Anto worked at a dressings factory that manufactured Mayonnaise and other dressings. He toiled all day long there, and the factory had become his second home. He meticulously broke eggs, separating them into the whites and the yolk, and carried them in pails to the mixing vat.
In the hierarchy of things, his job stood at the bottom of the pyramid. His life was all about eggs and their sticky contents. He had grown averse to the smell of raw egg. It was a stark reminder of his life and the fact that it would remain as monotonous as ever.
Anto didn’t have much of an education. His parents were dead. His siblings had drifted apart. He lived in a decrepit rented accommodation. Anto craved adventure. But when one is penniless with no prospects, the greatest adventure is staying alive.
That afternoon, Anto carried his pail to the mixing vat. Here, the eggs would be mixed with other ingredients in a fixed ratio. The giant blender would then whip the ingredients together. It was therapeutic to watch the silky-smooth Mayo pushed out into labelled bottles, onto the conveyer belt, and into the packaging area.
“Why aren’t you working? Stop daydreaming! Else I will cut your pay!” Anto hurriedly scurried away. The voice belonged to the factory manager, Ravikant, who went by RK. He was a bully and a womanizer. The factory had many female employees working on the packaging floor. He had heard rumours that RK would use spot checks as an excuse to feel the women up.
RK was a middle-aged man with an egg-shaped head and a potbelly. Unhappily married, he sought refuge in his private cabin at the factory, away from his nagging wife. He liked being the factory manager. Here, he was God. Feared and revered.
It was almost 6:30 PM. Most of the factory staff had left. RK was seated in his cabin. He logged onto his computer. He wondered if he had the time to continue his chats with the exotic women from the dating site. An official email from the head office caught his eye.
This is to inform you that the auditors will inspect the factory accounts on the 23rd of June. Please ensure that everything goes smoothly, and a full report is sent to the head office.”
RK grimaced. He had been embezzling money for years in small amounts. He hoped to save enough money to leave his wife and go on holiday. Preferably with a hot, young woman. This audit would throw a spanner in the works.
He checked his drawer. It held his prized possession- a black, duffle bag with a princely sum of thirty lakhs. He had worked so hard to amass this ill-earned fortune. The 23rd was a good two weeks away. He still had time to cover his tracks.
Someone knocked on his cabin door. “Who is it?” he grumbled. Most likely one of his workers asking for leave (which he would deny) or an advance (also to be denied). He was surprised to see a young female worker at the door. She had sharp features. She was still in her uniform, complete with a cap to hold her hair together.
“Sir, I’m Champa. I work in packaging. “Lovely name! Champa!” “I want an advance, Sir.” “An advance? You will need to earn it!” he gave her a sleazy smile and walked slowly towards her.
Meanwhile, in the changing room, Anto carefully removed his uniform. It was time to go home. Before leaving, he wanted to speak to RK about his annual leave. He suspected that the outcome would be unsuccessful, but at least he wouldn’t feel guilty about not trying. He headed towards RK’s cabin. He could hear a muffled scream. Was someone hurt? He rushed in without knocking.
What he saw there boiled his blood. Champa was on the floor and RK on top of her. She was screaming. “Save me from this monster!” Anto didn’t think twice. He grabbed the computer, pulled out the wires, and flung it at RK. Years of carrying iron pails had made him strong. The computer hit RK on the head, and he collapsed.
“You killed him! Why did you?” screamed Champa. “Oh! Would have rather preferred that he cuddled you?” “How dare you!” she admonished him. “I’m sorry,” apologized Anto. “I’m Champa.” “Anto.” That was when Anto’s eyes fell on the open drawer and the duffle bag. In his quest for lust, RK had forgotten to close it. Anto took the bag out, curiously.
His eyes almost popped out of their sockets when he saw the amount of cash. “I know we just met, but I may have killed a man, who honestly didn’t deserve to live. Something good should come out of this. I’m going to escape. Care to join me?”
Champa paled. She had no one in this world to call her own. If the police discovered this murder, she would go to jail forever. She made her decision. They slipped out quietly with the duffle bag. Anto extracted the keys of the delivery truck hung on RK’s wall. They exited separately and went to the loading bay. They found the delivery truck parked for the night.
Champa got into the truck. Anto turned the keys in the ignition, and they sped off. Security didn’t pay much attention to them. Anto was exhilarated. He was on an adventure with this beautiful, young woman. Out of her uniform, Champa was stunning. He couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime. Maybe they would get married. Who knows?
Champa remained silent. Anto tried initiating a conversation. “I once dreamt that I was being chased by a giant omelette. It closed in and embraced me in a chokehold.” Champa solemnly said, “This is the curse of the mother hens. You broke so many eggs. You will never be rid of the eggs!” Anto shuddered at her prophetic words. He hurriedly changed the topic. It was going to be a long journey.
