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Waiting for Bins

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on May 04, 2018 Published on May 04, 2018

On the day before Bins leaves New Delhi to fly to the US, we Skype every two hours. “Are you packed?” I ask. “Of course,” he says. “Have you locked the house up?” “If I lock it now how will I get to the airport?” he wants to know. According to him, I’m a hot mess of worries. “Like a pool full of frightened eels,” he says. “Me? I am cuuul. Like an ice cube in Vladivostok.”

We Skype on and off right until half an hour before he leaves the house. “I have to disconnect the computer now,” he says. “I have made sandwiches for Amsterdam airport stopover,” he says. “I have the empty plastic bottle for filling up after security check. I have the ticket, passport and ₹130 in cash for buying dinner at Idli Palace in Delhi airport. I have packed the flame thrower and Kalashnikov in my check-in luggage.”

He waits for me to react. Of course I do not, but instead say, “Have you critter-proofed my bathroom?” I believe that if a house in the tropics is left unoccupied for more than a week, it will be teeming with wildlife by the time its human occupants return. In order to guard against this, I like to block up all the available entry points: the drain holes in the sink, in the shower and in the floor of the bathroom. The toilet is secured with a sheet of thick plastic taped down tight across the top of the bowl. “No, no, why should I ever do anything like that? Instead I have broken the outside wall of your bathroom to make it into a hotel for lizards, snakes and stray cats!”

Finally it’s time for him to leave the house. He sends text messages at nodes along the way. “Security does not like my cell phones. Please buy new one sir, they say. Even my dog has a better model, they say! But they let me go.” “Now I am eating my final idlis. They are made from very fresh Thermocol, with excellent sawdust chutney.” “Boarded. Good seat. No babies behind me, no gorillas next to me.”

I stop responding after the first few messages because it costs me more from my Airtel roaming SIM to his Airtel than from his Airtel to my Airtel SIM. I remind him to text me on my T-Mobile number when he’s in Boston. I’ll keep my Airtel off from now on. I wish him bon voyage and assume that I won’t hear from him again until he arrives in the afternoon, the next day.

In the morning I find a text message. “Boarded in Brussels. All well.” It arrives, as expected, while I am asleep. After which, all through the day: silence. It goes on and on. And on. And on. Finally at 9 pm, I hear the key in the front door. “‘Allo!” says the ice-cube, sauntering in. “Everything okay?” “Of course,” I say. “Want some tea?”

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

Published on May 04, 2018
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