(“Pulp Fiction is cheap fiction. More like what sells. More like I spoon-feed, like now. My first attempt at this!”)
Through the clear glass of his polished windows, Don J squinted at the golden light. The day was just coming out of the embrace of the dark. But J, owing to lack of sleep, was already wearing a haggard look. Don J had a beastly physique. Over six feet long, J had biceps of hammer and legs of steel. He had understood quite early in life the crude ways of the world. Yet, at this very moment, he felt pangs of remorse. After all, he was aware that the ‘operation’ at hand was a risky affair. He could foresee a few deaths at the very least. Yet, the intoxicating sense of greed had taken over him, and he went ahead with the operation. He had never been a greedy man. In his stint as the deadly don, he had always stuck to the principles of fairness. He was after all a respected man. Don J was revered by his people for his extraordinary ability to showcase grand generosity. His operations obeyed three principles. One, they never hurt the interests of a poor man. Two, the outcomes had to undergo an equitable distribution amongst his men. Three, no soul was to be killed. The last principle was compromised in his latest operation. Not that his men killed anybody to extract the fruits, but that they themselves were put through the wringer. Don J had chosen to believe that his men would pull it off. Fate, however, had different plans.
Don J cursed his decision to go ahead with the operation. Two of his men had lost their lives. One whom he had picked up from the slums, and the other, a married man, named Asif. It was the loss of Asif that induced the Don with immense pain and regret, for he knew how married men were not just entities living for the self, but forces that kept an entire family going. It was only the previous day that the Don had learned about the presence of Asif’s wife and his son. How the wife must be mourning his departure, how the son had been rendered fatherless! The Don preferred control over his emotions. But now, his control seemed to weaken away. A lone tear flowed down his hardened cheeks. What followed was a volcano of raw emotions. Years of soft moments that had been stifled away found a way out, and there was no stopping them. The Don understood the importance of marriage, the comfort of having your family backing you. He had however chosen the other path. He had walked away from the face of marriage. The past raced back hauntingly in front of his eyes. The unbeatable Don cried like a helpless child.
Don J was not always a don. He was in fact the gentlest person in college. During those days, his charm was subtle, but his speaking eloquence was a sensation in the campus. J was a sincere student. He studied psychology, and in one of his ‘Environment and Behavior’ classes, his behavior underwent a mild change when he saw the glowing other-section girl, Mariam, in his environment. Electives serve some purpose other than imparting suitable knowledge. In this case, it triggered the start of a passionate affair between J and Mariam. Mariam had delicate features of a young lady but the wisdom overflowed like that of an old woman. The couple was inseparable in the campus. Debating, theatre and going to the movies, were all joint adventures. J wanted to work for the government, while Mariam wanted to be an actress. A few years passed, and the spring-bubble of their romance burst. Mariam felt jaded doing the plays, and J was frustrated with his govt. job. J couldn’t be indifferent in an atmosphere of rampant corruption and indirect extortion of the poor. He faced threats from within the system. The system he wanted to change finally changed him. Needless to say, it didn’t happen overnight. But with the passing of time, J realized his destiny was to be the Don. His world would be a fair one. It would run on friendship and trust. As J took his baby steps in this journey, it started getting harder for Mariam to act supportive. She could no longer recognize J. She realized she could still exit before it was all too late. But her love for J, which was once liberating, now invisibly chained her. Before mind could overpower heart, before logic could trump hormones, Mariam was pregnant. Under these circumstances, J decided to leave Mariam for the better. She was young and could do well. He didn’t want to father the child in his world, one that he had so painstakingly crafted. Despite Mariam’s endless pleading, J marched away towards his destiny.
Don J looked around. Why was he soaking himself in the past? That was a long time back. He lived in a king-sized mansion now. He had access to luxury like human beings had access to air. His men and their families led comfortable lives. Yet, he knew his world was no better than the outside world. Yes, his rules were fairer than the govt.’s. But still, the two lost lives washed him with remorse. The Don, wiping the stream of tears, walked to his bed. The eyes closed without his command. After an hour, the Don woke up to a loud ring. A couple of meetings had to be attended. The first one was simple. He announced compensation for the dead soldiers’ fellow slum dwellers. Everybody was happy. The second one was a tricky affair. The Don had to meet Asif’s family. The Don, while chewing his breakfast lifelessly, was trying to collect his thoughts when he was informed that Asif’s wife had arrived and that she was seated in the waiting hall. He didn’t eat any further. Asking his men to bring her, he briskly strode to his meeting room.
