Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Only Human (#1023-4)

The market closed bringing a frantic day of trading to an end. Ishan usually stayed in the office for at least four hours to reconcile the numbers. On that day however he rushed out of the office after two hours only. It was an important evening. He had a point to prove and he was already late. They could still finish at the top. He wanted to avoid the rush hour. He zipped out of his cubicle, didn't wait for the elevator and climbed down the stairs in a hurry. He got into his car, turned on Black Sabbath and started his drive. Ten minutes after his phone started to buzz. It was a call from his father. He had never called at that time. He ignored the call and thought that he'd call him back later that night. The phone rang again. That was a surprise. He had ignored his father's call on numerous occasions and never had he called back again, immediately. He picked it up.

"Hello, Ishan. I have a bad news." his father said in a voice that he didn't recognize. He realized that he was sobbing.
"What happened dad?"
"Your chaachu is no more. He died in an accident this afternoon. I and your mom couldn't get any tickets for this evening. We are taking the first flight tomorrow morning." he said. Ishan took a deep breath, slowed down and parked his car on the left. He had always thought how he would react to the news that brought the death of a family member. He had thought that news like that would send a shiver down his spine but nothing of that sort happened.
"I'm sorry to hear that dad."
"Where are you?"
"I'm in office dad."
"Ishan, head straight to chaachu's house."
"Dad, I have an important meeting. Let's go together when you guys are here tomorrow morning."
"Ishan, when will you grow up?" he screamed. Ishan stayed silent. He knew his father won't listen anyways. "Pratiksha and Manan need us. Your chaachu was their only support after your chaachi passed away. Please go spend some time and sympathize with them. Let them know that you are there if they need anything in this difficult hour."
"Dad, my meeting is very important."
"I'm sure the meeting can wait. Now get up and please leave your office immediately."
"OK." he said and disconnected the call. There was no point arguing. He shook his head and cursed his bad luck. His chaachu's house was thirty minutes away from where he had parked his car. He picked up his phone and sent an SMS. "I'll be late. Please keep me updated."

It had been more than three years since he had met his cousins. The last he had seen them was when their mother, his aunt had passed away. He had just started working in Mumbai then. Mumbai was the city where he had always wanted to live in. The love for the city went back to his childhood. He spent his childhood in Amritsar, that's where his father was posted. Every summer he along with his younger sister would spend their entire vacation, worth two months, in Mumbai. It was best time of the year. It was his chaachu who would always come to pick them up at the railway station. It used to be vacation time for Pratiksha and Manan as well. His father was strict and preached too much discipline, his chaachu however was exact opposite. He would give them two rupees each every morning before leaving for his work. They spent the whole day working on their summer vacation homework and waited for him to return. On some evenings his chaachu would take them to the beach where they'd play tennis ball cricket, on some they would go for a paav bhaaji, some were ice cream evenings, some dedicated to street Chinese food, some were simply spent at home playing Ludo. He would surprise them with little gifts. He would get comic books, board games, Bollywood movies and music cassettes, all the things that were prohibited by his father. Ishan was a great chess player and it was his chaachu who had taught him the secrets of the 64 squares. Chaachu's limitless energy and his love for all ensured that the two months passed in a jiffy.

The Mumbai summer vacations stopped after his Xth. He missed them initially but they became a distant memory as time moved on. He graduated from Amritsar, did his MBA from Bangalore and finally landed a job in Mumbai. Only once in this period he visited Mumbai, during his MBA. He stayed at his chaachu's place for a day only and spent all the time with his friends roaming in the city. Chaachu had asked him to visit them after he settled in Mumbai but he never had the time. The phone buzzed, an SMS. "It's started. What's to be updated? We all know what'll happen :-)."

There was commotion outside the flat, the same flat he had spent eight summers in. He walked in, found a few familiar faces and bowed. He found Manan surrounded by what looked liked his friends, crying. Ishan was perplexed and clueless. He stood there watching the chaos around him. "Ishan Bhayia."
Pratiksha was standing beside him, her face a mess. She asked him if he needed water. He said no and hesitantly put an arm around her. She cried profusely. He remained silent and let her cry. After sometime he took her to where Manan was seated and made her sit as well. "I'm very sorry. Mom and dad will be here tomorrow."
He sat there staring at the ceiling with blank mind, without uttering a word. After an hour he got up and put his hand on Manan's shoulder. "I’ll come back tomorrow. Let me know if you need any help."

He rushed out and looked at his watch. It would be all over by the time he reached. The saving grace was the message he had received a little while ago. "Manchester United - Two nil up at half time."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happily Ever After (#1023-3)

11:30 PM, a cold winter New Delhi night, five days after marriage the couple was engaged in what a couple is most likely to be engaged in five days after the marriage, 11:30 AM or 11:30 PM, no matter what the reading on the thermometer. If sex was a book then they had just turned the page on the second chapter. You'd ask how many chapters in the book? Let me tell you that this is a question even they were searching an answer for. Just as they turned that page there was a loud thud on the door followed by couple of moments of silence followed by another thud, louder than the first one.

They got married on a Sunday. He could not take off from work and joined his work the very next day. The thirty minute drive back home seemed like a thirty hours one. He would play a mellow number at a low volume and let his mind wander playing out wild images hoping that the night would bring success. He was extremely happy that he had found her. It was love. The couple had met for the first time four months ago in a family setting and he was enchanted from the very first day. The silver work on her bright blue saree shined making different patterns when she moved. He could not get his mind of her neck. He had never seen a neck, as beautiful and slender as that. He had always wanted to marry a working girl but one meeting changed it all. Love-at-first-sight is like liquor, it brings about who you really are, underneath that cloak.

