April 13, 2021
Amelia was sitting inside Sagar Clinic’s waiting area. Her husband Gregory was in the eye surgery operating room. The doctor’s team was in preparation for Gregory’s filtration surgery for Glaucoma. She suddenly remembered the money. Gregory had given her Eighty Thousand in a brown envelope about a week back.
“The clinic is offering a considerable discount for cash payment. Keep this with you. It will be your responsibility to make the payment.” He had advised while handing over the cash.
She pulled the zipper and searched inside her handbag. Her heart missed a beat. The brown envelope was missing. Amelia panicked while combing the inner pockets. Money was nowhere to be found. She stared at the open bag. Her cheeks turned pale, and jaw dropped.
How could the money disappear? She tried to memorize all her activities right from morning.
*** *** ***
There were a couple of knocks on her bathroom door. She was busy with the morning shower. Amelia heard Gregory’s voice. It sounded distorted due to the noise of water running from shower.
“It’s just 9 o’clock. What makes you hurry? Please don’t bother me.” She pleaded.
Gregory preferred to be prompt. He always emphasized the urgency to get ready on time so that he could never be late. He reported to the office on time. During wedding receptions and family gatherings, he appeared first. Every Sunday Gregory would dress up and get ready a couple of hours in advance for the Mass. He showed up at church before anyone else.
The ophthalmologist had asked Gregory to be present at the clinic at 11 am to go through Glaucoma eye surgery. As usual, he was ready before 9 am. His impatience was evident as he ambled in and out of the bedroom. Their son Anish was watching television in the living room. India was playing against Australia at Brisbane. Anish’s eyes were glued to the TV screen.
They were a childless couple. Anish was less than 2 years old when adopted from an orphanage. Now aged twenty and a college dropout, he was crazy about cricket. He loved playing cricket, wanted to be on a big stage and that has been his only passion. Anish had worked in a chartered accountant’s office for a few months. Thereafter, he resigned and turned jobless once again.
“Dad has to undergo an eye surgery. Could you accompany him to the clinic?” Amelia had requested Anish a week back.
“I do not want to miss the India-Australia match. I will be at home.” Anish had declined.
Anish believed that his foster parents had made a mistake by adopting and shifting him from Bangalore. He always thought that he should have been left at the orphanage in Bangalore. That would have given greater opportunities to explore his talent in cricket. Perhaps by now, picked by Ranji and IPL teams. Anish assumed so.
Gregory sat and watched the match for a while. Then impatiently he got up and went to the bedroom. When he was about to tap the bathroom door, Amelia opened and stepped out.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you in such a rush to operate? Appointment is at 11 o’clock. Now please go out and allow me to change.” She let him walk out and closed the bedroom door.
Amelia took about twenty minutes to change and get ready. She picked a gold chain and bangles from the wardrobe’s safe compartment. She loved the bangles. Gregory had gifted her while completing 25 years of their wedded life. She looked in the mirror after wearing jewelry and positioned the handbag on her left arm.
“Why are you wearing a jacket? It looks formal. Any plans to attend office work?” Amelia made fun of him as she came out.
“Operating rooms are often cold. Doctor has advised something warm.” Gregory glanced at the wall clock.
“No need to hurry. Jerry is expected at 10 am.” She sat down on the couch. “Who is batting? India or Australia?”
Jerry was their friendly auto rickshaw driver. Whenever the need arose, his service was sought.
“Anish, listen to me.” She called her son. “We may return late. I have served your food. Plate is kept in the fridge. Heat it up in the oven for 3 minutes. If I find some good fish, I will ask Jerry to deliver it. Keep the pack in the freezer.”
Anish nodded and shifted his attention back on TV. Jerry honked as he stopped his three-wheeler at the gate. Amelia walked out with her husband after reminding Anish to take care of the house.
“Why is he quiet? Is uncle unwell?” Jerry asked after pulling the lever to crank the engine.
“He is good. He is going for a small eye operation. Slightly under stress.” Amelia pushed her hair back that was ruffled by the breeze.
“Stress is normal to everyone.” Jerry turned philosophical. “Leave your tension up to God. I have financial stress. My daughter is doing her engineering. Current semester fee is unpaid, and I am short. I have faith in God. He will show the way.”
Auto-rickshaw stopped at the eye clinic at 10:30 am.
“Jerry, please wait for a while. Surgery is at 11 am. There is enough time. Let me leave him in. I want to buy some fish.” Amelia requested.
She left her husband in the waiting room and rushed out.
“I have informed Anish. He is at home. Could you please deliver the fish?” She requested Jerry.
