Chicken Chopper: A Short Story
This story first appeared in the October issue of the Bloody Key Society Periodical. Stop by their page and check them out. I hope you enjoy this story. Estimated reading time is about thirty minutes. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
Thanks for your support,
Justin W. Price
by Justin W. Price
“Breeders,” I scoffed.
Katrina and I were on our way to Rajev’s house. Rajev was my boss, and he had invited us over for dinner to see his new house and meet his wife and new baby. His wife—I wasn’t sure of her name—had just moved back to the United States from India. That’s where she had the baby until Rajev got the new house. “A house big enough for a family,” he said. “A house worthy of guests.” I always found it odd that his wife lived so far away, and so I asked Rajev about it once.
“It’s just the Indian way.”
As I drove, the rain came down in heaps. The heater in our ’86 Datsun didn’t work, and I had to keep wiping the condensation off the window with my hand. A dense fog was descending, obscuring the street lamps.
“I don’t get it.” I turned towards Katrina who was looking away from me through the rain-soaked windows. “There’s already too many people in this world. We’re all doing a bang-up job of things as it is.”
I wasn’t a baby person. But Katrina was. We had been trying for a couple of years, but nothing had come of it—well, except for mediocre sex. Both our fertility tests came up normal. More mediocre sex.
I was fine with it, but Katrina had given up and withdrawn.
She looked over at me. She was still pretty when she wanted to be, and that night she wanted to be. She had this naturally curly brown hair which hung loosely around her soft face. Her silk blouse was a radiant green, and it held her small breasts in a flattering way. Her thin lips were a scandalous red. She had a Bundt cake topped with coconut frosting on her lap. She shrugged. “I like babies.”
“I guess,” I said. I looked at the cake. “Do you think those Chicken Choppers eat Bundt cakes?”
“You know I hate that term, Brad. It’s not nice. Rajev is inviting us into his home.”
After dropping out of college, I worked as a full-service butcher. Our town had an extensive East Indian population and I discovered that most of them—the ones that ate meat, at least—wanted a chicken fully skinned and chopped before they would take it home. It may have been for a religious reason. I never bothered to ask. I figured they were being cheap—or lazy. I figured it was the Indian way.
It was much less expensive to purchase an entire chicken than it was to purchase the individual parts. Selling the whole chicken was fine, but they would always want us to pull the skin off and chop it into tiny pieces.
“But do not smash the bones,” they would say. “I do not like to eat tiny pieces of bone in my curry.” They wanted surgical precision. With a cleaver.
This was how I met Rajev. He would come in about twice a week, always dressed impeccably, purchase the smallest chicken, and say, “Please, will you take the skin off and chop it. Please.” He would then lean in over the counter and hold up his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. “Small pieces.”
It was not easy to chop a chicken. First, you had to break the limbs and use a straight blade to cut them off. The easiest way was to break the limbs at the joints (you knew this was accomplished once you heard an improbably satisfying pop) and cut the torso at the broken points. Peeling off the slippery skin took about a minute or so and, due to the strong grip needed to pull it completely off, the muscles of my hand would get sore. After a nine- or ten-hour shift, I would go home and bathe my hand in ice, only to repeat the process multiple times the next day.
After skinning the chicken, you had to hack it apart, pushing down on the cleaver to be sure to drive through all the sinew and tissues without imparting bone shards into the marrow. Chopping a chicken was a request only made by Indian customers. When I saw them approach the counter, I would usually groan and find an excuse to go into the cooler until one of my coworkers greeted them.
At least Rajev said please. In spite of his unreasonable and annoying request, I liked him. Sometimes after chopping his chicken, I would take my lunch and we would eat together in the neighboring deli. He was quite a talker and a bit of a boaster. Occasionally Katrina would meet us for lunch and we would listen to Rajev share his stories, while we scarfed down bologna and cheese sandwiches and root beer. I was skeptical about the stories he told, but I liked them. They broke the monotony of a monotonous job.
One time during lunch, Rajev asked me if I liked being a butcher. “Not really,” I said. “It gets pretty tiring standing on your feet chopping chickens.”
