I wonder, is it true?   Nowadays, so often I hear on the radio and TV about police brutality. They are supposed to be the supporters, life-savers, and friends to the citizens of the country during their times of distress. Our tax dollars support them in return. They are supposed to do their duties. That reminds me of the sweet experience I had with the police during the early days of my stay in the USA as a young immigrant.

It was 1976. Our son, Neil was almost five years old. My husband, Ben, was in California attending a conference for four days. We lived in Aurora, IL -- a relatively large city at that time.  

I received a phone call from my dear Indian friend, Neela. It was a Friday morning. She rang me up to invite me, "Please come over tomorrow evening at our newly built house in Oakbrook, IL for cocktails and dinner."

I refused by giving an excuse of not having my husband in town. Neela insisted that I must come and there would be a few other guests to give me company.

On that Saturday evening, I dressed up in a blue silk sari and reluctantly left for Neela's house with my son. We reached there a little late. The house was in a gated neighborhood. It was a big house with a lush green lawn and beautiful landscaping. There was a circular driveway. Both Neela and her white American husband, Roger, welcomed us graciously.

There were a few guests and all of them were native-born Americans. Neil met Neela's six-year-old son, Ron, and his friends. He got busy playing with them. Roger escorted me to his big, nicely decorated family room and introduced me to his friends. There was a bar where all the men were drinking and chatting. I looked around the room, hoping to see some ladies, but there was none. As I wanted to leave, hoping to meet other ladies in other rooms, a nice looking gentleman approached me and introduced himself as Bob. Then he asked, "May I offer you a drink?"

I refused, saying, "I don't drink."

Another gentleman said, "Maybe today is your day to start."           

A relatively older man suggested, "Do you prefer a sweet drink?"  

I gently answered, "Not today, and thank you. I'm driving."

"One drink won't hurt you," Roger said.

I desperately looked around when Neela arrived and she said, "Bani, you told me the other day, your husband made a drink for you and you liked it."

Bob immediately asked, "What kind of a drink was it? I'll make you one. I used to be a bartender during my younger days."

I had no choice but to answer. "I forgot the name, but I think it starts with an M."

"I know what that is; I'm going to make one for you," and that gentleman hurried towards the bar to make one.

I stayed in that room, talked with Roger and Neela. Pretty soon my drink appeared in a nice cocktail glass. I was a little bit surprised because there was no salt on the rim of the glass like the one my husband prepared the other day for me. I thought this man didn't know how to make a drink as good as Ben and according to my taste.

 I took a sip when Neela left the room, explaining she had to attend to other guests in her kitchen. I took another sip when Roger asked, "How is the drink?"

Although it tasted awful, I answered, "Fine."

"This drink will let you forget that Ben isn't here. Don't stop, drink more." Although I didn't like the taste of the drink, as it tasted nothing like the drink Ben had made for me the other day, I felt I had no choice but to take one more sip. It was so bitter tasting that I had to quickly swallow the liquid. Then I gave the excuse that I needed to see others in the kitchen and quickly left the family room.

 In their big kitchen, there were five other ladies. They were drinking and chatting. I could hear other voices coming from an adjoining room. Neela introduced me to the ladies by their names - not one name stuck in my head as I was feeling oozy. Some ladies wanted to see the newly built gigantic house. Neela requested all should follow her when she gave a tour of her house. She also suggested they would have one more sip of their drink before they started. She asked me to be in front of everybody.

"How is the drink?" She enquired.

I had no choice but to say, "Fine."

Neela insisted I should have another sip before we started the tour. I forced myself to have one more sip of that awful drink.

While climbing the stairs, feeling light-headed, I stopped. The lady behind me asked, "What's the matter? Are you alright? "

I tried to hide my feelings and answered, "I'm ok."

Somehow, I managed to finish half of the tour. Then I asked, "Neela, do you know where Neil is?"

Neela showed me a bedroom door. I entered. Neil was busy playing a game with three other boys. I told him, "Neil, we have to leave now. We have to go home because your dad may be calling and he will be worried if we are not there."

Neil pleaded with me for staying a little longer. By that time I was feeling quite a bit of dizziness. I knew I had to drive back home no matter what. I decided to go back home before I felt sicker. So I firmly said, "Neil let's go."

"Do we have to? We just came!"

"We will come back another day." Then I squeezed his right hand so that he reluctantly stood up. I firmly said again, "Yes, we have to go and now"

I went back to Neela and told her, "Neela, sorry! I have to leave. Ben will call me at home anytime, and if he doesn't find us there, then he'll be extremely worried."

'Why don't you call him in his hotel and leave a message for him, Bani?

"I wish I could. But Ben told me, he'll go and spend the night at one of his friend's house. I don't know who this friend is, or his phone number. He'll let me know tonight when he calls. I have to leave, please let me go."

"But, you haven't eaten yet. You've to go so far. Let me give you something to eat," Neela pleaded. By that time I was feeling more light-headed. I said quickly, "Forgive me. I'll come back soon with Ben; then we'll have a good meal here. Please let me go now."

Without listening to Neela's answer, I quickly managed to get out of her house and started the car. I drove out to the street from my friend's driveway quickly, slamming on the gas pedal. It was dark outside by that time.

