The Nemesis

The cafe was nearly deserted. The chilly autumn breeze lent a quiet charm to the fading twilight. Only one table stood occupied.
“Another cup sir?” the waiter addressed a gentleman in a black overcoat.

“No.”, he replied.” We will be leaving soon”, he spoke to the two women sitting with him.

They nodded.

“And for the ladies?” the waiter pressed on. He was determined to be of service.

Must be a new fellow on the job, mused the overcoat. Hell I was optimistic too, once. That was a long time ago.

As if on cue, one of the girls said, “yes, bring me a cappuccino.”

The overcoat gave her a disdainful look. She was always contradicting him.

“I’ll finish quickly. Then we will be off. Happy?”

“No. You fuelled the waiter’s optimism. That’s criminal.”

“Oh hell. Stop being miserable. And try a bit of optimism for a chance, you godless heathen”, she spoke sarcastically.

The overcoat looked away. All his movements were gentle, like everything had been planned and yet was effortless. He was a poet. He was also dying. Cancer.

She was young, with dark eyes that shone prettily when the dimming sun caught her features. The other lady looked thoughtful, she stared at the overcoat frequently, waiting for him to speak.

Finally, he broke the stubborn silence.

“Are you done with your novel?”

He addressed the younger girl, the one with the dark eyes.

“No, It’s getting on slowly. That’s another way of saying it’s getting on horribly.” She spoke in an upset voice.

“And you? she inquired.

“Sporadically. The perils of being a poet and not a writer, I suppose.”

“I wish I had been a poet, she sighed. She eyed him thoughtfully. “A successful poet at that.”

“You’d never make a good poet Rita.  You are way too cynical. Stick to writing.

She looked clearly affronted.

“I will, she said haughtily. But I still say I’d have made a damn good poet if I wanted to.

“So be it.” The overcoat pulled out a writing pad and tore of a page. He tore it in two and handed one half to Rita.

“You write down the most beautiful thing you can think of. I’ll do the same. Then ‘she’…he nodded in the direction of the lady sitting alongside them, “can judge the more beautiful work.”

“My name is Beatrice” she said a bit rustily.

“I couldn’t care less “replied the overcoat sullenly.

“You are a miserable egoist and I think it is a stupid idea. I refuse.” said Rita with a dismissive air about her.

“Rita, I’m sick and I’m dying. I insist.”

She was furious. She shrugged, “okay, have it your own way then,” she said reluctantly. “You always have it your way” she added in an undertone.

And in a few moment two strips of parchment rested in front of Miss. Beatrice, who looked on disdainfully.

And now Madame, shall we?” the Overcoat seemed anxious for the result.

Beatrice took a look at the works. Her brooding face relaxed and for the first time that evening, or perhaps that year, or perhaps that decade, she smiled- a sad smile. A smile nevertheless. A smile that came without her knowing it.

“She glanced at dark eyes and said,” I’m afraid you’ve lost Rita.”

Rita stretched out a hand, “Okay, let’s have a look.”

She was too late. The poet had snatched it out of Bea’s hand. He shredded it with all the malice that had characterized his works. He scattered the pieces into the wind.

“What was that for?” Rita demanded.

“I’m sorry Rita” he said simply. “Some things we just have to keep to ourselves right? I should go.”

“Will you travel alone? How will you manage?

The poet smiled. “I will”. They did not know. He had been travelling alone for a long time.

When he had left, Rita turned to Bea.

“What did he write?”

“Your name.”

Rita looked away. She left hurriedly.

The other remained sitting, watching her fade into the gathering darkness.

                                                        Rudraneel

09.02.2016Edit

The Debater

He looks up.

The stage is lit up brighter than his eyes or spirit can bear. The auditorium is deserted.

He looks down again.

His watch reads 10:30. Another 15 minutes, and the crowd will start spilling in. He fears that their cajoling and catcalling will do nothing to lift his sagging confidence.

He has faith. He has faith in his arguments. He believes that he will be speaking the truth. And does not the truth always triumph?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps no.

He feverishly flips through his notes. They seem to him a garbled collection of nonsensical facts and figures that he secretly despises. He despises them because they are biased towards his arguments. He hates bias.

The audience starts ambling in. Each is engrossed in his own world- a dull hum that accompanies a restless crowd reaches the debater.

He looks up and notices their presence.

They do not notice his.

To them he is an outsider, a non-entity- until, he thinks wryly, he gets up on that stage. His composure returns to him. His anachronism, he realizes, is his greatest source of self-confidence. For years he has been ashamed of it, now, in a moment of clarity, he teaches himself to be proud of the fact. It is a lesson that must last him a lifetime.

He is tired. It is his first debate, and already he is tired of fighting. He eyes the stage nervously. And the shining array of trophies upon it. He realizes that soon he must get up there and speak about _____what? He is terrified. He does not know! He returns to his notes hurriedly, scanning each page with a ferocity that has become a part of his spirit. The rage that has become a part of his philosophy. The anger that has become a part of his existence.

He is the debater.

If he accepts that fact- all else shall follow.

This…..he realizes, is his atonement, his salvation, his destiny.

Now his competitors are striding in. There is a lilt in their walk- a breathless arrogance seems to waft out of their bodies. They walk with the knowledge of previous triumphs. The walk with the confidence of winners. They are all champions in their own right.

The debater realizes, with a shudder, that he is the underdog. His confidence is as impulsive as a little child, so sprightly a moment ago, but when rebuked, hiding beneath his fragile egotism.

He has no glorious past to recount, no tale of victory to be retold. He is a nobody, a pauper impersonating a lord.

They all seem to know it. And, what’s worse, he knows it too.

And then, a blur.

The speech.

The refutations, the paradoxes.

The infallible interjections.

The victory.

His.

They all await the results. He does not.

A few slap him on the back, congratulating him. Some cannot believe he is a debutante. They all know, he will win. The veterans feign pleasure at his victory.

They behave like fucking elitists, he thinks, which is of course precisely what they are. He is wearing his only suit, and his shoe has frays that all the shoe-polish in the world cannot mask.

He is not an elitist. He hopes he never will be.

And yet, he sighs, and yet. Once again, he is within, and without. The crowd is as indifferent to him as they were before the victory. They only behave differently.

 

The results were announced by the moderator. The runners-up’s were greeted with applause. The winner was announced, but the trophy was never awarded.

The debater had gone.

 

Rudraneel.

23.01.2016

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