Sunday, April 16, 2017

Concerned we are
With metrics & measures
To improve care
Or so we say
Equality- Disparity
Access - Quality
Hard to measure
Harder to quantify
Yet we try and try
Spending less and less
Time and care
with ones who need.

Needy they come
And disappointed they are
Their time spent
Waiting and counting

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Letter for Kasie

           It was a fairly busy time at the office. The war had gone on much longer than the year they had projected and everything was in short supply. And high demand. Most of all good assistants and secretaries were in the shortest supply and highest demand. What with the most able men, being sent off to the front and the women following them as nurses or volunteers. I had managed to retain mine much longer than most. And then it happened. She left one day. No word whatsoever. I had come to expect it but had always hoped that she might be the odd one who stayed on well past the norm. She had after all been with me since almost six years. Even before the war started. Lord knows many of my superiors had tried their best to steal her away and yet she stayed. Loyalty or some other such sentiment? I never knew. And like many others took it and her for granted. Then last month, without so much as a thank you or good bye, she had left. Well disappeared. I had made inquiries using precious manpower to find her but they had all come back empty handed. It was as if she never existed.

           When Pearl Harbor was bombed, two weeks ago, her disappearance too stopped bothering me. Pearl Harbor had been bombed! Those fools at HQ had ignored precious intel and never bothered to fortify our base there. I could have used her help. We had a crisis on our hands but then would some 20 something air head ever understand. No. I cursed her and the day I had agreed to hire her. Thankfully, Central HQ sent me a complete incompetent to take her place almost immediately. Apparently it was quite common these days. Offloaded her onto me, if I were to be truthful. Some Ms. Mouse or the other. I had not bothered to learn her name yet. On average, a secretary lasted three months these days. The long hours and low pay did not help. In any case my mind was on other things. The bombing of Pearl Harbor had created a strong wave of paperwork and other issues. Since I was in charge of that region staffing and manpower, the job fell on me to find replacements for all those young men and women. A tragedy of epic proportions. Nothing had prepared us for this sort of an attack. And daily the number of people reported MIA or KIA (missing or killed in action to the civilians) kept increasing. I also had the sad responsibility of contacting the families of those young men and women with the news of their passing. If I hated anything about my job it was that part. I never felt so powerless and helpless. I had put in multiple requests to be sent to the front but they had all been turned down. I was, and I quote, “too important” to be allowed to go there. My younger brother, Peter, was among those who were still MIA. I prayed daily for him and for the others.
            Today was no different. My secretary had just dropped off the latest telegram with another 22 names. Since morning, we had received confirmation of 108 more bodies having washed up. Some were too damaged to be recognized. They would be buried there. Their dog-tags were being sent back. Possibly by the slowest means possible. It sometimes took a month for them to get to my desk. It was too expensive for the bodies to be shipped back. Besides, we had neither the personnel nor the means to transport them. Every available transport ship or plane had been commandeered for the war effort.  I glanced through the new list. Peter was not among them. I did not know what was worse. The waiting or the knowledge that someone we loved was no longer going to be home for the holidays. I started filling out the forms to have their next of kin notified. As I finished with the first few forms, I heard a soft cough. I looked up and found that my secretary had not left. In fact, she had been standing there. I wondered why. I raised an eyebrow but she made no attempt to speak. Completely useless.
“May I help you with something?” I asked her in an exasperated tone. Did she not have something to do? Clearly the letters she was to have finished typing two days ago were not important. I had asked for them when I had come in this morning and she had made some excuse about typewriter ribbons or the other. Useless. The previous one would have worked the system and ensured we never were short of anything within reason. I asked her if she had looked through the drawers. No. She had not. Like I said useless. And now she stood in front of me again. I wondered if I would ever be able to sign those letters and send the next three platoons over.
“Oh come on. I don’t have all day you know. Spit it out, Ms...” I trailed off as I realized that I should have atleast made the effort to remember her name.
“I am sorry Sir. I was going through the drawers and found some of Ms. Jones’ personal things. What would you like me to do with them?” She asked me in her squeaky little voice.
“I don’t know. Throw them out, I suppose. I doubt she is coming back.” I waved her away. As she turned and was leaving, I felt a bit sorry. No Jones deserved better. She had left unexpectedly but she had stuck it out with me in this dreary old office for the better part of six years.
“NO! Wait.” I called out to her. She turned to face me. I pondered the dilemma. What could we do with them? “Put them in a box and leave them in my office.” I finally told her. I would return them to her when she came. If Jones ever came back. The mouse nodded and disappeared quickly with relief flooding her face as she did. I knew I had a reputation. Ah well. These were difficult times.
I left for the mess around 1 o’clock and was back at my desk by 1:30 pm. I had a ton of paperwork to get through today. I clearly felt Jones’ departure. Ms Mouse and that is what I settled on after repeated attempts to get it right, was still out at lunch. Her real name was Ms. Gladys Maoussie. I could barely pronounce it, let alone spell it. She was part French, she proudly told me when I was leaving for lunch.  I almost tripped over the box that she had left in my office. Totally useless. Leaving it bang in the middle of the doorway. Well I could hardly blame her if I were to be totally honest. Every inch of my room was crammed with boxes and files full of papers and documents. Those that didn’t make it into these files were piled up wherever there was room. I picked up the box and carried it to my desk. There as a bit of room behind my desk and that is where I finally dumped it. The day was long and passed quickly. Have you ever noticed how the day passes by quickly when we have a lot to do and stretches out indefinitely when we want it to pass? One of the officers had been a physics major before joining up, had told me a joke about the theory of relativity. Some bloke called Einstein had a theory. All poppy cock if you ask me. Ms. Mouse wished me and left for the day. I nodded and went back to study the numbers. There was no way we could replace the men in Pearl Harbor. Not without substantially affecting the war effort in other parts. I remembered Pollock had a division that was sitting in Africa. I had asked Ms. Mouse to type out an order for them to be reassigned. I wondered if she had done that. A quick glance through her desk let me know that she had yet to figure out who Pollock was. Jones would have known. I uncovered her typewriter and slowly rolled in the three sheets of paper with carbon between them. All things have to be sent in triplicate. HQ rules. Took me a while to get it to work right. Jones had been a natural. It took me an hour to finish drafting the orders.  I had had to use liberal amounts of white out to wipe out the errors. Thankfully it was done. I signed it and placed it in the outbox. Tomorrow morning, Pollock would receive his orders and they would take the first military airplane out to Pearl Harbor. Satisfied, I went back to my desk, pulled out my pipe and filled it. As I puffed the nice tobacco, I gazed out of the small window at the setting sun. The Potomac was clearly lit up by the sheer orange brilliance. My thoughts drifted. I wondered if Jones was somewhere out there looking at the same scene. She lived along the banks of the Potomac, I recalled her saying sometime in those 6 years. Six years and yet I knew so little about her. My eyes wandered to the box. I wondered what she had left behind. Too unimportant in the grand scheme of things to take with her? Or just forgotten due to a sudden change in circumstance? I picked up the box and carefully placed it on my desk atop the paper and files that covered every inch of it. Not much really. A cheap picture frame with a picture of her parents and dog, taken not so long ago, a few cigarettes and some other knick knacks. I was about to close the box when I noticed the file. A military file. Clearly the incompetent Ms. Mouse had put an important military file into that box. I shook my head. I would have called HQ and asked for a replacement but was quite sure that the next one would be worse. Good ones were not a part of the pool as they called it.
                   I fished out the file and took it over to Ms Mouse’s desk. I planned to leave it there, when I noticed the bold red lettering. DECEASED- NO NEXT OF KIN. I was surprised. How did Ms Mouse miss that? I wondered who it was. I opened the file. Sgt. Lawrence Markey. 64th Armored Division. I knew him well. Larry. He used to work for me before he was deployed. I tried to keep him but an explosives expert had no business handling paperwork, they let me know. He had been gone almost 2, no 3 years now. I knew he had died in the landing of Normandy. I noticed now, that a small bag that also lay inside the box with Ms Jones’ personal effects. Larry’s personal effects. This should have been sent to storage with the file. Did Ms Jones and Larry have a relationship? I doubted it. Larry used to hang around the office a lot but never said or did anything inappropriate. He was too well behaved for that. I wondered why Jones had kept the file. She was usually very efficient. Heck what did it matter. They were both gone and I had a report to prepare for my boss. We needed more nurses in Pearl Harbor. The number of injured were higher and increasing daily with fresh attacks from the Japs. I sat down to put together the numbers but no matter how hard I tried I could not concentrate. My attention kept going back to that box and Larry’s file. Finally, I gave up and opened the bag. Nothing out of the ordinary. His dog-tags, a few personal effects- a battered old harmonica, rusted and beyond salvage, some pictures of him and his mates, a steel hip flask and one letter.
The envelope was dirty but the seal appeared to have been freshly opened. I tried to read the faded inscription but dirt and fluids had washed most of it away. Probably was on the poor soul’s person when he died. I fished out the letter carefully and unfolded the letter. It was written in pencil. Quite a few pages. I should not read another man’s personal letter but overlooked my rule this time. It may hold some clues as to where we could send his effects.  It was addressed to his girl. Large portions had been blacked out. Typical military efficiency.
“Dear Kasie,
I am not sure when or if you will ever receive this letter. I am writing to you from XXXXXXXX. Tomorrow, my platoon commander tells me we will be sent to XXXXXX to XXXXXXX. A lot of troops are being landed at XXXXXX. The XXXXXXXXX push or as you probably know it, OPERATION XXXXXXXXXX.
I have always wanted to speak to you. No not speak. We have spoken, albeit sparingly. Not really your fault but totally mine. I was so happy when you first started working at XXXXXXXX. I still remember the day. XXX of XXXXXXXXX, XXXX. The happiest day of my life. I remember coming into the office to meet XXXXXXXXXXXXX and found you seated there in her place. I don’t know if you remember but I made some stupid comment which I thought you might find funny. I doubt you did. How could you? I lost all sensation in my head and knees whenever I met you. I could hardly string together an intelligent sentence. I was always at a loss for words. I guess the best thing would be to say that I have loved you since the first time I met you. I used to come by the office to meet XXXXX. But, truth be told, that was a thinly veiled ruse. I am sure you and others saw through it. I came by to gaze on your beautiful face. To lose myself in your pretty eyes. Limpid deep black pools that made me forget all. Your beautiful lips. So pink so soft. I longed to press my finger against them. To touch them. To caress your cheeks. To pass my hands through your sandy curls. Even now words fail me as I see your face in my mind. I have never known what love is. Probably this? Maybe not.

