‘He has a very sleepy conscience.’ she said matter-of-factly.
‘Sure.’ I said noncommittally.
‘I saw that he hesitated before giving that poor woman two rupees.’ she said. ‘He doesn’t think too highly about begging. He feels beggars are a waste of space.’
‘What?’ I managed.
‘Yes, I saw it.’
‘What nonsense.’ I said. A lot firmer than last time. She laughed.
’Oliur, I think you have a hard time believing that your friends have a sleepy conscience.’ she declared.
‘I… I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that.’
‘Yes, yes you do. In fact, your sense of morality applies only to strangers. You’ll let a friend get away with wrongdoing because you’d much rather just stay friends with them instead of doing the right thing, which is to tell them off. That’s all right. Telling your friends off is one thing. Being there for them despite who they are, is another. They’re both admirable traits.’
‘I… Yes. Yes, maybe you’re right. It’s not worth the effort as I have very few friends.’ I said shamefacedly.
She laughed again. ‘Hm.’ she added softly.
I felt I had disappointed her by agreeing to her assessment of me. She made a motion to be helped up. I nodded and finished up my Earl Grey. I motioned ‘One second’ with my fingers, and then hastily mouthed a ’Gimme a second,’.
I ran across to the kitchen sink and opened a little cellar door below it. It hid a dustbin inside. I disposed off my plastic cup in it headed towards her. She raised her hand for me to take it. I took it and guided her up and helped her walk through the room and out of the kitchen door.
‘Um-‘ I started.
‘Yes?’ she said quickly.
‘Er… since you can… since you can, you know, read stuff… I just wanted to say I’m not sympathetic of your condition. I’m just a little fidgety and careful. It’s why I’m er-‘ I made my arms flail around, ‘-awkward.’ I finished awkwardly.
She laughed heartily.
‘No, no. You’re not a sympathiser. I know that. You know I know that.’
‘I - I did, I suppose.’
‘Then you said it because you wanted to hear me say you’re not a sympathiser?’ she asked. It was not an accusatory question. It was just a question she wished to know the answer to. Propelled by mere curiosity.
‘Er-yes, that must have been it.’ I said, mildly surprised with myself for admitting something so freely.
We had reached the guest room. I punched the pillows and straightened the sheets a little. It was my way of keeping busy while she slowly walked into the room. It was apparent to there now that I couldn’t keep still. I switched on the bedside lamp and then looked at her. A soft smile lit her face. She proceeded to sit on the bed.
‘Goodnight, Oliur.’ she said.
‘Sure, yeah goodnight.’ I said nodding my head vigourously.
I walked to the door and hung around.
‘Oliur’ she said simply.
‘I - Yes. Yes?’ I fumbled.
‘Oliur, it’s OK.’ she said with the same soft smile.
‘It’s OK what?’
‘It’s OK that Omar is who he is. You needn’t apologise.’
‘That’s the thing. He thinks he’s right about it. He feels this house is turning into a dharamsala for the poor, the handicapped and —’ a pause. ‘— the blind.’
‘No, Lakshmi, that’s —‘ I couldn’t go on. She was saying all the stuff that was floating in my head. I wanted to make it go away so Lakshmi couldn’t see through me anymore.
‘It’s OK. I’ll live with it. I have to. It’s the least I can do to pay you back for what you do for people like me.’
Something about that sentence got me. She shouldn’t be talking like this, I thought. She needn’t be talking like this, I corrected myself. I walked up to her and kneeled on the floor in front of her. For the first time that whole night, I knew exactly what to say.
‘Lakshmi’ I said. ‘People like you are people like me. There aren’t kinds of people. There are just… people. I’m not ashamed or inconvenienced to have you here. I’m just glad. And I will continue to be. As for Omar, yes, you’re one hundred percent right. I’m sorry he feels the way he does. And for whatever I’m worth, I’ll put every ounce of energy I possess to make sure he stops seeing the world like that.’
‘I’m sure.’ she said. She leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then she drew back. ‘Just don’t do so tonight. You’re tired, he’s going be tired. I think it won’t go well for either of you.’
‘What!’ I exclaimed. ‘How… How did you know I’d speak with him tonight?’ I said.
She laughed for a long time before managing to say something that would stay with me for life.
‘The blind can see, stupid. Just not in the way you expect.’