At a High school in Virginia,US President Barack Obama said in reply to a student, given a chance he would like to have dinner with Mahatma Gandhi, whom he considered a real hero. When I read this story a couple of years ago the picture my mind drew in the canvas of my subconscious mind was Mr and Mrs Obama sitting on the floor with a half naked "Fakeer" having dry "roti" and goat-milk. This incident spring to my mind today thinking what would I answer if I face a similar question, to pick the most memorable dining experience I have ever had. Without a second thought I would say "the breakfast with Jack, the burglar."
Usually, I'm the last to go to bed and the first to get up in my flat though I sleep a couple of hours after I get up during weekends. Today, at about seven in the morning I heard an unusual sound from the side of kitchen but I didn't take it seriously thinking it might be an earthquake. However, the continued noise lead me to the kitchen. There I saw a middle-aged sloppily dressed Caucasianguy searching something inside the fridge; I can feel the smell of alcohol when I approach that guy. I thought he might be a visitor to one of my flatmates.
"Good morning," I greeted him.
"Morning mate, how are you," the stranger replied.
"Not too bad, thanks!" Who are you? - I asked.
"I am Jack, a friend of Hamlin" - The stranger answered.
"Sorry Jack, there is nobody with that name here," I said.
"Oh... I see!" Said the stranger, it looks like he is sufficiently intoxicated with alcohol carelessly murmuring nonsense.
I realised he is a burglar, perhaps a beginner with no idea on how to scare the victim or a well trained burglar knowing how to handle victims smoothly. I did never met a burglar face to face in my lifetime. This is the time to exercise my courage, patience and intelligence. Every movements should be well calculated from now on. Even a small miscalculation can bring a tragedy. I wasn't so scared but I can feel a cold wave originating from my knees translating through my body to my head and then escape via my ears.
"Do you have something to eat?" Jack, the burglar, asked.
Listening to his food appeal for his own stomach all my fears disappeared, I managed to behave myself, that means I did overcome the critical stage by now. You cannot manage somebody else unless and until you can manage to be yourself.
"You are the luckiest guy today, I think," I told Jack, the burglar.
"How come?" Wonders Jack, the burglar.
"Jack, I mean you have a number of dishes to select from our menu in the fridge; What would you like to have sir, - Chinese or Indian?" I asked.
Chinese food is of my Chinese flatmates and of course the Indian food is mine, provided by Ratna, one of my good Indian friends. If Jack would have came a week earlier I could offer him German dish too but Eva, our German flatmate, is away now exploring the untouched natural beauty of New Zealand.
"Seriously?" Jack, the burglar.
"Yes Jack, we have some leftovers of what we made last night," I said.
"I see, I would say Indian food, I love Indian food," said Jack, the burglar.
I've microwaved the food, that Ratna gave me lat night, in a lunch-box. To give Jack a company thought of making a cup of tea for me too. I usually make tea in two simple steps; Microwave two third of a cup of water with two teabags for a minute. Then fill the cup with full body milk and microwave again for twenty seconds. Jack, the burglar, watched it like an innocent curious little child. I offered him a cup of tea but he said no with thanks.
We moved to a small dining table in a corner of the kitchen. I was so excited thinking I'm making history that a victim pleasantly dine with a burglar-on-duty on-site. I can't stop laughing thinking about Ratna's parents who came all the way from West Bengal to New Zealand 'to cook for a burglar'. Ironically, Ratna work for department of corrections who improves public safety by providing support to offenders with rehabilitation programmes, education and job training.
"Jack, how did you manage to get into this house?" I asked.
"You know, you left the bathroom window open and there is a chair under that, I just get in through the window," Said Jack, the burglar.
I felt a little bit annoyed, "do you think it is a good practice," I asked.
"I know, but I had no choice as you locked all the doors, I knocked and wait for quiet a long but no response," Jack, the burglar, complained.
"Oh, I see, I'm very sorry Jack," I apologised.
"No worries mate, that's okay," said Jack, the burglar.
I'm glad that my apologies accepted!
