High hopes

For the third time Arun checked his hairstyle upon his favourite

object on his desk, the mirror. “I think she will like this”,

Arun uttered unmindfully. It was a special day for Arun, at least

that was what he assumed.

“3 years, rite?”, Nitin enters room. Nitin had been Arun’s buddy

for last two years or so. He lived next to Arun in the same

hostel. Nitin was around six feet tall, in his late twenties.

He had been working in the same BPO where Arun worked. Actually

it was Nitin who brought Arun there. Nitin joined six months

before him. He was looking out for friends, as he was new in

Bangalore then. Like many other youths, he tried hanging out

here and there. But within a month everything became drudgery to

him, mostly because he was a homesick boy. He loved to be with

friends, but at the same time, he longed for homely coziness.

So when he met Arun, he invited him to stay in the same men`s

hostel near him. Within a few days, they both became very frank

between themselves. Apart from alcohol, they found many other

interests in common. And this led to a deep mutual understanding

and friendship. Soon both of them started sharing anecdotes of

every single incident, experience and sins too !

Nitin was well aware of the day’s occasion, yet he asked.

Perhaps, he was searching for something to start with the

conversation.

Arun did not hear him entering the room, he was busy talking

to himself. When Nitin asked the question, he came back to his

senses. After a brief pause he responded…

“Yes, three long years. Dude you don’t forget anything. You

remember each and every detail of my stories. This could prove

embarrassing for me.”

Nitin chuckled, “You always think in negative senses.”

“I am helpless. It’s my inherited nature.” Says Arun.

Nitin could realize to whom Arun is hinting. It was none other

than his father. Arun’s father was way too much suspicious about

Arun’s whereabouts. Two friends had many prolonged discussions in

the past about Arun’s father. But Nitin did not want to spoil the

day’s hot topic with this parenting issue. So, in order to avoid

the issue he said “Ok brother, but what are you wearing today?”

“That is a good question.Look at your right, I kept the clothes

on bed. I love that blue shirt. I think she will also love it.”

Nitin turned towards Arun’s bed.”You must be joking.”

“Why” asked Arun.

“Dude these are formals”

“So what?”

“This is not an office day, and for heaven’s sake you are going

on a date.”

“Yes, and that is why I have chosen my best clothes.”

“Oh no, these may be the best but not at all suitable for the

occasion “quipped Nitin.

“Why not? These are my best and they are perfectly ironed too. I

ironed them last night and this morning again.”

Nitin chuckled,“You should wear casuals like normal people do.

Generally when somebody goes for dating they wear casuals to look

cool. And I think, she will laugh at you should you wear this. I

mean why on earth any girl will expect this?”

“Correction. It’s a date from my side, she is coming to meet an

old friend. And secondly, for twelve years I roamed around her

wearing formals, she never laughed.”

“You were in school then, now you are grown up. So think

maturely.” Remarked Nitin.

“Ok let’s assume you are right. Tell me what should be the most

important agenda on a date?”

Nitin thought for a moment,”Umm, that’s a tricky question.

People’s views may vary. Also you have to think about the..”

“Don’t make your life so complex”,Arun disrupts him.”Answer me

fast”

“I think mainly you have to make her comfortable and..”

“That’s it my boy.I would like to make her comfortable, so I am

wearing formal to reflect a familiar look.”

“But..”

“No more buts, now please allow me to get ready for the game.”

“When are you leaving?”

“As soon as possible. You know traffic is terrible these days.

And I don’t want to be late.”

“You better be late, she will feel familiar..”

Both of them shared a smile.

“Ok brother, all the best”. Nitin left.Arun glanced at his watch, it was half past nine.

He had two hours to reach Motera café. He could easily finish a round trip in that time. But today he was extra cautious. He

rushed towards clothes.

After finishing he felt that he needed another round of hair do.

So again he concentrated on his hairs, cursing himself. It took

him another 6 minutes to step out of the room.

The door locks and latches never seemed to be so much useless

to him. Normally he used to double-check those things each and

every time he stepped out. But this day was not just another day.

He was finally going to meet her and to send his competitors,

hopefully, out of the race.

The driver was not willing to move at standard rate. He asked

for a few bucks more. Normally Arun used to bargain, or wait for

another auto. But this auspicious day he was ready to pay that

extra amount. After getting in, he started thinking about how it

all started.

Arun grew up in a small town in Bengal. His father was a teacher

in a local school. Arun used to study in the same school. He

had a childhood not much eventful. He never participated in

any adventurous activities, partially because his father never

allowed him to do so and the other part was that he was afraid of

his father.

Nitu was a very familiar face in the school. Her father was a

police officer. He got transferred into Arun’s home town in mid

nineties. Arun can still remember when he first saw Nitu.

