I am feeling pathetic. It’s not the money you see, it’s the way I am being fooled, that too by a girl. Normally I am very vigilant, and never fall for such con. But when she said it was her father, I mellowed. May be because I went through the same at a very young age. But how dare that darned girl can do it to me? I can’t believe someone can be that good an actor or they can say things that she said. I was working in one of those countless private computer firms in my native place. I left a good-paying job in one of the metropolis, just to be in my village. You see, I love this place. I love those end-less rubber estates, the smell of drying pepper, the little waterfall down the road, those lovely girls standing in the nearby bus stop, the cacophony of school going children. I loved everything about the place. So I decided, though the pay is much lesser than what I got at that big, fast and suffocating metro, to stay here. I joined the new office as an Administrator. On the second day, I was checking the muster and I found, for more than a week, one row was empty where they mark the attendance against one name. Tina Philip. That was the name. I summoned the head clerk and asked him about it. “Sir, she is a part timer but for the last one week she didn’t turn up” “Has she informed about the continued absence?” I asked. “No”. “Did you check what happened?” “No sir, she didn’t leave a telephone number and her cell phone is switched off” So, that’s that. No way to trace her. What about mailing her, I asked him. “I thought she would turn up anytime. So didn’t send mail” “Ok. Write one right away, will you please?” “Ok. I’ll do it. But she stays in a women’s hostel.” “Ok. Send one to that address and try her mobile as well” On the second day, the clerck informed me that he was able to get her on the mobile. “What did she say?” I questioned. “She said she will come within a day or two and explain everything”
Exactly on the fourth day, a pale, thin figure emerged from the blazing sun into my cabin. She was clutching her bag and umbrella in an awkward fashion as if to pour the contents onto my table. And she was sweating profusely, due to the sweltering heat outside. “Good morning. What can I do for you?” I questioned. “Sir, I am Tina Philip” “Ok”. I completely forgot about her. Now she was looking at me expectantly. “Sir, I am working here part-time and was absent for one and a half week” “Oh, I remember. Sit down please” She sat on the edge of the chair opposite to me. Definitely she was anxious. Now I watched her intently. She was a beautiful girl, in her early twenty, with those wide eyes staring at the table top. I would say she is beautiful and there is something in her that makes your heart melt. “So why were you not coming to the office all these while?” I enquired in a soothing manner. “Last week“ she said with her eyes still fixed on the table top, “ my father died” I was taken aback. “I am sorry. I really didn’t know. But why didn’t you just let the office know?” She didn’t answer. Her face tilted downwards and her small, petite body shook a little as if she was sobbing. I saw one or two droplets on the glass top. “Now, now, please don’t cry.” “Sir, I am the only child of my parents and my mom is an emotional wreck. She needs my presence more than anything in the world. But when I got your call….” The sentence trailed off as if she was accusing me. I felt much worse. Here a beautiful young girl, sitting in my office, sobbing and accusing me of not considering her feelings. Am I such an iron-hearted man? Now, whatever happened, I should make amends for it. “Tina, please wipe your eyes. Now go home, be with your mother and console her. I know you need more time to settle things. So please feel free to go now and come back whenever you feel you are ready. And this is my personal mobile number, please feel free to contact any time”. I wrote the number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “Sir, I need a loan to manage things. You can deduct it from my salaries when I join back” “How much do you want?” I had to take sanction from the Md if the s um is high. “Three salaries as advance sir”. That’ll be about my one months salary. I can easily sanction it since it is under the limit. “Ofcource. Go to the accounts and tell the accountant.” “Can you please call them up and authorize it? Otherwise they may not do it” “Ok. You go there and I’ll tell them” “Thank you very much sir.” She left the room for accounts and for a full minute there was a faint smell of her lingering about. I picked up the intercom and dialled accounts. “Hello, Is this Anil?”. Anil is the chief accountant. “Yes?” “This the Admin. Our part-timer Tina is coming to you for some loan against her salary. Please sanction it” “Are you authorizing the payment, sir?” He queried. “Yes I am.” “Sir, but..” “No.” I interrupted him. “Please don’t say anything. She is already upset and I don’t want to make it any worse for her. Anyway she will be working here so that you can deduct it from her salary. And she is not asking any big amount. It’s only three salaries.” “If you insist, then I see no problem” I sensed a slight sarcasm in his sound. May be I am just imagining things. “Ok. So please send the loan voucher, and I’ll sign it” “Right Sir”.
That was on a Friday. On Saturday, I had to travel to the town for a personal visit. I was waiting at the signal for the light to change green. Suddenly a bike snaked through the little gaps between waiting vehicles and stopped at right beside my car, the passenger side of my car. The boy was laughing hysterically about something his pillion, a smartly dressed girl said. Since my window was open, I could hear them talking. “You should see his face man. It was absolute sorrow, as if it was his father.” She said from the back seat amidst laughter. That sound seems to be familiar. She was looking the other way so I can’t see her face. “And he himself gave the order to give the cash. Poor fellow, His first salary is what we are spending now. They will deduct it from his salary” She slapped the boy on the back. “When is your flight scheduled?” The boy asked. “in a couple of hours. My dad will be waiting at the airport. So drop me there now”. The girl replied. Suddenly I recognized the voice. No! it couldn’t be! How can it be! And then that exact moment, the signal turned green and I saw Tina Philip, riding pillion, rode away into the horizon.