Extract: The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury
A Kolkata detective turned Brick Lane waiter has a new case on his hands in The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury, winner of the inaugural Harvill Secker Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Prize. We picked this debut as one to watch out for at the beginning of the year and can’t wait for you to read it!
Disgraced detective Kamil Rahman moves from Kolkata to London to start afresh as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. But the day he caters a birthday party for his boss’s friend on Millionaire’s Row, his simple new life becomes rather complicated. The event is a success, the food is delicious, but later that evening the host, Rakesh, is found dead in his swimming pool.
Suspicion falls on Rakesh’s new wife, Neha, and Kamil is called to investigate for the family, with the help of his boss’s daughter Anjoli. Kamil and Anjoli prove a capable team – but as the investigation progresses, Kamil struggles to keep memories of the case that destroyed his career in Kolkata at bay… and his past will soon catch up with him in some rather unexpected ways.
Read on for a chapter of The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury!
Neha’s voice splintered the dark silence of the car.
‘Come back, I need you! He’s dead!’
‘Who’s dead?’ shouted Saibal. ‘What do…’ but she had hung up. He looked at me in consternation, screeched the Volvo through a U-turn, then gunned it through the lashing rain, making it to Hampstead in record time. Slamming on the brakes, he turned, took one look at his daughter slumped unconscious in the back, then thrust his car keys into Maya’s hands. ‘Take Anjoli home immediately. Kamil, you stay with me.’
I scrambled out of the car and ran to the shelter of the portico as he hurried his wife into the driver’s seat, ignoring her faint protests. He watched her speed off, then walked purposefully towards me and rammed his finger into the doorbell, blinking off the rain that was streaming down his face.
Arjun opened the front door. ‘You,’ he said, eyes dark, face stony. ‘I thought it was the police.’
I noticed his jacket was soaked, but he seemed oblivious to it. Why had he been out in the rain?
‘What happened?’ asked Saibal, pressing past him into the hall.
‘Neha found Dad in the pool downstairs. He’s…dead. She insisted on coming up and phoning you. I’ve called the police; they should be here any minute.’
He led us to the living room where we found Neha, head buried in her arms. As soon as she caught sight of Saibal, she flung herself at him, clinging on as though she were drowning. ‘It’s okay, Neha, it’s all right,’ Saibal said, but I could hear the doubt in his voice. ‘Just tell me what happened.’
‘Rakesh…a terrible accident…’ Sobs choked her words.
Saibal took control. ‘Show me. Tara Tari!’
‘I…can’t look at him again. Arjun, please…’ Neha looked beseechingly at her stepson.
He gave a sharp nod and ran us down a flight of tiled stairs till we were enveloped in a sharp, chlorinated humidity. On the floor, at the edge of the swimming pool, was the body of Rakesh Sharma, his clothes and hair sodden.
He might have been asleep if it weren’t for the fact that there was a massive hole in the side of his head, blood and brain oozing into the puddle of water under his skull, forming an intricate crimson pattern on the white tiles. His face was peaceful; the rage that had twisted it the last time he had seen me, now vanished.
A parallel image slammed into me. The naked corpse in the hotel. Its skull, too, had been crushed. But there had been more blood. Hell of a lot more. I shivered at the recollection. No, no more of that. Another time, another world. I was a different person. No longer a police officer. I had to deal with the present, with this body. The past would have to wait its turn.
My mind flew to the moment we’d heard Rakesh’s revelation. The confusion on their faces. The hushed whispers that ceased as I approached with the drinks tray. The clues lay in all I had seen and heard. The cops were on their way, but I had been here. Sensed the dynamics; the underlying tensions; the hostility in the air. I knew with an unflinching certainty that Neha was wrong. This wasn’t an accident. It was murder.
And it was my calling.
I was the invisible waiter.
Twelve hours earlier.
London. October. Saturday.
The gleaming knife in my hand was polished to within an inch of its life. I laid it parallel to the fork, framing the white dinner plate. As I tried to fold the napkin into the shape of the helmet, which I could never get right, the sight through the window of a woman sauntering along the opposite pavement, a child on either side clutching a hand, lifted my melancholy for a moment. All three dressed in canary yellow with matching umbrellas – floating drops of sunshine on this grey, inhospitable day.
