"I met Nizora. She is still waiting for you." Is Randeep telling me this or am I talking to myself, unconsciously?
I look at Randeep, he is not expecting an answer from me, he will not carry any definite message from me to her. I know it. He just mentioned it, like a sympathetic friend. I do not need to make any comment, because my entire surrounding has now come to be fixed at one place. There is no change, the long chain of tuition classes somehow help me pay the rent each month. Sometimes I have to pay a fee against an advertisement, travel by bus or train to attend an interview, like a cosmic object in motion.
"Ten minutes have passed already," that clean shaven boy wearing a snow-white shirt and cream-coloured trousers who has been a little too restless for some-
time, said. I raise my hand and glance at the watch. Yes, more than ten minutes have passed. That boy named Nabin Patowary has not left the room yet. My heart now begins to throb a little faster. This is a normal reaction in a human being, I try to tell myself. Maybe, it is already reflected in my face, and all those persons sitting impatiently before me are also victims of the same reactions, a kind of situation we are all in -- something we have faced before, and yet its urgency make it difficult for us to swallow it easily. That girl with the short haircut sitting before me, pulls out a small note book from her handbag, to see for one last time if her memory will fail her to recall the name of the capital town of Angola, the amount of money collected from the auction of Diana's clothes or the number of tributaries that have merged with the Brahmaputra. These may not slip out of her tongue at the last moment. She flips quickly through the pages with her fingers with enamelled nails, sometimes her eyes pause over a sentence, underlined with red ink. Soon, these answers will determine her future; society will recognize her as a high-ranking officer. I take my eyes away from her, I fix them outside through the open window, upon that small workshop where some cars are being repaired, though that sound of her flipping through the pages startles me now and then. I must also try to memorize some answers -- the incidents that have taken place around the globe in the last two or three years, their nature, date, years, names of nations, everything, I must go over in my brain again and again. They can ask me any question, from the internet to the mobile phone, from Mumbai to Majuli. How many died in yesterday's bomb blast? In what circumstances did it take place? These are meaningless, senseless brutal things, aren't they? Yes. Death has come to be a matter of mere statistics. Who is killed, who killed them -- these questions are not necessary now. And their solutions? Who am I to speak of them? Big people like you read through the statistics of deaths, try to gain political mileage from them; but to us, each murder, each death can be so vicious, so devastating. Do you ever think about it? No, you do not because you never travel by train or bus, you do not go shopping in a bazaar. And we? We have to brave those tremors coming from a bomb blast, we roll in blood like a castrated goat, the bits of flesh from our bodies are not taken away from the main road until the police arrives, the press and then some VIPs.
The notebook slipped out of her hand and fell on the floor with a soft thud. I emerge out of that make-believe encounter in an interview. "Thank you," she said, as I handed her the notebook. I read her name there, Pubali. She has a sweet voice. There is something so similar with Nizora.
"Is this your first time?" I want to ask her, but do not, because some questions will then come to me too. I will undergo some mental tension because of them. I do not want to get into any sort of discussion. Her eyebrows are slanted like Nizora's.
"It seems Patowary will make it this time!" The jovial man named P. Saharia commented.
That's true, Patowary needs this job. But then, who doesn't? No one has come here to have fun, why do they walk towards that room twenty feet away from them that almost stiffles the thud of a heart? Actually, we are all hopefuls, there is no question about it.
Does Pubali want to ask me something? I turn my face away. The sound of that door opening suddenly makes us all sit up, with attention. Patowary emerges out of that cage, and moves towards us, he walks like an old man, a murmur rises in us and yet we are unable to speak up. He has come out unscathed, I think, because it is difficult to come out a winner from that battlefield. Maybe he is badly wounded.
Patowary flops down on the chair. We circle him, ask him about that battlefield inside the room, how he saved himself from the missiles and grenades of words that were thrown at him, how he escaped from them, unhurt.
Patowary is not saying anything, he certainly looks very tired, he gestures with his hands that he wants to rest for some time, he will drink a glass of water and then tell us all. The young man named Bhuyan came and loosened his tie.
"What did you say?" Some of them shouted, ordered the peon to repeat it. That's right, ten minutes for tea break and then, the rest will be called.
A trayful of cups and saucers is taken inside the room. Patowary is left alone to rest and we return to our individual seats. Everyone feels a little relaxed for ten minutes. The girl named Preety picks up today's newspaper from the table, I do not think she will read it with interest, because, by now all of us have exhausted reading it already. In fact, if someone remembers the exact words in the headline, I won't be surprised. She seems to be reading an advertisement for a detergent powder "Have you sat for an interview before?" Preety is asking me.
"How was it?"
"So so." I know, this is no answer at all. If it had been good I wouldn't be sitting with her in this room for an interview today.
"If the interviews does not get over before the last bus leaves, I'll have trouble reaching home." Preety is not saying this to me, she has no reason to tell me such a thing, she is just talking to herself. She looks at the watch from Deepak. If she is late, her parents will worry. She is their only daughter. Her father may even wait at the bus stop. Perhaps, she will spend the night with her uncle because it is not safe to travel by bus late at night. You cannot trust anyone, these days. Her uncle who has good connections may ask her, if he should meet someone, though, nowadays, nobody gives a job on a verbal request. If she wants, he could try to bribe someone, because those old moral principles have no meaning today; they are mere words in a lexicon or just old relics in a museum. So, it would be worthwhile if her uncle tries to do some such thing. Or her father's certificate of a freedom fighter could come of use. Many people secure jobs through them, some even borrow certificates for such purposes. Perhaps, Preety does not welcome this idea, she has just passed out of the university, it is not yet time for her to turn to lies, she doesn't want to slip on that road of life?
What can Preety think of me now? She may not think anything. To her, I am like the other ten ordinary candidates for a job. Maybe my hair, the lines on my face make me look older than the others, maybe, she thinks I have failed in several other interviews, that I am a dull, worthless man. She can make a few assumptions about my family too, she can measure me by that inferior look in my eyes. She could be startled by the strange similarity between my low, desperate condition and that of an intimate friend in her college days. I want to tell her, I will make it this time, because this is, to me, a battle for life and death. That I lose every time, this cannot be...
Yes, that man is announcing my name, shouting. I pick up the black folder, I walk towards that room twenty feet away from me. Four angry beasts are waiting for a prey in that cage. I must win this battle. "If you can't do anything, I will not wait for you." I recall those lines in Nizora's last letter to me.
I open the cage door and wait before the beasts.