Wednesday 1 September 2010

Short Story 2010 Third Prize, Advitiya Sachdev


It was a normal day; as normal as my mundane life would allow. I got out of the bed I did not wish to leave. I ate breakfast I did not wish to eat. I drove the car I did not like, to the office I hated. I sat at my desk where the life I wanted, stared at me from the walls of my cubicle reminding me of what I didn’t have. 

I always tried to reach office early. The peace and quiet of an empty office has always had a calming effect on me. The relaxed atmosphere helps me prepare for the day. But of course, gradually, people would troop in. He usually came in quite late but that day he was there before me. 

He was not someone special. He was not the boss though he tried very hard to get there. Behind his back, he was known as the boss’ shadow. He was the one who lived to echo the boss’ opinions. I had always tried to keep my distance from this person but fate, very cruelly, had had other plans.
Two years earlier, he had been given a jump over my head. I was senior to him in terms of experience but his glib talk had put him over as my immediate supervisor. 

And for two years, I hated my life. He took credit for all the work I ever did. He kept me on a tight leash, sweet talking me into working weekends and holidays. I hated my gutless responses to his tyranny but kept hoping for a miracle that would absolve me of the duty to put things right. You need to know who this person was, in order to fully understand my story. He was the bane of my existence, the only person who had made me hate my own life. 

Back to the day that changed everything. It is weird as I think of it now but as I entered office, I sensed something amiss in the air. You know, one of those feelings you get when you know something’s going to go wrong? I felt uncomfortable. I was fighting the urge to run out of the building when he got up and sat next to me. 

This was unusual. He had always summoned me to his seat and never once, in the past two years, come to my cubicle. Not even to wish good morning. He pulled a chair next to me and started talking, “I know you don’t like me. It is very evident. But you envy me. You wish you could be more like me. I know that and can see it. And you know what, he can see it too,” he gestured towards the boss’s cabin. “You hate me but can’t do without me. You blame me for everything that goes wrong in this office.”

I was shocked out of my skin. I tried to get up and move away from his putrid presence but he held me back. “Wrongs which you are responsible for and yet, I take the blame… For every file you botch up. For every time you goof up in meetings. Everything…” 

“I take the fall for you. Because isn’t that what you tell yourself when you go to bed at night? That it was all my fault?” He was saying these hideous things. I was sure I would vomit all over him now. I was holding on to the desk so tightly that the wood cut my palm. But he continued relentlessly, “You tell yourself that you are the victim and that is what keeps you sane. Is it with that feeling that you face yourself in the morning? You pride yourself on the fact that you are not like me but don’t you get it? I am what you want to be. You want to be perfect. You want to be ‘in’ with the boss. You don’t want me around but you can’t do without me!” 

It was too much! To be accused of wanting to be someone I hated with every iota of my body. I think I must’ve yelled, for the next thing I knew, the boss was consoling me. I was pale, the blood washed from my face, a fierce pounding in my head and my breathing hard and long. I think I would’ve scared myself. 

The boss was worried and offered me the day off. I picked up my bag and walked out. Breathing deeply, I walked down to my car. The air was getting cleaner, purer as if I’d been in a fish market and now, was exposed to pure oxygen. The sky was a forget-me-not blue and a gentle breeze was tickling my face. I decided to take a drive to clear my head. 

As I was driving on the long highway, the wheels in my brain kept churning. And suddenly, it clicked. The only time of my life I enjoyed was without him. He was the one who infected my life. He destroyed my peace. He made work unbearable. He made life unbearable. I could not stay with him anymore. I must get away from him. Far, far away. 

Resolved, I drove back to the office to put in my notice and quit the thankless job I should’ve quit years ago. I reached but an empty office.
It was lunch and most of the people were down at the cafeteria. The boss was not though. And of course he was there because the boss had not gone. I sat at my workstation and thought about how I was going to tell the boss that I was quitting.
As I sat brooding, the boss came out, surprised to see me. I reassured him that I was fine and he went back in to his cabin. 

But the jerk just stayed there, smirking at me. I grew uncomfortable and went to the restroom to wash my face. I had to wait outside for five minutes though. The plumbers were in, replacing some odds and ends. To my chagrin, he walked up and stood next to me.
As the workers left, I went inside paying him no heed. I entered a stall and waited for him to leave. After two minutes, I heard the door shut. I waited a beat more to make sure. Complete silence.
Relieved, I walked out and to the sink. The cold water felt good on my face. As I straightened up, I almost yelled again. There he was, standing behind me! 

I didn’t need to turn around; I could see him smirking in the mirror. “So you’ve decided to quit?” I jumped. I was shocked. How did he know I wanted to quit? I didn’t say anything and made to walk out. He blocked my path bodily! “I know you want to quit. You despise me. You don’t want to be near me. But you can’t do without me! You think you’re strong walking away from me? You’re a weakling! You can’t face your own fear. Yeah… that’s what I am to you. Your deepest, darkest fears are challenging you right now. And what are you going to do about it? You’re going to run like the cowardly rat you are!” 

My blood was boiling. I couldn’t take this again. I wanted him to stop. I couldn’t listen to it again! He was a liar! He was mean. He didn’t deserve to live. And suddenly, it all became clear. The world would be a better place without him. I would be doing the world a favour. I looked around as he kept droning on. I saw a pipe lying on the floor and picked it up. He stopped mid sentence.
“What… so you’re going to hit me now? I don’t think you have the balls. C’mon, let’s see how much of a man you really …” I did not le him finish. I hit him.

It felt like a scream came from my throat as I struck him on the head. He looked at me horrified, touched his forehead and was shocked to see blood. I stood with the pipe raised, ready to strike again. I could sense the pain the pipe must’ve caused him. That sensation was adrenaline pumping in my veins. I felt as if I was in limbo, detached to my surroundings, as if I was watching the whole scene from afar. I saw him scramble to his feet and run out. I followed and saw him running towards the boss’s cabin. I sprinted faster and threw myself on him. We crashed through the glass door of the office. He fell shuddering on the carpet. 

I’d fallen down with him. I was bleeding in places. The glass had cut a vein somewhere and blood was flowing out my chest. And he was bleeding copiously too. The boss was yelling and screaming. But I didn’t care. I started hitting him again. And again and again and again. Soon, the small cabin was full of noise, blood and glass. 

I beat him till I could.  I fainted on top of his body. I knew I’d killed him for I could not feel him breathing. Two weeks later, I woke up in a tiny cell. And it is in this cell where I sit and write today, to tell you my story. 

I am told I am in a hospital. My cell has padded walls. Far cry from what I was expecting. I don’t mind spending my entire life in a prison for I am not ashamed of what I’ve done. I rid the earth of the filthiest scum but nobody believes me and that is why I told you my story. 

Over the last few weeks, doctors and counsellors have tried to convince me that he doesn’t exist and I suffer from multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia. They claim that in my hurry to climb the corporate ladder, I turned into the office snake that I supposedly killed. 

I don’t believe them! I have never wanted to be the cheating, lying bastard that I killed. And I want to tell the world I killed him. I did. The world needs to know. I am no madman! I don’t care for this bunch of lies! You will tell them, won’t you? Tell them, that I killed the man who made me hate my life. I killed him.

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