She had expected the manager to be alone in his room. Flanking the table and facing each other, sat two other men. ‘Take your seat, please.’

She sat facing the manager.

‘I had meant to come as soon as I got your letter, but I couldn’t make it yesterday.’

‘You mean about that bill? That has not been entered as paid here.

We have been going through the accounts.’

‘What happened to the money then? It’s been three months since I



‘Did you pay cash? Got a temporary receipt or something like ‘I sent a cheque. I don’t have a receipt.’

‘In that case it would be easy to trace it. May be they forgot to enter

it here. We’ll make enquiries. All we need is the cheque number and date. There’s no problem.’

‘This cheque -‘

‘There is nothing to worry. We’ll get the date of encashment from the bank. Did you make it out in favour of our company?’

‘No. That’s why -‘

‘Then whom did you make it out to?’

‘I gave a cash cheque. I wrote ‘pay cash.’ ‘Oh-‘

‘Your man told me a cash cheque needn’t be disclosed for income tax reckoning and so it would be a favour to you.’

‘Now, did he really? There’s no way he could have said that.’ ‘Yes, he did. I’ve given him a cash cheque earlier too. I even got a

receipt very promptly.’

‘Do you remember the cheque number and date?’

‘I don’t remember the date. I didn’t enter it in the counterfoil. I must have forgotten to. The cheque number-‘

She got her diary out of her bag and opened it. ‘34851’

‘How much did you say it was?’ It was the fat man who sat on the right side who spoke.

‘Nine hundred and eighty two.’ ‘Oh, nearly a thousand.’

‘Yes, it was the payment for two or three consignments. They were paid at one go.’

‘You don’t even remember roughly when it was paid?’

Was there a tinge of condescension in his voice? An insinuation that you can expect no better from women? The airs that the three gave themselves! She bit on her lips and sat quietly for a moment. No, there’s no point in losing your temper, she told herself, it’s your mistake.

‘I made out this cheque at home. I didn’t go to the dispensary that day. It was only three or four days later that I recalled it and made the entry in my book as on that day. I can give you the date of entry in my book.’ She took out her diary again. ‘April 17.’

‘Who was it that insisted on a cash cheque?’

‘Mr. Gopinathan Nair. It was he who came there every time representing your company.’

Yes, Gopinathan Nair. It was because of him that I made this silly


His fair skin and straight hair.

‘Gopinathan Nair? Nair’s on tour. It’s obstacles all the way.’ Was

the fat chap laughing up his sleeve?

‘I don’t care what the obstacle is. I won’t stop till I get to the bottom of this. To cheat one deliberately!’

‘Sure that’s what we want too. We must get to the bottom of this. Please don’t think that we are not helpful. Let’s proceed systematically. Don’t get angry, doctor. We —‘

‘I’m not angry.’

This one’s worse than the stocky chap. Talks as if he were talking to a child —

‘Was it Nair who took the cheque from you?’

The bald man who sat quietly twirling a pencil in his hands and staring at it, suddenly spoke.

‘No. It was a peon.’

His gaze returned to the pencil.

‘He came with a note from Mr. Nair. He wrote, I was to send the cheque through the peon.’

‘Have you kept that note?’

‘I did but I can’t find it now.’

This time the fat person really did laugh. ‘I can identify the peon if I see him.’

‘Peons work on shifts. All of them won’t be here now. We’ll make enquiries.’

Shift, my foot!

‘So you – well, I’ll find a way to deal with this.’

‘Doctor, let us not part on a bad note. Don’t get it wrong. We’ll let you know in a couple of days.

‘All right. Thanks.’

The manager saw her to the door. As if, accompanying her to the door would set everything right. I’ll show them all, she thought, I’ll show them I’m every bit my father’s daughter.

The blighters! The airs they put on!

Back in the moving car the wind cooled her head. No point in blaming them. If you behave without sense as though you were a mere woman — they had been pretty serious till they got to know the whole story.

She had really been foolish. That Gopinathan Nair— Serves you right.

When someone came and smiled at you once and said this or that, you agreed to whatever he said.

You could have spoken to Thomas or Miss Kurien who’re old hands. It never occurred to you.

They had been purchasing medicines from this company for years, even from the time when father had been looking after everything. Instead of finding out how cheques were issued —

Till her father was confined to bed, she had never bothered about anything except the patients.

That’s why she got into this fix. Still, she reminded herself, you don’t make out a cash cheque just like that.


Better not tell anyone. That after all this while, you still do not know how to make out a cheque.

