Tell tale scars of last night's debauchery lay scattered all over the 14th floor high rise apartment room that overlooked the Indian Ocean.
Contents of a half empty whisky bottle swam all over the checkerboard mosaic floor---a flotilla of still born desires the night had birthed.
Competing for misdemeanor were an unlikely assignment of contenders---half burnt cigarette stubs, leftovers of a half eaten Mexican pepperoni paneer pizza and small little icicles of vomit, each the size of a 3rd stage cancerous tumour. Dog eared pages 31 and 101 of Kafka's Metamorphosis sucked up to the sticky spine of Sartre's Existentialism. A crow's neck bottle, fully opaque, lay orphaned under the upturned legs of a pint sized tea table.
The bachelor pad reeked with an avalanche of pungency just enough to keep human nostrils perpetually on lockdown mode.
Shards of broken glass garnished the fallen sights ala a trainee chef's hesitant first attempts at concocting an esoteric dish that he hoped would curry favour with the powers that be.
And the piece de resistance of it all---the agent provocateur, the person at the centre of this kaleidoscopic mishmash_ protagonist, creator, and wrecker in chief_ Vaibhav Singhal_lay spreadeagled on the floor, his near six foot tall muscular torso limp like a dead cat, arms and legs stretched out at angles that would beguile the best of Einstein's acolytes.
Ten Hours later...
"You are a very lucky man."
29 year old Vaibhav Singhal stared into abyss.
The man in the white coat continued.
"We've washed your stomach. Excessive alcohol intake. You were five minutes from certain death".
Three weeks later...
"Hey Vaibhav, this would be your first year with us, isn't it? Any plans for April Fool's Day. It's on Monday, remember...just two days left?"
How could he not? How on earth would he ever be allowed to forget it?
The girl was a colleague, the two sat at adjacent cubicles. They hadn’t interacted before. That is discounting the good mornings and good evenings and the de rigueur 'excuse me pleases’ and thank yous’. As if that qualified as intelligible adult conversations!
This time too, Vaibhav, as was his wont, tried to sidestep any effort towards a tete e tete.
A tepid 'hmmm'...was all that she received by way of a response as he scurried towards towards the exit.
The two were in the office aisle’; on either side were 32 workstations, 4 columns, 8 rows.
Men and women, all under 30 stared at computer screens all day long, racking their brains as they tried to decode a melange of blue and red dots, morph them into languages comprehensible by lesser mortals.
It was lunch time. Amadeus Brainwaves Inc. was as quite as Buddha meditating under the salvation tree.
"Hi, I am Varnika”.
She had traipsed down the hallway to catch him just when he was exiting through the door.
Seeing him procrastinate, the girl proferred, "IIT Mumbai, computer science, gold medalist.
What her sweet smile could not achieve she hoped her academic credentials would.
The wall of opacity remained intact.
"IIT Delhi", he mumbled, the befuddled look doing nothing to mar his handsome face.
"So, shall we plan something. The circular's out."
"April Fool's Day! Why don't we team up and plan a prank?", she interjected.
The words popped out of Vaibhav's mouth. "I don't do April Fool's."
"Hey", she shot back. "In here, you don’t do April Fool's. It's something that is done to you"
The words fell into deaf ears.
Vaibhav had moved past the door when she uttered her final salvo.
"Stop being a chicken. It's all harmless and in fun."
The words were a whiplash, a scythe that cut through his veins, smashed into his bones, pulverizing to powder the very core of his inner being.
Vaibhav turned the corner, managed to drag his wobbly feet towards the open elevator door.
A moment later, he was doing two things, near simultaneously---stabbing his phone keys with one hand, the other clutching his temple, fingers clawing at the cranium as he waged a battle with consciousness.
"Due to an exigency, I shall be on leave for the next two days"- the single line note to HR read.
Less than a minute later, he was on an Uber. The car sliced through the afternoon Chennai traffic not unlike a sharp edged butcher's knife making mincemeat of chicken's breast.
