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Roast beef sandwich or grilled salmon wrap? I deliberate. But, for once, I’m not worried. The bulge in my jeans pocket feels reassuring.

Today, surprisingly, everything seems to be going right. Reached the station just in time for the tube. Cracked the first deal of the day effortlessly. And here I am, seated at a haute restaurant among its modish guests.

“Good morning Sir, I’m Marjorie,” a server greets me. Something in her voice makes me look up.  

An eager smile widens her dimpled cheeks and lights up her hazel eyes. Eyes that once held me captive, many moons back.

“Marj? Is that really you, or am I dreaming?!” I try hard to keep my voice steady.

“Luke? Oh my god!” The astonishment in her voice peaks as she wraps me in a tight hug. “You’ve changed, man!”

A few seconds pass before we disengage.

Marjorie passes my order to a colleague and with a ‘my-boss-is-kind-he-won’t-mind’ gesture, joins me at my table.

“So Lukie, where have you been all these years? And how’s Daniel?”

I feel vaguely happy that she remembers my dopehead jailbird dad, now dead, even after ten years.

“I’m into, uh, import and export. Gets me a decent living. ” I reply, in all honesty.

We talk slowly and softly. We reminisce our shared childhood and adolescence in the seamy, squalid ghettos where stray dogs and homeless children rummaged through trash for food. Where broken bottles and graffitied walls vied with gun-toting guys and ratchet girls. Where, in the race to survive, we forgot how to dream.

“I moved out with Ma and Benji the day I landed this job.” Marjorie sounds momentarily distant.

We talk some more before she resumes her duty. I feel upbeat. Visions of a relaxed, no-work weekend seduce me, as I tuck into my sumptuous meal. And that’s when I notice it.

Marjorie has retreated to a quiet corner. She is speaking on the phone. I cannot hear what she’s discussing but she looks distressed, and on the verge of tears.

I wave at her. She totters towards my table and briefs me – her mother was headed to the hospital this morning where Benji, her brother, is fighting leukemia. She was robbed on the way, and now they’ve lost their precious savings needed for his bone marrow transplant next week.

My immediate surroundings become a blur. I ruminate on the morning scenes – the crowded subway, a middle-aged lady with a brown tote, my foolproof sleight of hand, and…a windfall!

I hand over a stash of notes to Marjorie, without the envelope. She vehemently refuses, but I insist.

“That’s nothing much for me, Marj, honestly,” I lie through my teeth.

“Give me your number.” Marjorie finally smiles through her tears.

I comply. She dials, but we hear no ring.

“That’s my personal number…it’s at home,” I assure her.

Before leaving, I click our picture on my phone. The only one I have.

Merging with the milling crowds, I gear up for a hectic weekend.

(Story only – 500 words)

P.C. Urmi Chakravorty

#five00-20  #wherehaveyoubeenalltheseyears  #artoonsinnwritersroom




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