Monday, April 18, 2011

The Note Bearer

The wedding hall was covered with a soft carpet. Soft and green like china grass. Pity no one could appreciate it in their high heels and rough Kolhapuris. Juhi wondered why the organisers had bothered to put it there in the first place. Juhi's father wondered how much it cost him under the hidden fees of miscellaneous expenses charged by the Wedding Planner. Last minute marriage arrangements always cost more and looked hideous. Ugly red chairs on the green carpet nodded in agreement.

The queue waiting to greet the newly weds on the flower decked platform was getting longer by the minute. Mid-April sweat carefully buried under layers of pancakes, the serpentine line looked like a designer runway exhibiting the latest summer collection. Brocaded nothings and sequined sheers held together by sparkling clasps and silk drawstrings. A visual feast for many, it also served as a cautionary tale for the bemoaning young ones who were told in no uncertain terms by their mothers that all these pretty women in minimal clothing will be seeking doctor's appointments the moment the party is over. 

Some intelligent guests headed to the dinner stands so that by the time they had stuffed themselves with all delicacies, the line would have thinned out. Some even more intelligent ones had already taken a sneak peek and settled on not having dinner at all. The vegetarian spread had put them off and absence of alcohol laced drinks hadn't done much to change their decision either. They stood in a line to get over with the formality of shaking hands, smiling, congratulating the couple, handing over the gift, posing for a photograph and hurriedly walking off the stage hoping to ease the backlog. Reality was far from that. The parking lot would be full and it would take them a long time to get out of there. They didn't want their favourite restaurants to lock shut for the day. So they walked fast and determined.

Juhi didn't have time to think about any of this. She was tired of standing and smiling at strangers.
She wasn't even the bride. She stood next to her sister Ruhi on the stage. Ruhi and Gautam were finally getting married after two years of an on-off long distance courtship. They thanked everyone who came up on the dais. Ruhi was quick to pass on the totally forgettable presents they gave to Juhi for safekeeping. People had taken 'it's the thought that counts, not the price' saying to an extreme. The grotesque pile of boxes on the table was a living proof.

Juhi tried to hide it but impatience and nervousness surfaced as tiny beads on her forehead. The evening breeze didn't do her any good. Her over-employed handkerchief did. She was on a lookout for Deepak. He had threatened her that he would land up at the wedding, no matter what. She had no clue how he was going to find her but his warning had scared her.

She had met about him three months back.
He was a cashier at a local bank in the suburbs.

Deepak was blessed with an excellent memory, a razor-sharp eye and oodles of good luck.
He was a master at numbers.
No number escaped his sight.
Especially the six digit serial numbers on currency notes.

What started as a feel good hobby had now turned into an extremely profitable business.
He would remember bithdays, anniversaries and other important dates as he tallied wads of notes. It was a good thing that most of them were not sequentially numbered. If he found a number which had some semblance to any date that meant anything to his loved ones, he would save the note. Having duly replaced it with another one of same denomination, he was free to gift it to his friends.

Slowly the word spread and people started approaching him with various numerical combinations. All he had to do was save the note with that number if he found it. He never promised delivery but more often than not, he was able to find it.

People were ready to pay him manifolds for it.
A dd/mm/yy format of the six digits sold at a higher premium than mm/dd/yy or d/m/yyyy.

A ten rupee note with the date they met for the first time had far greater value for young lovers than the actual cost of it. They were willing to shell out hundreds, even thousands, to procure just one of those to make their valentine a special one.

Deepak knew money when he saw it. He also kept a track of the chronological pattern of numbers getting in and out of the bank but they din't serve much purpose. Loose change interested him more.

He believed it was all legal.
He didn't steal.
He merely replaced a few notes.
His database grew, so did the customers.

His hawk eye vision was now more vigilant than ever. Not just at the bank but at shops, vegetable markets, while commuting and all places where money exchanged hands. He befriended bus conductors, local vendors, beggers etc. There was no end to it. He had a smooth well oiled network of suppliers. Extra income had added dimensions to his personality. On the outside he was still the friendly cashier at your local bank. On the inside he had begun to taint.

Three months ago a young girl approached him.
"My sister is getting married. Will you be able to get me a currency note which has the sequence of numbers which matches with date of the marriage?", she asked.

Deepak looked at her. She was pretty. Half his age.

"I know it's a bit late. I have been told you are booked months in advance, sometimes a year ahead. We have only three months. Could you please try? I want to frame it and surprise her", she was saying.
She was way out of his league. He liked to see that she stood there pleading, holding her college books very  close to where his eyes had wandered and come to rest. 

"Come on, you can at least try. Don't worry about the cost. Whatever you ask should be fine", she implored. He liked that the rich had time and money to pay for such frivolous things. 

"Ok. Let me try. It could be any note. Ten, fifty, hundred, thousand. Any note with that number will cost fifteen thousand rupees", he took a wild shot when he finally spoke. He had never been paid more than five thousand for any. Daylight robbery couldn't have been demonstrated any better. He took his chance and looked at her face. 

