Misplaced trust : A tale of two cousins -- LizGebeth

Misplaced trust : A tale of two cousins -- LizGebeth

It was a moment of great joy and relief. Finally, his efforts had seen the light of day. Signing on the sale deed of the cafeteria gave Varghese the kind of joy he hadn’t experienced since a very long time. After shaking hands with the new owner of his cafeteria, Varghese walked out of the Dubai Economic Department’s office.

 

As he was turning on the engine of his car, Varghese lookedat the Economic Department’s office building. Memories drove him back to the year 2008, when he first came to this office. It was to buy Jashan (meaning celebration) Cafeteria from one Mr. Imtiaz. Varghese sat back and closed his weary eyes. Now he was in a far calmer state of mind, to think about and understand the events that had unfolded in his life during the past two years.
 
Saji was his first cousin, but Varghese believed him to be more than a brother. The two of them had grown-up together, played, laughed, and even cried together. Varghese studied engineering, while Saji did his Hotel Management. Both of them shared a flat in up-market Bur Dubai. Varghese worked as an architect in one of Dubai’s top construction companies. He had been with the same company since the past six years. Saji worked as a front office executive in Dubai Grand Hotel; his third job in two years. Twice, he paid the fine to lift the labour ban on him, as he had violated the labour contract. 
 
Saji flitted from job to job. He would not survive more than three months in one job, as he always felt that he was far more knowledgeable than his bosses. He dreamt of having his own business, but had neither any concrete plans for this, nor had he saved any money for investment.
 
One day, Saji introduced Varghese to Imtiaz, the owner of the cafeteria they used to frequent whenever they went to Karama. Imitiaz wanted to sell his cafeteria, as he was planning to move back to Pakistan. From that day, on Saji was quite excited. He would wait for Varghese to come home, to talk to him of his now more frequent visits to Imitiaz’s cafeteria. He spoke animatedly of the opportunity, and his enthusiasm was not lost on Varghese.
 
 
One Friday, during afternoon siesta time, Saji gently broached the idea of buying the cafeteria. When Koshy, one of his cousins, asked Saji how he had planned to arrange for the funds, pat came his nonchalant reply, “Varghese Chetan is there, so why should I worry?” And so it was! It was further agreed, that whatever investment Varghese made, Saji would repay the same within six months, with no interest. 
 
The sale price was fixed at Seventy-Five thousand AED (local currency, called Dirham for short). Since Varghese did not have the entire amount, a part payment was agreed upon. Varghese got an NOC from his company. The cafeteria was registered in the name of Varghese, based on mutual trust and the remaining amount to be paid to Imtiaz was supposed to be arranged by Saji within the next two months. Till the full amount owed to Varghese was not paid back by Saji, Varghese would remain the legal owner of the cafeteria.
 
Saji quit his job and started operating the cafeteria. Whenever Varghese brought up the topic of the remaining payment, Saji somehow wriggled his way out of the conversation. Varghese was busy with his projects in office, and hardly ever visited the cafeteria. Saji, too, seemed busy at the cafeteria, so they rarely met, even though they were staying in the same house. 
 
Seeing Imtiaz in his office one day brought a frown on Varghese’s face. By now, the two months’ time was up and he had no clue if Saji had arranged the balance payment. Imtiaz’s visit was far from cordial. Since the sale deed was signed by Varghese, Imtiaz made it clear that he would take legal action against him, if the payment was not made within the extended time given.
 
A deeply troubled Varghese immediately went to the cafeteria. “I tried to sell my land back in Kerala, but I could not”, was the excuse Saji gave him. “But Saji, this is your business, and I was only trying to help. You have put me in trouble”, said Varghese. “Don’t worry. We still have time. Anyway, the cafeteria is already ours, and all that you have signed on is a white sheet of paper, with respect to the balance amount. Who knows, that may not be valid at all?” Saji’s casual demeanor sent a chill down Varghese’s spine.
 
Varghese left the cafeteria with a mind riddled with doubts. Saji’s words were reverberating in his head. Is this the same Saji I grew up with? Did I make a mistake in trusting him? Many questions badgered him relentlessly. Finally, one day he got a legal notice from a law firm, asking for the payment, or else they, the notice stated, the firm would lodge a case in court. In a few days, he was called to the prosecutor’s office, where the legal ramifications were explained to him. Signing on white paper is legally recognised, he was informed. There was no way out, and he had to make the payment. During these days, not once did Saji bother to meet Varghese, or even accompany him to the prosecutor’s office. He claimed the cafeteria was keeping him busy, and he had to be present there all the time.
 
Legally, it was Varghese who was liable to pay, and not Saji. So, he sold his only asset, a flat in Kochi, moving his family to a small rented house. Imtiaz was paid off, the deal was closed and so was the case. 
 
However, his problems were far from over. In all these months Saji had not returned a single penny. Whenever Varghese brought up the subject, he would say the cafeteria was running in a loss, so he was unable to return anything. A year went by, and still there was no sign of Saji returning anything. 
 
One day, Varghese heard from one of his cousins’ that Saji was building a house in Kerala. Varghese was shocked. An emotionally charged Varghese confronted Saji when he came home that night. All hell broke loose. To his utter horror, Saji flung the keys of the cafeteria on the table, telling him that he would not run the cafeteria any more, since Varghese did not trust him anymore. With anger welling in him, he looked helplessly at the man, as he walked away, with not even a smidgen of empathy.
 
Surrounded by pitch darkness, in the stillness of the night, Varghese broke down, crying. The cafeteria was in his name, and so were the loans, but he knew nothing about the hospitality industry. He hoped and prayed that the sun wouldn’t rise the next day. 
 
The sun did rise, and so did Varghese. First, he went to church, knelt at the altar, and prayed. He then went to his office, put in his papers, but was assured that he would be given back his position, as soon as he sorted out his problems and was ready to re-join.
 
Finally, Varghese went to the cafeteria. He was, strangely, not surprised to find everything in a mess. Firstly, he put systems in place. The next couple of months, Varghese spent learning how the cafeteria business operated. He visited other cafeterias and met with people in this line of business. It took him months of sleepless nights and sheer hard work, coupled with determination, to make it a profitable venture. But his heart was never in what he was doing. He wanted to go back to his old job. After about a year Varghese managed, to find a suitable buyer for his cafeteria. 
 
A honking sound broke his reverie. There was a feverish triumph in his eyes. He had waited so patiently; he wanted to savour every moment of his relief. He was finally going back to the drawing board, starting from zero.
 
As for Saji… He had planned to make the cafeteria his own, without having to spend a single penny. Somewhere, his calculations went awry, but he hasn’t given up either. Con-men like Saji are always on the lookout for fresh prey. Even as you read this story, he has already found another Varghese, and has gone back to his chess board, devising new strategy to trap the new pawn. 
 
LizGebeth- Currently based in Dubai, an Economics graduate with an additional degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Liz worked with the Indian Express, Mumbai for more than a decade,in different positions. She was the Editor of the Gulf Oilfield News, a quarterly magazine, published from Dubai and distributed across the Gulf Co-operation  Council (GCC) states.
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