Saibal saw my ineffectual fumblings, put his mobile on speaker, grabbed the napkin from me, deftly created visor, nose and skull and whispered, ‘Two months and you still cannot do it, Kamil? What kind of waiter are you? I should fire you!’
He was joking, but it still stung. Even I couldn’t have lived down the ignominy of losing two jobs in three months.
‘Sorry,’ I mouthed back as his phone squawked: ‘…and you’ll definitely send your people at five o’clock?’
I listened absent-mindedly to his call as I laid the tables, trying to catch another glimpse of the golden triangle bobbing up the street. It provided slight relief from the restaurant’s oppressive patterned wallpaper, its two dozen cramped booths and the pictures of Saibal with grinning ‘celebrity’ diners, none of whom I recognised.
Saibal turned his attention back to the phone. ‘Yes, Neha. Four waiters, two chefs and some domestics. They will be my best people.’
‘Better add an extra waiter. It has to be perfect.’
‘One extra waiter, okay. It will be even better than perfect, Neha. It will be perfectly perfect.’
‘Okay. Can we go through the menu again?’
I grimaced in sympathy as Saibal raised two fingers to his head and mimed pulling a trigger. He grabbed the fork I’d set down and scratched his back with it before picking up his notebook for the third time.
‘Yes, Neha. For starter…’
‘Canapés, Uncle,’ she interrupted.
‘Yes, for canayp we have aloo tikki chat, poneer pakoda, fish pakoda and chicken boti kabab.’
‘I think add the tandoori mutton chops.’
‘Okay, I will make note. For main course you will have all the TK specials. We have mutton biryani, tandoori chicken, aloo mutter, malai kofta, makhani daal and naan. And raita. And desserts we have shahi tukda, gulab jamun and gajar ka halwa…’
‘Great. I can’t have anything go wrong; you know what Rakesh is like. We’ve got a hundred and seventy-five of our close personal friends coming to celebrate. Duggy J’s singing. I got him to compose an exclusive sixtieth birthday song as a surprise.’
‘Wonderful! Okay, I will see you later today,’ said Saibal, trying to hang up.
‘And Maya Aunty and Anjoli are coming?’ Neha persisted.
‘Yes, we will be there. Dressed up. I got Maya new dress and nice jewellery for the special occasion. Imported from Dubai!’ he added, with a hint of pride.
‘Lovely, can’t wait to see it. Thank you, Uncle. What would I do without you?’
‘Maya!’ Saibal yelled, as soon as Neha had hung up, causing me to drop with a clatter the spoon I’d been polishing.
‘Hain? Ki?’ His wife shouted back from the kitchen.
‘Ei Mrs Sharma’r jonyo ek plate extra mutton chop.’
There was a pause, then he muttered to himself, ‘Aaah keno na…Why not,’ before he bellowed, ‘Ei, Kamil!’
‘Yes?’ I asked, groping under the tablecloth to find the errant cutlery.
‘I need you at catering party tonight. Not at restaurant. Okay?’
‘The Sharma party?’
‘Hain. Five o’clock.’ He looked around the empty restaurant. ‘Quiet today. Take the rest of the day off, it will be a long night. Make sure you change into fresh uniform, okay?’ He gestured at my curry stained sleeve and continued, ‘You know Rakesh Sharma, no?’
‘I don’t, but I’ve heard of him. Basically, I don’t hang out with millionaires.’
‘Oh, I thought you knew him,’ said Saibal, running his fingers through his thick, grey hair. ‘I will introduce you tonight, he is an old friend of mine from Kolkata. We were batchmates in college – he, your father, me – we had many enjoyable times. We have been through a lot together.’ A shadow came across his face for the briefest of moments before he banished it with his usual warm smile. ‘I cannot believe he is sixty – Eh Maa, we are so old now. And Neha is only twenty-eight. Very sweet girl, she is Anjoli’s friend and has been like a second daughter to me. It was hard getting used to Rakesh and Neha together. But now I
see, they make a lovely couple!’
‘Isn’t it normal for millionaires to have much younger wives?’ I asked wryly.
‘Hain, eta satyi. Very true! And she is exquisite. Now go!’ The
bell above the entrance tinkled and Saibal waved me away. He leapt up from the table and welcomed the four customers who had entered, guided them to a booth, put on his ‘I am the proprietor of this fine establishment’ smile and handed out the laminated menus headed ‘Tandoori Knights – Keep Calm and Curry On’.