“You should come work with me. Sales. Much better pay and no more standing on your feet.” He handed me his card. I left the butcher shop a few weeks later and began working for Rajev selling software to businesses. Two years later, the Chicken Chopper had finally invited me to see his big fancy new house. And to see his wife and baby.
I shrugged again, my eyes focused on the wet road ahead. “Ten to one we have chicken.”
“Don’t be so terrible,” Katrina said as we pulled into a circular driveway.
"[W]e would listen to Rajev share his stories, while we scarfed down bologna and cheese sandwiches and root beer. I was skeptical about the stories he told, but I liked them."
The house was typical of the area’s luxurious homes. A Tuscan-style front porch, columns, faux stucco, and ubiquitous windows. The landscaping was immaculate, but the highlight was a bronze fountain with a sculpture of some fantastical creature, shooting an arrow skyward, at the center of the circular driveway. We got out of our jalopy and approached the front door.
I rang the doorbell, and Rajev answered. He was about ten years older than I was. His thin pencil mustache, gangly frame, and prominent chin made him resemble an Indian Clark Gable. His hair was neatly parted to the left and he wore a pink button-down shirt tucked into black slacks and a black belt. His socks were green and red argyle.
“Bradley. Namaste! So nice to see you, my friend,” he said, extending his left hand. He was smiling and his teeth were a vivid white. He gripped my shoulder with his right hand.
“Hello,” I said, taking his hand. “Namaste. You remember my wife, Katrina?”
“Ah yes,” he said, extending his hand to her. “Namaste. Of course. We’ve spoken of India.”
Katrina’s whole face smiled. She’s always been a nicer person than me. “Yes. How are you? It’s good to see you.”
Rajev smiled back. “Yes. It is good. Please. Come. Come inside. Welcome to my home. My new home.” He took the cake from Katrina and held it out with both hands, away from his body. He just held it there while he talked. “My wife she will be down soon. With my son. You believe it? I finally have a son. Please, take off your shoes.” His accent was thick but not muddy. This was another reason I liked him. I could understand him.
Katrina continued to smile as we took off our shoes.
“Congratulations. That’s really excellent,” I said. I didn’t care much for my choice of words. It didn’t sound like me at all. But those were the words that came out of my mouth. I was surprised at how nervous I was.
“Please.” Still holding the cake, he gestured towards a brown suede couch. “Please, sit. Would you like tea?”
“Yes,” I said, looking at Katrina. “We both would. Thank you.”
“I will bring tea,” he said as he left the living room. Enticing aromas were emanating from the kitchen. Spices I did not recognize tickled my nostrils.
The living room was open and colored in deep earth tones. It was just a little bit smaller than our apartment. The floors were maple hardwood and the walls were festooned with Indian-looking effects and a few of what I presumed to be Hindu gods. Everything was ornate and elaborate. Comfortable, but not cozy. A large orange-and-red carpet rested underneath a glass coffee table. Even with my stocking feet, I could feel how soft it was.
Rajev returned with a silver platter, carrying a white ceramic tea pot, which had some weird-looking elephant creature emblazoned on it, and some tiny ceramic tea cups. A white saucer in the center of the tray was piled with sugar cubes. He set the platter before us and poured our tea. “Do you like sugar?” he asked.
“None for me,” I said.
He handed me my cup, then dropped a sugar cube into Katrina’s and handed it to her. “Please, enjoy. Dinner will be done shortly. I will go check on my wife and my son. I have a son. Can you believe it?”
Rajev left the room, and Katrina and I sat next to each other in silence and sipped our tea. It was quite good. I remember that. In fact, I’m not much of a tea drinker, but soon I was pouring another cup. I observed the steam rise from the tiny ceramic cup. It had no handle but I could palm it in one hand while I lifted it to my lips. The elephant thing stared at me from the tea pot, while Katrina drank her tea and looked past me, out of the large rain-soaked windows leading to a backyard leading to a rolling green hill, stippled with naked cherry trees. She seemed distracted but also content.
Rajev returned with the baby in his arms and a stout woman at his side. Not only had I never met his wife, but I realized at that moment that I had never even seen a photograph of her. She had a small shock of grey hair, weary eyes, a green sari, and a red dot between her thick eyebrows. Her lips were thin, her hips were wide and she was maybe five feet tall. Her homeliness both pleased and shocked me. Here was Rajev, with this ornate and fancy house, with his deliberate grooming habits and put-together appearance, with this fat wife. In that moment, I understood why he had not bothered to invite us over prior to the birth of his son.