             All I knew was that I wanted to wake up every day to see your face and your lovely face was the last thing I saw before going to bed. You have given me hope, in these dreary times, hope and the gift of dreams. Dreams and hope have helped me go on. I wanted to ask you out so many times, over those years. But for once my courage failed me. The day I learned that we were being shipped out to XXXXXXX, I came to see you. You told me of the chap you had just started seeing. Robby. Oh how I hated that name. I had never met him and yet I hated him. He had the courage to do what I had only dreamed of doing. I hoped you two would break up one instant and the very next regretted the thought. How could I wish tears of unhappiness on someone I cared for....I wanted to ask you then to have dinner with me. But alas, my words never seem to reach my lips when you gaze on me with those deep brown eyes hidden behind glasses so beautiful. I mumbled something about trying out the mess pudding. Some new something and you went along. I tried in all that time to say what I wanted to say...ask you to go out with me...if only the once. Once to last me my entire lifetime.
I failed. I watched you slip away that evening into the arms of another and knew then that I might never have the opportunity. I made every excuse to come to your office after that. Striking up a conversation and hoping against hope that you might go out with me. The boys in the motor pool used to laugh at me. They knew something was up. I would always volunteer to run things to your office. I did not care. I tried again. And again. To ask you. Just the once. But one look from your beautiful eyes and I lost all care. Thoughts and plans, rehearsed speeches, nothing seemed to help or matter. They were all lost. Lost in your eyes.
            My last day before I left, I came to your office. I saw you. You were busy with some typing. I just stood there and watched you for as long as I could. When you got up to leave for the day, I tried to make conversation. Or as usual failed at it. I think I had started to annoy you by then and so I left. The next morning, I was on a XXXXXXXX to XXXXXXXXXXX.
That night, I wrote to you the first time. A silly little poem. I still remember the words clearly.

Blue are the heavens above
Aglow in the fires
White fires of the moon
Just as my soul
Burns in her love
Fire consumes all
Like my heart
Lit ablaze
Tormented is my soul
Crying in pain
For peace
In this lonely night
Like the thousand
Like the thousand
to follow
and my soul burns
Wracked in pain
Like the moon above.

Time doth pass
At paces glacial
I seek the sun
And her return
Dawn's dew
Quenching these flames
Her return, I await
Each night
If she doesn't
Will the sun
on the morrow shine?
My soul blazes
My heart burns
Scorching the Earth
like the heavens above
Thirst they do
for aqua alone
As do I
for her presence
Who shall I sing for
What can I truly sing
My songs are hers alone
Just as my soul
Tortured it lies
Ablaze in her absence

Fear do I
Her absence
With the sun
On mornings early
Combing her silken tresses
Oblivious to my pain
And yet I seek
No more than that
Her beautiful face
On that balcony
Each morning
Like the thousand
Like the thousand
to follow
and my soul burns
Wracked in pain
Like the moon above
Whilst I await
Her return
On this scorched Earth
Under the burning
Heavens above.

Blue are the heavens above
Aglow in the fires
White fires of the moon
Just as my soul
Burns in her love
Fire consumes all
Like my heart
Lit ablaze
Torment is my soul
Crying in pain
For peace
In this lonely night
Like the thousand
Like the thousand
to follow
and my soul burns
Wracked in pain
Like the moon above.

                  And I have written to you many times since. No no, it is not the fault of our postal system. I never sent them. But the very act of being able to write to you has kept me sane amidst the insanity here. I miss you. I miss that gaze. I miss those curls. I miss that smile. And yet you are only a thought away. I don’t know if you ever thought of me in the same terms. I don’t think you do. But I hope you do. It is this hope that has kept me alive and nourished my soul. The dream that one day I would be able to come to your office once more and ask you out. To gaze on your cherubic face and bask in the glow of your angelic smile. I realize I am not a catch. Probably not the most exciting chap you have ever met. Nor even the best looking. I realize you have a life of which I know nothing. I know you have dreams and aspirations. Probably a home. A family. I don’t. Not anymore. When my grandfather died, he knew of you. I had told him about you. I probably wore him out with my talk of you. He did not. Rather he was happy that I had found someone. I did not tell him the truth till his last days. He had made me promise to ask you out. Only those who dare to dream can achieve something, he told me in his last hours. I, foolishly, made him that promise. I would ask you out on my return. He died peacefully. Satisfied, in the knowledge that I was not to be alone after him. I tried after that to reach you. An elusive dream and one that I shall never see fulfilled.

Today, as I write this letter, another that probably will never reach you, I realize that I will never be able to fulfill my promise to him. He was a very nice man. You would have liked him. I know he would have liked you. For three years, I spoke to him of you. Did I ever tell you about him? I don’t think so. He was a good man. Lived a peaceful life. He knew how much I cared for you....Now if only I had ....Regrets are no good now. Dawn is only a few hours away. I go willingly into this fight, knowing that you are safe. My actions and those of my brave brothers here will protect you and others back home. Home. I wonder if I shall ever see home again.  

I am not a writer. Even now words are hard to string together. But if not now, then when? I doubt I will have another chance. If only I had ...when I had the opportunity. If wishes were horses...ah well... I know this will probably never reach you. But in the off chance that it does please do take care of yourself. You deserve every happiness that the good Lord has in store for you. Live your life to the fullest and know that I shall be waiting for you.

            For you are the only one I have ever given my heart to...and I hope you live for the both of us...I shall always be a part of this world as long as it has your smile. I shall live on in your eyes. The same that rob me of everything and bestow me with everything in the same moment.
The Jerries have a strange custom. They never say good bye. 
Auf Wiedersehen –till we see each other again.

Take Care my love,

Till we see each other again,


                  I slowly put the letter down. I wondered who Kasie was. She was a lucky girl. Someone Ms. Jones knew? Quite possibly. Was that why she had kept his file? I knew Larry had started hanging around my office quite a bit before he was deployed. I never realized why. Did Ms. Jones intend to give the letter and his effects to Kasie? Yes, that was probably why she had kept his file and effects. I may not be able to help Larry anymore but I would see to it that Kasie knew the young man who loved her so devotedly. I put the letter away and tried to finish my work. A few hours later, I left for home.