The door was getting hammered. It was as if someone was banging it with a battering ram every millisecond with tremendous force. She jumped out of the bed and rushed towards the door. The door and the hinges produced a scary music that they had gotten used to over the last five days. As soon as she approached the shaking door, everything went quiet, as if there was a vacuum around the door. He came from behind and opened the door. Thin air greeted them. She crashed on the floor and began to cry. "I am cursed." she howled. He closed the door and caressed her hair. "The time has come for me to tell you a secret." she said.

The five days had been miserable. Every time they had tried to come close the door began its act. The door had become a solid wall between the two of them. It would start to shake crazy just before they tried to kiss. As soon as they brought their lips close, the door would start crying. It would wail like a wild chained elephant trying to break free. It made the floor beneath them shake. They tried it in every hour of the day and every room in their little house but the door was always awake. They tried but it was impossible to continue with the act and ignore the house-quake.

"It is not the first time that this is happening." she said sobbing. "I had met someone in my college. Once I was with him in his small hostel room. Someone started banging on the door just when we were about to kiss. He opened the door but there was no one to be seen. This continued for three hours. As long as we sat far from each other everything was OK but the whole ground started to shake when we made a move. He was so scared that we never met after that."
"I will take care of whatever this thing is. Come with me." he said. He drove to the Noida
Express highway, found a secluded place and parked the car. He took the seat belt off, held her hand and bent towards her with parted lips. The car gave a jerk. He fell to his right and banged his head on the glass. After one more failed attempt in the car, he drove desperately towards the Radisson hotel and got a room. The door shook hard this time, a display of frightful anger, so hard that the table lamp crashed. The frustration was painted on their faces. She kept crying but he sat down thinking. He was not going to give it up so easily. "I have an idea. Come, let’s go." he said.

"I know it's difficult but this is the only choice we have. Once we have made it, the curse will be broken." he said. They were standing in the middle of a huge farm land. They had driven for one hour towards Agra and had walked for thirty minutes after that. They were sure that there wasn't any human in one square kilometer radius. It was a full moon light. She nodded.

"Are you sure you want to do this and cause agony to hundreds?" a manly voice emerged from somewhere. They looked around shocked. A figure dressed in black overcoat and hat approach them. They held each other’s hand tight. "I don't want to trigger an earthquake and kill innocents."
She screamed with fear when she realized that the figure had no face. The hat was floating in the air above the overcoat and there was thin smoke where a face should have been. "Don't worry love. I won't hurt you." the smoke said. He took a step back. "Don't be scared. I won't harm you either."
"Who are you?" he asked.
"That’s not important. What you need to know is that I love her. I have chased her since the day she was born. Take good care of her. I need her virgin. She’d be mine when the time comes."

"You are a monster, a ghost. I'll never be yours. I'd rather die." she screamed. She got rid of his hand and started to run. "Listen." the smoke said standing its ground. The husband ran after her. She sprinted in a random direction, saw a well and jumped into it.

"What was the hurry? I was ready to wait." the smoke sighed. They lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Metro (#1023-2)

The boy stood on the edge of the street and waited impatiently for the traffic signal to change. The Botanical Garden Metro station was straight in front of him. He looked at his cheap ten year old wrist watch, the numbers barely visible, 8:27 AM. He was not going to make it. He looked to his left, an assortment of vehicles moving gingerly. Cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, bicycles, hand-pulled carts, a bus, top it up with an early morning chaos. To hell with it. He jumped onto the road and ran to the other side. He was confident that he would achieve the feat without a scratch and the only thing that would probably hurt is his ears. As expected, there was a flurry of honks as he sped his way through. Someone lowered his car window and screamed some not so very nice words. He couldn't care less. He would take those honks and the foul words over Girdhaari Laal's outburst, any day. He reached the other side of the road and kept on running. He made his way through the early morning rush and got to the stairs. He ran up, breathing hard, hearing his own heartbeat. He got to the platform, looked at the train that must have arrived a few seconds ago and rushed towards the closing doors. 8:31 AM. He made a sigh of relief after having timed his run to perfection.

A drop of sweat trickled down his neck. The number of years that he had travelled from that station to his workplace, Karol Bagh, ensured that he exactly knew the cut-off time for him to get onto the train and still reach the shop on time. He worked as a clerk in a jewelry shop. His job was to serve tea, coffee, and cold drinks to the customers, whatever they preferred. Usually he would get in early to account for any disruptions, that day was not one of those. He prayed for a smooth ride or else he knew that he would be praying for his balls. Even one second of a delay and Girdhaari would chop them into pieces. The train stopped at the next station, Noida sector-18. A small group of people rushed in and pushed him towards the center. He turned around and bumped into someone. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

Standing in front of him, holding the handrail, head down, eyes fixated to a point on the floor was his master, Seth Girdhaari Laal, the gold jeweler. Girdhaari didn't look up. He shuddered, the usual effect of Girdhaari's presence. How could he be here at this hour of the day? He used to live in a posh house close to the shop. He rubbed his eyes. There was no mistaking that it was his ruthless master. What was he doing in the Metro rail? Girdhaari hated public transport. Hate was an understatement. He detested the sheer idea of it. "How can you commute in a Metro? Isn't it disgusting?" he often asked him. "The thought of hundreds of men and women hoarded in a compartment, random foul smelling bodies rubbing against each other, the stink of sweat all around. Can you even breathe inside? How can you travel in that shit hole?"
"Maalik, what choice do the poor have?" he always responded.

