It was all smokes. And almost dark. There were lights. The ones with the yellowish glow. Round ones without the filament. Almost thirty in numbers. Along the wall. But they were covered by smokescreens and translucent glasses of multiple colours. There was maroonish red, blackish green, navy blue.
There was light. From more than adequate sources. Enough the lighten up a hall ten times the size. Still it was dark. ‘Huh…. ambience, eh?’ Siva sighed, nibbling the chip with his lips.
He sat alone, in the centre most table. The area that was least crowded, and farthest from the light spots. The larger lots were occupying the ones along the wall. Just below the lights. They came in groups, went in groups. Some celebrating. Some debating. Some where shouting. Some whining. Few were monks. Complete pandemonium around, they remained blissfully at peace with themselves. Unaware of the pleasure around, or the pain around.
“Target, targets, targets…. My boss screws me every day. He fixes a target. I do 105%. They say, ‘Why didn’t you do 110%?’ When I do 110%, some bastard is in 120% bracket. When I do 120%, I am told target was revised upwards couples of weeks back!!!!” ‘Must be a sales guy ….’ Siva was ruminating his chips. Knowing his breed. ‘Will my boys whine this way?’
Anything else sir?”
Siva looked up. It was the attendant. He ordered his poison. Ninth for the night. “Spice up the side dish. It is the last one for the day. Or night.”
The attendant smiled. The knowing smile. Behind the smile was the knowledge that this was the “fourth” last for the night, and this certainly wasn’t the first time. The wisdom that made him ask “You sure sir?”
“Yeah? Any problem?” He looked into his watch through his bloodshot eyes. He couldn’t see anything. “Damn! Why don’t you guys have some brighter set up?” He pressed the ‘light’ button on his watch. It was 12.20. ‘Its time.’ Siva could hear the watch screaming. “Your closure time is 1, right? There is still time. And why don’t you guys change the audio? Why do you keep on playing the remix versions? Too much noise mutes the good voice, and the words, and the wisdom those words offer.” He was tapping the side of his head with his index fingers. In between those fingers was a cigarette. Lighted.
“Will tell them to change, sir.” The attendant left.
Siva looked around. Three of the tables had new groups. Two of the monks were still there. Cigarettes in their hand, with every puff, glowing brighter, then dwindling a notch. Another puff, from no where, the fiery orange was once again at the tip, then it was gone. A tap at the stub, it was all ashes.
He was watching with some weird fascination at those monks. Looking at them and their smoking and their cigarettes gave him peace. The peace that comes with some gainful knowledge. He felt enlightened. He didn’t know how.
“One thousand seven hundred rupees, sir.” It was the attendant again, placing the saucer full of saunf, with a bill on top.
“I am not done yet.”
“Its 1.10 and beyond the closure time sir. The cops will come anytime. We are already two hours beyond the permission.” He darted to the monk’s table.
“Oh…” He slid his fingers into his shirt pocket, and drew out cash. Two five hundreds. He drew his wallet out from his trousers, and opened it wide. There she was smiling at him. Tonsured with rings adorning her ears. He saw the credit card stacked on the other side. ‘What is the use? I cannot use them.’
Remembering that he had comedown for doing some math, he drew out a thousand rupee note. Placed them all on the saucer, on top of the small pile of saunf and mouth fresheners. The notes were fluttering. It was not a tornado, but still the fan had enough revolutions to make the currency notes fly. He grabbed a handful of saunf from the saucer, and placed them on top of the rupee notes. He smiled at himself. A smile acknowledging his smartness and thoughtfulness in keeping the money from flying.
He looked at his purse once again. He looked at her. Her smile. He could see the glint in her eyes. It was tears. But she had smiled. For it was a photo session. She loved being snapped. ‘Its over 8 months now. Should replace with something new. Some recent ones.’ He remembered his math.
He drew out his scribble pad. Held it and showed it to the monk who was looking at him. “Fuckers charge nine rupees for this 50 page shit… Pages not even the size of my visiting card. I used to pay six rupees for a 192 page note as a student. Don’t know how else we are getting looted.” The monk nodded in acknowledgement, raising his index finger, point at self and raising the hand with his fingers stretched, signaling five. Siva understood. “Then you must feel the pain even more.” The monk nodded again, and raised to leave. Siva looked around. Some new group was there in the other tables, and they were also leaving.
He opened his note pad, and was looking into some numbers scribbled there. ‘Deustche 3.6 L, Reliance 2.3 L, Anil Chand 8 L, SCB 2 L, LIC Housing 20.6 L, Barclay 6.2 L, ICICI Car 4.2 L, HDFC ‘??’. He circled Anil Chand. He opened his bag and withdrew a printed sheet. Gross 63. PF 3. Loan Deductions 6, Loss of Pay 4, Tax 9. Net 41. He opened the next page of his scribble pad. LIC Housing 18. Petrol 3. Household merchandise 8. Electricity 1. Telephone 8. He looked at photo once again. Below the list on his pad he wrote, with his hands shaking, “Kutti Boss - 2”
The attendant came back with the change and the bill with “Cash Received Seal”, and left for the next table. ‘2 Hundreds. 1 Fifty. Five 10s.’ Siva observed. He left a hundred rupee, and took the remaining and opened his purse. She was still smiling. He saw the glint. He took the hundred and placed a ten on the saucer. He grabbed the bill and dumped it in the back pack’s front zip. The bill joined hundreds of its ilk. He rose and walked to the door, drawing a long Z.
