Fiction Park

Only a madman knows what he says

  • What is real and what is not, who can say?
- SUMEDH MALLA
He looked at the blank screen on his desktop, motioned to start typing, but quickly gave up. Maybe another cup of coffee would help

Nov 13, 2016-By 9:11am, Sameer could already tell this would be a very long day. From what he could make out from the loud yells filling up the hallway, his supervisor, Mr Thapa—a diminutive, balding, 35-year-old with shaky nerves—was being yelled at by the boss.

“If I don’t have that script on my desk by tomorrow morning, I’m going to have to start firing some of these so-called writers. Does your team even realise how big a portfolio this is?”

The script Mr Thapa was being dressed down for was the one Sameer was supposed to have been working on for a week. But as of now, it was still a blank page on his desktop.

In theory, this wasn’t supposed to be a difficult assignment: A thirty-second TV spot for a new line of noodles that had just hit the market. At a briefing two weeks ago, the noodle company had made clear what they’d wanted—a spotless, modern dining room, a happy, young household and a special emphasis on how fresh the noodles were. “Remember: From the farm, to our table!” the executives had repeated over and over again to Mr Thapa’s furious nods. 

Sameer had never been a big fan of instant noodles, but he’d made it a point to grab a sample pack at the meeting. That night in his dingy, two-room apartment, he’d cleared his sink of its pile of dishes, fished out a boiling pot he rarely used and sat down to make a meal for the first time in months.  Reading the instructions on the pack, he’d measured out the water, crushed and added the pasty brown noodles, then emptied the small packet of ‘chicken’ flavouring. Once the concoction came to a boil, he grabbed a spoon and began eating straight from the pot.

It tasted like salted cardboard.

Sitting in his dingy, two-room apartment, his mind ran over the things that had been said at the boardroom that morning, “A spotless, modern dining room, a happy, young household and remember: From the farm, to our table!” Depressed, he’d tossed the pot into the sink and had gone to bed on an empty stomach.

But it wasn’t because he didn’t like noodles that Sameer was not able to write the script. He’d been working at the advertising agency for 14 months now, writing scripts for TV and radio spots for products ranging from rebar steel rods to chic scooters. And he was good at what he did. Born with a penchant for words, he could conjure up slogans and one-liners at will. Some of his best wordplays had even gone viral on the internet; others greeted him from billboards across the city. From the farm, to our table were his words.

But he just couldn’t shake off this creative block, and not for the lack of trying. He looked at the blank screen on his desktop, motioned to start typing, but quickly gave up. Maybe another cup of coffee would help.

At lunch time, Sameer sat on a parapet outside a store selling knickknacks, his back leaned on the cold, soothing shutter. Drawing long drags from a cigarette, he watched three girls from the marketing department file out of the office and walk towards a nearby eatery. One of the girls, Ritu, smiled at him from across the street.

The pair been smiling at each other for about six months now whenever they’d awkwardly run into each other at corridors and parking lots. The newest member of the company’s fledgling marketing team, Ritu was a vivacious 24-year-old, who from what Sameer could tell had a tremendous appetite for life. Occasionally he’d stalk her on Instagram and her pictures always seemed happy—bungee jumping over the Bhote Koshi, hiking in the Annapurnas, dancing at Salsa classes. Once he’d even accidently liked a two year old picture on her profile, having had browsed for well over an hour. He blushed remembering how nervous he’d been the next day. Did she think he was creep?

Shaking off the thought, Sameer put out the cigarette and stood up to walk back to the office, where the script due the next morning lay waiting, still an empty page. As he paid the storekeeper for the cigarette, a familiar figure waddled onto the street from around the bend.

“Here he comes again,” the lady at the counter said, “I just chased him off half an hour ago.”

The man was the neighbourhood’s resident bum. No one seemed to know what his real name was, or how he ended up living on these streets. He wore the same clothes every day—a navy blue suit he’d long grown out of, a once-white shirt that had turned brown from the lack of washing and a red tie. In the 14 months that Sameer had known of the man, he’d never worn anything else. His hair, matted and wild, shot off waywardly from his scalp and his white beard was always tinted with caked-off morsels of food. In his mind, Sameer called him Mr Tramp because of how dirtily posh the bum always looked. Today, Mr Tramp was pointing to the heavens and mumbling furiously.

