Volatile spurts

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“I can see it coming.”

He did not tell me what he saw coming. Maybe he did not know it himself. I doubt he was thinking clearly. He definitely was not speaking clearly. These were the only clear words in a stream of incoherent babbles.

This was not his normal self. Drunk, hair disheveled, he looked like a wreck. I realised he must have been drinking all night and I wondered if I should have come down when he had called me. I could have put a stop to the drinking at the very least.

He looked up with blood shot eyes. Was it my imagination? Could there be so many contrasting emotions tearing through a person’s soul at the same instant? I could see pain, self righteous anger and desperation.

The man in front of me was not the one I knew. Right up there among the top of the class, opening batsman of the state team, star elocutionist. It did not stop with college. Brand manager within a year of joining and hand picked to kick start operations in Africa. In fact there is nothing in common between us. A case of opposites come together. I had just been an average student and was not exactly setting corporate India on fire either. Yet our friendship had continued and only gotten stronger. It was but natural that he had looked to me when he wanted to be with someone.

I was trying hard to make sense of what he was saying. Finally through his babbling and swearing I managed to piece together the story that had been racking his conscience  for so many years now. Of the summer afternoon when the two families had gone out leaving behind little Lakshmi with him. They had known him as a responsible kid, and he was too. But something had gotten into him that day. It had started as a game, but had gone horribly wrong. She had been laughing when he had locked her up in the cupboard. Laughter soon turned into cries of fear that ended abruptly. It had all been over in a matter of minutes. But the nightmares that kept visiting him were always in excruciating slow motion. He would hear her cries and instinctively go for the door. But try as he could, his hands would refuse to move. And the cries would go on and on until he would wake up in a cold sweat.

“Just a kid”, he said. “Hardly five years old.”

A pregnant silence followed. I suppose I should have said something consoling. Told him how it was a mistake and that he should not blame himself for what happened. But I said nothing.  I was stunned, myself.

Am not a habitual drinker but I badly needed a drink now. I got up slowly to get a glass.

I could feel the raw alcohol burn my throat as I took my first sip. But it had its intended effect and I felt calmer. I tried to collect my thoughts and make sense of it all.

“Six.”

I don’t think he heard me consciously. He was too preoccupied putting down the drink that I had fixed for him. But something registered somewhere and he looked up at me. His eyes seemed blank, but I could imagine his alcohol numbed brain working hard to figure out what instinct already told him.

“She was six,” I said.

I had always wondered about it. Even at that young age I realised that something was amiss. It was not just what they told me but the way they did it. I was obvious that they were lying when they said that she had died of a heart problem.

They must have done that to protect him. They were decent people that way. Time heals and they moved on. But I guess I never did. Its been more than a decade now and I still miss her. My favourite cousin.  I had loved her like my own sister and she had adored me.

The kaleidoscope of emotions was on display again.  He looked confused for a few seconds. Slow comprehension finally set in and he gave me a piteous pleading look. Getting no response, he shrugged his shoulders in a resigned manner and reached out for his drink.

Maybe it was the odd taste that he now sensed. Or was it simply an instinct for survival that told him something was wrong? He abruptly spat out the liquid and looked up at me fearfully.

I nodded this time.

Death is no punishment if you don’t see it coming.

Written by El Presidente

December 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Fiction

Glass wall revised

with one comment

(this is a revised version of the original, based on feedback received)

Would I have even noticed her in any other context. I honestly doubt it.  Could have been in her late twenties or early thirties. One could not say by looking at her. I was fixing it by the kid. One does not get it very wrong with a kid.

You could get it wrong with a lady though. This newfangled fitness fetish of the modern woman. And of course the cosmetic industry is probably the only one showing growth in a recession rid economy. It was not that she was made up or anything. Dressed casually in a jean and shirt. Sandals. Hair folded into one of those large clips that give that rough and ready look. If you do know your stuff, the rough and ready look comes in two varieties. The one that takes four hours of hard work in the parlour and the one that really is. This one was the real thing.

That she was here out of choice was quite obvious. The black Scorpio parked outside  said that she could have afforded any of those new places. It also suggested that America figured somewhere in her past. Something about the US. Two months there, and SUVs become the favourite mode of travel for women. The larger the better. Does it make them feel powerful? Is it that they have a point to prove? If there was any such point, it was well proven in this case. The Scorpio was parked on the edge of the road where it fell off into one of those few empty plots that remain on the East Coast Road. Right at the very edge. Between the ONYX garbage bin in front and the pillar behind. With hardly a foot space to spare. It must have been expert hands that had backed the vehicle into that small space. The same hands that held the keys now?

The hands told a story. She had not inherited her wealth. Its the hand that is given the miss when the rest of you is given a makeover. A nagging middle class thrift? She had been middle class once. The money had been earned. Fluency in one of those new languages. Java or C. The names may sound funny but money is still green. By the looks of it she had already graduated beyond those primitive languages. She must be earning those big bucks in plain English. An American accent maybe, but English alright. Project manager or above. No more backbreaking code writing for this lady.

For one crazy moment I visualized her in the ad that stared out of the page I had turned to. “Go further than you ever imagined”, it said. It had this slim and rather goodlooking woman walking purposefully somewhere. Further than she had ever imagined I suppose. This one was not that slim nor that goodlooking.  But then, I doubt if she had trained to be a model. She sure looked the kind who would go further than she imagined though. In fact further than anyone had imagined. The maternal uncle was probably still shaking his head and saying, ” Well, who could have imagined”.

