Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter IV

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter IChapter II and Chapter III.

My eyes fell on my I-card that spelled out my name in big, bold, blue letters. That explained it! Had I really thought Tushhar needed help? I was in more need of it. I stared at the thick, white fumes that whistled out of the fire extinguisher, and pitied the poor volunteer who tottered about with the red, cylindrical apparatus. It looked like he was tap-dancing. And that reminded me – I had my first foxtrot session that day. I had realized I needed to get some fresh air and bring in some change in my life, so I had enrolled myself for a ballroom dance course on Monday.

*  *  *

At half past seven, I found myself at Ricardo’s Dance Studio. I admired the spacious room that had mirrors on all sides and a steel bar fixed horizontally on one. For stretching before the dance, I thought. I saw a dozen other people waiting on the benches that lay on one side of the hall. “Good evening, everyone! My name is Ricardo Terez” – a baritone broke the din. “I am the foxtrot instructor here.” I traced the voice to a tall, sturdy frame with a cheerful face. His smile calmed my tense nerves.

He started by making us count the four beats in every bar of the music he played. Then we did a round of introduction. We were a good mix of college-goers and working professionals. We learnt some basic footwork next. As we practised after Ricardo, he told us how foxtrot originated in the United States. It was a slow dance, quite similar to waltz. After six rounds of the basic footwork with and without music, he asked us to take partners. To everyone’s surprise, the men outnumbered the women in the room. But that wouldn’t be too much of a problem as all the ladies would have to dance with every gentleman in rotation.

Ricardo played I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra as he showed us how the dance partners were to hold each other. All the pairs on the dance floor clumsily held their positions and tried tuning their steps to Sinatra’s music. After every two minutes of dancing, Ricardo would holler – “Change!“, and the women would move clockwise to the next man. After several rounds of dancing, I felt elated and liberated from all the thoughts that had earlier disturbed me. It was only when we took a break that I realized it was 8:10.

We formed three rows to copy the new steps that our instructor would teach us. This is when Tushhar walked in and muttered a quick apology to Ricardo.

My legs turned into jelly. Two major coincidences in a day! This was more than my sensitive little self could take. The tranquil atmosphere that Sinatra’s song had managed to create did not even take a second to shatter under Tushhar’s presence. I listlessly repeated the steps after Ricardo and was terrified when he said, “Take your partners, everyone.”

We only had 10 minutes to go, and I prayed with all my strength for the class to be over before it was my turn to dance with Tushhar. And for once, my prayer was answered, I noted with some disappointment. I quickly made my escape before he’d have a chance to notice me. But how long would I keep up my game of hide-and-seek? He’d surely see me next Thursday!

*  *  *

It did not take very long for the next Thursday to arrive. Ricardo started the class by revising the previous week's footwork, then showing us some new steps. As each of us started taking partners, he told us to keep our chin up and look over our dance-partner's right shoulder. "In ballroom dancing", he said, "we do not stare at our partner." He played Colbie Caillat's Bubbly

One of my favourites, I smiled. Ricardo offered me his hand. He was quite obviously the best dancer in the room. "Man, remember to give your lead. Only then will the woman follow." This was met with giggles. "Change!" I glanced to my right to see who I'd next dance with. Tushhar!

We exchanged smiles and took our positions. Caillat's song flowed through the air like a river gushing through a valley. It filled all the empty space between Tushhar and me till we were drenched in its melody. I breathed the musk notes that betrayed a hint of cedar. He smelled of deep, dark woods that make one lose one's sense of direction. His hands were soft and he held me gently. I disregarded Ricardo's instructions and stole a few looks at my dance-partner. His skin was smooth and his nose, aquiline. I noticed his eyes were the colour of mahogany when his met mine. "Change!"

*  *  *

I leaped from one Thursday to another with the other days forgotten in office-work and evening-jogs. It always poured heavily at 7:15 in the eve, as if to deter me from attending my dance-lessons. But in the mirrored enclosure of the dance studio, foxtrot set me free, and I would look forward to my Thursdays with Tushhar.

It was September before I even realized we were about to finish our course. I was amazed at the progress we had all made. Most of us had started with two left feet and could now dance just as easily as we could walk. Ricardo had invited us all to a club the Saturday after the next, to celebrate the completion of our lessons in basic foxtrot.

The last session was the best of all for we danced for two straight hours to continuous music. When I fox-trotted with Tushhar, I noticed how much he had changed from the days I would see him in the office parking-lots and across my lift. Something seemed to have washed his sorrows away and he greeted me with open arms, if only to hold the fox-trot position. Ricardo played Can I Have This Dance by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake - Chapter III

This chapter from the short story follows Chapter I and Chapter II.

