4 December

Zaiba, the receptionist at Neem,  comes up to me, her big eyes rolling, “There’s someone waiting for you. A man!”

A man is quite unusual in our office. Most of the men who come here, come as accompaniments to the women who are consulting us. A man in his own right …  to see me? No wonder, Zaiba’s eyes are rolling. I know it cannot be So-On. He would never come without calling; he’d never come anyway.

I peep out of my cubicle, and before I can walk the 10 steps to the reception, I see High BP striding towards me. I almost sit back in my chair in an impossible effort to hide from him, but the low walls of our cubicles are scant protection. Perhaps, he knows I would have avoided meeting him if possible, and so he didn’t wait for Zaiba to come back and give him an excuse.

High BP was in my class in Junior College. Rather, he was meant to be. But most often than not, he was to be found in the college canteen. He never carried a book or a pen to college. But he always did have:

1.    A flashy big car. A new one every 6 months.
2.    A retinue of fawning, giggly, pretty girls. A new set every 2 months.
3.    Some boys sprinkled in for good measure.
4.    Chocolates, cigarettes, drinks, which he handed out generously. No drugs, as far as I know.

I had never said so much as a “Hi!” to him in the 2 years of Junior College. He and his friends had once laughed at me nastily.

I was studying for the Final Terms in the library. High BP and his gang walked in and sat down beside me. For a change, they were loaded with big, reference books from the library and tons of stationery. Three girls set about writing out High BP’s tutorials for him. The other boys did their own work. High BP made it his business to keep everyone cheerful with No-Consideration-For-Others loud wisecracks.

I looked around, but there seemed to be no available seats far from this lot. I coughed, I muttered, I looked at them sternly, but it didn’t help. Finally, I went to the librarian and complained.

The gang, unrepentant, unashamed, laughed and tittered at me as they left the library. It took me a while to calm down after that, and get back to my studies.

Now I put away the case papers I am going through, and neaten up my cubicle a bit (looks like I have learnt something from So-On’s mother).  And then look at High BP in my sternest, most professional manner. At which, he gives me a brilliant smile.

Now, that’s rare to see too at Neem. I mean, everyone who comes here is normally so tense, so low, so dejected, so defeated. What does this guy have to smile about? I am already irritated.

High BP: “Hi Appi, got your number from Pakya. Do you remember him? That tall, lanky guy. Thick glasses. He said you were a lawyer now. I need one, a lawyer.”

Me: “I’m a Family Court lawyer. Doesn’t your family already have lawyers for your business contracts and all that?”

High BP: “Oh no, it’s not about contracts or business. I need a Family Court lawyer. My wife’s suing me, and asking for a huge alimony, and I want to fight her.”

I look at him, goggle-eyed. This guy is cheeky. Just imagine, walking into a women lawyers’ collective and asking a woman lawyer to fight his case, to avoid giving his wife alimony. And when he’s that filthy rich. I just can’t understand people like him.

Anyway, it is my job to get him to meet Neempatta. She likes to meet all the clients for the first time and measure them up. Then, she pretty much leaves us to fend for ourselves, unless we fall into trouble that we cannot handle.

I ask Zaiba to check with Neempatta whether she is free and can see High BP right away, or whether she wants him to come back. Luckily, she is free, and can see him. I am glad, because:

1. I know she will refuse to take on his case.
2. And he will go away.
3. And I will never have to see him again.

I am finding it so hard to be polite to him. I am not too good dealing with people I don’t like.

He seems to be pretty much the way he was in college, expensively dressed, reeking of perfume. He also seemed unaffected by the divorce case his wife has filed against him. I am sure he must have swept some poor innocent off her feet, only for her to realize that he is a complete swine. I pity the poor thing. I’ve seen many cases like this in the 2 years I’ve been here.

Neempatta gives High BP a rare smile when he walks in. What is with her? Is she dazzled by his looks, and his air of sophistication and wealth? But I know Neempatta is not like that. Maybe most women just react to him like that, involuntarily. No wonder he’s got a bloated head.

High BP begins to relate his case to us.

The most surprising FACT:

He did not have a love marriage, but agreed to marry the girl his father had chosen for him.

Why am I surprised though? It’s often like that with business families. His father wanted him to marry the daughter of his business partner, and so High BP did. High BP says that his wife, Pallo had seemed happy enough with him during their engagement, though shy, and reluctant to go out with him.

He thinks now, that it should have made him suspicious that she always had some excuse or the other not to meet him. But he didn’t think much about it at the time, since that was usually the case in their families. They have short engagements, and the girl and boy are not encouraged or expected to meet or go around with each other before their marriage. And he knew that her family was very conservative.

I still can’t believe that High BP had agreed to such a set-up. He, of the “new girlfriend every month” reputation! And at such a young age. Just 23. God! What was he thinking?

Anyway, they had one of those lavish, over-the-top weddings one reads about in the newspapers, and on Night One, in their 5-star suite, Pallo said she wanted a divorce.

1.    “What?”
2.    “Why?”
3.    “Suddenly, just like that?”

My brain screeches these questions at me in a high-pitched incredulous tone. But fortunately my mouth remains shut, and Neempatta continues her interrogation of High BP in the calm tone of an old family doctor.

“Did she give any reasons for what she did?”

High BP replies as calmly with a shrug. He says Pallo gave no explanations, and so, he didn’t have any to give us. Neempatta gives him a long, hard look. I do too. But my look bounces right off his high cheekbones and disappears into the dimple on his right cheek. I can’t figure anything out.

High BP says Pallo and he slept in the same room that night. Rather, Pallo slept and he sat in the small balcony of the hotel suite, looking at the swimming pool below him and the sea beyond, and drank the night away.

In the morning he asked Pallo again and again, what the problem was, whether she was upset with him about something, whether she had thought it out, how her family would react, what would happen, etc, etc, but she just kept repeating that she wanted out.

After a while she left, and he sat there, waiting for his friends to turn up. They spent the rest of the day drinking in the hotel room, and much of the next day too, before someone carried him home.

High BP says that now Pallo is asking his family for a hefty alimony to agree to a divorce by mutual consent. Otherwise, she threatens to make it really dirty, file for annulment, blaming him for impotence. His family of course is all for giving the alimony and hiding the dirt under the carpet. And they can afford to give her what she is asking for. But High BP is determined to fight.

“I don’t mind her asking me for a divorce. I know how girls can be pressurized by our families to get married against their will. Though I wish, she had told me what her problem was while we were engaged, and I would have figured a way out. But she didn’t. And I do mind her threatening me with a false accusation. I don’t want to give in. It’s just not fair.”

Well, the whole thing sounds too bizarre. I can’t imagine a girl would say her husband is impotent, just to get money out of him. After all, she’s a rich girl too.  She doesn’t need his money. There is definitely something fishy about all this.

Neempatta asks him outright, “Why have you come to us? Most of our fights are to get alimony for the women, so you are asking us to do something that goes against our grain.”

High BP says that he thought if a woman lawyer fought his case it would be more credible. Particularly a lawyer from an organization like ours. Oh well, that’s being smart for you. I am sure Neempatta will refuse him outright. But she asks him to come back after a couple of days, she will think about it.

Why? Oh why? I can’t understand Neempatta sometimes.

I try talking about it to Neempatta, after High BP leaves. I tell her what he was like in college and all that. But she looks distracted and says she is busy, and it is better to just mull over the case, rather than getting all heated up. We have 2 days to make up our minds, after all.


One Comment on “4 December”

  1. […] Banno Appi fiction Leave a comment Continue reading Appi’s story at 4 December […]

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