Traffic across the street had slowly dwindled as midnight approached, the moonlit sky casting occasional shadows over us.
I could begin my process of the closing the shop. 5am-12pm was my work routine. It was a life sucking routine but the timings gave me extra customers, elderly in the morning, the younger later at night and also I could save the extra electricity costs by not keeping it open 24 hours. It was my shop and I didn’t mind working extra time to earn a few more bucks. I didn’t have a family to attend to, so this shop was pretty much everything I had.
As I was summing up my day’s earnings, my favorite customer, Syed dropped by.
“Hey, how’s it going my man. I can see you made good money today. Keep it safe. Especially from me” He joked, giving me a wide grin as he made his way to the neighboring shop, which was also mine. A popular smoking hotspot among the locals.
I could sense Syed’s rush to take a drag of tobacco.
Syed, the same age as me, worked as a welder in a factory in the outer city. Low wages and family circumstances had dragged him down to the world of crime. Petty crimes had now to bigger crimes, including demanding hafta from shops. I was the only one exempted and also protected by him. I was probably the first guy who he had made acquaintance with since coming to this city.
I went back to counting my cash.
2(2000) 4(500) 8(100) 10(50) 20(20) 30(10) and a few 5 rupee coins. And Syed was right, it was a good day.
“I can say from looking at the money you know; how long have I been coming here. 15 years now. Yeah 15 years. Long time buddy.” Leaning over my counter, he took a deep drag of his cigarette (ice burst blue) and puffed out a couple of smoke loops before letting it all out.
“Yes. I don’t remember a day closing the shop without scooting you away” we both laughed briefly before turning back to our jobs again. Over the years we cultivated ourselves not to take the remarks seriously. We could take a jibe at each other, make personal comments and still laugh it away.
But thinking about our long history, it scared me, that he knew everything about the shop, the money, the routine. He could even break into my shop if he wanted to.
But also, I knew he would never do that to me. We both had mutual respect for each other much more than just friends and besides, he has got away with a lot of free cigarettes.
“Oh you have got more customers coming in, and this one looks like a lottery to me” Syed warned.
A young girl, in a short pink crop top and white shorts, descended from a red sports car, she walked right past us to the smoke shop, bought a cigarette and lit up our pants as she took the first drag.
Both of us were lost by the wonderful sight of this girl, her long fingers, gripping the cancer stick, as she placed it in between her red painted lips and inhaled deeply, creating a depression and accentuating her cheek bones.
Nothing beautiful lasts forever and a harsh adolescent voice interrupted our minds. “Hey……Hey……. HEY, whom are you staring at, you CREEPS.” a skinny teenager, wearing torn jeans, white printed t shirt and red dyed hair showed up at the counter. He could barely hold himself upright with those jeans hanging so low from his waist.
“She is my girlfriend; you creep get out the way” the kid
“You know what, why don’t you mind your own business, before I break your bones and take your girl.” Syed walked up to the kid, cigarette in his mouth and gave him a stare down.
Syed’s facial muscles started twitching, this was a sign of immense danger. He was really pissed off with this kid, firstly for spoiling his fantasies and secondly because he was an arrogant kid.
‘Guys. Guys relax. Syed its ok……. Let’s just give that boy what he wants and send him away. We don’t want any trouble. Kid. What do you want.”
“Next time, Ill rip that red hair from your scalp” Syed let out the smoke to the boy’s face and walked away.
“Let’s see about that, you pervert” the kid was cocky and refused to back down.
I gently pressed my hand on Syed’s shoulder, as he settled back to the counter.
“OK, what do you want. We are closing now. Please be quick” I asked.
“Get me a box of condoms” arrogance radiated from the kid, directing it at Syed, taunting him, clearly stating that he was the superior one, the guy who was taking the girl home.
“Extra small, you forgot to mention” Syed retaliated and smiled by himself. I joined him as well.
“Its none of your business” the kid swallowed the insult.
I glanced to the corner of the street. The hot chic, put out her cigarette, with her white shoes and walked towards us.
