Monday, 24 June 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter II

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter I.

My face was flushed from its prolonged exposure to the blazing sun. I had been standing at the bus stop for almost half an hour, waiting for a bus that would take me home. Neither the heat nor the wait bothered me. If I was restless it was only because I was going to meet him today!

I reached home at half past six and hit the shower. I stuffed a mini-granola bar into my mouth and tightened my shoelaces. I was all set to make my first appearance in front of him!

It was 7:30 when I reached the park just outside his office. He would leave at eight. The buildings had two exit gates, 20 metres apart. The only way to run into him was to keep running from one exit point to another. I took off my scrunchy and retied my hair. I did some stretches to warm up before the run that would last only God knew how long. I started running at 7:55. The sun had set by then, and this made my task of identifying him even more difficult. I ran faster as I saw the steady flow of office goers crowding up the street. It would be 8:30 in a few minutes and I’d miss him again! My pace dropped to a walk. And I screened every man that walked my way. It was 8:35. I felt defeated. I went tired to the park and sat on a green patch of grass. My white T-shirt was damp with my sweat, but I wouldn’t let my spirit be. I was going to try and find where he lived.

I knew where to start. I got up and started for Tipsy Feet. The doorman eyed me with contempt. I ignored him and climbed three flights of stairs, two steps at a time. I stopped before the ebony tinted glass door and had a good look at my reflection. Black ankle length socks peeped out of my white sneakers. My phone made the left pocket of my mustard shorts bulge out of proportion. White cords snaked across my white tee, split into two at my collar bone and culminated into a pair of earplugs that played Powerless by Nelly Furtado.

... this life is too short to live it just for you

I stepped into the pub. It was still too early for the regulars to come in.  There was only one group of three girls and two guys laughing at a corner table. I stood on my toes to see the faces of the guys. I could only manage to see the wild curls of the guy on the right. Nope, not him. And then, the guy on the left stood up.

... But when you feel so powerless what are you gonna do

Almost reflexively, I turned around and ran out of the bar with my heart thumping loudly. I did not stop till I reached home. I was too terrified of letting him see me to wait to identify him. I could only remember his dark hair and big forehead. Had I been running from a stranger? Or had I really seen him? I could not sleep that night despite the tossing and turning. I yielded and sat up on my bed. It was time to make use of my social engineering skills.

I booted my laptop and searched for Tushhar Naipaul. His LinkedIn profile led me to his blog on Tumblr. I wasn’t interested in the Harley-Davidsons that cluttered his page. I had to read his private pages. I would have to hack into his account. I asked my conscience to shut up and launched a series of attacks on his account. All the workshops on information security I had attended over the years finally paid off; and after 27 minutes of battling against digital protection, I discovered Tushhar was a tech-virgin. It wasn’t fair to label him so. After all, most of my professors at the university couldn’t hold their own against my hack-attacks. I only hoped his private posts would be worth my effort. My eyelids were heavy at 1:48 AM. My first lecture at college next morning was on Distributed Computing, scheduled for 9:15. I’d never make it in time if I went through the 18 hidden posts on his blog. I yawned loudly and decided to read anyway.

His writing was slow, smooth and engrossing... like a John Williams composition. His was a story of unrequited love. He had met his object of affection at Mandarin classes four years ago. He would sit next to her every afternoon on the wooden bench at the extreme right corner of the room and watch her practise the 20 new characters they’d learn each day. He would struggle with the nib of his ink pen and speak to her on the pretext of borrowing hers. The soft touch of her fingers as they brushed against his; the dewy look in her eyes as she pitied his ineptitude in Mandarin; her gentle smile as she offered her spare pen... these made it easy for him to sit through the two-hour class that put most students to sleep.

They spent an entire year learning Mandarin Level-1, during which they advanced from sitting beside each other to sharing smoothies, with two straws at first to only one by mid-year. They would look into each other’s eyes when Ms. Liu would screen a Chinese movie and ask the class to pay attention to the accent. He thought of her every time they made Chinese at the canteen, and also every time they didn’t. His mind drifted to thoughts of her every time he held anything that was made in China, and almost everything was.

It was on the day they passed their basic Mandarin test that he saw her kiss a guy who looked like he could be her boyfriend. He was shattered. He recounted the poignancy with no trace of bitterness for the girl. He told himself that it was an error of judgement on his part and the girl had never been at fault. He tried to forget everything but he could never forget how she had looked on Chinese New Year, in her red and gold qípáo made of silk.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks as I finished reading his last post. I had a done a terrible thing by hacking into his account.

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