                 On a whim, that evening, I took the letter home with me. My wife would love to read that poem. It was simple and yet so beautiful. She gave me a look when I entered the house. I had promised to take her out that evening. It was too late. She knew better than to ask about Peter. I shook my head and handed her the envelope. She was a bit surprised when I asked her to read that letter. I never gave her any official documents to read. As she read, I saw tears start flowing down her cheeks. She looked up at me once she was done.
“That Kasie is a lucky girl. True love like this does not really come around often. Jones kept the effects to give to her.” I told her. She nodded.
“Why didn’t you tell her?” She asked me as she dabbed at her eyes.
“Tell her? Whom? Kasie? I do not know anyone called Kasie.” I informed her. Matter of factly. Who was I to stand in the path of dead man’s last wish?
“Kasie. You know Kasie. Of course you do....You have known her for so many years.” My wife accused me.
I did not know what to say. I did not know a Kasie and here my wife was convinced that I did.  And then it dawned on me. Ms. Cassandra Jones. Kasie.

               The next morning I tried my best to find Ms Jones. I called on her house and also asked her relatives. No one seemed to know. Weeks passed by and then I finally found her as I was finalising a list. She was on that list of names of personnel who had died at Pearl Harbor but had been reported as MIA. Mrs. Cassandra Ethel Jones-Markey. Her personnel file told me she had joined as a nurse a few months after the Normandy landings, deployed at her request as a nurse on board one of the ships at Pearl Harbor and had been reported missing after the bombing. Her body was never identified or found but they found her dog tags washed up on a beach. After six weeks, her status had changed from MIA to KIA. I had signed her approval to be deployed. Due to the sheer amount of paperwork, I had missed connecting those two folders and names. There was no marriage certificate on file and she had stated she was a widow. I closed their files and sent everything except that letter to be stored away. I keep that letter in my desk. Close to where they first met. Finally they were together. Forever. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Sword Master

             Life is quite strange. The way our lives collide with those of others. Others who have interesting experiences but for some reason don't share them with the world. My life has been pretty ordinary to say the least. Well except for that one experience. But then again it was not my experience. I just happened to know the person who lived through it. Although it has been years since this happened, I dont really know what to make of it. Fact or fiction. It is one of those "experiences" that happen only to a few and everyone else doubts them but are too polite to say so. Had I not been there when all this happened, I too would have had a much more difficult time believing Sam. Let me start from the beginning. A story rarely makes sense to those not familiar to the circumstances that led to...ah well. So, I met Sam many years ago. Sam was a student in the USA. He came to the USA for higher education and stayed. I did not know him back in medical school although our schools were barely 5 miles away. Even though he did part of his internship in my hospital, we rarely cross paths there. I met him, unlikely as it may sound, at a martial arts dojo, 4,500 miles away from home. In New York of all places. There I go again getting ahead of myself. Lets go back a few decades.
                  I was a high energy kid that most parents fear. Sugar had nothing to do with it. My mother had run out of ideas on how to get me to calm down enough to sleep. Even at night. Or at least something to take the edge off. Nuclear energy, they would joke, fueled me. That was of course before she found the local karate dojo. I crawled home for a month after that. Over the years as we moved cities and homes, my mother always insisted that I join some form of martial art. More for her health than mine. And so it was. Over the years, I practiced karate, kung-fu, jujitsu and many more. Each one as a result of my family's frequent moves and the availability of a martial arts dojo nearby. As I grew up, I saw my friends start going to the gym. I never could make myself do that. And it was not for a lack of trying. I needed the more intense work out that only a martial art provides. After medical school I came to the USA for higher education and found an Aikido dojo nearby. A great work out but for some reason not enough for me. One day as I wandered in a bit early hoping to get a few hours of work out and going over a few moves that my teacher had showed me. I changed into the traditional white gi top and the indigo blue hakama and stretched in the changing rooms downstairs before proceeding to the top floor of the three floor building where the practice rooms were. As I entered the dojo and I heard the loud shouts of kiai. And there they were. Kendo-ka. Kendo is the art of Japanese fencing. It is quite modern and very popular globally. The energy in the dojo was palpable. My non- martial arts friends would probably say so was the odour and smell. Aikido emphasized graceful smooth movements of empty handed techniques while Kendo was all about attacking the opponent with bamboo sticks or shinai at full speed. I sat at the back and watched the participants go through many paired exercises and later the open tournament style competition. Towards the end of their practice session, one of them walked up to me. He was still wearing his armor and his face mask so I could not tell. Not until he introduced himself. Sam.

