“Maa, I don’t think I can take this job any longer,” Avani said in almost a whisper.
“Why do you think that is?” Anamika, her mother, used the well-rehearsed question that she had learned from watching too many series/movies involving therapy.
“Mom, cut it out! I am very serious here.”
“And honey, I have never been more serious in my whole life. You think everybody else is ecstatic in their lives. A job is just that: a job. You are lucky you have a job. Do you know how many people would kill for your life?”
“It’s not about others, maa. Each day I spend in my office, I feel as if I am gradually losing a part of myself. Plus, I suck at it. Anyway, I have this one chance at life. Should I just waste it away dying every single day?” Avani was fighting back the tears that were on the verge of spilling out of her eyes. However, she could not control the slight trembling of her lips. Spilling her guts was never her forte. And seeing that her mom was not comprehending her dilemma was breaking her heart by the minute. I should never have talked to her about it. She never understood my problems.
“Avi, you always had a flair for the dramatic. Life is not free of compromises. You must not forget that. You cannot be happy all the time. Even Ambanis, Bachchans, and whats-his-name…the guy who is Facebook’s CEO are not on cloud 9 every single day. If you suck at the job, learn the concepts. You enjoy reading, so why don’t you learn more about your work?” Anamika raised one of her eyebrows in an accusatory manner. Why doesn’t Avani realize that her life is beautiful only because she is self-dependent? She has no idea what “dying every day” means. Anamika hoped Avani would not have to know the real tragedy.
“Maa, I knew you would not understand. You have always been more interested in keeping up appearances in society. You just don’t want the shame of one of your daughters not having a job. Ooooh, what would society say?” Avani’s voice broke with the tears that were now freely flowing down her cheeks. She did not want sympathy. The only thing she was after was understanding. Evidently, it was too much to ask for. With this thought, she took a couple of deep breaths to regain her composure.
Once she trusted herself to deliver the most daunting thought that has been occupying her brain these days, she said, “While you were busy portraying your best life on social media, I have been struggling with suicidal thoughts.” Without waiting for her mom to say something, she added, “If I had to spend even one more day in that soul-sucking place, aka my office, I may just surrender to those thoughts.”
“Are you insane, Avi? How can you even think about suicide? You are considering taking your own life for something that’s just in your head. You have EVERYTHING. If you just treasure what you have, you would fall in love with your life. I can’t believe how can you, a girl with a brilliant mind, even think of such stupidity.” Anamika’s nostrils flared in anger. She was outraged. She knew she sounded harsh, but that was the only way to bring Avani back to her senses.
Yet, when she looked at her daughter’s tear-stained face, her unconditional love for her daughter replaced the fury that she felt moments ago. Anamika moved toward her daughter, who was sitting on the far end of the bed. She wiped Avani’s tears with her fingers, but could not hold back her own tears. The sight of her defeated daughter stabbed at her heart. Anamika knew it was the time that she shared her tragic story with her. Yes, there was a risk that her 28-year-old daughter would not be able to look at her the same way. Nevertheless, Avani must know the truth of her life.
“Sweetie, I haven’t been honest with you. I know you think that I would rather lose you than see you unemployed. That’s not entirely true. Losing you would take away one of the reasons for my existence. But, seeing you jobless would also take away a part of me,” Anamika looked deep into her daughter’s eyes. Amidst her sobs, she opened her mouth to counter her mom’s statement. Before Avani could say a word, Anamika shushed her and continued.
“Just after you were born, your father was laid off from his job. There was some conflict in the workplace, and your dad turned out to be the perfect scapegoat for his boss. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get a new job for years.” Anamika paused. She had tried hard to bury the past deep under the glorious facade of the perfect present. Recalling those painful memories was bringing back the intense feelings of grief and helplessness with them. She shuddered but continued.
“Long story short, I started looking for a job. Well, I wasn’t much qualified, so I did not have many options to select from. One day, my aunt told me that there is a vacancy at her workplace and that she can put in a good word for me with her boss, Mr. Pathak. Hope surged through me. They were paying well, too. I only had to meet her boss over lunch at a restaurant. I went with your dad at the given time. Mr. Pathak was running late, so it was just us. The money was so tight at that time that we could only order tea. The waiter gave us a ‘you-donot-belong-here’ look.” Anamika’s face had turned red with mortification. At this time, Avani was sure that her mom must have had the same distressed look all those years ago. She touched her mom’s hand.
“Mom, you can stop. I get the picture. Life is bad without money and respect that comes only with it,” Avani huffed. She squeezed her mom’s hand to show her understanding.