In the kitchen, Maya and the three under-chefs were busy with the night’s dinner. The smell of fried onions, garlic and ginger filled the air and the sounds of sizzling and percussive tin lids created a hypnotic rhythm as heaps of aromatic spices were tossed into the pots – orange turmeric, yellow heeng, red chilli powder, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, cinnamon. I loved these aromas. The scent reminded me of home in Kolkata, watching Ma cook my favourite dishes – Ilish masher jhol, hilsa, the bony but wonderfully unctuous fish, with mustard; Shukto, vegetables cooked in milk; fluffy, flaky deep fried luchis to mop up the gravy; luscious Kathi rolls from Nizam’s…
A pang of longing for the life I’d left behind hit, and right on cue, the all-too-familiar bitterness seeped back in, like chronic indigestion. What the hell was I doing working as a waiter in this freezing, grim country at this ludicrously named restaurant? Three months ago, I’d been flying high, a homicide Sub-Inspector in charge of the most high-profile case in India, dealing with senior police officers, meeting Bollywood royalty…And now? At thirty, when I should have been racing my way up the ranks, I’d traded in my policeman’s whites for a waiter’s waistcoat and bowtie, and was constantly anxious, always expecting people from the Home Office to be after me. Serving ‘canayps’ to millionaires was now the highlight of my week. I couldn’t imagine a more vertiginous fall. Sometimes I felt I should have just stayed in India, closed my eyes to everything I’d seen…But no, I couldn’t have kept working with that death on my conscience. And even now, I couldn’t go back – it wouldn’t be safe. So here I am – stuck between two countries, neither of which want me.
I made a mental note to call Ma and Abba to check on them – we hadn’t spoken in ages. Though Abba was still furious with me, Ma always told me how he was. I should call her. And Maliha…Maliha…
The smells of the cooking, of my past, became thick and cloying. I felt suffocated. Needed air.
‘I’m going out, Maya-di, see you later,’ I shrugged on my overcoat as she smiled and nodded from across the kitchen.
I trudged up Brick Lane in the icy drizzle. Pulling my coat closed under my chin, I weaved my way through a sea of parkas, burqas, dashikis, saris and shalwar kameez – I liked this part of London, it reminded me of the chaos and confusion of Kolkata’s Free School Street. As I made my way up the narrow road, the surroundings and the throngs changed. I was always caught by surprise at the transformation that occurred when I crossed the invisible boundary near Hanbury Street where the Bengali Cash & Carrys, sweet shops and pawnbrokers reluctantly gave way to a different world – a stylish bubble of camera-clicking tourists and skinny-jeaned teenagers frequenting Jack the Clipper, Amy’s Wine House and the Cereal Killer café (they could use my detective skills…). I wandered past the perennial queue at Beigel Bake Brick Lane and decided to plaster over the hollow in my soul with comfort food. I’d never eaten bagels in Kolkata and had become fond of them over the past few weeks, enjoying their savoury cushion-softness and warmth over a cup of strong Assam tea.
As the line shuffled forward, I watched an intrepid busker sheltering in a doorway, failing to hit the top notes of ‘Hotel California’. I liked this about London – there were entertainers everywhere, especially on the tube. In Kolkata, everyone rushed around with no time to think of dark desert highways.
When I’d first arrived three months ago, I used to travel on the underground on my days off to stop myself going crazy, staring at the blank walls of Saibal’s spare room while picking over every aspect of the Kolkata murders and missing Maliha with a terrible desperation. I’d go to Bethnal Green underground, close my eyes, pick a destination at random on the map, spend a few hours walking around there, then make my way back. I had seen the wonders of Clapton (Lee Valley, calming marshes but nothing to do with Eric, as I discovered), Silvertown (Thames Barrier, dramatic), Balham (Tooting Common, pleasant), Bushey (bland, was it even in London?) – then it was back to the daily grind of a waiter’s life. I hated routine, but that was what I needed now. Structure. To do nothing more consequential than remember the day’s specials. With my visa running out in a few months, though, this liminal period would soon end, and I’d be forced to decide on what I wanted to do for the next thirty years. My life ahead was not an inviting blank canvas, it was more akin to a locked door for which I couldn’t find the key, no matter how hard I looked.
