It’s my fifth cup of coffee. I’ve been at work for barely an hour and my trips to the vending machine are already totaling more than the number of times my nagging boss has called me into his office. People drink coffee because it makes them active, chirpy, and insomniac. I use it to calm my nerves. This way, I remain sort of high through the day which makes it easier for me to bear with the world—the difficulties it has to offer, the mean things it has to say. But it’s not happening today. I thought an unusual number of cups would help, but the restlessness just wouldn’t go. I know why.
Concerts here are not just about music and moshing… The thing with the youth is it is fickle—always ambitious, always looking for something better. It wants to break free. From the boring jobs it has to do on weekdays, relationships which it feels are shackles now, and labyrinths of expectations it scours through only to return to the same point again. Businesses thrive on this behaviour. Bars, cafes, fancy restaurants, and my favourite… the foot soldiers. Favourite because I have zero social circle. Though the circle itself is a big zero but you know what I mean. I don’t hangout or go to cool places with a flock that reeks of ludicrous fashion and drinks the same vending machine coffee served in fancy cups tagged with fancier names. Going out alone, sitting there and pretending to read a book is too awkward. I’d have liked the company of like-minded people. But for that I’d have to like people. I don’t like people. My only contact with the outside world is my supplier, a foot soldier. There are many of them out there but his stuff calms me most. Rashid and I must have met more than a couple in love does over the last year since I’ve known him. Except that couples meet under trees, we prefer concerts—an environment so overt that it is covert. Plus the combine of death metal and drugs is insanely liberating.
Last week it was Bare Knuckles. Rashid appeared in his signature cap and Jordan shoes.
‘You took longer than usual,’ I said
‘They got scanners at the entrance. Had to sneak through! Found a hole in the wall,’ grinned Rashid, his gold tooth showing.
‘Appreciate your effort man.’ I spoke as I reached out for my wallet.
‘Guess what you’ll appreciate more?’ Rashid winked.
‘I’m bad at guessing. Surprise me.’
He pulled out a little packet from his jacket and slammed it into my palm. It contained very fine blue crystals—a blue I had never seen before. They were more resplendent than the lights on stage behind us.I looked at them fixatedly. Rashid then snatched them back from me. I felt a part of me being taken away. He dangled the pouch in front of me, adding to the brewing obsession. My eyes must have sparkled back in the hypnotized state they were in. I had to pull myself out.
‘What is this?’ I could only slur.
‘This iswhat happens when a chemist goes crazy! There’s a new chef in town. Some scientist.Weaves magic. You’re lucky you have me. No other footie has been able to get his hands on these little darlings.’
‘How much do they cost?’ I asked in a daze, my hand reaching out for them like a curious child.
‘A hundred a gram.’
My stupor subsided. ‘Are you out of your mind? That’s more than double I give you for the regular!’
‘This stuff is that good, my friend. I’m offering you in less. Once the word gets out itsprice will be way higher!’ There was a sense of mystique in Rashid’s voice.
‘I’m not sure man.’
‘Don’t you trust me?’
I did trust him. More than any other person I could imagine. We had grown close to each other. It was as unusual for him as it was for me. He was a loner, had taken to drinking and doing drugs for solace. His wife had left him. His only hope was his fifteen-year old son, Ahmed, whom she took along with her, and who came to see him every Wednesday. That is why Rashid didn’t work on Wednesdays.
‘Okay I will try. What’s it called?’
I haven’t had it in my coffee for the last two days. Before last week I was using the old school stuff incoffee. It was okay. I could get through the day with a small dose, and sometimes even without it. Blue Moon was nothing like that. It was a study in extremes. A small dose of it took me to the highest mountain on the back of a dragon where there were no people. Just green orchards, brimming rivers and soothing music. I’d lie on the grass under apple trees. Sometimes a gentleman would come join me. Was it Newton? No just a talking squirrel. On opening my eyes I’d be floating on the sea doing yoga. Dolphins would do their dance leaving little rainbows behind as I’d watch several forms of me doing all this from the horizon perched atop the sun. I looked so happy. Within a day I got addicted to the drug like love at first sight. Which meant a little lack of it rained misery instead of flowers. Dolphins would become sharks, sea would be of fire and sun would burn my bottom. I’d run away from the giant talking squirrel in a black field put to carcass and ash by the dragon. The screeching noises of the vultures would terrify me and I’d jump off the mountain hoping to die. But I’d land completely alive. The black field again.
Oh what is that? A scream? No just a coquettish laughter. Adi must have reached. He does that to women—sways them with his charm.
‘Hey little man what’s up?’
Damn, I think he is standing at my desk. I will have to look up and talk to him now. Why can I not just die.
‘You seem rather huffed up, man. Red eyes, disheveled hair. Didn’t get sleep last night?’
‘Well I hope you are because the big boss is coming your way. I’m sure you’ve prepared the monthly arrear report. See you soon man!’
The report.What day was it due? My brain is so fried that I’ve no idea if I’ve even started it. Considering the luck I’ve had in benefit of doubt situations in the past, I must not have.
I sense a breath of mint near me. Oh. I thought Adi was just messing. When didboss walk up to my desk? How long has he been standing behind me? How long have I been thinking? Imust turn and embrace the obliteration.
‘Have you completed that report?’
