A birthday at work

“Hey Jared,” called out the new intern. She was much younger than I, but our work etiquette encouraged us to collaborate on first-name basis. I didn’t care much, because it made me, even only just, feel a little younger.

“Yes, Sharon?” I replied without looking up from my laptop. I had a project I had to submit by the end of the day, and I had just begun to put it together. It had been a hectic week, and I was already looking forward to the close of the day and the week.

Sharon didn’t reply. I typed away unpertubed for a while, but she called out again, louder this time, forcing me to look up, irritation balooning within me but a smile spreading on my fake face. “Sorry, was busy.” I added an extra emphasis on the last word. “What’s up?”

What an easy phrase that was—what’s up. So helpful when you don’t know what to say, yet so casual that it won’t sound like you’re pissed off at the person you’re saying it to—even if you are pissed off.

“It’s Wendy’s birthday on Monday, and we wanted to get her a cake, and also decorate her work place.”

Wonderful. Just what we needed now, a birthday party. As if we don’t have enough distractions already.

“Oh.” I replied, instead, unable to say anything further. As she looked at me expecting I’d say more, I forced myself to do so, “Oh, ok. That sounds cool.”

No it doesn’t. You’ve worked here one week, why would you throw Wendy a party when you don’t even know her that well?

“Great!” Her eyes popped with with excitement. We’ll order a cake and hang back after work today to decorate her place. You’ll help us, won’t you?”

Why should I? It’s Friday!

“Oh ok,” I trailed away. If I had to spend time decorating with the new kids in, then I’d better finish my work fast. I heaved a deep sigh. Just then, my phone lit up with a push note from my bank: my credit card bill had arrived, and I owed more than I could afford this month. Ah, well. More dues; no news.

I continued to type away wishing this project would end, and with it my responsibility in it. It had taken us more than half a year to get the project up and running, and even afterward, our clients came back reporting issues and disappointmnet. The boss and I had been emailing each other for a while now, he trying to get me to fix it, and I trying to explain to him that we don’t have enough resources.

“Hey Jared!” Sharon’s voice jutted into my thoughts again. Masking my frustration, I looked up again, and trying to sound as innocent as I could replied, “Hmm?”

She looked down at the notebook in her hand, biting the end of her pencil. “It’s three dollars each for the cake, two for the decorations, and a five more for the Papier-mâché doll—the present.” She narrated in an even voice, careful not to give away the impression of robbing me. I saw right through it.

Brilliant. Ten dollars down the drain. For a birthday that will only depress Wendy because she’s getting old.

Wendy and I had been colleagues for over two years now, and though she loved the occasional splurge, I knew she wasn’t taking this birthday in her stride. She had complained to me on various occasions about feeling “old timey”.

“Woah, that’s a handful.” I had to protest. These kids would do anything to get a few likes on Instagram and Facebook. After all, they still lived under their parents’ patronage. “Are you sure you want to spend that much?”

It’s almost the end of the month, and I’m running short of cash.

But I couldn’t tell them that.

“Well…” She dragged on trying to figure out a way to convince me. “It is a bit fancy, but it’s Wendy.” She cocked her head to one side, letting a little streak of untied hair fall down to her eyes. She pushed it aside in a sweeping motion. “She’s like a mentor to us,” she turned to the other four new interns who nodded as if their life depended on it, “and we want to thank her.”

Oh, well. Wendy will be happy, but I’ll be the one getting her a cab home from the bar tonight, after she weep-drinks complianing about her age.

I knew better than to judge Wendy. I had been there myself, and she had been there for me.

“Oh, alright then. Let me finish this first, and I’ll pay you after.”

If the kids wanted to thank her, but end up depressing her inspite of it, I’ll be there for Wendy.

And with that, I went back to my email, writing to the boss: “Sure, thing, Daniel. I can pull some strings with the supplier, and see how we can solve our client’s issues. You can count on me.”

Hit jackpot


I’ve never had any strong opinion about lottery and jackpot, except that I knew it was a dangerous addiction. I didn’t have any friends or relatives under the habit, and so I never had to think about it either. Until yesterday.

A close friend sent me a message. He had won about $260, and he had spent less than $3 for the ticket.

My first reaction was joy beyond belief—elation. I felt as if I had won the money myself. But the next moment, surprise took me over. It struck me as weird how easy it had been for him to win so much money. It was like pocket money for him now, and it came from working zero hours, spending almost none of his effort. It was no-sweat cash.

