The coffee I have just sipped is unbearably bitter and I am midway into making a face when I see that boss has stopped writing garbled letters on the board and has turned to look at me. Why does he seek me out, I wonder as I swallow the poison without a grimace. Geeta says he is gay but she adds that wink which makes you smile and forget what she had just said. I would die to acquire that wink, because everything I say seems to offend someone or the other. Sometimes that other could be even a bystander. If my offending quotient wasn’t already bad enough, my wink adds the last straw. Geeta is wrong though, I have seen boss checking out babes at the dinner parties. However, he never does that in office. Rahul says the mantra for success at work is to treat every person as units of work, something he doesn’t practice himself. He sees women as units of crush, which change every quarter like the company results, maybe there’s a connection. I don’t care about such connections or success by equating people with joules, I consider them human and myself as half a unit, the other half being lost in dreams of becoming a well published writer.
Sonal looks attentively at the board, and unlike the sycophants she doesn’t laugh at every PJ boss throws at us. Some say he googles over the weekend for fresh ones, and therefore by Wednesday we are already into the rerun season.
But presently, he is giving me the usual look, of disappointment mixed with sarcasm. My brain switches to turbo as I analyze the situation, am I being conferred with the look because:
(a) I didn’t follow the first half when he discussed the weekly work breakups, or is it because
(b) I didn’t listen to his last pj, or
(c) other reasons including my not being able to complete last week’s tasks and such trivialities.
Turbo mode comes in spurts and discards the reasons that may require more than 2 s to evaluate properly. So it picks (b) and to compensate, I laugh.
Everyone turns towards me, they are either surprised at me joining them or maybe the choice was wrong. I kill my grin with my forefinger, there is an impulse to make a finger gun and shoot the bugger looking smug in his sarcastic smile. I resist.
“Mr efficient and attentive finds it funny, so you will be done before Friday, is it?” he mocks, looking around. For applause of course, but to my satisfaction all he gets is some sporadic snickering.
“I will try my best, can’t promise Friday though,” I say with characteristic confidence, one that gets me into trouble because it is based on absolutely nothing.
The meeting proceeds with assignments for the week and PJ torture that might put Ramsay Bolton to shame. We disperse like a herd of Wilderbeest from the waterhole when we realize the predator will now choose one for the infamous Monday one on ones.
I am on my way to cafeteria on first floor where the coffee machines are never tampered with. But Sonal blocks my way with a defiance that makes her look cute.
“Why do you act stupid when you are not,” she asks.
She looks beautiful in her yellowish orangish Kurta, not the sexy beautiful but the behenji or dateable beautiful.
“I have no interest in all this subservient work.”
It’s true but she disagrees. She disagrees because, and here is the surprise factor in this tale, we apparently studied together, at least that’s what she claims. Unlike my engineering institute, my school had more girls than boys. I mean in my pre grad class, or to be more specific section A. She claims to be in the same section and that we studied together for five years. The girls I remember from school are either married into anonymity or are not engineers. I remember those because they must have looked pretty, I have no qualms of being shallow as some of you might have guessed. There are perks of having simple shallow outlook when judging others, here for instance I look at the now beautiful Sonal and I am convinced humans are still evolving.
“C’mon the work’s not so bad, you are just lazy,” she says in an irritated voice and I agree with her. Her irritation stems from the fact that she has been teamed up with me again. After the great November debacle, she had gone on the record to declare that she doesn’t want to work with me in future.
“Do you want to go to the cafeteria, for a wonderful Monday morning coffee,” I ask hopefully, if only to cut her off from the incumbent threats and desperate appeals for me to get serious.
“Fuck your coffee, I know you will never change. I am going to the boss!” She storms out, her ponytail swinging angrily and in negative at me.
I don’t worry though. She is diligent, and brilliant. So from the boss’ perspective, if there is anyone in the team that can compensate for me, it is her. The only problem in this whole situation is that she thinks high of me. You would never guess why, I couldn’t, till she told me it is because I was very studious during my school days. I have been trying since but cannot yet convince her that I have changed.
“I am in love,” Rahul says blowing out the smoke with relish.
“No one in love smokes like this.”
“Oh, now you are an expert at smoking styles of people in love? Are you still writing poetry?”
“Ok, who is it this time,” I ask irritably.
“Your friend Sonal, gimme some tips.”
“My advice would be to steer clear, she is a weirdo in a suit.”
“Yeah, why is she never in any other dress. You are right though, she is a little difficult to ask out. Why don’t you try?” He gives a conspiratorial look that ends my part of the conversation.
“I don’t feel like working today”
“Isn’t it too early in the week to be making this statement,” she looks at me without emotion.
“What the fuck was that, was that a gaali,” she looks furious, which makes her nose red.
“Never mind, can you do this freaking bug fix for me,” I ask with the most charming smile I am capable of.
“Only if you tell me what you said just now.”
“Out with it,” she sounds impatient.
“Will you go out for a movie this weekend”
I didn’t anticipate this reaction, and now I couldn’t just say that any movie was fine without appearing to be desperate. So turbo mode kicks in and comes with the best match in terms of being neutral and most suitable to the situation at hand, “Dumbo.”
She laughs, that unchecked unassuming laugh that is getting rare these days, especially in women, especially the ones I talk to.
“But only if you do my part of the project too,” I add as an afterthought, because I had planned to do it over the weekend. The week is devoted to Moby Dick, which I have started reading. It seems to be huge and an ominous read and I hate the Jonah chapter.
“Ah, sexual harassment! I am going to report it”
“How is this harassment, you do my part of the project and then you get to go out with me for a movie. At most it would be termed as female colleague takes initiative to reap more rewards”
She looks at me with consternation, but with a friendly smile.
