Part - 18
When she is by herself, Padmaja does not bother cooking elaborate meals. Often it is just some rice and vegetable. But when Tara comes over, Padmaja brings out her big pressure cooker and the last time she cooked with it, the steam had escaped and it had burnt the bottom of the pan. She had needed a pressure cooker valve and she had gone down to the store to get a new one.
It was her idea of hell. Shopping for a pressure cooker valve in a shop like this one. She wants to stop each and every single one of them and ask them if they really, really needed what they had just bought. Like that slick young man in tight trousers and purple t-shirt. 'Thambi, do you have a big enough kitchen for that vaanali? What will you use it for? Who is it for? Can you cook?'. Or that elderly couple looking at the different models of mixies. Most likely on their way to America to help with their daughter's pregnancy and shopping for a mixie suitable for the American electrical system.
For a while she just stands there watching the crowds. This was a game Padmaja used to play as a kid. If she thought about something long enough, it would come true. And for that to happen, she would have to concentrate real hard and block everything else out of her mind. It has worked before, like when she was 11 and focussed all her efforts on her right big toe so it would hurt enough for her to develop a natural limp so she should skip school that day and miss the exams she dreaded. It worked briefly and her mother had almost been convinced of it until the pain wore off and Padmaja forgot to limp. Perhaps she should just turn around and go back home and not bother buying today. The cooker wasn't half bad as it is and she could always borrow Kamakshi's cooker, if she needed it.
But for that she would have to start talking normally again to Kamakshi and god knows what new troubles that might lead to.
Can Padmaja wish for a pressure valve to magic its way to her without her having to go through the whole tiresome shopping experience? And why is the strange looking man smiling at her from the far corner of the room? Could it be one of the fathers from the school from a long time ago? Good god, he is actually approaching Padmaja. Why is she still standing there instead of making a quick getaway which will save her the embarrassment of small talk?
"Padmaja?", he asks before she can bolt.
"Yes. And you are..."
"Sakthivel. I was your brother Nandu's classmate at medical college."
"Of course! Dr. Sakthivel. How are you?"
She remembered him as the tall one with a droopy moustache with a head full of springy hair. He had lost most of his hair and the few stray strands had been shaven clean. Luckily his teeth had held and in fact, they were in remarkable condition. What was wrong with her? Why can't she just say hello and good bye instead of wondering whether a long-lost acquaintance had had dental implants or if his teeth were his own.
Padmaja cannot explain what happens in the next few minutes. However hard she tries, she comes away looking weak and feeble and desperate. So she will state the mere facts to anyone who wants to know and leave it to them to draw their own conclusions.
Dr. Saktivel asks her if she is going home and she replies yes.
Dr. Saktivel asks her if she wants a lift home and she accepts.
Padmaja invites Dr. Saktivel to come inside for a cup of coffee and he accepts.