Repeating History

August 18, 2009

Harry Mace’s grandfather was his best friend. The eleven short years for which he enjoyed his company were the best cherished moments of his life. They would sit in the porch of his house for hours together and talk about everything from ballgames to girlfriends.

There was one other person who had become Harry’s priority and that was his unusually attractive secretary Sarah. In finding ways to charm her, he once thought of trying a little act on her which his grandfather had tried on a lady that he was immensely in love with. “I wanted to marry her but circumstances did us apart,” his grandfather had told him.

That evening, Harry took Sarah to “The Hub” adjoining the Western Express Highway. They sat at a corner table at the coffee shop, away from rest of the bustle of the place. She asked him, “How was your day today?” He started off with this story, “I had gone to Linking Road. There was a huge international trade fair going on there. I was with one of my colleagues who insisted that we take a stroll through the fair and see what’s on offer. I agreed and we went inside. There was one guy in there who was selling fire crackers. He had the smallest stall and he was selling one particular fire cracker which he called The Bombshell. There was a placard put up on his stall which said – Buy the BOMBSHELL. Light one up and get another BOMBSHELL free inside it. Only $1/-.”

“His was the only stall around which a huge crowd had gathered up. That got me curious. I thought, what is in that fire cracker that makes so many people  want to buy it? So, I fought my way through the crowd and bought one. When I came back I couldn’t contain my curiosity. So, I arranged the red, cartridge like cracker in between two small stones and set it on fire with my lighter. It wasn’t much of a bombshell if you ask me. It went off making a minor explosion which was hardly audible in the din of the fair.”

“The moment it burst though, a piece of paper flung into the air from within the cracker. It came sailing down through the air like a dead, dry leaf detached from the branch of a tree during autumn. It landed right near my feet. I bent over and picked it up. When I turned it over and looked at it, I thought to myself, ‘Oooohhhhhh! So, this is the BOMBSHELL that guy was talking about.’ It was…..”

“Let me guess,” Sarah interjected. “It was my photograph, right? Harry, you are so predictable”

Dumfounded, Harry asked her, “B…..But how did you know.” Sarah said, tapping her finger on the tabletop, “You see Harry, even I had a Grandmother who told me stories about how some men tried to impress her.”

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Who is Luckier?

April 16, 2009

The counterfoil of the raffle draw ticket was beginning to deteriorate at the corners because of the incessant and purposeless rolling and unrolling it was being subjected to. He had to be killing time somehow.

The place was brimming with glamour. Men holding see-through glasses with golden and transparent fluids swirling within and crystal-clear ice cubes floating on the top. Women with bare backs smeared with shimmery make-up and aristocratic poise seemed to possess some kind of an incantation – It was difficult not to develop aroused admiration for them. All of them were facing the same way, towards the stage in front of them.

An Arab with a protruding belly was on the stage. He was dressed in the most crisply ironed kandora, the long Arabian dressing for men. It was of the most clearest shade of white. And, the way that there wasn’t even the slightest trace a wrinkle on his kandora seemed almost magical as opposed to the ten minute survival rate of ironing on shirts elsewhere in the world. He was wearing so much perfume that a whiff of air surrounding him would give a momentary high. He picked up a ticket from the raffle box.

Tense seconds gripped one and all present in that hall – Everyone wants to be the winner but no one knows who is going to be in the end.

The Arab grabbed hold of a microphone and tapped on it twice before speaking. The sound of his taps reverberated through the hall. Satisfied with the proper functioning of the microphone, he spoke into it, “Wa Rakam’il faiz howa– Arba Arba Sifar Wahed Tissa Khamsa” – And the winning number is 446195.

The man with the deteriorating ticket knew it, but he had to look at it at least once. So he unrolled the ticket and looked at the number printed on its top-right corner. The number was 446195. He was the only person in the hall who knew who was going to win.

He mumbled to himself, “And Mr. Charles Gray wins one more Audi A5.”

He lazily put his hand up and waved the ticket to show it to the announcer. When his surveying eyes caught the sight of a hand sticking out in the air, he bellowed, “wea al shakhs al faiz howa” – And we have a winner here.

All the heads turned towards Charles. He made his way through the applauding crowd, climbed up a few steps and went onto the stage which had the music blaring through the speakers and a flurry of confetti pouring from above. He announced his name in the microphone, shook hands with the announcer and the chief guest, accepted the keys to the Audi he had won and came down. It was just another routine that he had followed.

By the time he was driving the Audi home, he had a very beautiful, cheerful and dignified girl sitting beside him.

The next morning, after all the humor and the flattery and the dancing and the love-making through the night, the girl whispered in his ear, “I love you, Charles!”

The difference between that moment and the moment when he had just twenty dollars left in his bank account, was that one of his wishes had come true.