An hour later, RK opened his eyes. He lay on the floor of his cabin. His head hurt. His vision was blurred. The giant red clock on the wall kept dissolving. It slowly came back to him. That dimwit had clobbered him on the head and taken off with the girl. His drawer was wide open, mouth agape. The money! It was missing! But he couldn’t report it; it was illegal. He would have to recover it on his own. “Damn the audit!” He had only two weeks. He tried to haul himself up.
Inspect Gajodar was on duty that evening. In his earlier posting, he had upheld his reputation of being a highly dishonest officer. Some journalists had caught a whiff of this and conducted a sting operation. And by God, had that stung! Thanks to his connections, some of the evidence against him had been destroyed. However, he was transferred to this godforsaken town. This town didn’t even have a bar! Only some sort of egg factory.
A man with a giant bump on his head walked in. “I’m RK. I need help! It’s a personal matter.” Gajodar looked around. “Choubey! Go and get two teas and then make yourself scarce! Now, tell me all about your problem. And more importantly, what is in it for me?”
RK updated him. Gajodar summarized. “You can’t file an official complaint because you may or may not have molested the woman who disappeared with the money you may or may not have stolen.” “Bang on!” This man was smarter than he looked, thought RK.
“50-50 to retrieve loot and make all this go away. “RK winced. He reluctantly agreed. “Excellent, let me make a few calls to the highway police to trace the truck they escaped in. What is the license number?” RK shared the information. “While we wait, I suggest we go and eat Mutton Biryani at Babaji’s. We should try the chili chicken as well.”
Meanwhile, Anto drove as fast as he could. Champa was lost in thought. He guessed that she was still reeling from the magnitude of the crime they had committed. Anto wanted to go somewhere where they could lie low for the time being. He had to get rid of the delivery van- it was too conspicuous. They stopped at a workshop and spoke to a dealer.
The owner was used to shady dealings. He accepted the truck and sold them a van in exchange. “Please offload the contents of the truck into your van,” he requested them. Champa opened the truck’s storage- in it were boxes of hundreds of eggs. Anto panicked. The eggs had followed him here!
Champa wordlessly packed all the eggs to the back of their new van and they sped off again. “There is a village called Purabpur off the highway. We can try to rent a house there for a while.” They reached Purabpur the next day.
They spoke to one of the village elders. The man was at least a hundred years old. “I have a house up that hill. You can stay there for rent.” Anto thanked him and drove the van up the steep road.
The house was on top of a cliff that overlooked a steep ravine. Next to the house was a small shed, built of bright red bricks. At one point, the ravine had housed a lush, green tea plantation. The old man had built the house there, hoping it would give a great view of the plantation. Then, the plantation owners had wound up and left. The view was now barren and bereft. The house that overlooked a view was now the house that overlooked overgrowth.
Anto inspected the house. “Anto!” screamed Champa. Had their cover been busted that soon? Anto ran back to the backyard. Champa had tried to retrieve the eggs from the van and was jumping in delight. Where there were hundreds of eggs, there were now hundreds of little chicks! The iceboxes had melted, the temperature raised, and the eggs had hatched! “Anto! We can raise them. And when they become bigger, they will lay eggs and we can sell them!”
Anto felt sick. Why wouldn’t the eggs leave him? Champa who had not shown any emotion throughout the journey was cooing over the chicks as if they were her long-lost children. She sent him down to the village to get chicken feed, buckets, and straw boxes.
When he returned, she had made a makeshift coop for the chicks in the brick shed. She was surrounded by the birds, with one perched on her head. “I have named them! This is Bittu, this is Chikku, this is Pappu…. What took you so long?” Anto shook his head with disbelief. He had a vision of Champa being surrounded by their children and ordering him about. He shuddered. Champa wasn’t the one for him.
Elsewhere, Gajodar clutched the collar of the dealer at the workshop and interrogated him. “I don’t know anything, Sir! I heard them talking. They mentioned that they were going to Purabpur.” The dealer greased Gajodar’s palms. After he was convinced that he milked the dealer enough, Gajodar called up RK. “Location identified. We can go this weekend. This is an unofficial investigation. I won’t wear my uniform for it. “
RK sighed in relief. He applied for a few days of leave, not to invoke any suspicion. He would find the devious duo and make sure they regretted the day they were born! The men set off to Purabpur in RK’s car.
They planned to reach the village by evening. Hopefully, this nightmare would be over soon. They stopped in between for a meal and Gajodar sunk his teeth into roast chicken. RK kept tabulating the costs in his diary. He would recover this from Gajodar’s share.
They were about an hour from their destination when luck failed. The car broke down. There was not a workshop insight. “We are in the middle of nowhere!” “I suggest we leave the car and try to cover the journey by foot,” suggested Gajodar.
