amma, just forgive me once, please. I’ve been here for five years! And I won’t be able to bear it if I have to go away from thambi and pappa.’
‘If you cared so much about thambi and pappa, you shouldn’t have done what you did,’ Rupini told Pappathy in a feeble voice. She realised that she would, after all, have to let Pappathy say goodbye to the kids. Well, it wasn’t the end of the world if Pappathy told the kids she was leaving.
‘Tell you what, I’ll call down Girish and Nidhi from the terrace. You can say goodbye to them and leave. I don’t want you here for another moment.’
‘Amma, please forgive me once. I won’t do it again.’ Pappathy had stopped crying. ‘Let me go and see to lunch. The children will be hungry soon. It’s already eleven thirty.’
‘Don’t worry about lunch,’ Rupini became angry once again. What right did Pappathy have to presume that she was indispensable? ‘I’m going to have lunch delivered from the Charminar. And a new girl will be starting here tomorrow. It’s all been arranged. Why do you think I waited for a week before asking you to leave?’
Pappathy was silent.
‘Today is the fifteenth of July. Here are your wages for the last fifteen days.’ Rupini pressed five hundred rupees into Pappathy’s palm. Surprisingly, Pappathy did not refuse the money. Rather, she accepted it and tucked it into her blouse and said, ‘Amma, I’ll leave now.’
‘Let me call Girish and Nidhi from the terrace. You can say good bye to them.’
‘No!’ Pappathy’s voice was firm. ‘Don’t bother Amma. I don’t want to say goodbye to thambi and pappa.’
‘You don’t want to…?’ Rupini’s voice trailed off.
‘No Amma, I don’t want to. And why should I, if I’m leaving anyway?’
With that Pappathy strode off, closing the front door behind her with a firm click.