Haresh Chandra was not pleased at all. There were a lot of things for him to be not pleased about; after all, his house had been destroyed, along with his entire street, his daughter had left to travel the world, and suddenly aliens were a thing. Oh, and he was going to start a new job later that month, in a new school, with new people to get under control…
But that was not why he was not pleased.
The reason Haresh was not pleased was because he was unpacking. As a solitary process this would be bad enough; anything involving activities relating in any way, however remote, to housework and, in particular, tidying, were not welcome. The last time Gita had left Haresh on his own for three days, with the instruction to “spend a bit of time spring cleaning”, the net result had been an avalanche of books flooding the house and very little else. Gita would maintain that the house looked worse then than after the attack of the celestial super-being that destroyed it. But no, Haresh had not been left on his own this time. He couldn’t be trusted, apparently…
So he had Gita to help him.
Gita help was not quite like normal person help. Gita, his wife, was not like a normal person in very many ways, as it happened. Where a normal person might have said, “I’ll see if I can put the things from this box in a logical location”, Gita instead exclaimed, “Look how much stuff survived! I know, I’ll try and get an even spread of it all around the house!”, before promptly collapsing. Gita lacked stamina even more than Haresh- in some ways, the total destruction of their old house was a blessing, as it meant that neither of them would have to tidy it any more.
At this precise moment, Gita was attempting to unload a box containing items that had been on loan to “that lovely Harvey”, containing a number of random objects close to Gita’s heart, including her old sewing machine, which proved to be a distraction during the moving in process.
“Come on, Haresh, just look at it for a minute. I know it came with instructions, and I can’t for the life of me work out how to do it, so could you give me a hand looking at it?”
Haresh was already somewhat annoyed, because the furniture people had put everything in the wrong place and he was having to fix this by himself, aided in no part by the large number of boxes containing new replacement goods, such as a television propped up against a toilet seat stuffed halfway into a closet. It was a difficult process, and he maintained that the beds really ought to be a priority, as he didn’t want to have to spend another night using the charity of the neighbours or splashing out on hotels (because Gita refused to sleep in anything less than luxury following a particularly unpleasant night involving mould, a spider and a large cake from somebody else’s wedding). Nonetheless, Gita was staunch in her belief that there was no incentive any more after the beds had been constructed, so Haresh would rest on his laurels, and she wanted to watch Corrie because she had been missing it so the telly was more important anyway.
But right now, the sewing machine took priority.
“Come on, it’s been years, you’ve got to help me, Haresh!”
“Why? Can’t it wait another few days? It has been years, after all, why don’t you go and read that book you were raving about instead?”
Haresh immediately regretted having asked this.
“Ooh, yes,” Gita began, “have I told you about me book?” She had, but she would tell him again because she was that nice. “It’s all about this man who sits on a train for the entire thing- but there again, he sort of doesn’t. It’s clever, see, very clever, it’s written in a sort of- ooh, I don’t know how to explain it, but-”
Gita continued in this manner for a long time. Haresh felt as though he might as well just read the book himself, but last time he had done this, Gita had pursued him for weeks trying to force him to discuss the ins and outs of the characters’ motivations and in-depth plotlines; he was so traumatised that it was over two months before he picked up a novel again, fearful and paranoid that Gita may also have read it.
Ignoring Gita, Haresh heaved an enormous sofa-bed around so that it could face the space where he imagined the television could go, despite not knowing whether or not it would actually fit. It was doing nothing for his back, except hurting it, and he wanted nothing more than to flop down onto a soft mattress and fall asleep- except, of course, this was out of the question, because there wasn’t even a bed at all yet. And Gita was still going on about her book. It was a tough old world.
Indeed, Haresh didn’t know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing when a mobile phone left on a box filled with carpet-related items began to ring. Naturally, Haresh lunged for it, in the hope that he would be able to have a break from his “unpacking duties”, but Gita got there first, and began the discussion with who transpired to be an as-yet unknown neighbour who had, for reasons better known to them than the Chandras themselves, gone and got the number for the Chandras’ new home and rung them up to say hello and invite them round for a cup of tea. Haresh was delighted at this opportunity which may even have involved cake, but Gita insisted that really she ought to do it, and it would hardly be fun anyway, and after all, Haresh had all this unpacking to do and he hardly wanted to be distracted, did he? So Gita departed, her mind full of cake, and Haresh looked at all the things that were still to be done…
Gita returned to find Haresh slumped on the badly angled sofa, watching an old episode of Only Fools and Horses which he had found on an obscure channel, and laughing his head off. Gita would have scolded him but she had just spent four and a half hours gorging herself on cake and was more pleased to discover that the television was working and set up.
