Stepping into Maloti’s house, for a moment, Russel was overwhelmed. Maloti was his distant cousin sister, several years younger. When they were living back in Bangladesh, there were little to no contact between them. However, since she came to Toronto about ten years ago, they had become very close. Rarely did they have family events where the other one wasn’t invited. Every year Maloti had diligently celebrated the birthday of her only daughter. This year she turned sixteen. Russel had imagined the event to be somewhat bigger and better than the previous ones. However, when he encountered a much larger crowd, no less than 80 people, he was quite surprised. Maloti had sharp eyes. She detected him within moments of his entry in the house and came rushing. “Russel bhai, why so late?” She then quickly turned to his wife Rita. “How are you Rita bhabi?” Then to Rose, their twelve-year-old daughter, “Rose! How pretty you are looking in that traditional Salwar Kameez!”.
Rose liked Maloti very much. She gave her a wide smile.
Maloti looked busy. She directed them toward the round table with a red cloth over it where the birthday cake was set. “Hurry up! I want to get over with the cake part. It’s getting late and some of the guests may want to leave. I don’t want anybody to miss the special cake cutting part.”
Maloti could carry on a conversation singlehandedly, often unable to hide her annoyance at interruption. Regardless, everybody liked her. Not only she threw parties frequently and invited all her friends, she was also very caring and was known to rush to be by the side of her family and friends whenever they needed her. Most of her friends would give a hand for her.
As Maloti lead them through the crowd she continued to introduce them to her guests. They knew some, some they didn’t. They went past the living room and stepped into the general area next to the kitchen. Here she suddenly stopped and called out for a man standing nearby. “Joynab bhai! Joynab bhai! Look who is here!”
Joynab was a tall, strong looking man. He was talking to couple of gentlemen slightly away from the main crowd. He looked at Maloti and seemed to stiffened at the sight of Russel. Russel smiled and waved at him. If he had looked he would have noticed his wife and daughter both looked grave. None of them seemed at all happy at the sight of Joynab. As Joynab hesitated Maloti impatiently said, “What’s wrong Joynab bhai? Can’t you recognize Russel bhai? Didn’t you two go to the same university? I heard you two were pals!”
Still hesitating, Joynab stepped ahead slowly. “How’z going Russel?” He addressed dryly. Then moving his glance at Rita and Rose, “Hello bhabi? How are you? Rose? How’z school?”
Both Rita and Rose synchronously looked at something away from Joynab. Neither responded or showed any sign of even knowing him. Russel smiled broadly. “Hey! How are you doing? You haven’t called me for a while. Is everything okay? How is bhabi? And your son? He is in the university now, right?”
Joynab didn’t try to shake hands. Russel extended his hand. Joynab took it and shook it briefly. Maloti excitedly said, “Did you guys hear that Joynab bhai has been promoted to be the Vice President of sales! Russel bhai, you have been with your company for so long but look at you – a director for ages.”
Russel happily said, “I always knew Joynab would become a VP one day. Congrats Pal!”
Joynab attempted to smile which evaporated as soon as he glanced at Rita and Rose.
“Mom, dad has been very forgetful lately, won’t you say?” Rose bitterly said.
“Yep, he is probably having a bout of dementia,” Rita muttered. “I have to eat something,” she immediately added, “I am diabetic.”
Maloti blushed in embarrassment. “Shame on me! Completely forgot. I guess I am becoming forgetful too. Why blame just Russel bhai? I am like five years younger than him and look at my situation. Can’t remember a thing. Always looking for stuff that I myself arranged. Come, come. There’s so much food. Why don’t you two friends follow me too. We are about to cut the cake. Come on. No excuses.”
Joynab probably wanted to move away but Maloti gave him no opportunity. Russel curiously said, “What’s wrong man? Why are you so quiet? You had always been the cheerful one. You are not looking down to me now that you are a VP!”
Joynab shyly shook his head. “Oh no! Not at all. It’s just a mouthful of a title. More work, little to no additional benefits.”