                 Sam was genuinely pleased to meet me. After all how many Indians are there who are interested in Kendo. After they had bowed out and practice was over, he and I chatted for a few hours. The coincidences were shocking. We were both surprised to learn that we had grown up a few blocks from each other, had gone to medical school and then come to the USA for higher studies. However that is where the similarities ended. Sam came from a military family and was supposed to enter the armed medical core. Reading too many books (read comics) had landed him with myopia and he had failed to clear the physical for the armed medical college. Nevertheless, he had finished medical school and was working as a fellow in a nearby hospital. My class was about to start and so we said our goodbyes. Over the years we kept in touch. About five years after we met, I moved away to DC and started working at a hospital there. Sam have moved to Atlanta but we stayed in touch. At around this time, Sam and I independantly stumbled onto a style that is quite rare. In fact I found an Aikido dojo in DC that also had classes offered in that style of swordsmanship. I happened to mention that to Sam when he was in town for a Kendo tournament and for the first time he stopped us mid meal to go see that class. Apparently Sam had been searching for such a dojo for over a decade. True martial artists are a rare breed. Also a very strange breed. I reluctantly asked for my meal to be packed knowing fully well that it would be a waste. Reheating that dish (and I am forgetting what it was right now) could never handle the did something to the flavor. Anyways getting back to the events, Sam and I went back to my dojo and watched a class. The teacher was quite charismatic and very talented. After the class, Sam introduced himself (and of course me) and spoke at length with the teacher. I too was drawn into their conversation and soon found myself promising to return and try out the class soon. I didnt know how given my other classes and work committment but their enthusiasim was infectous.
                  After we left the dojo, Sam could not contain himself. He was already planning on how he would travel regularly to train there at the dojo. I think some readers, especially those not familiar with martial arts might wonder what I am saying here. The ryu or school that Sam made me take him to was a kenjutsu dojo. Kenjutsu was the battlefield art of sword fighting from Japan. Kendo is the more modern sport version which is hugely popular and derived from kenjutsu. Sam loved everything to do with the Japanese sword styles. This was not the first time that I had been dragged to something like this. JapanFest took place each year in many cities., The one in DC is especially nice and many martial art dojos perform there. Sam would always drag me to watch them. And he never missed a single demonstration. I sometimes felt he should have been born a few centuries ago in Japan.
                   Sam was true to his word. He would travel a few times down to DC to study with the group and I found myself also joining with him. It was incredible. Sam could be very persuasive. I did enjoy the people in the group. They were very diverse and quite talented. But then most martial arts groups usually are.  Sam was the purest martial artist. His life, outside of the work arena, consisted of practicing martial arts. He was quite dedicated as well. Sam had black belts in five martial arts that I knew of and then some. He would never tell you of course. Humility was his other quality that drew everyone to him. Sam was quite well liked as well. I watched with admiration as he learned each and every kata that the sensei taught him. I struggled but Sam took to them like a fish to water. Initially, Sam would take the bus/flight to DC and crash on my couch. He practiced all hours that he could. Over time, he started staying at the dojo at nights when he was in DC. Although he told me it was because he could get more hours of practice in if he crashed on the couch in the dojo, I knew he felt a bit awkward as my living situation had changed in the decade we had known each other. I had married and now had two beautiful children. Real hell raisers. I dont know how my saintly wife put up with them. I could escape to the dojo once in a while. She, on the other hand, had no escape apart from work. I knew it was a bit disturbing for Sam. Sam had never married and I doubt he intended to. The others were more than happy to practice with him. Sensei really liked him and he progressed faster than most in the dojo inspite of being there only once a month or so. I I know that he practiced in his free time and in between shifts at the hospital too. I had visited him once and found a few bokken scattered around his office. One was a gift from me on his 29th birthday quite a few years ago.
                  And so we came to accept that we would run into Sam at the dojo on weekends. He practiced the regular hours and at all other hours. If he found someone to practice with that was great...if not then he practiced solo. Usually it was the latter. And he loved it. Moving meditation he called it. I smiled. I did try to get there more when he was in town but it is hard with two small children and increasing work committments. There were other classes held at times when there was no kenjutsu or aikido class there. Time share martial arts, he called it before laughing loudly at his own joke. Of course, he was right. It was hard financially to stay afloat for most groups if they did not have such a time share arrangement. He stayed for the most part of the weekend at the dojo. When other groups were not practicing he stayed and practiced. Once the other groups arrived, he would leave for the Starbucks a block away. I invited him over many times. However, he would politely refuse. His patterns did not change. Every few weeks, he would arrive on a Friday evening and stay at the dojo till Sunday evening. He would attend every practice session we had and then some more. Sometimes he would watch the other classes that took place in between our practice sessions. They all seemed to welcome him in. The teachers and students alike. I guess everyone recognised a kindred spirit. I would drop off a blanket and pillow for him once he decided to stay at the dojo instead of our couch. The dojo was not well heated and could get quite chilly at nights. I would pick them up on Sunday evening after class before dropping him off at the airport. This went on for quite a few years. We both had adjusted to this arrangement and it suited us fine. I was happy to see him and practice with him whenever he was in town. Although I wondered at times the kind of dedication it takes to do what he did- sleep on a hard couch in the dojo, spend his life practicing and thinking of nothing else but martial arts. Truly a dedicated martial artist.
                 The events I speak of happened a few years after the birth of my second child. Sam had been coming down to train with the DC group for almost 10 years now. Sam had one quality that I really envied. Sam was usually a sound sleeper. A fact I had discovered years ago when the fire alarm in our building went off and I had to drag him down the stairs half asleep. He slept no more than 6 hours a day and yet slept more peacefully than anyone I knew. I, on the other hand, had not had a decent night's sleep after the birth of our eldest. Sam arrived as usual on Friday evening and I picked him up from the airport. We had dinner at our usual restaurant. A small Italian place that Sam favoured. After dinner I dropped him off at the dojo and left.
                The next morning, I arrived at the dojo at 10 AM to practice with him for an hour before the the morning class. Sam was already on the mats when I entered the dojo. I wasnt surprised by that at all. He usually practiced immediately after the first group had left at 9. Sam was in peak physcial condition. But he seemed to be sweating more than the usual amount. I had hardly ever seen him break into a sweat even when he went up against some of the best. I had just started warming up when he saw me and came over. He seemed to be quite excited. In between pushups and stomach crunches, Sam told me about the sword master he had met earlier in the day. I knew that the owner of the space sometimes rented the early mornings out but had never seen the man he described. Sam had woken up at 4 AM for his early morning run. After his 5k run, he was in the shower, when he heard someone in the changing rooms. He poked his head out of the shower and saw an elderly Asian gentleman putting on his gi in the changing room. He wished him and the elderly gentleman returned his greeting. He quickly finished showering and joined the elderly gentleman in the changing room. They chatted as they changed and then went upstairs to the mat/practice rooms to practice. It seemed that the elderly gentleman had rented the place but did not mind Sam's presence. They warmed up and then started their solo practice at opposite ends of the dojo. However, Sam could not keep his eyes away from the older martial artist. He seemed  to be over 80 and yet moved like a 20 year old. His movements were fluid. He was practicing a similar style of kenjutsu. Only his movements were nothing like he had seen before. Sam waited for him to finish and then approached him. The older gentleman was only to happy to work with Sam. From the first strike, Sam knew he was outclassed. The older sensei seemed to sense Sam's movements even before Sam had himself realised it himself. Sam did all he could to attack initially and then realised that he would be better off trying to fend off attacks. He did not have a chance to attack anyway and the older sensei got through his defences with ease. When they stopped, Sam was perspiring like it was his first day of training. Their sparring session had lasted less than 5 minutes. Sam bowed and apologised. The older sensei smiled and started training again with Sam. Sam, I knew, was as skilled if not more than our current sensei. The way he spoke of this older gentleman, I knew he had found a new sensei. Practitioners like Sam were rare. Our sensei had commented that Sam would not be with us for much longer. There was little more that he could teach Sam. I had felt both a sense of pride and envy at that statement of his but knew it to be true. I could see now that he was right. Sam had found a new sensei. I would have loved to train with them but I had too many things going on to be able to do so. I was happy for my friend. And so it was. Sam continued to train with us and with the elderly gentleman. His skill levels improved in leaps and bounds. It truly takes two- a good teacher and a good student. Sam did not hesitate to teach us what he was learning. However, he was always respectful of our sensei and that of his new sensei. The years rolled by.
                I often thought of coming in early to meet his other sensei but somehow never managed to do so. I probably would never have were it not for ...Sam was on a flight to DC as usual and it crashed. Everyone on board perished in the crash. It came as quite a shock to me. I was at the airport waiting for him when I learned of the crash. It took me a few days to process things. I couldnt believe that someone like Sam could die so easily. How truly fragile life really is. Of course, I attended his funeral. My third visit to Boston. The other two had been for his graduation from the fellowship program and for a conference. His lawyer met me at the funeral and informed me that Sam had made me the executor of his will. His will. Although I had one too, I never realised that I would ever have to read that of a friend and a fellow martial arts brother. It took me a considerable time to go through his bequests. He had extensive family both in the USA and back home in India. I was surprised to learn that he had two brothers and a sister who lived in the USA not too far from DC. He had left most of his weapons and martial arts gear to the dojo. Sam collected many weapons from different cultures. Some of there were quite valuable. I was very surprised to see that he had left me quite a few of these in his will. As we finished going through his list of bequests, there was a sealed envelope addressed to our sensei in DC and yet another to his other teacher. The one I had never met. He had left instructions for me to deliver these personally along with two rather rare bottles of sake from his wine collection. I was more than happy to fulfill my late friend's wishes. The first was rather easy to fulfill. It was the second one that proved to be a challenge.
                I inquired at the dojo management office and they had no idea who I was speaking of. Sam had left no name. Just the words Kenjutsu Sensei, DC scrawled in his barely legible writing using his favorite green ink fountain pen. Sam like fountain pens a lot too. His two passions, I would tease him- fountain pens and katanas. He would always come back that he was a samurai after all. I wondered if the gentleman had moved dojos or had another address where I could reach him. Sadly there was nothing else on the envelope that gave me any clues about his identity. I asked our teacher and he too did not know anything about that gentleman. I asked every group at the dojo and no one seemed to know of him. In fact no one had ever even heard of him. Or seen anyone of that description. I was at my wit's end. The man simply did not seem to exist. And yet Sam had trained with him for over a decade now. Had Sam found another dojo nearby? Or had he simply hidden the truth from me? These negative thoughts plagued my mind. I went to every dojo in a 5 mile radius. You would be surprised to learn of the number of dojos that actually exist in DC. I know I was. Nothing. No one knew of them. I cursed myself for not having paid closer attention to Sam's words and description of the style. I checked Sam's Facebook page. He hardly ever posted. Most were pictures that he had been tagged in by others. I posted a request about the identity of the style or the name of the master.
                 I spent my free moments thinking of a way to solve this riddle. As I watched my kids eat one Friday and my wife droned on about their plans for the weekend, it hit me. The sensei was always there to train. At 5 AM. every Saturday and Sunday. Sam had said so on many occasions. I knew now how to get in touch with him. However getting to the dojo at 5 AM was quite a challenge. I lived about an hour and fifteen minutes away. And I did not want to miss him if I was late. It had already been 3 months since Sam's passing. I quickly dressed, threw the blanket and pillow in the car and told my wife of my plans. She was not pleased. It was my turn to help the kids with their bath. But she stoically kept her silence and nodded her acquiesce. She was truly a saint. And I loved her deeply. I made a mental note to make it up to her.
                 I drove to the dojo and made it there just as the last students were clearing out. Some who knew of my friendship with Sam, came up to offer their words of sympathy. Sam had touched their lives too. I settled in for the night. I would be a long one. I dared not fall asleep in case I missed him. But whenever we try to keep awake, sleep will always invariably overcome us. And so too I passed out at some point in the night. I dont know when. I was woken up by a rhythmic clacking. Initially I thought it was the sound of the bamboo pieces at the base of the numerous scrolls hitting the walls. It took me a few minutes to realise that they were the familiar sounds of bokken hitting each other. Click Clack Click Clack. Over and over. I could hear the kiai. It was intense but not loud. But these were different. The bokkens barely seemed to make contact. And the speed at which they were moving was unbelievable. I had never seen anyone move with that speed. I rubbed my sleep heavy eyes and slowly adjusted to the dim light in the dojo. I could barely make out their outlines as they moved. It took all my concentration to see them and yet I could barely see them. I sat up and waited. I had found him. He had another student by the sound of it. Sam have never mentioned that. In fact, I clearly remembered Sam stating that the older sensei trained by himself. Well until Sam had joined him.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Keep your nose clean

