“Are you going to bring the girl with you?” Hira asked right away.
There was a long silence at the other end.
“I was not planning on it.” Rajiv replied.
“Okay” Hira said after a pause.
“I was going to come over by myself this morning….if that’s okay with you.”
“Come on over, we can talk!” Hire said and put down the phone.
Hira Patel got up slowly. Rubbing his eyes, he dragging himself out of the large wooden chair. His dark brown shirt was tucked inside the khaki rumpled pants, over his protruding belly. The receding hairline made him look much older than his age of 45. Warm air from a small electric heater next to the chair made him sleepy; he did not realize he was dozing off.
He looked out of the window into the deserted parking lot. Then, he checked the the coffee pot next to the reception desk and walked back to the chair.
“It is so chilly outside, and it is not even December yet!” Rajiv said as he pushed open the door and walked in.
“Yes, the winter is coming! How are you, Desai Sahib?”
“I am good, not bad. How is the business?” Rajiv walked over, they shook hands.
“Slow, very slow! Nobody is spending like good old days!”
Rajiv looked around.
“Have a seat,” Hira gestured to the empty wooden chair that Rajiv was already walking towards. “Do you want some coffee? It is freshly made.”
“No, no!” Rajiv replied looking at the big coffee pot with white plastic cups and a sugar jar next to it.
“My wife said she met you this week-end!” Rajiv said, while rubbing his cold hands.
“Yes, I ran into her at the temple, on Sunday.”
“So, you already have met Henna then, right?”
“Yes, she was there with your wife.”
“yes, she is still homesick, slowly adapting to this country.”
“Your wife said that she wanted to pursue studies?” It was more like a question..
“You mean Henna? Yes, she does; but who can afford the tuition in this economy…”
“A lovely young woman. There is something about Gujrati girls, natural beauty!” Hira said admiringly.
“No doubt! Natural beauty.” Rajiv agreed after a pause.
Then, there was an awkward silence for a few seconds. Rajiv tried to drag his chair towards Hira, making a screeching sound in the process. The heavy chair moved only by a few inches.
“So what do you think? Did you give any thought to our discussion from last week?”
“Yes, I have.” Hira replied in a firm tone.
Rajiv waited for Hira to continue; there was a long pause.
Hira spoke,finally, “Well, she can come over this week-end and I can train her. She needs to learn the American ways, you know. I think she has not left your house since she came from India, so this is going to be a big change.”
“I know, this is not easy for me either. My wife does not even know about it!”
“Well, think it over if you must, but don’t take too long…”
“There is nothing to think about. She will be okay with what we decide, she is a very obedient young girl.”
“How old she is now?”
“Almost nineteen, I think.”
As he stood up from the chair, Rajiv asked with hesitation, “Do you still have Manju with you?”
There was a long pause…., “ Ah yes, she is still here.”
“Okay, so…… You told me the business was slow, and..?”
“…Don’t worry, I know what I am doing”, Hira interrupted, “ Manju is no longer in the equation.”
“Things are not working out with her; I tried my best.”
“Manju has to go; I have already made up my mind. I will be talking to her today.”
“Okay,… I see.”
“Don’t worry from my side, leave it to me!” Hira repeated with a reassuring tone, “Have Henna be here by 8 AM on Saturday. 8 O’ clock sharp!”
“No problem, she will be here.” Rajiv said as he opened the door to leave.
“Thanks you; see you later.” Hira added.
“No, thank you for all your help….8 O’ clock!”
“Oh Hi!” Henna greeted her brother-in-law at the door as he walked into the house. Then she ran to the kitchen to inform her elder sister who was busy making some dough.
“Where were you gone all this morning? I was almost getting worried!” His wife inquired in a curt voice as he walked into dining area. Her hands continue to knead the dough.
“I went to see Hira; I have a very good news!”
“Yeah?” His wife asked with caution while Henna stood next to her, equally eager to hear the good surprise.
“He has agreed to hire Henna as the cleaning-maid at his motel. She can start this week-end. Isn’t this great?”
His wife did not say anything. She stopped kneading, her eyes still looking down.
There was a long silence; nobody said anything.
Henna looked at her sister, but she did not lift her head up to look at her in return. She did not say anything; her hands still stuck in the gooey dough, as if she had forgotten the kneading motion.
“Sis!…” She said quietly, as if looking for an explanation from her elder sister…
There was another long pause, and awkward silence.
Almost in shock, Henna did not blink or move or made any other sound. A tear emerged from her big brown left eye and slowly strolled down her rosy cheek, all the way down to her slightly opened pink lips.
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