Mr Jayadev Narayan woke up feeling crankier than usual. He lay in bed, pondering over what made him so angry so early in the morning, when he turned and his eyes focused on the date, glaring in neon from the alarm clock.
Of course. The eighteenth of December.
Mr Narayan hated the eighteenth of December. He normally used to get away to his sister’s house at least a week before, but she had recently moved to California (a better work opportunity, Mr. Narayan vaguely remembered her saying), and she hadn't outright said he couldn’t come, but she had dropped plenty of hints about how she still needed time to completely adjust and how she would like to be left alone.
Mr. Narayan’s opinion of the day further dropped a couple of notches (extremely large ones), when he saw that it was the eighteenth of December, 2012.
He sighed. It would probably be better to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. It was a Tuesday, which meant that Mr. Narayan was expected to go to work extra early.
With an enormous and dramatic display of reluctance, he got off the bed and pushed himself to the bathroom. He changed into a crisp white shirt, a pair of neatly ironed trousers, grabbed his briefcase and walked out of his house.
Almost immediately, he saw his gardener coming up the road. The woman beamed at him. “Good morning, Sir.”
“Good morning,” he said, with a forced smile.
The woman’s grin widened. “Today, it was, no?”
Mr. Narayan nodded.
“Exactly thirty years ago, no, Sir?”
He glared at her. “I don’t remember and I don’t care to! You mind your own business.”
The poor old lady was taken aback by such a curt response. She mumbled an apology and hurried past him into the garden.
“Don’t forget to mow the grass behind the hibiscus today!” shouted Mr. Narayan. “Or I won’t give you your salary!”
He noted with pleasure that her reply sounded more like a frightened squeak than any intelligible word. A sadistic sort of happiness built up in his chest, so much so, that he almost felt himself rising off the ground. He hummed a little tune under his breath, and although he didn’t know it, it was the song that played the first time Mr. Grinch appeared in The Grinch.
He always walked to work. He never took the bus, never took the taxi, never took the subway. Many thought it was because he was an environmentalist, and he accepted their lavish praises whenever they said so, but the truth was he was too much of a miser to pay for the rickety public transport or invest in a car. His scooter was also reserved only for emergencies, to save on fuel costs.
Not that many of his neighbours frowned upon that; he lived in a very quiet retirement community, the only person below forty. The community was stashed away in some happily forgotten corner of the city. None of them, as far as he knew, owned a motor vehicle, except for the rich IAS officer who lived at the centre of the neighbourhood. She had a bright blue expensive scooter.
He walked down the main road of the neighbourhod, still humming the song from The Grinch when he spotted Mr. Chandra, who lived a few streets away, turn and give a big smile.
“Hello,” Mr. Narayan said shortly, and made to go past, but Mr. Chandra clapped a hand on his shoulder and laughed. “Thirty years ago, it was, my boy, when your grandfather did it! But I still haven’t forgotten it.”
“Yes, well, I’m getting late for work.” Mr. Narayan tried to disengage the other’s grip on him, but found, much to his surprise, that the old man’s strength far exceeded his own.
Mr. Chandra ignored Mr. Narayan’s remark, and continued, “I was a boy when it happened. Not too young, but still. I remember, that little girl, what was her name now… I forget, but anyway, she was with your grandfather at that time. She came running all the way from the lake to tell us. My, what a racket she was making, running and yelling, ‘Narayan Uncle has cau-’”
“Please,” interrupted Mr. Narayan, “let me go.”
The older man looked slightly confused, then took his hands off Mr. Narayan. “Ah, yes, I forgot you had to go to work.”
“Of course you did,” muttered Mr. Narayan, as he hurried on. “Jobless old man.”
Not even another minute had passed, before Mr. Narayan caught sight of another figure, and a smaller figure beside it, on what looked like a leash. It turned out to be Ms. Shetty, the woman who lived in and ran the bakery, and her cat, Squibbles.
The leash was a thick leather strap, originally meant for a dog, but was abandoned for unknown reasons, till Ms. Shetty picked it up. The golden tag on the leash read ‘Bolt.’ None of them knew who the original dog or the owner was, but once they saw the bite marks on the leash, they decided they didn’t care to.
“Hello, Mr. Narayan,” she said, grinning at the sight of him.
Mr. Narayan was thoroughly annoyed. People after people just kept coming, and they all were going to say the same thing.
“Hello, and yes, it has been exactly thirty years.”
The woman looked confused, then her brow cleared, and a worrying light danced in her eyes. “Yes, I know. I can’t believe it.” She sighed. “It feels like only yesterday. I still remember the taste of it now. Mmm, soft and succulent.” She smacked her lips. “Do you know, Mr. Narayan, the best time to catch a… Mr. Narayan?”
