Three nights ago
The plane banked steeply over the cliff, as the pilot worked hard to maintain a semblance of control over the machine. It nosed down, slid sideways, slipped into an imaginary slipstream and maintained its steady loss of altitude.
I asked the pilot, “Are we going down?”
The pilot replied, “Not if I can help it.”
From my co-pilot’s chair, I tried to help steer the plane, but it seemed more and more like a losing battle. We were much below the cliff now, where green trees and wild shrubs grew in lush abandon, sunlight giving a sparkling glow to the vegetation.
The plane shook as we hit a treetop and the jagged rocks and undergrowth were now visible from the cockpit. And then the engines died synchronously, leaving a hush filled solely by the howling of the wind. I looked across and the pilot had passed out. The glowing screen showed our height to be 490 metres.
I tried to estimate how much longer we had to hit the ground. It was a simple equation – distance and acceleration due to gravity were my servants. But I seemed to have hit a mental block and the numbers just couldn’t be processed. Frustrated, I tried again from the start. But no, it was too late.
I woke up, in a cold sweat.
Two nights ago
The girl woke up as the not-so-bright sun shined through the not-so-thick curtains of the not-so-large bedroom facing east. She groped around and recovered the other half of her bedsheet. Her boyfriend had left for office already. It was a Thursday and he had a report to finish.
She walked down the hall with the newspaper in her hand to check the breakfast left for her in the dining table, by the maid. Two Aloo Parathas, gradually going cold. She put them in the microwave, poured a glass of orange juice, plonked herself down in front of the TV and tuned into ‘Discovery Travel and Living’. Then she remembered that she had to wash her face.
Back in the bedroom, she rummaged through the cupboard and found her boyfriend’s facewash. ‘Garnier For Men’, it said. “Drat!”, she cursed, “Why did I forget to bring mine!” After debating for a minute, she decided to use the facewash anyway. It won’t hurt if she used a masculine facewash for a day!
After thoroughly dousing her face with a generous amount from the tube and then rinsing it off, she returned to the blaring TV. The show featured a lithe, young woman in Morocco, dancing with the natives. She settled down to watch.
Phut, went the electricity. She cursed the power-starved city and muttered a few words about the style of development. She did not get up though, but sat in the couch waiting for the power to return, for it was a lazy morning after all. Her reflection, holding the glass of orange juice, was visible in the blank TV screen. She sat up with a start. Her reflection…
She ran to the bathroom and stared at the mirror. And screamed as loud as she could, in shock and disgust. Faintly but clearly, her entire face was dotted by a black fuzz – a stubble.
I woke again, with a start.
The curly-haired boy in the orange t-shirt pushed a flyer into my hands as I entered the office complex.
While in the office, I decided to hit the pub after work. I was feeling a little under the hill and further, it was a good deal, since I drank a lot more than what was worth 300 bucks usually.
The pub was reasonably crowded as I stepped inside at around 7 PM. “The unlimited beer offer”, I told the bartender, and was soon served my first pint. As I sat nursing the cold Corona, I thought of the sign-board again. Wasn’t there a star against the offers? Cursing, I wondered what exactly the fine print had said. I couldn’t remember.
3 pints down, and I’ve had enough. My mood had failed to improve and it was raining outside. I got up to pay my bill but the bartender stopped me.
“You cannot leave, Sir”, he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Didn’t you read the fine print?” he countered. And handed me the offer notice.
The bartender smiled and handed me the 4th pint. I looked around in panic, searching for an escape route. In vain, as the door was shut and my way to the door was littered with several muscular worthies, all barmen of some kind or the other. Strangely, the other customers had all gone as well – or had they bloated and burst?
I sighed in resignation and drank my 4th. And the 5th and the 6th. On the 7th, I could distinctly feel my belly growing, and by the 9th it had started rumbling faintly. As the bartender, still smiling, passed me the 11th pint, I knew that the breaking point was near. When the first drop of the 12th hit my stomach, I heard the ominous sound. Another drop, there was a distinct ‘pop’ and the bartender was deluged in a flood of beer and what not.
I woke up as usual, a fever rampant in my system.
I had to summon all my remaining strength to get up from bed today morning. The last three nights had been terrible, the nightmares seemed to have sapped half my strength. The idea of going to office was utterly preposterous, and I decided to stay in bed the whole day.
By afternoon, my fever had increased substantially and I started shivering. I dragged myself over to the bathroom, to hunt for a paracetamol in the medicine cabinet. Futile, as all it contained was a bottle of antiseptic, some bandages and a tube of facewash. The brand was ‘Garnier for Men’. I extracted the tube from the cabinet and looked up at the mirror. My face stared back at me, the chin covered by a 3-day stubble.
“Really?” I asked myself, “But that doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, I shaved. For good measure, I tossed the facewash outside the window to the construction site next door.
Bah, a paltry ’10’ had flummoxed me? The solution seemed so simple in retrospect, yet surreal, and I stepped out of the house, wrapped in thick clothes to curb my shivering. The pub was open, and I ordered a pint of Corona. I felt the warmth running down my throat and relief, albeit temporary, flooded my system. I had a second pint for luck and a final one for the road. I paid up and smiled at the bartender. He wasn’t smiling – maybe it wasn’t a good business day.
I ask the pilot, “Are we going down?”
The pilot replies, “Not if I can help it.”
Nevertheless, our descent continues unabated and I notice the greenery around us and the rocky ground beneath us. The engines spurt and die and I glance at the display ahead of me. 490, it glows and I try to remember. The pilot is unconscious. I rack my brains, I know I have it stored away somewhere. As a lone bird drifts by the cockpit window, I remember.
TEN, I shout. Its TEN. TEN is the solution. I sense closure, I turn to my right. The pilot jerks awake. She grabs the joystick and pulls up. First one engine and then the other whine back to life and the plane lifts off, a few feet from the ground.
We rise higher and find our bearings to move up to safer altitudes. The pilot looks across at me and smiles. She smells of aftershave and beer.