Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Reception - A Short Story






The Reception - A Short Story


"I hate to just stand there being stared at by everybody, you know, being judged by people who barely even know me," said Stella gripping tighter onto Kiran to stabilize herself as the bike hit yet another speed bump.  With her right hand, she was busy selecting all the groups and contacts in her Whatsapp to forward her scanned wedding invite to.

"I was under the impression that girls dreamt about the day they get to dress up as a pretty bride and stand before everybody," Kiran said with a chuckle.

"I am sorry I dont fit the typical stereotype," she said sarcastically, then frowned at her phone.  She carefully deselected the contact named "Bitch from work" that she accidentally selected, and touched 'Send.'

"There! Forwarded the invitation to about 200 people," she said finally putting her phone away.

"Wow.. okay! I guess we are going to have a lot of people at our wedding!"

"I expect only 5 or 10 of them to actually turn up.  Its the internet! In a few seconds, I am going to start receiving congratulatory messages, and by tomorrow, everybody would have forgotten about it.  The next time, they are even going to remember about the wedding is when they see the snaps on my Facebook wall," Stella said, and already she could feel her phone buzzing in her pocket with the messages.  She unlocked it and started to read the messages when the bike jerked to a stop.  She almost dropped her mobile.

In the street stood 3 men, blocking them.  Kiran revved up the accelerator as if a warning that he was going to drive through them, but one of the men jumped at him and forcefully pulled his hand off the accelerator.  He could feel Stella's nails digging into his back through his shirt.

"What are you doing?" Kiran shouted at the man.
"Who is she?" one of the men asked Kiran.
"The girl I am engaged to.  Does it matter?" Kiran said.
"Oh! So you are not even married! And what are you doing together in the middle of the night?" the man said, his face now inches away from Kiran's.  The man's breath stank of alcohol.

"None of your business," Kiran said pushing him away.  One of the other men shouted obscenities and rushed towards Kiran with his fist raised high only to stop abruptly when the man who Kiran pushed held up his hand.  Everybody was quiet.  The man once again came closer and stood inches away from Kiran's face, observing him, with a sneer.  The man seemed to slightly wobble from side to side as if the wind was pushing him about.  His eyes slowly tracked down to Kiran's breast pocket, and he pulled out Kiran's phone from within it.  Kiran tried to grab it back only to have one of the other men catch his arm and forcefully hold it back.

"I understand you rich kids.  Full of raging hormones and ....." the man's words slurred away.

"What's your name?  Does your parents know you are out with him??" the third man was now next to Stella, shouting at her.  Kiran quickly got off the bike and pushed him away.  The other man shouted and jumped at Kiran.  Kiran punched him across his face.  The other 2 men shouted and rushed to defend him.  Stella stood stunned at what was happening.  Loud words were being exchanged when all of a sudden the men went quiet.  There was a tiny flicker of a light from the far end of the road.  The 3 drunk men looked at it with a look of worry on their faces.  A moment later, it was clear that it was a police patrol car.  The 3 men rushed to their bike parked at the side of the road, piled onto it, and sped away.

Kiran had been pushed to the ground.  He stood up and dusted away the dirt from his clothes.
"Are you all right?" Stella said.
"Ye.. yeah," Kiran said noticing the patrol car approach and stop beside them.
"What are you guys doing here?" the cop asked them.

Kiran hesitated at first, but then told them about the men who harassed them.  The cops took down the description and after asking them to go home, drove away in the direction that the men had gone.

"What a bunch of drunk losers!" Stella said.
"Ya, lets just ge......" Kiran stopped midsentence when he realized something.
"What?" Stella said noticing his blank stare.
"He took my phone."
"Forget it! Lets just go home before some other losers come around!" she said.  But Kiran didn't budge and had a grave look on his face.
"What........?" a look of realization came over her face, "Oh no! You didn't delete it??"
"I was going to... after I went home.... I.." Kiran said trying to rationalize himself.
"Oh my God!" Stella shouted.
"But you know what, you are right.  The phone's passcode protected. They are probably going to flash the memory and sell it to someone, so we..."
"Kiran! This is exactly how those videos end up on the internet! I want that video deleted!  Lets go find them!"
"What then? Fight them??" Kiran said.
"No! We....we pay them and get the phone back!  They are doing this for the money, right?" she said.

