3 in the morning. Months have passed since I’ve slept any decent duration of time, since I’ve been home, since I’ve eaten anything that can be called a passable meal. The screen I’m staring at goes into a blur. Everything is a blur. No idea how long I sat there unblinking, eyes half-open, mouth agape, saliva dripping on to the table and fingers feeling up the keys with a vulgar muscle memory of their own.
This must be hell.
The body wants nothing more than to drop off from the chair, crash on the floor and sleep like there’s no tomorrow. The very next instant, the mind counters that impulse with the irrational fear of falling from the chair and not finding the floor…what if I fall into an endless void. Maybe I am falling through an endless void. Maybe all of this, all the things we do as a species are just fallacies sprouting from a fundamental misconception about how life, as we know, should be. Maybe it’s all a big joke. Maybe someone up there is laughing his ass off watching us grind through our existence in utter misery and hopelessness. Maybe I just need more coffee.
Dear God, I need coffee.
Whatever little strength I have left, I apply in dragging myself to the cafeteria. Bastards better have something to drink or I’m burning this bastard place down. The company’s power saving scheme meant that outside office hours, the cafeteria remains half-drowned in darkness.
“No coffee…. only Boost” says the cafeteria guy, some poor Assamese (or whatever fuckin’ Northeastern state he’s from) fellow stuck in the wrong part of the country (and thereby giving the phrase ‘trying to make ends meet’ a whole new meaning). No way a local is going to work graveyard shifts at the cafeteria
“Make it hot. HOT. Soodu Soodu. Garam banaiyo bhaiyya!” I yell after him as he nonchalantly sticks the radio to his ear and walks back into the kitchen. No use. I already know what I am going to drink; a cold, stale, mildly offensive smelling potion. I light a cigarette. Smoking within the premises gets you fired. Or atleast such is one’s hope.
Ahhhh….. I rock back the chair and exhale deeply. Small mercies.
If only life felt as blissful as this puff of … Wait! Did I just hear someone coughing? I look around the cafeteria. It’s lifeless and dark, as it should be. The Assamese guy returns with the order. Its surprisingly warm and a tad too sweet. Must be his payday.
Half way through the third puff a voice behind me makes me jump “Excuse me, can you please not smoke in here.” It is a girl. Well fuck me! Of all the things one expects to run into, 2 am some Wednesday morning in a barren cafeteria.
Did I just say ‘a girl’? Let me explain. It like when you’re on your way to a well-deserved century on a benign 2nd day pitch, the sun’s out and the bowling’s uninspired. It seems like nothing in the world can stop you from that century when from out of the blue a seemingly innocuous, yet pacy,outside off-stump delivery, which when left alone, 99999 times out of 100000, would reach the keeper’s gloves on the 3rd bounce, devilishly jags back towards you, while you’re holding your majestic well-left, arm-shouldering pose for all the cameras to click. Too late to react, you look on as horror which then gives way to puzzlement, astonishment, anger and desperation, fill your now remarkably vacant mind. To give you due credit, you do recover from your shitfaced-ness and try to straighten your legs which is nothing more than an act of hope….but you know the ball’s gonna hit you smack bang in the center of the pads, below the knee roll. After what seems like 55 years, the impact comes…. followed by the sinking feeling in the gut, then comes the huge appeal and its subsequent upholdment.
As you walk back slowly towards the crease, the anticipation of glory and orgasmic delight still wiggling about like a freshly chopped lizard’s tail, the only thought your mind can conjure up is: “The fuck just happened?”
That thought…is where I am right now. The fuck just happened? Slowly, the ‘a’ in ‘a girl’ was turning into ‘the’. This is dangerous, I tell myself.
“Exactly. It’s dangerous not only to the smokers but to the people around as well.” she says (Damnit…caught thinking aloud again).
“Sorry, didn’t know anyone else was here. Will throw this off. On one condition though“
“What?” she asks. The kind of ‘what’ that resembled the one in ‘what-ain’t-no-country-I-ever-heard-of’
“That you join me for a Boost. Just 5 minutes.“
Glorious cover-drive! I can see that she wasn’t prepared for this kind of sandhu-le-sindhu. It’s a good sign when you catch them off guard, even if it’s for a second. She says Ok and I put off the smoke.
“Haven’t seen you in the office. Which department?“
“R&D Labs” So that’s why. R&D is to us what New World is to the native African tribes. Freeloading bastards prance around talking about cutting-edge tech shit and such like, while the rest of the labor break their collective heads on some devious queries or non-compliant test cases.
“I’m in the QA-COE. So how come you stay back late?” It’s something unheard of at my workplace – R&D guys slogging.
“Oh… I checked in late. I like to work when there’s no one around. Helps me concentrate” Ah…I forget that the flexi-timing rules applies to her department. Not to us though. The last time I attempted to flexi-time, by which I mean land in office an hour late, Banerjee took out a Republic day parade on the corridor, sticking a pole up my posterior.