"Jack, where do you live in Lower Hutt," I asked
"Stokes Valley," said Jack, the burglar. "You know, I hired a taxi to come here," he added.
I'm sure that it is a beautiful lie of that bitch but I didn't challenge his words to keep safety first.
Vivian*, a single mother and our flatmate and her five year old daughter Kate* appeared in the kitchen.
"Morning Vivian, morning Kate," I greeted both; They asked who is the new character.
I wanted not to scare little Kate; So I lied, "this is my friend Jack from Stokes Valley".
With a commanding tone I told them both to get away from kitchen for the moment. I found Vivian a bit annoyed by my words but I thought better annoy Vivian than scare the little one.
"Sorry for the interruption Jack," I resumed conversation..
At this stage Jack is more like a friend to me than a burglar and I felt free to ask anything. He is having food as if he did not eat anything for a month or so. It may not necessarily be a wrong assumption because poverty still exist in this country. I remember a friend of mine, who is a school teacher, often take extra lunch to school serving kids who come with empty lunch-box. Also, there exist some school children here who do not even have shoes to wear when coming to school - walking to school without shoes is a big challenge especially in winter, that might be hard to understand for people who are used to tropical climate.
I noticed a cordless phone and an old IBM laptop that Kate used to play with are missing from the kitchen. I remotely scanned Jack's "burglary-bag" using my eyes. I'm pretty much convinced that laptop is sitting in it.
"Jack, would you mind if I ask you about a laptop and a cordless phone missing from here?" I plead Jack, the burglar.
"I have them both, actually I thought you don't need them as they were sitting on the floor," said Jack, the burglar, without any sign of shame on his face.
I requested and then negotiated to get them back, he is not in a stand to return them. I explained you may not get more than ten bucks for both as they are old and useless for others. However, it cost us much more when we replace them with new.
Isn't it so interesting that negotiating with a burglar to purchase our own stuffs? It took me a while to realise reciting economics to a burglar doesn't help bring my stuffs back.
By that time Jack finished eating; He washed the box nicely and placed to drain.
"I can't return the stuffs I got and that isn't fair either, mate!; I spend about five bucks for bus and train to come here and need at least another five to go back," said Jack, the burglar, as if I have invited him for burglary offering food and travel allowance.
That revealed he is not just a burglar but a liar too. Taxi at the beginning changed to bus and train by the time we reach the middle of our conversation. To cool down the situation, I asked, "Jack, how did you find the food?"
"The best Indian food I've ever had, thanks mate for that," said Jack, the burglar.
"You know, Indian restaurants in New Zealand are too expensive to afford for unemployed folks like me. You are a good human my dear friend, if you can spare ten bucks for me I can happily return your stuffs," offered Jack, the burglar.
I thought it isn't safe to leave him alone there and go to my room for money, fortunately I found a twenty dollar note in my trousers pocket. It seems Jack guessed I am feeling sorry for not finding ten dollar.
"No worries mate, it is okay if you have only twenty," said Jack, the burglar.
I expected he is going to give me ten dollar change.
He returned the laptop and the phone with a fabricated smile on his gloomy face.
"Jack, I never knew the burglars in New Zealand are so nice and friendly, keep it up my friend!" I said.
"Mate, you are the best human I have ever met in my lifetime," said Jack, the burglar.
He stood up as if he was in a hurry to leave. I cried for ten dollar change but he was helpless as he has no change and offered he will return later.
I didn't want to see a similar scene again and so I cried - "keep the change"
Jack opened the glass door of the kitchen and walked out. I shut the door immediately behind him and locked.
Jack, the burglar, waved his hand saying see ya later.
"Noooh...! I don't want to see you again.." I sighed loudly.
"ktak..." The wooden gate of our backyard signalled "I'm shut!"
(സമയക്കുറവു മൂലം ഈ പോസ്റ്റ് ഇംഗ്ലീഷില് ആക്കേണ്ടി വന്നതിനു എന്റെ വായനക്കാരോട് ക്ഷമ ചോദിക്കുന്നു, മലയാളം വേര്ഷന് ഉടന് പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിക്കും)