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.
It was raining cats and dogs when I entered the mental institute. On opening the door, the patient immediately sprang towards me. “I’m not who you think!”
There was agitation and pain in his manner and eyes.
“Tell me then, who are you?”
“I’m not who you think!”
“Well, who aren’t you?”
“The one they think I am!”
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.
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.
My tireless legs and tired mind took me to an unknown part of the town. A narrow road separated a row of dilapidated houses and a wasteland, neither deemed worthy enough to be lit up by streetlamps. The darkness around me was intimidating. I tried finding the spotty obsessed lover in the sky, but he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps musing about giving up, finding solace in Clapton blues to forget her blue face.
My foot hit something hard and limp and I went tumbling to the ground. A thump and a cough resounded through the abandoned houses. I got up at once, for I hadn’t coughed. A man lay in the middle of the road, arms folded under his head, gazing dreamily at the sky.
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.
I saw a man scampering like a dog with his tail between his legs. Having walked similarly a few minutes ago myself, I knew the reason for his unusual gait. But his robes piqued my interest; a patient was allowed to roam outside after sunset.
“Hey, how come you’re here?” I inquired.
“Ahhhh, sweet God, I needed that. Are you happy now?” he said with a sharp tone.
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.