Holy Humanity #FlashFiction #7

 

Holy Humanity

400 words

Just before the dawn broke on one of the longest April nights, Kishore had arrived at the temple to open its holy doors. He stepped in as usual, bowing before the gods, and went about performing his daily chores.

First, he swept the floor, and mopped it clean with a soft piece of satin cloth. Then he wiped every idols and statues – removing the stains of tika and decaying flowers offered by devotees the day before. He also bathed every God with the holy water, collected freshly from the nearby river, and rubbed them dry till they shone.

All this he did with utmost passion and devotion, humming all the while the holy chants in praise of God, in praise of Creation and in praise of purity and goodness of the universe. Finally, it was time for the formal worshiping ritual. He offered the gods fresh tika, flowers, water, and then recited the devotional mantra, a prayer for the grace of the God.

After all this had been completed, he stepped outside the temple and walked toward the outer gate, to a small area where a goat had been tied to a post.

He untied the animal and almost dragged it to the temple doors. One could see, if one chose to see, that the beast seemed quite upset to be separated from the lush, juicy grass it had been chewing away idly.

Two more people joined Kishore at the temple door, who helped him hold the goat in place, making sure there was limited movement.

He put some tika on the goat’s forehead and bestowed upon it some fragrant flowers. Then out came a large scimitar, and Kishore duly worshipped the killer knife as well, repeating the process of putting tika and flowers, and reciting the mantra — the holy ritual of purification!

Once it was done, Kishore raised the sharp metal high above him, and brought it down heavy, putting his entire weight behind it, on the goat’s neck. It took him two attempts to completely decapitate the animal.

He sprayed the blood all over the Goddess who loomed large above all other idols, and handed over the carcass to his two assistants. What they did with it was no longer his concern.

For all the worshiping and rituals of purification that went down that morning, one would wonder what part was meant for the cleansing of the taint on humanity.

Small Talks #FlashFiction #6

 

Small Talks 

500 words

The mall was scrambling with people as always. So many faces, so many shops.

So what were the odds of me running into her in that very shop, in that very moment?

“Hey!” she screamed. But in a calm way. “Hi! How are you?”

“I’m alright,” I managed, not so calm. “It’s, uh, it’s good to see you. Shopping?”

“Nah. Just checking out boys.”

I opened my mouth to speak but closed them quickly. There was a knowing smirk in her face.  I laughed, rubbing the back of my head. “I’m just going to believe you didn’t mean a satire.”

“I did not.” Her dramatic tone said otherwise. “So. Where have you been these days? What are you up to?”

“I’m, uh, I’m just… hanging in there, you know?”

“Mm-hmm, I know. I know all about those.”

“And you?” I said. “Did you land that bank job, by the way?”

“I did,” she nodded, not so excited. “It lasted for exactly eight months.”

“Why?” I wasn’t one bit interested in knowing why she could not continue her dream job for more than eight months, but I was afraid of the awkward silence.

She began explaining about something to do with her career plans and then about her passion and then a hefty argument about how passion and career were two different things not to be mixed. Textbook stuff, really.

“Do you think I shouldn’t have quit the job?” she said.

I snapped. “Huh? Oh.” The fuck would I know. “Are you happy?”

She made a thinking face. It suited her well. She was a smart woman, and the last thing she needed was my wisdom. Perhaps she too was afraid of that silence. “Hmm. Not any more than I was before.” She shrugged. “But I do get time for a plenty of mall visits!”

“And isn’t it all that matters?” I made a dramatic arc in air with my hand.

She laughed.

Ah, and finally it was there. The part I dreaded the most. That awkward silence.

She watched my face. I mean really watched. Like there was no pressure on her mind to bring up something to talk. Like it was just okay to stand and stare at each other. Like it didn’t spark any old memories. Like she didn’t care.

My mind, on the other hand, was doing thousands of computations, trying to come up with anything smart to say. The mall is exceptionally well-lit today. Was that stall here a few days ago? Don’t you think the babies shouldn’t be allowed in here?

“How’s your husband?” Oh, great. “I mean… how he’s doing? Not, uh, not how he is.

She smiled. “He’s good.” She shook her head as if to say ‘meh’. “He’s all right, actually. He says marrying me has been, um, really painful. Worst decision.” She forced a few extra nods at the end of that statement.

I let out a snort. “You always have the right things to say.”

She feigned a bow. Then a moment of silence later, said, “I miss you. Well, sometimes. Can’t we be like this… again?”