As I walked out of the bakery, provisioned with my soul food, the busker was reaching the crescendo of the song and serendipitously informed me that I needed to find the passage back to the place I was before. ‘Easier sung than done,’ I said acidly as I tossed a ten-pence piece into his guitar case and returned to the flat above the restaurant. As I fumbled for my key, the door opened. And there she stood, looking surprised to see me. Anjoli. Saibal and Maya’s only daughter and, to date, my one friend in London.
* * *
We’d first spent quality time together six weeks ago. I’d been lying in bed after another enervating afternoon shift at the restaurant, checking Maliha’s Facebook page for updates while listening to Beck tell me that the sun didn’t shine even when it was day, when Anjoli burst into my room without knocking.
‘Come on, you. I can’t stand you walking around looking like a slapped arse, it’s doing my head in. We’re going to get drunk tonight.’
I tried to protest, but she dragged me to the pub and, much to my surprise, I’d enjoyed myself for the first time in months. Thankfully, she hadn’t forced me to talk, happy instead to chatter away about her wild years studying psychology at university; her indignation at being made redundant from her market research job; her on-again, off-again Italian barista boyfriend (I misheard what he did and assumed he was a successful lawyer, until she introduced us in Starbucks a week later). I’d listened, nursing several beers, and eventually she’d got me talking about my life as a detective. Up to the murders, at least. I wasn’t ready to divulge that whole drama yet. It was still too raw.
‘Baba’s always saying you’re a brilliant detective. Like Poirot. Or Sherlock Holmes. So, deduce what I’m thinking, Mr Detective?’
‘I’m a police officer, not a psychic. Anyway, all that Holmes and his violin, Poirot and his moustache and the other English guy…the one who drives the big red car and does crosswords…’
‘Yes, Inspector Morse – that genius stuff is complete rubbish! Nobody in real life solves crimes like that. And it’s never a mastermind planning to kill someone by inviting them to a country house and murdering them in an elaborate way in a locked room with no key. Complete nonsense. Real investigative work is boring. You question people. Find out who’s lying. Piece things together. Then arrest the culprit. You don’t call twelve suspects into a library and show them how clever you are. And it’s never the least likely person. It’s almost always the most likely one who done it! And,’ I added, a harsh note creeping into my voice, ‘they don’t face justice at the end. They just get away with it, leaving idiots like me to pick up the pieces.’
I turned away from her and drained what was left of my beer. She stared at me, taking in the shift in my mood.
I turned back and forced a smile.
‘Yes, sorry. I became a detective because part of me thought I could sit in my room and deduce the identity of a killer using my Poirot “leetle grey cells”. It was a bit of a shock when I found out how dull investigating really was.’
She nodded sympathetically. ‘What about psychology? I thought you had to understand the psyche of the criminal?’
‘Psychology Shmycology. All nonsense. Motives are straightforward – sex, greed, money…’
‘Okay, Okay, I get it! Maybe you should patent a “new” way of solving crimes and they’ll write a book about you – Katching Kriminals with Kamil!’ She laughed, then ordered another round of beers.
Yes, that had been an evening where I’d got out of myself and the weight of Kolkata had lifted. Time with Anjoli almost made me more like who I used to be – the ‘Pre-Asif Khan Murder’ Kamil Rahman. Almost.
* * *
And now here she was, brow wrinkled, wearing jeans and a red cardigan over a T-shirt that said Coconuts are Hard on the Outside but Sweet on the Inside. ‘How come you’re back so early on a Saturday? Immigration caught up with you working illegally on your visitor’s visa? Need to pack your bags?’
‘You wish,’ I retorted.
I shrugged off my perpetual jumpiness – it wasn’t an attractive trait – and squeezed past her into the small hallway, announcing with all the nonchalance I could muster, ‘I’m off for the day. Saibal-da asked me to cater the party tonight. How come you’re home?’
‘Job hunting . . .’ she said at once. ‘Just heading out for some food and a break.’
‘Really? Kim Kardashian’s Instagram now has job postings?’ I awkwardly thrust the plastic bag into her hand as I hung my overcoat on the rack.
‘Hilarious. Oooh, bagels and hummus. I’m literally dying for a snack,’ she said, peering into the bag.
