5th December 1999
By Aditha Dissanayake
My cousin who works in a foreign bank boasts of never having more than hundred rupees in his wallet. He pulls out four credit cards and flourishes them in my face. "It's plastic all the way" he beams. My father has three cards. My mother, who gets his supplementary cards, keeps them under the mattress on her side of the bed, and shudders at the thought of using them. She doesn't believe in the doctrine - "buy now, pay later".
I do. So this year when my father renews one of his credit cards, I become the proud owner of his supplementary card.
Deciding to be noble with the plastic card in my purse, I use it to withdraw Rs. 500 from the bank account. The Vet says it costs Rs. 450 to sterilize a kitten. I intend to free Crissy (my new feline companion) from the torments her mother, Amal Bisso, undergoes twice every year. The Vet asks me to come in the evening to take Crissy home.
At 6.30, when I make my way to the clinic, I find he had finished for the day and left the office. I see Crissy meowing loudly in a cage in the compound. The caretaker whistles in a low tone and continues to clean an empty cage. He pretends not to see me. "Here is the money. Can I take Crissy home?" I ask, pointing my 500 note at him. He refuses to look up. Continues to whistle. I repeat my words. In a gruff voice he mutters "Take the cat home, it's a male." I gape at him with bewilderment. "My Crissy, a male?" I bundle Crissy into my bag and make a hasty retreat. Crissy, named after Chaucer's "Troilus and Cresside" will have to be re-christened.
My five hundred-rupee note is still intact. This is Fate telling me to buy something for myself, I decide. So at ten in the morning I head towards the shipping mall. On the way, a video parlour sporting a banner that says, those who have a particular credit card could get free membership, catches my attention. This seems to be my day. After going through the preliminary paper work I ask the girl at the counter, "Have you got Gandhi?"
She turns her head and hollers to a young man behind her, who is standing on a chair with a duster in his hands. "Look with the Hindi cassettes," he shouts back.
I prevent the girl from doing so. I cannot imagine a Hindi version of Ben Kingsley's "Gandhi".
"Have you got Four weddings and a Funeral?"
The girl stares at me aghast. She yells again.
The young man strolls to the counter. I repeat my question. He goes through a stack of cassettes and comes back with one in his hands. I feel delighted. He thrusts it in my face saying "We have A Funeral". Clearly he wants me to walk off with it.
"Four Weddings and a Funeral" I repeat the name.
He shakes his head and says "We have only The Funeral". I walk out with empty hands. I am glad I didn't have to pay for the membership.
At the shopping mall, bored looking salesgirls stare at me from all the shops. I take a deep breath and step inside one. I hope my presence would go unnoticed. But the moment I enter, I find two girls standing on either side of me.
"What are you looking for?" asks one.
I shrug my shoulders. I feel irritated. I had walked in, simply to look around. "This dress suits you very well". says the second girl, picking the ugliest one in the collection and keeping it under my chin. I wave my hand to say, "No I don't want it" and edge out of the door.
The middle-aged lady in the next shop insists I buy the silk see-through blouses she had just imported from India. "Buy a blue one. Blue suits you well. Just slip it over your head and see how good it looks." Once again I make a hasty retreat, but this time with her words still ringing in my ears "If you don't like blue, buy red, red is good for a party..."
At my next stop I ask the girl directly if they have cotton shirts for everyday wear. She guides me to a collection of shop soiled shirts. I ignore them and turn to walk towards another part of the shop. "Clothes on that side are more expensive" she tells me, obviously judging how much might be in my wallet, from my outward appearance. I glare at her. Is this another kind of apartheid, I ask myself.
I give up dress-hunting. A bookshop catches my attention. I decide to bust my brand new five hundred-rupee note on Homer's Iliad. I may never read it, but it feels good to own it. As for my credit card... Guess where it is!
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