Sunday, October 26, 2014


So, this lady came over and asked my friend something.  He scratched his head for a moment and looked at me with a questioning look.  I had just woken up and was still drowsy.  It was 11 a.m.

"Do you want to help her move?" my friend asked me.

I felt lazy and hungover, but I could use the money.  I spent all the money I had on binge drinking the entire past week.  I nodded yes, and she asked me to follow her.

Her house was about a 10-minute walk away from my friend's shady shop in the middle of the flea market.

Outside her house, there was a moving truck with its back doors open.  There were people in uniforms carrying things into the truck.

"One of the crew members called in sick.  They need an extra pair of hands." she told me.  I nodded.  She took me inside the house.  It was utter chaos inside.  Things lying scattered everywhere.  Boxes everywhere.  She stopped me beside a closed door and said,
"You can start from this room.  There is a table and few other things inside.  You can bring them out.  Just leave the bed." she said and walked away.

I opened the door and walked inside.  There was a man inside, sitting in a chair, covered in a cloud of cigarrette smoke.  I was taken aback for a moment by his presence.  The man realizing that someone had just walked in, stood up, grabbed his glass of brandy, which was on the table, and walked away towards the window on the other side of the room.  He looked outside the window and took sips of his drink.  He seemed lost in thought.

I went to the table and tried to lift it to get an idea of how heavy it was.  I realized it was pretty heavy.  I needed help.  I was about to go out and get one of the moving guys, when the man said,
"Hey!! Its you!"

I looked at him and suddenly recognizing who he was felt my heart jump to my throat.  For a moment, I froze.  I always froze when I was in such situations.  It takes me a few seconds to regain composure and do whatever the heck that was needed to be done.  In this case, it was to get the hell out of there, but the man was quick.  He had his arm on the door by the time I even turned to it.  He pushed me away from the door and looked at me threateningly.  I was trapped.

"I want my fucking money back!!" he shouted.

"I dont have any.  I ... I.... Its all gone!" I said.
"What??"  He looked at me strangely for a few seconds.  He then grabbed a cigarette, lit it up, took a puff, and frowning at me said,
"I expected you to be professional.  I was a bit skeptic when your friend turned up at my office the next day.  And look what he did! My wife is leaving me, and she's taking my kids with her!"


"Was it your idea?? The fucking spy camera!!!  Was it??" he shouted at me.


I struggled to make sense of things.  The events leading to this happened exactly a week ago.  I had driven myself and one of my partners to a town couple of kilometers away from our shop to look at houses.

No.  We weren't real estate agents.

We were on the lookout for houses which looked like their owners had been away for sometime.  We were looking for houses where we could potentially steal something, or at least steal clothes that had been left out to dry in the sun.

On that fateful day, as usual, I and my partner had spent the entire morning going to houses pretending to be salespersons, but every house we visited had people in it.  People, who arrogantly told us they weren't interested in our detergent powders, which we had just bought from a local supermarket, and told us to get the hell out of there.  Some of the houses looked like its been years since they cleaned the front of it, but the people were still in it.

By afternoon, we had decided to split and cover more ground.  I noticed this house which had a lot of clothes put out for drying, and I noticed the newspaper lying outside.  It increased the chances that the owners were probably out somewhere.  

These are the kind of small details you learn to notice once you have been in this line of work for sometime.

The house was in a silent locality with no one in sight.  At the least, I could get the clothes.

I sell the clothes that I steal to my friend, who sold it at half its assumed price at his shop.  Of course, the buyers never knew they were buying stolen clothes.

I looked around and feeling safe opened the gate and walked inside.  Reaching the front door, I knocked on it and waited for a response.  I removed my bag and pulled out a detergent packet, so that just in case someone opened, I can instantly go into the line of pretending to be an innocent salesperson trying to make a sale, but there was no answer.

I knocked again and waited just to be sure.  When there was no reply, I tried to look inside through one of the windows and saw no one inside.  No lights.  No sign of recent activity.  Feeling more confident, I took my bag, which was half empty for exactly such a situation, and went over to the line of clothes.  I quickly started to remove the clothes and cram them into my bag.  I was feeling pretty happy.  The day wasn't going to be an utter failure.  At least we were going to make some money.  And that's when it happened.