The next few months passed as swiftly as my pocket-money fled my wallet. I had survived the torturous exams and emerged a graduate. Farewells to homeward-bound friends and frenemies; interviews with IT giants and startups; and scrounging the internet for dirt-cheap vacation-packages kept my summer occupied. The sun was strong but not enough to penetrate my heart that stayed frozen on the words I had read a hundred days ago. It was late in June that a phone call made my heart thaw.

I was offered full-time employment at the firm I was longing to hear from. And the fact that my office was in the same building as his, worked like heat-therapy on a sprained muscle. The heavens pronounced their approval with a light drizzle the day I joined office. I was more nervous at the prospect of seeing him than I was about my first day at work. I had never been as alert in school as I was that day. I expected to see him around every corner. My breath stopped and ears pricked at every sound that floated by me. I was exhausted, despite having done no work, when I got back home. However, as luck would have it, I did not chance upon him.

My black and white story would have a few days of colour when I would catch him in the lift across mine. My eyes would stay transfixed on his for the entire duration of seven seconds that both the lift-doors stayed open, and I would not blink until the two stainless steel halves cut him off from my dazed self. I would also find him at the parking lot sometimes- lost, in a world so removed from the one we walked in, that it seemed impossible he'd ever come back. He was the ghost of the jilted lover, shrouded in the trauma that refused to leave him. Each time he passed by, the ripples of the his shock would reach me for reasons unbeknownst to me. I hadn't figured out my feelings for him but I knew he had sensed my presence at every chance encounter.

He had held my gaze each time with an unspoken purposefulness, as if asking for something indecipherable. I had tried many times to begin a conversation with him to break the eerie silence that would wrap the two of us every time we saw each other, but to no avail. My throat would go dry whenever I had the presence of mind to speak, and he would have long gone by the time I regained my voice. We would have gone on with our deaf-and-mute act had it not been for the divine intervention of Fate.

Our golden chance to break our silence came in the guise of a fire-drill. All the eight odd offices in our building were to participate in the drill that aimed to bring us out of our cubicles and into the fresh outdoors. The exercise was amusing, even if saving oneself from a life-threatening scenario could hardly be counted as a means of amusement. All the employees were made to stand in rows facing the security-expert as she explained the dos and don'ts in a fire-scenario. The corporate services team had the foresight to station water-coolers at the back of all the rows. I filled a paper cup with water that sparkled in the sun and turned to find Tushhar standing behind me.

I moved to the left to make way for him.

"Hi", he said as he pressed the blue lever for cold water. 

"Hello", I replied, glad my voice hadn't deserted me.

"I've seen you around. You must've joined a few weeks back." His cup was almost full now.

I looked up to make eye contact. "Yeah. It's been a couple of months since I started." He had brown eyes and his honey-coloured skin glowed in the sun. I sipped on my water as I noticed the skin around his eyes had caramelized into a darker shade of brown. Lack of sleep, I guessed.

"Do you live nearby?" Honey was not only the colour of his skin but also the texture of his voice.

"Yes. My place is not too far. You do too?" Well of course, he did! I wondered why I asked him that.

"Oh, my flat is 10 minutes from here!" He said with pride. I noticed how his pink lips turned thin as they curved into a smile.

"See you, then!" I finished the last drop off my cup and proceeded to rejoin my colleagues.

"Sure, Praneetee!" 

And yet again, he managed to make me go numb. How did he do that every single time? I didn't remember telling him my name! The fire-safety instructions were of no use to me when I was burning under his glare. I walked towards my row with a heart that threatened to break out of my rib-cage if I did not chain it right there.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Caution: Men at Work #2

The first post in this series can be accessed here.

Some introspection has revealed that I spend way too much time singing praises of the boys and mocking the fairer sex (well, at least on my blog). So, today I will endeavour to take the mickey out of the men at the workplace! This post will be similar to the ones I wrote on women (which you can read here and here).

*  *  *

Exhibit - 1 (The Beach Babe):

No, he does not have washboard abs or a bronzed complexion. He's probably never gone surfing either. But he's got a mind boggling collection of floral shirts, mostly of the beach-variety. It isn't very hard to spot the big, bright patterns on his shirt that flutters nonchalantly among the stiff whites and blues. His sartorial experiments lead him where even women fear to tread. (Really, no sane woman would be caught dead with so many flowers on her self!) His very presence makes me hear the sound of ukuleles and I imagine he'll break into a hula-dance. The only prop missing on him is a Hawaiian garland. With that sorted, he'd be all set to go to a luau!