He took a couple of steps back and observed Girdhaari. A cream colored kurta, hairy chest, white pyjama, brown colored sandals, oily hair, heavy duty gold's bracelet and two necklaces. He was the Girdhaari he met every morning and yet he was not. His pupils remained fixated to the imaginary point on the floor, his face didn't twitch when the train stopped or people moved around him, the fury in his eyes missing. Imagine a wall, a white wall, the whitest it can get. Imagine a painting that's hung on that wall, a black background, the blackest it can get. A gory painting, hundreds of dead lying on the battle field. Dead meat everywhere, pulpy flesh, heads, arms, eyes, legs, ears, all soaked in blood. Hearts, livers, veins, intestines, bones, all sprinkled across the painting. A seven course meal for vultures. Imagine that this was the painting that you saw every day. Then, one day, whoosh, it's gone. The only thing that you see is the white wall. That was exactly the expression on Girdhaari's face.

He thought of approaching him but was wary of his master’s unpredictable mood. A couple of days ago he had thrown out Birju. "I don't care that the Metro line had a problem. I don't care if it is an earthquake or someone in your family is sick or dead. The time to reach at work is 9 AM. Have you ever seen me opening the shutters late? Am I not a man, the way you are? Every one, listen, if you are late, I will cut your penis and shove it up your ass." he had screamed. The initial shock of seeing Girdhaari in the Metro had subsided and he was enjoying the sight now. It gave him immense happiness to see the very man who had loathed the Metro rail since its inception now himself travelling in the train. The compartment was jam packed. Girdhaari hated every grain of men that commuted in Metro. It was orgasmic to see him stuck between those men. He was part of the stench. The sight made him lose sense of time.

Rajendra Place. Damn, he had missed his station. Girdhaari was still there, similar stance, the gaze however had changed to a different point. He wanted to stay in, to know what Girdhaari was up to but decided to come out. On a normal day he would have sprinted towards the shop but there was no need on that day. He walked leisurely. The shutter was down, as expected. He sat on the pavement and lit a bidi. He waited, and waited. It was late afternoon when someone tapped his shoulder. "Why are you sitting here? Go home. The shop won’t open today. Girdhaari Seth died last night. He had suffered a massive heart attack."

Monday, October 15, 2012

How could she? (#1023-1)

The plane took off from Los Angeles four hours after the stipulated time, enough to ensure that I would miss my connecting flight from Hong Kong. The airlines had arranged for a hotel in Hong Kong and the flight to New Delhi was scheduled for 2 PM the next day. I was standing in the queue to collect my hotel and meal vouchers, that’s when our eyes met. She was standing in a separate queue, 20 feet apart, the Mumbai passengers who had missed their flight. I smiled meekly and so did she. Her modest smile came as a surprise. Both of us had at least seven or eight more passengers ahead of us. I sized her up from the corner of my eye. She looked gorgeous in a new curly hairstyle, red lipstick and a short sparkling blue dress. She was always dazzling, but standing there she looked even more ravishing than what I could recollect. She had definitely shed some weight. Her slimmer waist made her breasts look bigger than what I saw two years ago.

We had met only once before. Two years ago, aged thirty two, I had decided that it was time to get married. I always believed in the I-will-find-my-partner-on-my-own theory but hadn't found someone, not everyone does. I had just thought that someone would find me. It never happened. I was averse to the idea of logging on to a matrimonial website but that seemed to be my only choice. I created a profile and started hunting for faces. There was a sudden rush of emails, phone calls by the day and night, text messages and in some cases Facebook profile shares. I met few girls as well and enjoyed the varying personalities. The conversations however were boring, the run of the mill reserved how-are-you, I-expect-blah-blah-blah, what-are-your-expectations, no-kids-for-x-number-of-years and what-are-your-long-term-professional-plans, the list went on.

One of these meetings was different. I surprised myself when I flew from Delhi to Mumbai on a weekend to meet this girl. For some reason, some people call it chemistry, there were no reservations from the moment I started talking to her on the phone. When we met, we warmed up to each other instantaneously, like fast college friends who had met after ages. We giggled, joked, shared our banal stories, and even some dark secrets. It was flawless. This-is-it was the thought running in my mind and I'm sure hers too. We had drinks, one too many in the evening and that's when it went wrong, or right, I'll leave that up to you. We woke up in the same bed the next morning. Call it embarrassment, call it guilt, call it denial, call it the sexist she-slept-with-me-in-just-one-meeting thought, it was the last time we met. The fizz disappeared overnight. It ended as spectacularly as it had begun. She didn't try to get in touch with me either.

We came out of our respective queues together. "Hi" I said. "How are you?" she smiled. I felt embarrassed and found it hard to see her in the eyes. The hotel was a five minute walk from the airport exit and we started talking, gazing in opposite directions. She was working with the same company, so was I. She was hitting the gym regularly, which I had guessed. She was traveling a lot, so was I. "Are you married?" she asked suddenly. "No". I wanted to ask her too but refrained from it. The five minute walk could have melted a glacier. The estrangement that I felt had disappeared. It was a ten minute wait to check in at the hotel. In the little time that we had been together we spoke about hundreds of things, we got our room keys but still a million more conversations were left I thought. I regretted the fact that I hadn't seen her in the plane. "Dinner?" I asked. "Why not?" she giggled. Our rooms were on different floors. We decided to meet in the hotel lobby in half an hour.

