It was 10.30 p.m. and the city traffic had lost most of its verve by the time my bus reached Nagarjun Nagar.
I held my breath as I passed the garbage dump and reached the apartment building. The lift as usual was not working. So I climbed forty odd steps and reached my one room plus tiny kitchen bachelor pad. My mail, my phone and my plastic bag tossed on the three and half legged table, I locked the door from inside.
Another boring, lonely, tasteless dinner tonight. I cursed my ancestors, my college degree, the gloomy weather, my girl friend and the God silently. Once again, I had seen the blood-red, roof-down Mercedes streaking in Banjara Hills this evening; the sight of the torpedo shaped, dreamboat of a car had clipped my mood.
One broad sweep of the wet rag on the kitchen counter and I was ready to cook my meal. I ripped open the quickie noodles packet and poured the water to boil. I diced a tomato and two onions, and kept a spoonful of masala maker ready. I had twenty minutes before my ancient gas stove could boil the rice in the blackened-beyond-washing aluminum pan. To hell with the washing for tonight.
I returned to the dreary room of mine and adjusted the pillow on the headrest of my bed. Head on the lumpy pillow, bum on the bed, my fingers aching, I put my feet on the plastic chair and looked at the grime covered ceiling fan. The clock struck eleven in nearby church tower and my head begun to spin. May be I dosed off for a while. It was not to be.
The plastic chair jerked a feet backward. My feet fell down and I almost sled down from the bed.
In a blink of my eye, a harmless looking man of about sixty, maybe seventy, occupied the chair.
"I wasn't looking for a magician's trick. I was just looking for God," he said.
He stole my words, stole my line! That was the exact, witty kind of response I was fumbling with under the circumstances. Obviously he could read the weird mess in my mind and keep a step ahead.
"You are God," I said. I was feeling stupid and hopelessly inadequate but not tongue-tied.
He crossed his legs and shifted his overweight frame to a comfortable position.
His complexion was whitish pink, shining with good health. Big shoulders. Tall. Rasping breaths of a seasoned smoker. His sparse beard reminded me of an aging Shakespeare. His nose was blunt and almost rounded, typical of him, since he would be used to profit from other people's brains and browns. His fingers were thick, like farmers. A ring with peanut-size diamond glinted from his third finger, probably to ward off the sexy, miniskirted hot bottoms at the paradise office. A gold Rolex on his wrist. His suit was Georgio Armani or some other snooty Italian brand, I could tell by its daring lapel cut and the elegant, snug fit. A violent pink paisley silk handkerchief peeked from the charcoal gray breast pocket. He looked like a steelclaws-in-kidgloves CEO of a mid size start-up with global tentacles and killer profit margins.
"The fancy suit comes with the job. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. No perks, no breaks, no stock options, no paid up vacations and definitely no profit sharing," he barked.
Was he being sarcastic? Jocular? Serious? Or was he trying to burn a lowly subject like me? The crazy, ever-shifting, white glow behind his head made it impossible to read his exact expression. One thing I was sure about - he could disappear as easily as he had materialized. Other problem-there was a premium on his time and I had a plateful of tricky problems on hand.
Not wasting a second I asked, "What should I do?" He would know my back story, so there was no need to bore him with a lengthy build up.
"Son, the woman you are tangled with is thirty six, not twenty six. She is carrying a child, apart from the girl she has put at the Panchgani School. And her former husband's death was not an accident as she claims. Did you go to Kanpur to check the official records?"
"Jesus H. Almighty, am I Sherlock Holmes or what? Where is the time to do the snooping ? Wait a minute now...assuming Somya is pregnant...the child inside her can't be more than three months old or it would show, won't it? Is it mine? This is a totally unexpected angle now. How should I go about it?"
"That's for you to find out, if you want to." He shifted his bulk in the chair and muttered. "It's so hot for August out here. Hyderabad is getting worse by the day."
He looked at the ceiling fan and made it start with his devine prowess. He adjusted the speed by the blinks of his deep gray eyes and turned to me again.
I was ready with the all-important question. "So what should be my game plan, now that you know my past, present and future?"
"Son, there is no point in reframing the same question again and again. My job is to give, not to take away."
I didn't like his patronizing attitude and his calling me 'son' was getting on my nerve. Even my father has stopped calling me son a decade before. But it was too trifle a matter at this point of time and I wanted my question answered. I tried another angle and pressed on.
"Old man from upstair, you are talking in riddles."
"You have a dull job. Chicken feed salary. Miserably predictable routine. No close friends. No major vice except occasional drinking binges and lust for car toys you can never afford." The God threw his leonine head back to underline the punchline. "More importatnt - that thin woman from military family, that unborn child inside her, the little mystery of her husband's death in distant Kanpur. Let's keep some excitement alive in your life."
"No, don't give me that old hat!" I almost screamed but apparently it didn't make a dent in his Armani armour.
There was an unmistakable electric crackle in the air. My skin felt a strange tingle all over and in a blink, the plastic chair in front of me was as empty as a beggar's bowl.
I fell back into my bed and banged the back of my head on the headrest. It hurt like hell and made me numb all over for a while.
I had lost appetite, I realized. I looked at the whirling blades of ceiling fan till my eyes ached and my head felt like a solid, dead weight on my shoulders. I braced myself. It was going to be a long night.