Short Story #3

Genre: Drama

Words: 3000

Accounts, Balanced

by Sarthak Parajulee

The irony of his life was that he was named Ram — a Hindu God, who is the epitome of character, integrity, truth, and sacrifice.

But she didn’t had to know that just yet.

“I’m an accountant,” he said, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “I… um… do accounts.” Whatever that is.

Her eyes went wide. “Get out!” She rested her palms on the table and studied his face. “You’re too good-looking for that sorta job.”

And now we’re flirting. His lips curled to a smile. That’s believable. “You don’t look too bad either,” he teased, “for a newspaper columnist.”

She leaned in, narrowing her eyes. “You’re kidding, right? Newspaper columnist are one of the sexiest looking girls out there.”

“Well…” He cocked his head to a side, pondering over the new revelation. It was hard to argue with that fact with her in front of him. “If you say so.”

There was a long, awkward silence in which she began to study the paintings on the wall next to their table. “Ah. I love this,” she said.

“It’s victorian, isn’t it?” Ram commented. “Michael Angelo, I think.” He bluffed the first thing that came to his mind.

She paused. “Well…” Then smiled. “I was only trying to kill the silence. Don’t have a clue about paintings.” Just his luck.

Ah. The perks of getting the corner table. When that awkward moment crawls in, you could always grow an intensive interest in the walls.

“So… Miss…” There was a low beep, barely audible to the girl across him, and he checked his phone for the notification.

“Well, let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?” she said with a shrug of her shoulder, clearly impatient.

He sighed and nodded. “Let’s do just that.” He put the phone back into his coat pocket and looked up. “So what’s your final offer?”

“Fifteen,” she said, folding her arms across his chest and a firm smile planted on her face.

Ram smiled at that. Go on. Act like you don’t care and you’re super confident about making this deal. Sorry, miss. But I am the corporate haggler here.

“You know as well that the figure is nothing to me.” He shrugged. “Especially when I consider my stakes in this.”

“Sorry, Mr. Ram. But it’s the only figure I can offer.” That flirtatious smile of hers never dipped.

“Listen, Miss… ?”

“Apekshya,” she said. “And you can lose the formalities.”

“Fine,” he nodded. “Apekshya… If that’s the case, I think we’re done here.”

She fought hard to conceal it but Ram caught a sudden surge of dread — that particular sinew over her eyebrows — on her face.

“Mr. Ram… I think it is in best…”

An incoming waiter forced her to bite back her words. He placed a couple of glasses and a bottle of Santa Rita in the table and began filling our glasses. This time, she resorted to her phone to kill the silence.

A couple of swipes into her iPhone later, she looked up and thanked the waiter for his service. Turning toward Ram with a potent smile, she resumed right from where she’d left. “It is in both of our best of interests that we work together.”

Ram shrugged. “I don’t know. I can get plenty of other journalists who would write this for me. And would pay me good too handsomely.”

She opened her mouth to say something but then quickly closed them. “But…” She gulped. “Listen, Ram. Let me get this straight to you.” She sighed. “You’ve got to help me out here.” Her voice almost a whisper now. “My company won’t trust me with a rupee more than that.

Ah. And a sudden change of power, then? How delightful!

“Just listen to me…”

Ram rested his elbow on the table and his head upon the opened palm. “Go.”

She sighed yet again, a particular habit he was beginning to find pretty cute by the time. “I need this story. I… This is my last shot at my career. Please.”

“I’m sorry for your… um, situation… but I cannot be emotional about this. I’m putting way too much on line for this. If this goes bad, I’m left without a job, without a sellable expertise, and without a friggin’ PR. Not to mention with the jaws of the most powerful corporate tycoon at my throat.”

Ram could see her resolve break slightly. Her old confidence was replaced by lines of doubt all over her face. Boy did that confident smile dip from her face!

He decided to go for the KO. “I can’t afford to be gracious, Apekshya. It’s take it or leave it.”

She rested her elbows on the table and placed held her head in both hands. “Maybe…” She looked up and Ram could actually she her throat quelch as she swallowed hard. “Maybe there’s another way?

“Maybe… I could reward you in some other way?”

Oh, God, please no. “Apekshya, I truly sympathise with your situation. And I simply cannot imagine myself misusing your situation.” Some desperate night in the distant future, Ram knew he’d be looking back on this moment with a lot of regret. But as of now, in all his senses and ethical judgement, he did what he thought was right.

Some things are just unforgivable. Question his integrity as much as you’d like, but he wasn’t a sinner. And that realization, perhaps, was the boiling point for all the emotions this girl had managed to held on to herself so far.

She broke into tears. Slowly, at first, and then a little wilder.

Concerned, Ram watched around the hall for any over-smart intruders taking too much interest in someone else’s problem. Luckily, no one really saw. Or cared. Whatever.

Perks of having the corner table.

“Now, now. Please…” He tried to conjure his best soothing voice.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” she said, voice muffled. “I really didn’t mean to cry. Oh… You must think I’m such a… ” She allowed the unsaid word, bitch, hanging in air and took a handful of napkin off the table to wipe her tears. The manner in which she was careful about her makeup even then was truly remarkable.

