Friday 22 June 2018

Short Story 21 : Late!

Theme : Dry Humour.

 I personally feel that writing humour is harder than penning tragedy. It is easier to make people cry, than to make them laugh, at least through written words.

Humour allows the writers to connect with the readers, because humour is amazing in its universality. It helps to lighten the mood and make room for readers to like the character, despite the obvious flaws. 

My last story, 'The Only Trusted One' , was a tragic tale. I have tried to redeem the smiles and retrieve the laughs for those of you who felt too depressed after reading the tragedy, with my next tale.



I’m gonna be late! I agonized as I exited my house. Damn! Why was I this way?
I knew the reason, of course. Procrastination, my biggest foe. I’d had ample time to reach the venue well on time…that reminded me about the topic of the seminar today.
Damn! Double damn! This had to happen. The bright pink letters of the banner I’d painted for the event last week, glowed mockingly on my mind’s eye as clearly as it hung at the entrance of the auditorium: ‘Time management: How to be early.’
I winced when I recalled the stern look on Arora’s face when he had warned us to be at least one hour early for the event. One hour! Was the man paranoid or what?
It was fate, it was my curse. My special curse. Perhaps, some big bad witch-demon had cursed me soon after birth ‘May this specimen be late for every important occasion, event or wherever she needs to go & in whatever she needs to get done in her life.’
And man, was it really working!
I kick-started my old scooty, with a renewed vengeance, as I recalled the parting look Ashutosh Arora had given me as if in a strict prior warning last evening, just before we dispersed from his chamber. After all, I was one of the three main organizers of his mega event, where he was the key speaker for Time Management. The TM Guru, so to speak.
Why would people pay to learn how to be early? I wondered. I mean, its common sense, isn’t it?
You gotta plan ahead every damn day to be on time for every damn thing that you do in your life. Simple.
Oh yeah, you gotta put up a time table all over your place, where you cannot miss the sheets, especially on the walls of your washroom, so you can pee just a little faster, to be on time to wherever you need to go after you’re done.
And yeah, you gotta paste your schedule for the week, on the refrigerator too, just to remind yourself to stuff yourself with food just a little faster, so you barely enjoy the taste of your nourishment, so you can be on time.
Plus, you never gotta forget to plan. Plan backwards that is. Never plan forwards, because according to Arora that is a sure way to fail in TM. Plan backwards from the last item on your itinerary right to the start, so that you may end up at least an hour early than required.
‘Better early than late’ Ashtutosh Arora’s voice boomed in my head.
Yeah, right. I smiled sardonically, as I honked at the cud-chewing marsupial, who had parked his cute ass bang in the middle of the one way street. ‘Be early, never late’ I turned to inform the cow, before my bike passed inches away from his nonchalant face.
One has to be early, like the time I arrived at Lalli’s wedding, one day early. The embarrassment of entering the pandal with a wide smile on my face, only to wonder why Lalli had lost so much weight in just the week I’d seen her last. Wondering why the way the bride smiled at me, while clutching my 570-rupee gift, as if she had no recollection of who I was. And then realizing that it was Lalli’s wedding at all…simply because her wedding was on the next day.
Wow! I gave myself a mental pat on my back. I have been early a few times in my life too. I was always early when it concerned food, right.
Wasn’t I the first one out the door the minute the clock stuck 1.00, every afternoon for lunch hour? The first one at the canteen queue, every fucking day? The first one to fill my cup at the coffee kiosk every teabreak? The first one to hit the counter at every Garden varelli sale twice a year?
I smiled again. Well. I knew how to be early, I really did. It all depends on where you need to go and how much you enjoy going wherever you need to go, to do whatever you need to do.
The key, is to always do what you love to do, all your life, so you’re never ever gonna be late to do it, every single time! Simple.
Who, for instance would wanna go early to a boring speech about ‘How to be early?’ One would naturally be predisposed to be late for something as cringe-worthy as that.
I reached the gates of the Casa Vista thirty five minutes past the stipulated time, after riding my scooty like the maniac I was. The bitch at the reception plastered the smile on her face, even as she pointedly looked at her imitation-Cartier watch. I read the delight in her eyes & ignored her ‘Good Morning, Jia’ before I rushed towards Hall#3, where the event was scheduled.
People still milled around the counter where the program executive Rubin and his team were ticking off names against a roster in mock exuberance.
Where was Arora? I searched around the room and wondered how I could pull off a smooth endeavor to ‘gel’ into the group of organizers who were helping the guests to be seated. Smooth, just as if I’d been there since ages, you know, since one whole hour…
I plastered the well-rehearsed smile on my face and walked with complete confidence to a couple who clutched the tickets in their hands, looking rather lost. Five minutes later, I was entirely at ease, helping hapless guests to get settled in their respective seats.
Where is Arora? My mind continued to sing in tense silence. Did the demon notice that I walked in half an hour beyond the specified time? I wrestled with a mix of fear and apprehension, the perpetual smile still impeccably in place on my aching face.
Damn, hope he does not use me as an example, a bad one at that, to start off his session!He is twisted enough to do just that; to teach me a lesson I’d never forget for a lifetime. My agony multiplied in an leaps and bounds.
‘Why do I even work for such a fiend?’ I asked myself for the umpteenth time, even as I cooed sweetly to a bald guy in the crumpled shirt to get him settled in the second row.
And then, I felt a tug on my arm. It was D’ Souza, our senior operations manager.
‘Jia!’ His voice was anxious.
I turned to meet the panic in his eyes.
‘Jia, he isn’t picking the call!’ he almost choked in despair.
‘Who?’ I queried absently, wondering why the noise level at the auditorium was so high.
‘Ashutosh, he isn’t here yet!’
‘Yaay!’ I almost screamed my elation.
‘Oh,’ I sputtered instead, barely hiding the glee in my voice. But D’Souza was too distraught to notice.
‘He is never late, is he?’ It was more a statement than a question.
‘Oh damn, he can’t be late to his own seminar on how to be early!’ I quipped in renewed joy.
‘I know, I know, I’m sure something is really wrong!’ Dsouza was going crazy.
‘Please Jia, could you go on stage and just keep the guests occupied until he comes? Please?’
I gaped at him. Huh? Me?
‘Well, I could conduct a seminar about how not to be early…’ I giggled.
‘Yes, yes, do it!’ He commanded.
I gawked at him again, what? Speak to an audience for two whole hours about how to be early? He has got to be kidding, right?
Wrong! Because, he’d already moved towards the door, the phone glued to his ear.
Hey, he hadn’t heard me at all! And two minutes later, I found myself on the stage, with the mike in my hand.
‘Good Morning, folks!’ I began, desperately striving to ignore the butterflies in my tummy.
‘Well, let me tell you something before I begin. I was thirty six minutes and fifty-five seconds late today.’ My voice rang out, loud and clear, across the auditorium.
I relished the audible gasp of their unchallenged attention, before I took a deep breath and began to speak.

