‘There are things that you don’t understand in life, but then there are some that you do, from the core of your heart, once and for all’.

Rahul recalled in his mind, as he sipped his black coffee, without sugar. The lights were dim all over the hall except near him. A few lights were on around him, and at one other place in the entire hall. He looked at his laptop screen, pressed save, and prepared himself to review the deck one more time. The digital clock at the upper right end of his screen was ranting 7:45 pm. He looked up towards the door at the far right end and felt a little chilly; the air conditioners were still set in the summer mode. Moving his head around, he saw a shadow three cubicles away over his shoulders. ‘That must be Ram, but why is he still here on a Friday evening?’ he thought.

The room still smelled of coffee and drudgery, and the cleaning staff were just finishing their work and collecting the dust bags. Rahul looked at he time again and realized it was just a minute over the last time he checked. He stood up, packed his bag, slung it over his shoulder and moved out of his cubicle.

“Hello Ram, you not going home? What are these guys paying you?”

“Hahaha”, he burst turning around. “Well I guess not as much as you think. You are also here? Don’t you have a girlfriend or something to attend?”

“Yup. The 8:30 show in the Regal.”

“Great! See you on Monday then, have a nice weekend.”

“Hopefully, if there are no more ‘updates’ for the deck I just sent to the boss”, Rahul gestured the quote with his left hand.

“Yes that is always tricky. We used to call him latest or no test, he always wants the latest data on everything.”

“Is that so?” it got him thinking as he looked perplexed at Ram.

Ya he is a stickler of sorts, but don’t worry too much, focus on the movie now. In ten years when you are my age you will know”, he broke into a loud laughter that reverberated in the empty hall.

“Well Ram, if it is not too much, would you have a look at my deck please. I don’t want to redo everything when he sends it back.”

“Sure, but don’t worry too much about it Rahul.”

He sat down pulling a chair from the cubicle beside. Suddenly he felt the urge to review his work again, but he calmly passed on the laptop to Ram, and silently hoped everything to be fine. He looked at his watch, 7:50 pm.

Instead of watching the screen, Rahul eagerly observed every wrinkle on Ram’s face, every twitch and every twist of his lips, anticipating his rebuke over a line or a number. As the slides passed by, his agitation increased and he got restless. He didn’t realize but he was now sitting on the edge of his seat. His anticipation grew with every second and in no time he found himself chewing on his fingernails.

“Rahul, why didn’t you use the standard table here, you see the two-by-two matrix here should have been transposed, the data here is only up to 2013, the headline should not be this long…” and Ram continued only to pause to see if Rahul was interested.

It continued for the next five minutes, as he listened and tried to listen more, but there was something else lingering in the back of his mind, like a jester practices his gig behind the curtains before the show. He felt its presence long before, and presently it danced in its entire pomp, spreading its hands and legs and running around in circles, all the while mocking with laughter.

“Well, so that’s all I can think of, Rahul. I am sorry but aren’t you getting late for your show?”

Rahul was woken up by the segue and wanted to nod in affirmation, but his eyes were transfixed on the screen.

“Yes. Thanks a lot Ram. It was really wonderful of you to review it. I am not sure however if that movie is still on the cards.”

“Why not. Don’t fret about this work, man! Go, enjoy yourself.”

Rahul smiled, or tried as well as he could, moving his lips sideways while pressing the upper half on the lower one, creating a tight-lipped stretch. He felt heavy, as if a boulder was suddenly strapped to his neck, pulling backwards. He was slowly putting his laptop inside his backpack as he stood up.

“Thanks a lot Ram. I had a 10 pm deadline on this, so I guess I would have an hour after I reach home. When are you leaving?” he asked in a perfunctory way, his mind still clouded with a sense of dejection.

“I am almost done.”

“OK then, Gute Nacht.”

“Is that the only one you learnt?” joked Ram in an attempt to jolt him out of his own maze.

Rahul smiled, this time it was genuine. “Well, you can never know I guess”, he said in a lighter tone.

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What does that give you then, Ram?” he asked, his eyes drooping slightly as he tried to infuse some inquisitiveness in his tone.

“I don’t know. Maybe hope. No one can be sure. What about you?”

Rahul looked down for a moment. His shoes did not have any dirt, just as they did not have any that morning before he polished them thoroughly.

“I don’t know Ram”, he started walking towards the exit as he gave a slight gesture with his hand saying goodbye.

As he got down the elevator, he typed a long message to his girlfriend and hit send without rechecking. As he got out of the building he started scouting for a taxi. He was shaking his head once he realized that it was a Friday night, and taxis in that part of the city migrated to the more profitable and happening areas. He could wait for a stray one to pass through that road, but he could seldom keep up his hope for it. The number five bus was ambling on its way towards him and he decided in a jiffy that it was his best shot to home. He ran towards the bus stop. Soon he acquired a window seat and snuggled to make himself comfortable. The next hour could be used for some rest, he thought. However, his mind would not let him through the magical door of detachment, so he looked on outside the window, as objects crossed him, one by one until they merged and lost their form.

‘Where is your hand, your left hand you little devil? I will show you today what do you get to disobey your teachers and your parents. You see this cane, if I press it between your fingers, do you know what pain it will cause. How many times have I told you to not write with your left hand. How does it hurt? Now will you follow? Now, I have no problem with you and your strange inclinations boy, but you see this is not what your parents like. Using your left hand for a divine thing like writing? Don’t you fear Goddess Saraswati? It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is for you to understand, and I know this is a perfect way for it. From now onwards if I or anybody else sees a pen in your left hand, just remember this cane boy, for you won’t be spared, not even once. Tell me, do you conform? Say it loud boy or I will twist further. Do you conform? Louder. Will you conform?’

His left hand was shaking when he woke up, with drops of sweat lining his forehead. His watch showed 8:45, and he was still some way from home. ‘I must have dozed off’ he thought. His hand was still shaking.

The bus stopped and more passengers climbed in, with only a few alighting. There was music in the air, he noticed. As he paid attention, he heard many drums being played, in unison. He tried to find the source when he saw a temple light shining across the road. The drums were getting loud and hymns were sung with a transcendent fervor. The sound of happiness bounced from his ears lifting his mood. He knew this instantly, like a secret message conveyed to him by this messenger.

“That’s a crescendo”, he said, “it needs a celebration”, he smiled, slightly stretching his lips to feel this euphoric environment and the instant happiness that he felt.

There was a golgappa vendor across the road, and there were many in line waiting for their turn. ‘He must be famous’, he thought, ‘There must be something that he would be best at’.

The bus creaked in motion, vibrating with the shift of gear. He grabbed his backpack and made a dash for the exit, blithely ignoring the chagrin of the conductor. He smiled again.

He would wait in the line with a dozen other people, ‘all having different thoughts working on their mind, as he has his own’. ‘Wouldn’t it be something to know how it feels in another mind? Not in some of them at least, the ones grabbing most of the misery pie of this world’.

It was 9:15, and he still waited for his turn.

Ravi is a guest author with LSD. His other works can be read here.