I didn’t bother thinking about it. I had done it enough. “No.”

She nodded. I knew she understood that. Ever so practical, the two of us. Too practical, some would say.

Silence.

“So,” she said, smiling a sad smile for the first time. “I guess I’ll run into you some place else then?”

“I look forward to it.”

Don’t Talk to Strangers #FlashFiction (No. 5)

 

Don’t Talk to Strangers

420 words

Mom says to not talk to strangers. She doesn’t want her little girl anywhere near them.

Maybe that’s why we live in a poorer, isolated part of the town. Mom says it suits us well. Behind an old Hospice, shut down years ago, we live in a small group. Us, Mom’s few friends, and their few children — the only people I’m allowed to befriend.

But what I really long for is to get to know the strangers out there. That girl who jogs every morning around the park next to the Hospice, that boy crossing the street with earphones plugged in his ear, that driver honking helplessly at the cow that won’t move an inch.

I wonder what it’s like to be among them.

Frankly, I am bored with this life Mom has chosen for me.

Don’t go there. Don’t come here. Don’t talk to him. Don’t disturb him!

It’s like she doesn’t want me to be close to anyone but herself!

So one night, when I saw this young man, smoking away a cigarette by himself on the park-bench, I knew I had my one chance. Mom was at work, night-shift as always, so sneaking out wasn’t a problem.

I walked up to him, silently, afraid he would consider my approach as insolence. I extended my arm to reach out and paused. Will he scream at me? Shoo me away? Complain to Mom?

I let out a breath to calm myself and placed a hand on his shoulder.

He looked back slowly, first turning to my hand on his shoulder, then around at me. He stared at me indifferently, one eyebrow raised.

Then he looked up ahead, back to enjoying his cigarette.

I wondered if his mother as well told him to not talk to strangers.”Sorry to disturb, sir.”

The man paused, and turned around. This time, looking right through me.

I was hurt. Yes, I didn’t look as good as he. I was dirty and badly dressed. But that was no way to treat me!

Tears rolled down my cheek. I’d never felt so sad in my life. “You don’t have to be mean,” I said, sobbing. “Just wanted to talk.” Before long, I was wailing like a dog right in the middle of the park.

“What the fuck!” The man now jumped, mad eyes turning all around. All around except at me.

I wanted to disappear. Right into Mom’s arms.

“Mom was right,” I screamed, running away. “Mom was right!”

The Invader #FlashFiction (No. 4)

 

The Invader

As I watched around my room, silent and tranquil, it struck me for the first time that I’d perhaps won the war over the cockroaches.

The battle began three days ago, with a single spray of a bottled pesticide. Soon after, the roaches had begun coming out from the hiding, in numbers I never imagined possible. Showing up beside my bedside, my bookshelf, my work desk, and at every nooks and corners of the apartment. And I would go running around with the spray and a broomstick like a lunatic, but it would never be enough. Every half-an-hour or so, a gang of them would crawl out, as if swapping one hide-out for the other, going right beneath my feet, teasing me.

I could have stopped it all, you know. When the first wave of invaders had just begun showing up, when they were few and fragile.

But I’d chosen to do nothing. I wasn’t much at home – I left early and came back late in the night from work, only to have a good night’s sleep. So I didn’t care if a few cockroaches roamed my kitchen – a kitchen that I barely used. I imagined myself to be this good-hearted but crazed philosopher type, who meant well even for the pest infecting his home. Awwww. And I felt quite happy about it.

But the matters had quickly escalated from then on.

The bloody pests had begun taking advantage of the liberty and hospitality I offered. Lately, they had stopped even being scared, and would come out from their hiding at any hours, nibbling away at my food or climbing onto my body while I slept – one of them even tried to chew on me one night. Guess, I didn’t make for a good dinner, and it left me alone with only a nasty wound.

Perhaps, it was their way of showing appreciation, I wouldn’t know, but it frightened the hell out of me.

Consequently, I raised the war. I sat with a broomstick beside me, at all times, and squashed up the petty insects every time they dared approach me. And I sprayed the hell out of them from each of their dark corners and secret hide-outs. Then I gathered all of them together, and I watched them burn.

But now as I watch them writhe in the toxic air I sprayed all over them, and listen to their body cringe and creak in the heat, (and with a deep satisfaction in my heart as well!) I can’t help but feel like a sadist.

