Raj manoeuvred through cratered streets surrounded by three-storey apartments, scooters and huddles of grown men chewing on betel leaves.
Seeking refuge for the refuse he came across a t-point junction. On his left was a makeshift basketball court daftly bordered with worn out tyres and illuminated by an odd array of terrace lights.
He limped toward a corner general store on the opposite direction. This was one of the many set-ups along this particular street.
An ogre looking man with a clean shaved face sized Raj up. His light brown shirt was lined with patches of scarlet drippings and his stained teeth were still full of the half-chewed betel concoction.
Raj’s modular desk was cluttered with papers and magazines. Organized chaos he always reminded himself. The papers were to make him look busy while the magazines were to impart my clients with dreams of yachts and private jets. He also had a Mercedes car key on his desk. He always told his clients that the car was with his Brazilian girlfriend. In reality he didn’t have a Mercedes nor do did he have a Brazilian girlfriend.
A dark pot-bellied man accompanied by a much younger man approached Raj’s desk. The man folded his hands before breaking into a worried smile.
Raj wheezed at the thought of entertaining this particular client. He received many clients like this who unknowingly paid for his whim and fancy.
The elder gentleman was seemingly a shadow of his former glory. He wore a cheap shirt and loose trousers. His son on the other hand sported a tight tee, unkempt beard and tattered jeans. He seemed like a twenty-something wannabe. Who was still living out his high school fantasy of binge drinking and fast women.
This client was no different from the others. Over the past three months the elderly gentleman had lost a significant chunk of his fortune. ‘Hi Raj, how are you today?’
Calm before the storm Raj thought. He smiled. ‘Coffee or Tea sir?’
The man waved his hand and kept the frown on his face.
‘How can I help you today sir?’
‘Listen last week you said that we have to invest more money to get our investment back on track.’
Raj nodded his head. He knew where this was going. He pulled the script he had ready in his mind.
The old man continued. ‘But I checked the market today and we are losing more money than before!’
Raj sensed a follow up.
‘Raj…’ The young man spoke with a shrill.
Raj looked at the young man’s shirt. It was white with a black print of skull and crossbones. The shirt seemed to be quite tight and the print stretched out to form inkblot shapes. ‘Clowns…I see two clowns.’ Raj snickered at this thought.
‘I think we should reinvest the money on T-bills or something similar.’
Raj’s mind disappeared for a second. All he could think of were clowns. Raj thought of three clowns stacked up in a tall column as the two men rambled on.
‘Raj?’ The old man asked. ‘Raj please explain the situation.’
Raj’s mind returned to the present and he straightened his tie. ‘I understand your concerns very much Mr. Bhardwaj.’ Nice interjection Raj assured himself. ‘Believe me when I say that you have invested in the best performing products in the market.’ Secure their confidence Raj thought. ‘Give them hope.’ He told himself as he read the script from his head. ‘And right now the market is correcting itself. Soon enough you will reap the benefits.’ Raj finished with some business school terminologies that he got off the internet.
The two men bobbed their heads in unison.
Funny clowns Raj thought.
The small five-by-five store was lined up with yellow, green and red colors of snacks with cartoon images of potato and celery sticks dancing. Several drinks were stored in a white refrigerator, colas, fruit-flavored fizz and water.
Raj rubbed his thigh. The pain returned to his leg and he closed his eyes for a moment hoping that the pain would disappear. But it did not. He looked down at the protruding blade in his calf. The wound was still fresh. Even fresher was the image of the lunatic that stuck the knife in him.
A red turban frantically floated on the other side of the counter and stopped every so often at the various items for sale.
Raj coughed for attention.
The turban continued moving.
Raj coughed louder.
The turban stopped and rose. A short man with wide brown eyes and an unkempt beard tiptoed to meet Raj. He spread his fingers. ‘What?’
Raj pointed at the water bottle in the fridge and poked around hi pockets for some money. He pulled out a handful of change and slid them across the wooden counter.
Raj picked up the bottle of water and gulped down the contents hurriedly. The cool liquid dripped from his mouth and quickly drenched his shirt. His thirst quenched, Raj released a loud ‘Ahhh.’ He wiped his mouth and continued walking down the narrow street. ‘They will be here soon.’ He muttered.