It was aglow. She was happy that he had taken up the job. She wasn't going to endanger it by trying to haggle. "Thank you so much. You have no idea how happy this will make my sister", she went on. He liked it that she still sat there even when the deal was struck.

"How much advance will you take", she asked.

Nobody had ever given him an advance. This girl was too innocent for his comfort. She shouldn't be handling cash. She shouldn't be rich. She shouldn't be allowed to go near people like him. Deepak felt protective. He had taken a liking to her. Like a fox takes to a lamb. He took no advance. She was too naive to wonder why. He didn't take his eyes off her when she left. Sighed longingly until she was out of sight. 

She called him frequently as the wedding day got closer. Many times a day. Her phone calls grew more and more impatient, inquiring if he had come across the lucky note .

He had the note. His supplier, a beggar on the Shershah fly over had called him a few days back. He wanted five hundred rupees for it. Deepak didn't bargain. It was going to be an investment well worth. He had a good mind to make Juhi wait till the last moment before he handed it over to her. He enjoyed her restlessness. Every call she made seemed like an extended round of strip poker. He yearned at leisure, making sure he played till the very end.

Almost ten days back she gave up on him and stopped calling. She neither had the time nor the inclination to follow up anymore. What was meant to be an innovative gift had cost her too much mind space and effort. She was glad she hadn't paid any money upfront.

He thought maybe she got busy with the preparations. A day seemed like eternity. He checked his phone for missed calls. Asked his colleagues if someone was here to meet him. By evening he was edgy and anxious. His concern had turned into dull gloom. He was angry with himself and her. He didn't like to be ignored. If he saw her now, he wasn't sure what he was going to do but the sadistic streak in him would have made sure that he harmed her enough. Luckily, he didn't know her whereabouts. He hoped she would call but she didn't.

Deepak waited for a few days. Still no call from her. He called her out of frustration. She told him off politely, informing that she had already bought her sister a gift hence didn't need his services anymore. He called her again. This time he was willing to whittle down a bit. Ten thousand rupees was a good bargain. She declined and told him that there were too many last minute things to be handled and she was very busy with the marriage activities. She didn't want anything from him. He called her the third time. It just rang. No one picked it up.

Deepak had never experienced this kind of fury build within him. His rage knew no bound. He intended on knowing her better and here she had already slipped away. The churning of an unknown withdrawal symptom caused his stomach to give rise to a stinging resolve. He would have headed straight to her house if he knew where it was but he didn't know anything about her except her name, cell phone number and how pretty she was. The only other thing he knew was the date of the marriage. He would hunt her down to make sure she met him, even if it meant going to all the marriage halls in the city on that particular day to look for her. He knew it was insane but lure of the forbidden drove him crazy. He wasn't going to let his lamb get away so easy.

He called her again the next day. This time he wasn't his gracious self. His wounded roar echoed louder than his voice. Juhi got scared. He sounded dangerous. Too dangerous for his plain looks. He said she would have to pay for all his hard work. He was going to make her pay, anyhow. "You think you can do this to me and get away with it? I will make sure your sister remembers her marriage for reasons she will dread. I will find you and I will be there", he swore. He kept calling. She switched her phone off. For the first time Juhi realised what a monster she had been dealing with. She vowed to change her number once the wedding was over.

Every time she thought of him, a fresh set of glistening droplets braced her forehead. The last thing she wanted was for an unknown person to make a scene at her sister's wedding. She had been a fool. She prayed for the evening to pass without a hitch. However tacky everything around her looked, the smile on Ruhi's face was priceless. This was her day. No Deepak was going to ruin it.

One by one the guests started leaving. Her fear subsided as time passed. The wedding was coming to an end. Close family members surrounded the Vedi where final marriage mantras and rituals were underway. Early morning breeze got stronger. Empty disposable styrofoam glasses rolled with it on the floor. Entwined marigolds swayed to its tune. They had been still all evening. Juhi's father was a happy man. He was lucky they were able to get this venue at such a short notice. "One down, one more to go", he chuckled to his friend of thirty five years. They were in-laws now.

Juhi walked barefeet on the soft green carpet. It felt good. She sat on one of the ugly red chairs, closed her eyes and combed the fake china grass with relaxed toes. They had been clenched for too long.

"Thank God everything went off peacefully", she exhaled a lungful of gratitude. It had been a phenomenal task to hurriedly reschedule the whole wedding. Wretched ash clouds over Europe had thrown the marriage date awry by postponing Gautam's arrival by a few days. 


  1. Unexpected end!! Good story! I am glad that there was no violence in the end, though you built it up to a great extent! I mean that is the skill as a writer!!

  2. Thanks for the feedback Savita :) this is probably the longest story I have written :)

  3. Very different Vandu ! And ya...unexpected end ! From where did you get this character-Deepak ?

  4. My devious little mind Anagha ;)

  5. Nice... very nice in fact

  6. Appreciate the effort you took to read and comment. Thanks so much :)