His head throbbed.
“Wake and bake, wake and bake, wake, wake and bake!”, shouted Sins’ friend gleefully, rousing him off an unfortunate series of dreams where he had been rolling naked on grass outside a bungalow with a sign on his back that said ‘wanted’. It was an hour before they were supposed to appear for their third year engineering exams.
Sins looked at his face, delirious and hazy eyed, having spent upwards of the last twelve hours reading, trying to understand as many things as possible within the short time frame he had set up for himself, a duration, slightly upwards of twelve hours, which he believed was enough, because, he had a trick up his sleeve.
If he pulled it off, he would become a legend in his social circle. If he pulled it off, that is. If he didn’t, he would try again.
He knew which room all the exam question papers for that particular day would be kept, systematically sorted according to the branch and year of study, arriving exactly one hour before the exam was due which was now.
He had arranged for a picture.
He needed third year, design of machine elements.
In a bent world, with planning, everything was possible. All one had to make sure was have sufficient leverage, powerful enough to move people, yet subtle enough to ensure the system remained intact from damage. The art was to communicate the fact that an action like this was required.
Sins had known the man for two years. He had begun as an assistant in the heat and energy lab, teaching them the nuances of combustion engines in their first year, helping them understand all the parameters to calculate the efficiency of any machine by performing specific practical tests.
One day, arriving slightly early, Sins had spied the man loitering behind the lab, that led to an open space without a roof, dragging heavily on a familiar pipe made of earthen clay, both his hands busy, in a position that signified slight urgency.
Sins looked at the mass of smoke that was being exhaled, and went a little forward to take a deep breath to sense the faint smell that could just about reach him. After a few moments of watching the man, he smiled. Here was a person who was living it, calm and relaxed in the knowledge that he had the freedom to be happy in his own right, without waiting for someone else to dictate his happiness. Sins decided, he would break the teacher-student monotony and embrace a better sense of camaraderie.
The man wasn’t happy at first, looking at Sins with suspicious eyes, full of paranoia and redness. Sins had calmly smiled at him and extended his hand forwards, in a gesture that went a long way towards fulfilling their complete trust in each other. The man had gratefully handed over the pipe to him, its contents inside still fresh and burning, ready to be inhaled.
After several almighty drags, they had looked at each other’s eyes and laughed. For a wild moment, Sins imagined the man would take a picture of him and try to get him expelled. But he hadn’t.
The relationship continued.
Once, Sins had the privilege of attending the man’s eldest daughter’s wedding, after which they had met briefly on the lawns outside the bulky looking building rented for the ceremony. It was Sins’ second year and the man had stopped teaching him, his duties consigned to the fresh batch of incoming juniors.
“How’s it going?”, he had asked, smoking the joint he had rolled a couple of hours back inside his bathroom, to avoid being seen by his relatives.
“Going fine, can’t say I’m liking it much. You know my aspirations have always lied elsewhere”
“You’re a good guy. Just make sure you head and heart is in the right place. Your dreams will follow. Remember, if you can imagine it, you can do it. Also one more thing, make sure you’re with the right people, very important. I know I wasn’t. I still regret it, but I like it here. I’m happy now”
“You’re doing great sir”
“Finish it”, the man handed over the remaining quarter of the joint to Sins.
“Prepare well for the exams. You’ve talent, don’t waste it”, the man had said, parting and heading back inside to revel in the celebrations, no doubt his taste buds inflamed by the food that was being served, especially the sweets. After a couple of minutes, Sins had hurried inside as well.
The exams were a disaster. He had thought he knew everything. But somehow, he wasn’t able to reproduce the confidence while writing it out. Still, he had just managed to attain first class, crediting his above average performance in his first year, which compensated his dismal one in the second, in terms of an aggregate total. He was sure he would get better next year.
Sins spent the first three months of his third year in relative comfort, spending his days getting high as soon as he woke up in the morning, heading to college for the next few hours, blazed out of his mind, attending a few classes, then answering calls from juniors and seniors who inquired if he had marijuana with him. Content, he would return home and watch some content on his laptop or play Age of Empires for a few hours, before people started arriving post six p.m to assemble a session of intoxication and review the day, including discussions about topics like technology, politics and women. It was the time of his life, he would always cherish.
The truth was, he was being unproductive. Instead of utilizing the high, he was abusing it, content to suck the blood and sweat infested resources of his guardians like a plump parasite, with no qualms about creating or learning something of value. The high gave him a sense of confidence he had never known before, with the result that he chased it as often as he could, from people, lifting it by the bulk at prices unimaginable by anyone else within his circle, undercutting the rest of the competition, and scoring social points in the process, that added another layer of confidence. He was dictating terms, instead of accepting, it was addictive. Everything was.
Sins met the man again one cold November afternoon, after hearing of his promotion. Sins was happy for the man.
“Congratulations sir! You deserve it”. They were at the same exact spot, where Sins had extended his hand of trust and friendship in exchange for his silence and discretion, when the truth was, Sins later realized, in doing so, the trust worked both ways. The man could have betrayed Sins at any point of time, but then, Sins would be an enemy bent on revenge. Peace was better, always.
“Thanks Sins”, replied the man, smiling smugly, holding the smoke inside his lungs for a good fifteen seconds, staring straight at the wilderness that lay after the compound wall.
Sins was very high, he was buzzing alarmingly.
“You heard about Mr. Mathew’s son?”
“What?”, Sins snapped out of his reverie.
“The library head, Mr Mathew”
“His son had an accident, poor guy, God bless him. But the boy is fine. Just grievously injured”
“So sorry to hear that. May he recover as quickly as possible”
“Amen to that. By the way, how’s your preparation coming along?”
“How much have you been smoking, for fuck’s sake?”, the man was slightly irritated and angry. “Your exams are here, for your information”
“Oh yes, I’ve two days”
“Yes. Have you begun?”
“I swear I am going to beat you up. Sober your act!”
“How does it matter? I never flunk, I’ll manage like always. Why are you being so hyper about the whole thing? Its just an exam. A waste of time, in my opinion. A fucking memory test, that’s what it is”
The man kept staring out into the distance, as if pondering something over, deep in thought.
“You know, I’ll be handling the question papers right?”
Sins sat up bolt upright, as if he had been subjected to an electric shock.
“I’ve been asked to man the room where the question papers arrive from the university as a soft copy. Mr. Mathew usually kept the print command on standby and once the soft copy arrives by mail, he would print everything. I’ll be dong it for the first exam before he returns. What do you say about that?”
“I think its fantastic. Could you please send me a picture of the question paper when you can spare a few seconds of discretion?”
“Let me see”
Sins was ecstatic, and had returned home, telling his circle that he had managed to get a fix on the question paper’s picture one hour before the exam for a suitable price, with a probability of ninety percent that everything would go smoothly. He wondered if he could bluff them for collecting some money, but then dropped it. He wold leverage this situation later, once everything went as per plan.
He couldn’t sleep properly that night, and kept blazing bong hits to focus on reading as much as possible, just in case the man thought it was too dangerous to snap a picture. What if there was a person sent from the university to make sure there was no interference? He hadn’t asked the man any of this and wondered if he should, but decided to drop it. If it happened, great. Else, he wouldn’t flunk anyway. He would make sure he read the entire portion at least once.
“Wake and bake, wake and bake, wake, wake and bake!”, shouted Sins’ friend gleefully one hour before the exam was due.
His head throbbed, he couldn’t think properly.
He remembered the man and checked his phone.
There was no message.
Still slightly anxious, he shrugged and took the bong hit that his friend was offering him and hoped the man was fine.
They left for the exam hall, and reached outside with fifteen minutes still to go. He had spread the message around that the risk was too much and his plan had failed.
Then he saw the man.
Standing outside the hall, the man was arguing furiously with a couple of men clad in white shirts, one of them seemed to be gripping the man by his arms. Sins’ insides turned cold.
The man had been caught. Probably while taking the picture through his phone. Would he rat Sins out?
Two men, escorted the man towards the parking lot, and drove away. There was a palpable excitement in the air.
“What happened?”, Sins asked a couple of students.
“A teacher was caught leaking a question paper. Apparently some students are involved as well. We heard he’s taken a few names”
He entered the exam hall and proceeded to take his seat, as anxious as his first date, where he had been so nervous about the girl not turning up. He thought the invigilator was staring at him suspiciously, a teacher from another department. Sins realized, the invigilators would have been briefed about the year and subject whose picture had been taken. He had no reason to be nervous. He was sure of it. He felt bad for the man, even his department colleagues would distance themselves from his name.
Sins left the hall in less than an hour, writing enough to pass. His head felt as if it was held in a vice-like grip. He just wanted to hear some news about the man. Had he been arrested? Would he name Sins to save his job? Sins began to be mentally prepared for the eventuality. He would not blame the man for ratting him out, the man was well within his rights to do so. He had a family to take care of and Sins, well, Sins was just a student, someone who could be sacrificed.
His friends had put the dots together by now and looked at him in new found respect, raising their bong hits, and blazing obscene amounts of smoke in the man’s name, a man who had risked his career for losers like them.
“What a guy. Sins, if you get named and arrested, what do you want us to do?”
“I won’t be arrested. I believe in the man”
The next day, Sins read a news article online which said that the man had been arrested, but the charges couldn’t be stuck because a leak was only defined as a leak, when it was proven that eyes other than the man’s own, preferably a student’s, had witnessed the picture of the question paper.
The man was let off.
Sins was ecstatic. He wanted to kiss the man in gratitude. He had eaten half a cake after getting high that night, relief and happiness flooding his senses in equal measure.
Sins never heard from the man again. He had quit college. Sins had managed to progress to the final year without any hitch, even landing a couple of job interviews slated to be held in the city. Sins had decided that he would diligently complete his final year in honour of the man who had shielded him from the law, an offence for which he would have been exiled from the course for a period of three years, leaving his graduation, in any type of form, in limbo.
Sins aced the first round of his interview. The HR, a lady had rated him very highly and sent him to the next round, the final technical round.
“You better be prepared, Sins. My colleague who’ll be taking your technical round was actually insistent on interviewing you”
“Haha, I’ll do my best ma’am. Thank you so much for getting me forward”
“You’re welcome. His cabin is towards the next right, in front of the balcony”
Sins turned right, and greeted the man who sat in front of the room, that was presumably where his interview would be.
“Hi, you must be Sins?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m here for the interview”
“Yes, our technical head will be interviewing you. You can meet him in the balcony just ahead to your left. He told me he’ll be interviewing you there”
“Sure, thank you. I’ll meet him now”
Sins moved forward with slight trepidation. He straightened his tie again, and cautiously placed his hand on the knob of the door that led to the balcony, its silhouette hidden by the opaqueness of the glass.
A man was standing on the far edge with his back to him, dressed in a crisp suit. He seemed to be smoking from a pipe, because Sins could make out the position of his hands from behind.
“Sir? Hi, my name is Sins. I’m here for the interview?”
The man turned towards him smiling. Sins knew that smile very well.
“Pleasure to see you again Sir”
“Same here. You want to finish this?”
Sins took the pipe and inhaled mightily.
They looked into each other’s eyes and laughed.