Cijith stood in the middle of the road, his gaze fixed upon the showroom before him. He had walked past it thousands of times. He had spent hundreds of those dreaming about this day. He went in, trying unsuccessfully to act like a smart customer instead of an excited child. Two hours later he walked out with the greatest grin on his face.
He was back at the showroom in a week. This time, all dressed up, ready for the first ride on his new Royal Enfield. As he roared past the traffic, he remembered all the years of school and college that he had drooled at those motorcycles from outside. To the world, it was not the biggest of achievements. But to the ones who achieve great things, these small victories matter the most. And there was no better way to celebrate a victory than a joint with your best friend.
‘I’ll fucking ride this bike up to my fucking bedroom, man’ said Cijith.
‘And then you gonna get it drunk and sleep with it, too?’ laughed Sachin.
‘Fuck you, man! Just pass the fucking thing.’
‘What’s going on with your job, CJ?’
‘I don’t know, man! I’ve been getting all the worst channels to work on. And I don’t know what to do, there’s no one to guide or fucking mentor you here. My MBA looks like a joke. Looks like dead end, Sachin. I want to switch.’
‘I might have something for you. There’s this drive for Bajaj Fin coming up. You want to try?’
‘Sure, asshole! Why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘But it’s in Hyderabad.’
‘Oh!’ Cijith had a serious thinking expression on his face, but his eyes had lit up. He took his time before, ‘I’m in.’
Cijith spent the next few days preparing for the new job. Even as a student, Cijith had showed potential; not always academic, but he had a knack for talking to people. Even before he finished his MBA, he had landed a job in ITC which he rejected afterwards. He was not born in a business family, but he sure had those genes. One day, he planned to head a Fortune 500 company. The interview in Bajaj was not the most difficult thing Cijith had to crack, even though it eliminated most of the applicants.
The offer letter came. Cijith was elated, but slight uncertainty still loomed in the air. He went to his father, rather hesitantly. He was sitting on the drawing room sofa, reading the morning paper.
‘Hmm?’ the father said, without looking up.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ Cijith treaded lightly.
‘I’ve been in L&T for a year now, and there’s no growth.’
‘So leave it.’
‘That’s what. I’ve been looking for another job. And I got one in Bajaj.’
‘It’s in Hyderabad.’
For the first time, his father looked up. He put down the newspaper on the table, took off his reading glasses and sat silently for a few moments. The lines on his forehead twitched; he seemed to visualise how life would be. He knew once children learned to live out of the house, they didn’t come back.
‘And you want to go?’ he finally said.
‘Yeah,’ said Cijith confidently.
‘Do you think it’s a good idea? New city and a new company?’
‘Hmm … Good, good luck there!’
That summed up their relationship since childhood. A field of love parted by a thin, unnecessary wall that both wanted to climb over. But the father wanted the son to ask for it, and the son wanted the father to call him. But it was how it was. And it worked.
Two months later, Cijith was in Hyderabad. He left everything behind – the security of the house, the homely streets of Kolkata, he even ended a yearlong relationship. He was living in a 2-BHK with two other friends. The new job could not have started on a better note. The work was good, the team he led was great; things were falling into place.
Sheen was not supposed to disrupt his life. But when has man ever had any say in that? They clicked the moment they met. No violins played in the background, but yes, some sparks shot out. Within a month, they were dating. Talking to her was dangerously soothing. Her presence slowed things down to normalcy, put everything in perspective, and made him happy. Happiness is always teasing. We will chase it for years in our clothes, cars, houses. When it disappears, we look all around us to find it again so we can chase it again. And we’re tired and giving up, it silently comes from behind, puts its warm hands on our cold eyes and says, “Guess who”. That was Sheen for Cijith.
The work-load at every month-end is at a high. Last day of every month, everybody would have to pull late shifts and all-nighters. Like many other, Cijith took a break with one of his managers, and they went to a nearby theka, and had a couple of beers. They came back, resumed work. Around one in the morning, Srini from Risk Analysis Team came to Cijith and asked for dinner. Risk Analysis Team was exactly what it sounded like – RAT. They would find out what you did wrong, and they would rat you out. Few minutes into the dinner, Srini said, ‘What about drinks? You had any?’
‘Oh yeah, I just came back an hour ago,’ said Cijith.
‘Come on, man,’ scoffed Srini, ‘you know it’s not allowed to drink and come to office.’
‘Eh, it’s no big deal,’ said Cijith, more involved with his fried rice than in the conversation.