They stood there debating what to do when they noticed the familiar flash of lights again.

"Oh no, its the cops again.  Lets go before this gets worse," Kiran said about to get on his bike.
"No, wait! Lets tell them about the phone," Stella said standing her ground.

The patrol car stopped next to them again,
"Still here?" the cop said.
"Sir, they stole his phone," Stella said.

The cop turned around to look at the dark backseat of the car and shouted,
"Did you take his phone?!?"
Very obedient voices from the back of the car said that they didn't.

"We caught them near the lake.  This is everything we took off them.  See if your phone is in there," the cop said producing a plastic bag that rattled with things.  Stella went through them, but there was no sign of Kiran's phone.

The cop shouted threateningly at the men asking where the phone was, and they finally admitted that they panicked when they saw the cops and threw it in the lake.  The cop told the couple to come to the station the next morning and file a complaint of harassment and stolen phone.  A moment later, the cops had left.

Kiran and Stella decided to go to the lake and take a look.  When Stella called his phone, it said the phone was switched off.  Using Stella's phone's flashlight, they searched the area around the lake until her phone's battery finally gave out, but the search had turned up nothing.

Kiran returned to the same place the next morning and still found nothing.  They finally concluded that the men must have thrown the phone into the lake.
**

4 MONTHS LATER

A couple of young kids from the nearby slum, on their way home from school, stopped by the lake to throw stones at it.  As one of the boys searched for the smoothest stone that he could find, he noticed something strange in the undergrowth.  It was a phone.

A minute later, all the kids were huddled together as each grabbed at it and desperately pressed at the power and volume buttons in the hope that they can turn it on.  Failing to do so, they finally decided to take it to the only mobile repair shop in the area.

Rohit, who ran the shop, was playing a first person shooter game when one of the kids came over and gave him the phone saying it needed to be fixed.

Rohit knew the kid and his parents well, and he knew that the phone in question cost a fortune and they couldn't afford it.

"Where did you steal this from??" he shouted at the kid, grabbing his arm.
"I didn't steal it! Its mine!" the boy said struggling against his hold.
"Ok, I will ask your father about it then," Rohit added, and the boy began to wail.  He finally escaped Rohit's grip on his arm and ran away.  He was immediately joined on his run by his schoolmates who had been hiding nearby and watching the entire thing in anticipation.

Rohit continued with his game while he let the phone charge.  He finally turned it on and came face to face with the security protocol requesting a passcode.  He knew that if the OS hadn't been updated to the most recent version, overriding this was child's play.  He connected it to his PC and ran a software which forced a large number of characters into the passcode field, overwhelming it and causing it to crash.  A second later, the screen produced an error message saying an application had to be terminated unexpectedly.  He pressed ok, and he was now looking  at the homescreen.

Then Rohit did what he always did after he fixed his customer's phones.  Go through their personal items, their banking information, their personal pictures and videos.  He considered this one of the perks of his job.

He found this phone had been used to make banking transactions.  Yes, his buddies in the hacker community were going to be pleased.  But what caught his attention more was the last recorded video in the camera folder.  The video of a beautiful young couple recording themselves having sex.

A few minutes later, Rohit had shared the video to all his online forum buddies and his Whatsapp contacts.
***

4 DAYS LATER.

Stella was getting her wedding makeup done when her phone buzzed.  It was a message from the contact named "Bitch from work."  Stella sighed.  It was probably a sarcastic message supposedly wishing her a happy married life.  They hated each other's guts, but were forced to work in the same office.  Stella opened the message:

"My invitation must have been lost in the spam folder.  Anyways, I am happy for you! You guys have great chemistry in the video.  Congo! <3"

Stella felt her heart skip a beat.  She stared at the dark block below the message.  Her phone chimed as it finished downloading the video onto her phone and waited coldly with the play button poised in the middle of the block.

