On a wet, gloomy, rainy morning, when the alarm rang, Supriya snoozed it again. She pulled the blanket over her ears. A few more snoozes followed. Her eyes sensed a streak of mild sunlight peeping into her bedroom from the window curtains. Though the sun was not seen, that small ray of light on the dark morning was enough for Supriya to open her eyes. The thundering clouds and the sound of rain water pitter-pattering on her window sill did not let her sleep.
She saw her husband snoring next to her and envied him. She glanced at the watch to check the time again. The doorbell would ring soon. It did as expected.
Supriya ambled along her living room and opened the door. It was her maidservant. She picked up the wet newspaper lying on the water puddle outside the door and walked inside.
“Where is the milk?” Supriya asked her.
“Madam, it spilled on the floor,” the maid replied pointing outside.
Supriya walked across the door and saw the mess outside. The milk boy had placed the milk packet on the floor. There was a hole in the packet. The milk had spilled over on the floor from that leak.
Supriya sensed the blood in her veins boiling. She curled her lips and shook her head. How many times do I have to tell this milk boy to be careful when he delivers the milk? She said in her mind.
She picked up the milk packet. She held it up in her hand against the light to check it. From one corner of the packet, the milk was leaking out. Half the milk in the packet was gone. The rain water and the spilled milk had formed a small puddle in the corridor outside the door of her flat.
Supriya walked straight to the drawer of her living room unit and got her mobile. She searched for the phone number of Manjunath, the newspaper and milk boy. She called that number in a hurried frenzy. The phone rang but there was no response. She gritted her teeth.
She clicked a picture of the mess outside her door on her mobile. Then she clicked a photograph of the torn leaky milk packet. Before she stepped out in a hurry to search for Manjunath, she pulled the rain jacket. Thank God she had picked it up in the mall last weekend, she thought.
When she came back dejected on not finding the milk boy, her husband was sitting on the sofa.
“Where did you go, so early, in the rain?” he asked.
“Look at this,” she yelled pointing to the milk-water puddle.
“Again, today?” her husband asked. “Does he throw the packets or what?”
“I have no idea, but this is getting too much,” she howled.
He looked at her without a word and walked across the table to pick up the wet newspaper.
“Today, even that was on the floor,” Supriya shrieked. “I have clicked the photos. He is not picking up the phone. I am going to send them to him. And post them to our society group. Let everyone know how careless he is. There is a limit to everything.”
“Hmm.. should I go get milk from the grocery shop?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
“I went there. It’s closed. It is raining,” Supriya retorted. “No tea today. You can have it black if you want. I have a breakfast meeting and need to leave early,” she said, and stepped into the bath.
Manjunath stopped his bicycle in front of the gate of the apartment. He got off to deliver milk and newspaper to the seven houses in it. He had completed his deliveries to the ten flats in the building next to it.
The plastic that covered his dripping hands, head and chest was not enough to protect him from the rain. The rain water had seeped inside on to his body, leaving him drenched. As soon as he got off, he rechecked the milk packets on the bicycle stand to ensure they were safe. He had covered them with the other plastic sheet, and he felt relieved that they were fine.
He untangled the rope that tied up the bag of those packets to the bicycle stand. Then he picked the bag putting it on his shoulder. He kept a handkerchief on his drenched head and walked towards the building. Once he was inside the lobby, he checked his phone while waiting for the lift. He had the habit of starting from the top floor and walking down, completing the milk deliveries on the way.
He had received twenty messages on his phone, eight of them from “Supriya Madam A-101.” When he saw the messages, a sultry smile appeared on his wet lips.
“I forgot to ring the bell today.” He crunched his mouth and slammed his palm on his forehead. Some of his customers wanted him to ring the bell, and some of them thought it disturbed them. A-101 was ambivalent. But today, Manjunath thought he should have rung the doorbell.
“It is the cat at it again,” he thought to himself. He had seen the cat today while stepping out of that building. She had curled up on the edge of the ground floor lobby seeking some warmth in the cold rainy weather. It had struck him that once he stepped outside the building, she might step inside.
He called Supriya’s number after seeing the eight messages and the two missed calls.
“Madam, it is because of the cat,” he reported.
“Which cat? You keep talking about it, but I never see it,” Supriya yelled into the phone.
The cat was a cunning creature, Manjunath knew. It had its share of milk and sneaked out before anyone found out. On a couple of occasions, Manjunath had thought of catching her but failed.
“Madam, there is a stray cat on the ground floor,” he explained.
“I don’t know that. If you know there is a cat, you should ring the bell so that I pick up the packets. Do you know how much we suffer when there is no milk? This is not the first time,” she scolded.
Manjunath listened without any retort. He had no choice. “Sorry, Madam. Next time I will ring the bell,” he said.
“But this time, I am going to cut your money. And I have told everyone in the building to do that. This is the third time this month you were careless. Unless you are more careful, Manjunath, you will not get paid. Keep that in mind,” she said, and hung up.
Manjunath saw the remaining messages after that on his phone. Four more flats in the building had the same complaint. The cat was on a roll today, he thought to himself. He had to do something about it, he felt, but he didn’t know what.
He shrugged his shoulders. He glanced into the curtain of rain outside. He continued completing the rest of the deliveries. He didn’t feel angry. He felt amused. A bit helpless.
He dawdled back to his bicycle in the rain. He calculated the losses he was going to suffer this month. He covered his head with the plastic sheet and got on to his bicycle.
The raincoat will have to wait.