“And there you are!” he roared, as I opened the door. “I thought I’d never see you again, man.”
He pushed past me into the house, clapping me on the shoulder, and headed towards the fridge.
“There is nothing of your liking in there,” I shouted after him, closing the door.
“That’s why I bring along my own stuff.” He fished out from his bag three sweating beer cans, shoved them into the freezer, and wheeled around, grinning. “So? Does this mean you’re finally back from your adventures?”
I grabbed a water bottle from the cabinet on my way to the sofa, and sat down. “Not really. Just have a few things to sort out here, and then I’ll be -”
“Gone! Back into hiding!” He barked out a laugh and flung himself on the sofa next to me, “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I muttered to myself, wishing I hadn’t picked up his phone last night. “Anyway, what was it you couldn’t tell me on the phone?”
“Yeah, that,” he said, twisting, a wide smile pasted on his face. “Actually, I just wanted to know what you’ve been up to? And don’t give me that same crap that it’s just a break.”
“Hell man, you’re still not over it?” I sighed. “Sorry to disappoint, but it indeed is just a break.”
“Oh come on, now. A three-month long break! Just for nothing?”
“Not for nothing,” I protested. “I’m doing things I’ve never done before. Living out all my fantasies. Figuring myself out.”
He waved a dismissive hand, grunting. “You sure are working on something.”
“I am not.”
He looked me in the eye, probing. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “You want it on a stamp paper?”
“Man.” He slumped back, relief passing over his features. “You’re the biggest fool I’ve ever known.”
“Not the biggest, I bet,” I said, nodding distinctly at him. He stared at me blankly, my joke lost on him.
“No, seriously.” He jerked forward. “When’re you coming back to work?”
“Not sure I ever am.”
“Now, you’re kidding me!”
He stared at me, as if I had gone senile. “And you think the company will wait for you to be sure?”
“I’m sure about this one – they won’t. And that’s fine. I may actually never join back the corporate world, to tell you the truth.”
“Well, in that case,” he said, working hard to stifle a smile, “you should know they’ve just hired a new guy.”
“I’m sorry, man,” he said, sighing, “I tried to hold it for as long as I could. But…” he broke off, and went quiet for a few seconds in keeping with the emotion – an act I knew so well – and then he let it out. “Umm… boss was saying… asking, you know… if you’d be willing to talk to your clients, one last time?”
I looked up. “Talk to them? What for, now?”
“Just to reassure them. ‘Cause some of them, you know, especially your big ones, are talking about shifting their accounts out. And most are not trading half as much as they used to.”
“Why don’t you let them breathe, then?” I said, annoyed. “We’d squeezed them enough already, I think.”
“Oh please. You don’t wanna help. Don’t. Just don’t go all ethical about it now that you’re no longer in the business.”
“Fair point,” I said, “none of my business, anyway.” I sat back, and drank some water. “So? It’s you they’ve given all my clients?”
He nodded. “I wish they hadn’t,” he said, getting up, and then marched over to the fridge and returned holding the beer cans. “They won’t trade, they won’t meet me. What good are they?” He eyed me, full of accusation.
“Well. What can I say? Their money, their call.”
He let the hissing sound from the beer can be his response as he pulled it open and put it to his mouth, while I thought about ways to push him out without being flat-out rude.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said, after a while, pulling me out of my reverie.
“What? My clients not meeting you?”
“No,” he said, between his clenched teeth. “Can’t believe that you could take such a big step without consulting me. I could’ve helped you out, you know, to gain back your perspective.”
“Seriously? When did I ever consult you for anything,” I said, surprised, “let alone my life decisions?”
“And that was a mistake you shouldn’t be so proud of.”
“Oh, yes! I’ll regret that all my life, not having consulted you.” I laughed.
“Laugh all you want,” he said, the smugness on his face fading away, “but you know I’m way better than you are.” Then lifting his butt, he pulled out his wallet from the back pocket. “See.” He flashed his new visiting card in my face, to prove his point. “I’ve taken another promotion.”
I looked at it, and couldn’t help smiling. “It’s not the same I left behind, by any chance?” I said, flicking him a glance. “The promotion?”
