“Shit. Shit.Shit. I cannot afford to lose this client too. The presentation should be ready in half an hour for me to review and tell the guys to wrap it up as quickly as possible ANDDDD what I need RIGHT NOW is coffee”, he spoke without pausing for a breath.
“Yes. Coffee. Black. Please tell Rana to get it right now. I have a splitting headache”
“Sir Rana has gone out”
“What about the machine?”
“Sir..uh.. umm.. it is yet to be serviced..”
“This place is a mess, filled with people who are unfit to do ANYTHING! Including the coffee machine and myself” He yelled and fell back in his chair.
He signalled his secretary to go who stood there blinking, unsure of how to react.
He felt as if his head was bursting. Just then he saw Rana hurrying inside the office with a bag of groceries.
“Sir..Black coffee sir..In a minute sir” He rushed to the pantry.
Vinit always felt restless without Rana by his side. Rana was a lanky 18 year old, who has been with him for over three years and took care of everything in the office. Vinit finally felt a sense of relief as soon as he saw Rana. He told himself, “Rana is here. Coffee would be here soon too. Everything is going to be alright”
He was going over his files, when his mobile screen lit up with the smiling face of his 13 year old son, Arjun.
“Pa! I’m waiting near the gate” he almost squeaked at the other end.
“Gate? Which gate? Why?”
“PAPAAA! Near your office gate. You said you’ll drop me today for my cricket coaching class. We have to leave now.. Pa I have taken my new bat too.. Pa.. also I..”
“Uh..Oh shit. Aju.. I’ll call you in a minute, just wait right there”
He didn’t even listen to what his son was saying. He disconnected the call and dialled his ex-wife’s number.
“Listen. Can you drop Aju today?”
“What? Today is your turn. Do you think I’m sitting jobless here? What will Aju think? You can’t even...”
He was not in the mood for this. Not today. Not now. He cut her off and dialled his son’s number again.
“Aju. Stay right there. I’ll send Rana to drop you. So sorry. I really wanted to come Aju. Papa has a meeting now. I’ll come next week, I promise”
There was a restless one minute long silence, filled with Aju’s disappointment and Vinit’s guilt.
“Papa. You know what.. it’s ok. You are very busy. In fact let Rana drop me every week. You’ll come for the match though, won’t you?”
“Oh! Of course! How will I miss your first match?”
“Al right papa. Bye”
As Rana left office to drop Arjun, Vinit went back to work, sipping his black coffee.
“You know I thought Pa will come at least today”
“It’s ok. I can come every week with you”
Arjun was sulking. He just kept staring at the vehicles pass by. Rana wasn’t sure what to talk either, and finally after a lot of thought, said, “Hey! You got a new bat?”
“yaaa.. See? MRF”, Arjun’s face gleamed with pride. His mood changed in a jiffy.
“Wow! Just like Sachin”
“Yes yes. Wish I could hit some reverse sweeps with this one”, Aju swung his bat in air.
Rana sat in the ground the entire evening, till the practice session got over. He dropped Arjun back to his mother’s place and came back to Vinit’s office. People were just leaving. He washed the tea cups in the pantry, switched off the lights, locked the office and went back to his house.
Rana continued accompanying Aju for the following weeks. His match day was nearing.
Aju walked back from the pitch and fell on the ground near Rana.
“You timed it wrongly”, Rana said.
“Ya I know. Wasn’t it an easy catch? Shit”
“It’s ok. You are getting better. You ran better today”
“I thought so too. At least I wasn’t run out like last week”
“You have improved a lot”
“Coach thinks I’m more of a bowler. He says I’m not a hitter”
“Your coach knows nothing”, Rana waved his hand in the air.
They both laughed out loud, and started walking towards the car.
The session was interrupted next week, due to rain. Rana and Aju sat inside the indoor auditorium.
“Hey do you want to practice with me?”
“Me?” Rana laughed
“Ya. Come on”
Aju bowled to Rana. He swung his bat all around and fell on the ground. The boys laughed.
“I can only watch cricket. I can’t play” Rana defended himself. Aju laughed.
“Ok try one more”
As he ran to bowl again, he slipped and fell down. Rana ran over to him.
