This story is a Winner of the Odd-Even Short Story Contest
It’s odd, isn’t it? No, I am not talking about the day. I’m just trying to say that isn’t it odd that the first thought which crosses my mind as I wake up each morning is whether the day is an odd or even number. I stretch my limbs and realise that it is an odd day which does not conform to the idea of using my even-numbered vehicle. I’m sure the entire universe has conspired against me to ensure that I take a good 15 minutes’ walk to the nearest metro station and then another 10-minute walk from where I embark to office. Having ignored my mother’s relentless pursuit to get in shape by doing any physical activity (?), I think it is she whose wishes are being granted disguisedly!
I let an audible sigh and rush to finish my morning chores. The image of my not-so-friendly boss with his right eyebrow arched up (followed by a plethora of choicest words) as he sees a late comer is always the driving force to get ready on time. Sometimes I really feel like walking up to him to ask how a 10-minute delay serves as fodder to produce an earthquake of such an enormous magnitude.
Nevertheless I struggle to fit into my slim-fit clothes and bite into an apple as I rush to stop the elevator.
As I almost run to cover the distance to the metro station, a car stops by. Mind you, a rotund body with steps trying to match those of Usain Bolt can be quite a traffic stopper. But no, the man in the driving seat is not looking at my shirt button struggling to hold place at my waist. Instead he is flashing a warm welcome smile.
“Hi! I’m Swaminathan Aiyar, C Wing 501,” he says extending his hand out of the car window. “I’ve seen you around here.”
“Manoj Singh, B Wing 402,” I return his smile.
“Can I drop you somewhere?”
“Actually my office is at C.P. Can you drop me near the metro station?” Saying this I hop in.
“Oh! What a coincidence. My office is there too. I don’t mind taking you all the way there.”
After we talk about the odd-even syndrome which had become the favourite topic of discussion among us Delhiites, we strike a deal.
“Why don’t we pool cars, Manoj? It will save us both from the hassles of using public transport.” He sounded happy enough to have hit a jackpot.
“Now since we are going to be travelling companions we better know a bit about each other,” he said with his eyes fixed on the road. “We are basically from Tamil Nadu and work has brought me here,” he shrugged with indifference. “I stay here with my wife and daughter.”
“I hail from Bihar and my parents stay there. I’m still a bachelor,” I smiled coyly.
He looked at me with what seemed like an underlying envy before muttering, “Lucky fella you are.”
So that was the beginning ... of the ordeal. The journey to the office was great. We managed to talk from topics ranging from cinemas, to politics, to pollution, to the crowd of Delhi. But the journey back home was the real ordeal. Mr. Aiyar’s wife had a habit of calling him practically every day to get something ‘urgently’ on the way back. On days he had to drive, I was instructed to pick up the call and note down the list. It varied from simple grocery items to some exotic stuff for which we had to stop a dozen places to procure it.
“Why don’t you buy everything you need on a monthly basis so that you don’t have to worry about them daily,” I flashed my politest smile wary that my words would give vent to my underneath seething anger.
“That’s what we do,” pat came the reply. “But some things are bought fresh.” I grinded my teeth in a chatter that was sure to be heard above the din of the traffic. It’s fresh gajras that day. “Make sure they are the orange flower ones. I don’t like jasmine,” was the order of the day. So we encircled every possible area before finally laying our hands on one. It was somewhere close to an hour and a half since I had left office. I cursed a certain Mr. AK for pushing me into this. Sometimes it would take two or more hours to hunt for ‘today’s order’. I remember once it was some spice for which we made a tour of at least a dozen shops to get the ‘right smelling ones’. I wondered how Mr. Aiyar put up with this. He was always so patient and calm.
I half made up my mind to quit the car pooling idea. Yet the morning comfort of remaining snuggled in the blanket for at least 20 minutes more if I used Mr. Aiyar’s car instead of public transport was an irresistible lure. I thought of another Mr. AK whose intolerance opinion had turned an uproar in the entire country. How about my intolerance to Mrs. Aiyar’s diurnal shopping lists? Any takers? I flinched in annoyance as Mr. Aiyar stopped at all the departmental stores to get a certain brand lip-balm-cum-moisturiser for the chapped lips of Mrs. Aiyar today! The snarling traffic and the serpentine queues at the signal was a definite welcome over this. I wasn’t going to bear it any more.