“No worries ma’am. I am always at your service.” Jerry drove towards the fish market.
They reached the fish market in less than five minutes. Amelia hurriedly bought some fish and returned to the autorickshaw. She reminded him to pick them up at 5 pm. Jerry dropped her at the clinic, collected the fare and sped away. She glanced at the speeding auto before walking inside the clinic. The administrative staff had initiated the paperwork for the surgery.
“They have asked me to sign this form. I have read it. Please check from your side.” Gregory gave her the paper.
“Why should I read if you have already read? I think the clinic is taking your consent and thereby plan to escape from legal implications if you go blind.” She pulled the form.
“Don’t make me nervous.” He took a deep breath.
She went through the content and shrugged her shoulders. Gregory signed and submitted to the waiting staff. After 5 minutes, he was taken to the surgery room. It was informed during consultation that the filtering surgery would be done in 1 to 2 hours. He would be kept under observation until evening and expected to be discharged by 5 pm.
Amelia found it boring and uncomfortable to wait outside the surgery room. She was about to get up, her mobile phone started to ring. Caller was Bonifas, Gregory’s younger brother.
“Hello Boney. How can I help you?” She asked him.
“I wanted to speak to Gregory.” He replied. “His phone is off. I visited your home. Anish was watching cricket. He mentioned some surgery. Is everything okay?”
“Gregory is undergoing Glaucoma operation. A minor eye surgery. That is what the doctor said. Do you want to pass on some message to Gregory?” She showed curiosity.
“It’s not urgent. I can wait. I will pray for him. Let him get well. Bye.” Bonifas disconnected the line.
Bonifas had the habit of borrowing money every now then from his elder brother. Perhaps, he needed some money. She thought so. That very moment she remembered the Eighty Thousand which Gregory had given to pay the clinic.
*** *** ***
Amelia had kept the envelope containing the cash in the safe compartment of her wardrobe. She had thought of the money during the morning shower. Thereafter she completely forgot to pick the envelope and carry it in her handbag. Amelia was left with no other option but to go home and pick the cash. She blamed herself for her bad memory.
Gregory had accused her of being irresponsible and reckless more than once. Knucklehead was the name given by her husband. She found it abusive and strongly disliked. If he finds out her negligence, Gregory could lose his temper. Amelia decided to rush home, collect cash, and return before being caught by her husband. She called Jerry, their auto-rickshaw driver.
“Delivered your fish sometime back. I cannot come immediately. Auto is engaged.” Jerry disconnected the line.
By then someone asked her to be present at reception. Amelia reached the counter.
“Ma’am, Mr. Gregory’s preoperative tests are done. Everything is ready for operation. As per the rules, payment should be made before surgery.” The lady at reception advised.
“My husband and the surgeon were classmates in high school. The doctor has given a special discount for cash payment. Pay your bill by evening before discharge. You may check with the Doctor.” She explained confidently.
“I shall be back in an hour.” Amelia informed and left the clinic. She caught the available auto and reached home.
“I thought you would return by evening. What happened? Why are you early? How is Dad?” Anish threw some questions.
“He is taken to the surgery room. I forgot the cash.” She gasped.
“I have some good news. My coach called. He has found a sponsor. Arrangement will be made to move me to Bangalore. All expenses paid. I should be joining a reputed cricket club.” Anish explained with overwhelming joy.
“Let us discuss it later.” She sprinted towards the bedroom.
Amelia was shocked. The key was found hanging on the wardrobe door. How could she be so careless? She cursed herself. Normally she would keep the keys under the mattress. She opened the wardrobe, unlocked the safe compartment, and slid her hand. The envelope was missing. She felt a flutter in her chest while pulling clothes and searching in other places of wardrobe. The money was nowhere to be found.
Time was running out. She had to pay the clinic bill. In all possibilities, someone had stolen the money. Stunned to the brink of blackout she sat down on the edge of the bed staring her feet. Suddenly she got up and came out to speak to Anish.
“Who visited after we left?” Amelia probed.
“Uncle Boney and Auto Jerry. Then Stella came to clean the place. She left half an hour back.” Anish replied looking at the TV.
“Did you notice someone entering our bedroom?” Her voice shook. She sounded nervous. “Eighty thousand was kept separately in the wardrobe. I cannot find the money now. It’s gone.”
“Jerry watched the match for a while. Uncle Boney wanted to use the washroom. Stella must have surely gone to your bedroom to clean the place.” Anish took it lightly. “Don’t start doubting others. You must be searching at the wrong place. Try to remember and check properly.”