‘Literally dying, huh? I’d better call your mother if you’re about to shuffle off your mortal coil, I’m sure she’d appreciate a break from the restaurant,’ I said, pleased to impress her with the one Shakespearean phrase I knew. Then immediately felt idiotic.
‘Oh, shut up Mr Basically,’ she countered. ‘“Basically, I am
telling you today’s special is quail curry.” “Basically, Snapchat is only for kids.”’
The sun broke through the clouds and the street below glowed with an autumnal freshness as Anjoli put the kettle on. I watched the small butterfly tattoo on her wrist playing hide and seek behind her silver bangles as they clinked musically up and down her arm. ‘Alexa, play The Beatles,’ she commanded, and the plangent sitar of ‘Norwegian Wood’ filled the kitchen.
‘Are you going to the party?’ I asked, tilting back on the wooden kitchen chair.
She grimaced. ‘Yeah, I have to. I hate these stupid dos. Fat men and women in tons of gold jewellery with Ma trying to set me up with their “illegible” sons.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘But it’s Neha’s anniversary, so I have to.’
‘Neha? Now she is…Rakesh’s…daughter? Oh no, I mean wife…’ I said, knowing it would wind her up.
‘Don’t be rude! Anyway, it’s my fault. I got her the job as Rakesh Uncle’s EA after Uni and who could have dreamed that they’d…?’
‘And what exactly was it that first attracted her to millionaire businessman Rakesh Sharma who just happens to be double her age?’
‘Piss off. She loves him. He can be charming and funny. But,’ she gave me a conspiratorial stare and lowered her voice, ‘it is weird! I mean, I’ve known Rakesh Uncle since I was born, and Neha since primary school! He was always nice to me – brought me delish sandesh back from Kolkata. We used to hang out at their place in Watford – Pinky Aunty inherited that house after they split. She always served the most delicious fat, flaky, spicy samosas. And then – boom – next thing I knew they were getting divorced – Rakesh Uncle was marrying my best friend and buying her a bloody great ugly mansion in Bishops Avenue as a wedding present. Neha’s cool, but her taste is a little…Bollywood meets Iraqi Dictator.’
‘Didn’t Neha tell you when they started dating?’ I bit into my bagel.
‘No! I think it embarrassed her. We both knew him when we were kids. Guess she thought people would talk about her – rubbish about daddy issues and what not,’ the psychology major announced confidently. ‘Her parents died when she was young,’ she clarified, spotting my confused expression. ‘Her aunty raised her. It wasn’t easy for Arjun either – watching his dad literally become a cliché, running off with the young secretary, younger than him, even, and leaving his mother behind. Especially when they had to work together every day at PinRak. Neha’s petrified because Pinky’s coming to the party. She’s insisted, because it’s Rakesh’s sixtieth and no one has had the guts to say no. You may have to mop blood off the floor as part of your waitering-catering.’
Congealed blood on a gold silk carpet in a luxurious hotel suite. I shook the memory off.
‘Well, I’ll make sure you’re constantly supplied with Negronis and aloo tikis,’ I said. ‘Although I must remember that Neha has instructed us to call them canapés. Apparently, starters are not sophisticated enough for your friend.’
We sat convivially with our tea, bagels and hummus at the kitchen table, the intermittent hum of the dishwasher providing an accompaniment to Lennon as he drank his wine and bided
Anjoli stretched her arms above her head, yawned and stood up.
‘Okay, I’d better start tarting myself up. I’m meeting some mates for drinks at The Spaniards before the big shebang. Wanna come? I can introduce them to a handsome Bengali detective-in-waiting. Lol.’
‘Handsome?’ I raised an eyebrow. She looked me up and down.
‘You’re right, that is pushing it. But you’re not too bad. I could consider setting you up with one of my single friends. Let’s see – tall, good head of hair, athletic, a little paunch coming, though? Too much of Ma’s vindaloo?’
I discreetly sucked in my stomach, somewhat hurt she’d noticed. It was true…I had been picking up as many shifts at the restaurant as I could as I liked to keep busy, it kept my mind off things, but there were always irresistible leftovers. Maya was a wonderful cook.
‘I mean obviously you’d need better clothes,’ she continued, on a roll now. ‘Those shiny shirts and fake Levis have to go. And you’d have to shave off that stupid moustache.’
