(p.s. Laptop gone for atleast three months more, end terms from tomorrow... but still trying to write... in the meantime, yet another attempt at fiction writing...)
Praful woke up with a start. Just in time to see Legolas slither down the trunk of the Oliphant smartly onto his feet. His chinos had a darkening stain around his groin where the hysterical local kid in the next seat had knocked over his coke. He sighed and slouched into his seat, feeling the cool liquid seep through. The battle of Pelennor fields may have been all the rage at the office, but Praful quietly cursed the decision to fork out 30 dirhams for a ticket to "The Return of the King" and a free coke. He fell asleep ten minutes into the movie and the coke was all over himself and the burgundy carpetting.
He sat for a few minutes hoping he would see something interesting for his money's worth. He had read the book many times. Enough to remember every word by every character. This was not it. He slowly patted his groin with a course blue plaid print hanky. A last minute purchase from a vendor at Shakthan Bus Stand, two days before he flew down to Abu Dhabi, the hanky had lost all shape and most of its colour, but it still had a sticker with a Thrissur address. The sticker comforted him. When a fist of popcorn hit him square in the face he got up slowly. Frowning at his juvenile, spoilt and probably oil-money fed neighbour, he walked up the steps, through the padded doors and winced into the brightly lit atrium. Slowly, with enthusiasm that would put coffin bearers to shame, he moved past the poster cases, making nothing of the garish imagery and loud print.
He terribly missed home. Praful missed the food, the people, the smells, the weather, all the usual things. He hated the canned crap they served at the refinery. Even the "mallu" grub they served at the Golden Cup on weekend trips like this one did little to make up for steaming fish curry with tamarind or puttu and kadala. Praful checked the time. Half an hour for the next staff bus to his Musaffa Labour Camp. Enough time to walk down to the Corniche pick-up point.
He descended the wide marble stairs and trundled down the wide walkway. None of the amazement and mystery of the first few trips to the malls were left in him. He no longer drooled at the showcases with Omegas and Rolexes or took quick peeks at the lingerie stores. The images were stil there, all around him, in windows, on posters, flickering on flat screen TVs. They just didn't register anymore. He was, and he knew this, sick of Abu Dhabi, the gulf, all things foreign.
He walked down the road that threaded through the serene backwaters and started up the curving seaside paved walker's path called the Corniche. Like most other fridays the Corniche was packed with expatriate families. Praful briskly marched down the brownstones. The sea whispered on his left, calm and ink black. On his right the ruccus of children and bicycles with plastic wheels that rumbled on the path.
Praful was soon past the public stretch. The path thinned out now as it wound past the private beach of a local five star hotel. He stood and gaped through the wire fencing that let you watch and long. The entrance was right in front of him and the guardroom was empty. Prayer time, he thought to himself. He could step in, saunter in naturally in his chinos and Polo neck, and noone would know a thing. So he did.
He coolly walked up to a beach chair sunned and sanded till its white finish had turned brown. It was set apart from the harsh white lighting that made sure the customers stayed late and kept spending. There were enough Indians on the "Oasis Sands" for him to blend in. He sat there looking at the sea. Mostly dead with a flicker of life here and there when a gust of wind blew up some spray. He tried thinking of good things and the sea. But then that reminded him of fish and then curry. So he just sat quietly, looking, but not really seeing. A traveller with nowhere to go to, he thought to himself. Or atleast he didn't know if had arrived anywhere yet.
The cries of "Trespasser", and "Call security" startled him. Praful bolted to his feet and was half-way to a break in the fencing when he noticed that the cries seemed to be fading away. He turned and saw a couple of guards chasing a little man by the water's edge. Praful grinned. Some action finally. The man ran well for his size, he raced down the sand, and just before the guards could reach out to him, catapulted around a lamppost and went of on a tangent. Right in Praful's direction.
The man had the fear of the entire world in his eyes. He had a face like Praful had never seen. Praful was frozen. The man kept coming at him. He wants to go through the break, Praful thought and moved aside. The man came bounding in, slipped on the sand and crashed into the ground in front of Praful's feet. He was wearing a rough black cloak, which seemd to be of one piece. He raised himself on his palms and looked up at Praful. Praful could taste the fear in his eyes. The trespasser half-crawled half-stood up and raised through the fence opening. The guards ran upto the fence and could do little but wave their fists at the man as he sped down the street. They did not see the small leather pouch he dropped on the ground as he made his escape. But Praful did.
