Alright, this is a new feature on my blog. It's not exactly a short story, but in essence it's still a short story that somehow managed to be longer than what the norm suggests. It's written by this guy called Christopher Jennings, whom I had the pleasure of being acquainted with at the Mumbai LitFest over a discussion on crime noir. He wrote this one and I'm happy to publish this on this modest platform of mine. Hope you enjoy reading it.
Another day at the office. Paperwork and more bloody paperwork – that’s all he had done for the past 6 years of his life barring Sundays. Where were those promises of a ‘challenging work environment’ he had heard from that lying bastard MD Sharma when he had joined this company?
David Noronha was homeward bound, having finished a 20-minute-long presentation regarding the market position of the company. Not that he was bad, either. Not that he was good, having had a fear of standing up and speaking in front of a crowd ever since PowerPoint made its way into his life back in college. Atleast he was better at it than that new Mallu guy - Dishanth Warrier - who seemed to spend more time tailing his boss and catching onto every word of his rather than working on curbing his ‘uh’ and ‘umm’ every time he did a presentation.
Incidentally, the boss was also a Mallu. Guess the wise men were right, he decided. Birds of a feather flock together.
The performance appraisal was supposed to be sometime this week, he thought. He had been expecting a promotion this time around. The boss had seemed pretty pleased with his work in the past 6 months. He even made it a point to congratulate him on the efforts he had put into his last two presentations. If not a promotion, he should be getting atleast a substantial increment. After all, what most companies did was dump even more bloody paperwork upon you once you got a promotion. David had been stuck at Executive for the past two years. Two and a half, he corrected himself almost immediately.
Mumbai local trains were rather peaceful around this time of the day. Or night, whatever you call it. He checked his watch. Twenty minutes past nine. Just a couple of minutes before Ghatkopar arrived, which was where he lived. Then a short distance walk to his home, maybe 10-15 minutes at most. For those who still aren’t aware, most Indians measure distances in time. The classic ones are those while giving directions. David chuckled to himself at the thought.
He had phoned his girlfriend Neeti earlier, letting her know he would be late. She said she understood. By her tone on the phone, he didn’t understand what it was exactly she understood. Never mind, he decided. She knew he often had to work long hours. She was an active volunteer for an NGO and she too often had to face the same thing. My Neeti’s got a heart of gold, he thought.
In the midst of his thoughts, he didn’t realize that he was finally at the entrance of his building. He reached his apartment, remembering to take the stairs on the way up - just as Neeti had told him to. He knocked on the door and moments later, he saw the face of his pretty girlfriend. Suddenly, he felt an urge to embrace her and kiss her like he did in the good old days of their relationship, with passion. But his tired body would only allow a mere peck on the cheek, which he did.
An hour later, after he had had a bath and eaten what his tired body would permit him to, he went and sat on the sofa, in front of the idiot box. He remembered one of his colleagues mentioning the T20 World Cup was on. Let me watch that, he thought.
“You won’t ask me how my day went?”
That was his girlfriend Neeti - who else could it be after all. She came and laid her head on his lap, lying down on the remaining part of the sofa. This was something that happened everyday, David reminded himself. Once dinner was done and he tried to watch television, Neeti did this and asked him the same question.
David obediently asked, “So how did your day go, Neeti?”
And Neeti switched onto her usual self, the talkative Neeti. How captivating she had been back then in college, he thought as he watched her. Those lovely lips of hers, her smile she gave to those in front of her every twenty seconds when she talked – he had fallen in love with her the moment he saw her speak at a Rotaract Club meeting. Love at first sight, as some might call it.
Neeti stopped all of a sudden and asked him, “What are you smiling at? Are you even listening? C’mon, tell me – what was I talking about just now?”
David honestly had no clue of what she was talking about. His thoughts had wandered and Neeti knew it.
She rose from the sofa and said rather disdainfully, “You don’t have time for me anymore. You’re no more the David I fell in love with.”
And before he could say anything, she stomped off to the bedroom.
Women, he thought, and their moods. She will be alright by tomorrow morning, he decided. Then he would try apologizing for his lack of attention at night.
By the time he had finished switching channels and switched off the idiot box so that he could retire to bed, Neeti was asleep. She was sleeping on the farther side of the bed, her face looking away from him. He wished he could see her lovely, peaceful face before succumbing to sleep, but all he got was disappointment.
The next morning when David woke up around seven, Neeti was not there. He looked at the calendar and discovered it was a Friday. Darn, it was the day of her early morning yoga classes. Monday, Wednesday and Friday – bloody hell. How could that slip off his mind? Usually, Neeti woke him up before leaving but today she didn’t. Still cross over last night, he decided. He’ll have to think something of cheering her up before he came home tonight - he made a mental note of it.
He got to office a few minutes before half past nine, which was when his day at the workplace started. As luck would have it, the first thing he saw when he stepped into the office was the pretty young female intern. He smiled at her and she smiled back at him, with a nod of acknowledgement. Sonali, her name was. One of his colleagues had once told him that he had heard from a female co-worker that Sonali had confessed to finding David ‘hot’ in some silly game called ‘Truth or Dare’. David had laughed when he first heard this, but he secretly knew that he was rather ruggedly handsome. However, now he looked like a bit inflated shadow of his former self.
