‘The tenant Charandas, 21 was sick of landlord Dayanand’s antics’, the story in the newspaper read. ‘Repeated taunts about the tenant’s personal life led to the final screw in the coffin.’
‘Shouldn’t it be nail?’ Baatwaani thought to himself.
‘Who edits these stories?’ Baatwaani now spoke out loud to be audible to nobody and everyone.
‘Who in their right mind would drive a screw in a coffin? What, Are you scared that the dead body will escape?’ Baatwaani was now seriously miffed.
His tenant, David, came down the stairs sheepishly. Holding his phone to his ears, he appeared to be whispering tentative sweet nothings for someone. His girlfriend smiled on the other side as he fumbled into blurting out ‘I love you’ for the first time.
‘What an improper phrase to use!!’ Baatwaani suddenly shouted as a startled David stood frozen.
‘Let’s forget the nails versus screws debate for a moment. Who in their right mind would use the coffin phrase to describe the case of a gruesome murder?’ Baatwaani stared blankly at David and continued his rant.
Realizing that this is nothing related to his business, David returned to his call. If only he were paying attention, he wouldn’t have missed the nervous gulp from the other side.
‘Ok, I have to go now! Thank you for everything.’ His would-be ex-girlfriend said.
‘So, she bailed.’ David smiled to himself. He knew it was over so he offered himself to Mr. Baatwaani by initiating small talk the same way a matador invites a bull.
‘Is it again some annoying news in the paper, uncle?’ David said.
‘Yes, an insensitive piece. It infuriates me.’ Baatwaani said with a fixed gaze on David.
‘I will pay the last three months’ rent as soon as I get a job, uncle’ David blurted.
‘Oh, money is no problem, son.’ Baatwaani replied, ‘I am rich enough to support you. When I found out that you were an orphan, I had to give my room to you. World has been unkind enough to you.’
David began, ‘Thank you unc…’
‘Problem is that you’re a Christian!’ Baatwaani interrupted. ‘I am just glad that you’re not amorous and unhinged like other Christians. I really appreciate you bringing no girlfriends over and I hope you never disappoint me.’
David nodded with clenched teeth.
Baatwaani then went on to unlock his phone with a swiping motion. A bunch of porn videos appeared in the phone’s Gallery. He signaled with his eyes for David to leave. David wasted no time in obliging.
As he made his way out of the filthiest residential area in Gwalior- Gowardhan Colony, David thought back on the happier times when he never felt labelled as a Christian or as an orphan. These words were suddenly his identity after his parents passed away in a plane crash. Relatives divided the property among themselves and sent David off to a boarding school. As the fees stopped coming after tenth standard, David had to drop out and was sent to an orphanage. Due to his good schooling thus far, he could complete the rest of his education with the help of NGOs and government aid.
He was laid off after a brief stint as marketing executive in a private firm. Unemployed, David made Gwalior his home and applied in various companies but to no avail thus far.
‘You’re next!’ The receptionist said as David readied his papers.
The interviewers were sympathetic but, someone else had already been given the job. They didn’t tell David that. David read the guilt in their eyes along with the massive sympathy his life story evoked.
After the interview, one of the interviewers even leaned in to give a hug after the handshake and they ended up doing an awkward shoulder bump.
‘You’re handsome’, the receptionist Angie’s eyes twinkled as David arranged his papers in the waiting area. Life had been kind to David in the looks department.
Next thing, they were sipping coffee in a nearby café.
‘So, what do your parents do?’ The question finally raised its head.
There was an awkward pause.
‘Enough about me, tell me three good things about being a receptionist.’ David said with a courageous smile.
‘In my free time, I work with an NGO for orphans.’ Angie’s hand was on David’s fingers. Slowly caressing it.
He felt a label appear on his forehead.