                   He watched them laugh. The boy and the girl. Immigrants. Their clothes made them look American but their accents gave them away. How long ago did they land here? Possibly came by boat. No not Mexican, he thought to himself. Paki. Or possibly Indian. He couldn't tell. They all looked the same. How did that matter anyway? In a few hours he would rob them, and then.... He smiled viciously as he thought of the events yet to come. The boy turned to look at him. Could the boy have read his thoughts, he wondered. He had seen animals do that. The boy seemed worried and wary. That wouldn't do. The girl caught the look on her boyfriend's face and followed the boy's gaze. The boy smiled and calmed her down. He took this opportunity to touch her on the shoulder and his hand slipped down a few inches as he took his hand off off his girlfriend. The girl did not seem to object. They continued walking their bicycles. He stopped at a shop and let them get ahead a bit. That seemed to reassure them. The boy had been casually glancing back. They would still remain in his field of view. He had followed them from Prudential Center mall. But that was not how the evening had started for him. In fact he was not a criminal. Had not hurt a fly till today nor thought of it. He had kept his nose clean. always. Just like his pappy had taught him to do. Boston had been a big change for a boy from a little town in Alabama. A town so small that he was sure, he was related to everyone in some way or the other. A small scholarship to one of the two hundred colleges had allowed him to escape his dreary existance. He had never wanted to be a farmer. Although his father thought it was what he should do. Not waste time with fancy degrees. A bachelors was hardly a fancy degree as he had found out on his first date. Another first had happened that night. A rejection. The girl had taken one look at him and turned and walked out. Dungarees were probably not the right choice for a date in Boston. He had learned quickly after that. A few chance findings at thrift stores and trash thrown out by the rich kids in college had helped expand and considerably "upgrade" his wardrobe. His next date, secured after six months, had atleast seated herself before laughing at his plans for the future. She too had left. Although she had had the decency to pretend there was an emergency when the phone rang. He found her cussing him out on the phone when he emerged after paying for them. She was looking for her car keys in that small chic purse she had brought. Gucci. He had read the label. Much too large for the size of the bag. Probably a fake. Everyone in Boston seemed to be pretending to be someone they were not. He too had learned to do so. He hardly spoke about himself on dates after that. Girls seemed to like that a lot. They could speak endlessly. They spoke of trivial things. Parties. Bands. Music concerts. Movies. What did he care about these things? He could barely make rent on his scholarship inspite of sharing his room with three others. He pretended not to notice them and his roommates returned the favor. At nights, frequently after the lights had been turned out, he could hear them grunting softly and then a sigh. Release. An end to their frustration. He could understand it. Men were hunters. That was all they could think of. Raging bags of hormones. And here they were surrounded in the city by their prey. Girls in tight skin hugging clothes, much too small to hide anything. He used to smile. In his hometown, space was never an issue. Neither was finding a willing girl. Here of course things were different. They would  tease endlessly and yet never ...Ah well. He had learned their game well. Soon he achieved success in his extra-curricular activities. So much success that his roommates started acknowledging him and even inviting him out with them. He always politely made excuses for his absence. Hunters learn to hunt alone. He had learned this lesson back home out hunting and soon realised that only his jungle and prey had changed. The methods were transferable. Silence taught him loads, just as they had in the wild. Insecurities were rife. People were so starved of human contact in this densely populated city that it was shocking. College ended and he found himself seeking a job. No longer were exams and classes his problem, replaced as they were with frustration of applying to jobs and not finding any. Always the job seemed a good fit but very few converted to interviews and fewer to further interviews. He soon realised that this degree was not worth the paper it was printed on. He found a cheaper living arrangement. His three former roommates had been replaced with 7 others. The same encounters but different people. Did people really differ that much?

His money had all but run out. Finding odd jobs even at minimum wage was proving hard. He often wondered if he should move back home. He would be a laughing stock but at least he would have a belly full of food and a decent bed at night. Hard work had never bothered him. Dates were out. He could barely feed himself let alone take another out. Plus a depressed mind did not take to listening easily. He chased away a handful of easy targets before he took himself out of the game. Yes he did consider it a game. He had seen the rookie mistakes most of these others made and laughed at them in the past. Not out loud of course. That would be too cruel. Now he saw himself make the same. Karma or something like that class hippie had said, keeps coming back to haunt us. Not that he believed in all this new age non-sense. And just like that his luck had changed. A blonde he had designs on mentioned a job her cousin had been turned down for. He had had the good sense to ask some careful questions and for the first time he found himself leaving a date. This inspite of the bald offer of sex from the same blonde. Some things were too hard to pass up on. The recruiter was an old classmate that he had helped out in a moment of pity. A complete nerd who had no shot with the redheaded girl he wanted to go out with. That was until he had worked his magic and made it happen. A few months ago, he had received an invitation to their wedding. Their kids better not get his looks or her brains, he had chuckled. There would be no hope for them then. He dug up his old class directory and tracked down his classmate. He had to call in his favor but it was worth it. He managed to get the job. He had lasted six years at the job. A janitor. He cleaned after students in classes where at one time he himself had been a student. He smiled at the irony and the workings of fate. He saw behind their false smiles and wondered if they knew they had not future. He was quite sure none of them recognised him or knew of his time here. Keep your nose clean. That was what his father had taught him and he did just that. Kept to himself. He had a bit of spending money now and started dating again. During the day he was a lowly janitor but at night he came into his own. A prince of the nights. Life went on like that for a few years. Eight to be exact. And then overnight things changed. Recession hit. Some fool on Wall Street had goofed up in their greed and pushed the market to the limits. People were slowly let go. Clean toilets would still be needed and so he retained his job. Then Mike was let go. That shocked him out of his complacency. Just a bit. Mike had been a janitor too. He had joined a few months ago. The workload increased. He did not mind. Jake who complained was asked to leave too. Keep your nose clean. He went about his job as usual. Only now he checked in two hours earlier and left an hour later. The pay of course was not increased to reflect the changed working hours.

