I am aware that I had promised a short story. But of late I've been finding it agonizingly difficult to finish the tale which I wanted to post as my first one. That part of the night which I usually dedicate to writing is being consumed by my academic commitments and I am in no mood of disturbing the latter.
But I do not intend to disappoint the audience (although few) either. So herewith I post an excerpt from the second book that I had penned down last year, so 'un'-successfully. It is not the genre that I originally pursued to excel in. Murder mystery has always been my primary focus. But this was something that simply occured to me and I had to write it out to relieve myself. An amateur piece of work as compared to my recent exploits, I might add, but a good one nonetheless. The story is called 'One Diet Coke Please' and the part that I've chosen to post is somewhere around the beginning.
Disclaimer: That I have used first person narrative does, by no means, prove that this incident and the characters involved come from my personal experience. Every bit of it is purely a figment of my imagination and nothing more.
Hope everyone likes it . . .
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My phone started to vibrate inside my pants. It felt like I had accidentally pocketed a cluster of agitated bees. I shoved a hand through to where it was and grabbed it. But even before I had taken my cell out completely, I knew who had dialed my number.
‘Some problems are truly unsolvable’ I thought.
‘They just keep following you and put your temper to the test.’
It was my boss. As that legendary name flashed on my display, I was reminded of the Skull and Bones symbol that is normally used to warn everyone reading it that whatever lies inside is hazardous. And just like every other rational person who silently obeys the warning without being curiously stupid and doing exactly what it tells you not to do, I didn’t press the receive button.
‘Avoid them and you will continue to remain blissful.’ I thought again. It vibrated for an entire minute in my palm as I sipped some more tea. I patiently waited for the light to die out and after it did, I put it back inside.
For the fifth time in a row, I hadn’t answered his call. The first time he had called, for a while there I had actually considered receiving it and hearing him out. But something inside me (again, the intelligent part I think) had stopped me from doing that. Every time my Nokia 5300 buzzed madly and I read his name on it, the only thing that I did was to watch it shake and shimmer in the now familiar pattern within my hand’s grip.
I felt sorry for him; well at least I did feel sorry for the sixty odd seconds that his name shone on my screen before the call got automatically disconnected (then I went back to loathing him for the filthy old animal that he was).
I couldn’t imagine what the poor fellow’s reaction must have been like at that historic moment when he had entered the office today, with no clue whatsoever of the things and the people; especially the people that were awaiting him inside. But I don’t think I felt sorry enough to help him out of the situation, which I thought he thoroughly deserved. So I didn’t call him back.
Obviously he too must’ve figured out by now that I wasn’t going to give in so easily. I had gained much experience with regards to this matter in the three and a half years that I had worked for him. So after the light on my phone had died out for the fifth time, I didn’t think he would try my number again; not for sometime.
If I knew him well enough, I could sense that he must’ve been completely pissed off by now. In fact, I even knew what his next step would be to calm him self down.
He’d simply find someone else incapable of opening his mouth like the office peon, call him inside his cabin and shout his heart out at him at glass shattering pitch, blaming him for everything, right from the awfully important file that had gone missing which the peon might’ve not been able to find yet, to the current recession period in the Indian Economy.
That would be his first move.
If thrashing one innocent person didn’t quench his thirst, then he’d go to second base and summon all the employees for an emergency group meeting. (An emergency group meeting as defined by us employees is an unfortunate yet unavoidable event that is by and large used by the organization head as his personal anger management session, wherein everybody present is jointly and severally subjected to an indescribably high dosage of intellectual and emotional torment.)
I knew all of this because till the end of last night, I had played the role of a victim; I had been the sufferer or in more crude terms, I had been the butt. And let me tell you, I’m not a cynic who is always in a hurry to declare that his whole life has been a misery just because he’s had one bad day at work. This was not something that had developed suddenly over one unlucky night. This was how it had been from the beginning: disgusting, decadent and sometimes hilariously cheap.
If someone had asked me to come straight to the point and just blurt out what it was that I thought about him, I would have answered with an absolutely straight face that my boss was the devil's arse. I would’ve even added further that whatever I said was still an understatement when compared to the kind of character that he actually was.
And I knew that what I felt for him was the truth. The day since I had acknowledged this belief of mine and of most of my fellow colleagues, I began to find it really easy to remain undistracted by his demeaning comments about me and others like me which he would gladly recite every time something went wrong.
“Is this what I pay you for you good for nothing idiot?” was his most recent citation in relation to my work.
That was the previous night. I had stood there facing him inside his cabin with a nerve throbbing on my temple. He had tried to call me on my intercom but I wasn’t there on my desk at the time. So he had sent the peon to do the honor of summoning me. When I had entered his den, my boss had been sitting behind his wooden desk with a paperweight, the size of a baby skull, rotating constantly in his left hand. I was fully aware that he couldn’t possibly do it, but when he had begun shouting at me, for a minute or two, I truly felt that he was about to throw that thing right at my face.
