Smriti is late for a meeting on Monday. The road is blocked with school-kids and on another junction, the traffic signal refuses to go green. She’s dazed and hasn’t had the time to grab breakfast or a coffee. She hasn’t bathed, hasn’t trimmed her nails, or brushed her teeth long enough. Unclean and unprepared.
The lift has space for just one more person when a guy steps in. He catches her sulk as the lift door closes and offers to come out but… DING!
She’s late by sixteen minutes. She tries to valuate sixteen minutes of Alok’s time and settles for ‘a lot’ as an answer. He’s not in but another team’s manager, Vikrant, is. He’s too into himself to notice the creases on her salwar. He’s in a mood for a conversation and she has little more than ‘Uhmms’ to offer. Probably a dress rehearsal for him, she thinks. He’s a tad bit edgy like he is just back from sitting on an electric chair.
She’s reading mail when he places a bag of chocolates right beside her desk.
“Back from Charlotte on Saturday.”
“These are berries covered in the darkest of chocolates – especially for you, early bird!”
When he’s gone, Smriti picks one up and walks the empty aisles towards the kitchenette. She pulls a chair by a high table and rests her head on it. She sees an ant walk hurriedly to the edge and then re-appear, astonished. Her phone buzzes and she notes that its efficacy exceeds that of caffeine at keeping her awake. Three missed calls from her mom. The last one at 11:48 PM. Her contact picture is the one taken at Gir two years ago. She’s wearing a white hat. Smriti contemplates dialling her number now. Her mom would be out with her friends at the Joggers’ Park. She started that a year after she could no longer have chai and read newspaper with her dad.
Smriti hears someone talking. She walks back to her desk. Alok could be back. He isn’t. There’re two new mails in her inbox. One from Vikrant to her team about the dark chocolates. Smriti bites into the chocolate and is taken aback by the bitterness. A part of the deep purple berry becomes visible. She reads the second mail. It says Alok would be out of office for the rest of the week, that there has been a death in his family. She reads the message twice. Death in family. He has a wife and a girl child. Her name is Arya and she has Alok’s toad-like eyes.
“Is Alok in?”
“No… he isn’t. He won’t be in for the rest of week…”
“Oh man,” he laughs. “I could have worked from home today.”
She considers elaborating, but words don’t make their way out. She smiles instead and bites into the exposed berry. It’s bittersweet.
Her phone rings.