He still remembered the day clearly. He had already cleaned most of the third floor and was working his way down to the second floor lecture rooms, when he saw his friend emerge with a moving box. The same fellow who had recruited him. He rushed over to help him. His friend looked sad. In the ten minutes it took them to walk to his friend's car in the parking lot, he heard of the things to come. After his friend had pulled away from the parking lot, he gazed up at the buildings that had been home to him for a little over a decade now. He wondered when he would be asked to leave. He didnt have to wait long to find out. His supervisor was waiting for him by his cleaning trolley when he re-entered the building with an exasperated look on his face. He asked him to report to his office after putting the trolley back in its space. He meekly complied. In his supervisor's office, he got what he was sure the same spiel his nerdy friend had received. Budget cuts. Things were going worse. More redundancies were inevitable. He could finish the day but at the end of the day, he needed to hand in his badge, clear out his locker of all personal belongings and collect his severance packet from payroll the next morning. He tried to protest, but his supervisor raised his hand. There would be no discussion. He asked him to send Bill in when he saw him. He nodded and left the office. As he finished his rounds for the day, he wondered how he would come up with the rent for next month. He had just bought a second hand car three months ago. He wondered if he could sell the old Mustang. It was pretty beat up but worked quite well. A few weeks of labour had her looking just like new. Well as close to new as possible. He had named her Molly after a girl he had once gone out with. He had probably loved her too. Too bad she had decided to marry Will instead. As he reflected on this, he realised that was probably the reason he had decided to leave his home and come here. Ah well. Another Molly was leaving him. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to name the car, Molly. She was a jinx. He changed out of his coveralls and cleaned out his locker. As he played with his badge, he decided not to hand it in. He doubted his boss would care. The guy was too busy saving his own skin to care. He did not look back as he walked out. His friend had stood there for a few minutes and looked askance at the buildings they had spent so many years in. He had no such sentiments to express.
He zoomed off in his car a little faster than he had intended to but it felt good. A week later, he sold the car for half the price he had paid for it. As he watched the new owner drive away at speeds much faster than he had driven Molly, he felt a twinge of pain, albeit briefly. He went back to his apartment and packed his meager belongings in a small rucksack. Luckily, he had run into the same blonde again at the bar the same night that he had been sacked. She had put on a few pounds but still looked nice. They chatted and he had ended up spending the night at her place. Next morning, she asked him to move in. He was a bit surprised and started to protest, but she explained logically that he needed to save money while looking for a job. A few drinks had loosened his tongue it seemed. Well he could not fault her logic and decided to move in at the end of the month. A week later he found himself, sans car, and ringing the doorbell to her little condo. Her parents had died a few years ago and their life insurance money had helped her buy a couple of condos- most of which she rented out. Not a bad set up, he smiled. She was nice but a bit of a nag. She reminded him on his second night that he needed to go pick up his severence packet and could borrow her Miata if he wanted to. He nodded. The very next morning he took the bus to the payroll offices. As he collected his money, he spied an old Indian man come in and collect money from the other counter. He would not have thought much of it had he not seen him wearing his old coveralls. They had not changed the name tag. So they had replaced him with someone else. They had not even bothered to outsource his job. The fellow was paid in cash. No paper trial. So that was why they had fired him and hired the old man. A rage boiled up inside him and followed the man out. The old man slowly walked out. He had a limp of some sort that slowed his progress. The old did not go to the parking lot but instead to the road and waited at the bus stop for the bus that would come an hour later, he knew from his years here. The rage dissipated. He had wanted to hurt the old man but now...He punched a nearby tree and the punch caused him more pain than he had anticipated. The old man had glanced at him when he had yelled out in pain. He nursed his hand and slowly walked to the bus stop. He sat down on the small bench to wait. What other options did he have? The old man pulled out a small scarf and held it out gingerly. He nodded. His left hand had already started to swell. Probably a fracture. He did not have insurance so he would have to fix this himself. He gratefully accepted the gentle admonishment from the older Indian man as he helped bind his hand. He thanked the old man who brushed his thanks aside with a wave of his hand. The old man also handed him an Advil that helped slightly with the pain. The hour passed quite quickly and when the bus pulled up the old man wished him a quick recovery as he climbed on the bus. He waited there and watched the bus pull away before realising that he needed to be on it. The next bus would not be there for another hour and a half now. It was an hour back into town. No matter. He might as well walk. He could get a lift perhaps, although, he had very low hopes of that based on past experience and the time. It was past six now.
As he started walking dejectedly, he massaged his hand as best as he could. The Advil and the bandage had helped. He wondered about what he would do. What he could do. His degree was useless as he had realised years ago. Maybe he could get a job flipping burgers. Even those jobs demanded experience these days. As he ran through his options, it started to pour. New England weather is so capricious. It was not possible to stay dry or take shelter anywhere. Who knew how long it would continue to rain? He just continued walking. Better to get home sooner than later and change into some dry clothes. He cursed his luck all the way home. Should have borrowed the car.
An hour later when he entered the house, she was there waiting for him. She scolded him for not calling and walking home in this weather. All the rage that had been boiling up inside him an hour earlier came out in one explosion. He struck her. Hard. And felt his hand scream with pain. He had forgotten about his hand. He pushed past her and went to bathroom. He remembered that she had some painkillers there. Only Advil. He took three of them and walked back out to face an angry woman. She needed time to cool off and so did he. He ignored her questions and walked back out in the rain.

     Boston is such a quaint old town. He did not mind walking in the rain lost in his thoughts and cursing his fate. He wandered aimlessly for hours. At some point, exhausted from his exertions, he sat down on a bench at some bus stop. The bus arrived and as he climbed on, he searched for his wallet. Only then did he realise that he did not have enough money on his card. He got off ignoring the caustic remarks and the exasperated look from the driver. Another Indian or Paki. Damn foreigners. They were taking over everywhere. When did America become non-American. Something needed to be done about these foreigners. They should be deported and prevented from taking over like this. He wanted to hit something. Anything. Just a few punches. Life had dealt him such a horrible hand. He wanted to ...thats when he first noticed them. The two of them. Walking hand in hand. Clearly not American. She wore one of those weird things that he had seen terrorists wear in news snippets. Only flashier and much more clingy. Showed off her curves and the deep cut at the top showed off much more. The boy could barely keep his eyes off. He didnt know what came over him. He found himself getting up and following them. These foreigners needed to be taught a lesson. Get tough with them and they would leave. America had grown soft. He would show them. One foreigner at a time. If it took him the rest of his life so be it.
            They were out on a date by the looks of it. Early on in their relationship but this was not their first date. The girl walked quite close to the boy. The cycles away from them rather than between them. Some barriers had been overcome. Good move, boy. He chuckled at the thought. They were not holding hands yet so they were not that close. Although the boy would casually let his hand brush against hers and she did not seem to object. Testing waters. He remembered how he himself had done that at one time. Each touch like an electric current surging through his nervous system. A hope lit like no other in his mind. Ah to be in love and young again. They walked slowly. Meandering would be more accurate. As far he could see the boy and the girl were in no hurry to get anywhere. Probably going home after a date. That was good. He would not have to wait for them. The road was quite dark. Boston, although an ancient city, did not have a very good street light system in most parts. Well it did but what they had was insufficient for any purpose. For once, he was thankful. He blended easily into the darkness and was able to follow them inconspicuously. He could hear their jilted conversation. Meaningless small talk. Just an excuse to stay out for a bit longer and share each other's company. He wondered why they just did not go to one of their apartments. Probably roommates.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


                  Ashok lay on the bed reminiscing. Friendship is a strange thing. He lay there thinking back on his life. At what point did they become friends, he wondered? He couldnt be sure. What had it been. Ten- Twelve years? No, It had been twenty years since the last time he had met Asim in any case. He remembered that day quite clearly. 7th June 1993. He doubted he would ever forget that day when Asim gave him the news. They were playing one on one baseketball. Asim had waited till after they were done with their game. Another draw. They had always been equally matched. As they sat on the emply bleacher, seats sipping on their Gatorade, Asim had broken the news to him gently. His father was being moved, no transferred. They would be leaving in a couple of weeks. It was always that simple with Asim. Quick and to the point. As he had struggled to hide his involuntary tears, Asim had looked far away into the distance and continued sipping his drink. He had never thought that this would come to pass. As he had struggled to voice his thoughts, Asim had looked at him. Straight in the eye. It would be alright he had said. Then, just as suddenly, Asim had pointed to the bright lights of the theatre that stood across the street. Wouldn't it be great to meet there after say fifteen or twenty years? To reconnect after all the years? Play another game of basketball? Grab a real drink? Ashok remembered Asim boxing him playfully on the shoulder at this point? He looked up to see Asim wink. They had tried to get fake id cards. But no matter what the id said, every shopkeeper, bar owner and liquor store owner had been able to guess their real age. Twelve. Heck they looked like they were ten no matter how hard they had tried to look older. Ashok had been lying down on his bed till now. He wondered if he still had that fake id card? He sat up and opened the drawer on table next to his bed. He rifled through his drawer and found the old tin lunch box that he had used as a child. He opened the box and was hit by another wave of nostalgia. Cards, nick nacks and other things that a young boy would hold dear. And then he found it. His id card. Jose Jesus Lopez. He laughed out loud. They had been stupid. The picture was his but the details were someone else's. As he replaced it in the box, his eye caught the small bundle of letters that lay there. There were only three letters. Tied together with a piece of rubber band that had melted and stained the paper. The rubber band had fallen apart but still served its purpose. Well the stickiness of the molten dried rubber bands is what kept them together. It did not matter to Ashok. Nevertheless he carefully removed the rubber band.