‘Your Poirot had a moustache.’
‘He was ancient, man! And anyway, his didn’t look like an
emaciated caterpillar had curled up and died in despair on his upper lip.’
I stroked my moustache defensively. ‘I can tell you I’ve seen your friends and basically I am not sure that they are good enough for me. I’m better off on my own.’ I said, turning away.
‘Your loss, bro! I think Naila might be perfect for you . . . she’s coming. You like her, don’t you?’
My head snapped back. Naila was the niece of Salim Mian, TK’s head waiter. She’d turn up at the restaurant every now and then to collect him at the end of his shift and would quiz me about being a policeman in her soft Pakistani accent while she waited for her uncle to change into his street clothes. I liked her company and we had something in common – she had come over from Lahore to study nursing and was also adjusting to life in London.
‘You are interested in her, I knew it!’ said Anjoli triumphantly.
‘No, I’m not! Anyway, I can’t because . . .’
The front-door lock rattled and Saibal strode in, tossing his keys onto the table in the hallway, followed by Maya carrying three full Tupperware boxes, precariously balanced on top of each other.
I was fond of the Chatterjees, not just because they’d generously taken me in at my lowest point and treated me as part of the family without demur, but because they were real Bhadralok – true, well-mannered gentlefolk. Saibal thought he was the boss, but it was Maya who ran the house and the restaurant with an iron fist, never letting things drop. I missed Ma, and Maya had become like a second mother to me.
Anjoli leapt up, gave her mother a kiss and relieved her of the containers. ‘Cha, ma?’
‘Thank you, sweetie,’ she smiled and then turned to me.
‘Hello Kamil, having a pleasant time with Anjoli?’ Her eyes flitted between us as she joined us at the kitchen table. I’d always wondered if they worried about having a single Muslim guy living with them and fraternising with their single, Hindu daughter. But they’d said nothing. And anyway, after Maliha, my fraternising days were over. Naila or no Naila.
‘I came upstairs to change. I’m helping with the Sharma party,’ I responded.
‘Really?’ said Maya, a note of surprise in her voice, as she sat down with a sigh and kicked off her shoes.
‘Hain, why not?’ said Saibal, plopping next to her, opening the top button of his trousers and stretching out with a happy groan. ‘We needed an extra waiter. Cha for me also Anjoli, please.’
‘Acchha. You will like their house, Kamil,’ said Maya. ‘Much bigger than our small home.’
‘Your flat is lovely, Maya-di,’ I said.
‘It’s so cramped here, compared to Rakesh’s mansion,’ she complained.
A thought struck me. Had I outstayed my welcome? Misjudged their liberality? ‘I will shift back to India soon,’ I mumbled.
‘Oh no,’ Maya exclaimed. ‘I didn’t mean that. This is your home, son.’ She leaned forwards and gave my face a stroke, the way my mother used to. ‘Stay as long as you want. We love having you here.’ Her head swivelled to face her daughter, ‘Anjoli, did you look at any new job postings?’
In-sta-gram, I mouthed as Anjoli giggled, serving them tea and Marie biscuits. ‘Yes, Ma. Nothing good yet.’
‘You can’t waste your life chopping onions. You need to get a wonderful job. Find a good Bangla boy. Forget this love marriage rubbish. Love comes after marriage,’ said Maya, smiling at her husband.
‘So does suicide,’ muttered Anjoli under her breath.
‘Leave her alone, Maya,’ said Saibal. ‘It’s good for her to work in the family business.’
‘What family business? There’s no family business.’ Maya threw her hands in the air. ‘You and I can run restaurants. Anjoli will be a big advertising executive, Kamil will be a great detective and then I can die happy.’
‘Oh Ma, such a drama queen! You’re not dying anytime soon,’ exclaimed Anjoli over her shoulder as she ran up to her room.
A great detective – I stared out of the window at the pouring rain. Memories washed over me as Paul McCartney entreated me to get back to where I once belonged. If only I could get back and do things differently. It had started promisingly: the call that Monday morning from the Deputy Commissioner – my big chance to show the world what a great detective I was. I had been so cocky, so convinced that I knew everything, little anticipating
the cesspool of criminality and corruption that I would get myself into. Never dreaming that one week in July would change my life so irrevocably.
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