Anyways I didn’t think he could do it. No, no, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that he couldn’t do it because that would be considered immoral or inhumane or against the code of conduct by people who worked for him or by the people for whom he worked. I’m just saying that if he had thrown the paperweight at me from where he was sitting and if, by any luck I had, he missed his target, it would have hit the glass wall that was there behind me and it would have shattered to pieces. That would be his loss, a loss to the company, and loss was exactly the sort of thing that he had been taught to avoid.
He was the management of the company, right? That was the way he was expected to think about any situation; they called it SWOT analysis. What he had to do was to first rethink on what strengths he had at his disposal and what were the weaknesses that he had to put up with. Then when an opportunity presented itself, he’d search for all possibilities of increasing the current profits. And at the end of it, if there was no chance of a gain, he would then put his mind to figuring out how to minimize the possibility of a loss.
So as I was saying earlier, as long as I stood where I had been standing all this time, I was safe.
“Are you listening? Look here. Look at me.” he barked again.
I cannot exactly tell you the motive behind it, but right since my first day on this job, I had developed this habit of dropping down my eyes while my boss spoke with me especially on matters which were of a serious nature. I never looked directly into his eyes, except for a few fleeting glances and that too only when I found it to be exceptionally inevitable.
As a fresher, if you had asked me why I did it, then I would probably guess that it must’ve been out of respect towards the man who was my senior. In a manner of speaking, he was my mentor. So it was an obvious thing for me to revere him, in that sense. But, as ample time passed and as I was exposed to more and more of his (mis)deeds, I realized that what I did was purely out of dread for the impious rascal that he turned out to be.
I lifted my head up and turned my eyes towards him so that I could finally see his face. It had swelled to almost twice its normal size with all that unjustified anger inside him.
This had to be the hundredth time that I was innocent. He was blaming me for an error that was bound to happen during the regular course of my work. I had done a silly mistake, yet I must add that it was only a silly mistake and there was nothing more to it. It was a fault which could’ve happened even if the best had been working on the same thing.
But I had kind of figured out that bosses usually don’t want the best. They are much more prepared to vest their interests in someone who is dim-witted and naïve enough to be at the receiving end of crap without making a single complaint (read-‘me’) rather than appointing men who are intelligent and hardworking. They want people working under them to make blunders, and once you’ve committed one, be it small or big, they’ll jump on the opportunity and gobble you up even before you’ve had a chance to speak out your mind.
Of course after they are done relieving themselves of their own personal annoyances, they will say a kind word or two at the end, reminding you of a few good things that they see in you as your employer, as if that amounts to anything; and then you are let off with a warning. Then you get up and get back to your work filled with a terrible sensation inside your stomach that doesn’t leave you for that entire day.
You find yourself unable to concentrate on your work or your private life. You feel completely miserable. Most of the times you actually start to admit that you are the loser that he has made you out to be. And probably, by the next day or the day succeeding it, you would just like to believe that the whole thing was a bad dream which had never occurred.
So at the end of this long chain of events, your boss feels recharged, refreshed and light headed. And you? You find yourself standing at the exact same spot that you had been standing before the whole thing had begun.
I wanted to retaliate. I really did. I mean how long could I silently tolerate something so intolerable?
So any guesses as to what I said or did next?
Yes you might have guessed right.
I said nothing.
I am not at all bluffing when I tell you that I would have really loved to pull that imaginary gun out of my pocket and just shoot the buffoon right through his poker faced nose. In fact I could almost see the bullet with his name etched on it floating inside my head. I wanted to do it as I had wanted to do nothing else.
But then along with this weapon of the mind's eye, we, the employees, are also provided with a curse that I always refer to as the ‘Pay Cheque Gag’ (Whenever we feel like shouting at a superior, our mouths automatically get gagged as the fact that this months Pay Cheque has not yet been delivered to us by the cashier suddenly pops inside our heads.)
There was nothing I could do this time just like every previous occasion and that is exactly what I did – nothing. I suppose he had a fair idea of this in-built weakness of mine. Using that to his benefit, he then moved on to explain to me, in a generously bellowing voice, how I could have avoided all of this if I had that something which people normally refer to as commonsense.
I smiled from within. For the first time in the three and a half years of my service, I felt that maybe my boss was right.
No, I’m serious.
Even I had always been doubtful about me ever possessing commonsense.
If he was wrong then why the hell would I be here in the first place? And why would I even be paying attention to the words that were coming out of his mouth for me?
I could have disagreed with him saying that I was more commonsensical than he was. But the part of me that was intelligent agreed with him, because it knew the truth. And the truth was that if I had the brains to figure it out and the balls to do it, I would’ve left this place a long time ago. If I really was that witty, I would have quit at the first instance where I realized that I was working for Herr Hitler’s reincarnation (no offence Deutschland).
But even after everything was crystal clear; even after coming to know of how spitefully he treated his subordinates, instead of running away from the problem what had I done? I had solemnly tied up my tongue accepting that this was to be my fate and the end result was that I had let him become my lord, my ruler. I had learnt to adjust with him.