And that made me realise how hard I work for the money I make. I love my job, I look forward to Mondays as much as I do to Fridays, and yet, I work harder—much harder—than he does to make almost the same as he does. And to cap it, he had just won an additional jackpot that doesn’t even count as part of work.

I wasn’t jealous, I knew him too well to feel any bitterness towards his luck. And besides, when you’ve got a lot of debt to pay off, you can never have too much luck or money. And I knew he had debt, and so, good use for that money.

Despite all that, though, I still couldn’t accept the concept of a jackpot. It’s so unfair. Unfair to the hardworking, to the ones clocking eight hours a day at work and another hour or two at commute, unfair to the labourers, those working with heavy machinery, people waking up at 3 in the morning to serve hangry passengers in railway stations. If only they had the luck.

Perhaps that’s why the lottery lures us common folk. The possibility—if only. We yearn for whatever little luck a tiny piece of multi-coloured paper would sway our way because our lives hang in dire circumstances we crave to unhinge. Maybe lottery addiction stems from the desire to do more, to have more, in life.

Which leads me to believe that no one is happy with what they have. No one’s satisfied enough, seeking the bubbling reputation, even if it takes them to the canon’s mouth. We’re all reaching in the dark, hoping to grab the light that would light up our lives, free us of our debts, give us a bigger car, a faster laptop, or a smarter phone. Pity, though, that we lay so much of our life on a piece of paper that—as much luck as it brings—may as well fly right out of our reach.

An uncanny realisation

an uncanny realisation

A few weeks ago I met with an old school friend. We had a lot to discuss about the last six years that had elapsed since we last saw each other. But of all things we spoke of, one stood out to me, nagging me from within.

She mentioned our school principal, Mrs. D. She also taught English Literature for senior classes during our time, and I had the opportunity to sit through her classes for a short 2 months before changing schools. The last thing I had heard of Mrs. D was that she had retired. I had no idea of her current whereabouts until my friend revealed it to me.

Mrs. D now taught English for adults from the comfort of her home. “Oh, nice!” I exclaimed when I heard that. I knew my teacher could never stop teaching, but I hadn’t thought of her moving on from enlightening school students to adults. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that she had moved on and enjoyed retirement.

My friend continued her story. Everyone in school knew how much Mrs. D appreciated good music. She’d nod her head, smiling, whenever a student played the grand piano in the auditorium. And then she’d voice her admiration to the entire school during assembly. She was also a great pianist herself.

And so when my friend told me that Mrs. D still played the piano whenever she had time, I took a hike down my mind to those days when we’d file into the auditorium every morning, beating our feet to crescendos and staccatos. But the fleeting image burst like a gum bubble when I heard Mrs. D couldn’t play as often as she’d liked to because she had wrist pains and nerve issues. “Old age, you know.” My friend commented, offhand. It was just a matter of fact. At that moment, my reality stood still.

I hadn’t thought of my teachers getting old. I had been so busy focussing on my life and the changes I underwent that I didn’t even pause to think that my teacher had a life of her own—a life that went by just as mine did. My memory of Mrs. D was frozen in the classroom, and that I could walk into class tomorrow, flip the page of my text-book, and continue reading between the lines of Iago’s speech.

I hadn’t, even for a moment, considered that my teacher’s life no longer involved striding into class in a smart sari and not-so-heeled shoes. I hadn’t thought of her slumping on the couch in a sweatshirt, or watching television after 10 pm. Somehow, it never struck me that teachers are normal people, too, and that as they grew older, they’d also grow weak in the knees, stutter in their speech, and caress wrinkled skins.

It made me feel old to hear the reality of my teacher. She wasn’t as old as dying a natural death, but she was older than my image of her, and for a while, I couldn’t accept that. Here we were, standing at the airport, chatting away like a couple of adults discussing serious economic issues, when in truth neither of us felt adult-like at all. We had, of course, walked out formal education and into employment, but our memories still lived in the same school uniforms that we clad six years ago.

Oh, how much we hated Mrs. D’s rules. She made us all wear ribbons on our hair and would ensure our skirts reached well below our knees—the punishment for improper length being teachers undoing the hemming our skirts to make them longer.

Yet now, life had turned the tables on us and we just stared in longing into the mirror of our memories, that shadowed fondest part of our lives.

A May Day I never knew

It’s May 1, and where I live, today is a public holiday celebrated as May Day, Labour Day, or Workers’ Day. No matter what they call it though, for most people today is just a second Sunday. They wake up late, display fantastic gluttony for lunch, and spend the rest of the day on the couch, switching through channels on the television.