“This is my wife, Niti,” said Rajev.
With a good amount of diffidence, Niti extended her hand, shaking first mine and then Katrina’s, avoiding eye contact. “Namaste.”
Rajev was holding the baby, and I was surprised to find that he was a handsome boy with a clump of dark hair, caramel-colored skin, and a heart-shaped face. I suspected that if he had been homely, like his mother, this meeting might not have taken place. The boy was wrapped in a blue blanket, and Rajev looked at him with a great deal of pride. “And this,” he said. “This is my son, Nandan. Nandan. His name, it means ‘pleasing’.”
“He’s beautiful,” Katrina said. “May I hold him?” I noticed that her eyes were a little bit moist.
“Oh yes, please,” Rajev said, handing over his son to Katrina. “Yes. He likes you.” Turning to his wife, he said, “Niti, please. Bring out the naan.” He turned to us. “Do you like Indian food?”
“Yes. Very much,” I lied. I’d never had Indian food before. I just knew it consisted of chopped chicken, was spicy, and had obscene amounts of curry. “It smells delicious.”
Niti turned and waddled towards the kitchen, and Rajev invited us to sit back down.
“This view,” Rajev said. “In the spring and summer, it will cause your jaw to hit the floor. The cherry trees, there, they become pink and the grass is the greenest green you will ever see. Only imagine! Perhaps I will have you out then, and you will not then have to imagine. Yes?” He smiled.
Niti returned with a ceramic plate. I’d never had naan before, but found that I enjoyed it. It was a flatbread and was served with some kind of orange curry dipping sauce, which was just the right amount of spicy and sweet.
“Niti is a wonderful cook,” Rajev said as he nibbled on some naan. “Come, Bradley, let me show you around. Katrina, we will be back shortly. Please do not lose my son.” He smiled.
Katrina beamed at the baby. “I wouldn’t dream of it. He’s quite an angel.” She was looking down at him, grinning like a proud mother.
Rajev put his hand on the small of my back and led me around the grandiose home. He walked with a stiff efficiency: arms down by his side, chin up, legs straight. Every step seemed calculated. He showed me his office, which was filled with large framed portraits. He invited me to sit on a brown leather couch and offered me a cigar.
“These cigars,” he said, “Are not quite legal. They come from Cuba.”
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing one of the cigars from the box and placing it between my lips. He clipped the end and lit it for me.
“And what goes better with a not quite legal cigar than Scotch?”he said, grabbing a dark bottle from a cabinet next to a large oak desk. “This Scotch,” he said, pouring a glass about a quarter full and handing it to me, “is one hundred and two years old. I purchased it from a client in Edinburgh.”
He poured himself a glass and lit his own cigar. He lifted his glass towards mine and said, “To new homes and handsome sons. Cheers!” He clinked against my glass before we both took sips.
I had never tasted such a woody, full-flavored Scotch before. This was the good stuff. This was the stuff you saved for important guests and special occasions.
As I smoked and drank, Rajev pointed to the pictures on the walls and told me the stories behind them. As in our deli lunches, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed them, but at least he had pictures to back up that he had at least been to the places the stories occurred in. As he spoke, he held his Scotch glass with his index finger pointed skyward, gripping the cigar delicately, not taking many puffs.
He and Niti had been everywhere, it seemed.
The Taj Mahal (“I am strange, in that I am mostly an atheist, even though I am a cultural Hindu. But this place is a true wonder. You can almost feel something.”), Stonehenge (“I have solved the mystery of how and whom created Stonehenge. Well, not solved, really, but my theory involves aliens”), Paris (“Paris is quite filthy, really. It is like any other city. It just happens to be in France and has marketed itself as romantic.”), Caribbean cruises (“On this cruise, we were overtaken by pirates. It was only by sheer wit and wisdom that Niti and I managed to escape.”), and even Westminster Abbey (“I know India was occupied by Britain for years, but one cannot help but to be in awe of this place, even with all of the dirty looks.”). Though Niti rarely smiled in the portraits, there was a contentedness in her eyes. Rajev was a full foot taller than she and in many of the pictures he was bent at an awkward angle with his arm around her.
