February 9, 2016
Beginning of the month was always filled with positive anticipation. Nicolas waited eagerly for an SMS alert. Whenever pension was credited to his account, the bank notified him by sending a message to his cellphone. His wife Rebecca too would inquisitively inquire until the SMS appeared in his phone. Nicolas was a retired high school teacher. Their only son Savio worked as surgeon in the United States after completing FRCS from London. They had spent all possible resources on Savio’s education including savings, wife’s jewelry and inherited property. That left them financially fragile. However, they lived in satisfaction for having supported their son in his journey of success. Savio had fulfilled his ambition.
He had married his colleague from a hospital in Boston and started family life. During his occasional visits to his home country, he preferred to stay at his wife’s house. His family had problems to adjust with food and houses of small town. He carried water bottles and food packets while visiting his parents. Initially their son’s behavioral pattern had disturbed Nicolas and Rebecca. Now they had stopped worrying. Savio was content in his life. That made them happy too. They did not expect anything more.
It was the 2nd of the month. Nicolas had peeked at his cellphone more than once expecting a text message. At seven past ten in the morning, his phone buzzed with arrival of an SMS.
"Pension is credited." Rebecca uttered from kitchen.
There was no reply from her husband. Rebecca stepped out of the kitchen looking for her husband. He appeared to be in some trance staring blankly with a pale expression on his face. The teacup on the table was left untouched. Newspaper slipped down from his hand. Looking at him, she felt tense and anxious.
"What’s wrong?" She was frightened. "Is it an attack? Why are you not talking? Did you forget to take your BP tablet? I think we should call the doctor."
"I am alright." His voice shuddered.
"You do not look good."
"How could anyone be normal after receiving such a crazy text message?" He looked at his cellphone and grumbled. "Bank has sent an SMS. However, it is not related to pension. The SMS says my account is credit with a whopping amount of 2.5 million. I almost had a heart attack."
"2.5 million?" Rebecca’s mouth remained open for a few seconds.
"Yes. It is a little above 2.5 million." His shortness of breath slowly eased.
"This isn’t a small amount. Who is the sender?" She was visibly thrilled. "God Bless them. Finally we are about to be relieved from hand-to-mouth existence."
"Why would anybody send us such large value?" Nicolas tried to be rational while scratching his head. "One possibility is not ruled out. Do you remember my aunt from Gorakhpur?"
"Who can forget her?" Rebecca remembered her. "Your father’s younger sister. So grumpy and irritating. I was mentally and physically exhausted while treating her during her last three vacations."
"Do not put her down." Nicolas objected. "She has several other close relatives. Yet she stays with us. Do you know why? I am her only nephew. She loves us."
"I know she is fond of you, not me." Rebecca mockingly twisted her lips.
"After passing grade 10, she went to Burma with her father. They shifted and settled in Gorakhpur after independence. She worked for Railways and remained single," Nicolas explained.
"Please don’t repeat. I have heard this enough," Rebecca turned dismissive.
"I am sure you are not aware of this." He continued with some hesitation. "My Aunt from Gorakhpur had called about 3 months back. She was under some kind of depression perhaps while dealing with growing age. She wanted make me a legal heir for her cash in bank. Other assets such as land and house would go to her niece in Gorakhpur. She mentioned that her lawyer would get in touch with us after her death. I had sent my bank account details by SMS after her repeated calls."
"Why didn’t you tell me about it?"
"It’s ethically wrong to wait for someone to die to earn a fortune out of it. Deep down we know life is too short. Death will happen to all of us. Why waste our time on greed? Anyway slowly it went out of my mind." Nicolas drew a long breath.
"If given willingly, what’s your problem? So nice of her."
"Is she nice because inheritance on cards? You have always spoken unpleasant words behind her back. I remember you calling her insane," Nicolas reminded.
"She always tested my patience by being excessively dominant. Let us not talk about past. May her soul rest in peace," Rebecca gestured sign of cross.
"Why do you offer prayer to her soul?" Nicolas opposed. "Who told you that she has passed away?
"A large sum is showing in your bank account. Your aunt would not have sent the money if she was alive. Who else could be so generous? I advise you to update the passbook immediately. Then we can decide on what to do with money," she suggested.
"Money will not disappear from the account. We need some confirmation about her death," Nicolas insisted.
"Try her cellphone and landline numbers. Someone might pick the line." Rebecca sounded impatient.
He called his aunt on her cellphone number. The automated message said, 'The number dialed is invalid'. The landline service provider notified the number being temporarily out of service.
"Why don’t you understand?" Rebecca insisted. "We can’t expect telephone numbers to be active after death. You should visit the bank to update the passbook."
"I will do it tomorrow," Nicolas stood firm. "First and foremost we have to offer mass for the deceased."
By evening, Nicolas met the parish priest and paid for mass intentions. He kneeled in front of the altar, prayed deeply for a few minutes and felt some kind of relief. Nicolas did not expect the windfall from any other source and to the least from Savio. He profusely thanked his aunt for gifting him the hard-earned cash.
The aging couple could not sleep that night. Lying on their back, they remained in bed with eyes wide open.
