The Arrangement

By: P.G. Van

She nodded, this time with a lot more excitement at the idea of spending time with his grandmother and not having to go back home. “Thank you. Thank you so much, Mahendra.”

“You may go now.” He noticed the way her eyes sparkled, and her face glowed.

“Thank you.” She turned to leave, and he watched her as she almost sprinted out like a little girl and jerked to a stop right outside the room, looking at him. “Remember to come down for dinner.”

“I’ll eat later.”

“No. She’s waiting for you. You should come now and eat so she can take her medicines.”

Her words surprised him. It was barely a day, and she was thinking about his grandmother, more than him? He knew the young woman would be good company to his grandmother and was somewhat relieved, although his instinct was the woman would not fit in the town. He hoped his grandma would not get too attached to her.

He nodded as she looked at him expectantly. “Okay. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“Okay.” She turned away from him, smiling, and headed downstairs.

Mahen moved to the glass doors and stood listening to her excited footsteps as she made her way down the stairs calling out to his grandmother. He smiled when he heard the happy squeals as she told his grandmother about the conversation they had a few minutes ago.

Mahen could tell Niha was running away from a luxurious life and decided to let her stay purely based on the sadness and sincerity in her eyes. A sadness he could empathize with based on what he went through when he was younger.

“Naani, I want you to teach me how to cook so that I can make your favorite dish,” he heard Niha ask, and his grandma laughed.

“I want you to learn Mahen’s favorite dishes so you can make them for him.”

“Oh… what does he like? I’ll learn all his favorite foods and make them every day so I can be here forever.”

Her words made him smile, and he stepped out of his office to join the conversation.

“There he is, ask him yourself what he would like you to make.” His grandmother laughed looking at Mahen walk down the steps.

Mahen shook his head at the women who were beaming at each other. “I don’t need anything specific.”

“Please, Mahendra… let me. This would be one way for me to thank you for letting me live here.”

Mahen looked at her in silence, unable to process her excitement to start a life in a small town considering she had lived in the city. He shook his head in response and walked into the dining room.

“I know what he likes, and I’ll teach you,” Naani whispered to Niha when she kept looking at Mahen walking away from her with no response.

Niha smiled, putting an arm around Naani. “ You’re the best.”

Later that evening, she went back into the room on the lower level of the house which they offered her for her stay, to retire for the night. She sat on the bed looking out of the window at the moon shining at a distance. The window was open, and the breeze flew in through the insect screen, making all the stress she had been holding on to melt away. She could not remember the last time she felt so relaxed and at peace in spite of how tired her body felt.

With that thought, she walked into the bathroom after grabbing the borrowed pair of clothes. No undergarments, just a blouse with some padding which she was thankful for, and she was going commando under the skirt. Naani had mentioned that she had asked Urmila, who goes into town for college every day, to buy some of the essentials for Niha.

She looked at the open bathroom with no shower stall or tub. It was a typical old-fashioned bathroom with a faucet for hot and cold water and a bucket to fill the water and a mug to pour the water over her body. She was so used to using a shower or taking a relaxing bath, that she felt like her cleansing routine was unfinished even after pouring two buckets of water over her body.

If there were anything she missed from her past life, it was the high-speed jet shower and the jacuzzi in her bathroom at her parents’ house.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” she said to her reflection as she braided her long hair, after the not so satisfying bath. She usually was not in the habit of braiding her hair, but it was a loose mess all day, and she needed it out of her face while she slept. She delved into a state of haze with the thoughts around the conversations she had with Naani and the others in the household.

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