The closet was filled with clothes. She repeatedly searched in hope of finding the money. The envelope had disappeared. It was obvious. Someone had taken it and she was wasting her time. How could she catch the culprit and recover the cash? Stella’s husband was bedridden with chronic illness. Amelia called Stella on her cellphone.
“I cannot find a packet containing eighty thousand in cash. Do you remember seeing it while cleaning the room?” Amelia discreetly asked.
“Not at all.” Stella politely declined. “I did not find any such packet. I would have handed over the money to Anish and would have informed you as well. I saw the key bunch hanging on the wardrobe door.”
Jerry had categorically mentioned his financial stress while driving the auto today morning. He needed money to pay his daughter’s semester fee. Did he steal the money when Anish was glued to the TV screen?
“What are you talking about? You are treating me like a suspect. I delivered the fish packet. It is true, I sat for a while to watch cricket. I must have left within 10 minutes.” Jerry sounded displeased.
What about Gregory’s brother? Bonifas was a compulsive borrower of money. He had taken loan from Gregory umpteen number of times. Though he would return the loan, the habit of asking cash had continued over the years. Did he fall to the temptation of easy money? She felt awkward and uncomfortable. Reluctantly she pressed his number and explained the situation.
“Are you doubting me?” Bonifas did not take it kindly. “I am hurt by your suspiciousness. If I fall short, I will ask my brother. Why should I steal? I visited your home to return an old loan. During the course, I used your washroom. That’s all.”
Amelia heard some noise in the kitchen. Perhaps Anish was heating up his food. She did not feel like eating. Money was gone. Appetite was lost. Thinking about Anish, something bothered her. His sudden plans of shifting to Bangalore looked strange. How did he manage to get the sponsor just out of the blue?
Perhaps the thief was not an outsider. He could be an insider. She knew Anish would return to the living room to watch the live telecast. Amelia peeped out and quickly sneaked into Anish’s room. She glanced around the dimly lit room and began the search. Amelia rummaged under the mattress, underneath clothes in the closet and inside the chest of drawers. However, eighty thousand remained invisible. Anish suddenly appeared at the door when Amelia decided to step out.
“Mom, what are you doing in my room? Do you think I have stolen your money?” Anish said in a disheartened tone of voice.
“I am searching for the missing envelope in every nook and corner of the house.” She tried to cover up.
“You think I am the thief because I was adopted. You would not have though so if I was your real son.” Anish loudly expressed his frustration and anger.
Amelia remained tongue-tied and walked out. She returned to her room and sat on the bed. Stella, Jerry, Bonifas and Anish were the most likely suspects. She prayed to God to show a way to uncover the culprit. Time was running out. She had to go back to the clinic to settle the bill. Amelia did not have enough money at her disposal.
Despite being joint account holders, both savings and fixed accounts were managed by her husband. Her life was simple. Financial needs were met without complaint. It never crossed her mind to keep track of Debit cards, Passbook, Cheque book and any other documents. At this hour of crisis, how could she withdraw Eighty thousand from the bank? Certainly, Gregory would demean and call her knucklehead. She hated being humiliated.
The desire for lunch had shrunk. Gregory’s surgery must have been over. Possibly, he was shifted to the room by now. Feeling helpless, she laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. It was 3 pm when she opened her eyes. Bothered by worry, anxiety, and frustration, she looked at her wrist. The lovely gold bangles caught her eye. They were gifted by Gregory on their silver wedding anniversary.
That could be worth a minimum hundred thousand. She was left with no other option. Amelia advised Anish to lock the door and left the house. She stopped at a jewelry store and walked in. By the time she reached the clinic it was 4:30 pm. Amelia felt tingly in her wrist as she entered the clinic.
Gregory was resting in bed under the covers. His eyelid was taped shut and an eye shield was placed over the eye.
“How are you?” Her voice wavered unsteadily.
“I am good. Antibiotics have been applied. Receptionist informed me that you would return soon. Where did you vanish? Did you get the invoice from clinic? We were supposed to pay before the surgery. It totally slipped my mind.” He picked his jacket and shoved his hand inside pocket.
“Jerry is expected at 5 pm. You may wait here. Let me settle the payment.” Amelia’s hand wobbled as she removed cash from her handbag.
“I forgot to give you the envelope.” He pulled his hand out from coat pocket and produced a bulky envelope.
“Where did you get this?” Amelia’s eyes sparkled.
“I knew that you would forget. I had informed you in the morning while taking the envelope from the wardrobe. You were having shower. Don’t you remember? Your memory is getting worse. You are truly a knucklehead.” Gregory grumbled, shaking his head. “By the way, where did you get this large amount of cash?”