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The Queue

by Tapan Mozumdar

An urban, sophisticated TamBrahm meets a rustic Sardar truck driver in the queue for exchanging currency. What follows is an unspoken tale between the two. Story by Tapan.

Twenty-seven, Venkataraman, alias Venky, counted. Even if each person took about three minutes to withdraw money, he will get to the bank counter only by eleven. That will be, he calculated – one and a half hours beyond his morning meet. He took a selfie with the bank’s name and the queue in the background. ‘Demonetized L’, he messaged to his project management group on WhatsApp, ‘Not before lunch!’

Smitha had given him the ultimatum. Without cash, the housemaid and the caregiver to his father couldn’t be paid their dues. The November sun was unkind to Bengaluru. Shade was fifteen people away, he counted.

Without a cup of coffee now, his bio-clock was on its brink to push his ire. Someone gave that push to him. He stumbled out of the line but managed to keep a foot inside. He wanted to snap at the man, but the sight of the 6’ 2”, 100 kg Makhan Singh dissuaded him. After composing himself, Venky shifted his wallet from his usual rear pocket to the front.

“I drove non-stop last night from Hyderabad. Saala, gaurment will do whatever, kya? Yesterday, 500, 1000 – today zero! Fun or what? Office told to change old notes, but this line of buggers is so long!” Makhan was animated on a mobile call. “If oranges rot by the time I reach Kochi, who will pay, gaurment?”

He needed useful cash to fulfil his needs of the night. The thought of the imminent abstinence from liquor and flesh made him scratch his balls by stretching his frame sideways. As he did that, five people queued after him, including Venky, received the seismic ripples.

Makhan had his last decent bath at Nagpur. The brew of cheap alcohol and sweat was too much for the Tamilian Brahmin behind him to bear. Venky put his Eau-de-cologned handkerchief over his nose and remained steadfast in his position.

The line crawled as the bank opened at 9:30. Venky got a little legroom, stood akimbo and sneaked his elbows at right angles to his body such that Makhan’s belly hit its sharp edges if he swivelled too close for Venky’s comfort. The glazing of the showroom five shops away from the bank reflected his smug smile at this small win in defence of his somatic territory.

The turbaned Sikh got annoyed after two sharp shoves to his equatorial protrusion. Twenty years back at his village, he would have just whacked this five feet something Pundit to the ground. This was an alien land, and the court cases running against him might get complicated with another police complaint. Satto had given him ‘Bittoo da soun’ (promising by the name of Bittoo, his son) that he wouldn’t engage in fisticuffs ever again. He had broken many promises made to Satto. This one, he kept for his son.

He tightened the muscles of his stomach, which grew stiff as a board. With the next crowd wave passing through the queue, Venky’s elbows proved too weak for the solid defence from Makhan’s middle order. Venky’s arms got thrown away to his two sides.

Making hay in this sunshine, a couple of vendors were selling ice-creams and flavoured ice shavings. Venky beckoned one of them. He was thankful to the seller for accepting the old currency notes. He bought a Cornetto.

“Give me a mango.” Makhan shoved his tenner across Venky’s left shoulder. He bought a bright yellow one. After a while, Venky felt a sharp drop fall on his neck. While wiping the icy trickle with his handkerchief, he gave a look of disgust to Makhan.

Makhan was staring elsewhere. The exposed mid-riff of a college girl, standing two positions ahead of Venky, was definitely more interesting to him than Venky’s angry eyes.

“Excuse me”, Venky called out towards the front. The college girl was the first to turn her head to him. “The queue has moved ahead.” The girl apologised for being lost in her mobile and deftly filled the void in front. This movement spoiled Makhan’s visual groping. Venky moved ahead, amused at the situation.

Soon after, Venky felt a nudge at the centre of his spine. He looked back to find Makhan prodding him with his index finger. Before he could react on such violation of his physical space, he saw his wallet in Makhan’s left hand. Makhan gestured to the ground. Venky realised that he might have dropped it when trying to put it in his back pocket after having paid the ice-cream vendor. With a slight bow, he corrected a few of his earlier judgments for the man.

It was a drill for another twenty minutes before Makhan and he were summoned at two parallel counters. The paperwork was not a significant bother for Venky. For Makhan, it was a truck-sized harassment. He lost his cool thrice while trying to follow the officer at the counter. The officer was desperate in his Kannada laced Hindi. Makhan’s Punjabi decorated the fiery Hindi he was voicing.

Venky’s paperwork was over. As he waited, he looked at Makhan. The imposing rock was getting pulverised by the bureaucracy. Fireworks seemed just a spark away. Venky stretched his hands. A little perplexed, Makhan handed over the application form to him.

“I shall do the needful,” Venky assured the relieved bank officer.

Pic from https://www.flickr.com/photos/30557460@N05/

Tapan fell in love with the short stories after having scored a half century of his living years. A course on short stories at Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW) in 2016 inspired him to be creative and regular. Published widely online during 2017, he found Special Mention in TOI Write India Season 2 and was shortlisted for Star Writers Program in Mumbai.
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