It had not been an hour that he was told - the boss had called a meeting of his department and everyone had to assemble in the conference room in ten minutes. Performance appraisal, the first thought that came to his mind. He hurried to the conference room, half in anticipation, the other half also in anticipation as he rushed to grab a seat.
After a wait of 20 minutes or so, the boss came in. He started out with how the department had been doing in the past few months and how they could improve on their current showing. Get to the real stuff man, David cussed in his mind. The boss went on about this new move by the top management to introduce a new ‘Employee of the Month’ to recognize hard-working employees for their contribution and everyone around him clapped. What the fuck are they clapping for, David again wondered. These managerial bastards think as if this gimmick makes any fucking difference to the employees. All talk and no pay, that’s what this was all about.
“And the first-ever ‘Employee of the Month’ in our department is Mr. David Noronha! David, come on! Come up here, right in front of everyone!”
David was suddenly jolted back to reality on hearing those words from his boss, and as some of his fellow co-workers shouted ‘Yo David, you’re the man!’ and ‘Congrats Dave!’ while he made his way to the front. Once he got there, the boss congratulated him on this ‘wonderful achievement’ and spoke in glowing terms of how he had been such a diligent employee in the past few months and how the Personnel managers had been pleased with his performance. David felt himself go red in the face, out of both awkwardness as well as pleasant embarrassment.
“And finally, there is one more important announcement. I am happy to announce that there has been a promotion.”
David felt a sudden gulp in his throat. The big news – this was what actually mattered.
“He has worked really hard in recent months and I have been personally impressed by his perseverance. I’m sure that each of you feels the same and so this should not come across as a surprise.”
I’m already standing here, David thought as he sensed his expectations rising. He tried to keep them down at the same moment but he couldn’t. He caught a quick glimpse of some of his colleagues and even they were looking at him, with the same feeling of expectation. God knows I’ve worked hard for this and I deserve it, David thought.
“And the new Senior Executive is…”
He was already thinking of how Neeti would respond to this double bonanza of sorts. She would be so happy when I tell her this tonight.
“…Mr. Dishanth Warrier!”
David felt his knees almost give way as he watched Dishanth walk to the front, gloating to himself in pleasure while the others half-heartedly clapped. As he saw the boss shake Dishanth’s hand and say something in Malayalam in the latter’s ear, David felt like punching both of them in their faces. Bastards, the whole lot of them. He clenched his teeth to suppress his feelings until the meeting was over and rushed to the washroom once the boss had departed.
Anil, one of the few guys in office David was ‘friends’ with, came behind him while he washed his face repeatedly.
“Hard luck, Dave. Most of us feel you should’ve been promoted. I feel really sorry for you, man.”
David neither looked at him, nor did he say anything. Anil understood he wanted to be left alone, and so he did.
It was not long before it was lunch hour and David was sitting all alone on a table at the cafeteria. Out of the corner of his eye, he should see some of his co-workers look at him constantly and suddenly drop back to their conversations whenever he looked at them, as if nothing had happened. Even this is a bigger accomplishment than being the Employee of the Month – being the hot topic of everyone’s conversation – he mocked himself in his thoughts.
“Hey David, mind if I sit with you to have lunch?”
It was Sonali. He thought he heard someone go ‘Oooh’ when she asked him that. Ignoring that, he looked at her & gave her slight nod. She sat down in the chair opposite him.
She tried to make small talk of how his personal life was but all David could muster were answers in monosyllables. She then tried to make light of the situation by telling him an old corporate world joke but again all he could only return her a weak smile. She kept talking for 10 minutes or so before David rose up and said,
“Sonali, do you mind leaving me alone for some time? I’d like to spend some time by myself.”
“But I was just trying to cheer you up…”
“And I realize that. Now will you please leave?” he said rather curtly.
Embarrassed, Sonali left the cafeteria in a huff while everyone else looked on.
Back in his cubicle, amidst all the files and folders, David’s mind again wandered down memory lane. Dreams, friends, love, life, Neeti – all of it came back to him in a flash. He thought of his lifelong dream, something he had nurtured ever since he had watched this movie called ‘Triyatri’ in his early teens. It was a story of three teenagers who, encouraged by the grandfather of one of them, decided to undertake a cycling trip across
It was one of the first movies he had watched and since then, he always had
this dream of traveling across the country, only on a motorcycle. Motorcycles
were cooler, he opined. After all, even Che Guevara traversed thousands of
miles across South America on a motorcycle. He
had bought a Bajaj Avenger back when it was first launched, since he couldn’t
afford an Enfield
and it made much lesser noise. He rarely rode it nowadays, apart from short
distances or when he took Neeti shopping.
He remembered how close he had been to pursuing his much-cherished dream when he was job-hunting after graduating from college. He didn’t have much hope of getting a call from either of the companies he had interviewed for and had secretly packed his bags, just in case. And then came that phone call from this godforsaken place, which changed everything. Dreams had to be set aside for the moment and reality took over.
