Read Chapter 1 Here
The morning office rush looked at the man with judgmental eyes. The man stretched his back, the white t-shirt now blotted with splotches of dried blood cracked away from his back. He gingerly touched the back of his head and felt the matted hair clumped together. He looked around and found his empty wallet flung to the side of the road. He looked down at his feet and realized that somebody had stolen his shoes and socks. He bent down to pick the wallet up and felt pain shooting down the side of his shoulders and back. He dusted the wallet and put it back into his back pocket.
A generous middle aged commuter, overcome with a surge of humanity stopped his bike and inquired if he could give the man a lift.
‘Fuck off!’ the man whinged. The commuter shook his head and took off while hurling abuses at the man and his presumed country of origin. The man picked up an old newspaper by the roadside, tore it up before folding it and putting it inside his wallet. He walked till he reached the ring road. He knew his way from here.
The early bird on his way to office stepped out of the ATM only to find himself walking straight into a firang. He apologized and trashed the ATM receipt. The Firang apologized as well and offered a handshake. The early bird didn't mean to be rude. The firang stood in front of the solitary cash dispensing machine as he watched the man he had just bumped into get on a bike and merge with the traffic. He pulled out a wallet, it wasn’t his. He pulled the driver’s license, the face on it was the same one as the man he had bumped into. Instead of a wallet stuffed with sheaf of torn newspaper, he now had three hundred odd rupees, a debit card and two credit cards. He folded the money and pushed it down his front pocket. He pulled out crumpled receipts from the trash can next to the ATM machine and placed them inside his new wallet.
He walked across the road to the tea shop.
‘Classic milds’ he pointed at the pack of cigarettes lined neatly against the shelf with his chin.
He lit up the cigarette and pulled hard on it. He eyes read the minute and the hour from the shopkeeper's wrist. Half past nine.
He walked as he puffed on the cigarette. There was one more ATM down the road. Wallets were exchanged and this time it yielded a cool five grand. He smiled as he thumbed the notes. Nobody suspects a foreigner.
He made his way to the mall which had just opened its gate. The security at the gate looked on suspiciously at this barefooted firang. He walked through the gates, spread his hands as security waved the metal detector wand around him. He climbed on the escalator and headed straight into the restroom. He washed his face, combed his hair with his fingers and tucked in his t-shirt. He walked into Lifestyle, quickly found the aisle with t-shirts and shelves lined with jeans. He left his old clothes in the changing room and walked out of the store. The employees were still getting their bearing around in the morning.
He walked into McDonalds and placed an order for Hot cakes, sausage egg muffin and a black coffee. He paid cash. Having done with his meal, he lit up a cigarette. One of the employees came running in as the smoke swirled up in the air from his nostrils.
‘No smoking sir!’ The employee pleaded. The man raised his eyebrows, his lips enveloped around the cigarette butt as he pulled hard. The employee stared as the paper burnt and the man’s chest swelled. The man got up from his chair and pouted smoke in the poor underpaid employees’ face. He made his way to the Adidas store, pulled a pair of size 11’s from the rack, a roll of new black socks and handed the credit card to the store attendant. The name on the card read, ‘Jaganathan Swami’. The store attendant didn’t notice, but the cashier did.
‘Sir, what is your name?’ The cashier inquired.
‘What does it say on the card?’ The man replied as he watched the female store attendant walk in through the door. The girl was late, but when she saw the firang standing next to the cash counter, her flustered face blushed.
The cashier didn’t care. The sale was approved. That’s all that mattered. The man scribbled a signature on the merchant copy, picked up the credit card and walked out.
He called out to an auto standing in the auto stand.
‘Shalimar’ The man gave the address.
‘300/-’ The auto driver replied. Firangs always meant easy money. The man nodded and got in.
The auto weaved in and out of traffic. The auto driver occasionally kept looking into the rear view mirror. The firang had spread his legs, with one foot right on the driver’s seat. The driver didn’t say anything. Not when he was getting 300/- for a fare which otherwise would have earned him just 80/-.
‘Saar, Shalimar’ The driver stuck his head out of the auto and pointed the hotel where the man and the girl had stumbled out of last night.
