CHAPTER I: Of Hardbound Files

Her head throbbed. If at this moment, someone hit it rhythmically with hammers she wasn’t very sure it would make any difference to the pain that already shot through her head. Water hadn’t helped; neither had aspirin and by this time banging her head against the bus window till it smashed into smithereens seemed like the only unexplored solution.

The middle-aged woman seated next to her, who possessed an unholy curiosity in her every movement, flashed a wide knowing smile. “Headache. Very annoying”

There is a group of human kind that thrives in exercising the art of stating the obvious. You would be profusely sweating and they would inform you that it was hot, you’d be struggling with baggage and they’d nod knowingly and say “heavy”, or on a train that was carrying the both of you confirm your destination and be awfully pleased with themselves. This was also the same category that explained the ‘joke’ part of the joke after it had been said just to confirm that everyone knew they got it.

“Yes. Very annoying”, Kashvi nodded and turned her face away towards the window in the hope of averting any more small talk which was the last thing she had energy left for today.


 

“So, what went wrong?” Lavanya asked, handing over one cup of steaming hot coffee to Kashvi while she sipped upon the other. Lavanya and Kashvi had been sharing the medium-sized PG flat in southern Delhi for close to two years now. Lavanya, a fashion designer, had been a complete stranger to Kashvi when they had met. They were two very different people, with two very different lives, yet several cappuccinos, cooking disasters, and late night conversations later, had realized that they got together better than either of them would have thought. Two years later, they were comfortable enough to hurl insults at each other, loose all boundaries of personal spaces, and steal anything that fit from the other’s closet.

“What went wrong? Well…seven years ago I decided to study management”, Kashvi replied and leant back to rest her aching spine on Lavanya’s bed post.

Lavanya chuckled. “Well… You look like you could kill someone tonight. Which concerns me, you know, as a roommate”.

“Trust me I really want to Lavi. I hate this job. Sometimes I wish a lightning bolt would strike upon my office and kill everyone. Or an earthquake that would like, you know, swallow the whole thing up. Also, whenever my boss opens his mouth I want to slap him in the face with a hardbound file”.

“There’s an idea”, Lavanya nodded, grinning. “Caffeine down your worries Mon friend, and read that poster. Breathe”.

Lavanya’s bedroom wall was covered with Instagram quotes, pictures, lyrics, mostly all motivational by nature. Kashvi had always found every single one of them absolutely ridiculous. According to her, a person who had time to apply ten filters over a random scenery till it started looking dark and mysterious, and then write one stupid “breathe” over it, convert it into a jpeg image and post it on Instagram, clearly had nothing else to do but breathe. Lavanya, in response, thought that Kashvi could write ‘disturbing cynicism’ as one of her hobbies/interests on her resume.

“I’m just saying that I don’t see the point of these Lavi. I mean most of this is very obvious stuff. You know I have an idea”, she said as she glanced around Lavanya Aggarwal’s mess of a room with some stuff, that Kashvi was sure, had fungi growing inside it. “One day I’m going to tear all of this crap off your wall and replace it with a single wall-sized poster written “CLEAN””.

Lavanya made a face and rewarded Kashvi with a flying cushion that made coffee spill on her work top.

“Jeez. Thanks”

“You know what Kash”, Lavanya said after a while, as Kashvi wiped the coffee off her neck, “You hate this job. I mean, you know it. You’ve been ranting about it for the past two years. And you are so talented. You’ll easily find something else to do. Just quit.”

“I wish it was that simple. You know I can’t quit…I can’t take that risk. I need the money right now. I…I just wish this job was a little more bearable.”

“It’s just so awful seeing you this way”, Lavanya eyed her sympathetically.

“Oh speaking of awful, did my darling ex-husband call today?” Kashvi asked, in a tone that had become as callous over the years as she herself had on the subject.

“That asshole? No. And he better not. I’m telling you Kashvi, you need to get a restraining order against the guy. If you won’t, I will.”

“I thought my personality was a restraining order enough for him. At least, it was throughout our marriage.”

Lavanya‘s expression suddenly turned serious.  Kashvi noticed how she had begun fiddling with the ring encircling her finger, a telltale sign of when she wasn’t sure whether she should hide something or blurt it out.