His face went red. “It wasn’t yours to leave behind,” he snapped, glaring at me.
“I had signed the final papers. Remember?” I stared back.
He suddenly seemed to have fallen short of breath, his mouth opening to say something and then closing, before he jerked his head away. It was only after he had emptied the can with short angry gulps that he turned to face me again.
“You’re fucking jealous,” he hissed, snatching up the second can from the table and opening it. “True, it’s the same promotion. But you see… YOU RAN AWAY! Didn’t you? Proving it was a mistake selecting you in the first place. So what’s your problem if they rectified it, and chose the more deserving person, at last?”
“Oh man, that’s you I recognize so well,” I said, “always competing, always in the race with me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. You were never the brightest star in the firm to race against.”
“And still I managed to beat you in everything, career progression included. Says something about me… or maybe about you.” I smiled.
The arrow hit home. “You were lucky,” he began with trembling lips, “plain and simple lucky to have-”
I stood up. “If that’s all you were here to discuss, I think, I’ve had enough,” I said, and strode over to the kitchen to prepare myself a cup of tea.
I heard him grunting to his feet, and stagger to the kitchen after me.
“Can I take it?” he asked, shaking the last can in his hand, “if it’s tea you’d rather have?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
“Thanks.” He leaned against the doorframe, and took a moment’s pause before saying, “You know, I thought we were friends. That we could talk.”
“No man,” I retorted, adding tealeaves to the boiling water, “I don’t think you could be friends to anyone.”
“Is that so?” he said, his brow creased, “then why the hell am I wasting my Saturday evening here?”
“Not just yours, mind you. And it’s ’cause maybe you wanted to see, first hand, how miserable I am without the job.”
“No brother,” he said, shaking his head, vehemently. “You get me all wrong. It’s ‘cause I care for you.”
I grimaced. The beer was kicking up his system, I guess. The next he’d say he loved me.
“You don’t believe me?” he said, his words beginning to slur. “Okay, tell me, just tell me… who else, out of all your wonderful friends, is here to meet you? No one, right? The fuckers don’t even know you’re back. Do they? And even if they were here, I can bet, they wouldn’t have the heart to tell you the truth.
“But I do,” he continued, before I could say something. “Why? ‘Cause I am a real friend. And the truth is: that you think you’ve earned enough money to go all Buddha now. Live in the Himalayas, meditate, and all that shit, but I tell you… it’ll all be gone soon. Poof!… and then you’ll find yourself back in the old streets, begging for work again.” He took a couple of quick swallows of the beer, and resumed, “And I tell you this so that you can do something about it now, when you still have the time.”
“But the point is,” I said, restraining an urge to punch him, “that I know what I’m doing, so just chill.”
“And what exactly is this great thing that you’re doing?”
And at last I was done with him. “It’s none of your business, really. I think you should leave now.”
He went stiff, and looked at me, offended.
“I guess I should.” He finished his beer, and let out a loud belch. Then he shuffled across to the washroom, hitching up his belt in place. I saw him fumbling with the doorknob for a couple of seconds, as I gave my tea a final boil. And then I poured it out in a cup, and carried it to the sofa.
He came back after a few minutes, all combed, and freshened up, chewing a gum, and picked up his bag.
“It was my mistake coming here,” he said. “I thought I could talk some sense into you, but -”
“Yes. I absolutely loved the way you did that. You’re the man to be consulted, always.”
He sighed. “I think I’ll leave then.”
“Sure. If you think so.”
He gave me a weak smile, and tottered towards the door, shaking his head. He paused there and looked back. “You know,” he said, with an edge in his voice, “you’re reading too much of philosophy probably, with all the idle time in your hands, but one day -”
“Philosophy! Oh yes, thanks for reminding, man.” I picked up his visiting card from the table and scrawled down the word on it. “I’ve got to buy some books while I am here.”
I heard the door slam, and looked up. He was gone. I leaned back, stretching my feet up on the table, and picked the cup, and took another sip.
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Copyright © 2020 by Sundaram Chauhan