The only travelling Katrina and I had done was two hours north to visit my folks in Olympia or an hour south to visit Katrina’s in Salem. The pictures on our walls were not that exciting. Certainly not exotic. Rajev described their travels like a gifted storyteller and, as I exhaled delicious smoke, I closed my eyes and felt the heat, the ocean breeze, the tropical rains. Once again, the veracity of the tales did not matter to me.
After extinguishing our cigars and downing our drinks, he guided me upstairs where there were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, both of which had whirlpool bathtubs, adobe tiling, and giant statues of some Hindu god. “Rati,” Rajev said, motioning to the statue. “The god of lust. If you choose to believe in such things.”
In the master bathroom, he filled the tub and turned on the jets.
"Listen to that,” he said. “Like a cat. It purrs.” He drained the tub and showed me the study. I wondered if he would have wasted a full tub of water back in India. We went back downstairs and Rajev grabbed an umbrella, instructed me to put on my shoes and then led me to the backyard.
“We have an acre. Just over there, you see, my garden. I grow much. I would show you, but, this weather. It will get mud on your nice shoes.”
I was pleased that Katrina had insisted that I dress up for the occasion. I was going to wear my scruffy loafers, baggy jeans, and my Iron Maident-shirt. But, instead, she laid out my work shoes, some khakis, and a button-down shirt. She hadn’t laid out my clothes in a long time. I knew this engagement was important to her. And now these nice clothes had saved me from the bore of a garden tour, during a torrential downpour, no less.
The yard rolled down towards the valley. I could see the faint lights of the city, shrouded in a light fog. The sun was setting and, beyond it, Mt. Hood stood sentry in the distance. The rain was singing a dirge against Rajev’s umbrella.
“I sometimes have so much that I give much of it to the hungry people,” he said. “The hungry people here, though, they are not as hungry as the hungry people in Calcutta. Here, you can always have warm food and a roof.”
I remembered the full tub of water he drained just a few minutes earlier. I looked around and grunted. “Business must be well. Glad I can help.”
Rajev laughed and put his hand on my shoulder. “I do alright.” He said it again, with a laugh, “I do alright.” He directed me back inside.
"Though Niti rarely smiled in the portraits, there was a contentedness in her eyes."
Upon entering through the front door, I could hear the baby crying. I heard Niti say, “I will take him now.”
“Oh, he’s fine,” Katrina said. “Please, you need a break. His crying doesn’t bother me.”
It bothered me. I hated the sound of babies crying. Why couldn’t they come into the world fully grown and ready to go to work? Babies were the ultimate parasites, I often said. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand breeders. Even with my half-hearted attempts at becoming one, I never understood it.
Rajev smiled as we made our way back into the living room. “Listen to my son,” he said. “So strong.” We reached the living room. “Please, Katrina. Let me have my son. Maybe Niti needs some help in the kitchen.”
With a smile, Katrina relinquished the baby to his father and joined Niti in the kitchen.
“Would you also like to hold my son?” Rajev asked.
I held up my hands and shook them. “Oh, no. That’s okay. I wouldn’t know what to do with a baby.”
“Do not be silly. It is nothing, really. Babies? You Just hold them.”
I didn’t want to hold that baby. It’s crying and carrying on was bad enough from a short distance, I could only imagine what it would be like right next to me. But Rajev moved closer with the baby, and I felt that I had no choice.
“Okay,” I said, accepting the child.
When Rajev handed me the baby, he stopped crying. “He is quite a handsome boy,” I said. I looked down at him, swaddled in his blue blanket, his cherubic face peering at me with a strange curiosity. I wondered if Katrina and I were the first white people he had ever seen.
Rajev glowed. “Yes! He will perhaps be in the movies someday. I have never seen such a handsome boy.”
I wasn’t just being polite. The boy was remarkably handsome, even up close like that. Even with a fat and ugly mom. His brown eyes were deep set and piercing. His lips were full and his arms and legs were brawny. He stayed quiet and I held him until dinner, at which point Rajev led us into the kitchen. On the kitchen counter I noticed a set of knives. I recognized the handle of a cleaver, and rolled my eyes. I could feel the slippery skin of a chicken under my fingers, I could feel the weight of the cleaver, feel the pressure used to push down on the bones. “Do not crush the bones. I do not like eating bone shards with my curry,” I could hear Rajev saying.