Or, don’t I? Gopinathan Nair —

When he walked into the consulting room with his file case, you always felt he brought the sunshine in with him.

The pungent smell of carbolic soap and lotion that wafted in from the inner room. Posters on the wall courtesy Parke-Davis.

The poster that depicted the primitiveness of the first surgery had never appealed to her aesthetic senses.

There was no place for aesthetics in a doctor’s consulting room, after all.

There were pictures — compliments from various companies — under the glass top of the table too.

Never paused to ask why they were placed there. Father used to do so. The practice was kept up.

Pregnant women, sallow with anemia, and children who’d start to bawl at her sight (oh, are there so many bawling kids in this world?). Hysteric young girls: I’m not well, doctor, I can’t read, the moment

I look at a book, my head starts to ache’.

Only the delivery cases and these people ever came to her; the serious cases went to the men.

Back pain. Headache. Pains and aches all over. Grouches. I can’t stand this, doctor, I really can’t — Only complaints.

The doctor’s consulting room is a place where you could slip out of the garb of self-control which is considered one of the signs of culture, isn’t it?

Into that world of aches and pains when he came smiling, untouched by any of those —

Dressed in well-ironed pants and shirts and ties that went beautifully with them.

How entertainingly he used to talk! However bored she was, she would perk up when he came.

It was only when she set eyes on him that she smiled. And that man —

Deliberately talked her into — Realising her weakness —

He sent her a proper receipt the first time. That had been a small sum. And when it came to a really big amount –

She had the car stopped when it reached the State Bank building and got out. She had to wait in the agent’s room for fifteen minutes. In the meantime they went through the old accounts and located the relevant details. The cheque had been cashed by one Raphael three months back on 11 April.

Once back home she sent this piece of information to the company in a note. The messenger came back in an hour with a reply.

There was no peon of the name of Raphael in that place. Nair will be back in a week. They’ll ask him. In the meanwhile she might lodge a formal complaint with the company.

There was nothing to do except wait for him to come back. And was there any point in waiting for him? Would he own up?

At any rate she made a formal complaint, carefully noting the date and the number.

She had not been expecting them to make a move for yet another week when a peon brought her a note from the company.

Could you please say whether the bearer of the note was the person who took that cheque from you?

That was the gist of the note.

That was the same person. She recalled his face with great difficulty. His name was Raghavan.

The employees at the bank might have got it wrong then.

At the company they might have got some other lead. So the fellow has been traced. May be they’d take it seriously now.

Five or six days went by. There was no move from their side. Are they done with their enquiry or what? Why not remind them one more time?

One busy Thursday afternoon, as she got up to leave after disposing of the last patient, Thomas came in and informed her that there was someone to meet her.

He can call only at noon, can he? Why don’t these people keep in mind that she too has a home? She had left home before eight in the morning.

She couldn’t place the man for a moment when he entered the room. Then she recognized him as the bald man who had kept staring at his pencil in the manger’s room.

‘I wonder if you remember me.’ He spoke after a brief silence. ‘Yes, I do.’

He lapsed into silence again.

‘I came to talk to you about that case.’ ‘Ah, how did it turn out?’

‘Nair has returned from his tour.’ ‘Has he?’

‘Yes. He was back day before yesterday.’ ‘Oh.’

‘We spoke to him about that money.’ ‘What did he say?’

‘He agreed to having taken the money from you. He sort of borrowed it because he was badly in need of money. He had no intention of cheating you.’

‘It’s been three months. All this while -‘

‘He meant to replace the amount before you came to know of it, doctor.’

‘Then why didn’t he?’

‘Now he is ready to. He couldn’t till now.’

‘Now? Now that everything’s out and he can no longer hush it up.

Isn’t that so?’

‘At least he owned up to it as soon as he was questioned. Suppose he hadn’t? If he had denied it, you couldn’t have proved it in any court of law, doctor. Raghavan did cash the cheque, but that hardly proves anything. You say he took the cheque. Even that’s not a piece of evidence that will stand cross examination. Raghavan said he couldn’t recall whether he had cashed it or not. In any case, if you were to prove that the cheque had been given to Gopinathan Nair, it doesn’t prove anything beyond the fact that you gave Nair a thousand rupees. Is there anything to prove that he was paid in his capacity as the company’s representative? Nair could very well claim that the thousand rupees wasn’t money due to the company.’

‘After having cheated me, he must also lie -‘

‘No, doctor, I was only trying to present how it would have been if, as you say, cheating had really been his intention.’

‘He owned it up since he knew I’ve got the note he sent me that day. That’s it.’

