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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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 SHORT STORY

The star attraction

Kosala is a man with a one of a kind personality. If the story of Genesis is to be believed he was not a descendant of Adam, Abraham or Noah. If Darwin was correct, Kosala’s ancestors were not Homo-sapiens. He was unique so were we to a certain extent. We were the ‘fighters’. Many adjectives were tagged to the title ‘fighters’ to us a unique group. It was the dignified title we were bestowed with. We had earned this honorary position without any hard labour … a sort of a noble reward!

‘Verbal fighters’ was what we were. In whatever description we were termed, we were a group of fighters, fighting for the sake of fighting. Our fights were essentially verbal. They have not elevated to fisticuffs as yet! We were a religious group, hence no murder was permitted.

The place was the highest helm of ‘earthly hell’. This was my work place. We were the virtual representatives of ‘Lucifer.’ Peace and harmony were words that were alien to us. None could be worse than the other. We were competitive in outdoing one another in all our day-to-day activities but most of all in our verbal out-lashes.

Common cause

We were a group of 12, seven males and five females to be precise.

Ours was one of the many teams of our organisation that was serving in the remote parts of the country in social development. We were a group of relatively ‘well educated’ people who were committed to serve hapless communities. We claimed to be a dedicated team for a common cause.

However, among our own team ‘common cause’ was only a distant dream. Though we spoke the same language and belonged to the same religion we were diverse in every possible way, or we chose to be diverse in our actions and thoughts simply to make life ‘not so comfortable’ for the others. We argued on politics, religion, skin colour, our appearance and what not. If I chose to list them down my story will be swallowed by the endless disparities.

Chandi was the centre of attraction among the team. He was a long-nosed youth in his early twenties, well groomed in appearance. Merrill was a star, a well -dressed fashion conscious man married with a young son.

Then there was Mithree, Yasiru and a bunch of others including me who are nondescripts not worth describing, except to introduce us as the members of the fighting gang with special traits.

Vegetarian

Kosala was the centre point of all our arguments. He deserves a special description. He was a man in his mid-forties, a father of two teenagers. He was dark in complexion and had luscious bouncy hair. He took pride in his jet black locks that had a slight curl. “I maintain my hair in topping condition” mustered Kosala whenever someone commented on his well-combed volume.

He was a vegetarian and his meals were adorned with lots of greens. Women secretly coveted for such jet black hair. “Be a vegetarian” he will quip to a woman who will ask him for the secret of his lovely locks.

“You claim to be a vegetarian yet, you are eating our flesh day and night” was a common statement from Chandi, an equally efficient ‘fighting cock’. It was a colloquial idiom. In local dialect ‘eating a person’ meant ‘murdering or destroying’.

Kosala would argue with ‘out of this world’ points to justify his statements. If permitted, Kosala would have claimed that Ptolemy was born in his native town and had later migrated. And among us there would have been a few who would have endorsed Kosala’s claim but with a slight correction that indeed Ptolemy was born in Sri Lanka but elsewhere in the country.

Once, Kosala had a bitter a fight over a herbal hair product. Yes a fight…they fought over a brand name of herbal hair oil.

Jagath declared war saying that Kosala was using a herbal hair oil to keep his hair intact. Kosala claimed that he doesn’t need any oil to keep his locks in place.

Opposition

The women in our team commented that there might be a secret behind his lustrous crowning glory. Kosala negated. But the very next day we smelt a sophisticated scent in office. Kosala had shifted to a branded hair gel to shape his style.

Kosala enjoyed being the opponent at all times. He was tagged the ‘destined opposition leader’ among the rest. Even in ‘obvious confirmed facts’ he chose to differ from the entire group.

For example, he will point at a white coloured object and claim that it’s black. Inadvertently there would be scores of others who will proclaim that it is a lighter or darker shade of grey and not black or white, while a minority will whisper it’s white.

However trivial the issue would be, the argument would continue for hours, at times even to the next day. When the debate reaches the peak with no consolation left, the entire team would proclaim that Kosala was correct and it indeed is black.

That’s when the drama begins to unfold. Once the majority given in, Kosala will reverse his argument and claim that it is white. This was a habitual action of Kosala. Kosala was notorious on this account while the others fell into varied other categories of disagreement.

There was too much entertainment in these discussions which was enjoyed by the bystanders and onlookers though it caused much stress to the people within the circle. We were a trademarked notorious team among the many departments in our organisation.

It was within this culture and context that we were struck with a disaster.

A fellow team member of ours was diagnosed with cancer. Merrill the ever bubbly young man was the victim. The team had diverse thoughts in addressing the medical needs of Merrill.