"Everything alright?" the makeup lady said noticing the grave look on Stella's face.

"Ya... yes.. excuse me," she said standing up and heading to the ladies room.  There, locking herself up in a cubicle she watched the intimate video of her and Kiran in horror.

Kiran stood in the reception area being introduced to his father-in-law's friends.
"Meet Mr. Shekar.  We worked together at the steel mill," his father-in-law said.  Kiran smiled and shook hands with Mr. Shekar.

"This is Mr. Babu.  He is an old school friend of mine," his father-in-law said showing to a man with a very familiar face.  Mr. Babu, now clean shaven and looking sharp in his suit, was the drunk man who had stopped Kiran and Stella 4 months ago.  But right now, Mr. Babu grabbed Kiran's hand and shook it joyously with no hint of recognition on his face.  It seemed obvious that he was drunk out of his wits on that night 4 months ago and didn't even remember any of what had  happened.  Kiran forced himself to smile.  Mr. Babu walked past him nonchalantly, and his father-in-law proceeded to introduce him to the next guest when Kiran felt his phone buzz.  It was Stella.

Kiran excused himself to answer his phone.
"Kiran, get here, right now!" he heard Stella say.
"Okay," said Kiran without a second thought about the tone of her voice.  For the past few days, that has been everybody's tone around him.  It was always some emergency.  Always something that needed to get done right then and there.  It had been the most stressful few days of his life.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Kiran noticed a couple of boys still in their school uniforms and carrying bags quietly making their way through the crowd and towards the food hall.  Kiran chuckled at the thought of the little wedding crashers.  He wished they would have at least had the foresight to not show up in their school uniforms.  He remembered about Stella's call and hurried to the back of the reception stage where Stella was supposed to be.

He found her pacing back and forth in her wedding dress, her eyes crimson red.
"What happened??" Kiran said realizing something was very wrong.
"This, Kiran!!" she thrust her phone to his face with the paused video on it.  It took only a split second for Kiran to realize what it was.
"Oh...... that!" he sighed loudly.
"Wait a minute!" Stella said, her expression changing to one that of dawning realization, "You knew about this??"
"A friend told me about this yesterday," Kiran said, sighing again.
"Kiran!! God knows how many people has seen this!" Stella said.
"Relax!! Its just...."  Kiran stopped midsentence when he noticed both their parents enter the room, urging them to hurry up and get on the stage.

Kiran held her hand reassuringly, and they both went out up on the stage.  One by one, the guests came over the stage, congratulated the couple, and then would go into the food hall.

Kiran heard her sniffle.
"Its the internet!  There are hundreds of such videos cropping up every day.  By tomorrow, this video will be buried deep down and forgotten," Kiran whispered to her.

Stella didn't answer him, instead forced a smile to the next guest and shook their hands.  That’s when she noticed the man, Mr. Babu, standing in a corner, chatting and joyously laughing with a couple of other men his age.

"Isn't he....?"
"Dont even ask.  Apparently, he's one of your father's old friends.  The guy didn't even recognize me!" Kiran said.
"What...?" Stella whispered back looking stunned and looked at Mr. Babu and his buddies again.  He was now pointing at his phone, and the men around him moved closer to look at it.  Then, as Stella stared at them, they all looked up at her in unison.  She felt a shiver travel down her spine.  It took a moment for Kiran to realize what she was thinking.

"Stella, you are imagining things.  They are NOT watching our video.  Just relax, alright?" he whispered to her.
"How can you be so sure?" she mumbled back.  Her throat felt dry.  Her legs felt weak.

Her eyes scanned all the guests in the hall, and almost every other person sat staring at their phones, and then they would look up at her, judging her, a look of disgust on their faces.  May be Kiran was right.  May be she was imagining things.  That’s when the walls started to move.  A moment later, she felt the stage itself move away from under her feet causing her to fall down.

***
 - Rejo John.
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