Exhibit - 2 (The Gadget Ghoul):

A technology-freak, he has impatience written on his forehead. I once made the mistake of making him wait for 5 minutes and I found him playing on his PlayStation Portable-2 as he composed a text message on his phone with the voice command while also listening to something on his iPod. I forgot to add, his iPad rested on his lap and the office computer (with 3 monitors) on his desk. The glowing red mute button on his IP phone let me know he was on a conference call at the same time. The gadget-ghoul is a classic multitasker but displays unearthly behaviour that gives you the creeps. He is also a man of few words and will only talk in tech-speak.

Exhibit - 3 (The Ladies' Man):

We all know this one. And every school/college/office has one. (In fact, most places have multiple ladies' men these days!) He'll wink at you from 20 yards away. And of course, you'll look away and pretend he's winking at someone else. But he'll walk towards you with swift strides and you'll frantically search for a turn in the corridor you can escape into. But we all know such escape routes never materialize when you want them to. So, you'll tell yourself he's caught something in his eye and is not really winking (as he continues to hold that wink). But lord, what do you make of that unmistakably frisky smile that accompanies his wink!

This exhibit has some varieties. There'll be one who'll block your path and force you into a conversation even as you wear your I-have-tons-of-work-and-really-need-to-get-back-to-my-desk look. Another one who'll throw a random one-liner in your first language and lean on a wall with his hands folded and a smirk plastered on his face, in anticipation of a response from you. This reminds me of a funny incident from college that I MUST share with you (excuse my digression)-

*  *  *

So, I was walking past a bulletin board near my classroom and this decent-looking guy tossed a full Bengali sentence in my direction (a complex and grammatically correct one at that!) as he stood grinning with a friend of his. I politely complimented him on his flawless delivery of a foreign tongue. That's when he said he was Bengali too and threw another Bangla line in his defence. And believe you me, I gave him quite an earful about how a couple of sentences won't make him Bengali and he should stop messing with me! He recoiled at my angry outburst and helplessly tried to convince me he wasn't telling lies. What followed was a barrage of questions that I threw at him to verify his claim. And that poor soul patiently replied and got all the answers right. It was my turn to look guilty. I sheepishly apologised to the guy who gave me his it's-OK-I-won't-kill-you look.

*  *  *

I know you're getting bored and want me to move to the next exhibit, but please allow me to speak about just one more variety of this kind: this one will drag you to have breakfast with him (and later confess he has already had his). He will joke about the dishes and ask you if you miss your fish-and-rice (to which I will squarely reply that I'm vegetarian). And then he'll tell you his ex was Bengali too and how much she loved her meat and fish (and you'll really not know what to make of it or where the conversation is going).

The ladies' man makes women giggle as the other men frown and plot his murder. But his disease is contagious (which is why we have more and more of this type with every passing season).

Exhibit - 4 (The Gym Junkie):

We've all seen biceps threatening to bulge out of shirts (at least on TV? C'mon!) and gym-bags slung over the right shoulder as the office-bag hangs from the left. But have you seen those really-serious-gym-goers who will not stop an extra second in the elevator to say goodbye to you? They just HAVE to clock their 60 minutes of cardio/weight/circuit training! And some will go the extra mile and throw in a football practice AND a game of squash to make sure their muscles don't slack for even a minute. This exhibit's dizzying workout routine makes me wonder if even his jawline will become muscular and talking, synonymous with flexing his cheeks. I always expect the gym-junkie to drop dead in front of me (he never does).

Exhibit - 5 (The Gossip Guy):

I've always thought ladies are the queens of the gossip-club, but the men have proved me wrong! There's an entire breed of men who love to talk (mostly about people). I remember this quote for some reason:
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
(Oh wait! Did you just classify me as a "small mind" because I'm discussing characters here?! :-| ) Anyhow, gossip-guys are plentiful and scattered all over the work premise. You'll find them huddled at a table in the cafeteria, in their restrooms as they do their "business" (NO, of course I haven't been there! I have have guy friends who tell me some things sometimes), near the coffee machines and water coolers, and obviously at their desks. How do you tell if they're gossiping or having a random civil chat? Well, you watch their expressions. They'll wear a funny smile (if I get time, I'll write a blog post on "smiles" to educate you about the different kinds) and laugh snootily. The gossip-guys don't even leave the digital world alone as their back-fence talk spills into social media and Whatsapp group-chats (sometimes in the presence of the very people they slander).

*  *  *

So much inside scoop should be enough for you to digest for today. There's more, of course. But we'll hear that some other time. So long, fellas!