Sunday, April 24, 2011

Not Just Another Day

They had to shield their eyes from the scorching sun as they walked out of the college building. They headed towards the bus stop. It had become their latest hangout place.
“I’m not hungry.” She said as she tried to prop herself up on to the railing of the bus stop. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to sit. But it gave shelter from the sun and it was breezier than the stuffy canteen they had just walked out of. There were trees all along that side-walk that swayed in the hot summer breeze.
“When did you eat last?” He took her hand and helped her on to the railing. She noticed beads of sweat outlining his face and realised she was sweating too. Her hair was frizzy and unkempt because of the humid weather.
“Do you want to go sit inside? It’s really hot here. You’re sweating like hell!”
“I’m fine. You tell me why you’re not eating anything!”
“Arey baba, I ate a lot in the morning. Plus, it’s really hot! I don’t feel like eating now.”
They looked at each other and grinned. The sun was burning down on the street. The recess bell hadn’t rung yet, so there weren’t many people outside the college. He kept his bag between them on the railing and held it there with one hand.
“Do you want to eat my dabba?” he asked.
She threw her head back and laughed, “So this is what this is all about! You don’t want to eat your dabba so you want me to finish it, so that you can take home an empty dabba.” She wagged a finger at him and smiled mischievously.
“No, re! I’m just saying I have my dabba, so we can just sit and eat here. We don’t need to go anywhere. And also, yeah, mom will yell at me if I don’t eat it all.”
“And why can’t you eat it all?” She asked rolling her eyes at him, giggling all the while. She couldn’t stop shaking with mirth. It’s really not that funny! She told herself, stop giggling!
“Because it’s too hot. Ok? There. I said it. Now you can stop laughing.” They gave each other a knowing look and started laughing again. They laughed together till they were both breathless.
“You’re so stupid!” She said, punching him on the arm.
“Hey, I made you laugh. Is that so bad?”
She smiled, “Yeah. It’s horrible. You crack the world’s silliest jokes and I don’t understand how I can laugh at them.”
He smiled at her, bearing all his teeth and blinked at her innocently. He thinks he’s so cute.
“But I make you laugh no? That’s enough.” He said.
“Randolph! What you got in dabba today? I’ve got super boring cabbage bhaji yaar.” A thin voice emerged from behind them, along with a strong scent of perfume. “Hey, Kriti, you didn’t attend Maths this morning?”
“I was sitting right behind you, Pooja” replied Kriti, with a hint of malice in her voice.
“Oh right! Yeah, I forgot.” Pooja turned to Randolph and said, “Anyway, so show na, your dabba!”
Randolph looked at Kriti and shrugged. He took out the dabba from his bag and opened it up.
“Bhindi! You didn’t tell me you’ve got bhindi. Now I want to eat.” Said Kriti. Without waiting for a response, she reached into the dabba and picked two rotis.
“I didn’t know you liked bhindi” said Randolph. He was a little taken aback and yet amused at the sudden hunger Kriti had developed. She polished off the two rotis and half of the bhindi before Pooja had the time to settle down and open her dabba.
When she noticed Kriti gulping down the food, she commented, “Whoa! That’s fast. When was the last meal you ate, Kriti? Last month?” Pooja and Randolph laughed together as Kriti chewed on a mouthful.
She struggled to swallow as she tried to smile and seem aloof. But alas! All that food, all too quickly caused her to get hiccups. She tried to hide it, but it was too strong. This only gave Pooja more reason laugh and Randolph joined in. Kriti glared at him.
“OK, sorry... sorry. That’s not funny” Said Randolph. He looked at her with his eyes wide and said, “Water?”
“Yes” she said, trying not to sound too upset.
He held out his bottle for her with one hand and his dabba for Pooja with the other. Kriti quickly drank some water and returned the bottle to him. She watched as Pooja ate out of his dabba. She was sure Pooja had a crush on him. She was just that type. She smiles too much, Kriti thought. And she pouted too much. I mean, we all know you wear lip gloss everyday to college. You don’t need to take such trouble to show it off.
“Last bite, you want?” Randolph asked Kriti as he offered the dabba to her. She directed her attention back to Randolph. He was holding out his dabba to her. She smiled and reached out. Just as her fingers reached the dabba, Randloph’s finger slipped, inadvertently closing the lid on Kriti’s finger. She pulled it back, instinctively. Randolph stood up in fright.
A small scratch appeared on her finger. He took her finger and examined it, holding it close to his face. “I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?” He pressed the finger, to check if it bled. When a tiny dash of red appeared, he panicked. He involuntarily drew in his breath. She was a little shocked at this reaction and pulled her finger away to examine it herself.
She shook her head and smiled as she looked at it, “It’s just a small cut.” She blew on her finger. “May be I’ll go hold it under water or something. It’s burning a little bit.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“Oh don’t fuss over it so much, Kriti. It’s not such a big wound.” Pooja looked a little disgruntled.
“It’s burning a little bit, especially because it’s just below the cuticle.”
“Yeah, you should hold it under water in the basin.” Randolph picked up his bag and took Kriti by one arm and started walking towards the canteen. Kriti did not resist and went along with him.
After she had held her finger under the faucet for a while, she said “I think it’s ok now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll bleed to death.” She said, and laughed.
Randolph wasn’t amused. “Ok, if you say so. But listen,”
“I’m really sorry.”
She looked into his eyes and smiled. He was so tense. He looked at her with big, concerned, light brown eyes. She felt a warm thrill run down her spine. The recess bell rang and suddenly there was commotion in the canteen. They stood there in silence. Kriti tried to suppress the thrill she felt, as she took a deep breath and said with a slight shrug,
“It’s ok.”

