Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Bright Side by Ophelia Clare

As his drinking buddy Agarwal had recommended (in an effort to stop a drunk Rastogi from jumping off the ledge), Rastogi tried to find the bright side of getting fired.For one, he wouldn’t have to see his intellectually inept colleagues anymore. Anybody above him was a rich man buying his way upwards; anybody working with him was just someone to bear with until he fought his way to success.
He was sure, for example, that if he had met Joshi in the pub rather than the office, they would have hit it off immediately. But they both had work to do and stomachs to feed (their own, not those of their families; indeed, it was to escape their clingy relatives that they worked as peons in this obscure town). They had competed for the employees’ attention, and Joshi usually won out (probably because he could switch on the A.C., but Rastogi could never master the knack of pressing the correct button). But there were too many complaints against them both.
Rastogi had once tried to get a fan installed in the janitor’s closet by bribing the electrician (who had done it, then tattled on him to earn a raise- it was a selfish world). There was the issue of the office china getting stolen, too. (What could he have done? The cups were just sitting there- it was as if they wanted to be stolen.) Then there was the matter of Rastogi leaving half-eaten snacks in the conference room (he swore that it was Joshi’s deed, and Joshi swore that it was his).
In the end, they were both fired. He kicked the air conditioner spitefully on his way out, then packed his belongings and ran before the boss could charge him for the repairing cost.
Now, Rastogi was headed back to his hometown, but he didn’t have the money to travel. He could have hitchhiked his way by threatening some poor family on a long drive (it turned out that the kind of suitcase he carried was also used by terrorists for suicide bombing), but he found that immoral. He decided to travel by the government's public transport for free, to avenge his great-grandfather, whose property Rastogi could have inherited, but didn’t because of policy reforms (and because his great-grandfather hadn’t included him in his will- but he didn’t know that).
He decided to catch the train which had the longest commute time, because he didn’t want to face his family yet. His uncle had caught a respiratory disease from the mining he did till the age of seventy, and Rastogi was supposed to arrange for the operation money. Rastogi thought it wiser (and cheaper) to avoid him till he passed away or got magically cured.
His plan was to steal the ticket from one of his fellow passengers. Men always kept the ticket in their wallets, right beside spare change. Women kept theirs ‘safely’ in the innermost pocket of their purses, next to their precious jewellery (If you didn’t want to wear it, why carry it around?) It was the most obvious place to hide valuables. If he was lucky, he might even get the change to buy the spicy peanuts whose smell beckoned to him.
He powered off his phone because the landlord was calling him continuously; he had run away without paying the rent, but the servant’s quarters of a haunted flat weren’t exactly what their agreement had entailed. He considered not suing the landlord an innate kindness on his part. He had never disclosed the location of his hometown to the landlord, so he couldn’t trace him once he got there.
Another bright side of getting fired was that he was free to follow worthwhile pursuits.
Ever since he saw an amazing movie at the age of twenty-five, Rastogi had wanted to be a movie director.
He blamed the director of that perfect movie. It was such a brilliant idea: paint drying on a wall, while a boy sang in a frog-like voice. To Rastogi, it symbolized the monotony of life and expressed how he felt while working in the moneylender’s farms, humming a song that no one ever heard.
His family members had left the hall in the first two minutes, mumbling about a waste of money, and preferring to clean the toilets than watch this nonsense; Rastogi watched it all, though. He no longer felt like a useless watermelon seed, which could have grown to form something remarkably productive, but was about to become an undigested part of an avian excretory tract. He felt that he had another purpose in life than transporting manure from the sheds to the fields (Why couldn’t the cows just do their business in the fields like their owner did?). His purpose in the universe was to revolutionize masses, to make them realize that their lives were pointless if they didn’t start living for themselves (He didn’t consider the economic, social and financial problems his message might cause).
He eyed the greasy, middle-aged man next to him distastefully. Had he stopped oiling his hair, the oil industry would have collapsed overnight. Taking his ticket would be a piece of cake: he was too busy looking at his blurred reflection in the window. Or perhaps he was staring blankly, contemplating his purpose in the universe. Rastogi quietly shifted closer to him and extracted his wallet carefully. He smirked when the ticket-collector entered the compartment.
When the ticket-collector asked for his ticket, Rastogi obediently showed it. Then, leaning in conspiratorially, Rastogi whispered, “Sir, I think this man beside me doesn’t have a ticket.”
“No ticket,” the ticket-collector repeated.
It was only when the man was thrown out of the moving train screaming that Rastogi started feeling slightly guilty. But, he reasoned, the man had a little money- well, the amount left in his wallet, anyway. When Rastogi turned to the grimy window, where bored children had left mildly amusing graffiti, he could see the man struggling to keep up with the hurtling train, knocking on its windows desperately. Rastogi’s heart began to melt-
He scratched at the mosquito sucking his blood and turned his back to the window.
The trouble in stealing a ticket from a stranger was that Rastogi didn’t know which station he was getting off at. The ticket he had stolen would take him only halfway. Maybe it was time to utilize his robbery skills again. Reluctantly, he shifted to another compartment, one that the ticket collector hadn’t reached yet. He took a seat beside an old lady with her head wrapped in her shawl. She wouldn’t even notice her purse going missing.
“Nice weather for a journey, isn’t it?” she commented, startling Rastogi. He blabbered something about the climate in his hometown, his hands slowly reaching for her purse. He fingered the leather lovingly, knowing it would take him home. Smiling triumphantly, he ordered tea from a passing vendor.
The old lady reached for her purse, but her hands caught thin air. “Where did my purse go?”
“Oh dear!” Rastogi cried, enjoying himself thoroughly. “Some passing crook must have stolen it.”
“Some passing crook,” the lady repeated. She grinned suddenly, and as her disguise flew off, Rastogi found himself staring into the delighted eyes of the ticket-collector.
Later, as Rastogi sat in jail while the ticket-collector and the bored inspector gossiped, he tried to think about the bright side of getting jailed.
At least he had some free time to think about ideas for his movie.

© Ophelia Clare

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