The brown-shirted and red-stained ogre joined a newly formed huddle across the street. The men wore striking colored head towels and stroked their stroke their beard in a hypnotic motion.
Raj limped past them and took heavy breaths. The cold air pierced through his lungs as the rough concrete crackled under his uneven footsteps.
Raj’s second meeting today was with his co-worker Ankit. Ankit was graduate of some business school and was amazingly good with numbers but not with people. He had been busy lately as a financial analyst. His job was to study the markets and with the current mess he was on overdrive.
Raj thought that Ankit must have not been with his girlfriend for a while. He almost felt sorry for them…almost.
Raj thought about Ankit’s girlfriend. She had nice baby pink lips, dark eyes and hair as slick as night. He smiled as he thought of that magical night with Ankit’s girlfriend. A couple of glasses of wine and she was straddling Raj on his couch. He felt his pants get tight.
Ankit slumped on the chair next to Raj with a sullen look.
Raj liked the fact that he sat beside Ankit. He had an easy access to the latest information before anyone else. Not that Raj needed it. He had a fund manager that he used to funnel the investments to. ‘That reminds me, I have to call Nikhil up.’ Raj flicked through his contacts under the letter ‘N.’
‘Raj…’ Ankit rolled his seat closer to Raj. ‘Something is wrong with Anita.’
Raj placed his phone down and smiled at the name of Ankit’s girlfriend. She was same girl that he bedded not too long ago and the same girl who worked as the receptionist in the bank.
‘I tried calling her the other night but she was not answering.’ He turned to his left and glanced at Anita in her station. ‘And she is not returning any of my calls.’
Raj knew who she was calling over and over again that night. He craned over Ankit’s shoulder and looked at Anita. His loins grew warm as he watched her bejewelled hands stroking the smooth desk.
Anita turned and noticed Raj’s longing stare. She mouthed a shy ‘hi’ and smiled slightly.
Angry footsteps splashed through the streets. The huddles attention turned to shadowy figures in the dark.
A property dealer was set side by side a small gym. In the background Raj heard a cricket match and food-filled conversations about the latest IPL news. Just on the slight nook behind the gym was an open staircase that led up to the third floor. Raj looked up the rundown building and noticed plastered posts and overhanging laundry. ‘Good cover.’ He thought.
Adjacent to the marbled steps was a squat room. Inside a family was about to have dinner. The pungent scent of cooked onions mixed with local spices brought pangs to Raj’s stomach.
Raj shook his head as he heard the footsteps draw claser. ‘The heat of the chase grows closer.’ He thought. He turned around and his heart raced as he saw the shadowed figures pushing men and kicking stools. ‘Shit!’ He thought.
Raj dragged his leg back. The huddles pointed to his direction and he needed to hide. He looked at the marble steps. ‘Not enough time.’ He watched the shadow figures running and screaming toward him. The smell came back to him and his mind wandered. He looked to his right at steaming stacks of bread. A family of three was about to sit down for dinner. ‘I could hit them from here.’ He mumbled. Raj lifted his half-filled water bottle and threw it at the house to his right. The bottle twisted and twirled toward the house. The water shifted from neck to base and the bottle bounced off the side wall only inches away from the window pane. Raj bounced his head against the wall. ‘Shit!’ He dragged himself closer to the stairwell and caught his limp foot on something. It was a loose tile on the ground. He picked it up. It was heavy and fitted perfectly in his palm. ‘Perfect!’
Raj excitedly hurled the tile through the air. He whispered a prayer as he watched the tile slice a path toward the window. The window shattered into jig-saw pieces and landed smack in the middle of lentil soup. Raj smiled and dragged himself into the stairwell.
An angry stream of words followed and the door to the house swung open.
Raj sensed an altercation and quickened his pace. He lifted himself up the marbled stairs. Five steps up and three steps right thrice in repetition led him to the terrace.
After meeting with Ankit the big boss wanted to see Raj. His boss was a very stout fellow, always glaring at the movement of the markets and listening to every blameful comment directed at his company. ‘What is going on here? Our clients just lost a bundle with our investments!’ He was referring about the father and son Raj had met earlier.