I got into my room, quickly entered the shower and replayed the night two years ago in my mind. It was hard not to. I came out of shower, dressed in polo and shorts, made an important phone call and rushed to the lobby. "We will eat, probably have a quick drink and then head back to our rooms". That was the script that I played in my mind repeatedly. It vaporized though once we seated ourselves in the Japanese restaurant, just like the rote learning vanishes during a Mathematics exam. I had forgotten most of her life-stories, so a repeat wasn't as bad as it might sound. I repeated the same vanilla stories of my banal life. Nothing had changed much in last two years I told her, so did she. We moved to the bar after the dinner, the conversations flowed, as effortlessly as a flood and before we realized it was way past midnight. The bartender hesitantly asked us for the last order. "Repeat." I said. "Finish the drink. Say good bye and head to your room." I repeated in my mind.

I woke up at 10 am the next morning, in her room, she sleeping besides me, naked. I slipped out of the bed quietly and walked towards the full length mirror in the bathroom. I gazed at my naked body and was filled with an instant rage. I wished I was the mirror so that I could smash myself into million pieces. My heart was an ocean of guilt. The thoughts sprang from I-shouldn't-have-done-it to why-did-I-do-it to I-will-never-do-it-again. I dressed up quickly and moved towards the door when I saw her cell phone that was lying on the small round table buzz. "Hubby" it flashed.

"Bitch!" I said and rushed out of the room. The thick smoke around me, that had choked me, disappeared. The how-could-I-do-it had turned into how-could-she-do-it. I slept relieved in the flight. I collected my luggage at New Delhi and made a quick call. "Honey, I've landed."
"Waiting for you, you know what, I felt the baby kick me inside this morning" she said excitedly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Math the Ripper

 "I have a few conditions before I say yes", K said staring at the pipe and exhaling the weed smoke out of his nose. He would have said yes anyways. He had actually made up his mind the moment he had laid his hands on the copies of the three pink slips. He peered at one of them. "The sum of the digits of a number is 23. What will be the remainder when this number is divided by 9?" it read. The game was shouting out loud to be played. It was an enticing invitation and he was not going to make a pass at it. There was plenty in it for K already but he knew he could make more. An equation has two sides but there is only one that controls it. He knew the side he belonged to. He looked at Vichitr, the frail man seated in front of him. He wore black colored cheap plastic glasses that were too big for his small face. His hair were uncombed and he had his shirt completely buttoned up. K had not recognized him when he saw him that afternoon. After all, he was meeting him after seven years. 
"Please tell me." Vichitr said worriedly. The smoke made him weary.
"One, you won't interrupt me when I'm speaking. When I talk my brain cells are in full fervor and I don't like it when someone or something disturbs that flow."
"Clear?" he asked.
"Two, I'll only talk to you about the proceedings and no one else, not even your dad."
"But.." Vichitr remarked but before he could even start K got up from his chair.
"What did I tell you? Never interrupt me." he said irksomely. "I don't want to be answerable to anyone. You should be thankful that I have been kind enough to help you. I'm sure you can convince your dad. You'll be my messenger to converse with the police department."
"OK" he said. Helplessness reeked all over his body.
"Great. You were always a quick learner. Three, I will have access to all the police information related to this case."
"Four, I will quit the day I want to. No questions asked."
He paused for a moment. Vichitr wanted to say something but he simply nodded and ate up his words.

From the day he had started hunting for K to that very moment he knew it was not going to be easy. K, the idol, the Maths teacher, the favorite teacher. Several years ago he was the only student who wanted K to stay when the school had decided to throw him out. K was mostly disliked in the school. Most of his students pissed in their pants when he asked them a question, few when he stepped in the classroom. He had this habit of suddenly pointing at a student and popping up a question. It was not that he beat his pupils to pulp if they failed to answer, it was his demeanour and his eyes that made most of the students in the class pray that they were invisible. He had the unique ability to suck the confidence out of anyone he stared at with his devilish pointed eyebrows. His fellow teachers, especially males, loathed him. First, he preferred to remain aloof and didn't mingle with them. Second, he had his ways with women. He was not a universal charmer but he knew the right buttons, buttons that most men are unaware of, that needed to be pushed when he decided to chase someone. In short, most of them wanted him out of the school. He was too suave to give them that opportunity though. None of the tricks would work with him. The open-ended Mathematics exam that he setup however caused a commotion amongst the students, their parents and teachers that ultimately lead to his exit. Only one student was thrilled by that exam. It was the student who was convinced that only K could find the killer. It was the student who was sitting in front of him now.   

"Five, I'll get single malts and cigarettes as perks apart from the meager daily allowance that you have offered me."
"Six, you will arrange non-vegetarian food, food that tastes like what you had today, for my lunch and dinner unless it's a day of the month that's prime. I keep a fast on those days. I'll like seafood on days that are multiples of six. That's something I miss here."
"OK" Vichitr said.
"Last but not the least, the perks and the food are for two people, as Creativity will be staying with me."
"She is the woman who picked up the phone when you had called for the first time."
"Is she your wife?"
"Are you married?" Vichitr asked.
"No, I don't repeat my mistakes." K chuckled. Vichitr smiled as well.
"Is Creativity your girlfriend? What a name! Creativity."
"She is not my girlfriend the way the world defines a girlfriend. She is the vulnerable space that I need to visit to charge my batteries. She sucks me and my neurons begin to move. For the lack of any better word though let's just say she is my girlfriend. Creativity is the name I gave her, for her creativity in bed. Besides I have solved many a problems while in the act. An ejaculation followed by another one."
Vichitr smiled again.
He got up and said, "I agree to all your terms. I have one condition too."
"You will let me know the day you feel that you are not going to find the killer."
K nodded. "Why don't you stay here tonight?" he asked.
"No, I better get going."
"Stay." K said firmly.

