That’s what I must be looking like, these days. Or maybe I walk around with dollar signs in my eyes, like Richie Rich in the old comic books. I never thought I came across as a particularly sympathetic sort. I thought I’m a pretty callous type, capable of not just saying no, but adding along with it, “That’s your problem, what’s it got to do with me?”
Still, my domestic help always think I’m a soft touch. I’ve noticed that they are particularly prone to think so when Amit is not around. That’s when their sob stories come out, along with the big eyes and mournful faces. This latest domestic help tried to get money out of me back when she was about a week old. I told her “no” in no uncertain terms. Since then, she has behaved admirably well. Today she asked for a thousand bucks. Since it is well over halfway through the month, I agreed. But I really hope she’s not going to make a habit of it, because I wouldn’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to be held to ransom either.
As if this was not bad enough, the security guard at office came up to me and whispered that he could use a thousand bucks. What!? I don’t even know the guy, for pete’s sake. I mean, I say good morning to him most days, and he does collect my couriers for me and even send some couriers for me – but since when is that grounds to ask me for a thousand bucks!? I told him I didn’t have it, which was true, then I decided it was a weak answer and I told him, “no, I don’t do that.”
I’ve been stupid about money in the past. An old faithful domestic help had taken upwards of 15k from me. When we parted, on good terms, she still owed me 10k. She still owes me 10k. What’s worse is, really long ago, in the innocent days, I lent a colleague money. I think I lent him 7k – which, a decade ago, and at my income level in those days, was a small ransom. He didn’t give it back until things got ugly. It was only later that I – and a lot of others – realized that this chap was borrowing money left right and center and never giving it back to anyone. I was one of the lucky few who got it back, and that was only because I threatened him loudly and in public.
Then there was the flower girl in our old apartment complex. I had absolutely no relation with her whatsoever, considering that I don’t even buy flowers. Her only claim on me was that she happened to occupy the pavement two floors below my apartment. She appeared to believe that this made it incumbent upon me to lend her money. She had a story, of course – her son was sick, he needed medicine desperately, she hadn’t sold any flowers yesterday, ergo, no money, and if she didn’t get 500 bucks today, she couldn’t buy flowers for the day. Plausible, of course. Heart-wrenching, of course. Piled on with fast-flowing tears, of course. Amit – who is smarter than me in these things – said, “tell her we’ll buy the medicines for her son.” I didn’t do that, of course. I gave her the money. For months, she kept promising to give it back to me, but she never did.
It was probably that incident, more than any other, that made me a cynic. But, cynical or not, I remained stupid. I still gave my old faithful domestic help the loan she needed. And I still threw Rs 500 down the drain with the flower girl. So far I’ve managed not to be taken in by the people who wander around the streets of Bangalore wanting to know if you speak Hindi and then launching into a long litany of woes about lost purses and train tickets and whatnot. But basically, I’m a sucker for a long face and a sad tale.
Nowadays, though, the long face remains but the sad tale seems to be a dying art. The two people who’ve asked me for money in the last two days haven’t bothered with a story of any kind. Earlier, at least I felt they were appealing to some human element in me. Now, I’m apparently nothing more than a walking, talking ATM machine.