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Sad Desi Mystery

The smell of cloves, cardamom, star anise, allspice, peppercorn, nutmeg, ginger, full-bodied black tea, and cinnamon filled Aparna McMichael’s tiny kitchen in her Modesto mobile home. The gentle bubbling of the tea in the saucepan sounded therapeutic and soothing. Her daughter Patricia was coming over for a visit. Aparna McMichael had married into a large Irish Catholic family and converted from her family’s strictly traditional Hinduism. She also bucked the tradition of eating after her husband Michael. She never really understood that part of her upbringing anyway. However, she still held on to some aspects of her culture, such as cooking Indian cuisine every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and brewing chai tea.

That was something very special she shared with her daughter. And after Michael’s death, that bond only grew even stronger. Patricia always came over for chai tea every Friday after work (she had shorter hours on Friday) and she and her mother would talk about life while sipping the spicy-sweet Indian brew. It was a comfort to the both of them as they were both alone in life now. Aparna was a widow who never remarried after her husband’s death—she could love no other man but him. Patricia was a 45-year-old divorcee whose three grownup boys now had busy lives of their own.

The sound of the doorbell brought Aparna out of her reverie and back to the task at hand: making tea for herself and her daughter. She turned the stove off and strained the tea into a pot to serve.

“Coming!” she called out as she made her way from the kitchen to the living room to open the door.

“Hi, mom!” Patricia greeted, kissing both her cheeks.

“Hi, sweetheart,” Aparna said, kissing both of Patricia’s cheeks in return. “How was work?”

“Ugh!” Patricia moaned, plopping down into a highbacked chair. “Why I ever thought life and work would get easier as a CEO, I’ll never know. It’s even way more stressful than it was before. What was that old saying? Heavy is the head that wears the crown?”

“Well, I have just the thing to get your mind off your stressful week,” Aparna said, heading to the kitchen to fetch the teapot and cups. She placed them on a tray and carried it back to the living room. “Your favorite.”

“Mmmmm,” Patricia said, inhaling and throwing her head back. “Oh, that smells so good, Mom. You still got it.”

“Of course, I still got it,” Aparna said as she poured the tea into each cup. “Chai tea is in our blood. It’s in our soul. It’s part of who we are.”

“And I bet it’s as good as I remember,” Patricia said, picking up her cup and blowing gently on her tea. “Or maybe even better than I remember.”

“So! Tell me,” Aparna said, “What’s troubling you? How can I help?”

“Just you being here and listening to me is help enough already, Mom,” Patricia said, taking a sip of her chai tea. “Anyway… I have this employee from the accounting department. Six people have already come forward. She’s been embezzling from the company. A cent here, a dollar there, until it grew.”

“Has she been a good employee before this?” Aparna asked, raising an eyebrow. “What’s her track record like? Does she have any history of embezzling or theft? Did you talk to her previous employers?”

“That’s the thing, Mom,” Patricia said with an exasperated sigh. “Her record is squeaky clean! She’s the last person you’d expect to do this. No criminal records whatsoever, no lawsuits filed against her. Heck, even her former employers sing her praises! Which is why I don’t get it! Why now? What happened to her to make her do this?”

“Have you talked to her yet?” Aparna asked.

“Yes,” Patricia answered. “And she swears on a stack of Bibles on her father’s grave that she’s innocent.”

“Well, if her track record is clean,” Aparna suggested. “Maybe she’s telling the truth. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Have you considered the possibility that this could all be a ploy to take her down? Jealous rivals, maybe?”

“Huh,” Patricia thought as she set her cup back down on the coffee table after another sip. “I never considered that before. That’s something to think about. I’ll take that into consideration next time I talk to her. Thanks, Mom!”

“No worries, sweetheart,” Aparna said. “I’m glad I could help in any way I can. By the way, how are my grandkids doing?”

“Well, Tom is now in university, studying culinary arts,” Patricia replied. “Sam just graduated from college and has moved back home, so at least it’s not as lonely as before.”

“That’s good to hear,” Aparna said with a smile. “How long will he be staying for?”