I heard a woman cry.  Not the kind of cry you hear when someone just realized that someone was stealing their clothes.  No.  But the kind of cry you hear when someone is hitting somebody.  Trying to kill somebody.

My first instinct was to grab the bag and bolt.  But I did something that I would regret a week later.  I stood still and tried to listen more.  And I heard the cry again.  It came from inside the house.

I walked towards one of the side windows and tried to look inside, but the mirror was colored and I couldn't see anything.  I walked around the house and found another door at the back.  I pushed it gently and realized it wasn't locked.  I peeked inside.  It looked like it was the kitchen, and there was no one in it.  I heard the cries again, coming from somewhere inside the house.  I quickly walked in and tried to figure out where the kidnapped person might be.  I passed by rooms and suddenly stopped when I realized that the cries were coming from inside the room that I was standing in front of right then.  I heard the cry even louder now.  I dont know what came over me, I guess it was the adrenaline.  I pushed the door open and barged inside.

Inside, the woman shrieked and covered herself up with the blanket, while the man who was on top of her also grabbed the blanket trying to cover his private parts.

"Who are you!! Get out!!" the woman shouted at me.

I should have gotten the hell out of there right then, but I froze for a moment.  By the time, I realized the situation and got out of the room and hurried towards the kitchen, the man came out of the room and shouted,
"Hey, wait!!"

I stopped, turned around, turning red in my face, and was about to apologize when the man, now wearing a towel, said,
"Please, dont go.  I know who you are.  I have been trying to get a hold of you.  I got an offer for you!"

I was confused.


He was breathing hard and sweating.  I tried to ignore it.  He showed me to sit on one of the chairs.  I surprisingly did.  Then he said,
"You are my wife's PI, right?"

Before I could say anything, he continued,
"She hired you to follow me around, right?"

I was about to say that I wasn't, that I was just a salesperson trying to sell detergent powder, when he continued,
"I know  you have been pretty careful not to be seen, but I have been noticing  you following my car for the past 2 days.  Listen, I got something for you." he said picking up his trousers, reaching inside, and bringing out his wallet.

"I don't know what my wife is paying you, but here's the deal.  I will pay you twice that.  You just have to tell her that everything's fine, that you followed me all these days, and I have just been going to my office and going straight back home."

I was about to tell him that he got it all wrong.  He saw the look of hesitation on my face and immediately said,
"Comon man! I know you do this for the money.  Here, I will give you what I have on me right now, and you can come visit me at my office tomorrow and I will give you the rest of the money.  But I want your word on this, that you are going to cover up for me."

I nodded my head when I saw him pull out a wad of cash from his wallet.  He quickly counted them and said,
"Ok, I got 15 grand on me.  Meet me tomorrow at my office.  I will tell my assistant to expect you and to let you right in."

I took the money and nodded my head.  He extended his hand out to shake mine, but then seeing the look of hesitation on my face interpreted it as something else and withdrew it back.  I forced out a polite smile and said, "Okay."

"So, I will see you tomorrow?" he said.

I nodded my head, got up, and slowly walked towards the door.  I had a strange feeling that he was going to grab a knife from the kitchen counter and stab me in my back and kill me, but he didn't.  I walked out and gently closed the kitchen door.  My instinct was to run, but I kept myself composed and continued to walk out of the gate and down the road in front of the house.  I had a feeling he was still watching me from inside the house.  I felt this strange urge to stay in character, to act like I was this PI that his wife had hired to spy on him.  At least till I turned around the corner of the road and was out of his sight.

I walked down the road and was passing by some shops, when I heard a "Pssst!"

I looked around and saw this guy in a black jacket, a black hat, and black glasses on motion me to come over.  I walked over to him after making sure I put away the money safely in my back pocket.

This strange looking guy looked at me from head to toe and said,
"Hey, would you like to make some easy money?"
I looked blankly at him.  He pulled out a folded currency note and pushed it into my hand.

"I saw you walk out of that house.  I just want you to tell me everything you saw in there."