Niti brought over a bassinet, took the baby from me, and placed him in it.
“I hope that you have come with appetites,” Rajev said. “Have you ever before eaten goat?”
“Goat? No,” I said. Katrina shook her head.
“Ah. Well goat is the most widely eaten meat in the world. This is curried goat. Be careful of the bones. And that green food there? That is saag peneer. It may look green, but it is supposed to.” He smiled. “It is only spinach and cheese. And, of course, curried chicken. Remember, Bradley, when you worked at the butcher shop and I would ask you to chop my chicken?” He raised his left hand, pushed his fingers together and made a chopping motion, as if I didn’t understand what “chopping” meant. “This is what Niti would make with it. Someone else chops the chicken now, but he does not smile as you did, and he is also not careful. Many times, I accidentally eat the bones. Still the chicken is good and it is chopped into small pieces—the way I like it.”
“Yes. I remember. Chopping a chicken isn’t easy.”
“No, I suspect that it is not. This is why I always said ‘please’,” he said.
I pointed at the set of knives: “Why not just do it yourself?” I said with a smirk.
Rajev smirked back. “In Calcutta, if I want chicken, I go to the market, I find a live chicken, and then the butcher, he slaughters it, plucks it and chops it for me. Here, there are no live chickens at the market, but I can still expect a butcher to chop it, yes?” He smiled. “Also, I do not like to get very dirty, and it is a dirty job.”
I pursed my lips together and nodded.
We began to eat. And, as with the naan, the tea, the scotch, and the cigar, it was delicious. Everything here, except for the wife, I suppose, seemed top notch.
“Bradley,” Rajev said a few minutes later. “How is it that you and Katrina met?”
My mouth was filled with goat and I chewed it slowly, taking special note of each luscious and previously unknown spice, each adding heat and flavor.
“How did we meet?” I said as I swallowed. I took a bite of chicken and couldn’t decide which protein I preferred.
Rajev dabbed at his mouth with a cloth napkin and took a dainty sip of red wine. “Yes. See, Niti and I, we were arranged to be married. By our parents. We do not have a good story. We were married because my father said we would marry. Truth be told, we did not even meet until our wedding day.” He cocked his head towards Niti. “And now we have a son. A handsome, strong son. Yes Niti?” he said and smiled.
Niti looked up from her plate, gave a slight nod and offered a closed-mouth smile and returned to picking at her meal. The baby made a little noise.
“So, I am interested in love stories, because ours is not so special,” he smiled. “And, remember, it is the details that make the story. Do not be skimpy with the details.”
Katrina put her hand on my knee and smiled at Rajev. “Ours isn’t much better,” she said.
Ours isn’t much better.
Is that what she thought? Our love may have receded by that point, but our story was certainly better than some arranged marriage.
“I don’t know about that,” I said to her and looked at Rajev. Katrina removed her hand from my knee, made fists and stuck them under her chin. “I think our story is pretty good. Or at least adequate.”
Rajev took a sip of water, smiled at Katrina and leaned forward in his chair. “Then I look forward to hearing it. Please. I am ready.”
“It was college. I was a sophomore and I saw this cute, curly-haired girl with these big brown eyes. She looked adorably lost. She was hugging a chemistry book to her chest and those pretty brown eyes of hers were darting back and forth.”
“Ah, yes. Good with the details,” Rajev said, lifting his wine glass in the air and taking a sip.
“‘May I help you?’ I said to her. She looked at me and her lips parted into this little smile. She has these terrific dimples. I was in love right there.” I put my hand on her knee. I felt her go tense and removed it. “She was a freshman. She couldn’t find the chemistry lab. ‘I’m a liberal arts major,’ I said. ‘So I can know where everything is.’ And I gave her this winning smile. She giggled, I walked her to class, we exchanged MySpace page info, eventually phone numbers, and then we got married like, what, a year later? It was right after I left school.” I looked at Katrina.
She nodded. “Yes. About a year, I think. That was about eight years ago.”