Friday, April 22, 2011


He had a cold, the day he died.

The night before, he had felt a little itch on the roof of his mouth, and an irritation in the throat. It’s time I took a day off, he had told himself. He hadn’t had good sleep. He woke up thrice during the night feeling thirsty. And in the morning, he woke up with a heavy head and a runny nose.
“Cad you please bake be somb strog coffee?” he asked his wife “I have ad imported meetig today.”
He liked the way she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his forehead before she got out of bed.

He noticed a light red stain on his left cuff and remembered how he had got it. He was having lunch with his colleagues when the new employee had decided to introduce herself to them. He had unwittingly tilted his plate as he got up to introduce himself. The red oil of the subzi had soaked into his left cuff. He tried not to think of the neckline of her kurta as she leaned across the table to shake his hand. He sniffed hard. He had tears in his eyes. He wished he could take the day off. But he picked up his bag and went in search of his wife.
“I’ve made strong black coffee for you. Also, have that pill before you go.” She was sitting in the living room reading the newspaper.
“Will you be late cobig homb today?” He asked
“I don’t know depends on my boss’ mood” she said and turned to him with a smile.
He picked up his coffee and ignored the pill.
“I wish I could take the day off.”
One of the things he loved about her was her smile. She was spare with her emotions usually. But her smile said everything.
“You’ll be fine. Just don’t work too hard. And come back home early and sleep.”

He wiped his nose thoroughly while he waited for the signal to turn green. He hated driving to work in the morning. Luckily, he didn’t have to do it every day. He carpooled with his three friends from work. They were waiting for him just across the signal. He looked at his watch. He was only 10 minutes late today. He grinned. He started up the car when the people in front of him started up their cars. He put it into gear when he saw some of the cars moving ahead. But as he stepped on the accelerator, he sneezed. It was a loud, energy consuming, nerve shattering sneeze. He lost control of the steering wheel for a split second. It was lucky that he was on the left hand corner of the road. He would only have hit the pavement, if at all. But he didn’t. He gained control again and drove past the signal and stopped at his friend’s gate.
“You’re in no condition to drive today. Chal, I’ll drive.” Good friends they were. He put up no resistance and quietly moved to the passenger’s seat.
As they pulled up at the office building, they noticed a large crowd gathered around the gate. He cleared his throat and sniffed. He wished he had had that pill. Someone came to the car and said, “There was a fire last night. Nothing very big, but the electricity to one side of the building is completely shut.” They parked the car and joined the crowd.
“You look terrible” said his boss, who walked up to him from the crowd. The parking area was empty except a couple of cars, including his own.
“I developed a cold last night.”
“Why don’t you take the day off? Anyway I don’t think the meeting will happen today. Our floor has no electricity.”
“Are you sure? I mbeed I’d really appreciate it.” He couldn’t believe his luck.
“Go home. Get well soon” said the boss. He was grinning and shaking his head as he ran back to the crowd.

May be he will make some nice hot soup for himself, when he reaches home. The traffic was very light on this side of the road. He was going against the rush hour traffic. He was thrilled at how scarcely he used the brake. It would take only half as much time as it took to go to work.

It was almost noon when he reached back. It was scorching hot when he got out of his car but he couldn’t stop sniffling. He walked into the building, barely noticing the watchman who was fast asleep, or the third floor aunty who waved at him, or the two men who seemed to be looking for someone. The lift wasn’t working again. He had to drag himself up the stairs. His head seemed to get heavier and he felt feverish. He pulled up his bag and held it to his chest and sniffed hard. His head was pounding. I think I will take that pill after all, he decided.

If he wasn’t so drowsy with cold he would have noticed the two men walking up the stairs behind him. He would have realised they were stopping on his floor. He would have turned to them and asked them who they were looking for. He would have noticed that one of them was holding something behind his back. As he opened the door to his house, the men pushed past him into the house and kicked the door shut. One held his arms behind his back as the other cupped his mouth and pulled out a knife. Before he had time to react, he felt his flesh being sliced through. A searing pain rose from his gut and into his chest. He felt the cold blade inside his stomach twisting and then being pulled out. He tried to wriggle his hands free. A second later, he was let go. He tried to make some sound but instead, he vomited blood. He couldn’t hold himself up anymore. His knees buckled and let his head fall to one side.

He thought of his wife and then he thought of his soft bed. His head started spinning, and he started losing consciousness. The floor was covered with blood and the two men had disappeared. He reached into his pocket and took out his phone. He dialled his wife’s number and then he let himself sink. He was dying. He coughed and felt the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. He sniffed and felt blood in his nose.