Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Short Story -- The Auction

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my WORLD awaken.”

– With apologies to Rabindranath Tagore

I keep writing about freedom, but so far I’ve tended to write about it in a marital/sexual context. Freedom, if it is present, touches all areas of our lives and makes our lives sublime. It raises our lives above the mundane by liberating us from whatever is petty and crass in our lives. We cease to exist as men and women, and learn to live as MEN and WOMEN. We cease to exist as mere consumers of goods and services, and live as CITIZENS. We cease to merely think, and begin to SEE and FEEL. We cease to merely exist, and begin to LIVE. 

We cease to be cogs in a wheel, and become little wheels in our own right.

This I firmly believe.

How does this translate into reality? How would it feel to live in a world where freedom dwells in a lot of hearts? Let me put it in the form of a short story (or a series of short stories) and see if it can evoke the feel of a world where freedom dwells in a lot of people’s hearts.

So here goes…
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THE AUCTION

He stopped and rolled down the window of his car because he thought it unusual for a woman in a maternity gown to be standing alone in the driving rain at a bus stop. “Hey”, he yelled. “Need help?”

“Don’t we all?” she yelled back defiantly.

It had been a bad day at the office, and he wasn’t in the mood to put up with a wisecracking woman. His foot came off the brake and toed the accelerator. But something about her that he hadn’t noticed at first made him stop. Maybe it was something about the way she was hugging herself. Or something about that oversized suitcase beside her.

“Waiting for a bus?” he yelled again. Gawd, what an idiotic thing to ask a woman standing in a bus stop! But he was looking for a fingerhold or toehold on this situation. She looked away and kept hugging herself. Something about the way she shook her knees tantalized him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Suddenly, realization dawned on him in a flash. Of course! It was so obvious.

“You need to go to the bathroom, don’t you?” he yelled.

She glared at him, startled. How dare he?!

“Get in”, he commanded. “I know a shopping mall that’s five minutes away, and I think you can hold on that long.”

She got in with some reluctance, and then said, “Would you get my bag please?”

Later, as they drove along in silence, he glanced at her fat thighs showing through the wet maternity gown, and then looked away quickly as she caught him looking.

“So, may I ask why you were in that bus stop alone with this big bag that you can’t possibly carry?”

Silence.

“Are you leaving your husband?”

Silence.

“Or your live-in boyfriend, maybe?”

Silence.

“…who dumped you there in the bus stop with a big suitcase?”

Silence.

Then she blurted out tearfully. “Are you just naturally a bastard, or do you work at it?”

“I’m a natural,” he shot back coldly. “What about you? Why are you working so hard at being unreachable? Are you in some kind of trouble? How will anybody help you if you don’t ask for help?”

Silence.

“I’ll wait here,” he said, double-parking outside the mall. “Do you know your way around this place?”

She nodded and got out.

Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. He kept glancing restlessly at his watch, and gazing at the mall entrance. Jeez… women!

His mobile rang. He stared at it. It was his wife. What was he going to tell her? That he was stuck outside a mall while he waited for a pregnant women he had picked up at a bus stop to take a pee? Damn, that sounded all wrong. He let the phone ring. He could always lie later that he hadn’t taken it out of silent mode after that 6 pm meeting. Better than lying just now, when he was unprepared. The mobile fell silent.

Shit. If only this dame’s suitcase wasn’t in his boot, he could have driven away and never looked back. But as things stood…

Half-an hour passed. That’s too much. A parking slot emptied and he decided to take it. And then he decided to go look where this bulging female was.

Ten minutes of wandering around eyeing women of all descriptions, and then he finally found her sitting alone at a food plaza, staring blankly. A pizza was lying half eaten in front of her, and a coffee half finished. “Couldn’t resist a hunger-attack?” He said, taking a seat next to her and trying to sound chummy. “I know. Pregnancy is like that.”

She glared at him. “You don’t know when to quit, Mr Sympathy-Empathy whatever-your-name-is”, she said coldly.

“My name is Shyam. Tell me something, Miss Preggers…  Do you realize that if I didn’t have your belongings in my car, I could have driven off without a care in the world? Do you imagine I really care about you so much I’ll keep taking shit from you all evening and all night?”

“Why do you care at all?”

“Because I care. Now tell me why you’re sitting here. Where do you want to go from here?” His voice turned gentle. “Tell me where you want me to drop you off, lady. I’ll take you wherever you need to go… wherever, as long as it’s in this city. You’ve got parents to go home to? Or a friend? Or a hostel maybe?”

She shook her head, lowered her gaze and started sniffling.

“Dammit, woman, why don’t you cooperate for a change?” Shyam whispered under his breath.

“I’ve got nowhere to go,” she whispered, finally looking up after blowing her nose delicately into a paper napkin. “Don’t ask me to explain, please. It’s too… too shameful.”

He stared.

“Please give me my suitcase here and leave. You’ve done enough for me. You can’t help me any further. Please leave me here,” she continued.

“How much money do you have?” he asked.

“I don’t need your money, thank you. I’ve got a couple of thousand bucks in here,” she said, clutching her purse.

Something within him snapped at that moment. This was too, too much! There had to be a decent way out of this idiotic situation!

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!” He said, suddenly raising his voice and addressing everyone in that food court. “This young lady here is eight or nine months pregnant. I met her half an hour ago at a bus stop and gave her a lift…”

“SHUT UP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? JUST LEAVE ME ALONE AND GO!” she yelled, rising to her feet.