“What’s his deal anyways?” Sameer asked the lady as she handed him his change, “And what is he yelling about?”

“God knows, Bhai,” the lady said, “Only a mad man knows what he says. I’ve had this store here for three years now, but I’ve never understood what he’s trying to say. No one has.”

“Do you know how he ended up here? And why does he wear that suit?”

“I don’t think anyone has asked. Look at him; people just walk across the street or turn the other way when they see him approaching. He scares me.”

“I see,” Sameer said, “Could you give me another cigarette instead of my change?”

Sameer took the cigarette and walked over to the wild-haired man.

He dreaded the thought of having to sit back at his desk and stare at a still empty page. He needed to be distracted.

 “Hi,” Sameer said, loudly and clearly, as neared the man, ignoring the ripe stench that wafted from the bum’s body and the tinge of apprehension clouding his mind.

Mr Tramp stopped and looked at him and growled. This was the first time Sameer had ever made eye contact with the man. His eyes were kinder than what he had expected—brown, moony and soft. Mr Tramp looked to be just as apprehensive as he was. How long had it been since someone had talked to him?

“Hi, do you want a cigarette?” Sameer repeated, softer than he had the first time.

Mr Tramp grunted. It was as if words were forming in his mind, but he just couldn’t articulate them.

“Do you want it? Why are you pointing to the sky today, Dai?” he asked again, looking towards the sky.

Mr Tramp’s gaze followed Sameer’s. Looking at the heavens, he bared his yellow teeth, smiled and mumbled.

“What was that, Dai?” Sameer persisted, “What are you saying.”

The bum raised both his hands into the air, exposing the rips on

the shoulders of his coat. “The Asgard are coming!” he mumbled, a little louder.

“The who?”

“The Asgard are coming. Soon all of this will be over. The Asgard

are coming,” he repeated, before walking on, ignoring Sameer’s offer of a cigarette.

Sameer tailed him for a little bit, asking who the Asgard were, to no avail. Mr Tramp continued on, pointing to the sky, mumbling. As Sameer reached the store where he’d bought the cigarette, he decided to give up the pursuit. The store lady was looking at him with disapproval.

“Bhai, why are you wasting your time?” she said, “What did he say? ‘The Asgard are coming’? He’s been saying that for years.”

“He’s told you too?” Sameer asked, feeling a little silly.

“He has told the world,” the lady retorted, “That’s what he has always said. I even looked it up on the internet once, the Asgard are supposed to be a species of aliens, I think. That’s why he is always pointing to the sky.”

“That is so weird,” Sameer said, “A dirty bum in a suit waiting for aliens!”

“A mad man knows what he says,” the lady repeated from earlier, “At least it keeps him hoping.”

“Hope,” the lady said one more time, shaking her head and turning back towards her store.

By 5:30 pm, the office was emptying out quickly. Sameer sat rooted to his desk with an empty page still staring back at him. By the golden light streaming through his office, he could tell that the daylight was fading. He tried to focus, but in his heart he’d already given up; resolved that he would be humiliated by the mercurial boss in the morning.

Suddenly a slender figure appeared at his door. It was Ritu, smiling nervously, her eyes squinted because of the sun.

“A long night?” she asked softly.

“Yes, I am working on the…”

“Noodles?” she finished his sentence. “Yes, we all heard this morning. I’m sure it will be great. Your scripts always work the charm.”

Sameer blushed. She knew his work.

“Listen, I am thinking about grabbing a cup of tea before heading home. Would you care to join?” She said, taking a step in.

Sameer could have used another cup but the thought of making small talk with a girl he’d fantasised of making small talk with for so long filled him with anxiety. 

“The Asgard are…” he blurted out, before stopping abruptly.

“What?” Ritu said, leaning in.

Sameer blushed again. “I would have loved to, but…”

“But you don’t want to get yelled at in the morning,” Ritu said. Completing his sentence one more time.

“Maybe, some other time?” Sameer said, hopefully.

“Yes, some other time. I’ll hold you to your word.” Ritu replied, smiling. She lingered a second longer, then turned and left.

It took Sameer a few minutes to fathom what had happened. His heart was racing, his mind muddled.

The last of the sunlight faded behind the Chandragiri.

He sat up, and began to type.

Published: 13-11-2016 11:20

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