Chapter 4:

The Tragedy of Ritsu Satanetra Part 1

The Mildpowered Virgins of Novylion High

So we were going to go back to Jambuwan but in the holidays just before when I was going to start IX standard, we went to Ronabara for one last season of performances. And oh! look at the time I have to go play tag with the little kids in the park now. Papa will continue the story from here. Papa! I’m going! Byyyyeeeeee……

‘Bye, son! Ha ha. Kids these days. I’ll make this quick as a quitter. Homeschooling Jajanshu – although road-schooling might be more accurate – is the most difficult thing I’ve done to this day. He’s gonna turn fourteen in a few days so I really needed to get him into a proper school. I can’t understand the stuff in those textbooks now. And furthermore, I couldn’t steal any more of his childhood. So, I got him enrolled in a decent school in Jambuwan but the session was going to start in April and we still had a month so we went to Ronabara, which is a hill station a little south of Jambuwan.

‘Lots of rich people go over there in the summertime to cool off a little and they have these big vacation houses up in the hills and they really stick out among the natural beauty of the forests. Well, you know what they say: a tree ain’t never been worth more than a tree’s worth of Jaozi notes. Ha ha ha. So, anyways, these rich ronnies and ronnettes got their mighty mansions up on the toppity-tops of these hills and there’s these winding roads coming down to the bottom. These roads were perfect for our little “performances” because you can’t see around the corners at all and there ain’t no shops or houses or nothing on the sides of the roads so no wily witnesses either. Just these sheer cliffs covered in greenery and shrubbery of all shapes and sizes.

‘So we “performed” for four “clients” in, say, about fifteen or sixteen days. And that would have been more than enough but I got a little greedy when I found a near-perfect target. An old woman on vacation with her daughter and grandson. Her mansion was the biggest of all the mansions there. And to boot, they owned the hill it was on. Can you believe that? They owned a whole hill. Ha ha ha. The road on that hill had barricades on the bottom so regular vehicular traffic couldn’t go up or down it. But it was still open to pedestrians because there was this small but really old temple near the peak. Some locals even said it was the blessing of the deity of that temple that allowed the Satanetras – that’s their family name – to become so rich and they’d repaid that debt by forever preserving and maintaining the temple better than any government stooge could. Might seem unimportant but I gotta let you know about the local beliefs and culture and such like any old academic would. Not that I’m a smarty-pants intellectual or anything. No siree, I dropped out of school at age sixteen to look after my ailing mother and father. But that’s another story.

‘The daughter was going to be the actual “customer” since the old woman and the kid didn’t drive. The kid was too young and the granny was too old and both wore sunglasses everywhere they went so I guessed they were blind or something. But oh boy, did the daughter compensate for that. More than a man with a Manta Motors Mizta in the middle of winter. She, however, drove a true car lover’s car: a 42 Bustano Hatchback. Two-seater, front engine, rear-wheel-drive. And man, at night, she’d get the workmen to close up the barricades and do some downhill drifting like I’d never seen before. She’d be teasing the guardrail more than Jajanshu’s mother used to tease me after I’d done her wrong somehow and apologised proper. Ah, good times…

‘So one fine Friday night, we both walked up to the temple and came down dilly-dallying. I found an acceptable corner with a slightly overgrown tree on the roadside and went about setting up the ropes and wires and what have you. Fitting the dummy inside a rucksack was the most difficult part but I’d managed somehow. As always, I’d packed a tiffin for dinner and we enjoyed our food as we waited for the darkness to set in. Just about when the chirps of the crickets were getting louder than those of the birds, I heard the beautiful, gravelly roar of that 1.1L rotary engine echoing down from the top of the hill. The street lights came on all at once and they were much brighter than I’d expected them to be. But this was the point of no return.

‘As I heard the Bustano get closer and closer and closer, I gripped the branch and the dummy tightly and as soon as she entered the corner, I shined the brightest light I’ve ever shined in my entire life. For a second it looked like it’d go all hunky dory but in the next second, I saw her face through the windscreen and all my hopes decided to go cliff jumping. She was wearing sunglasses. At night. She didn’t lose control of the car in the slightest and stopped seven feet before the spot where I’d dropped the dummy out of instinct, if nothing else. I tried to pull it away as fast as I could and make a run for it but Jajanshu, being the obedient little boy of mine that he is, lay down exactly where I’d told him to, all mangled up. I’d have to use my negotiation skills to get out of this one and the odds looked pretty slim.