A second option of slapping him right across his face, turning in my papers and getting out of here had never existed for me. The fact that I was stuck here for good had almost developed into a permanent Basic Assumption of my life, like the ones you are taught to observe before commencing a science experiment.
You might have a difference of opinion about the apparatus that you are provided with or about the mixture of chemicals that you are experimenting on. But never at any point of time throughout the process are you allowed to challenge a Basic Assumption.
I agreed with what he meant, in silence, hoping against hope that the ordeal would be over before my head began to ache. He looked down at his desk for a few seconds and put down the paperweight back on top of the heap of papers kept there. As he did that, I got the chance to take a swift glance of my watch. The needles were pointing at nine. It was almost twenty minutes since my trauma, had begun.
I had skipped lunch that day and was feeling really hungry. I barely heard what else he thought about me and my work over the sounds that my growling stomach was making. The pangs of appetite were crushing my insides. They weighted me down like solid rocks.
I could barely stand at one spot with all that internal commotion. I kept shifting force from one leg to another. There was a very good answer to my craving. Not much, just one extra large double cheese burger with lots of ketchup on it could set everything right. But I needed it badly.
“This is the last time that I am going to bear such nonsense from you.” He said.
I thought of telling him that the feeling was mutual.
“Be careful from next time. Is that clear?”
He pushed back the chair and stood up. I saw the desk clearly move two inches forward from its original place as his protruding belly brushed hard against it. The noise of furniture screeching against the floor filled my ears. With great effort, I controlled the leprechaun inside me and managed to swallow the chuckle that was already halfway through. Not willing to extend my misery, I did it before he could notice anything. I had heard enough from him for the day.
Usually when he got up, it meant that the meeting was about to end. I nodded silently, relieved that it was almost over. The cheese burger seemed closer now than it ever had. After that I was going to home sweet home and I made a mental note of hitting the bed straight as soon as I reached there.
“Now listen to me carefully. We have on our hands a very tight situation. Time is running short and there are a lot of things pending.”
He put a hand inside his pocket, took out his wallet, checked it thoroughly and put it back.
“Our company cannot afford to loose the new contract. The Board of directors has begun to question my ability. They want to know why we are yielding losses despite the employees doing overtimes and night duties. I’ve been reminded by them on more than one occasion that what they are giving away as extra payments is not for a charitable cause.”
He took the small remote kept on the desk, pointed it towards the air conditioner and switched it off.
“What they have also not failed to explain to me is that if we don’t meet the deadline this time, then it’ll be my neck and their noose.”
I visualized a picture in which my boss stood on a three legged stool with a rope going around his neck and I could see it on his warped face that he was trying hard not to loose his balance and fall off.
When I imagined the man behind him, whom they call the hangman I suppose and who was about to kick the stool with his leg, I saw him giving a familiar smile.
The man was me.
Very enticing I tell you, very enticing.
“I’ve got urgent matter to attend to tonight, something official. There is no one else in charge and I don’t trust these people.” He pointed at the direction of the glass pane.
“I want you to stay on and watch over for the night. Can you do it?”
I was dumbstruck.
‘So that’s how it’s done. Keep it brisk and simple, then just let the clown play his part’ I thought.
If I had even a few grains of self respect in me, I would’ve told him that I had been at my desk for twelve straight hours. That was more than what I was required to work for in one day and it was not an excuse that I would be making. I really needed to sleep. My eyes were stinging as if hot tongs had been pressed against them.
But the clown nodded again without protest.
He buttoned his coat and waved a hand over his nearly bald head neatly untangling the little hair that was left.
“If they take it easy behind my back, report to me. I want to know anything and everything that happens here when I’m not around.”
I moved aside to let him pass through and he reached the door.
“Keep in mind that I’m counting on you. I don’t expect you to screw everything up again this time. Ok? Goodnight.”
He had pushed the door open and was gone before I could reopen my mouth. I stood there for some more time taking in what had just happened. I rephrased the past half an hour or so in my mind and finally realization dawned upon me that, for the nth time my boss had managed to convince me to do something I wasn’t required to do by my job and I had agreed to it without a single flinch.
I felt ashamed of myself; ashamed and ridiculed. I should’ve gotten used to the feeling by now. Yet it felt new every time I had to experience it.
I pushed the door open again and came out of his den. Everyone was staring at me from their respective desks. Their faces were all frowns and they watched me as if something ugly hung around my neck.
Each one of them had heard most of my employer’s blabbering at me in his not so somber voice. It was bad enough being humiliated like that by your boss; but coming to know that half of your colleagues had played audience to the dialogue was worse.
“What are you looking at?” I raised my voice at the girl seated closest to the door and ended up frightening her.
She shook her head and looked back at her computer screen. The rest followed without me having to say more. I started walking on the empty space passing right through the middle of the hall, trying to act composed. As I made my way down that path which ended in front of the restroom, I sensed every eye turning on me from behind.
If I had ever, even for a single moment in my entire life, felt the need to be invisible then that was that moment.
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