The sun’s rays pierced through the plate-glass window of my flat, penetrating right into my eyes, rudely awakening me from my sleep. Mom used to constantly scold me for not sleeping facing the sun, years back when I was a child. Even though I used to disobey her back then, I started following every word of her advice, including this one, once I had moved away from home. My tummy rumbled as I slowly made my way out of bed. It had reason to be upset, for, it has been surviving on liquids for the past couple of days. I took a cursory glance at my watch to check the time, only to realize that it didn’t have a watch any more. It, along with my iPhone 4S now rested at a local shop, and had helped me survive the past couple of weeks. I fished my old Nokia from underneath my pillow. It quietly announced that the time was 9.30 AM. Quite early, by my current standards. Nearly two months back, at the same time, I would be taking time off to enjoy the breathtaking view of Singapore, from my cabin in my company’s 24th floor office…
Those days were long gone. Life turned upside down overnight, thanks to a monster called recession. One night, I was partying with my friends at the Acid Bar, and the very next morning, I get the pink slip… Life does work in mysterious ways. Everyone was ‘shocked’ (at least, apparently so) by my exit from the company. I was billed as the rising star, the next in line to be the CEO. All those dreams were shattered, in a face-saving act by my boss, who decided to save his skin by putting all his blames on me. The damage was done; the black mark on my career was permanent. No other company would offer me a job, my boss had pulled his strings to ensure just that. The fighter that I was, I decided to fight back with a vengeance. In the past two months, I had knocked the doors of every consulting company that had its offices in the island-country. Their replies weren’t that disheartening though. All of them said, they would they ‘consider’ me, and that they would present my case in the forthcoming board meeting (which never happened). And whenever I called them back, they said they were still ‘considering’. Despite the failure of every ‘consideration’ – I never lost heart. I always believed in my values and in Krishna.
It seems that Lord Almighty too had left me out in the cold.
I noticed a blinking message icon on the top left of my Nokia. My inbox was full, thanks to SMS remainders from the bank, asking me to pay up the latest installment of my home loan. I never even bothered to open any of those messages – they are going to kick me out anyway. I should survive till then, somehow. While clearing the pending messages, the phone beeped. There were a couple of incoming messages. I shrugged and opened the latest text. Thank God, it wasn’t another ‘gentle reminder’. It was a text from her.
It took me a second to decode the acronym.
And yet another, to remind me it was this day, 28 years back, that I was born.
She was the only person, apart from my mom, who religiously remembered my birthday. I never thought she would wish me on my birthday, even after we broke up last month. I was genuinely touched, and I badly wanted to reply, with a hundred :-* smileys’ to say that I still loved her with all my heart! Mom too must have tried to call me, only in vain. My mobile connection was quietly deactivated by Singtel last week. Thankfully, they still allowed incoming messages.
I could literally hear my tummy’s rumble this time. Must grab something. I did a quick search for my purse and found it exactly where I had left it: atop my shelf. I approached it with alacrity. I did remember seeing a $10 note last night. It was all what was left from the $600 I’d got from selling my iPhone and watch. It should get me something. SOMETHING. I opened the purse with expectation.
It was empty.
I checked again – I was damn sure that I did see the note inside. Hell, I literally survived on water and orange juice for the past couple of days, so that I could eat something solid today! That hope too was gone. I felt dizzy, probably from staying hungry. I quietly slumped down on the floor. The purse slid away from my hand and fell down. I could feel my head throbbing. I stared at my purse, which was flooded with $1000 notes at one time. It was months now since it saw even a $500. Suddenly, I noticed part of a red coloured paper jutting out from an inner-chamber, near my credit cards. I quickly took the purse and emptied my five hugely-overdrawn credit cards. I had the surprise of my life!
There, underneath the cards, lay a crumpled $100 note!
Snippets of memory started trickling in. I had kept that $100 note underneath my cards about six months back. My purse was so stacked with notes that there wasn’t any space to keep the $100 note I got as change from buying groceries. Left with no other option, I removed my Platinum Visa card and stuffed the note into that pouch, and had forgotten about it!
I thanked every God I knew for giving me the ultimate birthday gift!
I quickly ran, and changed into a shirt and a pair of jeans – prized possessions of mine, and rushed out of my flat. Despite having had nothing for the past couple of days, I managed to run as fast as I could to the nearest hotel – a Chinese restaurant next to my flat. My tummy craved for their delicious noodles, and I was about to eat like a king! Passers-by were staring at me, I was pushing my way through the crowd, fighting my hunger, desperate to enjoy my own birthday treat!
As I was about to into walk into the restaurant, panting, I felt a tug on my jeans. I turned to see a small girl, maybe 7-8 years old, pulling my jeans. She was a cute little child, looking at me with tears streaming down from her eyes. I leaned down, and ruffled her hair, like I normally do with kids.
“Hello darling! Why’re you crying?” I asked.
She pointed her fingers towards the hotel. Three muscular men, similarly dressed in waiters’ attire were running down the aisle pointing at the girl. One of the ran towards me, and grabbed the girl by her wrist, and started shouting at her in Mandarin. Another guy raised her hand and was going to slap her. I was alarmed. I quickly pulled the girl back from the ruffians and asked them what was wrong. Apparently, the girl, who was a beggar, had eaten from the restaurant and tried escaping without paying the bill. They were chasing the girl, who ran to me and hid behind me.
I tried reasoning with the ruffians, but they wouldn’t listen. Using my broken mandarin, I somehow convinced them that the matter could be settled, only if they would calm down.
“The girl ate noodles worth $85. We need her to pay up, or we’re going to the police.” one of them managed to speak in broken English.
I looked at the girl, who was now weeping. I saw myself in her. I would have probably done the same thing, if I hadn’t found the $100 note. And I’d probably end up in jail too, for stealing food. I didn’t want this little girl to end up in some dingy children’s home for a mistake any human in her situation would make. My tummy started rumbling louder. I decided to ignore it once again. Another day of liquids wouldn’t kill me, after all.
I paid the sole $100 note to the ruffians, who quickly went to the counter and gave me the change. I took the girl to an ice cream vendor nearby and bought her a chocolate ice cream for $15. As she finished eating, I patted her and turned to walk back to my flat. As I was walking back, I heard a faint voice, saying “Happy Birthday”. Shocked, I turned back.
There girl had gone.
My tummy stopped rumbling.
P.S. Inspired from Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer‘s ‘Janmadinam’.