This is a combination of two dark stories - one written long back, and one scrawled on a piece of paper at rundown shack selling chai - sitting on a rickety chair and an equally rickety desk. Uncannily, I typed the latter onto my computer and gave it an exact same title as the older one. Hence I merged two seemingly different stories into one, for thats how they are - different, but together
Panic gripped her. She had to think. She walked up to the rest room. As usual she threw up. Emotions did this to her. The only outwardly sign of the wars waging within – the sounds of her retching bent double over.
Locked up in the small cubicle in the restroom and sat down on the commode, she willed herself to breathe deeply. She had not left her office for the past 24 hours. The only signs one could notice of that were her bloody red eyes from spending the last two nights awake and the same dress she had been wearing at office. Head hung and held in hands, two small droplets made their way from her eyes to the clean and shiny granite surface of the cubicle.
He switched on the lights as he walked in to the empty house.
That was it was – a house – a roof and four walls; or rather – that was it had become.
A lovingly constructed home – was now a house.
An impassionate expression on the face, he crossed the living room, threw his suit and laptop case onto the bed, loosened his tie and plopped on the bean bag near by.
She thought of help, “a call; just one …” but he was cocaine, he was an addiction, she could not allow herself the luxury of becoming an addict, and the consequences would be disastrous. “And, then” she reasoned with herself “I don’t need anyone”.
He was tired. It had been a long day at office. The thoughts though, would not leave him alone. The “Whys” and the “Whats” kept haunting him. He had a chance once, only if he had taken it. Now, it was late. Too late to do anything; anything but exist. He had once thought he was above regrets, he now knew better.
Another bout of violent retching told her otherwise – “withdrawal symptoms” she whispered to herself – the voice scratchy and husky with the long hours without sleep and all those times of throwing up the bitter bile “like a crack addict no longer being able to afford it” – the irony of it brought a grotesque smile on her lips. She stood there leaning against the wash basin for how long she knew not, no one walked in but the mobile rang – sounding more shrill and echoing off the walls and mirrors in the rest room.
It was not as though he had asked for too much - just some peace of mind. Was that too much to ask for? At an age when his father had become a father, here he was alone in his house, too alone for anyone to notice even if he died this instant.
“Nice caller tune”
The chameleon she was, her voice acquired the mocking-laughing tone it had when talking to a colleague. “Yes, thank you – what’s the matter?”
“The interviewees are ready …”
“Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes – where’s the other manager in the panel?”
Where was that one person who really cared? Where was that family he so wanted? When did the understanding stop? Where did the freedom disappear? What went wrong?
Who was responsible?
Questions were barbs, they got under his skin and pricked his soul – they refused to let go of him.
“She’s taken off, she says you are free to choose the people for her team- she trusts your judgment”
She laughed out loud – so someone trusted her judgment now! That was something.
He had once thought that his life would not have such questions. He had allowed himself the luxury to think that he wasn’t one of “them”. The “them” who had no other objective in life but to earn and drive cars that were inversely proportional to the sizes of their penises and live in houses that could house the entire Dharavi twice over.
Today, he was exactly where he hadn’t seen himself in those utopian ages that you call the childhood.
“Okay – I’ll do it myself, all the people in there already?”
“The two women you’d asked to be here today have requested a change in timings, today being a festival you see ….” The HR representative’s voice was apologetic as she trailed off “actually, I won’t be able to help you much as well, I’m going home too for the festival”
“Hmmm, I’ll be there – I don’t need anyone else, just make sure you leave the papers in the interview room”
There was work to do – the features of the face set into a rigid mask as she splashed water on her face.
He had seen the dream of a family, and real people around him. He had wanted life and laughter, each night, a prelude to another day to look forward to, each day – happy. Money was not what he had dreamt about, Love, peace and happiness was what he had longed for.
Days now did not signal a new lease of life, they only spoke of the approaching death. Nights were blacked out and erased from memory.
As the rays of the sun hit him, he woke up with a migrane, opened his eyes to yet another day.
He had work to do.
She had a world to face.