The baby began to squirm, and Niti’s fork and spoon clinked against the plate as she dropped them and pulled him out of the bassinet and held him to her chest. She shooshed him and rocked him up and down. She excused herself and took Nandan with her and out of sight.
Katrina looked at Rajev and offered him a weird smile. “What brought you here? To America?” she asked.
Rajev chewed, swallowed, and dabbed at his face. He took a quick drink. “Ah, yes. This question is good,” he smiled. “Are you familiar with Hinduism?”
We both nodded. I took a bite of the saag peneer and chewed slowly.
“See, in India, we are very religious. I am not, personally, as I have told Bradley, but the culture is strong with me. We Hindus believe in Karma, and we believe in castes. Karma, I am sure you are familiar with. We can control our Karma. But we are born into a caste. Our lot in life, see. We cannot control this caste and there is no way to leave it, no matter how hard we work. My family, we are Vaishya. Not so bad, but not so good, either. I wanted more. I wanted a big house with lots of food and a view of mountains and lots of green trees. In America, there is more. I brought Niti here, and now I have more. In India, I was just a poor man who took orders from someone else. Here, I am never hungry. I am the boss.”
As I sat and chewed my food and listened to Rajev, I looked through the gigantic windows. The rain was torrential, and it was almost completely dark, but I could still see the view he had showed me earlier. I moved my gaze inward. The kitchen floor was some kind of expensive-looking tile. The table appeared to be mahogany and the countertops were granite. The house was so big that I could not hear Niti or Nandan. Certainly, Rajev had gotten more.
“Rajev, would you please direct me to your restroom?” Katrina asked.
Rajev wiped his mouth with the napkin, and his mouth hung open. “I’m sorry. What is it you said?”
Katrina smiled and blushed a little. “I need to use the restroom. Please show me where it is.”
Rajev dropped his napkin and stood up. “Ah, yes. Of course. It will be my pleasure. I will show you the rest of the house also. Bradley, please. Enjoy your meal,” He gestured toward the table. “Niti will return to you shortly. It is this way,” he said to Katrina, as they left me at the table.
Alone now, I savored my meal and listened to the rain fall. I always loved the sound of the rain, but not that night. The rough pitter-patter, the sudden slosh from the gutters; it had the feel of an omen. I shuddered. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Niti and the baby.
“I startled you. I am sorry,” Niti said as she set the baby in the bassinet and returned to her spot at the table. “Rajev had to take a phone call.” She began to eat without looking up.
“Wonderful dinner, Mrs. Khubar.”
She looked up and smiled, her thin lips a bit thinner. “Please. Niti. Thank you. Rajev likes for me to cook very well, so I do.” At first, I thought the wetness in her eyes and the slight frown was worry and exhaustion. As the frown grew and the wetness turned into actual tears, I realized that she was sad. She hunched over, hiding her face from me.
I wasn’t sure what to do. What was the Indian Way? I couldn’t decide, so I opted for the American way and pretended that nothing was wrong and changed the subject. “He seems like a kind man,” I said.
“He is a good provider and he is a good father,” she said without looking up. I had to strain to hear her. She wiped her eyes.
Nandan began to squirm, and Niti sighed and began to get up.
“No, no, no,” I said darting from my seat. “Please, enjoy your meal. I’ll take him.”
Niti looked at me, her eyes still wet, tears staining her cheeks, her face changing into look of gratitude. “Yes. Thank you.” Her smile was real.
“My pleasure,” I said as I picked him up and held him to my chest. “He is heavy. And so handsome.”
“Yes. Quite handsome,” She poked at her food with a fork, but did not eat.
I held Nandan to my chest and cradled his head. We walked into the living room and stood in front of the windows and watched the rain streak down. I rocked him up and down and hummed to him softly. We began to walk through the house, looking at the different pictures and shrines. “I know very little about these things. Just the names,” I said to Nandan. “Actually, not even the names. Adults are not always as smart you might think. Remember that.” I admired the archways, the marble floor of the entryway, the bronze lamps on the wall. Nandan squirmed but began to suck on this thumb and remained quiet. The den was closed , and I heard Rajev speaking.
As I gave Nandan a tour of his own home, I bobbed him up and down. His head rested on my shoulder, his thumb secured between his lips. I have to admit that it felt nice having him there. I could picture myself with one of these babies.