“Are you ok?”
“I think I’ve sprained my ankle”, Aju said wincing with pain.
“These shoes..see they aren’t meant for indoors” Rana took off Aju’s shoes and started examining them. “Don’t worry... you’ll be fine. Come let’s go home”
It was a week before the match.
“How did I play today?”, Aju said wiping his face. His shirt was drenched with sweat and mud.
“Decent strike rate. Good running between the wickets. And what a nicely timed boundary in the 3rd over!!”
“Ya. But only one”
“But it was the best of all the shots played today”
“Do you think they’ll let me open?”
“I thought the guy with the weird hairstyle was good. Isn’t he?”
“Who? Sri? So even you think only he is good enough to open?!” Aju looked cross.
Rana laughed out loud. “I was kidding. I hope they let you open too”
“Al right. Come let’s go. Hey! Will you come for the match?”
“I don’t know”
“Ok. Papa said he’ll come for sure”
“I’m sure he will”
It was the day of the match. A very busy day, as usual at Vinit’s office. There were meetings, phone calls, clients, along with the usual black coffee served by Rana.
“Rana? Can you get me those old files which we have stacked in the store?”
Rana turned and started walking towards the store room without a word, like a robot.
“Are you not well?”
“Yes sir, fever. I was wondering if I can take the day off”
“Oh.. But this needs to be done today at any cost. You can take off tomorrow morning”
Rana continued with his work in the store room and Vinit went back to his. It was around 6pm, when his ex-wife called.
“I did not want to call you but I want you to face Aju and his disappointed face. The match will be over in ten minutes. I called to tell you that, you just missed your son’s special evening, in which he needed you the most” She spoke sternly without a pause and disconnected the call.
He felt horrible. He threw his phone, as he was so angry with himself for being so careless and forgetful. He took his car keys and rushed to the stadium. He would’ve almost killed many people and dogs on the way.
The presentation ceremony was going on and just as he entered, he heard the lines , “...and the for the brilliant match saving knock of 65 runs and for fetching 3 wickets, the man of the match award goes to Arjun”, followed by a loud cheer and a thundering applause from the crowd.
Vinit was trying to meet Aju’s eyes after the ceremony. He couldn’t. He finally knelt before him in the parking lot.
“Papa is really sorry. I don’t have any excuse. I’m really sorry Aju”
“You know papa has so many meetings..and..”
“Papa, it’s ok. Let’s go home”
“Shall we go to Dominos? We should celebrate! Huh Man of the match?”, Vinit tried to cheer him up after they reached home.
“No I’m sleepy. Good night pa”, Aju walked into his room and fell on his bed.
Aju did not speak to Vinit for almost a week. Vinit was very depressed and filled with guilt. He was unable to concentrate in his work. People at work started talking about Vinit and his unusual behaviour.
It was practice session again from the next week and as usual Rana went to pick up Aju. Neither of them spoke on the way. Rana broke the silence.
“So how was the match? Won’t you tell?”
“It was ok”
“I’m sorry. I know you are still upset about your father not coming for the match. But you should know that he is feeling very bad and sorry about it. He is not himself at work. He looks very sad all the time. Won’t you forgive him? Won’t you talk with him?”
“Rana! Noooo.. I know papa won’t come for the match. But why didn’t YOU?”
There was a brief moment of silence between them. Rana’s face changed from concerned to surprise to a delighted smile, in those few seconds. Rana stopped the car and turned around to face Aju, and told him in a whisper.
“You know I lied that I had fever and tried taking the day off”, he giggled, and then continued apologetically, “but, your father didn’t let me.. i’m sorry.. please tell me everything about the match”
“I was the man of the match can you believe?? You should have been there you know! And guess what? I hit a reverse sweep just like Sachin, in Bala’s over”
“Wow! In Bala’s over?!”
“yaaa .. he was shocked too .. he thought he was too good for me..aha.. and andddd I took 3 wickets... You know that Rohan? He was clean bowled in my first ball.. Rana you should have seen it”
“Hahaa.. See I’m getting goosepimples.. Wish I had seen it live”
“Ya.. you missed it”