“He said he’ll move back out just as soon as he lands a job and finds an apartment to rent,” Patricia answered.

“What about Sean? How is my favorite grandson?” Aparna asked. “Does he have a girlfriend yet?”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Patricia said with a smile.

“Oh?” Aparna said. “Try me.”

“He just got engaged,” Patricia said with a laugh and poor Aparna almost dropped her cup in shock.

“Who’s the lucky girl?” Aparna asked, intrigued.

“Her name’s Sophie,” Patricia said. “They’re getting married next year.”

“Where did he meet her?” Aparna asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Same place where you met Dad,” Patricia answered with a smile. “Online.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Aparna said, taking a sip of her chai. “See? Not everything online is bad. Sure, there are some unsavory characters out there, but once in a while, you do find someone special. Like your father.”

“Speaking of Dad,” Patricia said. “Do you miss him?”

“Only every day, sweetheart,” Aparna said. “Only every day. And it never gets easier. People say it does, but it never does. Trust me. Anyone who says otherwise is selling snake oil.”

“But you do keep his memory alive, right?” Patricia asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Aparna responded. “He’s very much alive in here, and in here.”

Aparna touched her chest and her temple to indicate where Michael’s memory lived on.

“Same here, Mom,” Patricia said, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes. “I can still hear his stupid Irish jokes!”

Mother and daughter both burst out laughing. They laughed until their sides ached and tears of joy ran down their cheeks.

“Do you remember his joke about the drunk Irish twins?” Aparna asked, laughing. She almost choked on her chai.

“The Murphy twins?” Patricia said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Aw, man! That was a twist ending I somehow did not expect. What I miss most about him, though, is how he always sang Grace to me while he tucked me into bed. That or Irish Lullaby.”

“I miss the way he would push the living room furniture to the side and dance with me in the middle while our favorite love songs played,” Aparna reminisced. “And then he’d dance with you as well.”

“I remember that,” Patricia said with a wistful sigh. “Those were simpler, happier times, weren’t they?”

“That they were,” Aparna said, taking another sip of her chai.

The hours dragged on and mother and daughter talked, laughed, cried, reminisced about days gone by, laughed some more, and drank cup after cup of chai. Before they knew it, it was getting dark and shadows of the leafless trees outside drew phantoms on the walls. Suddenly, they were rudely interrupted by the sharp chime of the doorbell.

“Were you expecting someone, Mom?” Patricia asked.

“No,” Aparna answered. “I wasn’t expecting anyone else. Must be one of those internet guys. Coming!”

Aparna opened the door to find a neighborhood kid, Mack, smiling up at her. He must have been around thirteen or fourteen.

“Good evening, Mrs. McMichael,” Mack said. “How are you doing this evening? I was just checking in on you.”

“I’m doing great this evening,” Aparna said with a smile. “Thank you for asking, Mack. I was just having tea with my daughter.”

“Your daughter?” Mack asked in amazement and confusion. “But… You’re all alone. There’s nobody there.”

True enough, when Aparna turned around, the living room was empty save for the tray with two cups and a nearly empty pot of chai tea.

“That’s odd,” Aparna thought. “Where’d she go? I swear she was here. Must’ve snuck out the back door while we were talking. That’s not like here. She’s never done that before.”

Not knowing what to say and not being sure what the Hell was going on, Mack excused himself and ran down the sidewalk to his house.

Saint Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery

October 31, 2016

“We therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” Father O’Donnell said softly. “In the hope of resurrection unto eternal life, through the promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we faithfully and victoriously give her over to your blessed care. Amen.”

Inconsolable weeping continued as the tiny baby coffin was lowered into the earth and covered up. Aparna and Michael McMichael didn’t know how long they’d been there. They didn’t even notice all the other mourners filing out one by one or in pairs. Aparna kissed her fingers and touched the little headstone. The name read: “Patricia Abigail S. McMichael. An angel too pure for this world.”

She was only a year old when she died from SIDS one October afternoon as Aparna put her down for a nap.

“Sleep tight, baby girl.”

January 11, 2022 06:47

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