‘The daughter stepped out of the car and I tell you, if the fear of prison time for me and my son hadn’t been gripping my heart and compelling my feet to move on, I’d have dropped dead right then and there. A tall, blonde bombshell in a black tank top and a red jacket and red driving gloves that all matched her car’s paint job. Need I say more? She looked too young to be the mother of a teenager— oh, wait! I’ll ruin the story. That part comes later.

‘She’d taken off her sunglasses before coming out of the car and was inspecting the entire scene with a frown on her face. Usually, by this point, I’d be bawling my eyes out over my son’s twisted limbs but it probably wouldn’t have done diddly-squat in this case. She was completely ignoring me and had her eyes fixed on Jajanshu. And Jajanshu – bless that boy – was playing possum perfectly. I thought about yelling to him and running away but Jajanshu’s bones take a few seconds to get back to spick-and-span condition and we’d have to slide down the cliff and then deal with the guards. Not to mention, leave all our hard-earned dough behind in the hotel. I thought to myself, geez, I really didn’t think this one through.

‘But then, Madam— I mean, the daughter, said something I didn’t expect:

‘“How much is the damage?”

‘All I could say was, “Huh?”

‘And she again said, “How much money do you think it’ll take to treat this girl? What’s your estimate of the hospital bill? Be as accurate as you can possibly be. Remember, your life depends on it. The next thing that comes out of your mouth should be a precise and truthful monetary figure. If it’s anything else, my guards will restrain you and the police will be involved. Think hard. I don’t want any ‘huhs’ or ‘whats’. I want numbers. If you don’t have any idea how much the treatment costs, just tell me what you truly believe the treatment should cost.”

‘Before I could even think, my subconscious took over and blurted out the seven digits of the hospital bill that had shocked me to my core four years ago. I still remember the moment that no-good doctor handed me that hellish bill very clearly. More clearly even than the day Jajanshu spoke his first words. “Two-point-six million Jaozi. And he’s a boy,” I said.

‘Her expression changed from a slight frown to one of pure rage. “Liar!” she shouted. I’d heard the daughter was, let’s just say, “prone to mood swings”, but I wasn’t expecting her skin to match the colour of her car too. Why was she so upset that my son was not my daughter? Or was she upset about the figure I quoted? Probably the money, right? Anyways, I was so scared I was about to pee in my trousers. But before I could do it, I noticed that the daughter had done it already. Pissed her pants, that is. Really. I’m not messing around. A streak of liquid was running right from her crotch down to her feet. It was all too visible against her tight black leggings. This situation was far beyond my understanding.

‘Her anger kept growing and growing. She started shouting, “Look what you’ve done now. You’ve ruined my favourite pair of leggings, you filthy liar! You’ll regret this for the rest of your life! Uhhh!” She kicked the bumper of her car hard enough to dent it. This would be her undoing, I thought. This was my opportunity to turn things around.

‘“Call the police if you want, Ms Satanetra,” I said. “I was worried about the pristine condition of your car before but now you’ve let your anger get the better of you. The fact is that my son’s bones are broken. No medical scan on this planet can disprove that. And I don’t think anyone will believe that dent on your bumper’s from your shoe and not my son.”

‘But the lady wouldn’t back down. She kept shouting and scolding me like I was a schoolboy and she kept ranting about how the police commissioner’s her cousin’s friend or some such like that. Then she said I was lying about the hospital bill so my son must not actually be hurt. She crouched down next to Jajanshu, who was still as still as a scarecrow. But when she had a close look at his arms and touched them, she immediately quieted down.

‘“Oh… she—he’s hurt for real. You weren’t lying about that part…” she said. And I said, “Hell yeah, he’s hurt real bad.”

‘“Then we don’t have time to think about your lies right now. I’ll call an ambulance,” she said. And I said, “Look here, ma’am, that’s one of the options you have, certainly. But the other option is you pay me the estimate I mentioned earlier and I’ll be on my way and you won’t have to worry about any of the logistics. My son and I’ll be out of your beautiful blonde hair in no time.”

‘Then she looked confused and she said, “You either don’t care about your son at all or this is an incredible magic trick. I can’t figure out which. If it’s the former, I can’t just let a child die in front of my house. He’s stopped breathing already.”