It was a winter morning and everybody was drooling, standing

in prayer line. Head mistress informed the conductor that she

has some announcement after the prayer meeting. At the end of

singing the national anthem by students she took the centrestage

with Nitu. And Nitu was introduced to the school. Lookwise, she

was fresh and pretty. So that very day, within that recess she

became a known face.

Arun was always fond of her, but never got an opportunity for

friendship. His luck favoured after two long years, when he

entered standard 8. Nitu came to his section. She was an instant

hit among boys. Girls were a bit reluctant at the beginning, but

later they all raced to become her best buddy.

The picture became clear within a month. Shanti, who was Arun’s

childhood friend, then became Nitu’s buddy. And there were five

to six boys, who were identified as her boyfriends. Luckily Arun

was among them. One day, Shanti reported that Nitu has fallen for

a boy. But she didn’t specify his name. That was not enough for

Arun, so he kept on asking Shanti every now and then. After so

much pegging one day Shanti confessed that Nitu didn’t tell any name except for one thing, that the guy used specs. That reduced

the competition to two, as Arun and Nikhil were the only boys

among the probables who used specs.

For a few days students who heard the news remained interested.

Everybody was expecting a name to come up, Arun or Nikhil. But

Nitu was not interested in telling anything.

“Stop it” said Arun. He got down a few yards before

destination. He decided to check his appearance before entering

the cafe. He headed towards a shopping mall near the cafe. He

still had another one hour in hand. So he decided to spend a few

minutes to check his hairs again, clean his face and obviously

he wanted to make his tie look perfect. Arun had been very

touchy about his ties. In fact that was the most expensive stuff

he was wearing right now. He hated to use tie pins. According to

him, it reduced attention towards the tie. Hence he always used

to adjust his tie in order to control it from flapping.

It was early morning for business establishments. Washroom was

completely empty. Arun loved this, a gigantic mirror full of him

and only him. After thorough checking and slight adjustments here

and there he stepped out.”Ready for the interview” he murmured to

himself.

He took a corner table in cafe, just like last time. They met

3 years back in a similar cafe. School was over, everybody was

going to different parts of the country for higher studies. It

was Shanti who forced Arun to propose Nitu. That was the first

time for Arun, so he was very afraid. He had no idea about what

he should say. So Shanti wrote an advisory for him, a few do’s

and don’ts. But nothing worked, he forgot the points. Even Nitu

got confused from Arun’s words.

“What are you saying? I am not getting you”,Nitu said.

“Seems like we are not conversing, am just listening to your

speech. Anyway, I believe you are interested in relationship. But

frankly, at present I want to concentrate on my studies. I am

leaving for Bombay this month. Will meet again.. ” Nitu prolonged

her lecture for another few sentences. But Arun was not in a mood

to listen. Some hollowness from within oozed out and engulfed

Arun. And those words were never heard again.

“Order please” requested the waiter.

Arun glanced at his watch, still 15-20 minutes

remaining. “Cappuccino please”.

He took out a tissue paper from his pocket. This time he was

extra cautious. He had listed out the topics to be discussed in

a tissue paper. Proposal ought to be perfect.

“Here is your coffee sir” said the waiter.

“Thanks”, Arun was busy reading the points.

“Can I seat here?”

Arun stared at source of the request. It was none other than

Nitu. She was more attractive than ever before. Prettier than the

prettiest person in Arun’s life.

“Please…”

“So how are you, it’s been quite a while. “Says Nitu.

Arun realized the paper was still on table. It was impossible to

fold it back and to keep it back in pocket without bringing it

to her attention.”I am fine, what about you?”, Arun covered the

paper with one hand and lifted the coffee cup with the other.

“Just enjoying life as always. A new job, a few new friends, and

a big decision taken. Life has become a bit complicated, but

still enjoying it.”

“So, where are working?”

“You know it, you use one of our products regularly.”

A few hundred names rushed through Arun’s mind, but he couldn’t

pick one. He did not want to fail this time. He wanted to impress

her with correct answer.”Can you give me some hints?”

“Dude, that dating application you use on facebook. Actually it’s

my fiancé’s brain child.”

“Your fiancé?” Arun felt a butterfly flapping in his belly.

“Yes, we both work there. I am in the testing team. As you know,

the best way to test anything is to use it in real life scenario.

So we all use it to search for matches in facebook.”

The situation became crystal clear to Arun. When she met

Arun through that application, her intention was to test the

application. And Arun took it as date.

“Your tie..” her shout brought Arun back into senses.

Arun realized, he splashed coffee in his tie.

“Here use this..”

Arun uses the tissue and realizes his lecture notes found its use

in wiping coffee drops.

“So, what’s your story? Speak out man..”

For last 3 weeks Arun have been waiting to hear this. But at this

moment she sounded very unappealing. He realized, his lecture was

lying on the plate. Anyway, it lost it`s usefulness .