‘But Bajaj has a policy, man.’
Cijith laughed out loud. ‘Fuck Bajaj, man!’
Three days later, Cijith got a warning letter stating he had been found under the influence of alcohol inside office premises using offensive language. Scared, Cijith denied all charges, going as far as claiming he had never touched alcohol in his life and that someone was plotting against him. This should shut them up, he thought.
And it did. They did not contact him again, or bother him in any way. Over a month passed. Cijith came to office and one of his team members were complaining about being unable to log in to the system.
‘Fuck you, man! It’s been months and you still can’t figure out this shit?’ said an exasperated Cijith. Just then, his manager walked over to him, took him into a corner and said, ‘Cijith, your termination letter came.’
The world froze around him. He stopped listening, processing, breathing for a few moments. Then the panic started, but he didn’t show it. He went home, all sweaty and out of breath. He called Satish, who personally knew the Superboss. If anybody could fix it, it was the Superboss. He was in Pune at the moment, but since Satish asked so desperately, he tried to fix things from there. A couple of hours later, the Superboss called.
They had found a video of Cijith confessing to drinking and coming to office. But that was not the breaking point. He was recorded as saying, ‘Fuck Bajaj, man!’
The HR would never let that go.
Sheen came home and when Cijith told her, she freaked out. She held his hand and squeezed so tight it hurt. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Cijith was overwhelmed, because he just remembered this was the first time someone had cried for him. This welled up Cijith and he let it out too. It was a sad evening.
For the next three months, Cijith survived on his savings. He didn’t tell his family what had happened. He couldn’t. Getting another job was difficult because he could not show them the Bajaj experience, it would count against him. And how else was going to justify the one year gap in between? I left my job because I was preparing to get into Army. Well, that didn’t happen, and I want to get back into corporate is what he would say every time someone would ask. He got rejected from three companies before he cracked the interview at Leela Insurance.
It was not the same, but it was something. Cijith felt he was really restarting. Barring one incident where he got drunk and followed Srini, the one who got him fired, into a public washroom and spooked him out, he didn’t hold on to his past. Not only that, his past was letting go of him, too. With Sheen, there were less conversations, less meetings. They both had something good going on and both were afraid of letting it go. They dragged it for a few more months, then called it off like adults. Cijith didn’t really want to end it, but he could not walk the distance Sheen had brought between them all by himself.
Nothing was going to distract Cijith now. He left home to rise up in the corporate world. And he will. He never stopped looking for a better opportunity while giving his best at LI. Eight months down, he got a job in Fern Cars. And he moved to Chennai.
Cijith was not unhappy. But there was an emptiness that he was filling up with work. A sense of loneliness which he was veiling with parties and senseless hook-ups. He was the hardest worker in the office. A lot of the times he was away in different states, fixing issues for his company. If there was a problem in his department, everyone knew Cijith would fix it. One time, a dealer in Mizoram was selling Fern cars for an unauthorized commission, and the money was not coming to Fern. Cijith had to fly out there to set him straight, cancel his dealership, and get all the money back. Someone who has been in corporate knows getting money out of someone is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. At home, he was having his kind of fun. Getting high and drunk was not infrequent.
He was still in contact with Sheen. They had managed to stay friends. And why not? She had been one of the most important chapters of his life. She had held him when he was falling. She had listened to him. She had pierced through his hard exterior with the softest of touch.
Three years, three promotions. By 28, Cijith was managing over seventy people, and he was younger than some of them. It was clear Cijith was set for greater heights. He was one of those rare breeds who tore through ranks and responsibilities, and owned everything he touched. He had no plan of settling down any time soon. He didn’t want to be bogged down by the responsibilities of raising kids. He wanted to travel the world, but not like those hippies and philosophers do. He had no nirvana to find, he just wanted to enjoy the best available luxuries.
One day, his boss, Venu called him to his office and said, ‘Cijith, you know we’re trying to acquire FL Motors.’
Cijith smiled. It was his idea to begin with. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Well, they’re playing hard to get. They’ve turned down our initial offer. They said they’re not looking to sell.’
‘That’s what they all say.’
‘So I want you to go down there and convince them.’
‘Why me?’ Cijith knew exactly why him. It was through his anonymous connections at FL Motors that he obtained info that the company was taking blows harder than they could handle. They needed a big brother.
‘Because you’re our best hope.’ Venu knew exactly what Cijith wanted to hear.
