Guest request

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 12, 2015

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Jiggs works at The Clean Bee, a laundromat in the next town over from Elsewhere. He’s taken to stopping by every evening, after work. He always brings several kilos of Indian snacks with him. Though he eats half of what he brings, by mid-week there are stacks of bhujiya, kurkure and murukku in plastic packages everywhere.

“Please tell him to stop!” I say to Bins. “No, no,” he replies. “We must be patient.” Bins believes Jiggs has a problem. “He needs a favour. So he brings the food. Some day he will tell us — then we can say in a kind voice ‘NO’ — and he will stop. Pouf.” Sure enough: today when Jiggs comes over, he’s brought a gift box full of laddoos. “I have a problem,” he says. His naturally droopy face looks as if there’s an invisible vacuum cleaner sucking at his chin.

“My roommate is leaving. I cannot pay the rent on my own. I need a place to stay.” I know what’s coming but I’m momentarily distracted. At the edge of my consciousness, I hear a faint scratching from inside the bathroom. “And you have so much space,” he says throwing a meaningful glance at my studio. “No,” I say, “we have only THIS room.” I use my most Nazi-Talibani voice, even as I hear the scratching sound increase. “THAT one is for me to paint in.”

Jiggs is nodding placatingly. “See — I will only use it during the night. When you will be asleep. Also I will do the pure vegetarian cooking for you, free of charge and also I will do your laundry —” I start my spitting-cobra impression now, shaking my head from side to side. But Jiggs turns smoothly towards Bins. “Mr Binnie — what do you say?”

Bins is picking at his scrawny grey moustache with his fingers. His blood curdles at the prospect of being inhospitable. In his youth, backpacking across India, he accepted shelter from countless strangers. He always feels a powerful need to repay those distant, anonymous debts. “Errr...” he says, avoiding any chance encounters with my gaze. Jiggs homes in like a heat-seeking missile on the weakness in our defences. He jumps to his feet. “So it’s settled then? I’ll bring my suitcase?”

I stand up too, feeling like the Hulk just before he transforms into a giant green-skinned monster. “I’m sorry but —” Jiggs holds his hand up and says, “Mrs Manju, please! One minute before you decide anything, let me use the toilet?” He knows I cannot refuse him this reprieve. He hurries around the corner and turns on the light. Whereupon there’s a furious hissing and he hurtles straight out again. “The window is open,” he fairly shrieks. “And a...a... BEAR has come inside!”

Bins goes to investigate. He comes out cuddling an excitedly struggling Kookie. “Oh...this is our pet raccoon,” he says. “He must have smelt your laddoos!” and gives him one. “Don’t worry! He’s friendly. Only bites when he’s hungry.” But Jiggs doesn’t hear him. He’s already out the front door and sprinting to his car.

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

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Next episode: Laddoo lady

Published on June 12, 2015
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