‘You haven’t…Hmm…You know at B-school we did a lot many case studies. Several complex scenarios that required optimisation while carefully striking balance between emotion and practicability. I was really good at solving them. I loved solving them. It was like a challenge. After that, work happened and the twenty five years introduced me to much more diversity, much more complexity. And my enthusiasm, hunger rather, for the same only increased. So there I was feeling all cozy and invincible… before I came across you. It was the first time I felt I was losing my appetite for handling twisted situations. I took you as a challenge initially, a difficult one no doubt, and thought it’d be over soon. Tried every OB tactic, every management technique, every voodoo! But see how wrong I was! You’re just the same, in fact only worse! You walk-in in your loose jeans and crumpled shirt hanging out, and sit around like a weird chicken—listless, distracted and absent minded. You are always coming late, leaving early, drinking coffee. You don’t mix up with your colleagues, don’t get along with your team, don’t do anything on time!’
As I limp down the stairs, my head is spinning. The circles are not the ones I went through at the concert when I first tried Blue Moon. They were heavenly. This is painful. I shouldn’t have said ‘go fuck yourself’ to boss. I should have controlled all that shaking.But he threw that file right into my face and called me a homeless junkie. It was a heavy file. And I don’t like being called a homeless junkie. Also I shouldn’t have hitAdi. The poor guy was bleeding; I think I cracked his jaw though Icould only spot two or three teeth on the floor. But he came in the way and tried to pry me away as I held boss’s collar. Lastly, I shouldn’t have underestimated the office security. I didn’t know we had so many of them. I now have no job, I’m broke and in dire need of an expensive drug. I must find Rashid. How do I get to him? There’s this guy selling sandwiches outside the building. Would he know where Rashid is? Oh no wait I’ve been to Rashid’s once. I think I know where he lives. If only I can remember.
I think this is the one. The third Street on the right in this narrow Old Market. I’m still stuffy from the bus ride; nauseated. I think I’d pour all my life out if I vomit now.
I see the crumbling green door in the corner. There is no doorbell. I must knock.
‘Rashid!’ Okay I’m screaming too.
No answer. I hope I’m not at the wrong address or I’d be in soup… as if I’m not in one already. Oh wait, the door is opening. Is that… a gun?
‘Oh it’s you! I thought some crazy fellow was banging on my door! They scamper away like sissies at the sight of the pistol.’
‘I want it, Rashid! I want it!’
‘Hey hey watch your step! What’s happened to you? You are tanked! Come inside first. Look at your leg!’
I’m lying in a sofa. Rashid must have dragged me here. Where is he? I can make out a half closed door in front of me. It is blurry. I can hear someone talking inside… My head is playing tricks again. I just hope it’s really Rashid who is walking out the door towards me.
‘Blue Moon really got you bad huh?’
‘But I don’t have any right now.’
‘What? You must be crazy! I need it man!’
‘Hey easy don’t scream.’
‘Then give me some!’
He has now come and sat beside me, and is looking at me as if right through me. His expression is grave, almost scary.
‘What did I just say about not screaming? You show up at my door in a godforsaken condition, I take you in and you scream for a thing I don’t have… I must ask you to leave.’
‘I’m not going without the stash.’
‘I don’t have it! The police are on high alert. They cracked down at a couple of spots. The supply has stopped for the time being. All footies are laying low.’
He is not the Rashid I know. What is he even saying!
‘I see what game you’re playing Rashid.’
‘Don’t act so innocent. I know you’ve found another buyer. How much is he paying? Tell me, I’ll give you double!’
‘You’re out of your mind.’
There’s no use talking to Rashid now.
‘Hey where are you going?’
‘Get out of my way, Rashid. I know the stash is in there. So is the new buyer. I could hear you talking inside.’
‘You’re crazy you junkie!’
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘But you are! A big homeless junkie!’
There is a hint of smoke in the air, and my ears are ringing. I’m holding onto something cold. Some metal I think, as I stare at Rashid. He’s lying on the floor, in a pool of blood. Last thing Iremember is spotting the pistol in his jacket. And now I’m holding onto it.
He’s not answering, despite my shaking him frantically. It’s like I’ve just found myself in this situation. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t how the pistol came into my hand. I don’t how there is a hole in Rashid’s head. Everything is just… there.
I hear a whimpering. It’s coming through the half closed door.
I should run away but I’m already inside the room, leaving Rashid behind in the hall.The light is dim, but the whimpering’s stronger than before. There is someone crouched behind the wooden tablein the corner. I can see a pair of feet partially hidden behind it.
The boy is in front of me now.His head is buried in his lap. He is shivering, not like me though. What is he doing in the house of a lonely man like Rashid? Had he broken in to steal something? Why is he still here? He must be of the age of Rashid’s… son.
Yes the arrear report was due today… Wednesday.It’ all coming back to me now. But what’s the point. Ahmed is not speaking anything. Just crying. He is not even looking at me,but I know he has heard me scream crazily…nseen me kill his father with his own pistol…which I’m still holding onto.
I see lovers picking up pebbles from the shore, scribbling something on them and throwing them into the sea that lies in front of me now. The sea is the greatest confidant ever. You can trust her with your secrets. No one knows what lies inside her. No one will ever know. She’s also a mother who forgives her child no matter what revelation he makes. I need her as both today. I have much to hide; much to confess—what irony. My only… friend… whom I murdered, and can’t even recall, but only imagine how; not that recalling will have a purging effect; the horror will stay forever. And his son, I was tempted to pull the trigger at him even though I didn’t know him, hadn’t even seen his face, before something held me back and I decided to walk away in shame… and shed tears at the shame.
I hope the sea will still accept me. I hope I will still be able to float… without Blue Moon.
About the Author
Sudhanshu Chopra hails from India. He draws inspiration to write from observation, memories, the subconscious, books he reads, movies he watches, and music he listens to. Sometimes a phrase or simply a word is enough.