“Dairy Christmas” by Pardeep Toor
Once upon a time–of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve–a criminal sat busy in his cell. He wasn’t a violent or perverted criminal. Not even a mean criminal. Rather, just a criminal who made a tax-related mistake. It could happen to anybody just as it did to Raj three years ago in his dairy factory. He paid taxes on the milk that was produced in his field of cows adjacent to the processing center, but he did not pay duty on sales related to milk products like yogurt, cheese, and butter.
“That would be like paying taxes twice once on the milk and again on the milk products,” Raj told his wife and accountant, Divya, a heavy-set woman whose constantly exposed belly hung below her navel. “I paid for the milk once, and I will do with it whatever I please after that.” Even when it was time for weekly tithes at temple on Sunday, Raj only gave 10 percent from the milk profits. Earnings from the other dairy products did not belong to the Gods nor his wife but were his alone. Especially the cheese popsicles, those were his creation.
“My accountant had nothing to do with this,” Raj voluntarily told the judge during his hearing. “If anything, my accountant is only guilty of being a poor cook, lazy in bed, and a slightly below-average wife.”
This was Raj’s fourth Christmas Eve in prison, and each year, it was his favorite day. Christmas Eve meant all the other criminals were cuffed off to Church service (to which he refused to attend on religious grounds) until midnight, and he had the entire prison to himself–all 127 cells (including his own) across three floors. Absent on this night was the bickering between metal bars, empty threats resulting in fist fights, and screams from the new entrants spending their first of many damned nights in the company of cinder blocks and strangers adjoined only by evil. The courts were closed until the new year so plea hearings and appeals were delayed for at least another week and the accompanying suspension of hope reduced angst in the compound. Time-and-a-half made the guards smile more on Christmas Eve.
Raj loved the silence. He couldn’t tell if it was snowing, storming, or sunny outside. The elements couldn’t penetrate windowless concrete. He only learned to appreciate the stillness inside on Christmas Eve. While the criminals discovered or reaffirmed their faith until the legal dawn of Christmas at midnight, Raj remembered his cows, the feeling of milk on his hands, and the stench of pasteurization in the morning. He shed a tear for his wife while simultaneously cursing her for being a lousy accountant.
Pardeep Toor is a Canadian-born Indian living in Flint, Michigan. His father taught him about hard work while his mother inspired persistence. He adopted his stubbornness from CM Punk and Kevin Garnett. He still has hoop dreams.