Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Sudeepto Mishra


A THIEF ON MY SHOULDER

“Greed has poisoned men’s soul”, this quote digs a deep hole into this story. It’s an irony that it was uttered by a man only. He was none other than the legendary world icon Sir Charlie Chaplin. But with the poison, there are anti-poisons available nowadays; the thing is we need to buy it at least to get rid of the after-effects. And that antivenin, in this case, was realization.

Once during the winters, I and few of my friends went for an automobile internship held at the steel city of India.  While having youth adrenaline rushes to discover more, we headed to the city to attend it which was of 7 days span. In the group, I was the greediest one perhaps as my wallet was the lightest among all of us. Four five hundred rupees notes and a couple of hundreds were there in it for my rescue.

First few days were awesome; we had many things to explore around the hotel we stayed in along with the richly informative classes held in a nearby institute. New roads, new buildings, new markets, and all other news were waiting for us to be seen and felt. It was the third day which stayed engraved in my brain walls still giving me a checkpoint to accurately remember and restore my memories in that tour. That morning went well and I learned many things about the vehicle assembly. In the afternoon I went to a nearby park with my friends who were full of fun. But the first hours of the dusk were very dreadful and drastic for me.

 I call it one of the most shameful parts of my life. What happens was I and my friends went to a nearby mall called V2 to see (apt for me) and buy (apt for others) something new from this place to remember. Everybody was busy buying something as a souvenir to carry home but poor me, I was closefisted as I had four more days to survive with the few greenies remaining in my pocket.
Narrating it the other way I can say that my pockets were somewhat empty to buy a super shinny branded pair of leather boots from that mall. So, my devil side who comforts on my left shoulder whispered in my ears to steal it. I got a bit hesitant for a few minutes and asked a friend for suggestions. But he was also in possession by his devil side who gave it a direction by whispering in my ears the step by step plan to execute it.

I was wearing a pair of non-shiny, non-branded formal shoes. So, the first step was to get rid of these old shoes and so I did it by hiding them behind a wooden shelf. Before that, I had tried the super shiny boots thrice to check the fitting and styling. It was the last pair with such a unique style which was also a big reason to steal it. Being patient, I wore those shoes at the right time when there was no one near me. Then being dauntless, I marched straight confidently towards the exit. I crossed the exit, went down to a few stairs and then I heard a voice, a tumultuous voice repeatedly spelling stop. My heart was beating fast from the very first step but now it stopped for a minute. As soon as I turned the person caught my hands, dragged me inside to the counters.

There were CCTV cameras fitted overhead which I was not aware of. While I was trying the boots out, the person in the control room doubted and sent a salesperson behind me. He was hiding very carefully and looking at what was I doing. When I just got out of the doors, he was the one to say stop and got hold of my hands to the counters.

Sooner the counter was packed with crowds circled accusing me as a thief, pervert, sicko, weirdo and what more. The manager also came down from the office saying harsh utters. One of my friends was with me standing and the rest were spread in the crowd. The manager was asking my name and where about. I replied very nervously, literally my legs were quivering very fast. Throughout the whole conversation, my head was down with full of shame. People were staring and having a deep glance as if I was a murderer. Indeed it was a crime and I deserved that look.

I was pretty embarrassed to be in that situation, the manager also asked me to pay the price else he threatened that he would hand over me to the police. When he told me the price, I was pretty scared to find it to be 2,300/-. I knew that even if I stumble down my wallet, I could not have paid that amount. After a lot of hustle, we came out paying Rs. 1300/- which I borrowed from my good friend Srini who was standing beside me. He was also feeling very guilty to give me the idea and courage to do so.

That day was full of mortification and chagrin. Although the day was quite humiliating, it was good to see some of my friends consoling me and boosting my morale. I was stunned to see their optimistic expectation on me even after such a big mistake.
After a certain point, my eyes were full of tears. A part of it was because of the realization of my fault and the rest was perhaps representing the bond of friendship. I realized that I got friends whom I can trust in my bad days. It would be ungrateful if I don’t mention their names. Aiswarya AKA Local Anna, Dudu AKA Dude, Braj AKA Business Tycoon, Srini AKA heroine, Sid AKA Nandi, and Abhijit AKA Sarkar, all of them were there to help me and get me out of this depression.
Although the time passed, the story was not over in my mind. When I looked back I felt that I needed to do something at least to erase the scar on me whenever I visited my past. I knew it can’t be erased, but I was confident that I can overwrite it with a fresh and positive memory and so I did. After approximately 3 years to this incident, when I was financially sound to buy super shiny things, I went back to the mall. Unfortunately, there was neither the same pair of shiny shoes nor the same manager. With time both the person and the thing had moved away to a different place and a buyer. My urge to twist my past was not looking that promising, I looked here and there, searched for any of the people who resembled my past fragments but unfortunately, there was none to be seen. And with a little bit of pain and a pinch of satisfaction that I tried, I was going down the same stairs from which I was caught once.
While my foot touched the second stair, I heard a voice. It was the same “stop” sound resonating in my ears which I heard years back. I turned, tried to find the one who would grab my hand and take me to the counters. Unfortunately at this moment also there was no one such. It was just the play of my mind. Perhaps the devil residing on my left shoulder had played that sound just to show me that, it’s still sitting there and enjoying all the luxuries of my mind.
I had to do something at least, to dethrone him from my shoulder. So, I went back to the mall, searched for the shiniest branded pair of boots, went to the counters and asked, “Can I have these packed.” In my mind, I thought to describe the bill maker my reason behind this buying. But I realized that he would never understand it, the way it was because that time was gone. This was a new time and I was overwriting the old memory to the new ones. There were new people, new accessories, new footwears and undoubtedly new emotions. But there was solace from inside that, I might have been done something wrong in the past but in the present, I am doing it all right.
I felt as if the devil vanished from my shoulders and I was free. I realized that greed can do you stuff which may let your self-esteem way below. I realized greed is a part of life but, to tame is an art of life.

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