Eccentricities are funny things. It’s our eccentricities that set us apart, make us different from the rest of our species, give us our own identity. At the same time, they bind the human race in such exquisite harmony that no one is left different or identifiable. At the end of the day, we’re all eccentric, so we’re all the same, but we’re all eccentric in our own unique way.
Roberta Pereira sat on her comfortable chair. It was the only chair she’d ever sat on when she was at home. If there were guests over, well, they could sit wherever their jolly bums pleased, just not on her chair. It was almost as if every other chair in her house was alien and hostile, but not her chair.
No, this chair was just perfect.
As she entered her twelve character password, her fingers shivered from the Delhi cold. Covered in two shirts, a sweater and a jacket, it was highly illogical for her to feel this cold indoors, but that was the thing about Delhi winters. The cold seeped through your clothes and shivered your very soul till your insides were frigid. Like an old lover who won’t go away, the cold managed to stick to your skin through the thickest of covers.
Her Inbox had a new message, which was good. In an age of global interconnectivity, Roberta was quite the recluse. A thirty year-old orphan with no real friends had no reason to talk to the outside world. She was happy here, with her cup of hot tea, her consistently creaking bedroom door and her perfect little chair.
Roberta opened the message. It was from a dating site she’d signed up for several months ago out of sheer boredom and then completely forgotten about.
“Dear Roberta, WE HAVE A MATCH FOR YOU!” Somehow, the people at DelhiFriends.com were more excited about finding her a match than she was. “Akhil would like to be friends with you. Would you like to accept or deny his request?”
Roberta’s finger was shaking. This was a real person. He’d seen her photographs, read things about her, possibly done a fair bit of research and was genuinely interested in having a legitimate relationship with her.
Reason kicked in.
“You can’t possibly be considering this seriously”, her brain said. “He could be a psychopath, or a rapist, or worse, he could be a Gym Instructor.
But he couldn’t be. No gym instructor would ever be interested in a girl like her. She was average looking, at best, with a profound love for literature and the conversational capacity of a beige wall. No, this man was a find.
She realized she’d been chewing her nails all this while, as she often did in moments of stress. Her finger hovered over the mouse as the cursor lay on “Accept”. Roberta had practically chewed her way past her nails and to her flesh at this point. Her backside rested on the edge of her comfortable chair.
As she lay back into her chair, her brain hurled obscenities at her for doing what she had done. Taking risks was not something she was used to.
Vikram Bhardwaj climbed down the stairs of his building, one step at a time, like every other person. He put a foot on one step, then a foot on the next, like every other person. Unlike every other person, however, he stopped at the step right before the last one and skipped a step ahead, right onto the landing between two staircases.
It was his own little way of breaking the monotony. As he climbed down the fifth floor, a thought struck him and he climbed back up. He knocked on the door at Flat no. 502 and screamed “Your rent is due, Miss Pereira. “
He didn’t know if she heard him. He didn’t think it mattered. Roberta was always a few days late with her rent, but she always eventually paid up. It was more than he could say about any of his other tenants.
One step. Two step. Three step. Four Step. Five step. Six Step. Seven step.
Over the years, climbing up and down his stairs had become a pastime of sorts for Vikram. He could think while he strode through them. It was the magical, silent perfection between the uncontrollable screaming and bickering of his wife and the irrepressible noise of the street.
Today Vikram was thinking about colours and, more specifically, about the subjectivity of colours. It was amazing how we just took the notion that a red is red and a blue is blue at face value.
What he saw as red, maybe Roberta from the fifth floor saw as blue and only called it red because that’s what she was told it was all her life. Maybe what one saw as green, others saw as yellow, or at least what one called yellow, and they called green.
The thought of it made him chuckle. What a fine joke it would be if one day we all found out we’d been seeing different things all this while, just calling them by the same name.
As he descended the last stairway on to the ground floor, he caught sight of a young, girl, no older than eighteen, with what could only be described as a horrific weight problem.
Vikram nearly threw up in his mouth. This morbidly obese monstrosity was exiting the elevator. Fat people disgusted Vikram. There was something about the way their weight spilled out their sides and their body jiggled as they pummelled their way through their miserable existence that almost made him want to beat their face in with blunt objects.
He felt the ground tremble as she made her way out the front gate. The back of her jeans said ‘Sweet honey’. “Too much sweet honey, apparently”, Vikram chuckled to himself.
Kids today had no real value for physical exercise. The least the girl could have done was take the stairs. Heck, one round up and down the stairs daily would probably do her more good than she could imagine.
Yes sir, Vikram loved the stairs.
Jaagriti could feel the tall, thin man stare at her bum as she walked out the gate. She was used to people staring at her wherever she went, but they were usually astonished by her size, they usually mocked her with their eyes. This man was different, though. There was a distinct hatred in his eyes, almost as if he held personal contempt for her.
People in this building were extremely strange. She sometimes wished her grandmother would move in with her parents so she wouldn’t have to visit her in this shithole, but she knew her father wouldn’t allow that.
She thought about the lady from Flat 502 who was staring out her front door, expecting someone who wasn’t there. As she passed by the flat, she stared into it. She found it to be most peculiar. A mattress, a bed, a computer and a chair were the only things in the whole apartment.