I could. I could imagine her walking into a packed auditorium to make a presentation on the future of telecom and 5G and all that. I could imagine her briefing her team of nerdy looking lieutenants, on the importance of delivering that project on time. I could imagine her in a conference call. Legs crossed, hair efficiently tied back, speaking into a microphone. She was, for sure, someone who could hold her own in whats supposed to be a man’s world. Reinforced steel may have stopped her, but she would not even have noticed the glass or felt it shatter as she zoomed up the corporate ladder. Always cool. Always composed. Always confident.

Which was probably why she was so noticeable now. Distinctly uncomfortable. Well, if not uncomfortable, a little apprehensive. Tentative?  She was seated on the very edge of the seat. The seat itself placed close to the door. One foot in, the other outside. She was looking outside too. Pointedly. But it was quite obvious she was all ears to what transpired inside. It was not something that went unnoticed. There was a palpable tension in the air. The men inside were not comfortable with the idea of this intrusion. But they tried to act normal. In their own way they were laying reinforcements to one of the last bastions of exclusivity, by acting that her presence did not affect them.

And she? She had the look of someone who had seen it before. A “pretending I don’t exist will not make me go away” look. But there was one indisputable fact. She may not have gone away, she may not have been fully stopped, but she had definitely paused at this very last stage.

Did she realize that this was different?  That how many ever miles she may have traveled, that how many ever heights she may have reached, there are some barriers that are not to be broken, some lines too sacred to be crossed.

I would never know. However I did know this much. That there was at least one piece of real estate, albeit tiny, that was going to remain exclusively male for some time to come.

The kid was through. I dropped the Filmfare back on the bench. It was my turn for a haircut.

Written by El Presidente

June 28, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Fiction

Glass wall

with 4 comments

(find here a revised version of this entry based on based on feedback received)

Would I have even noticed her in any other context. I honestly doubt it.  Could have been in her late twenties or early thirties. One could not say by looking at her. I was fixing it by the kid. One does not get it very wrong with a kid.

You could get it wrong with a lady though. This newfangled fitness fetish of the modern woman. And of course the cosmetic industry is probably the only one showing growth in a recession rid economy. It was not that she was made up or anything. Dressed casually in a jean and shirt. Sandals. Hair folded into one of those large clips that give that rough and ready look. If you do know your stuff, the rough and ready look comes in two varieties. The one that takes four hours of hard work in the parlour and the one that really is. This one was the real thing.

That she was here out of choice was quite obvious. The black Scorpio parked outside  said that she could have afforded any of those new places. It also suggested that America figured somewhere in her past. Something about the US. Two months there, and SUVs become the favourite mode of travel for women. The larger the better. Does it make them feel powerful? Is it that they have a point to prove? If there was any such point, it was well proven in this case. The Scorpio was parked on the edge of the road where it fell off into one of those few empty plots that remain on the East Coast Road. Right at the very edge. Between the ONYX garbage bin in front and the pillar behind. With hardly a foot space to spare. It must have been expert hands that had backed the vehicle into that small space. The same hands that held the keys now?

The hands told a story. She had not inherited her wealth. Its the hand that is given the miss when the rest of you is given a makeover. A nagging middle class thrift? She had been middle class once. The money had been earned. Fluency in one of those new languages. Java or C. The names may sound funny but money is still green. By the looks of it she had already graduated beyond those primitive languages. She must be earning those big bucks in plain English. An American accent maybe, but English alright. Project manager or above. No more backbreaking code writing for this lady.

For one crazy moment I visualized her in the ad that stared out of the page I had turned to. “Go further than you ever imagined”, it said. It had this slim and rather goodlooking woman walking purposefully somewhere. Further than she had ever imagined I suppose. This one was not that slim nor that goodlooking.  But then, I doubt if she had trained to be a model. She sure looked the kind who would go further than she imagined though. In fact further than anyone had imagined. The maternal uncle was probably still shaking his head and saying, ” Well, who could have imagined”.

I could. I could imagine her walking into a packed auditorium to make a presentation on the future of telecom and 5G and all that. I could imagine her briefing her team of nerdy looking lieutenants, on the importance of delivering that project on time. I could imagine her in a conference call. Legs crossed, hair efficiently tied back, speaking into a microphone. She was, for sure, someone who could hold her own in whats supposed to be a man’s world. Reinforced steel may have stopped her, but she would not even have noticed the glass or felt it shatter as she zoomed up the corporate ladder. Always cool. Always composed. Always confident.

Which was probably why she was so noticeable now. Distinctly uncomfortable. Well, if not uncomfortable, a little apprehensive. Tentative?  One foot in, the other outside. She was looking outside too. Pointedly. But it was quite obvious she was all ears to what transpired inside. Did I notice a hint of excitement? The look of someone who had finally set out on an adventure that she had only dreamed of until then? Choosing to realise some crazy idea that she had long harboured? I was sure she wanted to be here. The kid was just an excuse. This was not the first time for the kid, but it definitely was so here. The kid was making it plainly clear that it was no party to this escapade.

So why would she take all the effort to do this … and pause at the very last minute. She had crossed many barriers before, and this should have been just one more of them. So why? Maybe she realized that this was different.  That how many ever miles she may have traveled, that how many ever heights she may have reached, there are some barriers that are not to be breached, some lines too sacred to be crossed.

I would never know. However I did know this much. That there was at least one piece of real estate, albeit a tiny bit, that was going to remain exclusively male for some time to come.

The kid was through. I dropped the dated Filmfare back on the bench. It was my turn for a haircut.

Written by El Presidente

June 18, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Fiction