Vichitr had not known about K's whereabouts after his unceremonious departure from the school. He was in class XII when K was kicked out. He missed attending his class immensely, the brilliance, the ability to answer any of his questions, his search to find that one question that would stump K, but life as the cliché goes, moves on. Seven years later he found himself working in a multinational software company. His life was chugging along smoothly. Life-is-good however is nothing but a signal for a danger that's lurking around the corner. His good friend was killed followed by two more murders in the town. All the murders followed the same pattern. A slashed neck, a pink slip at the murder location, and each slip with a question. When the similarities emerged Vichitr was reminded of K. The questions were reminiscent of the questions that K used to randomly shoot in his class. He told his police officer dad who was a close friend to the officer who was handling the case about the uncanny similarity. What did these questions mean? How were the questions linked to the murders? The police were struggling to find the answers. Vichitr convinced his dad who in turn convinced his friend that K could crack open the case and help police nab the killer. It took them a week to find him. K had moved to a small town Sattal in the mountains of Uttarakhand and had become a teacher there. Vichitr knew that persuading K to help the police was going to be a difficult proposition and he took the onus of this responsibility. K didn't pay any heed to the initial set of phone calls he made but the mention of pink slips intrigued him and he agreed to meet him. He hadn't changed much. The long hair that he used to keep years ago were trimmed down. The strands of grey hair were visible. His face had some adipose deposited and he had probably gained some weight. Vichitr remembered those eyes though, very clearly. The demeanour hadn't changed as well. There was still an air of awesomeness around him that pulled Vichitr towards him.        

Creativity arrived that evening. She was drop-dead-in-one-second gorgeous. Her cheeks resembled a fresh red apple lying on a newly laid snow. The curly hair strands swung like a pendulum when she walked. She was slightly plump but it suited her firm round breasts and seductive smile.
"No wonder, thy name is Creativity. God must have used a lot of his creative mojo creating you." he said and bowed. She said thanks sheepishly. They had drinks in the open, by the fire.
"What is your age?" K asked. "And before you tell me, remember, your age is a funny number, one only needs to know it once."
"Twenty four, but I still feel like a kid, as they say, age is all in the mind."
K laughed. "Age is not in the mind my friend, it's in the bones."
"When I was looking for your house this morning, the locals didn't know you by your name, they call you professor. Why is that?"
"May be I am too old to be called a teacher."
They laughed heartily together. It was over dinner that Vichitr got to the point.
"So, professor, what do you think about the killer?"
"I don't know more than what you have told me. Slashed necks, the Maths questions, and all male victims. I'd need to go through their profiles and read other findings but I can tell you two things."
He sipped on his single malt. "First, the killer is a male."
"A woman who is good at Mathematics doesn't need a knife to kill."
He raised a toast to Creativity.
"Second, the guy is single."
Vichitr raised an eyebrow.
"Married men are predictable, women they remain the same. Predictability is a murderer's bane. In the end, it's all about probabilities. Don't be surprised if we end up finding that the killer is a fifty year old, mother of two. The world runs on probabilities. You drive your car to work every day or fly on an airplane not because you wouldn't meet with an accident or the plane won't crash. It's because you trust and hope that the probability is on your side."
The meat was delicious and so was professor's monologue. Vichitr devoured on both of them. He was reminded of his school days.
"We need a name for the killer. I have already thought of one. Math the Ripper!" K grinned and chewed upon the chicken leg.

Vichitr drove back the next morning. He left the copies of the slips with K. He and Creativity would join him in two days. K looked at the three questions once again and started to pack his bags. "Any schoolboy can solve these" he thought. What had the killings got to do with these questions? The hunt for Math the Ripper had begun. 

The sum of the digits of a number is 23. What will be the remainder when this number is divided by 9?

Starting from k, add n consecutive numbers. Multiply the sum by 2. Divide it by n. Subtract n. The result is 5. What is k?

A number is a perfect square. The unit's digit is a prime number. What is the ten's digit?

K arrived in town with Creativity as promised. Vichitr had arranged an apartment for the two of them in Noida, a small and lazy town located to the east of New Delhi, part of the National Capital Region. It was the town where two of the three murders had occurred. Vichitr had picked up an apartment close to his office so that he could meet K on a daily basis. It had taken some convincing but his dad had agreed to all the terms K had set. The Maths murders had become a national sensation and his department could use any help to solve the case as soon as possible. K had two months to either nab the killer or show some lead for the contract to continue. Vichitr took them out to dinner the first night and handed over the copies of the police files for all the three murders.
"I want to solve this and go back to my sweet little town as soon as possible. The buggers won't let me smoke here." he said annoyingly. "In any case, there is an important piece of information that I forgot to ask or rather I should say confirm the other day. The order in which these murders occurred." he said. He got the three chits out of his pocket. He placed them on the table next to each other and asked, "I have not yet seen the files but isn't this the order?"
Vichitr looked and exclaimed, "How did you guess that?"
"Two, three, five. It looks like our friend is playing a series." K replied gulping down his scotch.
"A series, oh my God, I never thought about it. Two, three, five."
He paused for a moment and then said, "Eight."
"May be." K said. "It could be eight, it could be nine, who knows. The next number will surely give us an insight."
His wish was just about to be answered. Vichitr's phone was buzzing. It was his dad. There had been one more murder. Not very far away from where they were eating. They rushed to the murder site.