When his car had broken down, there was no electricity in his apartment and he had just twenty dollars to survive on for the rest of the month, he fell to his knees and pleaded, “God, please! Please make me the luckiest man.”

From that moment on he was the luckiest man.

He was the luckiest even in the matters of failing body parts. He had already successfully received a heart transplant and he knew that even a third heart would work for him if the second started failing.

All his friends were ready to do anything he wanted them to do, his coffee was always served just the way he wanted and he had seen the world. Everything was perfect. He always mulled over the thought, “I have no problems at all.”

Little did Olivia know that she would find John sprawled on the floor of his room with remnants of streams of froth on the sides of his mouth.

Olivia was john’s maid. She was the most trustworthy old lady and that is why she was the only person who had the extra key to his room to carry out its cleaning.

On his forty fifth birthday, when Olivia unlocked the door to his room, she found Charles dead on the floor with an empty bottle of poison and an envelope lying by his side.

With trembling hands, she opened the envelope and read the letter inside:

“MY NAME IS CHARLES GRAY.

I AM THE LUCKIEST MAN.

I HOLD NO ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR MY DEATH.

I AM ENDING MY LIFE BECAUSE I HAVE NO LIFE.

I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO DO.

THERE IS NO LIFE WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ANY PROBLEMS TO TACKLE.

LUCKY ARE THOSE WHO GET THE OPPURTUNITY TO TACKLE PROBLEMS AND OVERCOME THEM.

DIFFICULT TIMES ADD THE ‘SPICE’ TO LIFE.”

Pushing The Papers

March 29, 2009

Successful bankers have a way about themselves. They exude aristocracy much more than the rich of any other stream. Their job is to keep the money coming in. The cash flow cannot stop, come what may. They seldom talk in terms of how many of certain things have to be sold. Rather they always weigh in the profits in terms of how long, “Is my cash flow based on an internal rate of return or net rate of return? How long will this take to double the principle?” They make money with money – Other People’s Money.

Jerry Roland was one such banker; Focused, Flamboyant and shrewd. His receding hairline gave off his high pressure lifestyle but that had no effect on his mesmerizing personality. At forty two he was much more energetic than most of his younger subordinates. He could read people’s minds with his sea blue eyes. He was the dream-man of innumerable women around him. He never failed to attract their dreamy eyed admiration. He always maintained a brisk pace while walking. And when he walked, there was always a bunch of people scampering about him either taking instructions or taking orders.

It was an over cast Friday morning when he dashed into his office with his signature flair. Every time he entered, the force with which he pushed open the door caused the curtains on the window on the opposite side to slide by an inch. He was the best asset to the organization, so he was assigned an imposing office overlooking the East Bay which always smelt characteristically of the birch wood so extensively used to decorate the interiors.

As he entered, his secretary stood up from her desk at the far end of the room, smoothing out her skirt and  greeted him, “Good Morning Mr. Roland!” Jerry replied with an acknowledging nod of his head. She serially arranged the papers on her desk for the briefing. As Jerry walked to his swivel-chair, he unbuttoned his exclusive Armani jacket. He took it off and carefully arranged it over the high back of his chair before sitting down. When he settled himself into the chair he loosened his tie, and swiveled his chair to face the secretary, “So what’s the day’s agenda, Brenda?”

Brenda came and stood beside his chair. She lay down a few sheets of paper in front of him, on his desk. She started of with practiced precision, “Sir, this Mr. Jojo seems to be an area of concern for the bank. These are his loan payment statements for the past year. He was issued a loan amount of sixty thousand pounds for his shipping business. He hasn’t made any payments since eight months now. His total outstanding stands at ninety five thousand pounds. We have contacted him several times asking for the payments. He just alludes by saying he is bankrupt.”

“Hmmmmmmmm…..” he picked up the papers from his desk and leaned back into his chair. He flipped through the papers one by one. When he reached the last sheet he asked Brenda, “You said he’s not been making any payments. I see he has made some payments every month.”

Brenda replied, “Close to nothing considering his dues.”

“So he’s been trying to make payments.” Jerry said analytically. “Does he own a house?”

“Yes, he is in sole possession.”

“Does he have a mortgage on that?”

“No.”

“Let me call him.” He picked up his phone and dialed the number listed on the statement.

It took five rings before there was an answer to his call, “Hello.”

Jerry asked in his customer centric demeanor, “May I speak with Salazar Jojo?”

“This is he” came the reply in a deep baritonal voice.

“Mr. Jojo this is Jerry Roland, The Managing Director of Axim Bank. How are you doing?”

“Surviving”

This threw the conversation off track but Jerry knew too well how to handle it, “Let me be of some assistance here. Mr. Jackson I realize you have been having some problems keeping up with your loan payments with Axim Bank. I understand….”