Stopped breathing… These words made me forget everything. What if I’d pushed Jajanshu too far? What if he can’t handle his guṇa for long periods of time anymore? I rushed over to him and shook him violently, trying to wake him up. I pulled out some biscuits I always kept in my breast pocket and tried to feed them to him. He woke up almost immediately. “What is it, Papa?” he asked. I asked him if he was alright and he said he was completely fine. He was just taking a nap. A nap…

‘“I see. It’s the latter. I’m glad.” The daughter’s words rang out behind me. I’d been played. Jajanshu had inadvertently fixed his bones when he woke up. “Say cheese!” she said, as I turned around and she clicked a photo of me and my son, sitting on the road, both perfectly fine physically. Who’d have thought she’d be carrying a big old camera in her car? But what should I do now? I’d have to pull out the big guns.

‘She said, “I think this is the end of our negotiation, Mr…”

‘“Hikash Mamanpade,” I said. “But before you call the police, Ms Satanetra, would you like to know a little bit of my backstory?” I didn’t give her any time to answer. “I used to be a lighting technician over in Jambuwan. That light I tried to blind you with – that comes out of my throat. This only saves a few cowries in the budget compared to a normal light and of course they need multiple lights anyways so what good would one coming out of a throat be? I was hired again and again because I was ready to do anything. I’d help out with every little thing on the set. That’s how I learnt a lot of things including rigging and dummy stunts and makeup and so on. But what I did best was climbing. I climbed wherever the cinematographer wanted me to go and I moved exactly how he told me to. No time wasted on complicated mechanical setups and such. I was so acrobatic I bet I could become a top class circus performer. He he. That was four years ago. I’ve lost my edge a little bit, but not enough to not be able to climb a medium-sized Gulmohar tree. More precisely, a Gulmohar tree overlooking the window of a certain lady’s bedroom.” Now her skin’s colour matched her car’s white interiors. “I used to target random people when I started out but I quickly realised that I’d have to know my customers well before I ever met them. Now don’t be worried. I didn’t click any dirty pictures of you or anything. I wouldn’t stoop so low. It’s just that I noticed something very peculiar: you and your mother never leave the house at the same time. Heck, I never even saw you two together inside the house. Even at night, just before bedtime, I could only see light coming out of two bedrooms. Does your mother sleep in the same room as your son? Or with you? It’s certainly strange. A boy close to my son’s age would probably want to sleep alone. And a mother and daughter who don’t interact throughout the day wouldn’t make up all of a sudden at night. What else could this situation imply then? I can think of only one thing and I think you know what it is. Now, do you want this information to reach your friends at the country club? I don’t think you do. Am I right?”

‘She didn’t say anything for almost half a minute and then: “You know too much, Mr Mamanpade.” I didn’t know anything at all. I was just bluffing. I did scout her out and note down her goings and comings from afar and I had noticed this strangeness of relations between mother and daughter but I hadn’t made nothing much of it at the time. I had no clue at all what it meant but I wasn’t going to let it show. But the bluff had worked somehow. I hadn’t expected it to but it had. And since it had, I was kind of interested to know what the big secret was.

‘“Come with me to my house. This is no place to talk,” she said. So I sat in her car and told Jajanshu to go back to the hotel and she drove the car uphill slowly. Even though the night air was hot, we had to keep the windows open because of the smell of pee. Suddenly, she started speaking. So far, I’ve been sort of paraphrasing but these words of hers I remember exactly: “I never thought that a random stranger would figure out that my mother and I are the same person.”

‘I had to control every single little atom in my body to stay calm and not let on that this was surprising to me. Hippo’s horns! I was expecting something like “my mother and I actually hate each other” or “my mother is actually my stepmother”. This was way too wild. Who does something like that? What was this whole thing about? I couldn’t have imagined it in a hundred years. “It’s all too obvious. You need to get better at hiding it,” I said.

‘She didn’t say anything until we reached her house. I was made to wait in the drawing room while she changed out of her pee-stained clothes. Her son was already asleep in his room or something so only the butler saw me. She came back wearing white shorts and a yellow tulip top. Man, she looked even more beautiful in those clothes and her legs… mmm-hmm. She sat down, offered me some tea and biscuits and told me her story…