The twenty minute drive was enough for K to scan through the case files. There wasn't a lot of information. It contained their personal profiles, pictures, post mortem reports and statements from family/friends. Gaurav, 26 years. Rahul, 25 years. Saurabh, 27 years.
"Gaurav was your friend, correct?" K asked.
Vichitr nodded. K observed the rush hour traffic, the high beam lights, honks, rickshaws and vehicles of all kinds floating in all directions akin to players on a football field. It irked him.
"Did he work with you?"
"Yes, we were in the same team."
"What do you guys exactly do?"
"Our company creates software for banks. We write code. The world calls us developers, at times coders."
"What did the other victims do for living?"
"They worked in IT companies in the area."
"What exactly though they worked on as part of their jobs?"
"I don't know. We can find out. Why do you ask?"
"I'm just trying to find out if our friend has a liking that can reveal something about him."

It was difficult getting through the crowd of two hundred odd people that had gathered at the murder site. The street lights shone bright and there were plenty of dogs around doing what they do the best. The victim's name was Shoaib. His dead body was found lying on the pavement by a drunkard. The police were talking to the poor guy who was trembling with fear. There were no signs of any struggle at the site. It appeared as if the victim was caught off guard and he didn't know what hit him till it hit him. The police officer handed Vichitr the office identity card that the victim wore around his neck. The neck was marooned with gallons of blood that had spurted out from it.
"We have scanned the area around and have taken some statements. I will pass on the copies to you tomorrow. No lead so far."
"Did you find any pink slip?" K asked.
"Yes, we found it in his pocket."
K pounced upon it. He scanned through it in a hurry. "I had feared that it would be eight." he said annoyingly.
"Eight?" the police officer commented.
"Did you not solve the problem?"
"I get paid to solve the case, not any other problem."
"Moron." K said to himself.   

They were on their way back to K's apartment. "Eight, that makes it clear, doesn't it?" Vichitr said.
"What do you think is the next number?" K frowned.
"Twelve. Two, Three, Five, Eight. Twelve."
"It could be thirteen as well. Do you remember the Fibonacci numbers? That's why I didn't want it to be eight. For that matter given any series of numbers, one can never be sure what the next number is. If you see ten 1's in a row it doesn't mean that the next number is a 1 too. It simply means that the chances of it being 1 are high."
They reached his apartment. He fixed a quick drink for all of them. "I need to think and need to put my mind in a comfortable place."
He asked Vichitr to figure out a few facts for him while he took the trance tour. He made a joint for himself and smoked it gazing at the black starless sky. He called out for Creativity and made love to her trying to ignite his brain cells. His thoughts were convoluted and he needed to start from scratch. When he was a kid, his dad had once forcefully enrolled him for soccer coaching. He bailed out in a month but there was one lesson that he learned there that helped him throughout his life.
"When in confusion, get the ball to square one."
That's what he needed to do here. He dressed and came back to the living room where Vichitr was waiting for him. Creativity had slept off.
"Were you able to figure out what exactly these guys did as part of their jobs?"
"Yes, there is a pattern here. They were all coders."

"Do you remember the open ended exam that I had planned when you were in school?" K asked. Seven years ago, a week prior to the mid-term examinations K had announced that the Maths exam would be open ended. It meant that there was no time limit. One could sit and continue solving the problems for as long as they wanted to. It was up to the student to call it quits. Besides being an open ended exam it was announced that it was open book too. Students were allowed to carry their books, any notes, guides, whatever they could muster that would help them answer the questions. The students could carry food as well, as much as they wanted to. The school principal, fellow teachers and the parents had used this theory, that they deemed stupid to pave his exit from the school. Vichitr remembered it vividly. He nodded.
"That's what this mystery seems to me, an open ended exam."
"I need to get to the root of it to solve it. You need to find me a job in your company, a job that will allow me to be in the company of the coders."
"What are you talking about?"
"If I have to make headway, I have to understand the prey. The prey's mind will lead me to the ripper's. That's the only way."
"It's not that easy. Why would anyone give you a job? You have no credentials. I can probably introduce you to my friends who write code. Will that help?"
"That won't work. I need to be with them at work."
"Do as I say. I know you can pull strings. It's a matter of two months only. Besides, I don't want them to pay me for my duties."
Vichitr got up shaking his head. He had no choice.

As he had expected his dad was immensely annoyed when he heard the latest request. "Dad, we could have never thought of the series, hell, the police didn't even try to answer those questions. It's a matter of a few months only. I'm sure there are undercover agents in your police force that are working as common men somewhere. Why is this big deal?"
"I think I have made a mistake. I shouldn't have agreed to bring him here at the first place on. He is just shooting in the dark. What purpose will it solve if he works with you guys?"
"I trust him. He is trying to get to the root of the evil. His ways are queer but he is a genius. Give him a chance dad. You have got nothing to lose."
It was arranged. Two management members in Vichitr's company were made aware of the police investigations. They were hesitant initially but agreed to induct K in the company after the police assured them. K joined the office three days later. He spent those three days going through basic programming books that he had borrowed from Vichitr. Vichitr also gave him his old personal laptop. K enjoyed the three days that he spent learning to ensure that he could play his part in the office. He requested for a seat that was far away from Vichitr, not to raise any suspicions. He had got his hair further trimmed to look a bit younger than he was. He was inducted in a different team and was introduced to his team members on the first day. His team consisted of four members. Raman, the manager. Payal, the lead programmer. Amit and Ankit, the two developers. He was told by Raman that he would be working very closely with Amit and Ankit. He guessed that they must have been between 24 to 28 years old apart from Raman who seemed to be in his early thirties.

