I’ve never looked into someone’s eyes and unabashedly said, “You are lying to me,” unless I was sleeping with them and they were sleeping with someone else, or I suspected they were.
Venu, the guy we inherited to clean the pool and feed the dog, is a tricky one. He is small and delicate, with green eyes and a smile that would, somewhere else in the world, get him anything he wanted; and right now he wants 300 rupees. Around six bucks. But instead of just asking for a loan, or a gift, he has made up an elaborate story about buying milk for the dog while we were out of town last month.
“Venu says ma’am owes him 300 rupees,” Bhaskar translates.
I laugh. It is true that we often feed the dog yogurt, for his digestive problems. Yesterday, I accidentally fed the dog milk, thinking it was yogurt, and he spent the morning throwing up all over the lawn. “Kaiser doesn’t drink milk,” I say, “it makes him…” and I act out throwing up because my translator is an unreliable resource.
Bhaskar pretends to speak and understand English as well as the next Indian, but yesterday when he answered the question, “What is this neighborhood called ?” with the words, “Yes ma’am, we’ll go on the weekend,” I became concerned that his daily translations of more important matters might be causing more problems than they are solving.
“How much did he spend ?” I ask.
“Okay, let’s see: one bag of milk costs about twenty rupees, right ? That’s fifteen pints of milk, and we were gone for maybe five days. So that means Venu fed Kaiser one pint of milk, which by the way, makes him VOMIT, three times a day, for five days, and that adds up to – he’s LYING.”
I lost both of them a long time ago and I know it, but I take advantage of the fact that they can’t keep up with me, and just blow off steam. I want to let them both know that I am not just the nice white lady who kisses babies and gives out money – I am also the crazy white lady who has lived in India for long enough to know when she’s being taken advantage of.
“Why is Venu lying to me ?” I ask.
“He is telling lies, ma’am,” Bhaskar shrugs.
Venu stands there trying hard to look innocent. He sticks to his story: “Three hundred rupees. Mil-ik. Kaisher.”
I stick to mine: “You. Lying.”
I douse Venu with badly translated logic; he wobbles his head and chatters emphatically to Bhaskar, who chatters back with words that sound like Count Dracula with a stammer: “Blah blah, blah…” I have no idea what is transpiring between them, and at this point Bhaskar’s explanations are of little help.
“Venu says he tell sir of the necessity to purchase mil-ik for Kaisher.”
It takes a few seconds for the meaning of this sentence to sink in. “I need to talk to sir for a minute,” I say and go upstairs to the air-conditioned cave Phil calls home.
“Did Venu tell you of the necessity to purchase mil-ik for Kaisher ?” I ask. Phil is in his signature position, half sitting, half lying down on the bed, his head and shoulders nestled into pillows with a computer on his lap. He looks over the screen and wobbles his head, “Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve never actually understood a word he’s said.”
“You are no help.”
“I’m beddy beddy sorry, ma’am,” Phil chuckles, and goes back to pimping our blog.
I’m torn. I hate being taken advantage of, I also hate the idea of having an unhappy employee who has access to our house and everything in it.
The owners of the house, from whom we inherited this drama, had warned us not to let Venu’s wife into the house, as things tend to disappear in her presence, a rumor which has earned her the name, “Klepto-bride”. Also, last month Venu’s brother, Hari, disappeared with three thousand rupees the maid had given him to deliver to her daughter in their native village. He never arrived, and hasn’t dared show his face back around here.
Apparently the family isn’t as concerned about their karma as their red dotted foreheads imply and the locks on all the cupboards and drawers in the house are starting to make more sense.
I go downstairs; Venu and Bhaskar are still standing in the dining room. I really have no idea where to go from here, so I say the same thing I said to the last cheating bastard who lied to me: “I really don’t want to deal with this right now,” and I walk away.