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since when

by sunanda chatterjee


Mina Gupta heard the knock on her door and peered above the stylish metal-framed bifocals balanced over her pencil-thin nose. “What?”

It was Samuel, her assistant for five years. “Ms. Gupta, do you need anything else?”

She leaned back on the executive chair and stretched her arms over her head.

Her upper back and neck ached from working all afternoon. She’d skipped lunch to attend the two director meetings. All she’d eaten today was an onion bagel with cream cheese. She still had to complete her talk for the board meeting tomorrow.

It was nearly seven o’clock and from her window, she could see the angry red sun setting over the silhouette of downtown Los Angeles. She rubbed her neck. “Get me some coffee, will you?”

Samuel nodded and left her office, closing the heavy wooden door that bore the name Mina Gupta, Director, Sales.

It was suddenly quiet. She stared at the her certificates displayed on ornate frames on the wood paneled walls: her bachelor’s degree in science from the obscure university in India, the diploma in the computer course, which had propelled her into the world of software design and given her the opportunity to come to the United States.

She’d worked hard and taken night classes to complete an MBA, the certificate of which was decorated in the most ornate frame.

Hanging across her desk on the opposite wall was a calendar marking the anniversary of what should have been her wedding day nearly fifteen years ago. A photograph of her in days of yore, with a handsome American man, both sitting in a yellow kayak, wearing life-vests and smiling into the camera, stood on her wide mahogany desk, the single personalized adornment with which she had been unable to part. She had sacrificed much for this job.

While she stared at the fine lines and prominent veins, battle-scars of the inexorable gallop of time on her ring-less hand, Samuel brought luke-warm black coffee in a styrofoam cup. He looked apologetic. “Um… the coffee ran out. I have to leave a bit early, Ms. Gupta. It’s my anniversary.” 

Mina took a sip of the disgusting brew and threw it in the trash. She waved her hand in dismissal. “Fine. See you tomorrow.”

By eight-thirty when she left her office, the building was empty save for the night watchman, whom she often saw smoking under the No-Smoking sign. She ignored his acknowledgement and walked past him, a sharp throb pounding at her temples. She was tired and hungry. Her back and legs ached. Her pantyhose felt uncomfortable after twelve long hours of wear. She must remember to get a spare pack of pantyhose for her office.

She started her BMW-5, a monster machine raring to fulfill its role in the universe of things, the epitome of power and speed. It turned on with a raspy hum and burst into action. She put her handbag on the passenger seat and drove out of the parking structure. Glancing over her shoulder, she read the words Rainbow Systems on the short white wall surrounding her office building.

She eased into the late evening traffic of Highway 101 leaving downtown Los Angeles. Her headache intensified. She hoped there was something leftover in the fridge from last night. If her father had finished it all, she’d just have a cup of tea with toast. Then she’d take a long hot bath. She’d still have enough time to put the final touches on her presentation.

Tomorrow was an important day. If she impressed the board members, she would be assured of the Vice President position for the new corporate office.

“That’s sure to make you proud, Papa, she thought.

Years ago, when her father had sold his store in India due to poor health, she’d asked him to live with her in the beautiful craftsman home suburban Los Angeles. If he had been impressed with her achievements, she had not been aware of it. If he had been proud, he had not shown it.

Most days she returned home to find him asleep. They rarely talked. Cindy, her housekeeper, took him shopping and sight-seeing. He had seemed satisfied, while her career had moved on.

Mina parked her car in her garage and cut across the lawn leading to the house. Unlocking the front-door, she found the house quiet. Cindy had left the place spic and span. Mina had recently remodeled her home, and gleaming white tile now surfaced the entire floor instead of the old Berber carpet. The floors reflected the faint light from upstairs, whence she heard her father hobbling around in his room.

She turned on the lights in the hallway and tossed her keys on the small table by the door. Kicking off her black pumps, she walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

“He didn’t leave me anything,” she said to herself.

She sighed and placed the kettle on the stove.

Her father came down the spiral stairwell in woolen pants, a full-sleeved flannel shirt, and a jacket. He was stooped and skinny. A few strands of silvery gray hair rimmed his otherwise bald head. Despite his age, his eyes gleamed underneath bushy white eyebrows.

“I need woolen socks,” he announced.

Mina had been reading the Wall Street Journal, waiting for the kettle to whistle. She looked up from the article on investments and stared at him.

“What?”

“It’s cold in the house since you changed the carpet for these tiled floors. I don’t have woolen socks. I’m cold all day. I need socks.”

“Okay, Papa. We’ll get you socks on Saturday.”

“I need them now.”

“Papa, I’m really tired. Can’t Cindy…?”

“Cindy left early today. Her mother is sick. She couldn’t get me socks. I need them tonight.”

“I have an important meeting tomorrow. I’m the Director. If I do well, I’ll be considered for VP… You understand that, don’t you?”

He stood in the doorway, hands on his hips. “Since when did you become too important to take care of your father?”

Mina stared at him for a full minute.

Her mind went years back to Raipur when she was young. Her father owned a clothing retail store in neighboring Bhilai, about an hour’s drive from Raipur.

The story continued here....