“Move over, I wanna watch Corrie, it starts in a few minutes and I might catch the end of Antiques Roadshow.”
“No, Gita! I’m in the middle of a programme- Rodney’s decided to go it alone and Delboy’s trying to manipulate things so that he sells the wrecked lawnmower engines, and I bet something’s going to go wrong, I can feel it! Also, look how young they look in this!”
Haresh staunchly remained on the sofa as Gita changed the channel, and chided her throughout about the precise plot of the episode of the television comedy he had been watching, and how irritated he was at not being able to see the end.
Gita turned to Haresh and did something even worse: she started talking.
“You’ll never guess who I saw when I was coming back, Haresh! Go on, guess. You’ll never guess.”
“You might as well tell me, then. You know, I really was enjoying that thing I was watching.”
“No, no, never mind that now! Much more important thing! Guess who we’ve moved in opposite? Go on. Guess.”
Haresh didn’t much care about Gita’s irritating friends, but he took a half-hearted punt nonetheless.
“Is it Nancy from the shop?”
“Nancy from the shop? No, silly! Why would I tell you that? No, we’ve moved in opposite Sarah! Sarah Jane Smith!”
The world suddenly collapsed in on Haresh. Sarah Jane? But she would have brought her alien people with her! There would be power cuts and weird ladies and alien things and scary rhino men and those blokes in black and the time Gita was unconscious in the shop and-
“Now shut up, Haresh, I’m trying to watch Corrie.”
Haresh awoke. He had slept on the box of carpets while Gita took the sofa-bed, and it seemed that he had fallen off in the night, which had resulted in his back being in even worse pain than before. Bleary-eyed and desperate for the toilet, he stumbled over to the bathroom and relieved himself, before turning his thoughts to his stomach, and ambling towards the kitchen. When he got there, he received the closest thing that he was capable of handling in his sleep-addled state to a shock. There was no fridge. Of course not. He hadn’t put it in. But more importantly, there was no food, except for two biscuits that remained from the packet that Gita had claimed were “emergency rations”. He reached for the biscuits, only to be stopped immediately by a groggy-looking Gita, who declared “mine”, stopping him in his tracks. She walked past him and took the biscuits herself, consuming them with remarkable efficiency before proceeding to search through every cupboard.
Gita in the mornings, before coffee and breakfast, was typically irritable and angry, but Haresh found himself able to deal with this remarkably well; it meant that she wasn’t talking, which was certainly a good thing, he reasoned to himself. Unfortunately, Haresh was also incapable of total thought and consideration without a full breakfast, so the two of them bumbled around for a few minutes like zombies before Haresh burbled, “I’m going to the shops,” before putting on one of Gita’s coats and two mismatched shoes, apparently not realising that he was still in his pyjamas. Meanwhile, Gita slumped onto the sofa and watched a repeat of Pointless vacant-mindedly (once shouting “JIMMY CARTER! JIMMY CARTER” before discovering that Jimmy Carter was not, in fact, a correct answer) until Haresh returned, laden with food which he had no home for.
“Did you get the cheesy bread?”
Haresh had not bought the cheesy bread. He had forgotten about the cheesy bread which Gita had grown so fond of since she first tried it three weeks earlier.
“Well, I’m not going to eat breakfast if it isn’t the cheesy bread.”
Haresh stared at Gita, aghast.
“But you eat porridge! You’ve been having porridge for breakfast for the last three months! I got you porridge-”
“I’m bored of porridge. I eat cheesy bread now. Or eggs. I eat eggs as well, if you’re making eggs.”
Haresh had neither of these things.
“I got some normal bread, for toast, and your favourite jam-”
“I’ll only eat cheesy bread.”
“I got marmalade-”
Gita liked marmalade as well. It was one of her favourite things. Haresh had once found Gita lying on the ground, asleep, beside an empty jar of marmalade that had been full that morning, and Gita covered in sticky orange stuff. It was not an experience he had wished to repeat, so he had created a “Jam Rota”, whereby Gita was only allowed a maximum quantity of jam each week.
The Jam Rota had been blown up.
Gita could have as much jam as she wanted.
No sooner had Haresh said the word “marmalade” than Gita had abandoned the telly, broken into the jam- thrusting it against the kitchen counter until she could open it- and tucked in.
At least there would not be any left over that needed to go into a fridge.
He walked to the telephone and called the furniture-moving-people, demanding that they come over right away and finish the job. Looking through a box, Haresh began to put things where they would belong from now on, while resolving one thing for certain:
Gita could have cheesy bread whenever she liked from now on.