Amit and Ankit took him out for lunch and as expected asked him some uncomfortable questions. He had come prepared though. "What was the last company that you worked for?" Amit asked. "I did not work for any. I used to be a teacher. I got bored and quit. That was three years ago. Since then I have been looking for an answer."
"What answer?" Ankit asked.
"What is it that I really want to do?" K replied and waited for it to sink in. Amit and Ankit started laughing in unison. K kept a straight face.
"So you are saying that after three years of search you realized that being a coder is what you wanted to do all your life." Amit grinned.
"I didn't say that. I'm still looking for that answer. Who knows this might be it."
"Are you saying that you are here to just try your hand and will quit if you get bored?" Ankit asked.
"Yes, but if this is it then I will put my soul to it. I only do what my heart and mind wants me to do."
K winked at them. "You are too cool."
"So tell me, what do you think about Payal?" K asked. The question caught them by surprise. They looked at each other.
"Now come on. We are guys, aren’t we? I asked you because she reminded me of my ex-wife."
"Ex-wife? Why did you guys separate?" Amit asked.
"Because she thought she was the only bitch in the house." They laughed again.
"You are too funny man." Amit said and continued laughing. "Payal is a bitch too." Ankit said.
"I thought so." K smiled.
K insisted that he pays the check. He also asked them to join him for drinks at his house. "He is an awesome guy". That's what they told Payal when she inquired about him. K spent the rest of the day going through what he will have to do as part of his job. 

"How was day one?" Vichitr asked later that night when they met in his apartment.
"I had fun and so did the others I hope. Enjoy your drink. I have some work to do tonight." he responded focusing on his laptop and nimbly pressing the key strokes. He used his index fingers typing amateurishly. "This is so much fun. I think you can go home. Let's meet three days from now."
Vichitr made a sullen face.
"Trust me. I know what I am doing."
He spent the whole night smoking weed, glued to his laptop like a child gets hooked on to a video game.
"It's five am in the morning. You haven't slept yet. What the fuck are you doing?" Creativity asked walking gingerly into the living room.
"Don't disturb me. I'm in the middle of something very important. Please go to bed."
She made an I-am-a-pissed-woman face and went back sulking into the bedroom. For the next three days K never left his laptop, whether he was in office or at home. It did not go well with both Creativity and Vichitr.

"Did you hear about the oldie?" Suruchi asked. She was in Vichitr's team and was seated next to him.
"Oldie? Who is that?"
"K. He joined Raman's team this Monday. He came to the office this morning and had finished two weeks’ worth of work that was assigned to him. It was flawless. Payal has gone gaga over the brilliant piece of code he has written. Everyone in the office is talking about him."
He got up from his seat and looked towards the corner where K was seated. He was surrounded by five guys and was bowing graciously to each one of them. Amit and Ankit were welcoming everyone who was approaching him as if they were the gatekeepers to his kingdom. He thought for a moment and then walked up to his seat. "Hi, I am Vichitr. I hear that you have been able to impress Payal. Now that’s a tough job."
Payal giggled. "I tell you Vichitr. You have to take a look at his work. It reminded me of you. Remember the initial days when we were in the same team and started working together."
"Good to see you. What did you say your name was? Vichitr? That's an odd name, isn't it?" K said and left everyone in splits.
"What are you up to? Why are you so friendly with those two idiots." Vichitr asked that evening, not holding back his annoyance.
"I'm just trying to understand this animal that you say is a programmer. Let me do my job. I'll tell you when the moment is right."
He lit a cigarette.
"Professor, do you remember the class of 12th when you had to leave the school? Do you remember those scared faces, all but one. The faces that turned grey at the sheer sight of the mighty K."
K raised his devilish eyebrow.
"Do you remember the student that was trying to win your attention? Every time you asked a question, he knew the answer, unfortunately he only knew it when you asked someone else, because when you asked him, even if he knew, he could not respond. It was as if you could read his brain, you peeped in, you studied what he would be able to respond to and what he would not, not just his brain, but everybody else's. The mighty K, the professor, the best out there, the only one out there."
K smiled gingerly and puffed on his cigarette.
"Of course that was me. I vied for an iota of appreciation from you but you never softened up. I scanned through books, created questions, to find that one question that would stupefy you, to bring you back to earth, but you had your ways, always, even at times when I felt that you didn't know, you bewildered me with jargon and made me feel as if you knew. That's what you make me feel like today."
K nodded pointing that he was in listening mode.
"Let me tell you I was not scared of the open ended exam that you had set. If you thought that was your chance to demean me, it was my chance to prove you wrong. It was supposed to be your open ended exam, not mine."
"My boy, I'm sorry that the exam was cancelled and you never got your chance. But let me tell you, you had my attention, at times, if that soothes your pain. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Amit and Ankit are joining me today for drinks. I think you should leave now. They will be here any moment."
Vichitr bowed and moved out shaking his head.

"Thanks for your help professor." Ankit said. "It's my pleasure." K smiled and raised a toast.
"I have never worked with someone as smart and bright as you. I think this should end your search. This is what you wanted to do all your life." Amit said. They were a couple of drinks down. Amit and Ankit were preparing for their MBAs and to help them K had proposed that he would take care of their office work. No wonder they had started calling him professor and were licking his ass.
"She is my girlfriend. I call her Creativity. She lives with me." K said introducing her to the guests. Creativity fixed another drink for both of them. As expected both men were left awestruck. After a few more drinks, a sulking session on how their jobs sucked, a denouncing session telling K how big a bitch Payal was and how their company sucked Amit collapsed in his chair. "Let him sleep." K said. He puffed on his cigarette and handed it to Ankit. "Can I ask you something?"
"My pleasure, professor."
"A two digit number n is reversed. The new number is greater than n. The difference of these two numbers is five greater than n. What is n?"  
"What the fuck man. You are too funny."
He started laughing like a whore.
"It's been years since I left Mathematics. Mathematics is shit. I wonder why they don’t simply teach us computers when in school." Ankit continued to laugh. It filled K with immense rage. He wanted to get up and smash his head. He maintained his calm.