He came out. So did a dozen others. Each of them drew a line as they walked towards their parked bikes. A dozen more were at the parking lot talking with each other. He felt a bit fresh. The monks face, the fingers and the cigarette still in his mind.
An auto passed by and slowed down as it approached Siva. He signaled and it stopped.
Murugan Nagar 3rd Street.” Siva uttered with clarity.
“Closer to the chicken shop or near the school?”
“Near the school.”
“What?” Siva asked incredulously.
“Its night time sir. Police will stop and ask probing questions. I am going in the opposite direction to him home.”
“Its barely 3 kilometres…..”
“Make it seventy. Final.”
“You work there?” Siva was pointing at the door he had just come from.
“I don’t have that habit, sir. Why?”
“You are also looting. I know what to do. I won’t give into you guys hereinafter.”
Siva walked off. He heard some voice shouting “Fifty.” He walked on.
He crossed the parking lot, and saw a few people discussing some movie. Smiling and shouting. “Total waste! Again!” He took out a cigarette, and walked towards them, and asked “Boss?” pointing his cigarette. They gave theirs. He lit his. “But not again. Enough. Decided never watch his movies again.”
“Thanks for the light. Is it the “Hunter” you guys are talking about?”
“Yeah……You’ve watched it? If not, please don’t. Save your life. Its far precious than the drab piece of shit.” The group erupted into laughter. Siva also had a hearty laugh.
“Good night.” They reciprocated by raising their hands. An acknowledgement. He walked on. Puffing on.
‘Whats the way out? Need another ‘one’ by next week to keep Anil quite. Hmm…… Aah… I forgot to include the car loan in my monthly list……’ He kept walking. He felt the strain. He stopped for a while. The smiling face came to his mind. ‘She’d be asleep now.'
He started again. His mind even clearer, with a concrete plan. ‘A new one costs Rs.7,500 per sq.ft. Mine is 3 Years old. Should easily fetch atleast 5,000 to 5,500. Even upto six. And that makes it a minimum of 50 L. A maximum of around 60 L. That should be adequate to start afresh.’ He walked faster. The cigarette in his hands. The orange light ever so lightly glowing. He felt a mild pain. ‘Should visit the doc tomorrow evening. Can’t afford to take any further leave this month. Should heed to the doc's advice. That’ll make it easier on my wallet too. Ouch… I have forgotten those four cards. Useless now, but they carry a responsibility. Should add another 2 L to the list. And my insurance dues. Three installments in LIC. Couple of more in ICICI. And then the one Basheer had me subscribed. That is another one lakh. Still it should be adequate.’ He could hear his heart beat faster. And harder.
He looked up. He saw the street lights glowing. He looked to his left, noticed the school building. School that had given the state its topper for four years in a row. ‘Three years later. Now, the one chosen is, just temporary.’ He told himself. He realized his house was barely 100 metres away. He stopped for a moment. He looked at his hands. The orange was well below the half way mark. He had not yet had one proper puff. He looked up at the street. He could see his apartment. He walked faster.
He reached his apartment. He looked up. He looked at the stilt for the car parking. ‘It’ll fetch 6000 minimum.’ He looked up once again. Saw the fourth floor to check if the lights were on. They were. She must be waiting. He remembered the missed calls. He remembered the attended ones. He remembered his three–four “Another half an hour” as well. ‘I should talk to her tonight. I will promise her. And I will deliver on my promise. I’ll take her down the street, to the school, and tell her proudly “Three Years later, we’ll be make two visits every day to this place.” I want to see her reaction.’
He walked towards the building and to the lift in his building. He pressed the button. The lift came down. He looked at the lift and its dingy lighting. And as always wondered ‘Why don’t they make it as brighter as the stair case?” He looked at his cigarette. ‘It can still accommodate couple of puffs. The last ones. For my life. Never thereafter’. He felt for the first time, he would be able to keep up those promises. He felt for the first time in over a year, some brightness in his life. He looked at the lift. He looked at the stair case. “It is harder. But it is brighter.”
He climbed up. It was a strain, but his mind felt better. He climbed up the stairs with two steps at a time. He felt kicked up. The breathing was heavy. ‘Regular climbing would do the trick.’ He couldn’t climb fast and slowed down for the final floor. He reached his floor and stopped at his door. His breathing rather heavy and he was soaked in sweat. He bent down, holding his knees. He rised, looking into the watch. 2.10 AM. ‘Its too late.’ He pressed buzzer, and realized the cigarette in his hand. “The final puff.”
He placed it on his lips. A deep puff and a breath. He saw the orange glow to the brightest. Then it turned hazy. He dropped the remains of the cigarette. He heard the unlatching sound at the same time as he felt a needle in his heart, as he fell down holding his chest, and looking at cigarette.
There was no orange glow. It was all ashes.