He wouldn’t know that I have misplaced it, she told herself. These people wouldn’t have told him.

‘Oh, you’ve got it? Does it say that you must send the amount due to the company?’

‘In the note – that is -‘

‘Leave it. No need to go into all that. Nair has agreed that it was the amount due to the company that you paid him. And he’s willing to repay the money.’

‘This is not just about a thousand rupees. Repaying the money wouldn’t be the end of it either. After swindling money, when he doesn’t have any other alternative.

‘You are saying the same thing again, doctor. There’s nothing deliberate about this. There is nothing more to it than having made use of the money in an emergency.’

‘What emergency? A very convenient kind of emergency!’ ‘His mother has cancer.’

She did not speak.

‘She’s been under treatment for a while. It was on the day he got the thousand rupees that the doctor who’d been treating her here told him that she should be taken to Madras for Cobalt treatment.’

She sat listening to him but made no reply. ‘You must believe me, doctor. It was on the eleventh that your cheque was cashed, wasn’t it? He went on leave for two weeks from 18th . He’d been to Madras with his mother. I don’t have to tell you how expensive it is to give a person Cobalt treatment at a private nursing home in Madras, do I? Since he had no money with him at the time….’

‘Well, how is his mother now?’

‘She’s worse and has been brought back.’ ‘Where did he manage to get the money now?’ ‘Since there was no other go, he had to find it.’ ‘He might have conned somebody else.’

‘Miss Malati, I’m not in the habit of intervening on behalf of others. I knew he was in a real fix. That’s why I came here to trouble you . He made a mistake he shouldn’t have. Okay, but there was nothing deliberate or preplanned, no, nothing like that behind all this.’

‘He might have asked me for -‘ She didn’t finish the sentence.

Had he come to her just once and said, my mother is ill and I need money for her treatment –

Not a thousand –

Oh, if only he had said, I need a thousand rupees, Malati, giving no reason –

Smiled his dazzling smile revealing all his teeth -Damn! ‘There’ll be a director board meeting in two days to discuss this

case. Most probably they’d decide to dismiss him. This is a serious offence. Some of us might feel sympathetic towards him. But leniency wouldn’t be shown. He’s got a good record. No complaints so far. Still with a written complaint from someone of your social position -‘

He paused. She kept quiet.

‘If you were to withdraw your complaint, people like me who’re on the board might talk the others into going easy on the punishment.’

He paused as if he wanted her to say something at least then. He kept staring at her face for a while.

‘His career would be finished if he were to be dismissed from a company like ours for a misdemeanour like this. This will finish him. Please don’t think I have a special interest in his case. I am only sorry to see a nice young chap like him go to the dogs.’

‘Why did he get me to make out a cash cheque saying that it was to hoodwink the income tax people?’

Taken in by his fair skin – he’d have sensed it – he might have known that I’d agree to anything, that he could get away with anything –

‘I did make enquiries about that too. It was a practical joke got up by him and some other youngsters to beat an Income Tax officer who thinks a bit too highly of himself.’

She laughed.

His face grew red.

‘So you insist on your pound of flesh.’ He spoke in English. ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’

‘In that case, let me take leave of you.’

She’d have been home long since but for his advocate – She followed him out. That must be his car in the front. Leaning on the bonnet –

Gopinathan Nair!

So, he had been waiting at her doorstep all this time after sending the other man in to plead his case.

The car moved away. He didn’t see her. Her own car moved forward.

She ransacked her house that very evening.

His note must be lying somewhere. She had never been in the habit of throwing anything away.

She looked everywhere. She came upon it at last in the cupboard beneath her sarees and blouses.

The note he sent.

Kept it secure among your clothes, you fool! ‘Please send the cheque per bearer. Thanks.’ Just that!

An epistle of love, kept perfumed and secure in the closet –

Will this prove that she’d paid him? Or won’t it? No one would claim that they gave some one a thousand rupees just like that?

Why not send this along too?

For the next three or four days she went about, unable to decide whether to send it on or not.

In Monday’s mail, there was a letter for her, in an envelope which bore the company seal.

The meaning sank in only on reading it a second time. Since he was unable to continue to serve the company due to reasons of health, he was resigning from his job. Copy of Gopinathan Nair’s letter to the company manager.

Typed ‘Copy to Dr.(Miss) Malati Nair’ beneath the letter. So he has lost his job.

When he stood leaning on the bonnet, a lock of his straight hair had fallen on to his forehead.

Even in the midst of her wrath she hadn’t failed to notice it.

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