“Nothing special in my life. Tell me when are you marrying?”

Something To Cover

One more big bouquet. That would be enough for tonight. Stalin was already carrying one heavy bouquet with his skinny hands. Carrying another one would be too tough for a kid of his age. After all he was only all of ten years. But he knew that, he also knew that he had to go a long way with his delicate burden. He eyed at his surroundings with the eagerness of a hungry wolf as if to locate his pound of flesh.

It was an autumn evening at Zion hill cemetery. Sunlight did fade out quite a while ago. Long shadows of the eternal pines criss crossed on the foreground before moving towards the dusky oblivion. A cold evening was settling with an air of non -chalance. The century old cemetery was droopy and sinking into a drowsy mode.

It was difficult for Stalin to send his piercing eyes too far. But he recognized a prize catch at the farthest corner, a big bunch of pristine white lilies. Stalin hesitated a bit. There were a few small bouquets lying nearby . He could pick any one of them and run away just like he did the other day. Moving upto that corner seemed foolish to him. Stalin was standing still in the middle of the cemetery. He slowly realized that he was wasting time. That dreaded ghost in overcoat and hat could enter any moment. Till date Stalin had just seen his long shadows, but successfully avoided meeting his glances. Today it seemed all nigh impossible to avoid him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could clearly see the writing on the wall. Alas, it was all going to happen for the wall !

Arun was sitting idle at his usual spot in front of the ATM doors. Actually he was a part time occupant of this seat. Past Few months he had been doing this. After his wife’s death, Arun had shifted to Bangalore with Stalin, his ten years` old son. It was a tough decision, but it was very much needed . At least that`s what Arun thought. Urban lifestyle always attracted him from the early days of his life. He discussed with his wife about moving to the city, several times. But she was reluctant and Arun struggled with his daily labourer`s job. Now that she was no more, Arun listened to his heart`s call. However, being the security guard of a graveyard was hardly adequate to meet both ends. It seldom did pay for a decent living, let alone the job of bringing up a kid in such a costly city. So after duty hours, he worked part time as a security guard at one ATM corner. Arun looked at his watch again, it’s time. The reliever did arrive a few minutes before. He could leave then. On his way back, Arun slowed down a bit near that towel vendor as usual. That was one of his favourite pastime now a days. While that man was busy selling a variety of towels, Arun`s attention was parked on the overcoat hanging behind the vendor from a low branch of the tree. While others bargained or stayed glued to the towel vendor`s colourful collection with dazzled looks, Arun cherished that overcoat .That might be for sale or for personal use. After all, a towel vendor did not sale overcoats every day. Or, might be it was for sale.

The wall was the culprit. It was for the wall, Stalin was doomed to face the notorious ghost he heard of.

The small room inside the cemetery was big enough for Stalin and his father. This dingy room was allotted to his father when he joined here. It was meant for security guards all along. That small bed in the room was far more comfortable than the one kept in their village house. Stalin used to remember every bit of those muddy walls, which he used to survey with vacant eyes while lying in the bed. But here walls were made of bricks with signs of aged plaster work. At some areas, lime paints had gone ashtray and old plaster work had fallen apart unevenly, creating surreal figures of unknown devils on the wall. During night time, those satanic portraits used to haunt Stalin, especially during the evening hours, when his dad ventured out for the ATM job. He used to count minutes and seconds till his dad returned. Meanwhile the figures appeared to be getting bigger and bigger in the dimly lit room. A few days back, he was very much terrified, so he urged his dad if he could go with him. His dad agreed and took him to his work place. He was asked to loiter around, as his dad didn’t want anyone to notice his kid. It was a busy week day, and that was a busier footpath filled with hawkers of all kinds. Kind of a mini market place, crowded more than the village fairs. Stalin didn’t find it difficult to spend time there. Specially that towel shop, just mesmerised him. He didn’t remember how long he was staring at those colorful towels, suddenly that shop owner shouted at him .

“You can’t afford these, move now..”

“How much this one costs ? ” asked Stalin, pointing to a particular yellow coloured one. The gay colour of this towel surpassed others of it`s progeny in beauty and style.

“50 each”, the shop owner replied with a grin.

That was too much. Perhaps his father’s a full day`s earning. Stalin moved a bit forward. He could never afford one of those. They were so costly, he couldn’t even request his father for buying him one. But if he could have one, he could easily cover that frightening wall with that. While thinking he moved towards the bouquet shop. After viewing and reviewing all the bouquets carefully he placed his eyes upon the shop owner. He was a middle aged man, sitting idle and smiling at him. There was no customer around that time, so he was in a relaxed mood.

“Remember me?”, questioned the shop owner.

Stalin recalled, a few days back this guy gave him rupees ten for carrying his bouquets from his truck to cemetery. It was a rich man’s daughter’s funeral.