"You are a private investigator, right?" I said.

A look of dissapointed came over the guy's face.  

He took off his cap and threw it away, cursing,
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I thought I was getting good at this shit.  Does he know?"

"Yes.  He knows."  I said surprisingly calm.

"Fuck!!" said the PI looking around frustrated.

"And he told me to tell you to meet him at his office tomorrow.  He has got a better offer," I said.

He suddenly looked at me interested.

"He sent you out here to tell me he's got a better offer for me?"

I calmly nodded my head.

"Interesting...."  He grinned and stroked his fake beard that was peeling away on one side.  "Tell him, I will." he said grinning more.

I smiled at him and started to walk away.  I was surprisingly calm.  And I actually felt good.  I felt like I had done a good deed.  Of course, I took his money, but I had done what he wanted to be done.  The PI was going to meet up with him the next day and everything was going to turn out the way he wanted to.

But a week later, while I sat trapped in that room, the very angry husband tells me the PI had turned up the next day at his office, but with a spy camera, and that he recorded their conversation and promptly sent a copy of it to his wife.

I stood there wondering what the hell I was going to do.

Suddenly, the door opened and his wife stood there looking at us with a confused look on her face.  Probably wondering why I wasn't carrying out the furniture.  Realizing this was my opportunity, I swiftly got out of the room.

As I ran towards the door, I had a backward glance at them and I saw them both staring at each other. Then, I heard them shouting at each other.  I couldn't make out what they were shouting, but I didn't want to know.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.


- Rejo John

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE HONEST CRITIC - A SHORT STORY. (Read time: 6 mins.)

It is quite interesting when a professional gets challenged by an amateur at something.

Thats what happened with David and Shanthi.  Shanthi only started cooking a year ago, but David was pissed off to hear through their common friends that she had been telling everyone that she was a better cook than he was.  He was a professional cook for Christ's sake!

But the truth was, he secretly liked her food.  He was too proud to admit it.  And then one day, she said something out of the blue that made him cringe.
"Why don't we see who is better once and for all?"

"And how are we going to do that?" he said with an awkward smile.

"I know the perfect judge.  A honest critic." she said with a twinkle in her eye.

David agreed to it.  Actually, she didn't give him a choice.  She taunted him till he accepted it.

The judge was someone they both knew very well.  To keep it as unbiased as possible, they decided that they wont tell him that he was being a judge.  They were simply going to casually make him say which of their dishes he liked better without him realizing he was making a very important decision.

They decided they would each prepare something simple.  Something they were good at.  This critic had a sweet tooth, so they decided they would each make a sweet dish.

On Judgement Day, David told Shanthi that he would make his dish, which he decided was going to be vermicelli kheer (pudding), at the hotel where he worked and bring it over.  But she didn't feel it was right.  For all she knew, he could get one of his colleagues to make it for him or cheat in some other manner.  So, she made the stipulation that they were both going to cook their respective dishes right there in her kitchen.

A disgruntled David bought the ingredients for his kheer, and they both started off.  Shanthi had started mixing the flour, eggs, and coconut for what she thought was what she made best:  Coconut cookies.

David kept complaining about how uncomfortable it was for him to cook in her kitchen.  He said he was used to his hotel's kitchen and found her kitchen interfering with his "flow."  Secretly, he was worried.  He was worried that the critic might like the cookie more than his kheer.  What a shame that would be!  Hell, he made the kheer everyday at his hotel.  He was supposed to be good at it.  He couldn't afford to lose.  Imagine her boasting this to their friends!

Things didn't go smooth with both cooking in the same kitchen.  David was almost done and the only thing left was for the kheer to be slowly cooked for sometime on the stove.  He went to check his phone, which he had left in the living room for charging, and when he came back, he found the kheer spurting over.  He ran to it and found that the stove's heat was set at high. No, it wasn't a mistake!  He didn't accidently set it high.  He never made such mistakes!  He frowned at Shanthi from the corner of his eye.  She ignored him and continued with her preparation, all the while humming a tune.  David decided not to say anything.  He was going to wait for his opportunity.  He was going to wait till she left the kitchen for something, and then he will have his revenge.  Shanthi, who sensed this, never left the kitchen.