Yes, people in this building were extremely strange.
She walked on to the pavement, staring at her fat thighs. She hated those huge tree trunks more than anything in the world.
She tried to avoid looking at her thighs and went into what she liked to call ‘Lava times’. The yellow bricks on the edge of the pavement were all lava, and the black ones were safe, cool ground. She balanced her frame on the edge of the sidewalk and skipped every alternate brick, the yellow ones.
Black, yellow, black, yellow, black.
Jaagriti didn’t realise when the hypnotic rhythm of her “lava time” sent her mind wheeling back to school.
Vaishali Seth skipped across the hopscotch drawing on the hard concrete floor outside the school building. She jumped on one, then two, then three and four together.
Jaagriti watched from a distance.
Vaishali reached nine and ten, turned around, looked at Jaagriti and smirked.
“Don’t try this Jaagriti, you’ll have to pay the school for breaking through their floor”.
The other girls joined in her mocking laughter. They followed her every move like sheep. Meanwhile, Jaagriti felt her ears burn red with embarrassment. The laughter was reverberating through the entire school. It was a symphony of cruelty that was searing through Jaagriti’s skin, making her eyes swell up, sending big fat tears roll down her plump, red cheeks.
A sudden push on her left shoulder knocked her back to reality. The man who nearly knocked her over seemed to be in quite the rush.
It was then that she realised that she was crying.
She didn’t know what did it. Perhaps the man had injured her as he pushed her aside; perhaps it was the shock of being jerked out of her thoughts. Whatever it was, it had let open a gate of emotions she’d sealed shut for a very long time. As she sobbed her way to her house, she skipped the yellow bricks.
Yellow, black, yellow, black, yellow.
Lava, safety, lava, safety, lava.
That was all Anoop could think of. He needed safety. A place to hide away from the things that would probably chase him to the depths of hell. He needed to get away from the possibility of paying for his stupidity. He needed to find safety, and he needed to find it now.
And he sure as hell wasn’t going to let some fat bitch get in his way.
As he pushed the girl out of his way, he noticed she had “Sweet Honey” sewn across her fat, sorry ass. How perfectly inaccurate.
Reality kicked in.
He’d just killed an innocent woman. In his line of work, there was no room for mistakes, and he’d just made the biggest mistake in the book.
Never leave a mark.
It was all perfect, the plan. He’d silently shoot the old lady on the sixth floor in the back of her head; he’d wipe the blood off the marble floor, put her chopped body into a bag, transport it to Gagan’s warehouse and collect the money from the client.
What made it even better was that the client was none other than her husband. He’d be in on the whole thing. He’d throw the cops off, say she went out to buy some vegetables and never came back.
He should have known it was all too good to be true.
As he closed the wooden door with “Bhardwaj No. 601” on it and climbed down the stairs, his eyes met with that of a young woman, possibly in her late twenties, staring out her door, looking for someone that wasn’t there.
It was a whole minute before he realised she wasn’t looking into his eyes at all; she was looking straight at the big red blood stain on his shirt.
In his panic and hurry, Anoop had forgotten to change out of his bloodied shirt.
So much for a smooth first job.
Anoop’s mind began to race ahead of him. What if the woman told the cops she saw a man with a bloody shirt carry a huge black bag down the stairs? What if she told them what he’d looked like? He’d have to spend the rest of his life in prison. No, he couldn’t go to prison, that’s not what he came to the city for.
The very next second, before he even knew it happened, Anoop was standing over the woman’s body, blood oozing out of her throat, her mouth gasping for the last few breaths it could get, before her body gave in and she succumbed to the painlessness of death.
As he stood over her still, lifeless body, he realised he’d just destroyed his career, his client’s life and a very nice tiled floor, all in one go.
Instinct kicked in.
Anoop dropped the black bag and ran as fast as his frail legs could carry him. He ran down five storeys of stairs and out the gate.
He pushed the fat girl out of his way and ran around the corner of the block.
He hit a traffic light. He hated traffic lights. Ever since he’d arrived in Delhi, he made it a point to look both ways while crossing, even though most roads were split up into one way lanes. City drivers knew nothing about driving.
Soon enough, it became a habit. Look thrice to the left, thrice to the right, then cross.
But not today, today Anoop needed safety, and he needed it fast.
He never saw the truck coming.
Akhil stared at the body of the young man and moved away almost instantaneously. “What a shame”, he thought to himself.
As Akhil walked, he began to twitch his nose. It was his own personal tick. It made him special.
He began to think about eccentricities. How unique they made us, and yet, they turned us into everyone else. He was eccentric in his own little way. The man on the road was obviously eccentric in a lot of ways.
“Eccentricities are funny things”, he thought to himself.
There was no time for thoughts like that today, though. Akhil had better things on his mind. He’d found the perfect woman. She wasn’t a young girl, but not too old, she loved books (as he did) and she didn’t like loud places. It was as if she’d been placed on this earth for him by the hand of god himself. Nothing could ruin his day now.
“Roberta Pereira”, he thought, “You’re going to make me a very happy man”.