                       After Asim had moved to California, they had kept in touch via letters for a few months. Then these too petered out. They tried emails. The new thing. It had worked for a while  Then the interval between the emails like the letters grew longer and then they finally stopped coming. Ashok could not remember if he had sent the last email or if Asim had. Life had taken over. New friends. New activities. Then moving for college. His first real girlfriend. Who would gradute to becoming his fiance. And finally his wife. He looked over. She slumbered softly next to him, oblivious of his thoughts. His career as a staff writer at Boston Globe kept him fairly busy. He knew he could use the resources at his disposal to find Asim quite easily. Find him and everything that had happened to him in the intervening years. But then again that would ruin the surprise. He looked at the Sony alarm clock. The same one he had used all these years. Three days to their meeting. He wondered if Asim was still in California. Or even in the USA for that reason. He didnt know yet. But he would in a few days. He looked at the clock again. A little over 67 hours to go. They had made a pact. One of those life altering pacts that only twelve year olds can dream up. To meet again at the theatre, twenty years to the date and time. To them it had made sense. Now he felt it was a bit silly. What if Asim was halfway around the world? What if he had other committments that would prevent him from coming? A phone call would have been more practical. But Ashok would be there.
                         He had moved back to Boston after graduating from college. The winters had been an improvement on Michigan and so his wife, Miyako had not complained about the move. Their flat was a lot smaller but young couples in love Boston. And for two in love, like them, it had not mattered. Miyako and he had selected a flat in Fenway. Secretly, he had been glad for it as his route to work took him by the theater daily. Sometimes, he stopped and wondered about Asim. His life. Had he gone to college? Had he a girlfriend? A wife? Maybe a child? What did he do for work now? Today he had stopped by the theater again. Only a few hours ago. He would not have long to wait now. Tomorrow he would visit the pastry shop they had loved as kids and place an order for chocolate eclairs. Asim loved that. And perhaps some creme brulee. He had always had a sweet tooth. Ashok closed the box and put it away. Carefully. He had to be more careful now that Miyako was pregnant. After seven years of trying, she had finally conceived. But that wasnt without its side effects. Her sleep was quite light these days and she had all the weird cravings. Why a week ago she had insisted on eating steak at one in the morning. He looked at her as she slept. She looked so peaceful. He sat there for a while and then, on impulse, he planted a kiss on her cheek before turning the bedside lamp off and lying down next to her. As he lay there, in the darkness of the night, he could hear the sounds of the passing cars in the street downstairs.He listened to the street sounds for a while before his attention was captivated by the ticking of the clock that he could not see. He knew it was on the wall. Miyako had picked it out at the flea market. IT was an old brass clock from Europe that someone who had fallen on hard times was forced to sell. A family heirloom, Miyako had said. He had just nodded. She was the art history major. Besides a few years ago, she had picked up a Turner at the flea market and they ahd sold that for a tidy sum. He glanced over at her again. He could barely see the silhouette of her face in the dim moonlight. He loved her so much. He hoped that Asim had found someone like her. That was his last thought as he slowly drifted into sleep.

