3

I continued to recommend the paan-shop to my friends over the next three to four days, and earned the goodwill of the paan-seller after spending money from my own pockets. But, my wallet was draining rapidly, and that had me worried. I realized that this pretense could not continue for long. I decided not to buy paan from the woman for a few days; if I didn't buy from her, I need not be concerned about her sales.

The following morning, after brushing my teeth, I popped a cardamom into my mouth and engaged myself in work. Hardly 30 minutes had elapsed when I heard a knock at the door and I found myself face-to-face with the paan-seller. The woman, smiling from ear to ear, held out tidy betel leaf rolls. I did not like this at all. But I could not admonish her. "You have taken all this trouble for nothing, I was about to come to your shop," I told her.

The woman put the paan rolls into my hand and said, "Since you were getting delayed, I thought I might as well as come over and give you the paan. There are quite a few customers at my shop right now, but you had to be the one who made the first purchase."

What could I do? I ate the paan and boosted her business by becoming the first customer of the day! The problem that I had been trying to rid myself of had fastened itself to my neck like a noose. I had thought my friends, after buying paan from her for a few days, would become her regular patrons and there would be no need for me to continue with the recommendations. But, perhaps, the woman valued her beauty as much she valued her paan; my friends who went to her shop once never visited it again. One or two jolly fellows still continued to visit the shop just to a have a good laugh. Today I had to spend one-and-half rupees to maintain my credibility!

Next day I latched the door from inside. But when the paan-seller began knocking incessantly at the door and screaming her head off, I had to open it. I opened the door rubbing my eyes; this was to deceive her into believing I had been asleep. I had to buy a paan as her first customer to usher in good fortune for the day. By evening I had spent two rupees in promoting her shop. The only solution that suggested itself to me to get rid of this trouble was to change residence.

I found myself a house two miles away in an unknown locality; I picked up my belongings and quietly shifted during the evening.I experienced great joy in leaving the old house; perhaps, even a convict would not have experienced greater joy upon stepping out of the prison after completing his term! I slept well that night and woke up feeling like a free full-winged bird. I smoked a cigarette leisurely, washed my face, and then began arranging my belongings. I had to find a restaurant where I could have my meals; but this was a minor matter considering the mammoth difficulty I had surmounted.

When I stepped out of my new house that morning, I experienced a great thrill - even the breeze had an intoxicating effect of freedom! All nature smiled at me! Happy with the world, I went to a nearby paan shop and bought a paan. After eating the paan I was climbing the staircase to my room when I saw my previous paan-seller bounding towards me. I cannot describe in words what I felt at that moment. The only wish uppermost in my mind then was to break my head and also her's.

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