“What’s it?” Kashvi asked directly.

“What?’ Lavanya snapped out of her thoughts surprised.

“You’re playing with your ring. What is it?”

“Nothing. I’m just; um…it’s just that…It’s just, your parents called today.”

Lavanya bit her lips as she saw the sudden shift in Kashvi’s expression. A mixture of emotions painted themselves in that one moment on her face before getting replaced with cold impassivity.

“Oh…”

There was silence in the room for a moment and suddenly Lavanya really regretted blurting the information out. Surely she could have waited another day. What had she been thinking!

“Listen, Kash, don’t worry about it okay-“

“No. Oh no, I’m fine. Um..wha-what did they say?”

“They’ve asked me to tell you to call back.”

“Did they say what it was about?”

“No…”

“Okay then. Maybe it’s a monthly reminder call of how I have messed up my life and proved to be the disappointment of the decade.”

Or”, Lavanya interrupted, “maybe it was just to check whether you were okay.”

Kashvi let out a cold laugh as if the suggestion was almost ridiculous. “Three years too late then, I’d say. You know what, it’s been a long day”, she said, getting off Lavanya’s bed, and Lavanya knew that was all there was to be discussed on the subject that day. “I’ll just sleep it off.”

“Sure. Wake me up at seven Kash, will you?”

“ Seven” Kashvi exclaimed in a shocked tone. “Seven? But Lavanya…that’s like…morning. You do know that right?”

Lavanya rolled her eyes, “Are you done with your sarcasm? I have a meeting at 8 okay? And they’ll kill me if I’m late again. Wake me up or I’ll not do my turn of laundry tomorrow”.


 

Kashvi woke up at six thirty the other morning. She had always been an early riser. Sleeping till noon was a luxury that more fortunate people could afford, and her circumstances had not exactly been very fortunate over the years. Sometimes she would lie in the bed at mornings and think how life would have been had things been different. Had she not been married against her will to a complete stranger straight out of college. Sometimes she imagined just that, a married version of herself with a loving husband, who’d put his arms around her and say that it would all be okay, with whom she would have coffee in bed and nag about domestic problems. Look at them, what a couple, people would say in envy. Sometimes she imagined being married to Nihal only, but that when she picked up the phones amidst sobs, her parents would tell her to come back home. They would say they loved her more than they cared about a failed marriage and come and pull her out of the hell hole. They wouldn’t tell her to make it work, they’d understand. Sometimes, they didn’t go that far, but when she reached upon their doorstep, they broke and welcomed her into their arms. Sometimes, everything was just as it was, and Nihal just left her alone after the divorce and did not ring up periodically to spew venom. In other scenarios, she was just rich enough to not need her current job.

Sometimes, she imagined a happier life.

And then, she’d wake up to reality.

Kashvi opened her eyes a little to see Lavanya brushing her hair in front of the mirror. Panic seized her. If Lavanya was up, surely it must be past ten. She grabbed for the table clock and shouted “OH MY GOD. What time is it?!”

“Chill. It’s just six thirty. I had to be up early today remember? I couldn’t sleep last night so I’m up by myself”

Kashvi sighed in relief. “You gave me a heart attack. I thought I almost fired myself out of the most pathetic job in the world”

Lavanya chuckled and then sighed in dismay. “WHAT is wrong with my hair? I’m telling you, one of these days I’m going to be in physics textbooks. Delhi girl’s hair samples reveal gravity defining particles”

“Also called static electricity”, Kashvi laughed, rolling her eyes, “or you know, it could be like that Interstellar movie you made me watch last week. Maybe future Lavanya Aggarwal is trying to communicate from the fifth dimension”.

Lavanya frowned as she tried to physically plaster her hair to its proper place with both hands. “Well, in that case, I’m not liking what she has to say….Oh by the way Kash, what were you dreaming about?”

“What?”

“You were smiling in your sleep right now.”

Kashvi stood confused for a while before she broke out into a huge grin. “Glad you reminded me. I was having the most awesome dream ever.”

“Really? What?” Lavanya enquired.

Kashvi laughed. “Well…I slapped my boss with a hardbound file”


 

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