Feels great to be part of the brand new bloghop over at Write..Edit...Publish, created by Denise Covey. The prompt for this month is vacation, and I am here with a flash, condensed from a much longer story.
A Tough Customer
The Rajdwar is no ordinary hotel,
she feels lucky to have landed this job.
Savera pulls her bag onto her shoulder with a frisson of smugness, and checks
her hair once more, pats a stray strand back as she calls out, “Amma, I’m
leaving. Bye—e –e.”
The lobby will be crowded today. The vacations have just started, so people are
either moving out or moving back into the city.
It’s only a filler job, a trainee’s assignment for the weeks of the vacation,
but it will polish up her résumé another shade.
She enjoys people-watching, especially children, so it will not be any
hardship. Rather fun getting an insider
view of a hotel this large, this luxurious.
There is a swing to her step, a jauntiness to the way her head sits on
It has been easy this far. For a
city with such a record, no extra security measures are in place.
“Have they already forgotten? 1993? 2006?
Not even a metal detector in the whole place. Really!” He jostles into place at the queue for the
unreserved carriages, holding his single case carefully close, disguising its
heaviness with a light, three-fingered grip.
No-one gives him a second glance, another unshaven college kid in a
scruffy T-shirt and large shades, going home on an impulse without advance reservation. He
smiles a little. These people are such
fools, they imagine they are invincible, when no-one is. Well, they’ll find out soon enough, he thinks
to himself; and then wipes the smile off his face swiftly.
The queue moves forward as the train
pulls into the platform. He notes the route,
the next stop will be at another end of the city on the long journey east. He can recollect the map faultlessly, though
he has never stepped here before. The
trainers have been strict and his training is superb.
He is in some amount of shoving
later, and finds a sliver of an aisle seat by requesting an old man, “Uncle-ji,
a little space?”
The man looks at him with milky,
cataract-filled eyes, he is old enough to be the younger man’s father, “Come son,
sit. How far are you going?”
He grunts and sits down, opens a
newspaper out to discourage talk. The
usual stream of passengers and hawkers of tea and meals, of cheap plastic toys
and miracle portions pass through the carriage till the train finally draws out
of the platform in long interrupted shudders.
Later, when the train has picked up speed, he walks through the
vestibule into the first car, and enters a toilet with his small case. Inside, he gets quickly to work, and by the
time he finishes, a small black oblong shape is clipped below the lavatory
opening, well out of sight on the back of the soil tube. He flushes twice to make sure it is secure
and invisible and dry. He then shaves, changes
into a business suit that instantly ages him a decade, and gets off at the next
station. There’s work to be done at Rajdwar too. He takes out a phone and sends a clipped
text. “Gone east.”
Savera puts down the telephone and
looks at the guest, “Good evening, Sir. How may I help you?”
“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”
“Yes.” She keeps her smile smooth,
even though she is bristling a little, “Do you have a reservation, Sir?”
He mimics her tone sotto voce, “No, I don’t have a
reservation, and yes I need a room, and I am sure you are full up. I need to see your manager, is Singh around? Now be a sweetie and run and get him for
me. I am not a customer you can handle.”
“If you will provide an i.d. Sir, I
will do my best. As you know it’s the
start of the holidays and you may not get the choice you want, Mr Singh is a
busy man.” Her shift was nearly over, her feet were hurting, it was only her
third day at work, she didn’t want to run to the manager bleating like a
clueless lamb because she couldn’t face a tough customer. Deal with this odd fellow, too bold by half,
bung him into a room and then straight home.
“Have it your way sweetness. Here’s the i.d.” He’s got through this far without a hitch,
the room matters nothing now. He just
needs to kill time till the others get in.
Kill time first, and then zoom in for the real thing.
The passport feels light, she looks
it over dubiously, but can’t pinpoint any flaw exactly. She photocopies it and goes through the forms;
allocates one of the less-prized rooms.
He takes the key, but she notices that he saunters over to the lobby and
sits there waiting. Anyway, it’s none of
her business, she winds up her work, and leaves.
Outside the streets feel
jittery. The shops which should be open,
are closing their shutters early. She
wonders what’s happened as her autorickshaw crawls towards the station. The streets are choked.
baat hai, bhaiya?”
nahi. Tirayn ka kuch gadbad .” *
Trains being disrupted isn’t
anything unusual, she slumps back into her seat. But she is stopped from getting into the
Samrat Ashok Terminus by a cordon and a senior looking official, “The terminus
is being evacuated.”
Then he looks at her puzzled, young
face and drops the offialese. “Daughter,
the city is under attack, go home some other way, get somewhere safe fast.”
“How? What?” her bewilderment knows
no bounds, but he just waves her off resignedly.
She walks back into the milling
crowds and turns to face the station.
Above the ornate entrance the large news-screen blinks the headlines out
in dotted green lights. Breaking
News. Synchronised blasts in long
distance trains. Rajdwar under siege. Terrorists occupy landmark hotel.
Not a customer you can handle. The words and the passport pages swim into
her mind, and she finally realises the flaw in them in one stinging flash of
All feedback welcome.
"Don't know. Probably a problem with the trains."
India, where I come from, and where I come back to every year for home leave in July-August, has long been a target for terrorists. Many of the vacations I have spent here in the last decade have been disturbed by news of blasts and attacks and high alerts all across the Indian cities. This flash is distilled from all those vacation headlines.
Updated as per suggestions in the comments.
Read the other entries here: