Outside, the storm was raging. From between black clouds, lightning flashed through the sky and a clap of thunder rattled the glass of the window I stood leaning against. Four floors below me, the traffic had come to a standstill, bikes parked to the side of the road as the commuters scampered to find that elusive inch of cover from the rain that lashed down.
But that wasn’t the only storm today. A second one, much closer and fiercer, raged within me.
I had walked out of the meeting room, faking a headache, knowing full well that not one of them would follow me or ask if I needed an aspirin. The meeting agenda had been proof that I had been had.
I turned around at the sound of heavy footsteps behind me, and saw the team coming out. Some of them asked me if I was fine, but most of them just walked past, giving a wan smile.
But Shatrujeet, he came straight to me. Jeet and I had been best friends since I joined the office a couple of months back. He was, I felt, my only friend.
“Duuude, are you okay? Sorry I couldn’t follow you out then to make sure. But it was right in the middle of our presentation, you know?”
I smiled, sensing his tone. I had known he wouldn’t of course, the presentation being important in the evaluations that would follow.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Just needed a breath of fresh air, I guess. Hey listen, I’m going home. Need to lie down for a bit. You know how my headache worsens if I don’t sleep it off na? Maybe we could catch up for dinner at Greens?”
He nodded, gave a smile and a thumbs-up.
“Yeah, Praks. You go. I’ll tell the chief you clocked out for the day. I’m sure he’ll understand. See you at Greens. I’ll tell you how the meeting went too.”
He walked with me till my station, watched me pack and then walked off. But I knew how the meeting had gone.
I had already reached Green Garden Dhaba, and asked for an adrak chai, when Jeet walked in. “Greens” was the simplest hotel you could find. Very little décor, the walls were painted with some dull color and the menu had simple fare like roti and channa, or fried rice and raitha. It wasn’t lavishly priced, was tasty and the hotel owner always greeted us with a smile when we came for dinner every alternate day. So it was not a surprise that the place ended up as our favorite haunt.
“Jaiprakash Naik, did you rest properly? Took an aspirin? Feeling better?” Jeet asked me, in a mock impression of my mother. I laughed, nodded and watched him sit down.
“2 Roti and Channa, aur ek plate Gobi Manchurian, bhaiyya,” he told the waiter, ordering for me as well.
“Is that adequate for you?” he asked me, “I’m not that hungry today.”
I nodded, and the waiter went away. Right on cue, he started the discussion.
“The meeting went well, Praks. I think you might get team lead for sure, with your experience. The chief loved the idea. It’s about time we centralized the operations too. The load on the server is becoming too much.”
I knew all that, of course. His voice had that excitement in it. I took another sip of the adrak chai and leaned back in my chair.
“Subversion might be the way to go I think,” I told him. “Buy a decent server and get it started soon. The code files aren’t that large, so we can transfer them sooner. The database, well, I think it’ll take longer but it can be done. We have to start somewhere, Jeet.”
“Team lead for sure, Praks,” he smiled, as the Manchurian was brought by the waiter.
“Here’s to us working together in the future too,” he said, as he ate.
His cellphone rang just as the waiter came with the roti.
“Damn. I’ve got to take this, Praks. I’ll have to run. Sorry.”
I ate as I watched him walk away. I waited for the cleaner to take away the empty dishes, and then took the almost dried rose out of the vase near the table. It had lasted the day, somehow. I could say the same for me.
The subject of the e-mail said, “Meeting today. Re: Data centralization. 9am”. Only three days had gone by since the last meeting, and for a change, it was good to see the office take steps so soon. I kept my bag at my station and went to the meeting room. After all had assembled, the chief stood up.
“Our data is with each developer and on their system. It has become too big to keep track of, and we have to take the necessary action immediately. In our last meeting, Shatrujeet Singh,” he said, missing the shocked expression on my face, “presented to us a plan to centralize our data. Over the last two days, he has also suggested the way we move ahead with it. He will be the team-lead. He has chosen Shobhana Dey and Fahad Ahmad to be in his team. They will first install Subversion on all PCs today, while Shatrujeet looks into server feasibilities. I wanted to wish his team a quick and successful completion of the work. That’ll be all.”
Before they knew what was happening, an explosive altercation had broken out. I flung myself at Jeet, who was near me, and grabbed at his collar.
“How. could. you?” I asked him, punctuating every word with a blow before my colleagues recovered from the shock and pulled me off him.
“You. are. nothing. but. a. parasite,” I burst out, breaking free of my colleagues’ grip. “I had my suspicions when the meeting was called for on Monday. How could they ask for a presentation on it, just a few days after we spoke of it? It was too soon to be a coincidence.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking of, Jaiprakash. It was my idea. Don’t try to claim credit, just because you are the “experienced” one. I am just as good as you,” he said, nonchalantly shrugging off my outburst.
I took a deep breath. Then I smiled.
“I was hoping it’d not be you. Though I knew there were others when we had spoken of it. But I had to take some precautions, you fraud!”
I took the pen-drive from my pocket. And putting it into the PC, I opened the first audio file and pressed play.
I was shocked, as heavy breathing and moaning began to sound through the stereo system. Then a woman’s voice asking to go harder. I quickly pressed stop.
“Jaiprakash, this is low of you,” said the Chief, his voice shaking with anger. “We cannot tolerate violence, or lewdness for that matter. To try and take credit for another’s work, I didn’t expect it from an experienced person like you. You’re fired, with immediate effect. Get out.”
I wanted to protest, but the recording had left me embarrassed and shaken. I slowly went back to my desk to retrieve my bag. I emptied the drawers, put the little things I had of my own into my bag and walked out of the building before my colleagues would come out. As I neared the entrance, I heard him calling me. He caught up, and Shobhana was with him.
“Saw you take the recorder out of the vase at Greens.”
I gasped. But he ignored it, and continued.
“I had doubled back around the corner, mate. I had my suspicions too once you volunteered the Subversion information. Of course I was going to use it. So I changed your stupid recording of our conversation when you were out yesterday. If only, you had made copies of the recording, eh?”
A bell rang as the elevator opened, and I got in.
I turned to face him one last time.
“Thanks for the promotion. Shatru ki hamesha jeet hoti hai.”
I could do nothing, as the doors closed on his smirk, and my career there.
(25th September 2014)