I dug my toes into the sand and sighed. The sand still retained some of the day’s heat, and the tightness in my feet slipped away slowly, as I pressed them into the warm sand. I took a deep breath, eager to fill my lungs with the lovely, bracing sea air. All I got was a whiff of lavender, and a musty whiff at that. I ignored it and tried to let the roaring of the waves calm me down. There was something so hypnotic about the sound of the mighty waves rushing up to the beach aggressively, only to beat a subdued retreat.
I closed my eyes to enjoy the feeling of being all alone, my only company being the waves, the sand and the wind that was working up to a good howl. I frowned. The sound of the wind was shut off mid-howl, and replaced by the most alarming clang. It was high pitched and yet, oddly resonant and gaining in volume.
Oh no no no no no! My precious beach!
With a groan of frustration, I forced my eyes open and looked around blearily. There it was…. the source of the loud sound…. my personal alarm and all-around pain in the ass, Kiki, my brother’s stupid parrot.
I looked around and found a sneaker next to my bed. I grabbed it and flung it at Kiki’s cage.
“Shut up, Kiki,” I growled, as I checked the time.
Damn it! Six am. I’d only had three hours of sleep, which was still better than the whole of last week. I turned a baleful eye on the cause of my sleepless nights, snoring away next to me.
Kiki let out a squawk of protest. She was a bit of a diva and was used to sweet words and praises from my brother. But, she wasn’t getting any of that from me. For the whole of last week, that bloody bird had made my mornings miserable.
My brother had moved in with all his stuff, the bird in tow, a month ago. I could put up with his messy ways and his typical boy funk. I’d even put up with him eating all my Pringles, even the secret emergency stash that I hid in my cupboard. I snarled at the memory of his faux-innocent face peeking out over the empty box, last night. I could handle that. But, I couldn’t handle that damn bird shrieking in my ears, so to speak, at six in the morning.
I decided to share the misery.
“Rishi,” I yelled as I kicked him in the shins.
“Whaa..” He slurred as he opened one eye.
“Do something about that bird! She’s driving me nuts!”
He mumbled something and drew the blanket over his face.
“Fine,” I snarled. “Don’t blame me if I feed you grilled parrot for dinner.”
I threw back the covers and got up grumpily.
I wasn’t pissed that Kiki woke me up. I had to get up anyway. It was the portent of the way she woke me up that had me so upset.
See, Kiki was slightly clairvoyant, at least according to my brother.
“Anji, she’s a fricking prophet! Trust me, I can tell how my day’s going to go, just by the way she wakes me up. If she sings some classical tune like Beethoven or something, I know it’s going to be a calm day. If she sings some really peppy number, I know my day’s going to be exciting.”
I believed him because I’d seen it happen too many times. So, the fact that today, Kiki sounded like a really loud fire alarm, was more than a little worrying.
This is what comes from having an over-indulgent mother trying to compensate for saddling you with an absolutely shite step-father. Instead of a normal pet, she lets you have a talking parrot. But, Susie, Rishi’s mother was too soft for her own good. I should know. I had revelled in her ability to pamper the heck out of a child.
See, our family tree is a little complicated.
My real mother died when I was a baby, leaving behind a helpless, grieving husband and their tiny bundle of joy. I was my Daddy’s pampered princess, even more so when Susie joined our household as my nanny. Then, when I was ten, with a lot of finagling on my part, Daddy and Susie fell in love and got married. I was the centre of their world, until the day they sat me down and told me that Susie was expecting a baby.
I was happy, dreaming of a baby sister to play with.
That baby turned out to be Rishi, the brother that I’d never wanted. Daddy took me to the hospital to see the baby, and Susie presented him to me so proudly.
I took one look at his ugly red face and decided that God owed us a refund. But, one look at Daddy’s proud face and Susie’s hopeful eyes and I had to smile and say that he was very cute. Sometimes, it’s okay to fib a little to make your loved ones happy.
I’m glad I did because God had other plans for Daddy. He died a week after my fifteenth birthday, in a freak accident on the highway. Susie and I muddled along for the next three years, helping each other grieve for an amazing man until I turned eighteen and took control of my inheritance. Then, I stood by and watched as she married a man who was not a patch on my Daddy, just to give little Rishi a father-figure.