“Great” I say and attempt what humans call a ‘smile’.
“You look ill” she says “Tough break,eh?“
“I’d rather not talk about it now“
“Ha…So what would you talk about?” Her drink has arrived. I hope the guy kept up with his consistency.
“Anything really. As long as its not about work.“
…and talk we do. If someone later asked me what were we on about, I wouldn’t know what to say… because sometimes conversations aren’t bound by the subjects that define them. Sometimes people aren’t after any rational conclusion that they wish to arrive via conversing. The journey’s spectacular, why bother about the destination.
Her eyes let out sparks as and when music is being discussed. I can see she’s got a fantastic taste. There is absolutely no hyperbole in her speech. Her insights or whatever she deduces, she lays it dryly with a little wit, here and there. Every 3rd line or so, she pulls a strand of hair back behind her ear and her studs shine out like stars under the solitary bulb light. I try surviving it all, but the smile’s a killer. Even in disagreement, she lets out a disarming smile. By the time she’s realized that she’s been in the cafeteria far too long, I’m a half-melted semi-colloidal human substance, leaking out of my clothes and flowing towards the drain.
I watch her politely excuse herself and walk back to the steps. I crane my neck to check if she has legs or if she just floats around on a little mobile-cloud like thingy (neither would’ve surprised me). Legs. Win.
No idea how I reached my desk. Not that I care. All I could think of is about…about….about… wait. What did she say her name was?
Two months later:
Ever heard of a theory which says that if you want something truly and sincerely from the deepest depth of your heart, the universe does everything it can to keep you away from it? No? Here, watch this shitwit Bollywood flick.
I can tell you that for no good reason I had to rush to Mumbai, the very next day. I can tell you that I am to stay here until the project I’m executing comes out of the crisis situation it has managed to crawl itself into. I can tell you that Banerjee has made it his life’s mission to run me to death.
I can also tell you that I inquired everyone I know in the R&D. No frickin’ luck. Fuckin’ idiot! Talked in length about octave equivalency and other such nonsense, forgot to ask name.
“K” It was Banerjee.
“Take the 10 o’ clock, will you?“
“Man I really can’t ! Got a clash at 10:30 and I don’t want to be missing that“
“I’ll cover the 10:30, champ. You get the 10-er“
Damn! there goes my only free half-an-hour reserved for smoking. Maybe if I hurry the fuck up during the call at 9, I can sneak in a puff or two. I do wrap stuff up by 9.45 and run to the nearest sutta shop. Lucky it’s just next to the parking lot and one can smoke under some shade.
“Hellllo!” I hear a familiar voice say. If ever Illayaraja was looking for a cue to take center-stage and conduct a grand “How to name it” concert, this was it. Maybe its the sunlight or the sugar-rush…whatever it is I’m going completely blind now.
“You again… How are you?“
“I will tell you. On one condition“
“Coffee with me. Just 5 minutes” I had half-a-mind to tell her that I have a meeting in 5 minutes. Infact, scratch that… I’m lying. I didn’t even think of the meeting up until half-an-hour later when call I up and tell Banerjee that I have to take the rest of the day off as my granny, who’s in town for some reason, just died in a bathroom accident.
“That was naughty” she giggles
“Ah…Granma wouldn’t mind. Especially since she’s been dead for years now.” … and its true. I mean, the last 5 years of her life Granma moved heaven and earth to get me married (If its the last thing I’d do. You are going to get married, boy! Like it or not – her last words, or the jist of it. Old thing got delirious towards the end). Didn’t happen, much to her dismay and my joy. So yeah, in a way killing her again for a cause she’d relate to didn’t seem that bad an idea.
“Hey listen, it’s kinda awkward but I don’t know your name yet. I am …”
“K. I know“
“Ah…” her sources are better than mine.
“Friends call me Jina“
Jina? I desperately try to classifying her name into one of the compatible castes that can co-exist peacefully with mine. Damn! This is a loose end.
” And your enemies?“
She giggles. “Jina. That is my name“
“So what are you upto? For the rest of the day, I mean?“
“Donno… might catch up on some mourning. Didn’t get to do it properly the first time“
“Wait! I have a great idea.” out of nowhere she’s excited. Calls her boss, tells him (I know its a him…She keeps calling him sir every 2nd line. It’s a bit annoying.) that her grandmother just died in a bathroom accident.
“Condolences” I tell her after the call
“So where all do you want to mourn?“
“Donno you are the local here. You tell me“
Epilogue (Can I call it that?):
…. And that is how I first met Jina (in broad daylight.. just a technicality…ignore it, it just felt good to be the first line of an epilogue…so). There is a lot more of that day I wish to tell you. That day and years that followed. But I think sometimes such stories aren’t just about the content that define them. People sometimes aren’t in the story telling business to tell other people whats and whys and whens of happenings. To them it’s beside the point….Because sometimes the journey’s so great, that one doesn’t bother about the destination.
Well I don’t
….and I don’t consider myself much the poorer for it.