Cijith smiled again. Silent understanding of the other person was his favourite kind. He agreed, and they made plans for the following week. Cijith would go down to their headquarters, connect with his source, and touch FL where it hurt.
Cijith landed at the Changi Airport where a Mercedes was waiting for him. It took him to a Hilton where his suite had everything he could think of. Just when he thought so, there was a knock at the door. Cijith opened, and an Asian girl in a tight, deep cut sequin black dress which stretched just below her hips stood in the corridor, her straight black hair falling effortlessly below her shoulders, and her golden heels brought her up to Cijith’s height.
‘Good evening, Mr Jose. My name is Maria. Mr Darryl down at the reception wanted me to give you this card and tell you that if you feel stressful or lonely in this big suite, the number on here dials me.’ She handed him the card and without waiting for an answer, swiftly walked back down the corridor. Cijith looked at her go, kept looking long after she had gone.
He called the number that night.
He slept less than he should have, considering how much work he had to get done. Cijith spent the next three days secretly meeting his source inside FL Motors. He then went to meet the representatives of FL.
Cijith entered the conference room, and froze in his tracks. Sitting one place left to the head of the table was Maria. He recovered quickly and tried to act like nothing was wrong. As soon he took his seat, as far from Maria as he could, the old man sitting beside her cleared his throat. His demeanour was threating, and a bead of sweat appeared on Cijith’s forehead.
‘Mr Jose,’ he said, in his slow, hoarse voice, ‘you wild, foolish motherfucker.’
Cijith spent the next half hour being bashed, threatened, and shouted upon by the old man. At one point, someone had to stop him from jumping on Cijith and smashing his head. How could he sleep with the CEO’s daughter? When the old man was done, he had Cijith thrown out of the building by security. He was warned if he came to Singapore again, he would shred him to pieces. He would later find out that his source in FL Motors was actually working for the Vice President of the company, who had staged this whole thing, lured Maria into the scheme, to screw over Cijith. But why him?
A shocked and numbed Cijith took the next flight back to India. He was dreading going to office. He could not tell them what had happened. He would just say that his research revealed that the FL Motors was drowning, and it wasn’t a good deal for Fern. But soon after he landed, he received his termination letter before he could make it out of the airport.
Cijith went straight home. This cannot be happening again, he thought. It was not his fault. How was he supposed to know? No, it wasn’t fair. He had been loyal to the company. He had given his everything to them. He was their best man. They should’ve stood up for him, supported him. But nobody was even taking his calls. Loyalty was supposed to be a two-way street. Cijith’s guilt was soon turning into anger. He was drinking, and he was getting high. It was not fair, he thought again. They can’t do this to him.
He opened his laptop, and tried to log in to the company’s network. Yes, his credentials were still valid. A week earlier, Cijith’s team had negotiated dealership rights to a wealthy man in a remote area of Punjab. It was a weak market, very risky. The owner had pestered Fern for months, and even offered to pay them 5,000,000 rupees as a security against their investment. So if he could not sell the Fern cars, they could keep the money. Cijith’s team was supposed to send him an email by next week accepting his offer if he paid the amount up front, with all the details of where to wire the money.
Cijith wrote the email instead. He accepted the offer. He sent him the details. He included nobody else in the email, of course, and he waited. The next day, Cijith booked a one-way ticket to Jamaica. The next day, the excited man from Punjab had wired the money. But it came straight to Cijith’s personal account.
Suspicion arose, but before anyone would figure out what had happened, Cijith had landed in Jamaica. He did not plan on going back. He went to a cheap hotel who didn’t ask many questions. He rented a car, drove along the beach. His adrenaline had still not calmed down. What had he done? What more could he do?
For someone who had visited beaches in Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Jamaica was heavenly. The owner of the hotel he was staying at was an old, spirited man. He was always singing and smoking weed. After a few months, Cijith started working for the old man, helping him in his chores, welcoming the customer, in exchange for living there for free. The old man saw how smoothly he talked the customers into taking smaller rooms for higher rent. It’s the cosiest one we’ve got, he would say. He being from another country also attracted more customers.
The old man died four years later, and he had left the hotel to Cijith, who, with his corporate experience and business mind, turned it into a franchise. In ten years, Jose Homes (earlier Chill Out Inn) became the largest hotel chain in Jamaica. Cijith’s family visited him three times in those ten years, and never again. Eventually, they lost touch. Cijith spent his last days in luxurious peace – just the way he liked it.