Asif’s wife sat quietly across the table. The Don’s face was stunned. He was terrified. Now he realized why Asif’s wife had been protesting to the meeting even though he had clearly conveyed it was for a noble purpose. The Don looked at her aghast. The same old feelings seemed to resurface. To the Don, he was looking at the most beautiful face in the world. Mariam’s beauty hadn’t given in a bit to the power of ageing. If at all, her grace had only become more refined and lush. Breaking the silence, Mariam spoke. ‘What is it you wanted to discuss sir?’ The Don flushed. ‘You can call me J. How have you been?’ Mariam took a moment. Visibly, she was fighting her emotions as well. ‘Life’s just walking on. With much difficulty, I had just managed to achieve a semblance of peace when you snatched away my husband from me.’ The Don looked away. ‘I am sorry’, he barked. Mariam voiced what was brewing inside her. ‘You left me when I was pregnant. I had nowhere to go. Asif supported me throughout. He had his flaws. His work didn’t appeal to me, but I had no other option. At least he wasn’t a coward like you’. J tried hard to suppress his feelings in vain. The two talked for three hours straight. To put it in plain words, the Don wanted to get Mariam back. He had slept with many bodies, but not engaged with a single soul. Mariam was afraid. She had after all been the victim. She politely refused J’s proposal. J requested her to at least keep one promise- Mariam had to ensure that their son Javed goes to school and becomes a learned man, a noble man. Before Mariam left, she let out a fraction of her old love for him. She requested him to resign from whatever it is that he was doing, and if he indeed was successful, she would think about it.
The Don spent the rest of the day locked up in his room. He pondered about all that life had given him. Today he possessed lots of wealth. Wealth, that would help him live the rest of his life without having to work. He had been frustrated with the outside world, with its blatant corrupt deeds and infinite inefficiencies. Yet, today he could see the glaring chinks in his world as well. His moral compass wavered. His thoughts started to flow in a different direction. He felt too tired. The comfort of family beckoned him. He had to go back to Mariam and Javed. He had to, but how?
Many years passed.
The Don was no longer the don. J was now a teacher. He taught the underprivileged kids free of cost. He lived in a moderate house, alone. Despite his earnest attempts, Mariam had refused to come back. That was a long time ago. The Don left his business in the hope of getting back his lost treasures. But life as it so often happens had moved on. Mariam taught the nuances of theatre to university students, and Javed was growing as well. So, Mariam had decided to not risk her peace again. That was that. However, through all this, J had found his happiness. He never went to see Mariam in all these years. In fact, he had never been given the chance to see his own son. He, however, kept on dutifully sending a small amount every month. Not that Mariam needed it. But it was just his way of making sure they were all together in some small way. He never even tried to know how Mariam was, or how his son Javed was doing. They would come to him if they wanted to, he kept telling himself. That sliver of hope and the satisfaction of teaching poor kids kept him afloat. Life if not bountiful wasn’t that gloomy either.
One evening, J was on his regular evening jog. After sweating it out for a good half an hour, J decided to head back home. While taking the first corner, J saw two policemen talking to a young man. The young man was quite handsome. His fault was that he was with his girl. Both had large bags with them. Perhaps, they were starting their new journey together. The two govt. officials looked excited. Their eyes showed what was about to take place in the next few minutes. The amount would be enough to foot the dinner bill for sure. A wave of repugnance for the state rekindled within J. However, he kept quiet and walked on. After a few steps, a police patrolling team stopped in front of him. He was a little nervous. One of the junior officers stepped down. ‘This guy has committed thefts in this area. Have you seen him?’, the officer asked pointing his fat fingers at the photo. J instantly recognized the guy. He didn’t give it away. He politely declined and walked on. He couldn’t have spoiled a couple’s dreams, J thought to himself.
When J reached his place, he was met by an open door. The battered lock was lying down. He immediately sensed something was amiss. He went in only to find out that some of his valuables and money were missing. His gigantic LED lay splattered on the floor. Wads of cash that he had stashed away were no longer there. J was a little shocked. All he could think of in that moment was a happy picture of his poor students. How was he going to support them with no money! Reason and logic took a while to sink in. J slept terrified. He missed having a family. That night he dreamt of Mariam and Javed. How Mariam had lovingly raised their son to be a noble man, and one fine day, they would meet.
J woke up with a severe headache. He drew the curtains open to allow light. A little bit of light was all he needed. J trudged to his balcony. He flipped open the newspaper. As expected, he found an article titled ‘The heist-couple’. It was interesting to find out that the two genuinely loved one another, and that they had been nabbed. Thankfully, J hummed. The article also spoke about their previous lives. In split seconds, the newspaper slipped J’s shivering hands. J looked at the rising sun. It beamed brightly. The birds chirped merrily bringing in a new day for all. J however just felt tired. He closed his eyes. He was too tired to wake up again.
The article stated, ‘The male, Javed(23), didn’t believe in the government and was repelled by its inefficiencies.’