Three hours later...
Resort No. 12
Lonely Souls' Retreat
The view from outside the hut was majestic. Chrysanthemums and daffodils and dahlias and bougainvilleas swayed to a cool summer evening breeze; beyond that glistened in the nightly sly the barks of a multitude of tall trees. A swimming pool, its blue tiles reflected in the moon's rays that had sneaked past the distant hills was the sole manmade creation in this pristine oasis where Nature called the shots.
As Vaibahav stared into the darkness, the quietude his battered soul so desperately craved for began to return, albeit slowly. He turned away from the door and sank into the wicker chair by the bed. It was a small thatched hut. A spartan room with a single wooden bed, a square table beside it, and a lone window that peeped out into the garden and beyond.
By now Vaibhav had considerably calmed down. He recollected the happenings of the morning. He had been abrupt, even rude to the girl. All she wanted was his company to partake of some harmless April Fool's Day prank.
'Harmless?' What was it she’d said? It is harmless and it is in fun.
Her words that he now rolled over in his tongue were a whiplash, a scream into the darkness.
"Stupid girl. What does she know about harmless and fun?"
The word spilled out of his lips like the contents of a glass of wine stupidly knocked down by someone who had one too many.
The slush gates to his wounded soil were thrown open.
And then, with his mind on a turnstile, he launched a verbal assault on the girl from his office, the near unknown colleague who he'd had the ill fortune to have bumped into earlier in the day.
'Hey, Miss...Miss whoever it is you are. So you must be saying to your colleagues, your friends, acquaintances, hell for that matter even to your boss, our boss, your family, near and far, friends, neighbours
...maybe, who knows the entire fucking world that I am a cry baby. That, I Vaibhav Kalra, all of 31 years, chickened out at the last minute. And that, I took leave from office, decided to stay away from everyone on April Fool's Day as I fear being at the receiving end of some well intentioned, good humoured, harmless prank. Right, that's what you would say, isn't it? Well, you are wrong. And so are all others who think so. For I ain't one. I ain't no chicken, no sissy, no party pooper. All I say is that I know for sure that April 1 is no ordinary date. Definitely not one that is meant for fun. How do you say that, you ask?
Well, if you want an answer to that then I tell you need to know me. And if want to know me, you need to Arshi. And if you want to know Arshi, you would have to travel back in time with me_ eight years, five months, two days, seven hours, 48 minutes and counting.
'It's over. I don't love you anymore. Please don't call me ever again. Vaibhav'
Arshi stared into her phone. The world around her darkened. Her head began to swim she had difficulty keeping her eyes open. Her body turned cold, her legs gave way. With a third, she collapsed onto her bed as the world around her darkened.
An hour later, when she gained consciousness, the memory of the damning message hit her with the full force of a good train gone off the rails.
Consumed with a maddening indecipherable fear, she lunged at her phone and began to furiously stab at the keys. Arshi had Vaibhav's number on speed dial. Her screen lit up. 'Calling Soulmate'...Soulmate meaning Vaibhav.
The rings went on, incessantly...31 in all...all through the night. There was no response.
The next morning, Vaibhav, still lost to the world, his chest brimming with pride over his 'victorious' April Fool's Day prank on the love of his life woke up to a loud thumping on his door.
A tad irritated at having his sleep disturbed, Vaibahv tumbled out of the bed, and opened the door, a look of annoyance plastered on his countenance.
"Vaibhav, it's Arshi. She's dead. She hung herself in her room".
His mother's words were a stab into his heart.
What had he done? Why had she ended her life? Damn it! It was just a harmless joke.
Or, was it?
And as the memory of that one joke that went all wrong whirled in front of his eyes, Vaibhav slipped into nether land, once again sliding back into the bottomless pit that his life had fallen into one seemingly beautiful April Fool's Day not so long ago.