Raj wince at the familiarity between his boss and clinet. ‘Boss! Boss! You have to relax and not listen to these people. If they knew anything they would be the ones working in an esteemed bank like yours. A bank that you built to the top with nothing more than spare change and your sharp mind.’
‘That is true.’
Raj complimented himself on his charm. He thought that his boss was an idiot. He knew that his boss did not know the difference between a chicken and an egg. The man inherited this company from his father who cheated people of their life savings. Raj was just continuing the tradition.
‘Then why is this happening?’
‘Boss! All my advice and recommendations came from the reports of our research team.’ Raj paused for a minute as he sensed the shift in anger. ‘I would not advice our clients otherwise.’ Raj covered his tracks. He knew the boss would blame Ankit and not suspect him of swindling his clients with the help of his fund manager.
‘Whose reports did you read?’
‘Ankit’s.’ Raj answered while trying his best to show an innocent look.
The boss growled and picked up his intercom. ‘Anita call Ankit!’
Raj left the office and walked past Anita’s station.
She curled her orange tinted lips.
He waltzed his hand temptingly close to her dainty fingers.
She tilted her head and smiled shyly.
Raj thought of the other night once more. Anita seemed very rough and in control but today she was demure. He smiled back at her and returned to his desk.
Raj leaned up against a plastered post under overhanging women’s laundry. A set of floral skirts and dark toned underwear provided subtle urban decor.
Down below a balding man in his fifties confronted the puzzled shadow figures. He wore a white vest-undershirt and checkered bed sheet of purple, orange and yellow. In his hand he held the lentil covered tile and screamed while flapping his arms.
A dark huddle circled him. Their beady eyes were red with anger and confusion. They pushed the man around and screamed back at him.
‘ARGHHHH!’ The vested man shrilled and dropped on his knees. Blood seeped from his shirt and he held tightly on the tile.
‘Oh shit!’ Raj ducked behind the wall. He covered his mouth with trembling hands. ‘Fuck! Fuck!’ He repeatedly struck the marble floor with clenched fist. ‘Why? Why did this have to happen to me?’
‘How could you tell them it’s my fault?!?’ Ankit thumped hi fist on Raj’s desk.
Raj looked away from the latest Eddie Izzard video and smirked at Ankit. ‘I did not blame anybody.’
‘Yes! Yes you did! You told them you used my reports.’
Raj stood up and glared strait at Ankit. The difference in height was obvious and he had to tilt his head slightly. ‘I did use your reports. So did everyone else in this office. Are you saying that they didn’t? Are you then saying that it is their fault for the mess you are in?’
Ankit looked nervously around the office.
‘Listen Ankit!’ Raj poked Ankit’s chest hard. ‘If anyone is blaming anybody it is you! Take responsibility for your mistakes! We sell what you tell us to sell.’ He took a deep breath before increasing his voice while maintaining the same ferociousness in tone. ‘Man up! Like how you should have manned up to your girlfriend!’
Ankit’s face turns red. He contorted his face which stretched little goatie. ‘What did you say?!?’
‘Man up Loser boy! No girl wants to be with a stammering George Michael wannabe!’ Raj looked around the office, everyone was staring at them. He decided that he should leave and grabbed his coat.
‘You… You… You Bastard!’
Raj turned around fell back at Ankit’s tackle. He flew through the doorway and collapsed on a table.
Ankit swung successive punches, starting with a left and continuing with a string of right jabs.
Raj raised a knee and kicked Ankit off.
The boss walked out of his office followed by a group of clients. He powered through a group of shocked employees. ‘Ankit! What is the meaning of this?’
Ankit stopped and looked up at his boss.
Raj’s lip had been cut from the vicious punches.
Ankit’s pointed at Raj. ‘He is the reason why the customers lost all their money.’ He stood up and staggered for balance. ‘He neglected my reports and embezzled their money!’
Raj pushed himself up and turned to his boss. ‘Boss…’ Flabbergasted he turned to Ankit and cursed the righteousness bullshit. ‘Stupid guy was jealous!’ Raj leaned on the nearby table and caught his breath. His hand touched a pocket knife. ‘Fucking bastard!’ He grabbed the knife and charge at Ankit. ‘Your girlfriend was really wild.’