The pervert within, oh yes there is, I am not just shallow – “look at her, she won’t mind a little harassment.”
But it is cut off by the pessimist, the one with a humdrum tone – “she might refuse to both and might even register a complaint if only to get a different person to work with”.
The romantic voice, with a jingle, chimes in – “you are in love with her, she loves you too, propose! Now!”
“Ok, but not Dumbo. Let’s go and watch Kalank, the visuals are beautiful”
Pessimist – “told you, something was wrong.”
Movie reviews reader, or gimme-anything-to-read-as-long-as-it-has-new-content voice – “it’s like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie but made with Karan Johar gayness, abort the mission!”
Logical aka. sly-calculating voice – “You have been through worse with prospects without promise or matter. Kalank seems to be a reasonable price to pay for securing a good asset if you want to continue on this job, that is.”
Perv – “most of the theatre will be empty, imagine all that you two can do, I am already imagining”
“Ok”, I say, convinced, “but the next movie is going to be of my choice.”
“Sure, when you do my part too,” she giggles but I keep a straight face because I fight an urge to check her out, surprisingly for the first time.
She is wearing a pair of ultra tight leg cramping jeans and a red top that says something in Hindi or Sanskrit and she looks stunning. She has put on lip color and kajal for the occasion but what stands out is her neck, it is long slender and delicate. It evokes some kind of protective feeling in me that I discard immediately. She finds me in the crowd and seems delighted.
“I thought you were going to ditch me. Even the girls I stay with don’t want to watch the movie”
“Hahaha ok anything for you, by the way what you did for me was just two hours of work. Who gives these estimates to boss, they are always so bloated”
“And you, of all people, want to change that?” she laughs, the same disarming laugh.
“You are looking pretty,” I say with a little hesitation, still coming to terms with the fact that she is not a colleague right now.
“Check out her boobs man,” perv voice adds.
Thanking the heavens that its not audible and to avoid doing as suggested, I start walking with her trailing behind me saying thanks.
We find ourselves in the middle seats of a row quite away from the screen, but it is completely empty.
Reader voice – “told you so”
Perv -“you know what to do”
The pessimist voice – “these movies have many songs and stretch beyond three hours”.
The romantic – “she loves you, did you check the twinkle in her eyes”
“What twinkle,” I ask, almost aloud and curse the voices.
The movie trudges on as expected but the row is full and for that matter the whole theatre seems full. I buy a bucket of cheese popcorn in which they have somehow put some of the abominable caramel ones. For the rest of the first half I spend trying to time my dive into the bucket at the same time she does, she figures out the game after a while and abandons the popcorn. I spent the rest of the rest of first half feeling around each piece to guess if it is caramel with a success rate of 30%.
The second half is equally boring, except I try to put my arms around her which I realize immediately that it wouldn’t work. Then I try holding her hand for which I get a playful kick and the promise of a slap for any recidivism. I love the word.
The writer voice, on hearing the word, comes alive – “you could write about this, people love to read miserable love stories, remember? P said so.”
Reader voice, “yeah but there is no love or a story here, only misery for the readers.”
Pessimist -“Oye reader, don’t you think you are overstepping, stay within your limits. This whole episode is doomed, even without your negativity.”
“Unless something wonderful, something radical happens at the end” the optimistic voice speaks startling everyone for no one knew it existed.
“Alia is anything but sexy,” sighs perv and I agree.
We come out and Sonal says she will buy me coffee as I have been a good boy. We walk silently. I am fed up of the voices and she seems to be lost. After my questions go answered in monosyllables and I am down to the last quarter of my mug, I give up and start thinking about whether to go to gym or to go to Rahul’s for some beer.
“I will tell you something that you have to promise to keep to yourself,” she says abruptly waking me up from my reverie.
“Yeah sure,” I feel excited.
“I am getting married in July” she waits for reaction.
“You break my heart,” I say feigning heartbreak.
Romantic voice – “well done!”
“Cut it!” She looks serious, “I am not telling anyone in office because I will quit in a month and don’t want boss to know because he would then assign me trivial work.”
“What you work on is not rocket science,” I say forgetting my broken heart, “and why do you care about what you do in your last month.”
“Yaar I need a good resume, need to find a job in US.”
“Hmm ok, I will keep this a secret in exchange for a kiss”
Perv – “wtf! a kiss? Is that the best you could come up with”
Romantic – “leave him alone, he is wistful, I need to sigh”
Writer – “nothing radical is happening, yet”
She laughs, “you are a very nice guy, are you on Insta”
“No on WP, there is an Insta account that I hardly use. I will follow you though, if you put up sexy pics”
“I know we all read your blog posts, they are good.”
Writer – *beams*
Reader – *scoffs*
Pessimist – “it’s evident she has not read any, question her about why roses turned orange”
Perv – “focus! don’t forget the kiss”
She shows me the pics of her fiancee who looks like a typical Maggu with specs, but a honest smile. I am not interested in her wedding plans. I can’t even attend her wedding since she is not inviting anyone from office and none of the classmates I know of.
“I would have proposed if you weren’t getting married,” I say cutting her wedding prattle.
“I doubt that, you never showed interest in me.”
“Tell her it’s because she was not interesting in her office wear,” the perv voice quips.
“Well I did, you know that,” I say almost convincing myself in the process, “So do I get the kiss.”
“I know, but some people are just meant to be hugged,” she says and hugs me tight. I hug back, thinking. She might be right, also thinking that I should have spent more time with her.
“Just grab her ass man” says the perv.
“Shut the fuck up” growls the romantic turned emotional and friendly voice.
“Yeah shut up you are ruining the mood” the writer joins in.
“Oh fuck off guys” the reader cuts them out, “you are just full of pathetic words and no content. At least he is honest”