Rings of Smoke

Short Story by Stan Ageira, Mulky  

November 13, 2012

Rahul Saxena inhaled last puff of his first fag in office. He exhaled by forming smoke rings and extinguished cigarette by butting out in ashtray. He was transferred couple of years back as branch manager for their Mumbai office. The company headquartered in New Delhi, was well known in the field of consumer electronics and domestic appliances. His office was located at Nariman Point, a bustling business hub. He lived at west of Andheri with his wife and two college going daughters. In a way, he was quietly happy and satisfied with things on personal and professional front. The demands of work stress and domestic pressure were effectively managed.

The sales director from head quarters was scheduled to visit branch office by next week. Increased workloads and pressures of deadlines were part of the game. ‘Rahul Saxena had pushed his executives as well as staff on to their toes for budget statements, target reports, performance analysis, graphs and charts. These factors largely contributed in making the director happy. ‘Rahul Saxena had the proven history of delivering results; thereby he had earned respect from superiors and peers.

He discussed key issues over telephone with his sales supervisor and then fixed a meeting with sales team at 4:00 in the evening. ‘Rahul Saxena stepped out of cabin for a general supervision of administration staff.

“Mr. Jaffer, where are the graphs and charts?” He went after them. “Ms. ‘Veena, what happened to the statement of receivables? The sales team is reporting at 4:00 pm.”

“Sir…Charts and graphs should be at your table by tomorrow.” Jaffer assured.

“I am working on statements.” ‘Veena sounded anxious. “Once sales returns from Pune are sorted out, the report will be accurate.”

“Try to understand. I cannot wait. You should have spoken to Mr. Nambiar, our Pune distributor and structured the information by now. Mr. Deshmukh, I need the month wise annual sales report by next half an hour. You will have to separate Mumbai sales figures from rest of the numbers.”

“Yes Sir.” Deshmukh agreed.

“Sir, do you need anything from me? The list of updated dues and sales returns are in my system. I am in a position to furnish the report.” Dilip interrupted from corner desk.

‘Rahul Saxena always disliked being stopped while in full flow. More so, he hated the very tone of that throaty voice. He showed some degree of patience with rest of staff when meddled. However, Dilip remained out of favor from his new boss. Further more his croaky voice made ‘Rahul Saxena uncomfortable.

“If I need something I will let you know.” ‘Rahul Saxena curtly replied.

Dilip’s expression suggested his inner frustration. He had begun his career with this company as helper in warehouse. In a quick span of seven years, he had advanced to the rank of sales co-coordinator. The growth was largely due to the favorable impression he had created on his previous bosses. No one knew the secret behind his quick promotions. Dilip had set his goals on higher ranks. Elevation to higher post by any means was necessary for Dilip.  However, ‘Rahul Saxena had come on way as the most difficult obstacle. Somehow, his techniques failed to impress his new boss. The desires to succeed were thwarted.

The rising belief of being disliked had shaken his confidence. Dilip was frustrated without knowing the reasons behind the mistrust and unfounded hatred.

‘Rahul Saxena didn’t have clear rationale for his unfair treatment towards Dilip. In some way for inexplicable reasons, he found him unpleasant and annoying. Dilip had not given any opportunity to complain. His efficiency was never questioned. Nevertheless, his intrusively inquisitive and nosy persona perhaps had caused aversion.

He did not have such inkling while dealing other staff members. Somewhere deep within he sensed such intuition against Dilip. The assumption that Dilip was two faced perhaps could be a mistaken belief. ‘Rahul Saxena was unsure. Nonetheless, he continued to favor his unsubstantiated instinct.

He turned back and walked towards his cabin. By then he received a call from Delhi office. The line was disconnected after a long conversation. The focus was shifted to laptop in order to wrap up awaiting emails. Fifteen minutes of silence was interrupted simultaneously with buzz of his cell phone and knock on door.

“Come in.” He instructed visitor and attended the call. Dilip pushed door and stepped in. Unsurprisingly Dilip was ignored. ‘Rahul Saxena concentrated his attention on the call from his wife.

