Outmuscled and Broken

Malcolm entered the room, his head spinning wildly. The last time he had drunk this much before was exactly seven months ago, on the occasion of his best friend’s wedding. Not that he had liked to go, but only because she had asked him to come. After all, they had been extremely close, lovers even, with their hearts set on marriage. A few months later, she had left for Singapore to pursue her masters, and returned a changed woman. He was distraught, because apparently she felt he lacked ‘ambition’. Malcolm pretended she was joking, a product of her new-found peers who leapt about in higher social circles than he. One fine day, over cold coffee, her favourite, she had told him that she was breaking their relationship. Malcolm had remained seated, on his chair, his eyes had glazed over, hazy with seams of read and blue colours, when the tears began flowing, in abandon. He had proceeded to the nearest bar after three hours, where a pimp had solicited him with a good-looking woman. He had ended that night in a brothel, surrounded by drug addicts and peddlers, who had introduced themselves and consoled him with their wares.

He couldn’t understand why he was at the wedding. He watched the rituals, the guests, and her who looked so radiant that he wanted to die. There had been a moment when she had sensed his gaze, and their eyes had met for a second, a single second that, Malcolm felt defeated the concept of time itself, where nothingness seemed to be the ultimate goal of humanity, and everything else including this world and its meandering pursuits at creating order out of chaos were useless and abject to speak of. She had smiled, a small, sad smile, which revealed all was well, and Malcolm berated himself for casting aspersions on her behaviour towards him. She was right. She was right all along. In that fleeting instant, Malcolm realized she had been right. He was gliding, not sprinting. He could have so much more than he had now. She had simply surpassed him in the economic ladder and found someone her equal in all rungs of parameters and metrics capitalists or society had come up with to measure the meaning of one’s life.

Malcolm swore he would change.

In the next seven months he had not touched alcohol. He had quit his smoking habit, and just stuck to marijuana for Sundays, when he felt like playing his guitar. Indeed, he had resurrected his guitar after years, and found surprisingly, that his muscle memory was as intact as it had been before. In a couple of weeks, he had caught up with his previous skills, and was ready to improve. One day, as he was towelling himself, he happened to stare into the mirror and felt he needed to improve his physique as well. Years of smoking, junk food and alcohol had wrecked the core of his body. Beginning with one push-up that day, he could do twenty in a row now. He felt better, he could think clearer, and most importantly he was improving his skills in guitar and reading books. His appraisal was due in the next week, and he was confident he had nailed his targets in the last few months, and the contract would be just a formality. He had reclaimed his life, she was right all along. Her criticism and break-up with him had awoken inside him a deep spark, last he had known when he was in college, full of energy. How he wished he had channeled his energy in college better, towards constructive things, instead of blowing it away on entertainment and instant glorification.

He had entered office early in the morning, bright and eager to get in a few hours of clear thinking on a project he was working on – an ambitious concept about setting up small football clubs across the state, and reap benefits through the creation of new district leagues and competitions. He was confident that the management would love his idea, and had asked a presentation date for next month, which had been accepted. When he entered the office lobby, he saw her talking to one of his colleagues. He stopped dead.

“Starr? Is that you?”

She turned her head ever so slowly, that Malcolm thought it was someone else. It was her alright. As he looked into her eyes, he felt like getting sucked into the window of her soul, like an eager kid screaming in joy while seated on a roller-coaster. She turned back, and walked away inside the office. Malcolm followed her, his colleague avoided his eyes and headed to his desk, as if protecting a secret. Malcolm felt something amiss in the air. He saw her entering his boss’s cabin, where she was received warmly. Was she going to work in the company? That would be something. He waited for a few minutes, watching both of them, trying to judge their body language, and felt quite sure that she was going to work in the organization soon, if not later. His boss shook her hand, and she left without looking at Malcolm.

Shrugging, he had nearly settled into his chair, when his telephone rang. His spirits sensed nothing amiss, when he saw his Boss’s phone number etched on the caller-id.

“Come to my cabin,please Malcolm”

“On my way boss”

Malcolm entered. He wasn’t received in the fashion as she had. On the contrary, his boss was scribbling something with a pencil.

“Is everything all right, boss?”

“Not exactly, Malcolm. Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that I saw my ex-girlfriend a few minutes back speaking to you, and was curious. Not that we are in touch or anything”

“Ah yes, Starr. Great woman, excellent credentials and references. She did mention that you two were together till around last year, if I’m not wrong?”

“Yes boss. So I assume she is joining us?”

“Yes, Malcolm she is. She will be taking your place. We will be letting you go”

Malcolm froze. His boss continued.

“I am so sorry about the circumstances Malcolm, I have no choice. The management has apparently made its decision. She’s really well-connected. I want to let you know that I am helpless. As your boss, I tried my best to protect your back, as is my duty. But, I’m afraid I failed, Malcolm. My hands are completely tied. I’ll do my best to refer you to all my colleagues in the industry, who will be more than glad to interview you. Again, I’m really sorry, Malcolm. I hate to let you go, your performance has been one of the best these last few months. I had already signed your appraisal papers”

Malcolm had no words. What could he say? His boss sounded apologetic about the whole episode. He was trying to help him out with his new job.

“Thanks Boss. I’ll be in touch about the referrals”

“Please do that. Malcolm. All the best”

Malcolm had headed to the nearest bar where a pimp had solicited him with a good-looking woman. He had ended that night in a brothel, surrounded by drug addicts and peddlers, who had introduced themselves and consoled him with their wares.

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