Disagreement

This was yet another new chapter and opportunity for our team to unearth new points for disagreement. There were varied statements regarding the physician. Ten members proposed ten names of ‘capable doctors’... “Doctor A cured so and so” was claimed by one and the other would propose a different name “who had cured so and so”.....

The ‘so and so’ and the ‘such and such’ cliché’s continued. Merrill was taken to the city hospital for in-house treatment. It was an eight hour drive for us from where we were domiciled. None of us could visit Merrill as often as we wished due to the distance and also because of our job demands.

Our lives continued as before except that we had a new staff member who was beginning to master ‘our culture’. He was the temporary replacement for Merrill. Merrill too had informed us that we should not ‘bother’ ourselves to visit him as he was under good care.

It was April. More than eight months to Merrill’s malady. The National New Year was around the corner. Our office too would be closed for a week.

Visit

One day during lunch time Chandi proposed that we visit Merrill in hospital before the New Year.

Since we all had pre-planned our holidays, none of us could oblige to Chandi’s suggestions. Hence the idea was stillborn. However, Chandi was determined to visit Merrill.

During the holidays one late night I received a call. It was Chandi at the other end sobbing profusely. A feeling mixed with fear and anxiety engulfed me.

But the news he broke to me was both joyful and sad. In between sobs Chandi explained to me that Merrill will be discharged from hospital as his health condition has improved and went on to say that he has drawn down to a walking skeleton. “I couldn’t recognise him.

He looks old, haggard and skinny. He has lost all his hair for the Chemo”, sobbed Chandi.

I was relieved to know that Merrill was out of danger, yet was saddened that the once buxom youth appeared wasted. The ever unsatisfied human nature of mine demanded that healing alone was not sufficient but his appearance too should be restored.

The holidays were peaceful and we all had enjoyed our relaxed stay at home. Merrill had returned home. All our team members except me and Mithree had visited him. Many stories were related to us by them in the most descriptive manner. There was only one message in all their statements. “Merrill looks wasted”.

Once I mustered the courage and visited Merrill. It was the worst nightmare of my life. Merrill looked different. His appearance has changed beyond recognition. If not for his eyes and the smile, I could not have identified him.

He was a skeleton. His ears looked large for the frame he bore now. I returned home with such disgust and depression. I hated the sickness of Merrill which has swirl-pooled the bubbly young man, leaving a crushed soul and body.

The visits to Merrill by our team members continued. They never went in a group but chose to visit individually whenever it was possible.

Request

One day during a Monday meeting, Chandi proposed that we let Merrill come to work. It has been a request by Merrill as he was feeling bored to be at home. There were many a negating statements from the group. “He is too feeble, he might collapse any moment. It’s a risk, “said one. “If he returns somebody will always have to remain in office to keep company. Our field visits will be hampered,” said another.

The statements were endless. They commented on the office facilities and the infrastructure that were not conducive to cater to a patient such as Merrill. I was unable to grasp whether these words were out of sympathy and genuine concern or a measure of reliving ourselves of an extra burden.

However, the statements were less than sympathetic or, so I felt.

After much discussions and arguments, and with the consent of the management, Merrill was granted two days a week in office. It was given due consideration on humanitarian and sentimental grounds.

The day dawned as usual. It was a Monday, where the majority of the staff do not fix field meetings. Merrill was to come to office after a lapse of nearly a year.

However, unusually we did not see a single male staff in attendance that morning. They had called in and had informed that they will be coming late, much to the disgust of the female staff. “Now when Merrill comes only we women will be there to greet him. At least at a moment like this the men should have set aside their differences,” said Mithree. “Typical male chauvinists” said Yamuna under her breath. It was a moment of despair for all of us. We were in a daze not knowing how to act and receive Merrill, our ailing colleague.

Welcome back

The women had fixed a glittery ‘welcome back’ decoration on the door post. Mithree had baked a special chocolate cake for the morning tea. We were at our tables waiting for Merrill to arrive at any moment.

While we were engulfed in our routine work, we heard the shrieking loud voice of the security officer. “Here, Merrill sir has come”

We ran in unison to the front door. All we wanted was to see Merrill. But what we witnessed was an amazing sight.

A loud “Oh” chorused from the women in awe.

We saw a group of bald headed men pushing the wheel chair of Merrill. They were our team mates. Merrill flashed us a jubilant smile it was only then that I noticed my entire team the ‘gang of fighting cocks’ looking so radiant. Their well shaved heads shining in the morning sunray.

An elated Chandi looked too smart in his new style..... Jagath resembled Yule Bryner of Ten Commandments fame.... and there was Terry, Sunil, Raj and everybody else. But Kosala was the star attraction... the oldest among them...He was holding on to the wheel chair...his eyes brimming with a special sparkle!

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