See, it wasn’t their fault entirely. It wasn’t like they had entered my home without my knowledge. They made it abundantly clear that they had come. But I had chosen to do nothing. Then, perhaps thinking that I was totally cool with this, they had begun raising their families, building homes, and had finally found a life for themselves in my little apartment.

Come to think of it, they had been living there more than me. No doubt, the next generation of them must have been totally convinced that it actually was their home, and I was the hostile invader who showed up at odd hours of the night with a broomstick and a funny scream.

The Hanging of the God #FlashFiction (Day 3)

 

The Hanging of the God

Shavik stood on the dais raised at the center of Hangman’s Square, where he was to be hanged momentarily, and felt a tension rising in the air.

The tension was twofold.

One, of the ruling aristocrats, seated at the front row and the high seats, who longed for the execution to go down swiftly. Two, of the common folks, who had gathered around the square to be with their messiah in his final moments, praying for a miracle.

Dark clouds had gathered up above, as the square began to fill up with more and more of these common folks. People who had long lost interest in any cause but their own daily survival. Who had seen enough disappointments to have forgotten what it even felt like to hope.

Shavik was God to them, and their final hope of salvation from the Extremist Regime. And even now, Shavik could see it in their eyes, they were convinced that he could not be killed. He could tell they were here expecting a miracle.

And therein lied the problem.

Shavik was no God. He could fight with them, but if he continued to fight for them, alone, as their messiah, the cause was going nowhere. He could not win alone, and he could not get the people to fight to win, with their hopes resting upon some miracle from a false God.

They had to know that their backs were against the wall, and no one to save them but themselves. For the real rebellion to rise, the false God had to fall.

As the first drop of rain hit the earth, Shavik smiled at the real Gods above, if such a thing even existed. This was perfect.

“This is where I bid you farewell,” Shavik cried out. “For long, you have considered me your God. But in the next few moments you shall find it to be utterly untrue.”

A wave of laughter hit him, coming from the aristocrats seated at the front row.

“And as you open your eyes to this truth, I want you to realize, that it was one common man, of flesh and blood, as you all, who shook the Extremist Regime to its very core.” He spat. “Now as you make note of that, I want each one of you to ask yourself a question.”

He saw the aristocrats leaning in. “Ask: what if instead of one man, there had been thousands? What if I had all of you beside me at the March of Silence?

“Enough!” someone screamed. “Pull the handle.”

“But do not despair for this is not the end,” Shavik shouted.

The rope came around his neck, and the crowd erupted in one unified voice of complain.

“Today, as one Shavik falls,” he screamed above the crowd, “a thousand more will rise among you!”

Then the bloody floor gave away. Amidst the roars and jeers of the crowd, the loudest noise Shavik heard was a sharp creak of his own neck.

 

Daddy Knows Best (Flash Fiction – Day 2, #FF2)

 

Daddy Knows Best

“Look, mommy! Look what I drew?” Little Naomi pushed the drawing pad at her mother’s face.

“Ah…” Sara’s expression turned from feigned enthusiasm to genuine disgust. “Uh. And just what in God’s name is that?”

“Not God, mommy. It’s the Devil!”

“Goodness, girl,” she let out an exasperated sigh. “What should I ever do with your fascination with demons?”

“Not demons, mommy.” She looked disappointed. “The Devil.”

“And now you’re getting technical at it.”

“I don’t think you like my art.”

“Oh, no, baby.” She dropped to her knee and hugged her little girl. “I do admire your… drawings. It’s just—” She clasped her hands. “Couldn’t you draw dragons or something? Or the Warrior Princess! You love that show, right? Why not draw her?

“Because she is lame. She always needs help from that stupid Sir Knight. She’s weak. I love the show but I hate her, mommy.” She stomped her foot, perhaps just so Sara would get her hatred right.

She watched, unblinking.

“You know what’s not lame?” The little girl’s eyes lightened up.

And Sara already knew the answer. “The Devil, darling,” she sighed. “The Devil is so not-lame.”

“That’s right, mommy!” She embraced her mother tightly, and skittered away outside the room, shutting the door behind her.

And there he stood, behind the shut door, looming large in his dark suit, smoky eyes and proud smug, smiling contently at Sara.

“What a time to drop by,” she said.

“You know I’m always around,” he said, voice deep and calm. He held his stare at her, hands resting behind his back.

“What?” she spat.

“Say it.”

“There’s nothing to say. You poisoned her thoughts, that’s it.”

“You’re accusing me of dishonoring my deal? Careful, now.” He stopped smiling. “You know I get touchy about these matters.”