“Hello.” His wife spoke softly.

“Hi.” ‘Rahul Saxena replied with spontaneous grin.

“I hope you remember that tomorrow is Sarita’s birthday.” She reminded him.

“Of course I do.” He recollected and decided to keep it in his mind. Sarita was their younger daughter.

“Do you remember the items to bring from super market?” She did not trust his memory.

“Tell me. I will make a note” He pulled the notepad and pen.

“First and foremost is cake.” She went on. “Basmati Rice, Olive oil, Chicken, Lamb, Tomato, Potato, Cucumber, Cauliflower, Green Gram, Chilies, soft drinks, paper plates….”

“Place an order for black forest and ask them to deliver.” ‘Rahul Saxena pushed the piece of paper into his shirt pocket. “On way back from office, I will pick rest of the items from super market at Andheri west. You can send an SMS or call on my cell phone if you need anything else. I could be late. Boss from Delhi is expected by next week. We are in the midst of serious preparation of business presentation.”

He put the receiver back down, pulled a cigarette from his coat pocket and popped it into his mouth. ‘Rahul Saxena raised his eyebrows and questioned Dilip without uttering a word.

“Sir…” Dilip felt dry in his throat.

“What do you want?” He lit the cigarette.

“If you don’t mind….” Dilip struggled for words. “I have precise details of stock returns from Pune distributor. I am in a position to provide an accurate statement.”

“Who is assigned to this job?” He blew thick smoke with flick of his tongue.

“Ms. ‘Veena.” Dilip observed the smoke rings that floated in air.

“You don’t need to put your oar in. Please do as told.” ‘Rahul Saxena uttered loudly.

“Sorry sir.” Dilip walked out with disappointment.

‘His artful ways intended to deceive are conceivably falling flat’. A thought occurred in ‘Rahul Saxena’s mind. He reclined in exasperation. A row of smoke rings followed one after another. He was ill at ease while dealing with Dilip. A sneaking suspicion bothered him. At times, he wondered if his maltreatment towards Dilip could be possibly based on false assumptions. Did he wrongly judge Dilip’s ingenuity? His conscience pricked him.

‘Rahul Saxena clustered his thoughts, dragged his laptop and concentrated on work. Meetings were lined up in the afternoon. Couple of outstation distributors were expected by 2:00 pm and then followed by sales team meeting at 4:00 pm. Time passed quickly and by 6:00 pm, most of subordinates had vacated their seat. With the responsibilities of branch head, his pattern of working for extended hours had become normal. He remembered his wife’s call and closed the laptop at 7:00 pm.

‘Rahul Saxena took a deep a deep breath and stood on his feet. He picked his cell phone from table and dropped it inside coat pocket. The coat was left hanging at back of his chair. After reaching rest room, he emptied the bladder, walked towards washbasin and splashed water over his face. Subsequently he felt refreshed. On his way back to cabin, he caught sight of Dilip.

“Are you not going home?” ‘Rahul Saxena questioned him.

“Sorry.” Dilip customarily reacted. “It’s easy to manage the morning deliveries if delivery orders and invoices are kept ready. I am about to go. It’s over.”

Dilip switched off his PC in upright position and unhurriedly moved out. ‘Rahul Saxena took his coat from chair and covered himself up. After stepping out, he locked his cabin door and looked around. The place was empty. The lights were switched off on his way out. He stepped out, closed entrance door, inserted and turned the key.

While moving down in the elevator, Dilip’s issue glided up in his thoughts. On occasions, Dilip appeared diligent among his subordinates. His hard slog and competence was consciously ignored. As his boss, did he treat him unfairly? Was there a serious of error of judgment?

A strong wind from sea end sighed across his face as he emerged out from the building. A bus from Nariman Point took him to Churchgate station. He rushed towards the train and managed to find a seat next to window. His next activity was prioritized on shopping at Andheri west. The piece of paper containing the list of items was placed in his shirt pocket.