He had not unpacked that bag ever since. Maybe someday he would realize his dream, he believed.
His thoughts turned to Neeti. How she had laughed when he first told her of this and had remarked jokingly, “Over my dead body!” But today, he wasn’t sure she had been joking. But he still loved her. Else, why had he maintained his distance from Sonali, disrespecting the laws of attraction? He loved Neeti. Atleast he thought he did.
He felt this sudden urge to be near her. Only she could raise his damp spirits in such a situation. Maybe when he will get home, they will have their own little joke about him being awarded Employee of the Month and he will be happy again. He couldn’t wait any longer.
Normally he would leave office by eight but today was different. It was just a few minutes to six and David was already on his way home. Once he reached Ghatkopar, he entered the first gift shop that came his way and bought a bouquet of orchids for Neeti, her favourite. This would be the best way to apologize for last night, he decided.
He walked up to the door of his apartment, only to find it was ajar. Forgetful Neeti, he thought. But he was in no mood to pay attention to such trivial matters. Now, all he could think of was how much he loved his girlfriend. He went in.
And then when he heard him.
At first, he thought he was mistaken. Maybe I’m hallucinating, he thought. Rough day at the office, after all. But then he saw her. And him.
She was with another man. It was her yoga instructor, getting cozy with her. A romantic rendezvous, as she would call it. Horrified seeing his girlfriend, he shouted,
What ensued in the next few minutes are now etched in David’s mind like a blurred memory. Even to this day, David marvels at the composure he showed that evening. He had first asked the yoga instructor to leave immediately, without raising his voice for once. Once he had left, Neeti had pleaded to him to give her a chance to explain, but he wouldn’t hear any of it. He said he wanted to know nothing, and he just wanted her gone by morning. She might go to her parents, her friends or the yoga instructor or whomever she wanted to, but he wanted her gone.
For the first time since they had moved in, he and Neeti slept in separate rooms.
Six months had passed since that day.
Another day at the office. Paperwork and more bloody paperwork.
Dishanth Warrier had been promoted to the position of Deputy Manager for his ‘hard work’ and ‘perseverance’. David was still stuck at Executive, having won two more ‘Employee of the Month’ awards in the same amount of time. Bunch of Mallu bastards - the whole lot of them, he cussed under his breath.
Back in his cubicle, it was not long before David was again lost in his thoughts. He had thought about that blurred memory every day since Neeti left.
He didn’t sleep much that night but when he woke up, Neeti was indeed gone. She had left a note for him on her dressing table, but he hadn’t bothered to read it. Maybe he should have. He had just picked it up and tossed it into the waste bin.
She had called him many times later to provide an explanation. David had tried to ignore her calls but one evening when he had come back from office, Neeti was waiting for him at home. She had begged him to listen to her, and he had acceded to her pleas. Then she had gone on about how he had so little time for her, how he was always so busy working, how her yoga instructor had been there for her when she needed him and whatever she could complain about. He didn’t remember exactly what she had said anymore. Like all good men, he had not uttered a single word till Neeti said,
“Well, say something. Say something, David!”
All he had said in reply to her,
“Are you done? Then you can get your stuff sorted and move out with it as soon as possible?”
Neeti had left with all her stuff that night. He had not heard from her since then.
He finished his share of office work as soon as possible and slipped out of office around seven. It was another hour before he got home. He had to prepare dinner for himself but he wasn’t in the mood, like most days in the last few months. Another meal at the Chinese joint, he wondered. He was already getting bored of the cuisine, which once used to be among his favourite ones.
There was still over an hour before he usually ate his dinner. Out of boredom, he decided to switch on the idiot box. He kept on changing the channel, watching without any particular interest until he suddenly realized that he was seeing a familiar picture in front of him. On a movie channel that is well known for its broadcasting of classics, it was ‘Triyatri’ that he was watching at that moment. It had been a long time since he had last watched that movie, perhaps years. Memories flooded back instantly, happy memories. Not of Neeti, not anymore. But of the time he had spent planning his cross-country road trip.
And suddenly, he knew as if it were something of great cosmic significance. Today, he was sure of it just like he had been before he had taken that phone call.
Neeti was gone. To hell with her. What about his job? To hell with that godforsaken job. He could always find a better one, he thought. All his life, he had been weighed down by academic pressures, parental pressures, peer pressures, relationship pressures and work pressures. Somewhere amidst all this he had forgotten what he had been like - the David who had once dreamed of traveling and writing about his adventures on a blog. He tried hard to remember the last time he had done something without the burden of those pressures, but he was unable to. Somewhere along the way, that David had been lost.
His bags had not been unpacked ever since. Needs a bit of dusting, David thought. The Bajaj Avenger in the parking lot downstairs was there too, having waited for this moment as if it had been the only purpose of its existence. Only it will need refueling, and it was good to go. Atleast he thought it was.
He was going in search of the lost one. He was going in search of David Noronha.