By the time they reached the village, both men were grumpy and dishevelled. They made inquiries. “The new couple? They live up the hill,” one of the village urchins informed them. The men began their trek. The house loomed ahead.
RK grew excited and increased his pace. In his excitement, he lost his footing on the steep slope and went crashing down into Gajodar, who slipped and twisted his ankle. Gajodar swore. He limped up to the house with RK. There seemed to be no one in the backyard.
RK left Gajodar there to nurse his foot, while he went to look indoors. The rascals were bound to be there. Gajodar sat on a bench facing a red brick shed. A woman emerged out of the shed. Gajodar’s heart skipped a beat. She was enchanting. She looked at him and shrieked. Then, her eyes went to his leg. “Oh, have you hurt yourself?” “There is ice inside the house. You should come in.” He followed her like a lovesick puppy.
“I was with my children,” she informed him. “oh!” Gajodar’s heart sank. “My chicks!” “Oh!” He still had a chance with her. “I love chicks too. I’m a pure vegetarian!” he purred. Champa iced his ankle. Gajodar was certain- this was love at first sight.
Anto had been napping. He was having the omelette dream again, except for some reason, the omelette transformed into RK midway. RK lifted Anto by the collar. He realized with sudden alarm that this was no dream. “You rascal! Where have you hidden the money?” RK dragged Anto to the front room. At the sight of her nemesis, Champa panicked.
“Don’t kill me. It’s hidden in the chicken coop. I will go and get it!” Anto screamed. “No! I won’t let anyone near my children! I will go and get it instead,” yelled Champa. “Gajodar, you keep an eye on this one. I will go with her and recover the bag,” snarled RK.
RK followed Champa to the chicken coop. The birds were gathered around a bucket of feed. The duffle bag was hidden under the straw. Champa took it out. “You wretched woman, you have given me so much trouble!” He approached her menacingly.
An alarmed Champa grabbed the bucket of freshly mixed chicken feed and threw it over his head. Infuriated that their food was relocated, the young chicks started pecking at RK. One adventurous chicken tried to peck his eye out. RK kept waving his arms about and ran out of the shed and to the edge of the cliff.
Champa walked up to him and helped extricate her chicks. He thanked her. She nodded, lunged forward, and pushed him over. Down he went over the cliff, his screams reverberating through the ravine.
Anto and Gajodar had witnessed the whole scene from the window.” Quite a girl, isn’t she?” chuckled Gajodar. “Are you two together?” “NO. We are more like brother and sister,” Anto assured him. Champa walked back in. She was accompanied by some of the chicks, for she had imprinted on them.
“You are quite something aren’t you?” Gajodar spoke in a honeyed voice to Champa. Champa blushed. He held her hand fondly. Anto cleared his throat. “What should we do next? We have killed the same man twice and there is the question of the loot. Let’s split the loot into three and go our different ways.”
“I would like to get to know you better, Champa!” “Only if you accept my children!” “Your children are mine!” “Oh, Champa!”” Oh, Gajodar!”
Anto thought fast. He had seen what Champa could do. What if she and her newly found paramour decided to push him off the cliff next? He grabbed one of the chicks and held a knife to its throat. “Give me my share, and I will leave.” “Let Pappu go!” begged Champa. The duffle bag was emptied and Anto was given his one-third by the stricken Champa. The smitten Gajodar didn’t resist.
Anto grabbed his belongings and the money and ran for his life. He made his way to the bus stop. There was a world of possibilities open to him now. “Cheep! Cheep!” He opened his bag. Pappu had crept in. “Inquisitive little fellow! Where do you think we should go next?” Anto embarked on his adventures with the little chick in tow. He was finally free of the eggs.
Champa packed her belongings, the money, and her chicks into the van. Gajodar had disclosed that he was a police officer and promised to make all this go away. “Factory owner disappears with money and commits suicide over a cliff. Case closed.” Her handsome and brave Gajodar! He would make an excellent husband. Gajodar started the truck. “Love, are you ready for a new life?” Champa nodded eagerly as they drove into the sunset.
The next day, a disoriented man attempted to climb up the ravine. Strangely he couldn’t remember anything. His clothes were in tatters and one of his eyes very red. He extricated himself from the tea plants that clung to him and began the arduous climb up. He resembled a cockroach climbing up a drain. He finally reached the top and bumped into an old man.
The old man asked, “Where do you come from?” The man didn’t know.” Where do you want to go?” The man shook his head again. “Well, if you don’t know where you came from and where you want to go, you better stay in the present. Come, work for me. I need a cook. Can you make boiled eggs?”
At the word egg, something flickered in the man’s brain. Like a silver thread. Like a candle flame. But it was extinguished too quickly. “I will learn.” “Egg-cellent!” The old man led the man with no memory, to his new life.
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