Sara narrowed her eyes, anger boiling up right through her gut.

But then she swallowed it all down. “Alright, alright. I loose, okay?”

“Say them proper, babe,” he teased, almost in a sing-song way.

“I lost the bet, Lu. I took her out of Hell, but couldn’t take the Hell out of her. Our daughter is her father’s girl, after all. There. Happy?” She took a step. “Now can we finally leave this weakling world? Just take us home.”

“Told you, babe,” he laughed, offering Sara a hand. “Daddy knows best.”

###

A little suggestion, please? Do you think it’d have been better if the title was “The Bet”?  Would it add something or does it not matter at all? Thanks! 🙂

#FlashFiction #FF1 (360 words)

 

Made for Each Other

Jiten placed his tongue on the gap left by his missing front tooth and tasted salty blood. He spit it out on the sink and looked up in the mirror at his dark eye patch, his sore lips, and torn cheek. He was a mess alright.

The sad part was he couldn’t quite remember what exactly it was that set off the bloody fight, despite his resolve and desperation to let nothing ruin his plans for the evening.

He watched the clock. 7 pm.

Great. Not only beaten up, but late as well.

He closed his eyes and and exhaled a long breath. He looked back up in the mirror and straightened his tie and his suit. Then gave his gelled hair a slight push behind the ears. Beside his missing tooth, and squashed face, he didn’t look so bad.

“Stay cool. Stay cool. You’re okay,” he spoke to the mirror, then turning away, “Yes. Just say you fell off the stairs or something.”

When he entered the front door of La’ Mirch, a wave of awkward stares welcomed him. He suddenly felt conscious. He must have looked like a carnival showpiece. All buttoned up and sleek but bearing an amusing physical anomaly.

He scanned among the rows of tables and found Number Five.

Kavitha sat there, at one of the two chairs, looking away from the door. It was his first date — in fact, the first time ever he was meeting this girl in person — but he could tell it was her, even from behind, from her carefree, uneven haircut he had come to adore from her profile picture.

“Hi, Kavitha,” he said, walking round her back, cursing the heaviness of his lip and his lack of self-restrain in fighting for a cause that he couldn’t even remember anymore. “Sorry, I had a bit of—”

He stopped short, blinking hard. The girl before him, oh it was Kavitha alright, sat with two dark patch under her eyes, swollen lips, taped cheek and an awkwardly bent nose.

“What the hell happened?”

“I, uh… I fell off the stairs.” She watched him with curious, swollen eyes. “And you?”

Short Story #5

Genre: Dark fiction

Words: 670

The Robbery

a short story

by Sarthak Parajulee

 

My head throbbed as I staggered out of my bedroom.

The hall had an unnerving silence. The sort that follows or precedes a storm.

But my furniture were where they were supposed to be and none of the expensive artifacts in my collection were missing.

So no robbery.

Then why had someone drugged me?

Randev was my last visitor, as far as I remembered. And he did need money, according to the conversation we had a few days back. But I’d checked the safe in my room and the cash was still there.

So what the fuck was going on?

I trudged toward the main door across the marbled gallery, cold biting into my bare feet. My head screamed on every step and a deep burn had started in my gut.

But I didn’t have time for that just yet.

I pushed the door open and observed the perimeter.

The entire facility lay in a comforting tranquility. My luxurious sedan sat proudly on the front porch. And the two guards stood at their post in the main gate with all the enthusiasm of a koala bear.

I called out to one of them and waved a hand.

He came rushing. For all his military training, he panted like an old fool.

“Sir?”

“Anyone left the premise recently?”

He looked perplexed. “Recently?”

“An hour or two back?”

He shook his head. “No, sir.”

“You sure you’re doing your fucking job right?”

The color of his face turned white. “Sir… no sir. I mean, yes, sir.” He bit his tongue. “Mr. Randev is the only one to leave. But it was very early in the morning.”

“What are you talking about? He arrived early in the morning.”

The guard frowned, his fear turning into irritation. “Um, sorry, sir… but he arrived yesterday morning. He left this morning.”

My throat went dry and I struggled to find my voice. I could hear my heartbeat like drums playing in my headphones.

Yesterday?

I pressed against the side of my head and nearly lost my equilibrium. Gods, the pain!

The guard tried to come to my aid but I send him away and, somehow, managed to bring myself back inside the house safely.

I slogged to the center of the hall, with a hand under my belly, and slumped myself down on the couch.

My ex-wife was right. I was too fast on trusting people.