Must have flicked it off some kid, he thought, as he threw the pouch on the table by the hot plate in his cubicle. Or some nutcase movie junkie. Praful showered, changed and sat on his bed, hoping he would sleep. The work at the refinery kept him from thinking too much. Anything was better than letting his mind go wild. He lay down and closed his eyes. He opened them again and saw the pouch lying crumpled. Quite intriguing that... before he could complete the thougth there was a thumping on the plate glass window. He shot up and saw the trespasser leering at him through the pane. Praful came within a millimeter of crapping in his pants. He picked up the torch from the table and gestured at the hideous face. The message went unheeded. The man was sasying someting... At first he couldnt make out what it was. Then it dawned on him that it was neither English, Arabic or any other language he had ever heard. "Meinco Sibares... Meinco Sibares... Neec Veeder..." A shrill voice.. Praful felt nauseated... For a few seconds his head reeled. He leaned on the table to get his balance back. He tugged on the intercom cable. The handset swept some papers and pouch onto the floor. The shrill crying grew louder "Meinco Sibares... Neec veeder...Meinco Sibares Neec Veeder..."
Praful called up Irfan from next door and told him about the face in his window. Irfan, the honourable pathan he was, erupted from his room with a cricket stump and a bloodcurdling shriek. The man turned and ran, dissolving into the darkness of the sandy wasteland behind the camp grounds. Praful came out of his room and stood leaning against the doorway, to get his breath back. He turned back and looked at pouch. That was what he wanted, thought Praful. Instantly he wanted to make sure it remained safe. Irfan, honourably, told him to latch up his room and go back to sleep. "You are no pathan, you dont have the balls for this sort of thing, go to sleep wimpy mallu..."
Next morning Praful made himself a cup of coffee. He slowly held the pouch in his fingers and felt the metallic object within it. He weighed the possibility of carrying it to work. But then the metal detectors would beep everytime he went from sector to sector. Half-heartedly he left it on the table and changed. Just as he locked up his room, he wondered what would happen if the man came back. He stepped back in, picked up the pouch and stuffed in his overcoat pocket.
"Noone can enter or leave the compound without security knowing you know..." expounded Helmut, the lab manager. Praful's boss, he was a man he knew his work and had the brains and education of a professor. An Berliner who switched sides and ideology, Helmut treated his men well. Praful told him about the shrieking voice and the incessant screaming. "Meinco Sibares Neec Veeder..." Helmut thought it was some form of German or a nordic language. Praful did not tell him about the pouch in his pocket. No point in letting others see the thing and then being the butt of jokes. At 5 in the evening he cleared his desk and was all set to leave for camp. While clearing out his pockets of papers, test slips and used gloves he lightly felt the leather pouch. Hide it hear in the lab and noone will find out he thought. He quickly taped the pouch to the bottom of his middle left hand drawer and sat back in smug satisfaction.
Helmut boarded the importad Tata staff bus and rushed to sit next to Praful. "Been thinking of your mad man in the window. What he said was nothing too difficult to crack if you have what it takes..." he said tapping his right temple. "I phoned Martha during lunch and we think we have it. 'Neec veeder' is definitely 'Nicht Vieder', german for 'Not again'. the first part was a lot tougher. Meinco Sibares. We almost immediately knew it was 'Mein' followed by some other word. But Martha is no idiot you know... she thinks its a Westphalian pronounciation of the word 'Kostbares'. funny translation then though..."
Praful hated the suspense. Helmut liked to prove his genius with a flourish. He gave Helmut a questioning look that really didnt expect too much flourish. Helmut, seeing it was not to be, settled down and told him. "Put together it means 'Not again my precious...' 'Kostbares' roughly means 'precious' or 'dear'..."
Praful froze. Inside the refinery building, the pouch remained taped to the drawer top. Inside the pouch strange letters carved into the metal of the ring glowed in anticipation...