What was supposed to be the best day of Duke's life faces a tragic end.
|The pain was huge, intense and overwhelming. Duke looked at his right leg, which had now swollen enough to resemble an over inflated bicycle tire. The appearance did not ail his agony the slightest, and he continued to twitch. He glanced down and looked at the river rushing beneath him, swift as ever. He took a deep, calming breath, taking in a lungful of the cold, misty air, as his mind raced over the events of the past few hours.
A few hours ago, Duke had been the happiest man alive. He had finished the manuscript for his novel. He knew that it would be the next bestseller, and he could quit his day job in Wimpy’s, a local restaurant. He felt exuberant as he locked his door that morning. Even the stale, cold air of the dingy alley he lived beside felt refreshing. After all, he was soon going to be a millionaire. He could finally prove to his father that he did the right thing quitting high school. Today was the first day for his life of glory.
He looked at a battered old beggar sitting gloomily by the church. The old man didn’t bother looking back. Years of experience had trained him whom to expect charity from, and who not to. Duke thought it would be fun to surprise him.
“Hey, old timer,” he said, nudging the frail man on his shoulder. The old man looked warily at him, with slight panic in his eyes.
“A fine day, isn’t it?” Duke called.
“Gerroff!” replied the man. He didn’t want to be toyed with. He drew out an old, stale piece of sandwich and began munching it.
Duke felt his temper rising, but calmed down soon enough. Behind his back, he skimmed through his wallet to find the biggest dollar bill he could come upon. It was a hundred. Nah, too much, he thought. He took out a fifty.
“Guess what I’m holding behind my back.” He asked. The man’s eyes widened – a mingled expression of curiosity and fear written in them.
Duke held out the 50 dollar bill at the man. “Go nuts,” he said, before he strolled away towards the editor’s office.
A block from the office, Duke stopped to rest, leaning on a lamppost. The road was deserted. There was nothing to see but a little old lady crawling on the street bent over her walker. The lady stopped near the zebra crossing, but seemed too frail to cross the street on her own. Duke went forth and helped her along. He needed all the karma he could master.
His pace slowed once he came in front of a two storied building with a shiny signboard, saying “The Ridge”. It was the best publishing agency in the town. The editor, Ben Thomas, was famous for his acumen for seeking out potential bestsellers. It had taken Duke days of persuasion and as many phonecalls he could steal from the restaurant when his boss was too busy taking orders to notice. He stepped through the front door to the reception office, where he was met by the cold stare of the receptionist, who directed him to her boss. As he entered the office, Duke’s sense of apprehension was rising . His throat felt dry.
Mr. Thomas sat behind a mahogany table, piles of scripts and books scattered all over the room.
“You better have a damn good manuscript there, boy… calling me about a twenty times. Take a sit, and hand it over. “
Duke swallowed heavily, and handed the manuscript over to the man, then sat on the only chair in the room that wasn’t piled with books.
Mr. Thomas skimmed through the book for the next few minutes. Deep furrows formed on his forehead, and the sides of his lips twitched occasionally. Duke didn’t notice all this, as he kept wondering what would be a modest down-payment for his novel. With his first payment, he would rent a flat. He would probably keep a dog. Pay some of the bills.
“Mr Evans ?” Duke snapped out of his daydreams. The editor had taken an unusually stern voice.
“Yes, sir ?”
“What was your English score ? I mean in high school .” He demanded.
“I … I never went there,” he gulped, searching in vain for words.
“It would appear so, judging from your English.”
“But, with good editing, it would still be… I mean, I could..”, Duke tried to reply, fumbling for words, his voice trailing away with every single utterance.
“Very well.” Mr Thomas replied, his voice suddenly soft as butter. “What’s the premise of your story?”
“It… the premise ?” He wasn’t quite familiar with the term.
“ Tell me something now, Mr. Evans.” Mr. Thomas said, the corners of his mouth twitching dangerously.”Your grammar is pathetic, you don’t have the slightest clue what a theme is, and you still want me to publish your story?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, yes.” What was he supposed to reply?
“Take this back,” shouted Mr. Thomas, “And never, ever show your face in my office.” He flung the manuscript at him, which barely missed his head and hit the door behind.
The next few moments were a blur. He vaguely remembered picking the manuscript up and running out of the office to the street. He had run to Wimpy’s Burger.
As he moved towards the ordering desk, the events inside the office had been rewinding and repeating themselves again and again inside his head: the throbbing vein pulsating in Mr Thomas’s forehead, the manuscript flying through the air. He had no clue why he had been rejected. Maybe his father was right. He was indeed a failure. In the midst of all the passing frames in the bizarre movie his mind was playing, he barely registered his boss’s face telling him something.
“Huh?” Duke blinked once more.
“You’re fired. ” His boss spat out, and turned to take the next order.
He wanted to move, but just stood there. He knew that landing a job in the midst of this town was impossible. He just couldn’t afford to get fired. Not now.
“Sir,” he pleaded, “I’ve been working here for one year, you can’t just fire me like that.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, you dimwitted git, I just did. You’re two hours late, and I don’t have a place for laggers in this place. Don’t bother asking for this week’s salary. They’ll just about cover up your local phone calls.”
Duke felt strangely numb now. He walked slowly away and head for his home. He remembered he had to pay his week’s rent to the landowner - a hundred and twenty dollars. He only had a hundred, and some change. He was going to be thrown out with his belongings. Throughout the day, he sat by the roadside, lost in thoughts. He had done two good things today, and none had gone unpunished. This would make a fine story, he thought.But why would he bother. This one would not have a premise as well, whatever that meant. At night, he headed home.
On his way home, he glanced at the sidewalk. The beggar was still sitting there. He walked up to him.
“Remember me? I gave you a fifty dollar bill a few hours back.”
The beggar didn’t make a sound. His eyes were closed. Duke could tell he was awake.
“Listen, I had a really bad day. And if I don’t have those dollars, I’ll lose my home. I’ll give you some cash later, if I can manage.” Duke said.
The man started to snore.
Frustrated, Duke kicked at a lamp post, and ended up with a sore and swollen shin. A strange sense of bitterness was overwhelming him, drowning all his senses of disappointment and desperation. When he reached the bridge, he realized what he had to do. He flung the manuscript at the river, puffing and bellowing beneath him. It was then he had climbed up on the railing.
Taking a deep breath, he looked at the world one last time, and his gaze fell upon the church banner. “Do the world some good,” it read. He stepped down. He had one last thing to do. He picked up a modest sized brick up from the roadside, and walked silently up to the beggar, who was really sleeping now. Duke kicked his ribs as hard as he could. The man yelped awake. Duke looked straight at the old man’s eyes, imbibing the pain and the fear, as he smashed his skull with the brick.
The beggar’s crumpled body remained at his feet. He looked at it with satisfaction one last time, then walked to the bridge, and jumped into the running river.
Throughout the night, the beggar’s body stayed sprawled in a pool of blood. The silence buzzed and rang in the aftermath.