Neil said, "Mom, you drove through Auntie's new lawn."

Without responding to his remark, I quickly went onto the narrow next street and stopped there near the curb. I mumbled to Neil, "I don't feel good. I'll be OK if I take a short nap. You sit tight."

I locked the car doors and immediately fell asleep. I woke to a sound of a voice saying, "My mother isn't feeling good. That's why she is taking a nap, officer."

I quickly was wide awake when the officer came near my car door. I lowered my side of the window. He asked, "Aren't you feeling good? You want me to call an ambulance?"

Surprisingly, I felt more energy inside me. I talked naturally with wide open eyes to the officer. "I'm fine now. I don't need an ambulance. Please let me go home. My husband will be worried."

He said, "If you give me the number, I'll call him."

"No officer, he isn't here in town. He'll call me at home."

Neil added, "My mom is telling you the truth officer. My father is in California, He's going to call us. If he doesn't find us at home, he'll be worried. We need to get home Sir."

The officer took a moment and asked, "Where do you live?"

I answered, "In Aurora."

"That's a long way from Oakbrook. All right, you drive, but I'm going to follow you to be sure you can reach home."

By that time I forgot my sickness and felt OK to drive. That police officer followed us all the way until we reached Aurora. I could see his car in my rearview mirror all the way.

After reaching Aurora, I noticed that the police car following me had its flashing lights on. The policeman quickly approached my car from the side and said "Goodbye" and then moved on. The police car quickly sped off in the distance.

After reaching home, I told Neil, "Please go to bed. I can't be with you at your bedtime. I'm feeling too tired. See you tomorrow morning." Then I quickly climbed the stairs to my bedroom..

As soon as I lay down on my bed with my sari on, I fell into a sound sleep.
,
The next morning I woke up late when strong rays of the Sun, coming right through the window were on my face. It was Sunday. Neil was playing with his car. I checked the voicemail and found out that Ben had called twice. He was worried and left messages with the phone number where he could be reached. There was a message from Neela asking if I had reached home safely. When I dialed Ben's number, Neil said, "Mom, call Auntie Neela also; she called." I ignored him.

I talked to Ben and gave him the excuse of being very tired as I unexpectedly went to Neela's house and had some sips of a cocktail. Ben asked with a surprised voice, "Drink? Did you say, drink? What kind of drink? Alcohol? You don't drink usually."   

"The same kind of drink you gave me once. Don't you remember? You forget everything? It starts with M."

"That was Margarita. I added only a little alcohol in there. Did you feel dizzy last evening? Felt sleepy?"

I said, "Exactly. How did you know? I just had a few sips of that drink. The man didn't know exactly what goes in that drink. The man at the bar asked me the name of the drink I liked. I told him it started with an M. He brought the drink to me. He forgot to put ice in it and he also forgot to add salt on the rim of the glass. I didn't want to embarrass him by pointing that out."

Ben immediately exclaimed, "Oh my God! He most probably made a Martini for you, and that's too strong for you; it has three different kinds of alcohol. Thank God, you didn't pass out. How did you get home? Did they bring you home?" 

"I've to make another phone call. I'll tell you everything later. Bye" and I hung up quickly to avoid answering him.          

Neil asked without even raising his eyes from his toy cars," What's going on?"

"I'm going to call Neela to thank her," I quickly replied.

Then I called Neela. Even before I could utter a single word, Neela said in an anxious voice, "I was going to call you again. I couldn't sleep last night thinking of you. Are you all right? Did you reach home OK? I know you weren't feeling good although you didn't tell me, but I assumed."

"I'm sorry to leave so soon and abruptly. Your party was very nice. You've got an awesome gigantic home. I've also something to confess. Yesterday, I ran over your new beautiful lawn. I'm so sorry and embarrassed. I'll pay for the damage and for the new grass."

"Don't be silly. You don't have to pay. New grass will come back. I noticed the lawn through my window as soon as you left in a hurry. I think the drink was to blame. Very few women can drink Martinis."

"Martini? I thought he gave me a margarita. That's the drink my husband made for me before and I liked it. No wonder the drink tasted awful."

"It's a strong drink, but I don't know why Bob made that for you."

"It's my fault. I couldn't tell him the name of the drink correctly." I said that to make Neela feel a little better. To change the topic, I added, "I got home alright and straight went to bed. After a long, deep sleep, I'm so much better. Thanks again. I'll visit you after Ben is back from his business trip."

Neil said, looking straight into my eyes, "Mom, you look so much better now. You were sick last night. The police officer was very nice to us. I was scared because I can't drive. How could we have come home at night?"

I still remember that police officer's nice gesture towards us very vividly. Even now, in spite of all the news of police brutality, I think the police officers are doing their duties well to help and keep people safe. They just don't get enough credit for their work and the sacrifice they make because people take those for granted.

 Only one thing puzzles me to this day: why didn't the policeman think of me as a drunk driver? Was it because of my attire or my innocent face or maybe he believed Neil that I was really not feeling good healthwise?


‚Äč(Posted February 1, 2019)


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M is for Margarita

 Bani Bhattacharyya

 Immigrant Bengalis