After Ankit and Amit left he slipped in the bed and held Creativity firmly. "I must tell you that I have gotten to the root of it in just four days. Most of these men are dead. Dead meat. I have only met two at the workplace who are worth their salt. You know what I was thinking, the day I came here. I was thinking why this town is dead?"
"I have the answer now. This town is dead because dead people live here. It's an irony that this town is famous for the animal that lives here, the animal that the world thinks is a smart species but to me these are just brain dead coders lurking around in abundance. The company I am working for and I am sure the others around are all full of monkeys. Monkeys, who think they possess the smartest ass, jump to a conclusion too soon, can't solve simple problems because they lack the basic problem solving skills. Monkeys, who talk about writing code but think that Maths is shit. I have discovered the connection between the questions and the murders." K said fuming. His cheeks were red with the rage. Creativity's eyes were wide open now. She felt scared. "Go ahead." she whispered. K started laughing. She was startled by this sudden change in the expression.
"I'm sorry. I was just enacting Math the Ripper. I don't know why it did not occur to me before. The question that was found with the dead body was the question that Math the Ripper had posed. They died because they failed to answer the question."
"Unbelievable!" she said.
"I can picture him now. I'll share this revelation with Vichitr tomorrow. I see him. I know exactly how he feels. He is good at what he does and detests the morons around him. They make him sick. I have his psychic profile painted in my mind."
"I hope you remember that you are not going to work tomorrow".

It was not by choice but force that K took the Friday off. "Take tomorrow off or I'll leave" Creativity had told him coldly the previous night. It was hard to stay away from the case and his work but he didn't want to risk his sex life. It was a matter of one day. He was making love when his phone rang. His instincts told him that the call was about the case. He resisted the temptation to pick the phone up and thrust hard to distract himself. He was right. Had he picked up, he would have known that the number this time was thirteen, he would have known that Math the Ripper had struck again. The phone rang again confirming his suspicion. "I know where your mind is" she said smiling. "Go, pick it up."
He kissed her and jumped out of the bed. The phone had stopped ringing. He called Vichitr but couldn't reach him. He tried again but in vain. His curiosity got the better of him. "I'm going to his house. Do you want to come along?"
"No, I will stay here." she said.

He rushed to Vichitr's house. It took thirty minutes to find the place. Vichitr's dad welcomed him and told him that Vichitr was in fact on his way to meet K. "Yes, you guessed it right. There has been one more murder. The victim's name is Ankit. Vichitr told me that he was in your team."
K jumped from his chair. "Ankit?"
"That is sad. He was with me yesterday." he said enacting sorrow. Deep inside he felt nothing. "I think we can catch the ripper. I think I understand his psyche."
A phone started to ring. Vichitr's father got up and rushed towards the corner room. "Just a minute, in the mean while why don't you fix a drink for yourself? Just use the panel to make your selection. It's simple touch screen." he said pointing towards the mini-bar.
K got up and moved towards the bar. It was similar to the mini-bars that are usually found at home, yet it was different. The liquor bottles were locked behind a glass. Their mouths were all connected to small white pipes that went behind the wall. When he got close to the mini-bar a tablet came to life and presented him with options. The options listed all the varieties of liquor that he could see in front on him behind the glass. He could afford a smile. He touched the tablet to select Glenfiddich. The next screen presented him three options. 30 ml, 60 ml, and 90 ml. He touched 60 ml. Straight, On the Rocks, and With Water were the next options. He touched On the rocks. As soon as he did that the numbers one to six floated in front of him. He touched four. "Preparing your drink, please wait" a female voice popped up. A tiny window opened up in the wall and the drink was pushed out. It was as if there was someone behind that wall who had prepared the drink. “Enjoy your drink”. K stood there startled and picked up the drink. "Isn’t that beautiful? Vichitr created it for me last year on my birthday."
K turned around. He took a sip of his drink and that’s when he felt the hair on his arms raise. There was a sudden buzz in his ears. The neurons were in action. His palms were sweaty and the glass almost fell out of his hands. He gulped down his drink in one shot. "I need to leave. There is something urgent that has come up."
"You were about to tell me something."
"Later." he said and rushed out.         

Vichitr was at his apartment waiting for him. "I give up. I don't think I can help you, I don't think I'll be able to catch him. You are wasting your time with me. I'll be leaving tomorrow." K said shaking his head. "This town bites me and I can't stand it anymore. I want to leave this cemetery."
He shook hands with him. "The mighty K gives up. That's news. Stay for few more days. Tomorrow is going to be the sea food day."
"I’m sorry but I hate the food."
"You have let me down. I really thought you'd be able to nab the killer."
"In some other world, I have." he said and started packing his bags.

They were back in their sweet little home. "OK, now that we are back please tell me. Why did you leave? I thought you were getting there. This is the first time in my life that I have seen you run away from a problem." Creativity asked. K smiled and rolled a joint.
"It was my open ended exam. My dear, there are as many worlds as minds. Don't worry, Math the Ripper is at peace, happy in his world that he got the better of me. I promise no one will die from this point on. It was a test I was better off failing." he kissed her and unbuttoned her shirt.

The professor was right. Math the Ripper never struck again.