She had a swag about her as she walked the narrow street, all eyes focused on her, jaws split wide open as she passed.
Getting back to my work, I looked for his condoms. I never had any customers, asking for it so probably it was stashed somewhere in the bottom closets.
As I was searching for the extra small sized rubber. I got another order/customer.
“Excuse me” an elderly man was waiting for the counter.
“Yes, what can I get you, Sir” I asked.
“My wife is having severe stomach ache since morning and I need these tablets. He handed me the doctor’s prescription”
“Yes sir, I will get it right away”
“Hey, I came her first. Get me my condoms first” the kid spoke with no hint of sympathy for the old man.
“But he needs it urgently, you can wait for a couple of minutes”
“NO……. if you don’t get me my condoms right now, I swear I’m going to sue you so bad, I’m going to take away everything from you.” the kid threatened.
“Give the kid what he wants” the old man said wearily, he didn’t want any more nuisances to deal with. He wanted to get back home to his wailing wife and comfort her.
“OK” I said, only after giving the arrogant kid a deathly stare I went back to searching.
Luckily I found it and handed it over.
“No, no I want the ultra-thin one, the other company, the……I can’t seem to remember…...” he was delaying it, enjoying it. Sadistic creases formed around the corners of his mouth. He was an arrogant, spoilt, heartless asshole who didn’t work a day in his life and got everything in return.
“Which one specifically. I don’t know which brand you are talking about” I asked sternly.
“…………. let me think…… the pink box…….” his right hand around the hot chic’s waist, creeping down to her rear end.
“OK, you keep thinking, while I get to the other customer” I said still trying to maintain diplomacy in this
“Hey, I remember now………. its……….” chuckling with his girl.
And then out of nowhere, Syed’s right hand landed straight to the kid’s temple. It was a perfect full power hook.
The kid fell unconscious to the floor.
“Give the man what he wants, I will take care of it” Syed instructed me, which I followed.
As I got the medicine from the back of the store, I saw the girl walking to the car with the semi-conscious kid on her shoulders.
Syed was at the counter, lighting another cigarette.
“He deserved it” I said.
“No he deserved more than that” he said and chuckled.
It was quarter to 12 noon. Grey clouds had swarmed over us and it had started drizzling.
I pulled down the blue, plastic cover sheet over the counter, just for some water protection.
Syed made his entry.
Sometimes, he came in the afternoon if he passed by to buy some raw materials for the factory.
“Hey” Syed wished.
“Last night was really unexpected, wasn’t it? The kid had totally crossed the line……. he deserved it. You did a good thing yesterday.” I said.
“Yeah and you know what, after that blow to his head, I am sure he doesn’t remember what a condom is anymore” he said and chuckled.
“But the girl man………I just can’t get her out of my head.”
“I know” I said with a heavy sigh. Both of us already in acceptance that it was just a passing by instance.
“She is the real loser man, being with that guy, who has no respect whatsoever. She lost my respect man” Syed said. That made us both feel better.
He lit his cigarette and let out a satisfactory smoke.
As soon as I turned away from the counter checking on the new stock items, I received over boxes of antibiotics from Sun pharma, 50 boxes from Hindustan pharmaceuticals and a few boxes from the small time players.
Today morning I was elated as I read the news headlines.
India the world’s largest consumer of antibiotics.
No surprise considering the population and the low hygiene standards. But It was good for business. India is currently the best place to be in the pharmaceutical industry.
A loud shot penetrated through the established afternoon sky and a splash of thick liquid across my face.
I was blinded, till I wiped it out of my eyes.
Blood was all over and Syed head was lying on my counter with a hole on the back of his head.
I could see a couple of guys escaping on their bikes. I knew those guys. They were local gangsters and more importantly members of Syed’s rival gang.
Looking at the blood pour out from his brain, I was numb.
Sad that I had lost a good friend, a good guy.
All of my thought converged to a conclusion that maybe this is what he deserved.
You get what you deserve.