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Fret festival

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on September 27, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

Bins and I leave our home in Delhi at 00.15am Thursday. Thirty hours of travel-time later, at 8.30pm of the same day we’re at the bus terminal in Elsewhere. A two-minute bus-ride and we’re rolling our suitcases through the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and up towards the elderly grey building in which we live.

I always fret about what I’ll find when I open the door to my tiny two-room apartment. It’s on the ground floor, a few yards from the main road. I live in dread of discovering that it’s been broken into and vandalised. This time, however, I have an extra Focus Of Fret. Two months ago, while locking down the house, I left a small bag of groceries out on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t intentional. I had emptied the fridge of perishable items with the aim of handing them over to Muriel, when she dropped me off at the bus terminal. I had put the bag down on the counter-top while shutting the kitchen window. Then forgot the bag.

By the time I remembered, I was at the airport in Boston. Overcome with horror, imagining the mess I will find when I return, I called Muriel to ask if she could possibly go into my apartment to rescue the bag. Being a sterling friend, she agreed. But I knew she was extremely busy and it was an awful nuisance. So I called again to say that I’ve decided to forget about it. She sounded very relieved.

I spend the next two months trying NOT to imagine the stinky mess I will find upon my return. “Pooh!” says Bins. “It’ll just dry out! Stop this silly fret-fret!” In my mind, however, I can see a mountain of green mold growing out of the bag. It’s oozing brown goop. It smells like a sewer. It’s swarming with ants, earthworms and dung beetles. Maybe even a mole or two.

Now, as the front windows of my apartment come into view, I see — EEEK! There’s a glimmer of light from inside! But I always take great care to lock all the windows and turn off the lights! A moment later, I have rushed inside, fearing the worst. Omigosh. The hall light IS on! There’s a draft of air from the bathroom! The window is open! The toilet has been stolen! And replaced with a sparkling white brand new one.

Nothing’s missing. The landlord replaced the toilets in the building and his plumber left the window open by mistake. The house has been wide open to burglars for at least a month, but I realise now, they’ve given it a miss. There’s nothing to steal, after all! Not even a TV. I am so relieved that it takes me a whole five minutes to remember the kitchen.

Yes, there’s a faint stink and a bit of goop. But no mold-mountain, no wildlife. “Told you so!” says Bins, triumphantly, as he very kindly cleans up the mess.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on September 27, 2019
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