“I don’t know why I even suggested that!” she continued. “I didn’t know I could go so low.”

Ram couldn’t resist the urge to rest his hand above hers. “No. Please…” He searched for the most diplomatic of words. “I am not judging you or anything, so please stop.”

She nodded but Ram didn’t think she could ever forgive herself for suggesting him to sleep with her for the story.

“All right,” Ram suddenly said, drumming his fingers on the table. He took a long sigh, pondering over it, assuring himself that it would work out. Somehow.

“I’ll give you the story,” he finally said.

Her eyes lit up but they were still doubtful.

“Fifteen should do it, don’t worry.”

Her lips twitched at the corners but eyes turned even more glassy. “Oh. I cannot…” Her voice shook with emotion. “I cannot thank you enough.”

He raised his hand before her face. “Don’t. Just realize that my career and, ultimately, my life hangs on this thread. Make sure you don’t knit it too weak, darlin’. If your article is just another article. And if it isn’t moving enough to get the general public hating those bastards… then I’ve sacrificed my career for nothing.”

She nodded furiously. “Don’t worry. I’ll work my ass off to get you the story and the coverage you deserve.” She raised her glass. “To working our asses off.”

They clinked their glasses and sipped on the sweet taste of Santa Rita, glancing each other from over the rim of the glasses, basking each other in something that could be only explained as a deep affection.

#

Ram waked up to the sound of a heavy pounding on his door. He opened his eyes just a crack and saw the table clock read 11 A.M.

He jerked upright, jumped out of bed, and slipped into cotton pants and a loose white tee shirt. It was going to be a sweaty morning.

He casually opened the door, confident about who it was on the otherside.

“You shit-ass!” The voice was stone over iron. Rough. Sharp. Angry.

“Mr. Pandei.” He gave him the best of his morning smile and morning breath. “A very good morning to you too!”

“Tell me,” he fumed, entering inside, and shoving The Himalayan Times in Ram’s face. “Tell me you did this so I can fuck you up right now.”

“I…” He took a step back and tried to read the headline. He knew what would be said in that article but it was the choice of words he was rather curious about. Just how low are you going to show them, Miss Apekshya?

His eye lit up as he saw the headline. Smiling, he clutched the paper away from his boss’s hand and read on:

BILLIONS GO INTO RICH MAN’S POCKETS IN THE NAME OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY CAMPAIGN

Everybody thought that for once, in this country, a corporate giant was making a difference. That they were looking at people and society below them. For the first time, they had us thinking that someone actually believes in moving forward and taking the society along with him.

Sorry, gentlemen. All a hoax.

Senior Member of Pandei Group of Industries and company’s Director of Accounts, Ram Mani Ekrat has confessed with the press that a major part of the money collected in the name of their famous “Help Us Help Them” social enhancement campaign, much popularly coined these days as a “Corporate Social Responsibility” campaign, has gone straight into the pockets of the corporate cannibals, the go-getters of…

Ram bit his tongue. He doubted his boss had needed reading any further.

Pandei’s hand grasped his throat.

He was whining about something and cursing even more. But Ram’s thoughts were on the crying face of Apekshya that day in the restaurant. She had certainly held back nothing. All her anger and frustration with her career and the corporate giants putting her under their thumb had made her vomit out the venom in form of words in the Sunday morning edition of the Himalayan Times.

“What are you smiling about, you fool?” the boss spat. “Do you realize what damage this would do to our reputation? How will we ever get anymore investors with the world thinking that we are some sort of cheat?”

Thinking?” You are a cheat, you little idiot. “Well, maybe you should have thought of that before robbing all those money away.”

Pandei’s eyes went wide. “Robbing?” He closed his hand into a tight fist. “That was my money, in the first place, you fool!”

“People donated those so some people on the eastern part of the country would get a roof over their school. No so that you could add another sedan to your automobile collection!”

“Ah.” He made an arc in the air before Ram’s face, as if to create a rainbow. “The invincible Justice-man.” He scowled. “Where was your sense of justice when we planned this thing out. You were the one to place this idea in the first place!”

Ram frowned. “At first, yes! But didn’t I warn you that this would be wrong? More than once, I’d suggested you against this!”

“Against this?” He started raising fists in air. “Against this?”

Few of Ram’s neighbours, sharing the same floor, walked past the door, passing curious glances toward them and then looking away quickly as they looked back, and murmuring to one another.

“I know what it is, Ram” Mr. Pandei continued as the neighbors left. “Don’t take me for a fool.” He shook his head in disapproval. “It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about not getting the deserving share, isn’t it? You felt you had been wronged, you little fucker.”

Ram smiled. “I never took you for a fool, sir. That’s why I was so shocked when you cut me out of my share.” He shrugged. “I knew you had become a…” He pretended to be referring to the paper in his hand. “… what were the words in here? Ah, right. The corporate cannibal.”