“No, Avi! Let me go on,” Anamika pursed her lips as if buying some time to keep her emotions in check. So far, she was failing in putting on a poker face. Her feelings were all too visible on her face. Yet, she continued, “As I was saying, Mr. Pathak hadn’t arrived and it has been more than fifteen minutes of waiting. We were wondering if he was just not going to arrive. Still, we put on a strong face in a place where we were clearly not wanted and continued sorting through my mark sheets and certificates. I was so desperate for the job that I had even brought the awards that I had won for debates, essay-writing, and whatnot. Your dad had mocked me about it before leaving the house.
“And then just when we decided to ask for the bill and leave, Mr. Pathak arrived. He was a funny-looking man. To this day, I have never seen such a strange man. He had a body of that egg from the nursery rhyme: Humpty Dumpty. His face was too big for his body. He had such a big belly that you would think he had no other body part. It was hanging quite low, and I was feeling bad for the belt that must be working overtime to keep his pants from falling. His face was a different story altogether. He had nothing significant about him. You have no idea how badly I wanted to laugh at his sight. You must think I am being shallow, but trust me the overbearing manner in which he walked and talked was more responsible for the chuckle that escaped my self-control.
“Yeah, you heard it right. I couldn’t hold it. I just chuckled. His nose was so up in the air that he didn’t notice he stepped on the slightly wet floor and slipped. Fortunately for him, a waiter was nearby, whose shirt Mr. Pathak gripped and regained his control. By then, however, I was giggling like a crazy person. It really was funny, and I was only 22 at that time,” Anamika laughed at the memory. Even after almost thirty years, she still found that scene hilarious. Avani laughed along with her. She was relieved to see her mom back to almost normal. She knew, however, that the mood would shift again.
As if on cue, Anamika wiped her happy tears and went back to the memory. “Anyhow, he saw me laughing and walked towards our table. He confirmed that I was the Anamika he was supposed to be meeting and sat on the chair next to me and across your father. He ordered a big meal for himself after asking us if we wanted anything. We declined. To tell the truth, our stomachs were grumbling with hunger, but we did not wish to portray the image of a poor and hungry couple. He couldn’t care less about us. While waiting for his order, he boasted about his closeness with the owner of the company. I tried pushing my documents in front of him to evaluate my eligibility, but he kept ignoring all my attempts.
“As soon as the waiter served his order, he began gobbling up his food as if he hadn’t eaten for days. As your grandmother used to say, money doesn’t bring grace. Between chewing up his food and licking his fingers, he blurted out that the owner’s wife had recently passed away. I tried to offer my condolences for the man, but he put a hand in front of my face to shut me up. I hated him immediately. He continued as if nothing happened. Then he said something that, to this day, boils me up with rage,” Anamika shifted uncomfortably on the bed and then decided to get down from it. She strode toward the other side of the room and faced her daughter once again.
She said, “Now remember that he dared to say these words to a wife in front of her husband. I think he smelled our desperation, which empowered him. He said that the owner had been missing the company of a sophisticated woman. In Mr. Pathak’s “expert” viewpoint, I would be perfect to fill that void. Of course, not as a wife! And in exchange, I would get so much money that I would never need anything else.”
Avani was outraged. With a scrunched up face, she shouted, “WHAT!? Tell me you slapped him across the face. Tell me, dad did something.”
“Your dad pounced at him, but I came between him and that scoundrel. I splashed water of my glass on his face and told him that he was a disgusting excuse for a man. He had no trace of shame on his revolting face. He must have been doing it for a while now. We left the place and a part of our dignity. Thankfully, after that incident, your dad became relentless in his job-search. Within a month, he scored an excellent job,” Anamika smiled with satisfaction. She walked toward Avani, whose face was still all scrunched up, and held her face between her hands. Anamika did not wish to burden her daughter with the weight of this repulsive incident, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Honey, that’s why I tell you to treasure your job. In a man’s world, if you want to be considered as anything more than a plaything, then you must be strong. Only your job can gain you a fair chance at gaining any respect,” Anamika kissed her daughter’s cheek and left the room. Avani followed her room and saw her going in the shower. She knew the discussion was over. Avani was infuriated and wanted revenge. She wanted to burn that man alive. As for her mom’s comment regarding the job, she still did not agree with her. But, now, at least, she understood where her mom was coming from. Avani had only two choices:
- Suck it up and go on with her job. This path had the risk of her losing her mind.
- Quit the job and hurt her mom. Of course, it would bring about the risk of poverty and lack of respect.
Considering her tough choices, she buried her face in the pillow and screamed.
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