The crowd gathered in the stands had waned. Rain had dampened the field and pushed the semi-final over to the next day, but it couldn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm. Everyone was confident that India was half-way into the World Cup final. But Ranjit had mixed emotions, and not because he had eaten a mixed salad with his favourite chicken salami, coleslaw, and olives, but which also contained artichoke and beetroot. It was because the final was the same day as his date with Bhavna. She had shared her plan the night before. The uncharacteristic vivacity in her eyes lingered in his mind.
The rains had given Delhi residents some respite by bringing down the sultriness in the air. But the atmosphere in the small bathroom was tense. Beads of sweat dripped down Ranjit’s body, for he was too late in noticing the lizard on the ceiling. The fat, multi-coloured striped creature flicked its tongue. Ranjit gulped, and heard a soft splash in the commode below.
Ranjit’s near and dear ones, with the exception of Bhavna, were gathered in his apartment, waiting for the birthday boy. All preparations for a surprise bash were done. Bhavna wasn’t invited because no one except Vipin was privy of Ranjit’s affair. She was on the roof. The scope of her rifle showed a humming face with a throbbing belly resting on a bobbing motorbike about a kilometre away. She holstered her weapon and began tidying herself.
When you’re in a good mood, you try and make others share that mood with you. Ask someone who knows a bipolar individual and they’d nod like a turbocharged bobble-head doll. Ranjit was never diagnosed with that disorder, but he was in high spirits when he walked into his flat. The first seeds of spring were blossoming in his head. But in his hall, a colossal tornado raged silently. On another day, it would have rendered his baby-face expressionless, but today Ranjit decided to tame the storm.
Bhavna stormed out the metro station. She had fallen asleep on the train ride and had woken four stations after hers. She blamed it on the youngster whose shoulder served as her pillow. She had specified which station to wake her up at. Perhaps her smile had really entranced him when she asked to use his shoulder.
She was to meet up with Ranjit half an hour ago, and she could already see him slumped by his chabudai into a pile of misery. Even the mental picture made her smile. Her baby-faced lover had that knack of always making her smile.
It was Sunday. Not that it mattered to the kids in Ranjit’s apartment complex since schools were closed for summers, which made every day a Sunday. Nor for the sun as it set the air ablaze. As Ranjit returned from the nearby department store, he saw a set of wickets rolling on the road and some kids huddled together, picking teams. His eyes met Piyush’s, his only young friend in the complex and he waved. Piyush’s eyes lit up with joy and he pointed at Ranjit.
“I pick him!” he exclaimed.
Ranjit was visiting his cousin. His niece was a difficult girl but had always been fond of him. He didn’t boast many skills, but having a stabilizing effect on his niece was one of them. It was with little hesitation and great relief then, that his cousin asked him to accompany Riya to her parent-teacher meeting.
“SlapJack strikes again!” Vipin hurries to squat next to Ranjit. The two read the news about the recently active ‘SlapJack’ of New Delhi – a white guy slapping pedestrians who cross roads without adhering to traffic norms and rules. He holds a Jack of Clubs in his slapping hand, which is often imprinted on the victims’ cheeks, inducting them into the Club of Jack.
Ranjit liked birthday celebrations, especially ones he was invited to. Once he had been convinced to crash a birthday bash, much like he had heard people crash weddings. It had ended up being a bash, just not the kind young Ranjit had in mind.
The sound of flush loudened. Ranjit was sitting at the chabudai sipping his morning tea when Vipin came out of the bathroom.
“I sure am using my right hand an awful lot these days!” he said. Ranjit paused with teapot in hand and looked at his flatmate with knitted eyebrows. It was not the sort of conversation starter he would expect from Vipin. He cleared his throat and resumed pouring tea for his flatmate.