‘What?!?’ Ankit twisted Raj’s arm.
‘Ahhh!’ Raj screamed and tried to squeeze out of the hold.
‘Is this true? Anita! Is this true?’
Anita yelped and tears rolled down her cheeks. She covered her mouth with her bejeweled hands and shook her head. ‘Ank..it…I’
With knife in hand, Raj swung backwards at Ankit.
Ankit dodged the strike and kicked Raj on his rear.
Raj fell flat on the ground and released his grip on the knife. He gasped for breath and lifted himself from his knees. ‘Argh!’ He felt a sharp pain and fell back on the ground. He turned and watched the young client dig the knife deep into his calf. ‘You clown! Why did you do that?’
‘You fucking bastard! I knew you squandered my dad’s money!’ The security guard locked his elbows with the young man and pulled him away. ‘You took his money didn’t you?!? Where is the money you fucking bastard!’
Raj struggled to get up from the bloodstained blue carpet. He turned to the young man and shrugged his shoulders. ‘If you were smart enough you would be in my position you little prick!’ He gave his boss a haughty look. ‘All of you need me! Especially you!’
The boss ground his teeth. ‘Get out! Get out of my sight!’
Raj limped out of the door and into the parking lot. He retrieved his keys from his pocket and slipped into his Maruti SX4. He turned the key in the ignition and screeched onto the main road. ‘I need to go to the hospital.’ He played the whole scene in my head. ‘I guess I am now unemployed.’ He released a distressed laugh. ‘All I needed was a few months.’ He reached an intersection and the light turned red. He relaxed and turned on the stereo. Raj heard a loud crash. He looked at the stereo and the volume was low. He looked back and noticed that his windscreen had been shattered.
‘You’re not getting away!’ The young man held a rusty blunt pipe and stalked toward the front of the car. Behind him a hoard followed.
Raj stepped on the gas and ran through the light. He quickly picked up speed and weave through traffic. He Glanced at his rear view mirror and noticed the boy stumble as he adamantly ran. Raj switched his attention to the road. A passenger car cut in front of him and two taxi-cabs blocked him on either side. ‘Get out!’ Raj blared his horn.
The passenger car waved his hand.
‘I have nowhere to go! Hurry the fuck up!’ Raj watched the distance close and he stepped on the brakes. His car was still closing in and he decided to steer his car to avoid an impact. The wheels locked and he spun out of control.
The taxi cabs tried to move out of the way but were too late. Raj’s car struck both vehicles and the three cars spiraled into a deadly three way dance
Raj’s car broke from the lock and smashed tire first onto the concrete sidewalk of South extension.
In the distance the taxi cabs collided head on to form a makeshift barricade.
Dizzy and confused Raj watched as the pileup formed from the edge of his tire tracks.
The young man leapt forward and the two taxi drivers joined in the horde running after Raj.
Raj jumped out of the car and ran toward Dayanand Colony seeking shelter.
Breathing heavily, Raj clutched his head in his hands.
The horde slowly dispersed under the shadow of night swallowing their presence.
He peered over the wall trembling.
The man laid there in his bloodsoaked shirt. A young boy and older woman knelt beside him and tried to shake the dead body into life. The piercing wail of the woman pierced the darkness and into Raj’s heart.
Raj scanned the scene. The huddles from the entrance of Dayanand Colony crept around the lifeless body. Not far from him was a trail of blood. It was the same blood that would be traced to Raj. ‘I need to get out of here.’
The stairwell was the only way in or out. On each floor there were two thick doors that led to apartments.
Raj pulled on the handle of the doors, they were locked. He pushed on the doorbell but received a shock instead. He looked at the scene once more and he saw the little boy stare back at him with a scream. ‘Shit!’ He checked the windows. All windows were dim and locked except one. ‘Yes!’ Raj quietly entered through the gap and hopped in a lightless room. He closed the window and felt his way around.
A light suddenly turned on and revealed a plush interior. Deep set Persian carpets crept on the ground while beaded chains hung from the ceilings. The light reflected a multicolored tint from stained glass adornments.
A slender figure patiently sat cross-legged on the ground.
