The telephone ring chimed in the silence of the vast bedroom. Shahzeb opened his eyes in narrow slits with great difficulty. He felt as if the sound was drilling holes in his head. He cursed the caller under his breath, and closed his eyes once again, putting a cushion over his pounding head to suppress the mother of all hangovers from hell. The phone got silent after some time. But in just 10 seconds, it started ringing again. Shahzeb stretched out his right hand to grab it from the bedside table.
“Damn it,” he cursed loudly this time when the pain on his stitched up fresh wound hit his nerves. He stretched his hand back and saw the bandage. He gritted his teeth in an effort to clear his foggy mind. The phone stopped once again, but then his land-line number rang. Someone definitely was in a hurry to reach him.
He got up from the bed and took the cordless receiver in his left hand this time.
“Shahzeb here.” He answered the call without noticing the caller ID. His voice felt heavy and intoxicated even to his own ears.
“You need to extricate yourself from your marital bed and get on with your work. The birthday is over, and so is the celebration.” His executive officer from his Japan head office jested playfully. This was another successful strategy of Shahzeb’s colossal business: to hire his close friends from his MBA batch; especially those who were interested in working in Delhi or in India. Two to three such young boys were working for him in executive positions. Shahzeb never treated them like mere employees; they still behaved like old buddies.
“Go to hell Rohan.” He cut the call after delivering four foul words. He wasn’t in the mood of discussing business. Damn with the business and this whole charade of being a millionaire, Shahzeb thought grievously. His cell rang again. He took the call.
“Get done with it, dammit.” He answered rudely this time.
“The details of the quotation prices got leaked last night. I managed to get my hands on the list. The Johnson bid is the lowest, at 200 million Japanese yen. I think we should reconsider our bid before the tender gets off.” Rohan consulted his boss’s opinion on this very important decision.
“Quote the price 10 percent lower than Johnson.” Shahzeb stated carelessly.
“Are you out of your mind?” To say that Rohan was shocked on hearing his employer’s opinion would be an understatement. He simply couldn’t fathom the reason behind Shahzeb’s negligence on something so important. Shahzeb’s assessment could see them facing a massive loss.
“Do whatever goddamn you want to do and don’t call me again.” He hung up the call straight after the blasted declaration.
He grabbed his head again in his hands. His head was hurting like hell. “What the f*** is wrong with my head?” he whispered abhorrently while massaging his temples with his fingers.
“It’s called a hangover. It is something that one experiences after consuming alcohol. It is especially plethoric when the alcohol is devoured for the first time; and that too, excessively.” Zoya came into the bedroom with a small tray in her hand containing a mug of freshly brewed black coffee and a glass tumbler of fresh lemonade. Both work wonders on hangovers. She placed the tray in front of him.
Shahzeb looked at his sassy wife with red puffy eyes. He surely didn’t enjoy her sarcasm, but he didn’t want any more hassles, at least not now. He satisfied himself with just a murderous glare in her direction, instead of spilling any gruff remark.
Zoya didn’t sit in front of him after delivering the gritty remarks. She could see from the deadly expressions on his face that she had pushed the wrong button. If looks could kill, Zoya would be dead by now. She nonchalantly started playing with the medicine strips which his doctor had prescribed earlier for his pain relief and fever. She took out two pills from different strips and shoved them in front of him. Shahzeb, who was sipping his lemonade, looked at her outstretched palm.
“What is this?” he asked annoyingly.
“This is something called a medicine; they are usually used for treating injuries or curing illness.” She ridiculed with an utmost knowledge of medical science. Shahzeb couldn’t take it anymore.
“Damn you woman, stop treating me like a kid.” He smashed the sipper back into the wooden tray with such force that the coffee spilled from the mug placed in the tray.
“Then stop acting like one. What do you think of yourself? A king of some sort of kingdom? Or a wild animal who can roam around without any rules and regulations? Unfortunately, this is not your territory; neither are we your slaves, who would close their eyes on your barbaric actions.” Zoya spat with the same fervor. Shahzeb froze on his place; not because of his wife’s sassy comeback, but on account of the words she had used unknowingly. He looked down on the tray, his head bent over his shoulders. Suddenly he felt alone; alone, unnamed and unwanted. Those haunting words had hit his head like a hammer.
“…that bastard son of yours.”
“…the illegitimate child of an unmarried 17 years old girl.”
“…his own father ran away from his pregnant mother.”
He had never, even in his wildest dreams, expected that the day would come when he wouldn’t be able to identify his own self. He had never thought before that fate could be so cruel to him. He felt himself even smaller than a particle of dust. He looked at his wife who seemed too imperial for his own wretched self. She was also a daughter of a servant of this haveli, but she was born under wedlock. At least she was aware of the name of her father; she was not some dirty secret. Her father might be a poor servant, but he considered her to be a precious gift from the Almighty; whereas his own father had abandoned his mother after impregnating her. He took the cigarette case from the bedside table and searched for a lighter. He grabbed the night lamp to see behind it, but hissed in pain when his stitches almost tore open. Zoya shook her head in helplessness and handed him the lighter which was lying on the carpet near the table.