They followed Maloti to the round table with the cake on it where already over a couple dozen kids with their parents had gathered. The cake was huge and had thick layers of chocolate at the top, Maloti’s daughter’s favourite. Jaynab was having hard time to act normally. It hadn’t even been a year since he had the terrible incident with Russel and never in his dream he thought two of them would come to speaking terms ever again. The incident happened at Joynab’s house in a party where Maloti was not present. Clearly neither Russel nor his family mentioned anything to Maloti. It was a shameful event. Not something that anybody could have easily forgotten. He found it quite surprising that Russel didn’t seem to remember it at all. Was he really suffering from mild dementia?
Maloti disappeared for a few moments. She returned with Abida, Joynab’s wife, who at the sight of Russel and his family immediately froze. Maloti, completely unaware of her reaction, cheerfully said, “You would never know where you’d meet who! Why don’t you guys chitchat while I go set things up for the cake cutting part.”
Maloti left in a hurry. Abida looked at Rita and dryly said, “How are you Rita? Seeing you after a while.”
Rita wanted to say a few nasty things to her. It was really good that they hadn’t seen Joynab and his family for almost a year. If she knew they were coming to this party she would have never come. What was more baffling the way Russel was acting. Recently he had been forgetting small things but nothing of this stature. How could anybody forget something so terrible?
Her conversation with Abida never took off. In the past the two families were pretty close and shared many common friends. Luckily Rita didn’t see anybody who had been to that cursed party at Joynab’s house. Thanks God! It would be so embarrassing! Russel was talking to Joynab as if nothing had never happened between the two of them. Apparently, he was doing most of the talking and Joynab mostly nodded. Rita knew, just by observing Joynab, he didn’t forget anything. People do mistakes. They ask for forgiveness. This asshole never even called to offer an explanation.
The cake was cut. Everybody sang ‘Happy Birthday’. Food was served. Later men gathered in one corner of the house and chatted noisily. Rita noticed Russel and Joynab were now talking normally. There didn’t seem to be any sign of trouble between them. Abida came to talk to her again, possibly seeing her husband warming up to Russel she felt the need too. Rita quickly excused herself and headed for the washroom where she unnecessarily spent a good fifteen minutes, coming out only when Maloti came looking for her.
After the dinner Rita insisted on returning home early. She could not take it anymore. How could Russel be having a seemingly cheerful conversation with Joynab? What was Abida thinking of them? Shameless! Rose looked pretty disappointed in her father as well.
Once they climbed inside the car, buckled up and Russel pulled it into the road, a deep silence prevailed for an unreasonably long time. It was Rita who finally spoke, “What is the matter with you? Did you forget that Jaynab bhai slapped you on the face in front of a room full of people? You were acting in a way as if you remember none of that!”
Rose added bitterly, “Dad, did you really forget it?”
Russel looked surprised. “He slapped me? Are you sure? I remember having an argument with him but there was no question of hitting each other.”
Rita could not control her anger any more. “You really forgot? I had never been so insulted in my whole life. We were talking about promotions at work. You had jokingly said something about Joynab bhai lobbying his bosses pretty hard to get a promotion. Joynab bhai took offense to that and started to shout at you. You asked him to take it easy and that’s when he slapped you on your face. You were very surprised and froze. He took that opportunity and pushed you on the ground…”
“Then he kicked you once,” Rose added with indignation.
Rita continued to blast, “How could you forget something so serious? I can’t even believe you were talking to him, even sharing a laughter or two. Shame on you!”
Russel scratched his head. “You must be exaggerating. Friends always fight but rarely they stop being friends as a result of that. Who remembers minor stuff like that?”
Rita shrugged in frustration and looked out with her face tight. Even Rose glanced at her father with a nasty frown. She was equally disgusted by Russel’s behavior.
Russel quietly let go a deep sigh. He didn’t want to turn the situation into any worse than it already was. The world is not for faint hearts. To succeed one must go through many hurdles. A little act of memory loss was nothing to worry about. Joynab had been promoted to be the Vice president of sales. He would now have a lot of decision making power on purchases. They already do millions of dollars worth of business with Russel’s company. If Russel could bring in some large-scale projects from Joynab’s company, he could rise to the post of a VP pretty soon too. He shared his thoughts with cousin Maloti, who happily went along. Russel kept it a secret from Rita and Rose knowing they would never approve, no matter what. He quietly drove toward home.