Raj noticed that the figure wore a rubber suit. There was a slight cleavage at the chest and Raj thought that the figure was a woman.
She slowly crawled to Raj.
He watched as she stalked toward him. He swallowed and tried to speak. The combination of fatigue, pain and shock left him tongue tied for the first time in his life.
She tilted her head and silently mouthed a ‘Hi.’
She rose and pressed a leather gloved finger on his lips.
He relaxed as the cool leather soothed his chapped lips. ‘I…’
She rubbed her leg against his and lightly kicked her heel at the knife.
She kicked it harder.
‘Argh!’ What are you doing?’
She tilted her head and walked away.
‘Please help.’ He sputtered. ‘Please.’
She stopped at a cloth covered table laden with lit candles of varying colors and sizes. She glided her hand over an array of bottles and jars. She mixed several bottles into a glass and sprinkled some powder from an open jar. She turned to Raj and called him over with her finger.
He limped forward and took the glass from her. The liquid was milky and it had a strong scent. He could not identify what it was but its stench stung his nose.
She tilted her head and pushed the glass from under the base.
‘Thank you.’ He muttered under his breath and sipped the drink. He thought that the drink was quite refreshing. But he was curious at the woman. Her body was very curvaceous. But what was she hiding under her body suit. He then thought that maybe there was something wrong with the drink. He decided to take slow sips. ‘I’m still ok.’ He told himself. After several sips he gulped the whole glass down. The pain in his leg had reduced. He smiled. ‘Thank you.’
She placed the glass on the table and slinked off toward a narrow door.
He followed her and glanced around the room. He noticed very unorthodox interiors. Wood bordered walls adorned with stuffed animals of different sorts, from small furry woodland creatures up to disgusting urban cretins. He dragged himself through beaded strings. The room he entered was not much different. It had more stuffed creatures and two life sized furnishings on the each side of a large bed. He did not recognize any of them except that one of them resembled an Iron Maiden.
She pointed toward the bed. A lover’s seat sat at the edge. He sat down and sighed in relief. He had been dragging his leg around for so long and he finally had a chance to rest.
The woman shut the door and crawled toward him.
He watched the woman slink from the door and he rubbed his eyes at what he saw.
The door was like any other common door. It was made out of wood and painted with a glossy white finish. Except for one minute detail.
‘What is this?’ He screamed.
She rubbed his leg and whimpered.
‘I’m sorry.’ He leaned down. ‘But what is my picture doing on your door?’
She pointed her finger toward the ceiling.
He looked up and saw see more beads. The light shone brightly but the stained glass covered the room in a slight haze. There was something odd however. Directly above him there were cables that suspended something. It seemed like shiny hoops. He focused his eyes closer. ‘What is that?’ The shiny hoops were attached to something outstretched. ‘A… Ankit?!?’ He screamed. The suspended body of Ankit hung loosely from the ceiling. The hooks pierced through the naked flesh and pulled the bloody skin apart. ‘What is going on?!?’
She tore off her gloves and revealed dainty hands bejewelled with bracelets and rings. She sat beside him and kissed him through the opening of her mask. Her tongue swirled inside his mouth.
He released his mouth from hers and pulled off her mask.
The woman had slick black hair, succulent orange tinted lips and dark-set eyes.
He tried to jump but he could not move his legs. He raised his arm to touch her face but dropped it mid-way. ‘What?’ He tried to raise his arm again but it felt like lead. He breathed deeply and he could not feel anything at all not even the stinging pain of his leg.
She placed her finger on his lips once more. Her eyes pierced his. She leaned closer and licked the cut on his lip. ‘Your blood tastes better than Ankit’s’ Her hand caressed Raj’s face and slowly travelled down his body. She wiggled the knife. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘Ugh…’ Raj’s mouth was getting numb and he could hardly string a sentence.
She gripped on the knife and jerked it loose. The upward pull tore more skin and sinew.
‘ARGHHH!’ He screamed. ‘Wha..What…’ He took a deep breath. ‘What do you want from me?’
She straddled him and licked the blood from the knife. Her hair whipped around in excitement. She leaned close to his ear and whispered. ‘I want to hear you scream!’