“Yes, how are you sir?”, murmured Stalin.

“Am doing fine. Do you want some work? I will pay you just fine.”, said the shop owner.

“What kind of a job?”, Stalin tried to hide his excitement.

“Nothing of a laborious kind, you just collect those bouquets from graveyard and supply back to me. I will give you a fiver for the smaller ones and rupees ten for the bigger ones. ”

Stalin quickly did a calculation involving the towel price and the remuneration offered to him for second hand bouquets. He calculated the number of bouquets required to buy that towel.

Next day after his father left he quickly collected a few bouquets, and rushed to the flower shop. Before his father returned he went asleep with rupees thirty cleverly hidden under his pillow.

This day was the final day of his adventure. One more bouquet, and that wall could be covered by a towel of his choice, well, might be the yellow one. That meant a lot to Stalin. There were only two things which used to make him panicked here. One was that wall, and the second one was the ghost in overcoat and hat.

When they first came here, an old fellow used to live here. He used to talk about a sahib’s ghost, who roamed around the cemetery after dark every day. Stalin had never seen him, but many a times, he saw some humanly shaped shadows, which could be of that overcoat wearer. Because of this, normally he avoided coming out after dark. He believed the story to the minutest detail. But today is different. He desperately needed those bouquets to fulfill his dream. Stalin opened his eyes courageously. He was determined to move towards that corner for those lilies. He started his walk. As he crossed two thirds of the distance , he heard a small crackling sound near the cemetery gate.

Arun generally returns much later, but today he was lucky. Some VIP was destined to come at the opening ceremony of a branch at his bank. So all security related duties were allocated to police professionals and some private security agencies. He didn’t know that beforehand. After he reported to duty, he was told that he might leave for the day. Yet he spent an hour gossiping with others before taking his way back to home. That overcoat was the reason why he walked so slowly here. Last monday he gathered some courage and asked the towel shop owner about it’s price. “That`s none of your business“ pat came the reply. It took some days to forget the shop owner’s terse rudeness.

At this point of time he was standing beside the towel vendor and the tree with the coat, perhaps a few yards at distance as he was anticipating not –so- kind type remarks from the vendor. All of a sudden he was pushed heavily from back. He realized while regaining his balance that he was standing on the path of a flash mob. The celebrity must have arrived, he recalled. The next thing he observed that the towel vendor was running towards the other side of the road with his table. All and sundry were running helter skelter. Seeing the opportunity, Arun whisked away the coat from the tree as if by instinct and got lost unnoticed in the crowd within seconds. His heart was pounding, as he was not a professional thief. Even then, he never thought that it would be this easy. His lust for the possession of the overcoat took over his normal senses momentarily. He couldn’t wait to surprise Stalin. After crossing a few lanes, he became confident that no one was following him for the coat. He hesitated a bit, examined his surroundings. Then he started walking wearing that coat. A soothing resonance of satisfaction was filling his mind to the brink as if he had achieved one of the major goals in life. Gradually he approached the cemetery gate.

Stalin looked back in fear just to realise that his worst nightmare had become a reality. It’s that overcoat wearing ghost. He threw the bouquet in hands at the floor and hide behind a big tombstone. He was so panicked that his heart skipped a few bits. He was closely monitoring that ghost. But surprisingly, it didn’t come running to him. It waited a few minutes in front of their room, then sat on top of a packing box outside their room. And he was not wearing any hat , which he was supposed to wear. Stalin was sure that the ghost hadn’t seen him. He slowly approached the ghostly figure very cautiously. After taking a few more cautious as well as silent steps, he understood that the figure was none other`s than his father`s. He ran towards his father to hug him tightly.

Arun thought of telling Stalin the truth about the coat, but ultimately he lied. He told that he found that coat on a deserted park bench. Stalin was very happy with the coat. He requested Arun to keep it hanging over the damaged portion of wall. Arun smiled and followed Stalin’s wish. He knew that the wall caused many problems for Stalin.

Stalin was lying in the bed but sleep deserted him today. Papa went fast asleep beside him. It was quite an eventful and frightening evening for Stalin. He tried to behave normally with his dad, but he was very tense during the whole of evening. He had already decided that he was not going to steal any more bouquet. And anyway, a major portion of his fear was covered by that overcoat. He took out the money from hidden place. Now that he was not going to try to buy that towel, it was better to part with those thirty bucks in favour of his dad. He inserted his hand inside the left pocket of the overcoat to deposit the money. To his amazement he found something carefully folded inside the big pocket. He felt the object with his fingers. It was in fact, a soft towel for which he was actually craving for last few days.

Stalin could not dare to bring it out to find it`s colour. He was afraid of seeing gloomy grey shades in lieu of enlivening yellow.

(Written for a contest in yourstoryclub.com)