Short story


Smita liked to walk to the lake and watch the water run in undulating heaps towards the shore in the wind and rain. She loved the sleety grey of the rain clouds and the water. Smita felt wild and free. She loved the way the rain slashed her bare face, hands and hair peeping out of the raincoat cap.The wind tore at her raincoat. It made her feel she could be swept off her feet at any point. And that is something she definitely would have welcomed…to be swept off her feet to a magical land where a genie out of a bottle would help right her problems.

And yet her heart didnot feel heavy. The elements soothed her though her issues were enormous. She had just lost her job and her hostel had served her notice. Her hostel fee was overdue. And she was desperately trying to figure out where to live and how to meet her expenses. Walking with the elements slashing at her always soothed her. Smita had her last salary in her bank. It was not much but still something. She could feel a crisp note in her pocket. Here was money willing to be spent. Smita walked into a cheap cafe that sold fast foods by the lake to think things over while getting a bite to eat. She ordered a burger and a can of diet coke. She asked them to leave the coke can at the table as she preferred opening it herself and having the coke fizzy.

As Smita bit into the burger and looked out at the rain beating the lake, she recalled the harsh words of her ex-boss,” If you cannot meet up to the needs of the paper, we cannot keep you. We told you, you need more punch in your stories. We are a tabloid and people read us for entertainment. How many times have I told you that if you cannot deliver stories that blast, you have to leave. And look at this…what have you got…a story about a man finding a wallet. You have the crime beat…I want stories about murders, violence….all the gory details. That is what people want… Not a wishy washy story about honesty!  You are not needed from tomorrow. You have no nose for news. You are fired as of now. Finito!”

She had walked out with her laptop. Her salary had been a pittance. She really wanted to be a writer.

Smita had run away from home when her middle class father tried to arrange a marriage for her with a rich, monied accountant. She felt unclean when they demanded a dowry. The boy was a wimp. When she said she was not willing to marry the accountant and she didnot want a dowry, her father was very angry. He said she was flouting authority and tradition and was not allowed to decide what she needed. She had to marry the boy he had chosen for her. She was banned from going out if she didnot agree to marry the suitor she thought of as the wimp. Effectively, her father had put her under house arrest.

One day, when everyone was out, Smita quietly left the house and boarded a train. She left a note telling her parents she was leaving as she wanted to be a great writer. She had enough money saved from her pocket money to buy a second class train ticket to a faraway place. Smita travelled a day and a night and started her new life as a journalist in a tabloid. She had some gold jewellery, an expensive watch all of which she sold to finance herself. She lived in a working women’s hostel, sharing a dormitory with half a dozen more women. Her salary was really a inadequate. The oily burger and diet coke were her dinner for the night but food didnot matter. What mattered was living out her dream.

Smita finished her burger and opened the coke can. There was a loud fizz and the coke spewed out and there was a lot of smoke which seemed to rise higher and higher till it took the form of a handsome young man in a white shirt and blue jeans. He wore a huge, gold, round ring in one ear and was very muscular. Smita was zapped. There was no one else in the shop. The man manning the counter seemed to have disappeared. Smita looked into the can…there still was some amount of coke left. She swallowed and asked the swaggering swain,” Who are you?”

” Oh! I am the genie of the diet coke can. I have come to help you. I believe you were wishing for a genie. You can have three wishes before I disappear with a fizz.”

Smita could not believe her eyes.

The genie continued,” I can fulfill three of your heart’s desires. You just need to verbalise.”

” Can you help me achieve my dream?” Smita asked.

” Just ask. Tell me what is it you most desire, o beautiful babe, and it will be done.”

” Never call me babe again. I want to be a famous writer. Can you help?”

The genie crossed his hands and said,” I will never call you babe again. Three times I will nod and it will be done. You have already asked for two…never to be called babe and that you want to be a famous writer. ”

He nodded three times and then said,” You are a famous writer step out and see. Now I wait for the third wish you have for me.”

” I want a lot of money so that I can live in comfort.”

He nodded three times again.” Check your bank balance and see. Now, it’s time for me to disappear. I will only return if you ardently pray for it. Come back here and have another diet coke and say ‘genie appear’ and I will be there.” Saying that, the strange apparition fizzed into thin air.