“Hey Listen. You don’t understand. You haven’t gone through what I’ve have gone through. My business crashed overnight. I had backstabbers for business partners. I’ve had sickness in my family and I am the only earning member now. And I am not making all this up, ok! You don’t understand.”

“Well, why don’t we try and work out a solution for all this,” Jerry said, keeping his calm through all the rudeness being hurled at him.

“There isn’t any solution.”

“You do own a house.”

“What about it?”

“I can help you with excellent deals on the mortgage of the house.”

“Hey, don’t even think about that. That house is the only thing I got and I ain’t gonna let it go.”

“Do you have any other options?”

“No I don’t. But I’ll pay when I have the money ok. Don’t push me.”

“Mr. Jojo, why don’t you come over at my office?”

“So you ain’t gonna rest until you get my house sold huh? I’ll be there.” Martin hung up.

The next morning Jerry found Salazar waiting in his office even before he arrived. Salazar was younger than Jerry had expected. He was in his mid thirties. He was a dignified man but looked bogged down by all his worries. He noticed red, swollen eyes; All of last night was spent drinking. He seemed to be in a hurry. The moment Jerry entered; he looked at him and stood up, as if to get started with whatever he was called for. A few dimes rattled in his jacket’s pocket. His jacket was old – but clean. “Mr. Jojo?” Jerry asked. “Yes” replied the man. “Please have a seat.” Jerry gestured him to sit on the chairs in front of his desk.

“I am glad you came by Mr. Jackson,” Jerry started in a reassuring tone.

“You will be. After all you are getting a chance to take over my house,” Salazar’s rudeness was perpetual.

Jerry said defensively, “We are not taking over your house. We are just providing you with finance against your house.”

“Its just the same. Listen, I’ll pay back your loan when I have the money. If you want to help me just stop the interest being charged on me. Your interest rates are too high.”

“As much as I want to help you on this, our company policies won’t allow me to.” Jerry was a considerate man and wanted to help Salazar, but he was also a shrewd business man. He was paid to be an opportunist. He said, “I can help you get a mortgage on your house with much lower interest rate.”

Frustrated, Salazar said, “I knew you would say that. Just do what you gotta do fast. I’ve gotta go.”

Just then, Jerry’s phone started ringing. He picked it up and said, “Hello.” He listened for a while and suddenly his expression changed. His forehead creased with tension. Eyes widened. “What do you mean?………. Where is he now? ………… What does the doctor say?” he was hurling frantic questions to the person on the other end without even giving enough time to completely answer each one of them. “I am coming right now.” When he hung up, he slumped into his chair, covered is face with his palms and cried.

A disturbed Salazar asked with concern, “What’s the matter Mr. Roland?”

Jerry replied through his sobs, “Its my boy; he’s sick. The doctor says he has SARS. They don’t understand how he got it. They say the chances of curing it are dim.”

“I’ll tell you what.” Salazar said as he tore out a sheet of paper from the memo cube placed on the desk.  “May I use your pen?” he asked permission. Jerry nodded and he picked up his heavy yet stable Pierre Cardin ink pen. Salazar wrote something on the paper and when he was finished he pushed the piece of paper towards Jerry. He said, “I come from the jungles of Africa. People there are not educated in the modern ways. But they know how the nature works. They know its secrets. There is this old lady Inyanga. She is ninety three years old. She might be able to cure your son with herbal medicines. You can try. She’s a miracle worker.”

Jerry said, “Appreciate your concern. I need to go now. Can I request you to come and see me at a more suitable time?”

“Take your son to Africa. He’ll be fine” replied Salazar and stood up from the chair to leave. He shook hands with Jerry and walked out of the door.

The bank notifications of his dues with Axim Bank stopped coming in. Salazar was rather uneasy from this. after three months, Jerry received. He was both surprised and delighted. He heard Salazar’s voice on the other side.

“Nice to hear from you Mr. Jojo,” Jerry said. Martin was appreciative of Jerry’s pleasant response. But he was also apprehensive. Was this the pleasantry before the slaughter?

“Ya Know, I was just wondering. I haven’t received any notification on my deferred loan payments lately. Is something wrong?” Salazar chose his words carefully.

Jerry replied a tad too blithe, “Well Mr. Jojo. You don’t have to pay it anymore. The bank has written off your loan.”

“B….But How’s that possible? I mean….. I don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry Mr. Jojo. I pushed some papers around for you. Its all taken care of.”

“But, why the favor?”

“Because I owed you one.”

That suddenly reminded Salazar of something. He asked Jerry, “How’s your son doing?”

“Oh he is excellent. He is just fine. And yes, he loves Africa.”

A smile of satisfaction passed over Salazar’s face. He triumphantly said, “I told you he’ll like it there.”

Then there was a pause in the conversation. Salazar broke the silence, “So, call me if you need anything else.”

Jerry replied, “I will Mr. Jojo, I will. Have a nice day.”