And what followed was also very much expected. After the trial demo, the salesgirl started talking about the prices. Pinky started yelling and crying about how she absolutely wanted it. A lot of parents around them, with more money, were buying them. Pinky threw a tantrum. Mansi said no, felt embarrassed. A scene was created. And finally she managed to drag her sobbing and sulking daughter away.
“Stay with me!!” Mansi sternly told Pinky as she took a big cart and walked into Food Mart.
She had heard about this place. Some neighbors had told her that although it was very big and posh and nice, its prices were same as or even lower than their neighborhood kirana store if you bought big quantities. But the problem was, unlike the kirana store, these people did not give credit. With the kirana guy, she could keep buying things, one or two at a time as she needed them, and then pay off the bill when Amar’s salary came. With the Food Mart, even with the competitive prices, payment had to be instant. She had read that most people who shopped there were upper middle class people who came with their cars, bought stuff in bulk for the month, and that was it.
As Mansi walked through the store and filled the cart with the essentials like flour, dal, milk, etc, she realized that the prices were indeed competitive. Maybe it was worth it to always come here and shop. It might take some planning with the finances but why not?
“You never buy me anything nice.” Pinky sulked, still by her side.
“Don’t be a brat. I bought you those shoes.”
“I don’t like those shoes anymore.”
Big surprise, thought Mansi. Is there a more fickle mind of the earth than her daughter’s, she wondered.
“Papa is nice. You are not nice.” Pinky said.
This made Mansi’s temper flare. Amar barely spent any time with their daughter, and was always the nice guy. She was the one bringing her up, taking care of everything, and she was not nice? She knew that this was just the sulking comment of a 7 year old. But it still pissed her off. She didn’t say anything of course. But anyone watching the mother and daughter would have seen that both were wearing identical surly expressions.
Mansi had initially planned to just buy a few things of immediate need. If she bought too much, it would be too heavy to carry back on foot for two kilometers. But the more she saw the products and their prices, she realized that she could afford to buy enough for a couple of weeks. And the savings compared to the kirana guy would be enough to take a rickshaw home with the heavy bags. So she started buying the bigger packs for better savings, even buying a few things not on her list.
“That’s 1226, ma’am.” the guy at the counter said after scanning the last of her items while another guy put them in bags and in the cart.
As the register machine had kept racking up the prices, Mansi had gotten happier and happier. This was was least 10% cheaper than if she had bought all this at the kirana store.
“Okay. Here.” she reached into her purse. “I have a gift card. Whatever is left, I will pay by cash.”
“Sure, ma’am.” the clerk took the card and swiped it as Mansi took cash out.
He looked at the screen for a few seconds. Then there was a whirring noise and a receipt was printed out.
“There you go, ma’am. Thank you for shopping at Food Mart.” he held the card up to return it to her.
“Wait…don’t I have to give you money?” she said, holding up the cash in her hand.
“No, ma’am. The gift card covered it all. It was worth 5,000 rupees. So here, it still has 3774 rupees on it.”
Mansi took the card back and put it in her purse. Then with Pinky by her side, she started pushing the cart with all the bags. This had to be a mistake. Duttsahab had said just a couple of hundred rupees. Surely the Food Mart machine made a mistake. But who was she to complain? She quickly rushed out of the store holding Pinky’s hand, fearing that any moment they might call her back.
She kept walking and looking back, wondering if someone was following them. But no one was. She stopped. That’s when one of the toy helicopters flew past her again. Pinky looked at it sadly.
“So…I am not nice?” she asked her, staring at the helicopter.
“No.” the girl sulked. Mansi smiled.
“See, what you don’t realize about the Battle of the Bulge is, if only the American generals at that time had shown a little more initiative, and been more smart, then I tell you…” Amar was waxing eloquent on another of his favorite subject walking into the building compound when he was interrupted.
“Look at that!!” one of the three friends with him exclaimed.
Amar looked up. There was a small toy helicopter flying in front of him.
“Hands up, Papa!!” his daughter’s voice said from some distance. He saw her standing with a crowd of the building kids. Smiling, he raised his hands. The helicopter flew away.
Along with the kids there were a few adults in that crowd watching his daughter maneuver the helicopter. Among them was Mansi. She saw him and smiled.
“What’s all this?” he quietly asked her.
“Her newest toy.” Mansi said happily and then looked at his friends. “You should all try it out. It is fun even for adults.”
“Sure looks like it.” one of them said staring at the helicopter.
They all stood around watching the helicopter fly all around. Finally Amar said,
“We will be upstairs. Can you make us some…”
“Yes sure.” Mansi nodded and then said. “Pinky, just five more minutes. Time for homework.”
“Okay, mamma.” her daughter, for a change, did not argue with her. Just focused on her newest toy.
A while later, Pinky was in the bedroom, doing her homework. Amar and his friends had set up their intellectual conference as always. Mansi could hear that the topic for the night was the Battle of the Bulge. Same old facts, same old arguments that she had heard a dozen times. She was in the kitchen cooking.
Amar walked in alone with the empty tray. She put hot pakoras on the plate in it.
“Mansi…that helicopter…how much did it cost?” he asked after a few seconds.
“Nothing.” she said.
“Nothing?” he said skeptically.
Mansi opened her mouth to tell him the whole story. About Reena aunty and the job offer and the kind old man Mr. Dutt and the gift certificate and everything. But it didn’t seem like the right time. It would take too long. And knowing his weird sense of honor and pride, he might insist on returning it all. And it would make Pinky cry bloody murder. So she decided on a white lie.
“We were at the mall. They were displaying these toys and holding a lottery to give one away every hour. I just put Pinky’s name in the lottery. And we won.”