“She has NOWHERE IN THE WORLD to go, and she wants me to leave her alone… leave her here in this food court with her big heavy suitcase that she can’t even lift!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP AND JUST LEAVE!!! WHY ARE YOU MAKING A SCENE, YOU BASTARD!!!” she cried, trying to claw at his face.

“She has a few thousand bucks in her purse and she thinks that is enough to see her through her pregnancy and delivery. Isn’t that right, Miss Whateveryournameis?”

“Anu,” she replied, glaring, and then tried to drag away her suitcase. The gathering crowd refused to move and let her go. Security-men started trying to jostle Shyam, but a couple of big guys in the crowd restrained them. “Bolney do unhein! Let him speak! Let him be! This drama will all be over in 10 minutes…”

“Anu here needs money, folks, but money is not the only thing she needs.,” continued Shyam. “She needs a place to stay, she needs friends, she needs people to see her through her delivery… and yes, she needs money. What are we going to do, people? Are we going to leave her to her fate? Should I just return her suitcase here and leave her here, for the security guys to shoo her out when they turn off the lights tonight? SHOULD I JUST LEAVE, PEOPLE?”

“I’m an estate agent,” shouted one guy excitedly from the crowd. “I know an old lady who will give someone like her paying-guest accommodation, no questions asked.”

“I don’t want to stay without paying,” the girl said in a low voice.

“Please do pay for your keep,” retorted the estate agent. “But do you have money?”

“I can earn. I used to work in an office…” she responded.

“Oh YES, of course, Anu can EARN her keep,” said Shyam. “She’ll work till she’s wheeled into the delivery room, and she’ll resume work as soon as she walks out of there…”

“I DON’T BELIEVE HER! SHE’S JUST A BLOODY FRAUD LOOKING FOR A BIG HANDOUT! AND SO IS THAT GUY!” yelled one middle-aged man from the crowd. “HOW CAN ANYBODY BELIEVE THEM?!!!”

“Aye uncle, you don’t believe, na? So go mind your own business… do your shopping. Who's stopping you? Please leave,” said one young lady nastily. “You never mind him, Sir! Never mind people like him! We’re listening, Sir!” she said, turning to Shyam.

"I say she needs some money, people. So what can we come up with around here?" said Shyam, dropping two 500s into a plastic shopping bag and passing it on to this friendly young lady. She went around collecting. People started reaching into their wallets and handbags, and within ten minutes, she was counting the currency. "That's 32, 500. A tidy amount," she smiled.

"Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen! Very kind and generous of you all," said Shyam. "It will see her through the next couple of months."

People began to show signs of dispersing. The estate agent was quietly talking to Anu, and picking up her suitcase for her.

And then Shyam had a second wind of inspiration.

"IS THAT ENOUGH, ladies & gentlemen? 32,500? Will that see her through her crisis? I don't think so. I don't think any of us could get our sister through a pregnancy and delivery, and maybe the first year, on a budget of Rs 32,500. Would you, Ma'am?" he asked, directly addressing a fat lady with a diamond necklace. She had already contributed Rs 1,500 to the kitty, and so she made to leave. This guy was too persistent.

“OK, ladies & gentlemen, LISTEN UP! I’m going to AUCTION my clothes, watch, shoes, everything. Who’s bidding?” No hands went up. The crowd was gone. “Will someone offer me a thousand for my watch? It’s a Tag Heur, guys, and I bought it only last year for 7,400. Will someone give me a thousand for it please?”

One gent reached into his wallet, but before he could fish out the money, a lady called, “4000″. “Do I hear 5000? No? 4500? No? Sold to the lady in blue for 4000,” Shyam said, handing her the watch, as she put the money in his plastic bag.

And he stood there and auctioned everything that he wore.

Watch — Rs 4000
Cartier chain — Rs 17,500
Diamond-studded bracelet — Rs 32,750
Louis-Phillippe shirt — Rs 3000
Trousers — Rs 4000
Banian — Rs 500

Sight of a paunchy man standing in his VIP underwear at a crowded shopping mall — Priceless.

He sat down at a table with Anu and counted the money. “That’s close to a lakh of rupees for you,” he said, before his mobile rang.

It was his wife.

He took the call. “Hi honey.”

“The bidding is not over yet,” said his wife’s voice, extra loud. “I’M BIDDING 20,000 FOR YOUR UNDERPANTS THIS VERY MOMENT.”

Her laugh rang out loud and clear.

Shit! SHE WAS RIGHT HERE IN THE MALL! Of course! She had said that morning that she would be shopping in this mall with her friend for jewelry!! How could he have forgotten!!!

“20,000!” she said, laughing right across the room, for everyone to hear and see.

“You can’t be serious,” he gasped.

“25,000, and I’m serious,” she said. “Take off your underpants and hand them over. I dare you! I DOUBLE-DARE YOU!”

“Show me the money,” he said, disbelievingly.

She waved bundles of 500s in the air.

“Wait! I bid 35,000,” said her friend sportingly. And the two women laughed uncontrollably until the tears came to their eyes.

“Are you REALLY serious?” he said doubtfully, slowly standing up on the cafetaria table and reaching for his elastic waistband.

“45,000, and that’s my final offer,” said his wife, sobering up. “After that, I’m broke! There goes the new diamond necklace I had saved up for!”

Fresh peals of laughter.

“Gather around, people! You’ve got to see THIS!”

Grinning, she counted and put the money on the table next to the pregnant girl, as her husband slowly handed her his underpants and stood there looking sheepish, stark naked.

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