                   The next morning, he woke up a bit later than he usually did and so these thoughts were the last thing on his mind as he rushed to get to work. The next two days were quite busy at work. He had almost forgotten about his plans to order desserts. Luckily for him, Mickey's had had enough to cover what he needed. As he went home the evening before their meeting, he was rather happy. The latest ultrasound had shown they were having a little girl. One as beautiful as Miyaho, he had said. Their parents had been thrilled too. They have all given up hope on a biological child. Asim would be so happy to hear the news too. He clutched the packet with the desserts a little tighter. His boss had agreed to let him have the afternoon off that Friday. Not that he cared. Most people took off without permission on Fridays by two in the afternoon. He entered their flat. Miyako was lying on the bed. Strict bed rest, the doctor had cautioned them. Miyako wasnt taking any chances. He smiled at her and then went off to prepare dinner. He would wake her up later. She already knew about the twenty year old appointment. He had told Miyako so much about Asim, that she was looking forward to meeting hm as much as Ashok was. He cooked in silence and hummed alter as he put the food on the table. Miyako was already there. They ate in silence and called it  an early night. Tomorrow was the big day. Ashok could not sleep for a long time that night. The excitement of coming events was too much. He lay there listening to the clock tick away. Counting down the seconds.
                   Ashok did not remember when he passed out the prvious night but that hardly mattered. He literally jumped out of bed the next morning and was out fhe door in less than a half hour. Miyako was surprised. Usually he was not much of a morning person. She smiled as she heard him slam the door shut. She had instructions to be ready by 3 pm so they could go wait there. The pact they had made was to meet at 4 pm. That day Ashok could hardly focus at work. He turned his column in and was told off for the copy editing errors. He did not care. His edictor asked him if he was sick but Ashok shook his head. As he left for the day, the editor shook his head. Perhaps it was to do with the new baby. He know of Ashok and Miyako's bad luck with children. Three miscarriages over seven years. He hoped this one would make it. They were almost there, he had heard Ashok tell Amanda, the graphics designer a few weeks ago. He sat back down at his desk to correct the article Ashok had just handed in and thought no more of it. We all need a little help sometimes.
                   Ashok almost skipped all the way home. Asim and he had been inseparable as kids. The terrible two. The teachers were petrified of them. No matter who casued the trouble these two would find themselves being punished. They must have a stake in such actions, their teachers had reasoned.Ashok chuckled as he rememeberd their exploits. Putting red ink into the teacher's cup of tea to make them think they were bleeding. Or the time they had put super-glue onto the toilet seat in the faculty lounge. Mr. Cornwall had been forced to cancel the exam after spending three hours stuck to the throne. Or the time they had set off the fire alarms in the principal's office. He had rushed out half clothed along with his secretary. Had created quite a scandal that one prank had... He laughed as he walked past the theatre. Some of the others on the street gave him looks. The look that one would give a crazy person. Ashok didnt care nor did he observe their looks. He continued on his way home.
When he got home, he found Miyako waiting for him. She was just as excited as he was. They have a quick lunch and then Ashok went off to the theater to meet Asim. Miyako was to wait at home for them to return. It was the height of summer and they had decided it was better if she waited at home. It did not make sense to tax her especially in her delicate condition. Ashok nearly ran all the way to the theatre. And then he waited. They had decided to meet opposite the ticket counter and thats where he waited now. He stood there and eagerly peered into every face that passed by. Thankfully he was looking for someone Indian. Even then, Boston has a large population of Indians as he discovered that day. Every male face was scanned with a hope which was soon dashed. Finally at five, after two hours of waiting, he sat down on the bench that was there. As time had passed by, he had started to lose hope. Maybe it was only he who remembered. He did not blame Asim. It HAD been twenty years. The pact seemed silly now. And yet he could not make himself leave. Not even when there was screeching of tires half a block away. He watched the ambulance screech to the site after a few minutes. It was just a few minutes before five. Since Asim would have been there a few minutes later, he just had to stay. Someone had been hit by a car or truck, he found out from a passerby. Boston drivers, he had thought but had gone back to scanning faces. As he sat there, he wondered how longer he should wait. The excitement of the accident had died down by now. The crowds had dispersed. It had been distracting for a while. Very sad though and yet it had helped him pass the time as he waited. He glanced at his watch again. It was a little before six. He zipped up his jacketand turned up the collar. He should have taken the fleece jacket that Miyako had suggested. Ah well. He would give him thirty minutes more and then leave. It was rather strange waiting here. A few of of the ushers had approached him when they saw him there. They wanted to see if he was okay. When he had mentioned why he was there to the last one, the man had given him a stragne look and left. After that they did not bother him. Although the weather was not as kind. Boston weather was so unpredictable. He shuddered as a fresh gust blew by. He watched as the invisible hands picked up a stray piece of paper. He observed it dance with her invisible partner. So beautiful. Almost like a waltz. A very passionate waltz. As he stood there observaing the pice of paper, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
                        He turned to see one of the ushers. His hopes which had risen with the tap, were dashed as he observed their maroon livery. Maroon with gold. Frayed over time. He wondered if someone had worn the same uniform all those years ago. He impatiently tried to wave the old usher away, when the usher asked him if his last name was Williams by any chance. Ashok nodded. His father had been American and his mother Indian. They had met when his father had backpacked across India. They had met and his father's one month trip had turned into five years. And then they had come here to Boston and raised him and his sister. The usher smiled. A man had come by a few minutes before he had come and stopped by the counter. He had been on duty at that time. The Indian man had left a note for a Mr Williams. They had naturally assumed Mr Williams was Caucasian or African American man, given the last name. He had not seen Ashok waiting there until a few minutes ago, when one of the other ushers had pointed to him and....He left the sentence hanging. Ashok could guess the rest. The usher reached into his usher reached into his inner pocket and brought out the note. Asim had been there. Ashok nearly cried. He had remembered too. The usher patted him on the shoulder and smiled before he left Ashok to read his note. He had seen so much working there at the theatre. Twenty two years. He thought he recognised Ashok. But he couldnt be sure. He had once thrown two boys out for setting a toilet on fire with firecrackers. No it could not be one of them. They had been inseparable too. Friendships are strange things. He smiled as he traveled down memory lane. He looked up at the lights and displays. This had been home for him for so long. He wondered what he would do after they retired him in a couple of years. Meanwhile as our usher took a leisurely stroll through memory lane, Ashok had sat back down. The cold, surprisingly, did not seem to bother him anymore. He could feel a strange glow. Not from the billboard advertising the latest blockbuster though. He slowly unfolded the hastily written note. Asim still had the same beautiful handwriting. He smiled as he read his friend's note. He had remembered something that he had to do and would be back soon. If he wasnt, could Ashok leave his phone number and address on the other side of the note. Asim would call soon and they could meet later the same evening. Ashok smiled. Trust him to be so spontaneous. After all their pact had been a spontaneous one too. He fished inside his pockets for a pen and wrote down his address, phone number and even drew a crude map of how to get to his apartment from the theatre. He found the old usher inside the counter and handed him back the note. He explained the situation. The old man smiled kindly. He had seen far stranger things in his time there. He promised to do as asked. Ashok thanked him and left. As he walked home, his sense of elation was mixed with a sense of dejection. It is strange how these two contrary feelings could coexist at the same time in one person. Human beings like friendships are strange things.
                As he walked into his apartment, he saw Miyako stand up and search the hallway behind him. He slowly walked to the sofa and sat down. She peeked outside and then finally closed the door. She came and sat down next to him. Of course she assumed the worse. She placed her hands in his and then rested her thin neck on his shoulder. He wrapped her in his arms and told her everything. She smiled. There was still hope, she reminded him. As they sat there, they watched the last lights of the sun go out, and the moon rays shine through their window into their tiny apartment. It was a really pretty sight. The same sight that had convinced Miyako that this would be their home all those years ago. He smiled. How quickly he had forgotten. Back then, this was all they could afford. Two fresh college graduates. Then Miyako had found the Turner and they could have moved but somehow they had stayed. He kissed her on the forehead. Gently. He loved her so much. She purred her satisfaction. They moved closer. As only lovers can even while hugging. They sat in  silence there for a while. Silence interrupted only by the sounds of the occasional passing car in the street below and the ticking of the clock on the wall behind them. Peace, he thought must be something like this. If only he could freeze this moment forever. As they sat there lost in the moment, he thought he heard a knock on the door. Faint at first but it grew louder after a few seconds. It came in sevens. Tut-tuta-tut-tutt-tutt tutt ...tutt. He almost jumped off off the sofa. Their old code.Miyako looked cross. He aopologised and half stammered his explanation. He was here. HE WAS HERE.
                 Miyako smiled at her husband. She could still see the strange lost boy who got excited by the strangest things. They had met in the library. Or so he thought. She had seen him, heck almost stalked him for three months before she had engineered a meeting at the library. She nodded. She did love him so much. She tousled his hair and went off to fix her make up a bit. He was too excited to notice. Men! As she walked into the bathroom, Ashok threw open the door. There he stood. Asim.
                He had changed. Well of course he had. It had been twenty years. TWENTY! Two decades. Five or six presidents, he count note remember. Measuring time is so hard at times. They stood there unsure of what to do with silly grins on their face. One tried to hug as the other tried a hand-shake. Then they switched. And finally they just shook hands that turned into a bear hug. Tears streamed down their face. It was joyous reunion. Ashok ushered him into the flat and onto the sofa. Asim pointed at the pictures on the mantlepiece and Ashok walked him through the last twenty years of his own life. Miyako would be out shortly, he told Asim. Asim nodded. Asim told him about his own life. He was divorced with one child. A seven year old boy, Adam, who lived with his mother. Bad divorce laywer, he joked. He still got a couple of days with Adam every month. Not the best situation but ..Ashok nodded his understanding. Divorce rates were rising. Infact, Wendy, a colleague of his had written an article about it a few weeks ago. Asim told him about his life in California. He had found work as a casting agent. The chatted amiably for a while. Then Asim got up. Ashok seemed a bit surprised. Did he have to leave already? It had only been a few minutes. Miyako wanted to meet him. Asim shook his head apologetically. He had to meet someone that night. Maybe tomorrow? If Ashok was free. Ashok laughed. Of course he was free. Besides Miyako would kill Ashok if he let Asim go back without meeting him. Asim laughed. They made plans to meet the very next day for brunch. And then wander around Boston. Just like the old days. Visit all their old haunts. They embraced before Asim left.
                After Asim left, Ashok sat down on the sofa. It was nice meeting him again, after all these years. He glanced at the clock. 7:30 PM. He had been here only for fifteen minutes. He noticed the unopened box of desserts that Miyako had placed on dining table. In his excitement, Ashok had forgotten to offer him any. No matter. they would last. Miyako emerged from the bathroom. She looked  around the apartment. And then at him quizzically. She had heard voices but was surprised to see Ashok sitting there all by himself. Ashok told her of their plans. She smiled. She could prepare something for their brunch tomorrow now. She wished Asim had stayed for dinner. She had laid out the dinner things while Ashok was out. She pulled him off off the sofa so they could go  have dinner. He pulled her close instead and they hugged there. She knew how much this meant to her husband. Men may be incapable of emotional displays and her husband was no different. Yet she could see the subtle change in her husband. She held him close. He would make a great father. Inspite of his doubts.They danced softly. Swayed to a beat that only they could hear. Miyako loved to dance with him. He had taken her dancing on their third date. Thats when she knew, she would marry him. They danced for a while before a rumbling from his stomach made Miyako burst into laughter. Ashok made a face and reminded her that he had not eaten in a few hours. They laughed and went off to have dinner. Ashok discussed things they could do tomorrow with Asim. Miyako smiled. He was giddy as a schoolboy. Not surprising since the last time they had met they had been school boys..
                After dinner, they watched the news. Ashok loved watching the news. Miyako thought it was funny that he did since he was a news reporter himself. She tousled his hair. No matter how much he combed it it always looked unruly. A black mop she used to say. She never really saw the news. It was too upsetting these days. But she liked to lie next to him as he watched the news. As they sat on their sofa and  he watched the news, she rested her head on his chest. She could hear his heart beating. She felt close to him. It was so relaxing to sit there like that. Soon they would have another...
               AHHHH!!!! His cry interrupted her thoughts. He sat up suddenly. She almost fell off the sofa, as she had been sitting next to him and had been pushed off as he jerked up. She was about to tell him off when she saw him pointing to the screen. She looked at the screen. They were flashing the video of an Indian man being taken away by the ambulance. She heard the newsreader tell them about the accident that happened in Fenway around 5 PM the same evening. A pedestrian had been the victim of a hit and run. The driver who had hit him was still absconding. It had happened a block away from the theatre. A middle aged man in a black sedan, number plates unknown had committed the crime. The police were on the look out for him. An ambulance had rushed him to the nearest hospital. The victim was said to be in a serious condition. As they shifted to the on-site reporter, Miyako heard her say that the victim was in the ICU. The doctors were not sure if he would survive the night. He had suffered extensive injuries and had been in surgery since arrival at the hospital. As she spoke, the newsreader paused as news readers do, and listened to her earpiece and then relayed the latest update. More details had been released by the hospital. His name was Asim Cooper. The famous Hollywood director. Mr Cooper, a resident of California, had recently been in the news for his very public divorce from his wife, the famous Hollywood beauty..... He had been hit by a driver in Fenway as he crossed the street. The doctors had operated on him and inspite of their best efforts he had succumbed to his injuries just moments before. He had had five surgeries over the past three and a half hours. The official time of death was 9:29 PM. A tragic loss. He was survived by a son. They did not hear the rest of the newscast about his achievements in his short life, including the Oscar he had won last year....Friendship is a strange thing.