Smita looked around surprised. Time seemed to have fast forwarded by a few years. The calendar behind the counter of the cafe showed the same date but five years later. She was in a long skirt and wore a pearl bracelet and her hair seemed to have grown shorter. It was a different cut. The man behind the counter was by her table and bowing. He was saying,” It is an honour to have you here Ms Singh. Please treat the meal as complimentary. ” Smita smiled and walked out. It was bright and sunny but she felt a bit like an usurper! When she reached the reception of the hostel where she roomed, the woman at the reception smiled and said,” O! Ms Singh, it is such an honor to have you drop in.” Smita was zapped. So, where did she stay. The receptionist continued,” I will call your chauffeur for you. He is in the parking lot.” She ran off.

Smita walked to the door. Her heart beat in anticipation of a bright future. A pink Mercedes drove up. A uniformed driver got out, smiled and opened the door for her. Smita walked in. ” Take me home,” she said. The car went into Pamposh, the most posh colony in town. It stopped inside a very high-end apartment complex. When Smita walked in, the liftman bowed to her and took her to the pent house on the top floor. He opened the lift door smiled and bowed her out. From the window of her apartment on the 75 th floor, Smita could see the city stretch out before her. She turned around and saw bookshelves from top to bottom. On an ornate book shelf in the middle of the room were books by Smita Singh…her own books. What were they about? She read some of one…didnot like it much… It was like the fiction she didnot enjoy…lot of fowl language, just a silly romance…She walked into her bedroom. It looked as if she shared it with a man! To her horror she discovered she was married. She just noticed the huge solitaire wedding ring on her finger.

Who was her husband?

And then she saw a picture on her bedside, the wimpy accountant…. Oh no! She had run away to arrive in a circuitous route back to her nightmare!

The doorbell rang. She opened the door.” Hello, honey,” said the wimp. She gave a faint smile and walked back. He came in and tried to kiss her. He was stinking of alcohol and very tipsy.

Smita wanted to throw up. She walked away saying,” I am not in the mood.”

” What mood?” said the wimp.” Always remember, it is my money that bought you your dream. No one wanted your writing. I had your books rewritten and published. I bought you your fame, name… everything …You owe me big time!” He slouched onto the sofa and fell into a drunken stupor saying,” Take off my shoes!”

As soon as Smita found he was fast asleep, she stepped out and called for her pink Mercedes. She asked the driver to take her back to the lakeside. She got off the car, walked rapidly to the cafe and asked for another diet coke. She shut her eyes tight and wished for the genie again and said, “Genie appear”. As she opened the coke can, the fizz and smoke again appeared and the genie asked her,” Why did you call within a few hours? I have given you three wishes and can do no more. At the most, I can only revoke your wishes.”

” I didnot want to marry this guy. I never asked for him.”

” He is a part of the package. You didnot specify leaving him out,” said the genie.

” I ran away from home not to marry this guy. He cannot be a part of my dream.”said Smita.

” You wanted me not to call you babe, be a famous writer and rich. I granted you all three desires. I am supposed to grant you wishes, not materialise your dreams. Dreams are different from desires,” said the genie. ” If you are really unhappy with the outcome of my actions, you need to ask me to revoke your wishes. If you do not want the husband in this reality, you can have your old future back. To get a brand new future, you need a fresh genie. I do not know when or where that will be. The choice is yours.”

Smita didnot hesitate for a minute.” Revoke my three wishes!”

The genie squared his arm, nodded his head three times and said,” All undone! Bye babe!” Then he disappeared with a fizz.

Smita was back in her old clothes, down at heel shoes and again had long hair which had become damp in the rain.The wet raincoat was by her side. It was still raining outside. The calendar showed time had receded back five years when her genie had appeared the first time and she was again a jobless, homeless dreamer. Her coke can was full and just opened. Smita felt more at peace.

Was it all for real or wasn’t it…

A stranger, who looked a bit like the genie but was less muscular and wore no earrings, ran into the cafe for shelter. He looked at her and smiled. Smita smiled back. She found him incredibly attractive and the smile made her heart lurch. He ordered a coffee at the counter, walked back towards Smita holding his steaming mug and said,”Quite a downpour, eh!?”