Spitting fire

Even the closed bedroom door couldn’t hide the roar of the doorbell. I woke up and turned on my cell phone to check the time. It was very early. We’d been new to the place and the visits from the regular newsboy or the milkman or the maid or the laundry guy hadn’t yet formalized. Who could it be? I got up and lazily walked to the door. I was happy that my wife was still sleeping peacefully. I closed the bedroom door behind me, and as I did so, the roar of the doorbell completely surprised me. That outsider had to be an impatient customer.

I opened the front door and was surprised to find the owner right across the street. His short, slim figure was erect; his long face with a thin mustache showed unmistakable signs of agitation, and his eyes, still swollen from sleep, burned.

“Good morning! …” I started in the usual way.

He completely ignored it, “This has never happened in my house! How is this possible?”

“What happened …?”

“I can’t imagine it! Absurd … crazy …!” He paused for effect by shaking his head in every possible direction.

“Hello sir, could you tell me what could have happened and what concerns us?” I couldn’t hide my irritation at this unexpected disturbance at dawn.

“Okay, check it out for yourself! Please follow me …”

I did this by moving with him to the outside concrete passage that runs the length of the front of the building. Through the barred entrance he stopped in the center of the corridor, glared at the floor on either side. He instructed me to do the same.

Only then did I realize the cause of his agitation. There were two large red spots spreading on either side of the concrete floor, just behind the front door. I instantly identified these as paan Spitting: A burst of reddish saliva caused by chewing an intoxicating mixture of betel nut, betel leaf, lime, and with or without tobacco. But why was he telling me all this? How the hell could he be held responsible?

“Oh! Someone has littered your room with paan spit. Those kinds of people always do it in the corridors, in the elevators … “

He interrupted me: “As I told you, this has never happened in my house in my memory! You came a few days ago, and since then many people visited this house for odd jobs and re-doing as you ordered … You see .. .! “

Yes, I saw it clearly now. Since he claimed this had never happened before, it had to be one of those plumbers, electricians, and other vendors that we called. He continued, “… Please ask them, ask them … who must have done this nasty thing! Don’t forgive them! I’m sure one of your people did this!” And now, I found this term of ‘your people’ really disgusting! Temperament was slowly building inside of me, which I controlled … rather had to, because we were new and this should never turn into a confrontation. As I searched for the ideal to say, the caretaker joined us with a bucket of water and a broom, to escape. He looked at me regretfully, “I finally have to clean up …!” The owner decided to stay to supervise.

My wife was awake when I came in and narrated the episode. She laughed and thanked the owner’s zeal for cleanliness. I agreed. It had been a national campaign to make his surroundings impeccable. However, I couldn’t agree with the accusing tone in the owner’s otherwise fair agitation.

Over the next few days, we asked our regular visitors in the expectation that no one would confess to having done so, even if they did. We also warn newcomers never to commit these kinds of misdeeds. During this period we also noticed a significant decrease in our visitors. Many of them, in fact, didn’t show up for some much-needed touch-ups on the jobs they’d done before. I was worrying to find out that the owner’s family must have been at work as well. One day, our temporary maid confirmed my fears. She confided to my wife that the owner’s wife asked her if she or either of us had a chewing habit. I decided to speak with the owner.

The turmoil was longest in him that day and I was glad to see that. I got to the point right away.

“Look sir. It’s a very good thing that you are so concerned about cleanliness and we support you wholeheartedly. But it pains us that you are pointing your finger at us. Even if some of us have this habit, why should you be suspicious? Who we are? We are responsible citizens and we will never litter our surroundings. You see, the lane outside your door is a public place and any of the passersby could be doing this, out of habit or mischief. It is not possible for you or us to monitor them during all day. So please don’t scare our visitors. Few of the jobs are still half done. You see, harassment should never be part of a good thing you should be doing. I hope you understand! “

If he understood, he did not show any signs. He just nodded his head several times pronouncing some monosyllables. I let him rest on that. If you were renting a place, the owner was your real boss, and as the saying goes, the boss is always right. And it was not the time to search for a new home.

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