The train jerked, pulled away slowly and then gathered speed. It briefly halted at Marine Lines, Charni Road, Grant Road and Mumbai Central. The fast local reached Dadar without stopping in between. While reaching Bandra, he made up his mind to call his wife. ‘Rahul Saxena put his hand in his coat pocket only to realize that cell phone was missing. The cell phone was shoved into his coat pocket before going to washroom… He remembered it. He struggled to recall if he had left the instrument at his desk.

By then train halted at Andheri station. It was overcrowded. Disembarking was laborious task with embarking travelers trying to move in. Touching and pushing had been time-honored. However, at the door he was almost knocked out as someone from back slammed into him. In sequence, he accidentally collided to the man on front. The opposite bloke lost his balance and responded with abuses.

Irritated by bump and collision, Rahul Saxena extended his apology and looked around. Nothing seemed suspicious. Around him, others were busy with their own activities. He came out of Andheri station, walked briskly and ended up in large supermarket. ‘Rahul Saxena took a deep breath and dragged a trolley. The piece of paper from shirt pocket was removed while collecting items. Hurriedly, he rechecked the groceries in trolley with items listed in piece of paper on his way to counter. The woman at the counter billed, packed and produced an invoice. He stretched his hand to pull his wallet from trouser pocket. Shockingly he discovered that his pocket was empty.

The wallet was missing!

‘Rahul Saxena failed to understand if it had fallen out during the journey or left in desk drawer at work. Embarrassingly he fell silent for a while. In a strange coincidence, his cell phone too was missing together with wallet all at once. The bus ticket from Churchgate to Nariman Point was paid in coins. He did not have coins even to use the public phone.

The wallet contained credit card, debit card, ATM card, rail pass, visiting cards, insurance card and cash. Half of his life was in wallet. Had he been pick pocketed? Frantically he looked around for a known Good Samaritan.

“Sir…” The woman at counter reminded him. Customers had lined up.

“My wallet….” His spirits sank. Before he could stutter any further, he heard a familiar croaky voice. Optimistically he turned back.

Dilip! He had appeared out of nowhere at right moment.

“Sir….” He came forward. “I had some work at Andheri. I am on way to Wadala and I just thought of picking up a few things.”

“At this very moment you are my savior.” ‘Rahul Saxena hastily requested. “Do you have couple of thousands with you? I will give back by tomorrow morning.”

Dilip did not think twice. Willingly the cash was handed over. ‘Rahul Saxena settled his bill, grabbed his bags and walked towards Dilip.

“Anything wrong Sir?” Dilip inquisitively asked.

“Nothing is alright.” Ruffled by the incident, he impulsively explained. “My cell phone and wallet are missing. I do not know if left in office or stolen while pushing through the crowd. Anyway thanks for your timely help.”

“If it is pick pocketing, I think it can be recovered.” Dilip showed kindhearted gesture. “Pick pocketing and bag snatching in Mumbai is done by organized groups. They operate in allocated areas. I know someone who has acquaintances with such network. Let me try.”

“Really?” ‘Rahul Saxena was truly delighted. “I remember taking out my wallet to pay lunch bill. It was kept back in trouser pocket. The need of it never occurred until I reached super market. The bus ticket from Nariman point was paid in coins, placed in my shirt pocket. Oh, I remember now… While stepping out from train at Andheri station, I was violently pushed from back not an hour ago.”

“At Andheri station? Let me try my contacts.” Dilip assured and left.

‘Rahul Saxena felt pleased with Dilip for the first time in his life. He had ceaselessly ignored Dilip’s good work for unknown reasons. Nevertheless, could not be disregarded from now on. Shortly the matters of missing cell phone and lost wallet turned into secondary importance. The guilt of a serious error of judgment in his outlook towards Dilip unsettled him.

After reaching home, he tried to reach his cell phone by dialing from his landline. It hummed for a while without any other reaction. The issue was reported to call centers of both credit card and sim card. In the meantime, he remained optimistic with the hope to receive positive feedback from Dilip.

