Apr 23, 2013

One of my clumsy attempts at story telling...

He sat in the cleanest corner he could find and clutched his head. He desperately wanted this to be a bad dream. But the pain from his nails digging into his temples reminded him that it was not. That, and the all-prevailing stench.

It had started as a trifle. Early morning, as he was dressing up, he had found that the top button of his shirt was missing. On any other day, he would have simply swapped it for another shirt and moved on. But this was not any other day. He had an important client presentation to make. It was a make-or-break deal for him, his career, his future at the firm as his boss had repeatedly reminded him. And though he frowned on most superstitions, this was his lucky shirt. He had got his job wearing this shirt to his interview. He had worn it the first time he had met the woman, who would end up being his wife. A woman who doted on him, and attended to his every need.

That reminded him. He had asked her to mend this button 3 weeks ago. And again last weekend. And again, last evening, specifically mentioning that he had an important meeting today. Till six months ago, he wouldn't even had to have ask her. She used to pick out the shirts which he had to wear, colour-coordinate them with the appropriate trousers, and lay them out for him. All neatly washed, pressed and smelling nice. Although he always told her not to indulge him so much, he secretly enjoyed being pampered like this. But those times were just a fading memory now.

She had become a bit distant recently. He could see that she was getting frustrated sitting at home. After all, she was equally well-educated and had been a starry-eyed bright intern when he had first met her. The first assignment he had given her, she had filled her brief perfectly. Staying back till 3 am in office and ensuring every 't' was crossed and 'i' dotted. And not a single typo. Soon, late nights at office became the norm, and she filled his brief perfectly too. He did not realize that a shared obsession with correct grammar, perfect formatting and wearing each others' briefs could lead to a commitment of a life long relationship. But rock-solid marriages have been cemented over much less.

She had given up her job after he got promoted. They had talked over it for quite some time, and he was initially surprised she made that sacrifice. But they both realized that his job was going to take over his life, and he needed someone to, as he put it, "be the wind beneath my wings". And at first, she seemed to adapt to the new role in her life as smoothly as she had pulled off her first assignment. But, she gradually became clingy, talking about starting a family and having kids. He gently reminded her that they had discussed this before marriage -  "kids simply drag your life down".  He knew she was getting restless now and, as he would have put it to her during her intern days "no longer had her eye on the ball". And thus, his lucky shirt still had a button missing.

And so they had had an argument. Which had started with a missing button and ended half an hour later with a screaming match on how he no longer seemed to love her. And he finally threw the shirt on the floor, picked up the first thing he could grab from his wardrobe and stormed out of the house.

That half an hour delay had ensured that his daily plan of starting early to avoid rush hour traffic was now just that. A plan. His boss had already mailed him twice reminding him to be on time. This was no ordinary client, this was what they called a 'whale'. Millions of dollars to be had in fees, if only he would bite. And whether the whale would, depended a lot, if not entirely, on the story that that he would weave. Because behind the pin striped suit and the 'pitch deck' filled with arcane numbers, what made any client tick was a story. And although he could rattle off every conceivable metric in his industry from memory, above all, he was a skilled story-teller. And that's the skill that had made him the youngest MD in his firm.

He generally liked to reach his clients' offices half an hour early. He was a perfectionist, and he personally ensured that the projector was working, the lights in the room was not too glaring, the room temperature was just right. It was the little things that made the difference between success and failure. Between a blockbuster bonus payout and a pink slip. Little things like a button on your favourite shirt.

And here he was, stuck in traffic, running late for the meeting. He quickly called up his boss and asked him to keep the client engaged for some more time. Just as he was getting a lesson on the importance of being on time, peppered with some choice things the boss would like to do to his mother and sister, the traffic cop stopped him. "Talking on the phone while driving" is a punishable offence, and on any other day, he would have smooth talked the cop into accepting a lower amount. After all, negotiation was his forte. Today wasn't any other day. He pulled a 500 rupee note, told the cop to note keep the receipt and sped off.

When he finally reached his client's office, he was half an hour late, And the client was an impatient man, who was used to making the bankers wait for him. Not the other way round. He didn't remember the details now, but the pitch was a disaster. He knew they were out of the reckoning for the mandate before he stepped out of the client's office. Trouble was, so did his boss.

On the drive back to his office, his boss told him in a low, solemn voice, "Management is thinking of cutting costs. It's a tough business environment. Am afraid we'll see some re-sizing soon." Management at investment banking was like the Mob. They rewarded loyalty and performance handsomely, but were quick to cut one off if they found slack. And he got the message. He'll have to update his resume soon. Getting a new job in this market would be tough. He could do with a miracle. Maybe his lucky shirt would help. "If all its buttons are in place", he thought bitterly.

He ploughed through the rest of the day, constantly worrying about how he would manage the EMIs for his fancy pad and the fancy car if he got laid off. He was evidently distracted and even made a typo in a mail (Oh, the horror!). And just as he was packing up to leave for the day, he got a call. It was her. She said she could not take it anymore, and she wanted space to think things over, and hence she was leaving to stay with her parents for a few weeks. He had sensed this was coming, but he hadn't realized it would be this soon. Maybe the morning argument had been the last straw.

There was a loop running in his mind, about how he could have handled the argument in the morning better, about how he could have taken the shortcut and avoided the traffic, about how he could have managed the presentation better... whether it was simple absentmindedness induced by this, or a temporary rush of bloody rage which blinded him, one couldn't say, but he evidently did not see the pedestrians who happenned to jaywalk in front of his car.

"Two men, three women and four innocent little kids." - their panic-stricken faces as their bodies bounced off his bonnet kept flashing in his mind at the police lockup as he sat in the cleanest corner he could find and clutched his head. He desperately wanted this to be a bad dream. But the pain from his nails digging into his temples reminded him that it was not. That, and all-prevailing stench. Of urine and blood and other horrible things he would rather not imagine.

Just then, his mobile beeped. New mail, flashed the icon on his blackberry. He scrolled down to see that it was from an idiot in the HR department, who was in the habit of spamming the global address with a 'Thought for the Day'. Today's read: "A stitch in time saves nine." 


  1. Anonymous5:44 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I enjoyed reading this. Till I read the last few paragraphs I thought he had put a bullet through someone's head. :-)

  3. Anonymous12:49 PM

    Nice build up.And the thought of the day sms was life in sync,though a tad late in delivering the message.

  4. Anonymous7:36 PM

    I can tell,you were itching to use this proverb.
    A stich in time saves nine.
    Tell me,nine what?
    Or is it 'a stich in time saves time'?

  5. Anonymous3:18 PM

    What was the inspiration?
    And why such clumsy ending btw?

  6. Anonymous5:55 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. @ Kanthu:
    Giving such a guy a car is easier explained than putting a gun in his hand. Otherwise, I could've put a gun in.

    @ Anon 1:
    Thanks. The sms was meant to be late.

    @ Anon 2:
    In the proverb it is nine stitches. In my story, I used it differently.

    @ Anon 3:
    Inspiration: Stupid thought for the day messages being forwarded by people.
    Clumsy ending? Maybe because I decided on the ending line and worked backwards to construct the story.