The thing is, Rishi is kind of a child prodigy. He’s barely eleven years old, and he’s already on his way to completing his Bachelor’s degree in physics.
Have you ever lived with a prodigy? Two words.
Raj Asrani, the guy Susie married – I don’t even know how to address my relationship with him. Step-step-father? Step-father twice removed? Meh, let me just call him ‘idiot’ – is not in any way equipped to care for a prodigy. He can barely tie his own shoelaces, the troglodyte! And now Susie’s gone and done the stupidest thing she ever did, even worse than when she married the idiot.
I wiped away angry tears, as I grabbed my keys from the console next to the door. Kiki called out to me, “Anji! Awk! Stranger-danger! Awk!”
I wagged a finger at her and growled, “Cat. Food.”
I walked out of my apartment and got into the chauffeured car that I was using solely on Susie’s insistence. If I had my way, I’d have hopped on to a train and shaved off at least thirty minutes from my daily commute. But, I tolerated the extra time stuck in traffic because Susie didn’t want me struggling into a crowded train.
I ignored the tears running down my face and bent my mind to the latest problem that Susie wanted me to untangle. The car slid to a stop in front of the court and I wiped my tears. I had to be strong today.
Rishi’s step-father was fighting for full custody and control of his inheritance. Over my dead body.
When I walked into the courtroom, Raj Asrani was already seated at his table, with his lawyer whispering in his ear. Our family lawyer, an old Parsi gentleman whose woolly exterior hid a real wolf, smiled at me as I walked up to our table.
The judge strolled in and began the custody hearing.
Raj’s lawyer presented his case, droning on about Raj’s love for Susie and her son, yada yada yada, until even the judge started looking drowsy.
Finally, it was our turn. My lawyer stood up and made his first point.
“Your Honour, under the terms of the late Smt. Susie Pradhan’s will, her step-daughter, Anjali Pradhan gets sole custody of Rishi Pradhan. The will is also clear about the control of Rishi’s inheritance. It is to be held in trust until the child turns twenty one, with Anjali Pradhan and myself as trustees. Mr. Asrani is to receive a fixed annuity from his late wife’s estate, and not a penny more.”
Raj’s lawyer made some accusations about misappropriation of Rishi’s money and wanted an adjournment in order to investigate that. My lawyer countered with a statement of accounts and the report of a full audit of the entire estate.
“Your Honour, I would also like to introduce a set of documents that prove that any misappropriation that happened, occurred when Smt. Susie Pradhan was alive, and it was done by her second husband, Raj Asrani, which is why Smt. Pradhan made such an iron-clad will. Also, we have new evidence which suggests that Raj Asrani is not fit to have Rishi Pradhan’s custody.”
He gestured for the witness to enter.
“Your Honour, this woman stays in the building opposite Raj Asrani. I’m sure her testimony will be of great interest to this court.”
The woman took to the stand to inform the court that on the night of Susie Pradhan’s death, she was looking out of her bedroom window, when to her horror, she saw a woman falling out of a balcony on the twelfth floor of the building opposite hers. She looked up and saw a man looking down from the same balcony, a few seconds later. She positively identified the man as Raj Asrani, which put the theory that Susie had committed suicide, in strong doubt.
That’s when the yelling started.
First it was Raj’s lawyer who was yelling at the judge.
“Your Honour, this is a travesty of justice. This is a custody hearing and as such this woman’s testimony is irrelevant to the case. Objection, milord!”
Milord just yawned and overruled the objection.
That’s when Raj Asrani started yelling. He threatened the woman for speaking up against him.
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with! I’ll kill you, you stupid bitch!”
Then he threatened me and my lawyer for our tricky ways.
“I’ll kill both of you!”
I just smirked at him and waited.
Just as I had expected, the idiot threatened Rishi…. in court…. in front of the judge….right in the middle of a custody battle.
“I’ll kill that boy too! Just you wait! No one comes between me and my money!”
Like I said….Idiot!
That’s all it took for the judge to grant me full custody of my baby brother and hand the idiot over to the cops, to be tried for Susie’s murder.
As for Kiki-the-talking-parrot, she was just lucky I was a vegetarian.
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