Smoked Out!

March was just one month away from showing its dreadful face.
The pace was building up, tempers were rising sky high. Sridhar looked in disdain at the work piled up on his table – Financial Year ending, appraisals, resignations, recruitments, impending Financial Year, its targets and all the paraphernalia. It was inevitable that once a year March should make its appearance, and all the pleasures of the eleven months before that should culminate in a storm that would take a lot of people up and down with it.

Nevertheless, the belief that better and relaxing days were in store, with a lot of sleepy meetings thrown in, come April, kept him alive.

“Dude!” the cabin door banged open and a breathless colleague flew in. Sridhar recoiled in the impact.

Rajesh was more than a colleague. When he joined the organisation a few years ago, he was introduced to Sridhar for mentoring. Within a matter of days, Sridhar learnt that it was futile to even attempt such a task as mentoring a person like Rajesh, so he gave up and the allotted duration was spent in casual talk. It followed naturally that Rajesh spilled his life before him and called him his confidant, much to the latter’s distaste. But a mentor was not expected to exhibit dislike; all he had to do was listen and offer a pointer when it was required.

“Not again! Not now…” Sridhar groaned to himself. But there was no stopping Rajesh when he set his mind on blasting someone’s peace of mind to smithereens.

“Dude, you gotta help me!” he said, collapsing on a chair.
Sridhar winced as he always did when he was addressed ‘dude’, ‘buddy’, ‘man’, or even ‘Sri’ by Rajesh. But the youngster absolutely refused to fall prey to subtle hints. “Is it urgent? I have a bundle of things to finish today. You know, March, year-ending and so on. Any of it rings a bell?”
“No, let me speak. Hear me out, man! Aren’t you supposed to me my mentor?”
Sridhar grimaced. “Let’s forget that part for some time – like, a few centuries. Just tell me what it is about.”

His visitor pulled on the forlorn face of a romantic hero. “You believe in destiny, don’t you?”
Trick question? “Well, I guess I do,” said Sridhar cautiously, “as far as it helps me in solving my latest problem.”
Rajesh pondered over the answer for a second, his forehead creased in thought. He shook his head as if to ward off the confusion that ensued and said, “I am tempted to, myself.”
“No! You?” Sridhar said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. This was going to take some time, it might as well be another day of procrastination. All in the name of  mentoring. He closed his laptop and sat back.
“Yes. Surprising, eh?” Rajesh leaned forward and said in a confidential tone, “Something – or someone – is conspiring to oust me from my current position.”
“Indeed? And what position is that?” Surely he did not mean his ‘position’ in the organisation, because there could be nothing or no one who would be remotely interested in usurping it.
“I hear a lay-off is brewing in the horizon! And that it is massive.”
“Oh, that.” Sridhar adjusted his eyeglasses and turned to his laptop. “I’m sure you have nothing to worry. For God’s sake, don’t waste my time over rumours.”
“It’s not just that.”
“Well?” The trace of impatience in Sridhar’s tone might have been outright offensive to anyone else, but too miniscule to be observed by his visitor.
“It’s after me!” Rajesh mouthed the words as if he were leaking out an important plot line from a thriller. “Destiny! It is smoking me out.”
Sridhar’s jaw dropped at the histrionics. He had a vision of Rajesh, smoke emerging from his ears, bolting out of the office. March was forgotten in that one humorous mental image. “I am sure Destiny has better things to do,” he said, stifling a smile. “Rajesh, I really need to get back to work. Every moment is precious.”
“So is mine, my good fella, so is mine. You need to help me find a new apartment.”
Apartment. Where is this conversation headed?  “What’s the matter with this one?”
“Oh, there are lots. Cockroaches, ants, flies, mosquitoes, for a start. Especially cockroaches. Real huge beasts spying around, swinging their extraordinary sensors. My wife cannot even stay in the kitchen for the monsters.”
“Get a pesticide.”
“The cupboards. You should see them. They are falling apart. And the doors, the windows – the entire woodwork is crumbling.”
“Talk to the owner.”
“Oh, he doesn’t respond.”
“Find a carpenter.”
“The taps are leaking, all of them. And there is a permanent block in the kitchen-sink.”
“Call a plumber.”
“Power outages. Every effing now and then.”
“Can’t help. It is the same everywhere. It’s called load-shedding.”
“22 hours?”
“It was a one-off, wasn’t it? Must have been a major fault. Can happen, anywhere, anytime.”
“You don’t get it, do you? All of these – they are happening at the same time. It’s the hand of Destiny!”
I have no time for this, the Mentor grumbled to himself, trying to hold his face from erupting into a display of emotions. Memories of impending deadlines danced over his head. “No – it is just a coincidence. Just resolve them, one by one, and there you are. Destiny would admit defeat. You’ll see.” He turned to his laptop again, a sign that the conversation has come to an end. As always, the gesture flew past Rajesh.
“Not so fast. I really have to shift from this apartment. I simply cannot handle Destiny’s fury when it is out to get me.”