"We never know how long we will live," Rebecca whispered. "We always lived within our means on a limited budget. However, there is no harm in going slightly lavish as money is at our disposal."
"What do you want dear?" He caringly enquired.
"My wedding jewelry was spent in supporting Savio’s education. Could I buy gold necklace and bangles?"
"Why not? We will."
"Shall we travel by flight? We have never gone for outstation trips."
"Where do you want to go?"
"How about Kashmir? People say it is paradise on earth."
"Let rainy season be over. During our days, we rarely saw couples going for honeymoon. Let us plan an outstation tour. This could be our opportunity."
"I am truly tired of eating sardines and mackerels. Tomorrow, get some expensive backwater fish. I will prepare coconut milk curry and rice pancakes."
"Great idea. How about celebrating the day with some expensive wine?"
"We must. We never had enough and were always afraid that we would fall short every month. Let us make merry before it is too late. Our clothes are worn out. We have to buy new clothes for both of us for casual wear and special occasions."
"You are right. Shopping should be done before our honeymoon."
"When did we last watch a movie in theatre?"
"Nowadays multiplex is the trend. We can enjoy popcorn while watching movie and ice cream thereafter."
"At least once in a month we should spend a day out. Eating in high-end restaurant could be fun."
"Your wish is my command."
"You sound self-assured."
"Money is the driving force. It brings confidence."
"Our kitchen needs some renovation. Dining table is broken. We have to buy new furniture for our living room. This box shape TV is outdated. Nowadays consumers are shifting to sleek and slim TV sets. Fridge and washing machine have become necessity."
"Your wish list has no end."
"Did I ask for things while living on stringent budget? Now we have to break free and enjoy life. I would rather advise you to stop using your bicycle. You should go for a scooter."
"License is needed to drive scooter."
"Getting a license is no big deal."
"It makes sense. I will give a try. We can travel by scooter within town limits."
"I have one more wish."
"Tell me, I am at your service."
"Please allocate a separate fund for a personalized and name engraved tombstone. We should be buried in the same grave. What do you think?"
"That scares me out of my skin."
"What rubbish! Why should you be scared of me?"
"I am scared of death."
The amusing conversation continued until midnight. They gazed into each other's eyes and slept holding each other close. The couple seemed in peace at last. They woke up a little late in the morning.
"Do you plan to go to bank?" Rebecca reminded him while having their first tea in the morning.
"Oh yes. I will have to update the passbook," Nicolas enthusiastically replied.
Nicolas got ready to meet his banker. He pulled up his bicycle with newfound zeal. Rebecca shut the door behind him. She had enough of household chores to attend. Cleaning the house was on priority list. Rice pancakes and paste for fish curry were to be made ready. Washing clothes was part of her daily routine. As the cell phone started ringing, she realized that her husband left the instrument at home. Grumpily she came to hall to pick the call. By then it stopped ringing. It buzzed again as she was about to turn. Rebecca picked the call.
"May I know who is speaking?" She asked.
"How are you?" The voice sounded familiar.
"Getting older. Somehow managing… Who is calling?"
"Did you forget me? I am Nicolas’s aunt. Calling from Gorakhpur," she irritably explained.
"Thanks. We have received the money."
"Which money? You are not making any sense. You have gone senile. I have not sent any money. Where is Nicolas?"
"Gone to the bank. He forgot to carry his cellphone. How are you? He has been trying to reach you."
"It was my fault. I had not informed him. I moved to a new house. I misplaced my cellphone during the process of shifting. Landline connection is still not done. I bought a new mobile."
"Is it so? We thought…"
"What did you think? You thought that the old lady croaked. Do not worry. I am is still alive and kicking. How is Nicolas? Poor chap, he too is getting old. Tell him to look after himself. You will have to take proper care of him."
She hung up. Rebecca kept the cellphone back on table. The situation had turned enigmatic. Gorakhpur’s aunt had confirmed she had not sent any money. Which generous soul could have transferred such a large amount to their bank account? Could Savio be the one? That was truly hard to believe. She found it mysterious. Waiting for her husband to return was not easy. Each minute seemed like an hour.
At 12 noon, Nicolas was back. Perhaps exhausted by riding under the hot sun, he breathed heavily. Rebecca collected the bag from his hand. She gave him a glass of fresh lime juice as he rested on his chair.
"Gorakhpur’s aunt called. She is alright," Rebecca informed.
"I know. The money did not come from her account," Nicolas took a deep breath.
"Who caused this windfall? I think Savio…"
"You are day dreaming," he replied, cutting her short. "A wrong credit entry by the bank resulted in this windfall. They have already rectified the error today and debited my account. We are back to square one."
"Did they take back the money? How could they?" She was disappointed.
"That money did not belong to us." Nicolas smiled. "We cannot use it as an opportunity to satisfy our greed. Do you know something? We spent everything that we earned on Savio. I have no regrets. He is well settled in life. However, during the course we stopped dreaming. Last night, we started dreaming again like we did when we were young. It was a powerful realization. We have to take time to dream and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Forget the windfall. Today is a new day. Do you know the good news? I have been given an increment in my pension. I have bought expensive fish and bottle of premium wine. You can go ahead with coconut milk fish curry and rice pancakes. Let us make this life worth living."