The next day I waited for him at the designated point after office hours fiddling with the excuse I would offer to withdraw the pool system. As the battered Alto stopped, I had the pleasure to treat my eyes to the most beautiful vision ever. Sitting in the passenger seat was a girl whose mere sight triggered a passionate shiver down my spine. She was bent over her phone and when distracted by the car stopping, she lifted her heavy-lidded eyes to look at me. And what a look was it my countrymen; That you and I and all of us fell down; whilst her beauty flourished all over us. I jerked the thoughts of Mark Antony’s speech as Mr. Aiyar introduced his daughter to me. “This is Jayshree and Jayshree, this is Manoj.” I guess I mumbled an inaudible greeting and even tried unsuccessfully to raise my hands to shake hers. I must have been a clumsy fool standing for longer than necessary because Mr. Aiyar said, “Hop in Manoj. We are stalling the traffic.” Oh! How I wished I could sit beside her and soak in her beauty of ivory white skin with chiselled features. We had hardly driven for two minutes when the customary ring buzzed. Jayshree picked it up and after half a dozen ‘Ok Amma’, she hung up. “Appa, Amma wants drumsticks today, half kg only.”
I was tempted to ask what that meant but my grey cells rightly held me in time. Mr. Aiyar creased his brows as he thought of the place where he could get them. I cleared my throat to start a conversation. “So, what do you do, Jayshree? I must say you have got a beautiful name.” “It was my choice,” Mr. Aiyar beamed as if just conferred with the Nobel Prize. How a semi-bald, thick-lipped, dark-skinned Mr. Aiyar produce a progeny so beautiful was beyond my reasoning ability. I attributed it to maybe-the-good-looks of Mrs. Aiyar.
“I’m doing my masters in journalism.” The soft ring in her tone was enough to send ripples all over the cosmos. I could see the winds blowing with a gentle caress matching the rhythmic swaying of the lovely trees lining the roads. Never before had everything looked so magically beautiful. When Mr. Aiyar parked his car to fetch the drumsticks, I turned back to have another look at her. She fluttered her dark eyelashes as we talked about anything and everything. After a good 20 minutes he returned without the drumsticks. I almost shrieked with joy. It certainly meant more time with the lovely lass.
After a good search of an hour, finally the prized drumsticks were sought and bought much to my chagrin. Even though it was completely dark by now, I wasn’t complaining. In fact I was on cloud nine dreaming and day-dreaming until we reached home. I was almost nudged out of my trance by Mr. Aiyar who thought I had fallen asleep and mumbled an apology for keeping me late. “No problem, Sir. Please give my regards to your wife.” I was trying to coat my words with extra sweetener. After the longest goodbye wave, I made way to my wing with a renewed spring in my feet and in my heart.
It so happened that Jayshree started coming back with us from that day onwards because she had some classes in the vicinity. I was extra lucky one day when because of Mr. Aiyar’s sick leave, I was to bring her back in my car. By now I was head over heels in love with her. I was enamoured of her long fingers and beautiful shapely nails as I watched her from the corner of my eye. We talked all the way back and I was slightly disappointed that the call from Mrs. Aiyar did not come. I would have happily shopped for her with her pretty daughter in tow, but I guess I just wasn’t in luck.
“Today’s going to be the day.” I thought to myself as we neared our apartment. “Jayshree, would you care for some coffee. I know of a place nearby which serves excellent cappuccino.” Jayshree waited for a long second before agreeing.
“Yes, in fact I could do with one,” she smiled. My heart fluttered and missed a beat as we stopped at the coffee joint. We talked of silly things as we sipped coffee.
My heartbeat turned louder as I calculated the words I would use to profess my love for her.
As I paid and started to leave, I called out to Jayshree who was a couple of steps ahead of me.
“Jayshree,” I reached up to her and looked into her huge pool like eyes. “Jayshree, I want to say something to you.” She appeared bemused as she creased her forehead into wrinkles. “I just.....ummm....I want.....” I fumbled for words inspite of the carefully drafted speech.
“What is it, Manoj?” The softness of her voice instilled in me the courage to speak.
“Jayshree, I love you and would like to marry you,” I said without a preamble.
After an expression of what seemed like a cross of anger, surprise and being baffled, she chose to...laugh. A clear, throaty laugh which made me stand like an idiot and wait for it to finish. “Manoj, have you completely lost it? Have you ever seen yourself in a mirror? Do you know your paunch can double up as a tea-table when you sit? Have you noticed your flabby shoulders not to talk of the chubby cheeks that sag down with gravity,” she continued with her laugh. “Has it occurred to you how ODD it is to EVEN think of anything so preposterous?” She walked away to hail an auto still chuckling to herself.
The ODD-EVEN trick had come back to me once again – this time with a vengeance.