The man got of the auto and headed to where autos and radio taxis stood waiting for patrons to step out of the hotel corridor.
‘Saar! Money?’ The auto driver called out from behind.
The man turned around, smiled, pulled out the wad of money. He pulled out a fifty rupee note and thrust into the driver’s shirt pocket and good naturedly slapped him on his cheek twice. This didn’t bode well with the driver.
‘Two fifty more’ the driver pulled out the fifty rupee note with his left hand from his pocket and caught hold of the man’s left hand with his right. The man raised his right hand and brought it hard on the auto driver’s cheek. The driver’s head banged against the side of the auto. The man turned around and started walking towards the auto stand. The auto drivers, some standing and some sitting and chatting watched the whole thing. Few of them walked towards the man as he approached them. The auto driver who had just been slapped was nursing his reddened cheek and hurling abuses in the native tongue.
‘KA 93 B 2304’ The man calmly mentioned the number plate.
‘What? What happened?’ An auto driver, fluent in English, demanded to know as he pointed to the fellow angry auto driver behind the man. The man turned his head and stared at the screaming auto driver. It was clear that the auto driver was making threats about the man’s life and his family’s well being. The man smiled and waved goodbye to him before turning his attention to the auto driver who spoke English. The English speaking auto driver was soon surrounded by fellow auto drivers.
‘I am searching for the auto driver who drives KA 93 B 2304’ The man looked behind the crowd and saw the auto with the number plate he was looking for.
‘Why? What you want? Why you slap him?’ The driver demanded to know.
The man pushed past the crowd and stood next to the auto which had caught his attention.
‘Who is the driver of this auto?’ The man pulled out the pack of cigarettes and tapped it on the back of his wrist.
The English speaking driver was losing patience. He slapped the pack of cigarettes from the man’s hand.
‘I am asking you. You…’ The driver demanded and the chorus of angry irate auto drivers grew louder, bringing the attention of the hotel security.
As the driver was mid sentence, the man closed his fingers in a fist and punched him straight in the Adam’s apple. Seeing this act of violence, the other auto drivers jumped on the man. The man caught the index finger of the first one who jumped on him and twisted it sideways. The second one found a finger lodged deep in his left eye. The third felt a sharp kick to his knees causing him to buckle down and fall. The fourth and fifth auto drivers who wanted a piece of action were left two broken ribs and an ear bitten off.
The man stepped to the side and picked up his pack of cigarettes. In all the chaos, somebody had stepped on the pack, he tsk-tsk’ed. He pulled out a flattened out cigarette from the pack and searched his pocket for a light.
‘Light?’ He signaled for a box of matches to the couple of auto drivers who had held back, not wanting any trouble. One of the auto drivers gingerly extended his hand with a lighter.
‘Thanks!’ The man smiled as he lit his cigarette and pocketed the lighter. He pointed to the auto, ‘Who drove this auto last night?’
‘Prasanna’ One of them offered.
‘Where can I find him?’ The man questioned as he squinted his eyes to avoid the smoke.
The drivers, who were still standing shook their heads, murmuring to themselves as they looked at their comrades wincing and whining in pain. Passerbys slowed their vehicles to take in the sight. The man was losing patience. He stepped on the fellow with the broken knee and applied pressure.
‘Where can I find him?’
‘I don’t know… He was with Aleem’ the man cried out.
‘And where can I find Aleem?’ the man questioned as he lifted his foot off the man’s knee and flicked the cigarette at him.
‘Shri Hari Lodge, Majestic’ One of the auto drivers reflexively answered with fear. The man smiled as he walked and good humoredly slapped the man on his back and got inside the auto. The auto drivers looked on at each other, unsure of what to do.
‘Let’s go!’ The man urged as he slapped the side of the auto.
As the auto driver started his auto, he didn’t bother turning the meter down. One of the other drivers hurriedly began to dial on his mobile phone. The others rushed to the aid of their fallen comrades. The man stuck his head out of the auto and looked at the man hurriedly speaking into the phone.
‘Tell him I want my chain back!’ The man yelled as the auto driver merged into the traffic.