But he had run off. He had run off, cursing under his breath; cursing the gardener, the old man, this woman and ‘her damned polynomous cat.’
He cursed all the way until he reached his office.
Mr. Narayan worked at the co-operative bank meant for these old and retired people living in the community. He was the only accountant who had been appointed by the government; the remaining were people who had been living in the society from before.
Part of the reason why he was chosen was that his grandparents had lived in the very house he did, for twenty long years, before they had both passed away of tuberculosis.
Mr. Narayan walked through the door labelled ‘Mr. Jayadev Narayan, B.Ec, M.Ec, Gold.’ He was very proud of this plaque and had it revamped in a different style every year.
He collapsed in his chair, still muttering unkind things under his breath. “Ten years,” he said bitterly. “Ten years I’ve lived here, and done so much, but no. No!” A derisive chuckle escaped his throat. “They remember only that stupid thing.”
He glowered at a portrait that hung above the entrance to his office, on the inside. It was of a couple; the man with a powerful face and a mane of long, curly grey hair that fell till his shoulders; the woman with a pretty, slightly wrinkled face, and strong, thick arms, like those of a blacksmith. Both looked menacing and pleased with themselves.
They each held up the ends of a skewer, and pierced by it, right in the middle, was a hilsa fish. It was a behemoth; a magnificent four and a half feet. Its scales glistened in the sunlight, its single visible eye staring vengefully at the viewer, and its tongue lolled outside, slick with saliva.
The artist had captured everything in great detail, right from the little hole in the man’s shoes, exposing an ingrown toenail, to the tail of the hilsa, which had a slight tear at the top.
At the right bottom corner of the painting was scrawled ‘18 Dec 1982,’ and the artist’s signature below that.
Mr. Narayan had never liked that painting, but the rest of the people at the bank had refused to allow him to take it down. He scowled at it now, and a most peculiar scowl it was too. The sweaty forehead was scrunched up as one does a newspaper, the thick, bushy eyebrows were almost joined, the nose was wrinkled, as though smelling a terrible odour, the eyes tried their best to stay wide open, but their field of vision was partly obscured by folds of skin dripping down from the forehead and the mouth was twisted into some sort of misshapen grimace, with the lower lip completely hidden from view.
It was in this position, that, as he sat, Mr. Narayan began to think, and to curse once more.
Ten years, said his thoughts to his mightily annoyed self. Ten years I have toiled for them, but not once have they remembered. A hazy picture floated into his mind, sharpening slowly, till it formed a clear image of a man receiving an award. One of Mr. Narayan’s better moments, when he had won Employee of the Year, back in 2005. And why not? After all, he had worked from eight to eight, never once stopping, not even for lunch or to go to the toilet (they had to overpay the janitor that year), for six days a week, all to get the co-operative bank perfectly running. The ceremony was on the sixteenth of December. But they didn’t remember that now, did they?
Another image floated in front of his eyes. It was of the same man, but this time, he was standing over a pothole, filling it up with his bare hands. 2003, December the nineteenth. Yes, he remembered. It was he who had initiated the fill-up of that nasty pothole after he had tripped over it and fallen quite hard. He had tried to raise the issue with the local authorities, but they couldn’t be bothered. At that time, he was still a foolish young man, full of ideas to change the world, so he had begun filling the pothole himself, on the nineteenth of December, 2003. He had even received a commendation for that, the next time the local politician had come to garner votes. But they didn’t remember that now, did they?
A third and final image floated in front of his eyes. It was of the same young man, in an immaculate blue suit, steeping off a small Maruthi 800. He held in one hand a briefcase, and in the other a large suitcase. The driver came out, holding yet another suitcase. The man took a deep breath and walked forward. Mr. Narayan’s vision panned around to show a welcoming audience, cheering, surging forward to meet the newcomer. The man smiled and spoke to them all, murmuring thanks, or simple greetings.
That had been on the December of the eighteenth, 2002. The day the man who had devoted his life to making their society better and improving their life had first arrived. But they didn’t remember that now, did they?
He was so angry now, the rage welling up inside of him, filling up his liver first, then his lungs, so that he couldn’t breathe, then his brain, so he couldn’t think.
He was so angry he gave a barbaric roar and swept everything off his desk, as he had seen them do in movies. It wasn’t a very good idea; he ended up cutting his right hand on the pen stand.
He cursed and sucked on it.
I should be immortalized, he thought bitterly, as an excess of salt from the blood made him retch. He hastily tipped the contents of his water bottle into his mouth.
“Sir?” a voice called from outside. He recognized it as the junior accountant’s; the one who always needed help, and who had forgotten ‘borrowing’ the last time he had seen her.
