“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 straight for the fridge.
“There is nothing of your liking in there,” I shouted after him, closing the door.
“That’s why I carry 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?”
“Oh, that.” He twisted, a wide smile pasted on his face. “Nothing. 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? 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. “You sure are working on something.”
“I am not.”
He looked me in the eye, probing. “You serious?”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “You want it on a stamp paper?”
“Man.” He slumped back, looking relieved. “Then, 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 gazed at me, as if I had gone senile. “And you think the company will wait for you to be sure?”
“I’m sure it won’t. But, that’s fine. I may actually never join back the corporate world, to tell you the truth.”
“Well,” he said, “then you should know they’ve already hired your replacement.”
I shrugged. “I’d asked for two months max, and I didn’t turn up.”
“I’m sorry, man.” He sighed. “I tried to hold it for as long as I could. Called you as well. But…” he broke off, and went quiet for a few seconds, before letting out the reason he had come for. “Anyway… boss was saying… asking, you know… if you’d be willing to talk to your clients, one last time?”
“Talk to them? What for, now?”
“Just to reassure them, I think. 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 for some time, then?” I said, annoyed. “The market is down, and 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 to?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Wish they hadn’t,” he said, getting up. He marched over to the fridge and returned with the beer cans. “They won’t trade. They won’t meet me. What good are they?” He stared at me, eyes full of accusation.
“Well. 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, at last, pulling me out of my reverie.
“What? My clients not meeting you?”
“No,” he said, through 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.”
“Oh! Seriously? When did I ever consult you for anything,” I said, “let alone my life decisions?”
“And that was a mistake you shouldn’t be so proud of.”
I laughed. “Oh, yes! I’ll live to regret that all my life, not having consulted you.”
“Laugh all you want,” he hit back, “but you know I’m way better than you are.” Then lifting his butt, he pulled out his wallet. “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.”
“I had signed the final papers. Remember?”
He suddenly seemed to have fallen short of breath, his mouth opened to say something, then closed, before he jerked his head away. Only after he had emptied the can with short angry gulps did he turn to face me again.
“You’re f**king jealous,” he said, snatching up the second can from the table and opening it. “That’s what you are. Yes, 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 lucky to have –”
I stood up. “If that’s all you were here to talk about, I think, I’ve heard enough.” I strode over to the kitchen to prepare myself a cup of tea.
He grunted to his feet, and staggered 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?”
“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 added 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 yours alone, mind you. And maybe it’s because you wanted to see, first hand, how miserable I am without the job.”
“No brother,” he said, shaking his head. “You get me all wrong. I care for you.”
I found myself grimacing. The beer was kicking up his system. The next he’d say he loved me.
“You don’t believe me?” he said, his words beginning to slur. “Okay, tell me… who else, out of all your wonderful friends, is here to meet you? The f**kers 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 anything. “Why? ‘Cause I am a real friend. And here’s the truth: 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 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 not to embarrass you, no, but 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 in the face, “that I know what I’m doing. So just chill.”
“Oh, what exactly is this grand thing you’re doing? Writing fairy tales for little girls?”
“None of your f**king business!” My patience wore out at last. “I think you should leave now.”
He went stiff, and looked at me, offended.
“I guess I really should.” He finished his beer, and let out a loud belch. Then he shuffled across to the washroom, hitching up his belt in place, as I gave my tea a final boil. 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.
“It was a mistake coming here,” he said, picking up his bag. “I really 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.”
“If you think so.”
He gave a wan 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 to buy some books while I am here.”
The door slammed, and I looked up. He was gone. I stretched my feet up on the table, picked the cup, and took another sip.
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Copyright © 2020 by Sundaram Chauhan