Next morning, ‘Rahul Saxena reached office by 9:00 am and placed his coat habitually on his chair. Looking for cigarette packet, he pulled drawer. His eyes brightened as he looked at his cell phone. He remembered tossing it inside his coat pocket. Inadvertently perhaps he must have had put in his desk drawer. Unable to find his wallet, he lit a cigarette.

Dilip knocked the door and walked in.

“I am sorry for being late to office.” Dilip extended apology. “The task of trailing the gang in Andheri was tough. Anyway I pulled off.”

“Did you get it?” ‘Rahul Saxena eagerly asked after unleashing few smoke rings.

“Yes Sir.” Dilip flung the wallet on table. “I managed to find wallet, but failed to track down your cell phone. I am sorry.”

“There was a slip-up. I left it in my drawer.” ‘Rahul Saxena joyfully gathered his wallet and inspected the contents. Everything was intact.

“I have to catch up with work.” Dilip stepped back.

“Thanks Dilip.” ‘Rahul Saxena shook hands. “I am very grateful for your help.”

“One minute. Take your cash.” Rahul Saxena paid back the borrowed money. “By the way, can you provide me the statement of outstanding from your system? I will have a word with Veena. Now on, you are entrusted to this assignment. You also will be delegated with additional responsibility on slides for director’s presentation. I will let you know more details by afternoon.”

In a dramatic turnaround, he was pleased with Dilip’s initiative in locating his lost wallet. Dilip was inflicted with enough of mental anguish. Time had come to encourage him with increment and promotion. The cigarette butt was pressed into ashtray.

Dilip returned to his desk. A scornful grin appeared on his mouth. He had got along well with his ex-bosses by praising them generously. Due to their lack of assertiveness, the former bosses had enjoyed eulogized psychological strokes. Apparently, he climbed the ladder from helper to sales coordinator. However, things changed with the arrival of ‘Rahul Saxena.

His career growth came to a traumatizing halt!

Dilip was beaten down in all his attempts to gain proximity of his new boss. He was trodden-on in his struggle to create a positive impact in achieving self-centered goals. Then he changed his game plan.

His instincts were ‘right on’ when he accidentally heard ‘Rahul Saxena’s conversation with his wife. The intended plan was completely non-traditional. Yesterday evening Dilip waited until Rahul Saxena walked into restroom. Subsequently he sneaked silently inside his boss’s cabin, removed cell phone from coat pocket and plunked it in desk drawer. There by Mr. Saxena was disconnected from easy access.

Meanwhile he had also coordinated with his friend in pick pocketing network whom he knew from his childhood gully cricket days. They kept an eye on ‘Rahul Saxena right from Nariman point. While alighting from train at Andheri, he was distracted by a hard push. Concurrently the crafty felon had picked his pocket. Rest was history. Opportunistic Dilip showed up foxily at super market like Good Samaritan.  Obliquely he had won his boss’s confidence in order to reinforce his jammed career.

The rings of smoke emitted through ‘Rahul Saxena’s mouth always had fascinated him. Dilip too felt like placing an expensive cigarette between his lips and lighting it reminiscent to his boss. Deep inside he felt a craving of someday to end up as branch head!



Comment on this article

  • Ronald, Mangalore

    Wed, Nov 14 2012

    Good story. Thanks Stan.
    @geoffery: I think the quote cannot be disproved. If Rahul Saxena starts working backwards with the investigation on his lost and recovered purse then Dilip will be caught. That part is missing in the story.

    Agree [6]

  • D Aranha , Dubai/Mangalore

    Wed, Nov 14 2012

    Hello Stan, Very well written.

    Agree [7]

  • geoffrey, hat hill

    Wed, Nov 14 2012

    Dilip seems to have disproved Abe Lincoln’s famous quote : “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.

    Agree [6]

  • Kolanoor Mithra, Mangalore/Melbourne

    Wed, Nov 14 2012

    Hi Stan, Well written, nice one. all the way from Mulky. Thanks

    Agree [6]

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