“Coming,” he said, wondering if she had forgotten her carry-overs now. He pushed his chair back and walked towards the door, still trying to stop the incessant, annoying bleeding. At that moment, just as the clock struck one, he slipped over a paper he had thrown down with the rest and fell backwards.
And all of a sudden, he was drowning. His lungs filled with water; it ran into his eyes, his nose. He was puzzled. How did he get into water? Then he remembered he was drowning, and tried to scream, but that just filled his mouth with water.
Then suddenly he stopped. He blinked. He wasn’t drowning. He exhaled and inhaled again. A feeling of water running over his side. He was… swimming?
That was odd. He had never thought he had learnt how to swim. He had read about people being able to do extraordinary things in moments of great danger, and he suspected this might be the case, conveniently forgetting that he had originally dismissed that theory with a scornful ‘Bah!’
He was beginning to panic now. He tried to scream again, but no sound came out. He looked around, and found that his field of vision was wider than normal, but also tilted at a weird angle.
He tried to kick forward, but found that his legs moved together, almost as if they were joined. He was extremely confused now. What in the world was going on?
And suddenly, it hit him. And he laughed at the absurdity of it all. Really, the whole thing was too ridiculous for words. He laughed internally, finding that he could make no audible sound. But soon, he stopped. The more he thought about it, the more real it began to seem. Was it really happening?
He pushed forward, the action coming naturally, and found he quite enjoyed the feeling of water running over his gills; it sort of tickled him. He swam faster and faster, having no idea where he was going, just aimlessly swimming about. It was a few hours before he got tired and stopped.
As he tried to catch his breath, so to speak, he wondered how he had been transformed, and whether he would be able to turn back. Being Mr. Jayadev Narayan was pretty bad, he had to admit, but he didn’t want to be a fish. But somehow, somewhere deep inside the depths of his tiny two-chambered heart, he knew he wouldn’t be able to turn back.
He sighed. It was amazing how fast he had resigned himself to his fate. Adaption, the human Mr. Narayan would call it. It was one of his specialities.
He began swimming again, aimlessly. He swam towards the floor of the lake, brushing past a clump of seaweed and some algae. He spotted a deep red sea-crab scuttling along and had the sudden urge to ram into it. It was with great difficulty that he restrained himself.
All of a sudden, he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. It streaked past, and he spun around too late. His beady eyes scanned the horizon keenly, waiting for it to reappear.
It did, quite soon enough. A spot of light, he thought. It was much too bright and concentrated to be any reflection of a sunbeam. He swam curiously towards it, reaching out tentatively with his tiny fin. It moved away.
He swam again, reaching out with his fin. Then it moved.
He was beginning to get angry now. Obsessed with catching the little glowing dot, he swam on and on, barely looking at where he was going.
Then the net fell.
Too late, he realized his mistake. The steel fisherman’s net was closing around him fast, grazing his pretty scales, drawing blood. He wailed silently, struggling against the force of the net, but in vain.
He was lifted up fast, breaking the surface of the water with a large splash. He thrashed and squirmed, but the net had been too tightly woven around him.
“Oh my God! This is a monster!” he heard a voice say.
He thrashed further, screaming and shouting.
“Quickly, spear it!”
“Wait till the rest of them hear about this one!”
He began squirming harder now, desperately looking for a way out. Anything would do, even the tiniest cut in the net.
The spear was raised, and the fish stopped squirming.
The pole was thrust powerfully forward, three people putting their weight behind it. The tip touched flesh, piercing it as a hot knife would butter.
Black spots swam before his eyes. Strange, he thought, because he wasn’t in water anymore. Stars danced in his diminishing vision. Strange, he thought again, because it was the middle of the day.
The tip of the spear emerged from the other side of his body.
Just before his vision completely blackened and he reached the Holy Planes beyond, a last thought struck him; a cruel consolation (he had firmly believed that Fate was a sadist and was delighted to be proven right):
At least now they’d remember him.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
It's a wonderful story! Please read my latest story
Thanks so much!
I loved this, Nandan. You wrote it so well. It was engaging and funny. You provided such depth of Mr. Narayan that I grew to like him despite his cantankerous nature. I thought the whole story was strong, but the opening was really excellent - you got my attention!
Thanks so much! Really means a lot!
Wow! I loved the detail and depth, the dialogue was also really clear. Btw can you check out my new story? but enough about me I loved storyline it was super creative
Thanks so much! And sure, I'll check out your story.
I really liked the magical realism in this piece. It took the story to a new level and had me surprised at the end without it being too jarring. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much!
You put so much character into Mr. Narayan; it made for a very witty read!
Thanks so much!
Hilarious. Really interesting. Well written, Nandan. Keep writing. Waiting for more of yours... Would you mind reading my new story in the same prompt? Thanks.
Thanks so much! And sure, I'll check out your story soon!