Moti Mahal

Mr Amin was not himself. Though he bore his usual impish smile, and walked around in his usual attire – shirt and tie, and sleeveless sweater – he muttered beneath his breath. Clients of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre were not used to seeing their manager behave like this. Zoe the cook overheard him when he came to the kitchen to make tea. He said, “It’s the law of life. It’s an ancient tradition. It’s biologically ingrained. It’s a moral duty.”

Half an hour later he was back for another cup, still muttering. “But now they feel differently. They say we’re individuals. We’re all responsible for ourselves.”

Zoe wondered if she should say something now. She tried to catch his eye but was unable to, so just said quietly, “Mr Amin… is everything alright today?”

“Yes yes,” he said. “They come once a year. They are coming today. That’s all.” He would say nothing further, and made his tea and left the kitchen.

Later that morning, Zoe said to Smuel the driver, “What’s up with Mr Amin? He seems really bothered.”

He said, “I’m not sure. Shall we ask him?”

They went to Mr Amin’s office together, and Smuel said, “Mr. Amin, you seem troubled today. We were wondering what’s happened, and if we could help you in any way.”

“Nothing’s happened – why should it?” He was hostile to their enquiries so they went away. Only last week he had told them of his dream of living in a moti mahal, a palace of pearls, in the next world. How he’d clammed up.

At midday exactly two cars pulled up. They were of similar make and model, except that one was black with number plate A1 and the other was white with number plate A2. A man stepped out of each car at exactly the same moment. From the black car came a black man wearing a black suit, with black shirt and tie, and black socks and shoes. From the white car came a white man wearing a white suit, with white shirt and tie, and white socks and shoes. Their features looked similar and familiar. They both looked somewhat like Mr. Amin.

The white man pushed open both sides of the Centre’s double doors, and walked in haughtily. The black man pushed open one door only and smiled at the Centre’s clients as he entered. If it wasn’t a crazy thing to suggest, Smuel would have said that they were differently coloured twins.

The white man pushed open Mr Amin’s office door without knocking or calling. He entered and closed the door behind him, and Smuel heard voices raised from within. If they got much louder, he would check to see if Mr Amin was O.K. The heated discussion lasted five minutes before the white man came out, scowling and cursing beneath his breath. The black man knocked and went into Mr Amin’s office, and their voices remained low. A few minutes later the black man emerged, smiling broadly. Both men headed back to their cars.

Smuel didn’t know how to handle this situation. As an employee of Open Hearts he need not do anything. No crime had been committed and management appeared to have the situation under control. As a person, however, he couldn’t stand it. Who was this white man who had upset his impish boss? And who was the black man who had soothed him?

Smuel ran outside and tapped on the white car’s window. The white man rolled it down and said, “How may I help you?”

Smuel said, “What did you say to Mr. Amin? Why were you rude to him?”

The man said, “I didn’t say anything to him, and I wasn’t rude to him.”

“Don’t be smart. I saw you. You went into his office and shouted at him.”

“Believe me,” said the white man. “He shouted at me first. He always does. That’s why I was in a bad mood when I entered. I knew what to expect, and now that it’s over with, I’m relaxed.”

“Why does he shout at you?” said Smuel, confused.

Smuel hadn’t noticed Zoe come outside. While he’d been talking to the white man, Zoe had engaged the black man. He heard a furious exchange between them. He never would have imagined Zoe using such words. He ran over to the black car immediately. Zoe was crying, so he held her. It seemed so natural. “What happened?” he said.

“That black man was nice only on the surface. He was rotten within. He came here to threaten Mr Amin. That’s why he was so carefree. And he only seemed quiet because his threats were muttered.”

“But who are they?” said Smuel, staring after the disappearing cars.

They saw Mr Amin peering scared from his office window. He was a gentle soul now, manager of a not-for-profit social service ensuring that Ma, Pa, Grandma, and Grandpa had something to look forward to daily. He was unquestionably doing public good. But before retiring to Canadia, he had been Minister of Culture for Northern India. He was a corrupt killer, a most evil man. The Agents of Karma tracked him everywhere, and once a year they came to check in. At the end of his life their collated reports would determine whether Mr Amin would reside in a palace of pearls or a demonic dungeon.

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