All of a sudden, they heard the doorbell ring.  At first, David and Shanthi looked at each other.
"I think he's here already!" she said.

David nodded, and they both walked towards the door.  David mimed following her, but quickly dropped back and turned the timer on the oven, where her cookies were being cooked, up.  Then quickly caught up with her.

She opened the door, and a boy, about 6 years old, wearing a school uniform, pushed himself in.  He threw his bag on the sofa, grabbed hold of the TV remote, and started watching TV.

David and Shanthi slowly walked over to him.
"Buddy, we got a special birthday treat for you!!" said David.

The boy jumped up excited.  Shanthi guided him to the kitchen and made him sit in front of the kitchen table.

David quickly poured out some of his kheer into a bowl.  It seemed a bit overcooked and slimy.  He felt like forfeiting the challenge right then and there, but forced a smile and set the bowl of kheer in front of his son.

Shanthi opened the oven to find that the cookies were slightly burnt.  She went red in her face with anger when she realised what had happened, but she too managed to put on a smile and selected few of the cookies which she felt were not too burnt and placed it in front of her son.

The boy looked a bit confused at the dishes.  This wasn't his idea of a “birthday surprise.”  After waiting for a few more seconds and realising that this was all there was of his "birthday surprise", he went ahead and picked up a cookie when David quickly said,
"Daddy made the best kheer in the entire world for you!!  Dont forget, after this, I am going to take you to Domina's Pizza and you can have all the pizza you want!"

"Coool!" he exclaimed beaming and unconciously putting the cookie back down on the plate.

"Yes!  All you have to do is tell which one is better!  Those cookies or this kheer that daddy made for you with a lot of love!" David said pushing the bowl of kheer closer to his son.

The boy looked all excited and was about to grab a spoonful of the kheer when his mom interrupted,
"Hey, remember, how you keep saying about that amusement park?!"

"Wonderland??" the boy exclaimed with a look of shock on his face.

"Yes! Well, guess what! I am going to take you there this weekend!”

“WOOOOAH!!” he exclaimed.

“All you have to do is to tell us if you liked the cookies better than the kheer!" she said putting the stress on the word "cookies".

David scowled at Shanthi for a moment.  Shanthi scowled back.

The boy suddenly looked confused.  He took turns to look at both the dishes.  Then finally slurped a spoonful of the sugary delicious kheer.  Then, he spent a few seconds frowing at a random spot on the table.  He had the look of a food critic seriously considering what he had just tasted.  Then he went ahead, grabbed a cookie, and took a bite of it.  Again, the same look of consideration followed.  David and Shanthi looked at him and then at each other with blank faces.

There was something wrong.  May be they both screwed up.  The kheer must be overcooked and the cookies burnt.

The boy was about to take another bite of the cookie, but then a look of confusion came over his face.  He moved the cookie towards the kheer and stopped.  A look of uncertainity on his face.  After a moment's consideration, he dipped the cookie in the kheer, took a bite of it, and his face lit up with a big smile.  As David and Shanthi watched speechless, he continued to eat the cookies dipping them in the kheer until he finished all the cookies that Shanthi had given him.

"Can I have more!??" he exclaimed.

"Thats enough buddy.  Thats enough sugar for right now.  You can have more later." said David sounding a bit stern.

The boy geniunely looked dissapointed.  Then suddenly looked excited and said,
"Then lets go to Dominooos!"

"Yes buddy. Go get changed." David said with an awkward smile.  The boy hugged them both, and before running to his room, turned to his mom and said,
"Mom! Can't wait to go to Wonderland!!"

Shanthi smiled and kissed him on his head.  The boy then ran to his room.

A few minutes of awkward silence followed.  Finally, David took a cookie out from the oven, dipped it in the kheer, and took a bite.  Shanthi followed suite.  Both sat down before the table nibbling on the kheer soaked cookies in complete silence except for the munching noises.  Finally, David put away the cookie he was eating and turned to Shanthi and said,
“Do you get the feeling our son just outsmarted us?”


- Rejo John

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