The next two days flew very quickly.
Smriti was very happy with Namrata because they landed two new orders from the five star hotel party. Both were handed over to Namrata. She got a new position in the company too. It was an amazing development considering she had spent little over a month as an employee. But she had spent over a year as an intern and her experience was great. There was paper work to be done. Namrata was caught up with a lot of work preparing for the two new events. Since she was doing it all alone she left no stone unturned. Smriti gifted her those lucky ear studs. They were Namrata’s now to keep. She also got a small raise in the salary accompanied by additional bonuses if the concerned account paid the dues completely.
It was Friday. Two complete days since she had heard from him.
There were no messages either. But though she missed him terribly she knew he must be busy. She finally got off work and had two days off. She got a weekend off after ages. She had to spend time with her brother, Nirmay. She barely spoke to him this week. He had some field trip coming up next weekend and had been pestering her for permission and the money. She had avoided the topic because going for the field trip would mean he would also need new clothes, hiking gear, shoes etc. which would put a dent in her precarious budget. But she loved her brother and didn’t want to disappoint him. She packed her bag to leave for the day, wondering how she could manage her finances, when Smriti called her to the cabin.
There was barely anybody in the office at this hour.
Namrata was surprised and wondered what Smriti wanted. She went to her cabin and knocked.
Smriti was seated partially on the edge of her table when Namrata entered.
“Well Namrata, this week has been good for the company all because of your hard work. We made a tidy profit…” Smriti told her. “… We have decided to reward you for your efforts and to motivate you to do better in future.”
She kept a small package in front of Namrata and went back to her seat.
Namrata who was standing picked up the package and opened it. Inside were a wad of currency notes. Namrata looked at Smriti questioningly.
“It all yours Namrata, for what you have done for us.” Smriti said waving to the package
“Um… thank you so much Ma’am, but… I was doing my job… and I already got the promotion…”
Namrata said tentatively.
“… These days employees like you are a rare find Namrata. Enjoy while it lasts. This is just a little trade.” Smriti smiled…
Namrata should have been elated but somehow the smile sent a chill down her spine.
She didn’t understand what Smriti meant. What was being traded? But she nodded. She was cash strapped anyways.
She thanked her and left for home. After reaching home she counted the money. It was Rs. 20,000/- in cash… She thanked God for granting such favours…
The entire weekend was spent cleaning the house, cooking delicacies for her brother, mother’s exercise regimes and finally shopping for her brother. She got few clothes for her and her mother too. She hadn’t shopped like this in ages. Even the last couple of years before her father had passed, they were financially stretched. So shopping had been extremely rare.
It was Sunday afternoon and she was sitting contented in her drawing room post lunch, watching TV with her mother. Her brother had gone to his friend’s place for group study.
“Namu?” he mother called out.
“hmm…” she said lost in thought.
“Who is he, beta?” her mother asked.
That had her attention.
“Who ma? Who are you talking about?”
“That man who dropped you home Thursday early morning…?” her mother was staring straight ahead and not even looking at her.
“He was a client ma. He dropped me home because it was late.” Namrata tried to keep her voice straight but she was a nervous wreck inside. She knew her mother found it difficult to sleep at night and sometime woke at erratic hours. She must have been at the window that morning.
“I didn’t know clients spend so much time in the car while dropping off young girls in the wee hours of morning” Her mother spoke with an emotionless voice.
“It’s … it’s not what you think ma.” Namrata tried to defend herself.
“Is that where all this money came from?” her mother asked.
“MA… hell no… I mean… this is my hard earned money” Namrata spoke with a pounding heart.
“Namu… I am handicapped but not blind. I have not lost my senses yet. I have been observing you this week. You seemed… different…lost… I have seen you work hard these years. But never before today you had so much money….” She sighed and continued, “There is no free lunch in this world. I hope you know what you are doing… Otherwise like your papa, you too will fall into a mess… a financial quicksand from which it’s impossible to come out unscathed….”
“…papa? What did papa do, ma?” Namrata asked, still trying to take in whatever her mother just spoke.
Her mother looked at her. Her eyes were filled with tears. She kept a trembling hand on her head and said, “Namu, you father was a good man. Strict… but a good man at heart…” she again looked away as if gathering herself and said, “… He was a venture capitalist basically…whiz at investment decisions but he made one big mistake which cost us everything…”
Namrata was shocked to the core. She always thought her mother was a docile housewife who knew nothing beyond household chores. To hear her talk about her father was surprising. After the accident Namrata had tried her best to hide the grim reality of her father’s debts from her mother. But… she already knew…
Her mother continued, “That last investment he made was a mistake. He was cheated to a tune of 2 crores. He tried salvaging by taking up personal loans. My jewellery was sold, we sold every bond, shares… everything we had but still couldn’t salvage anything. Then the accident happened….” She looked at Namrata, tears rolling down her cheeks and said, “… you are still paying off those debts … and me like this isn’t helping anything…”
Namrata hugged her mother. She was crying too. Not just hearing what her mother said, but because it was the first time in 6 years her mother actually spoke to her like she was her daughter.
“Don’t worry ma… we will tide over this. Don’t worry about this money. It’s legit. It’s been given to me by the company because they made a profit on my account. And you… focus on your solo trip with the NGO coming up next week… You have to look nice and enjoy. Nirmay too will be on a field trip. I just … I don’t know what will I do without you two”
“Oh common Namu… you are never home. Always working… but if you really are going to feel lonely then I won’t go.” Her mother chided.
Namrata grinned, “No ma… I know you have been looking forward for this trip. You have to go… don’t worry about anything here…”
Her mother nodded satisfied and she wheeled her to her room so she could rest.
Namrata had placated her mother but warning bells began to sound in her head as her mother’s words kept ringing in her ears…
‘There is nothing like free lunch’
Meanwhile few kilometres away…
The old man was physically frail but mentally sharp. He was totally updated with the Eagle’s status. The Giant Eagle had thought he was invincible…. But he was the racoon who could destroy him… he could hurt the eagle in ways he couldn’t even dream of. But his late wife, smart lady, used to say, ‘strike when the iron is hot’
His hot iron was slowly brewing…
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