Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Vishal Gupta

The Day Which Could Have Been

Oh dear! It was all just a dream. He woke up with a start, sweating.
He didn’t have the time to lay more focus on the dream. It was already 8:20 am. Class began in 10 minutes. He had to rush lest he be thrown out of class again. He quickly picked up his bag, gave a thoughtful look to the toothbrush and ran out of the room. He never noticed the note pressed below the clock.

It was another usual day. He cycled past innumerable faces which he saw every day. They never cared to give him a glance. Everyone is so self-engulfed here. He reached the classroom. The professor had already started distributing sleeping pills. He quietly went to sit in his usual chair. The professor didn’t seem to care. He must be used to it by now. He looked at the chair across to him. Aashni, she had come today. One of these days, I’m going to tell you how I feel about you. He knew he wouldn’t. She was out of his league. A member of the choreography team, a basketball player and one of the brightest students in the class. She didn’t even notice him when he used to pass the occasional smiles to her. As if he didn’t even exist. But he didn’t mind that. All he knew was, that there is a girl, whom he loved.
‘Vaibhav!’ The professor spoke for the third time, irritated.

He came out of the world of his dreams and responded, ‘Present Sir.’
The professor moved on to the next name. Barely giving an acknowledgement. The students followed the professor out of the class after the roll call. There was still some time before the next class. He waited for Aashni to leave. After she disappeared beyond the door, he got up, picked his bag and left. Some of his friends were chatting outside the classroom. They were talking about the upcoming fest and the new theme. The organising team member amongst them was recounting the story of how his teammates agreed upon the idea after three hours of debating and argument.
‘But playing cards? How much can you innovate with them?’ He argued.

Nobody seemed to listen to him. They went on with their conversation. Why? He didn’t get it. Every time he spoke something, most people behaved that he didn’t even exist. Why can’t you all be a little more respectful and give the words of another person a little thought before continuing with your mind-numbing thoughts.
‘My dad has a deck so old that all its hearts have had bypasses by now,’ a friend tried to pull off a joke.

Everyone laughed. Most people didn’t understand it, but it wouldn’t be very wise to keep a straight face when everyone else was laughing. He laughed too. I wish I could walk away, but it would be rude to walk away. He wouldn’t dare to walk out of the chat everyone was having. Being a part of everyone was all he had. It was time for the class again. No one seemed interested. He knew, they were going to go in the class 5 minutes late. No reason. People just thought it was “cooler” like that. Aashni moved in. He went in after her. Someone looked at the spot he had been standing a moment ago, then joined back into the conversation. It was nothing which required too much attention.
After another hour of a fatal lecture, he started moving to the mess. Along the way he thought why he was there. Everyday the same question bothered him. He was not learning much in those classes and he did not excel in anything else. The world belonged to people who excelled. He was not an achiever. Then why was he put on the planet. What purpose did he serve apart from being a waste to his parents’ hard earned money. Everything he had learnt till date was of no use in the real world. He was reaching nowhere. Well, I’ve reached the mess. Irony always ruled a part of his mind. He glanced at the thing which was being served in the name of food. He moved to the canteen which had dared to operate right next to the mess. Initially everyone was sceptical if a private canteen right next to the mess was a profitable idea. But the dealer was a good businessman. He had seen the condition of the mess and knew he’d get more business there than anywhere else. His business had grown beyond its capacity. Mismanagement and misplacing of orders were nothing new there. He ordered for his usual. After 30 minutes of waiting, he didn’t get anything. He moved to the kitchen where another boy was already complaining.

‘Wait dada, your order is next on the line. It’s a busy day today.’
It’s a busy day for me too you pest. He didn’t give a thought to what kept him busy. He laid down a 20 rupee note and took two packets of chips from the shop. He made way for his room, thinking about the last phonecall conversation with his dad.

‘How many glasses?’
Two. ‘Three.’
‘Why do you do this Vaibhav? If you don’t take care of your health then how will you put the effort in studying? Don’t do this.’

‘Had a bath today?’       
Truth or yes. ‘No.’
‘Won’t you listen to anything we say?’
‘Keep a chart on your wall, of the list of things you have to do every day.’
‘Yes. And study well and keep good care of your health.’
And shouldn’t I keep my head clean of garbage? I’ve heard this a hundred times dad! ‘Yes.’
‘And listen to some wise men’s words. I have couriered you the Geeta. One page a day. It’ll keep your mind off the filth. And today Sri Sri Ravi…’

He didn’t remember everything about the conversation. Even though it was the same thing day after day for the last two years, after a point he just became uninterested and kept the phone after he heard the final ‘Okay’ from his dad. Life did not have much meaning.
He looked at his phone again. His family were the only people who contacted him through that phone. I really have no other friends. Of course, there were people who lived near his room. They came every time India won a match to collect money for crackers. He knew they spent most of it on alcohol. He never participated in the drinking sessions, but he paid every time. Everyone else does too.
It thundered. It was going to rain. Winds were slowly brushing his hair, prompting him to get to his room before they turned violent. He reached his room, thinking if he should follow the plan he was thinking of for such a long time. The fan invited him every time he looked at it. He had already bought the rope but slept every night just staring at it. He knew he couldn’t gather the courage to actually do it. He opened the door.
Wind rushed into the room as soon as the door opened.

The boy passing by the room did not notice the absurdity at first. He came back and looked at the room with a shock of disbelief. He had seen the view before, but only on the television. He closed his eyes and screamed at louder than he had ever before. A small crowd gathered around. Someone ran off to inform the warden. Some people got inside the room and brought the body down. Someone saw a little note under the clock. It didn’t make much sense. ‘Even I feel the same way,’ he thought. An atmosphere of shock and grief engulfed the hostel soon.

Oh dear! It was not a dream.

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