I heard another sound. Two voices coming from the den. They were somewhat muffled. I thought perhaps that Rajev was using his speaker phone.
Still cradling Nandan, I leaned in closer, my ear nearly touching the door. I heard Katrina’s voice, and then I heard Rajev’s. I hadn’t heard Katrina make those sounds in years, but I recognized them right away. My mind jumped back to earlier. Katrina dolling herself up. Katrina smiling when she saw Rajev. Rajev plopping sugar in her tea without her indicating that that was how she liked her tea. It all made sense. I found myself unsure of how to react, or what to feel. Holding a baby, Rajev’s baby, a baby Katrina had always wanted. The sounds grew louder, more frenzied. I heard Katrina say Rajev’s name.
I stood in front of the dark den doors with Nandan still against my shoulder and put my hand on the bronze handle for a second before removing it. I stood there a moment longer, then turned and walked back to the kitchen. I returned to the table and looked at Niti who was still wearing that grim look.
“Rajev will be out shortly. His phone call is very important,” she said, no longer hiding the tears, before looking back down at her food.
"My mouth was filled with goat and I chewed it slowly, taking special note of each luscious and previously unknown spice, each adding heat and flavor."
As we drove home, it was still raining—maybe even harder than it was earlier, if that was possible. Katrina gazed out of the window. Her reflection showed an expressionless face. I white knuckled the steering wheel and turned towards her. “How long?” I said.
Katrina turned to me, puzzled. “What?”
“You and Rajev. How long?”
“I didn’t think you could hear us.” She turned away and again looked out the window. Her reflection showed the same expression.
“Is that why Rajev invited us tonight? Did you want me to find out?”
Katrina continued to look away and her shoulders gave a slight shrug. “No. It just happened.”
And that was it. That was all that was ever said about the matter.
I quit working for Rajev and returned to chopping chickens at the butcher shop. Rajev seemed surprised. I suppose Katrina hadn’t mentioned to him yet that I caught him—them—in the act. Katrina moved out a few weeks later. It was all very anticlimactic, really. No curses, no allegations, just a silent knowledge. There was no need to talk about it, just as there was no need to deny it. Like the changing of the seasons, it simply was.
I happened across Katrina and Rajev on my way home from work a year and a half after Katrina and I had had dinner at his place. I had, of course, thought about them, and that night, quite a bit, but hadn’t seen them until that moment.
The rain was pouring sideways and, because I don’t carry an umbrella, I had my jacket above my head and didn’t see them at first. Rajev called out to me first, his voice nervous and meek. I looked up and saw a little boy, walking and wearing a red rain slicker. He didn’t mind the rain. He just waddled across the sidewalk, occasionally reaching down to splash the water with his little hands and giggle. I moved closer and the little boy looked up. Nandan. He was even more handsome than he was that night, his ebony hair creeping out from under the hood, his eyes piercing and intelligent.
Rajev showed genuine warmth in his smile when he saw me and we shook hands. “Hello Bradley, so good to see you.” He was guarded, but his handshake was firm.
“Yes. Certainly.” My friends had wondered why I didn’t get more angry. Why there was no big explosion. Why I just kind of let things play out the way they did, without a fight. “That’s the way things were heading anyway,” I told them. “That night just sped up the process. Better than dragging it out.” I felt rejected, but I knew I would be feeling that with Katrina eventually.
“And the boy has sure grown,” I continued.
“Yes. His mother went home. He is quite a handful,” he said. He turned towards Katrina and cocked his head slightly. “But Katrina, she is quite helpful.”
“Hello Brad,” Katrina said. The diminutive—and preferred—form of my name seemed strange coming from her lips. I liked the sound of it, and I grinned a little. Katrina looked very pregnant. She had her hands on her belly and seemed to be emanating a soft glow. I guess it was true what they said about mothers. “It’s good to see you.” She reached out and pulled me close into her. My head rested on her shoulder, her fingers gently tickled my hair. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so close to her. I let her go before the tears came.
“Good to see you too. I need to get going now.” I waved and continued on my way. By the time I reached home, three blocks later, the rain had stopped and the sun peeked through the parting clouds.