Patience, Ramu, Patience, a short story by Prashila Naik at

Patience, Ramu, Patience

Patience, Ramu, Patience

written by: Prashila Naik


Ramu liked his job. He liked the steady predictability it brought along; and not to mention the safety it offered. All work in closed confines. OK, the humidity made it a tiny bit unbearable, but nothing that a small hand towel could not solve. At least it was so much better than breaking stones on construction sites or driving heavy-loaded trucks on bare narrow roads in the thick of the night. So, what if the money was less. Had he not been offered a raise on the completion of two years. By God’s grace that day would arrive soon. Patience Ramu, patience. That was Ramu’s mantra and as long as the patience worked its charm, he knew he would be alright.

Ramu expected the salary raise to equip him with some support to visit his village and find himself a bride. A petite and yet strong woman who could possibly work some place – again not the construction sites – but maybe in a rich woman’s house, sweeping the floors, doing her dishes, watering her plants, and if the rich woman willed looking after her little children. That would certainly help him when he would move into a tiny room of his own with her. They could set up a gas stove with his own red cylinder, he would pick up some new utensils, maybe occasionally sneak in a little mutton masala from the hotel’s kitchen too… The pictures inside his head would turn colorful and Ramu would get lost inside them.

On the day of his second work anniversary, Ramu applied a few more drops of coconut oil on his hair and ensured that the side parting was as straight as an arrow. He also put on his new T-shirt which had a message in English which he did not really understand and yet thought was something that would make him seem ‘modern.’ On the way back, he decided he would stop by the friendly travel agent’s shop and ask him how many days in advance one would need to book their train tickets to get a decent berth to be able to sleep for the nearly 55-hour journey.

But the same evening, as Ramu passed by the travel agency, his hair was all disheveled, his T-shirt was soiled with multiple stains of gravy, and his face was grubby with the remnants of hastily shed tears. The hotel owner had refused to increase his salary, saying his performance was underwhelming, and warned to sack him from the job if he continued to insist on a raise. Ramu’s co-workers looked away, as they shared both his embarrassment and his fury.

The next morning Ramu got back to work as usual. He greeted the hotel owner with a smile, and then talked to his co-workers as if the previous day had never passed between them. When it was time for him to head to the butcher’s shop to buy the daily stock of mutton, he waved out to the owner who, after a surprised glance, waved back.
At the outset, Ramu ordered the usual 6 kg mutton with 3 kg liver, a habit he had acquired in the last two years. And the young butcher joked about why he did not go ahead and mix the mutton with some fresh beef, a habit he had acquired over the years as well. On another day, Ramu would laugh away the suggestion, saying his owner was a man of integrity, and would never compromise on the religious feelings of his customers, even if at the cost of making profit. Then Ramu would pick up the multiple packets of meat and the butcher boy would pick up the small wad of cash. But today, Ramu’s smile faltered, his fingers hesitated. A new picture was beginning to form inside his head. A picture that wasn’t very colorful, but satisfying, nonetheless. He put the packets of meat down and put some of the notes back inside his pocket.
Whatever anxiety he possessed was soon cast aside, as neither did the hotel’s customers nor did the staff ever come to recognize his little trick. Ramu shared a portion of the money he saved with the butcher boy in return for not letting their secret out and stocked the remainder in a pink polythene cover at the bottom of his trunk. He still had not given a thought to what he would do with the money, even as he continued to wave to the friendly travel agent every time he passed by the shop. When Ramu received a letter from his village a few days later with his mother asking for some extra money to repair the roof of their home, Ramu thought nothing of emptying the pink polythene, never as proud of himself as he was at that moment.

On some days, the butcher boy suggested increasing the size of the beef portions. No one will notice, he insisted, but Ramu wasn’t so sure. By now, he could differentiate the pieces of mutton from beef by their color and the smell whilst cooking. A couple of times, some of the other people in the kitchen had mentioned that they too found the smell to be a little “weird.” Ramu had let the moment pass by diverting everyone’s attention, even as his heart seemed to have sunk into a pit. But after he was able to send the extra money to his mother to allow her to repair the roof, he kept thinking more of the possibilities and less of the consequences. A few more days, and maybe, just maybe, he would take up the butcher boy on his offer…

Only, the day never saw light. The meat shop shifted location after the butcher boy’s little trick was discovered. Ramu never found out what happened to the boy who he heard had since then disappeared from the town. Ramu sincerely hoped the boy had at least survived… His hotel now patronized a lamb-only shop. And though all the hotel staff was certain their worst fears had come true, no one ever discussed the topic remotely, lest the news would spread amidst their customers and cause a ruckus. Ramu stayed silent through all these exchanges, even as the hotel owner studiously ignored him. The responsibility for buying mutton was eventually handed to Ramu’s co-worker Harish. Ramu was handed the task of washing the dishes and seldom allowed to enter the kitchen for any other purpose. Ramu dreamt of his mother every night, even as he ignored replying to her letters where she insisted on him visiting so that together they could find him a bride. The pink polythene inside the trunk back in his room continued to stay untouched right till the afternoon Ramu pulled it out and emptied it to buy a “RAC” ticket but not to his hometown, also not from the travel agent, but directly on the railway station’s ticket counter.


As Ramu’s head swung from left to right against the beat of the swaying train, he held his breath in a desperate attempt to keep the stink from the toilet at bay. He still could not figure out why earlier in the day, he had let his eyes wander on the face of the middle-aged man seated at the table near the hotel’s entrance. Ramu remembered him as a regular customer. It might have been the man’s close-cropped hair. Or it might have been the multitude of colorful threads that were tied around his wrist, or it probably had been the exquisitely placed inch-long red tika on his forehead. Today the man was fondly talking about his two sons to another man seated on the neighboring table. One of the sons was insisting on joining the Navy, even as he had received admission to an engineering college, without a “paisa of donation.”

When Ramu put down the mutton biryani on the man’s table, there was still no plan in his head. The man had stopped talking now and his attention was fully focused on the biryani. Ramu could sense a happy anticipation on the older man’s face. He could also sense his own heartbeat shoot up with a sense of foreboding. And yet, when he’d begun to whisper into the man’s ear, all reservations were pushed to the background.

Soon the customer was walking up to the owner after overturning the plate of biryani on his table. The other customers were off their seats too and joined in the angry chorus. Their faces stunned. Ramu ran out as fast as he could, a mad grin on his face that kept fading with every lunge he took forward.

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