Every TV channel has special programmes lined up for today. They’re not motivational speeches and documentaries about how the labour laws came about, but movies, and interviews with film stars about what they like to eat at movie sets. And after a heavy lunch, people love to lay back and watch film stars flash their teeth at the screen.

It’s weird that we spend an entire day relaxing when we should be commemorating the efforts of the working class. However, for as long as I remember, May Day has been the same in my society: once in a while, a bunch of activists would organise a peaceful rally, and all shops will shut down for the day — because the cost of not doing so would be a hefty fine.

So when I woke up this morning, I expected nothing more. However, for the first time in my life, I was curious to know what May Day meant for the rest of the world.
May Day is an ancient spring festival in Europe, I realised with gloom. It’s a tradition where people celebrate soil fertility with social gatherings and games.

And here I thought the first of May was Workers’ Day. I dug deeper, and found out that the spring festival combined with many other seasonal festivals throughout Europe, to make May Day a popular holiday. It had existed for years before the International Socialist Conference decided to declare the same day as international workers’ day.

Workers’ Day is nowhere related to May Day — and that came as a shocker. We’ve always referred to the International Workers’ Day as May Day. As for the actual May Day, we’d never even heard of it.

Even my school book taught me that May 1 was for workers, when in fact, it’s something else altogether. We had learnt to appreciate the labourers amongst us, but we hadn’t learnt that the law came into practice only in 1904 overshadowing a centuries-old custom. I was appalled, but it wasn’t the first time that our education system had hidden parts of facts. The result? An entire generation of more than half of the world grew up oblivious to the fact that May Day traditions were older than Labour Day celebrations. It’s no big deal, you might think, but in a way, this makes me question everything I’ve studied in my history classes.

The Catcher in the Rye

It’s not often that you’d read a book that changes the way you look at the world and at the way you look at writing as an art. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger did that for me.

Five chapters into the book and I tweeted for the first time a long time illustrating my confusion. I hated the narrative. The writing tired me and slang threw me off. As I read through the first few chapters, I began to wonder what the writer—and the protagonist—of the story tried to tell me. (I later realised it, and even wrote about it, if you’re interested.) The purpose, the intent wasn’t clear. And as someone who enjoys well-crafted sentences and artful wordplay, I found the curt and bland sentences unimpressive. The lack of coherence, lack of respect for grammar, and the obvious disregard for the reader’s patience, all made me way to cast the book aside.

But the cover held me back. Something about the cover told me not to give up just yet. It only had the title and the author’s name. But the font and the background came together in a beautiful union, making me wonder in awe at how great a book should be within. Not every book gets the privilege of being so simple on the outside and still sell like crazy. And so, I wanted to know what was so great about it.

I read on.

One by one, as the chapters progressed I realised what the narrator was saying. The narrator, a 16 year-old boy named Holden, had flunked school and was about to go home for good. He had nothing to look forward to except the disappointment in his mother’s eyes and annoyance in his father’s. Such a boy, a whiner in a sense, lists out all the things that he hates about the world. He hates the two-faced people around him, the “phonies” who say something and do something else altogether.

As I read, I could feel Holden’s emotions; I had been there myself. His anger at people seemed valid in many instances. I was the same when I was 16, but then I grew up up understand the world better, to understand the realities of surviving in a society that’s convoluted and twisted, and always looking to “help” you in ways you don’t want them to.

That way, the book was relatable and close to my heart. It spoke to me unlike other social satires. This wasn’t an obvious satire in itself, but it did point out the evils of our society in a crude manner, through the eyes of a youngster in the brink of adolescence.

Having said all that though, I couldn’t help but realise what a disturbed soul Holden is. Looking at his life and his characteristics from an outside, much older person’s perspective, I think he needs psychological help. When his teacher stokes his head, he panics, anticipating sexual motives. That’s where I felt Holden as a character needs honing. Sure, he says he’s had many people doing weird stuff around him, but we don’t know that. As readers, we don’t hear anything that says he’s had a troubled childhood, no indication that he was abused in the past that justifies his running away from his otherwise most-accommodating teacher. When he notices swear words etched in his old school’s wall, despite wanting to, he’s too scared to erase it worried that someone might think he’d written them. Holden is immature and he’s insecure, but these qualities are also what make him more human and more close to the reader.

That way, Catcher in the Rye is a good read for sure.