*

The days flowed on, tumbling over one another. Deadlines were edging closer, occasionally peeking from around the corners, steady and quick in their approach. Sridhar spent his waking hours engrossed in work, almost to the point of losing sense of space and time. Sleep, meals and other non-essential activities happened as if in a dream, when requirement became a necessity.

When he switched on the laptop one morning, a small window started blinking in the task bar. He vaguely wondered when he had last logged in to the messenger, and how he had forgotten to log out. Seeing the window title as ‘Rajesh’, and carrying an over-worked head threatening to explode so early in the day, his first instinct was to log out without typing a word, or even reading what Rajesh had to say.

The last time they spoke – just after Rajesh moved in to his new house and new job – he was bombarded to death with descriptions on the ‘amazing’ ambience of the apartment and the premises, the perfection of the wiring and the plumbing, the absence of pests, so much so that finally he had to barge in and say, “Hey… have you forgotten it was I who first told you of the place?”

Just as he was about to hit the ‘logout’ button, something stopped him; curiosity won the day, and he typed ‘Hi’. To cut a long story short, for reasons he could not explain, he found himself at a small restaurant near the office before long, chatting over scalding tea with Rajesh.

“Man, you’re not going to believe this.” Opening statements often have a very powerful impact. Sridhar immediately regretted not logging out when he could, not turning down the offer of tea, and surrendering to the voice in his head that urged him to take a break. But there was no escape now, he had to get on with it and hope that the headache that was already at its summit would have no option but to subside. “It’s about my apartment – it is getting difficult to stay there. Destiny has still not let go of me yet.”

How did he fall into this again? “Is it cockroaches, or ants or… ?” he said drily.
“It’s bigger than any of those. Or all of those.”
“Electricity?” Sridhar smirked.
“Electricity outages are not problems at all. Mankind is learning to adjust. They call it Mutation or Evolution or something, these days.” Rajesh chuckled at his own feeble joke, and grew serious a moment later.

Unbelievable. “So what is it this time?”
“You got to help me get the hell out of there. ‘As soon as possible’ is not soon enough.”
“I will, if you would just tell me what it is. I think you’ve encountered all the problems so far identified by Mankind, in your last apartment.”
“I was wrong. There never was a better house. I should never have left it. Destiny was playing a joke – a bad, cruel joke – on me. And now I’ve to pay the price.”
“So, are you going to tell me what it is, and where it is?”
“It… it resides right outside the door of my apartment.”
“What?” Sridhar said, sitting up in alarm. “A bug? A wasp? What in the world?”
“The house right opposite mine. The girl next door. Is my ex-lover. Help me escape, buddy!…”

When Sridhar stomped out of the restaurant a moment later, he was cursing the English language for conjuring up the word ‘mentoring’.

*

Published by the Mag

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