First, I hit Randev with my car, to which he reacts very politely and is generous enough to not file complain. Then he shows up at my office door for a fucking job and looks surprised to find me there. And for the first time in twenty years, my car breaks in the middle of nowhere and he shows up to drop me home.

Ha, ha, ex-wife. I looked skyward. You happy now?

With all the shouting and moving about, the pain had doubled up. It bit at the side of my body and I struggled to maintain my sanity.

What that sly bastard took away was beyond me.

In a delirium of pain and frustration, I saw the images of the other day when the two of us had a nice little chat over a cup of tea. Like friends long lost.

He had spoken of his problems and I had revealed my vulnerabilities. Usually the stuff you would share over two bottles of a whiskey. He had won my trust, after all.

He had lamented about his wife’s failed kidney so it was logical to think he took off with a load of cash. But I still couldn’t find anything missing so…

I froze.

A sudden horror crept up my body, all the way from my feet to the head like a slow volcano.

Slowly, I lifted the thin fabric of my cotton shirt above my waist.

There, at the side of my belly, I saw a long gash — well stitched, and already healing.

“Bloody motherfucker!”

Short Story #4

Genre: Literary Fiction (I think!)

550 words

The Shattering

a short story by

Sarthak Parajulee

THE LOUD EXPLOSION SOMEWHERE a few meters behind his car started Wen. There wasn’t much suggesting to the exact reason for the noise but his sense of politics told him that the rebellion had begun.

So it must have been around 6 pm. Funny how he didn’t need watch these days.

He saw a large column of men approaching him. Firelight raised high in their hands – a tide of flames blanketing over a crowd of men. Something told Wen that these were angry faces, hard and cold. Unforgiving.

Wen wasn’t exactly an enemy of this mob. But he owned a car and that meant a capital possession several steps higher in the social ladder than the rebels. Bad place and position to run out of gas.

Police siren sounded in the distance. Violence Control Front or VCF, as they were more popularly called these days. Perhaps, he would be saved after all.

The heavily fortified vehicle skidded around a corner and stopped directly ahead him. A muscular officer with massive mustache raised his protective helmet and eye gear and looked him straight in the eye. Then frowned down at Wen’s out-of-gas Corolla for a bit longer than was required.

I poked my head out of the window. “Sir, can…”

“The heck you think you’re doing, Sir?”

His tone of voice betrayed his use of the word ‘Sir’.

“I ran out of gas,” Wen said, as politely as possible. Didn’t need to add to the list of his hostilities. Frankly, he couldn’t afford it at the moment.

“Please step off your damned vehicle and get out of the road.”

“But my car.” He looked around, frantic. There wasn’t a single vehicle in the street. And why would there be any. They had clearly stated that no vehicle were supposed to be moving at the moment. Who would be that stupid?

Except him, of course.

“Sir,” Wen tried to reason with his tender tone. “My car…”

“Forget your damned car.”

Wen’s eyes widened for a second or two. Then the urgency of the situation struck him. Get out of way or die.

The forces coked their guns and took aim, directly behind him, at the oncoming rebellions.

Get out or die.

Wen ran to the side of the road, slightly crouching, cursing to himself.

The noise behind him was deafening – guns roaring, magazines reloading, people screaming, VCF barking orders, rebellion scattering.

Wen dared to look back only when he had safely reached the footpath and behind the cover of a frail wall.

His car was full of holes, at least three tires had popped, the windshield had shattered.

Surprisingly, and unfortunately, the real horror lay some twenty feet away from his car.

Bloody bodies lying upon one another, dead eyes staring at nothing. Some would say it was violence control. No. Seeing it up close, it was clear to Wen – such an act could only be defined as a massacre.

“Well done, boys,” the mustached officer roared. He signaled something and the fortified van reversed and drove away the way they had come.

He stood stunned, staring at them mouth-gaped. This is the price of human lives these days. A pat in the back!

No one human deserves that from another human.

Everybody, these days, are worried about a shattering nation. But he feared more for that shattering of humanity. A nation can be, hopefully, rebuilt – even the loss of human lives, with time, might recover. He doubted the same could be said for the loss of humanity.

But what can I do? Turn blind eyes and deaf ears like everyone else, of course, and keep believing that bad things won’t happen to him.

His watched his car – another shattered victim of the violence.

I need a mechanic, perhaps he can salvage something out of it.

From the far eastern side of the road, he heard an ambulance

I hope they can salvage something too.

END

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.