You were fantastic!
I tried not to smile too hard, even as the volley of praises continued to stream around my compliment-starved ears.
The applause refused to die down; someone even whistled their appreciation from the middle row. More and more people began to leave their seats and approached me to grasp my palm for handshakes.
‘Ma’am, thank you so much! Your stories were hilarious and very inspiring!’ gushed a lady in a bright red Kanchi saree, who was at least two decades older than me.
I tried to catch my breath, even as I tried to stem my exhilaration and thank the hoard of people who milled around me.
I caught D’Souza smiling at me with a thumbs-up sign, above the heads of the people and almost blew him a kiss in my exulted state.
Nearly an hour later, all the organizers bid goodbye to the last of the guests and gathered at the back of the hall, reveling in the huge success of the show.
It took me ten minutes to realize that Arora was nowhere to be seen, yet.
And then I spied him, as he walked in the door, in his crisp grey suit and red satin tie, his black leather shoes gleaming with multiple ministrations of shoe-shine.
‘So, were you guys able to handle the crowd without goofing up?’ his voice resounded with the same smug authority it always possessed.
I stared at his face, looking for something…at least a hint of apology or regret in his expression, and was flabbergasted to see that he actually behaved as if nothing had happened.
‘And you,’ he charged at me, all of a sudden, with renewed vigour.
‘Ah, here it comes.’ I squared my shoulders and stood taller, waiting for the accolades to pour in, from the man who had terrorized me for the last three years I’d worked for him.
‘You’re fired!’
I smiled, not because I didn’t hear him, but because I thought I’d heard him wrong.
‘Get out, before I throw you out in disgrace!’
I still smiled, except that the smile was now frozen on my face, in complete disbelief.
‘I heard about it from the receptionist. A full thirty five minutes late. I’d especially warned you yesterday to be an hour early, hadn’t I?’
‘But…,’ My mind began to work again, though my tongue still seemed to be tied up in knots.
Four minutes later, I found myself outside the hall, just like that, wondering what had just transpired.
And then, my mind cleared. The fog dispersed from my senses in crystallized clarity. I turned around to face the huge brown door that had been firmly shut in my face.
Arora was still talking to the team, firing questions at Rubin, a frown on his face.  D’Souza was the first to see my approach, confused chagrin on his features. I rewarded him with a dazzling smile, before the group around Arora cleared the way for me in hushed anticipation.
‘Well, Arora,’ I looked him in the eye. ‘I’ve been dying to do this for three years, two months and 14 days now. That’s how long I’ve put up with your crap.’
The collective gasps were barely audible, against the resounding echoes of the four slaps I delivered with unerring precision on Ashutosh Arora’s lean cheeks. My heels clicked a triumphant tune, as they ferried me out of Hall#3 of the Casa Vista hotel for the last time.


Picture: Google images.

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