Pandei gritted his teeth. “And what does that make you? You are just as guilty in this.”

“Ah, but I confessed, you see.” He leaned against the wall and stood casually. “I am cleansed of my crime. Even the Gods acknowledge that rule.”

“You won’t get away with this,” Pandei said, backing out. “I will make sure you rot your rest of the life away. I’ll make sure you get no more job, and no more…”

“Watch the door,” Ram casually said.

His boss stopped short just in time to keep himself from smashing on the sharp edge of the door.

“You’re fucked,” he said, stepping out. “I assure you. You’re life’s over.”

Ram stepped on the threshold and poked out his head. His boss was just at the stairs, still cursing.

“Excuse me, Sir,” he screamed from the doorway. “So do I need to submit my written resignation or should we considered it done?”

#

Ram strolled through the sidewalk of the UN Park. He had begun enjoying his mornings in that place. And most part of his afternoons as well. Not much else to do with his life, anyway.

He often thought he got a bit carried away in that restaurant that day. Should have asked the girl to get the hell out of there and searched some other reporter who would have paid way more than ‘fifteen’. There’s something about crying girls that disrupts men’s thinking capacity.

But would some other person had written the piece with so much heart that caused the District Court to serve Mr. Pandei with 2 years of prison sentence for a deliberate involvement in fraud and scam.

Honestly. He didn’t even know that there was such a law written in the new constitution. And Apekshya had forced a good percentage of the people in the legal system to activate it with that 14-by-20 article. He had to thank her for that.

And what good would that do? He wouldn’t be removed from the corporate blacklist, would he? No one wants a backstabber in their organization.

Maybe he should have just swallowed the way Pandei treated him and keep kissing his ass. At least, he would have had a good office and good money. And what else do you need for a good life?

I wouldn’t be happy, he reminded himself. Not due to his ethical woes, he wouldn’t cheat himself with that sort of excuse. But for not making his boss pay for the all the wrongs he inferred upon him.

Suddenly a couple passed them, trying to catch their troublesome child. Poor kid must have found the open space a joyous break from the monotony of the haphazard construction of the city.

I wouldn’t have felt this free, he suddenly realized. I can at least sleep well knowing that I made him suffer. Though, the apartment itself, where he actually slept was in a serious danger of being taken away. EMIs don’t pay themselves. Not unless you have a job and a routine salary structure.

There was a low humming and a little vibration. It took a while but it started Ram back from his thoughts.

“Hello,” he said into the phone..

“Hey,” the voice was unmistakable. “Remember me?”

“Apekshya.” He didn’t let the surprise show in his tone. “How do I owe this pleasure?”

“Well, I had been meaning to call,” she said. “For a while.”

“Is everything alright? That falling career and all?”

“Well, let’s just say the story helped me keep my job at least. And people recognize me these days.”

“Huh. Isn’t that nice?”

There was a short silence.

“You know,” she said at the end of it. “A couple of days back I was talking to this friend of mine who works at this top news channel in our country…” She took a pause.

“You prefer to keep that name a secret?”

“Let’s just say its logo involves a lot of blue color. And it’s got its own magazine too.”

“And… ?” Well, she had his attention now.

“See, here’s the thing… She’s thinking of a concept. A fiery talk show with the current wizards of the corporate world! She’s planning on raising those issues that I am supposedly an expert on.”

He laughed. “Let me guess. Ethical backstabbing and the rise of corporate cannibalism?”

“Um.” He heard her laugh and almost pictured the image of her sitting across him in the restaurant that day. “Anyways. I convinced her that I had a far better expert on hand. One who is dying to exact his revenge upon the corporate world!”

“Wait, exact a… what?”

“Yeah. I added that for a dramatic effect. I told her to think of all the spicy and hard-hitting issues you could raise and the reaction of the corporates. And your recent confession about the twenty crore rupees fiasco would create an unbeatable hype for the show. It’d be an instant hit!”

“But… I…” He trailed off. What could he say? He knew she was right. He could really exact revenge upon the corporate world.

I know all the ins and outs of the market and can serve that spicy chit-chat that viewers crave for. This is something I can really do!

“Would you like me to fix you a meeting with her?”

Like, hell yes. “Sure. But… what about you? You would leave this opportunity?”

“Writing is all I care about. I wouldn’t have that much time anyway.” She laughed. “One thing, though… She wants you be ready to create spicy shows, if you know what I mean. Not every story is going to be the ‘CSR-fiasco’ interesting. You might have to dig up old facts, twist them, and make them appear something else… you understand?”

Another silence.

“Well?” she probed.

Ram scoffed and heard his own breath through the speaker. “Dear, girl, you just described everything that I’d been doing for all those years as an accountant!”

My approval took a moment to register into her mind. “Great! I’ll give my friend a call then. See you later!”

She hung up and left Ram thinking.

Could he really go for another round of searching, twisting, bending, and misrepresenting facts for self-fulfilling needs.

Something told him that he was more than ready for this. Suddenly it occurred to him — perhaps, he was born to do this?

But the irony of his life was that he was named Ram.

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