Rumor Most Bald

You would think a rumour would take longer than usual to spread among the elderly. That it would need assistance so to speak. But I was surprised to see that the rumour I started caught fire rapidly. A stray remark loosely but pointedly delivered and I could just sit back and watch the theatrics ensue.

It all started when that slick haired Anglo Indian fellow Frederick beat me at Scrabble. I don’t care that he beat me. I’m Telugu and English is not my first language at school, if I remember correctly. I should ask my son about it when he’s here next. When is he here next? I should check that digital contraption of a calendar that he gave me. Where did I stash that, now?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, English. I think it is a great import from the UK. Second only to cricket perhaps. But often the two go together. If I could get to listen to some dandy English commentary of cricket now. With perfect grammar, words astonishing in their placement punctuated with just the right amount of gravitas or wonder whatever the case may be. You see, my hold on the language isn’t bad either. I wonder if it was my first language at school.

I have strayed from the topic. It was actually Frederick. Mother language fellow. The Scrabble game was a good one. I was a match to his gel haired confidence, we were going neck and neck. Some of the other residents pottered over to watch our game too. Scrabble is a game whose pace suits our age. But then this fellow, he who thinks he is a young freewheeling hippie put together an alleged word “grrrl”. I cleared my throat a couple of times in protest. Manikandan and Prakash who were watching slowly turned their necks towards me wondering how I would react. I protested verbally too.

“This is no word. It’s spelling is wrong, it’s supposed to be girl. There is no I and too many R’s”

“I knew you’d protest my man. Let me educate you”

I hated it when he spoke like that. Patronizing leftover British plunderer.

He raised his hand to suavely flick his hair (he made a show of the fact that he was one of the very few who still had it. On the head I mean. We have it everywhere else by now but not where you’d like it), and made a gesture towards someone behind me. I thought about turning back. I could probably stay patient and see when the person comes over. I saw the beginnings of a sparkle in Manis and Prakashs eyes though. Oh this must mean her. I should have turned I thought.

Although I prefer to watch her walk away, it was still a pleasure to watch her walk at all. The pleasure was short-lived. Frederick brought on his so called charms instantly.

“Darling, could you check this word out for me?”

She leaned over as she does when necessary and for a minute I forgot about grrrl.

“This one, Fred? Are you sure? You’re up to one of your tricks again aren’t you”

Her lilting tone had a flirty edge to it. I think they are taught this in training.

“No darling, just check”

Mani was dangerously dangling a large spool of saliva and Prakash hadn’t blinked in a while.

She fished out her phone from somewhere within her and deftly played her fingers on it.

“I hope you’re not taking poor Swami for a ride again”, she cooed.

It is better to die from pulling your own life support plug than to be a subject of pity but life is unfair, even assisted living.

“Oh, look at that. It is a word. A woman with attitude, often a feminist. You win Fred”.

Thus having congratulated the victor she walked away. I was too disappointed to even look.

He managed another flick, said “Good game” with as much pomposity he could administer and loped away. I looked at my audience who were slowly beginning to come back to life.

As I walked back to my room, I started to think of ways to get back at him. I took my dentures out and settled into deep thought. I was no longer agile or strong enough to throw a punch. I could have floored him if I wanted to. I needed something different, something as copious, as hard-hitting. My wind sharp as ever came up on it in minutes. I rang the bell for my attender.

He came soon and I asked him to take me to Mani. I needed a catalyst, a dimwit, someone who can contaminate without knowing.

As soon as we settled in, I started talking about this and that, to throw him off my scent even as I formed the words in my mind. As Mani rambled on like a drone, I chose my moment.

“Say, did you know, Mani, Frederick, he wears a wig”?

The moron stopped in mid-word and gaped. A wig? You mean he has no hair, like us? I shook my head with as much lethargy as I could muster. I had to come across as non-committal as possible.

“He’s a fraud then”, he exclaimed.

“Umm, I guess, if you can say so”.

I signaled for my attendant again. My work here was done. Mani will now take over.

With alacrity, I clawed my way back to my room, wishing I had the agility to pat myself on my back.

By lunchtime, there were whispers being shared. Shocked gasps, raised eyebrows. I surveyed the canteen with satisfaction. Frederick, with his band of elderly ladies at his table, seemed blissfully ignorant. For the moment, at least. I had faith in Mani.

By dinnertime, the conspiracy was viscous and vibrant. It had permeated Frederick himself. His face switched between crestfallen and annoyed with extraordinary frequency. His entourage had dwindled down considerably. I could hardly eat my peas at dinner. Elation took over.

But the final blow had to come. I clutched the Scrabble carefully and made my way over. He was surprised that I was suggesting a game again but he agreed. I guess he felt a victory would help him tide over his present troubles. Mani was nowhere in sight. He had done his job, my resourceful moron.

My tiles were selected and I laid them out carefully. I had to play first. As I looked hard to concentrate, they arranged themselves in my mind. What great fortune. I grinned to myself even as I laid out my first word.

TOUPEE, I spelt and I could have sworn both my eyes and dentures twinkled at Frederick, the Anglo Indian snob.

Write Club Hyderabad, October 2020.

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