Bell rings. Door opens.

“Mrs. Kohli, good afternoon! What a sight your kohl-rimmed eyes are! How is my favourite customer today? What? Who told you that? Of course I don’t say that to every customer, Mrs. Kohli. That would be nothing short of duplicitous. Chicanery, skulduggery, and that sort of thing. And as a salesman, one thing you can always count on from me is honesty, sincerity and courtesy. Well, those are three things but you get the pitcher! What? It’s ‘picture’ and not ‘pitcher’? Umm… are you sure? You are? Then, ‘picture’ it is! Mrs. Kohli, every other day, you teach me something new.

You’ll be dazzled by what I have for you today. This is the best part of my day! Seeing the looks on the faces of my customers as I unload this bane of by backbone, this bulging bag of my bounty! Eyebrows shoot up, jaws lever down and cheeks burn with excitement! Ha! Yes, yes, you’re right. Less talk, more action. It’s afternoon after all and you must have work of your own to get on with. But I request that you rest whenever you can, Mrs. Kohli. Especially in this kind of weather. Take a – what is it they call it? – a power nap!

It’s such a bitterly sunny day outside, I tell you. Bad for my people, so bad. In a matter of hours, I will be filmed in sweat from head to toe-nail. It’s unavoidable. My trade is a tale of travail, Mrs. Kohli! And the scorching sun worsens everything – the pain, the pathos, the plight, the p– Here it is! This is what I was looking for. Took a while but I finally found it. This is the one you asked for na?

‘Elated’. What a word. Good choice, Mrs. Kohli, I must say. You can use the word with almost anything. ‘Elated’ cushions, ‘Elated’ dog, ‘Elated’ spattering of vomit on the parapet. And here, feel its silky texture! So smooth na? I love the smell of a new word. Best part of my day, Mrs. Kohli, the very best. Font type? Ha ha! Madam, woh din gaye. Those days are gone. Done with. Phoosh! Who asks for font type nowadays? These days, it’s all about font size. Big is better. And this one here is a solid thirty-six! And if you must know – though it hardly matters, I tell you – it’s Times New Roman. Ye old faithful!

Arre, why close the door, Mrs. Kohli? Ten minutes more of your time, that’s all I want. I want to show you some brand new maal. Fresh words straight from the factory! They just came in today morning. Have a look, okay? If you think I’m wasting your time, I’ll never darken your doorstep again. As I said before, you and your mesmeric brown eyes are my absolute favourite, Mrs. Kohli. All these people in the building? They say to me, ‘Salesman, you give Mrs. Kohli special-special offers’ or ‘You keep the ekdum best words for Mrs. Kohli.’ I tell them ‘No-no, bhabhi ji’ or ‘Never-never, bhabhi ji’, but the honest truth? The plain truth and nothing but the truth? I do save the best ones for you. And here you are, closing the door in my face. For a salesman ji, better a slap in the face than a door in the face.

No need for apologies, Mrs. Kohli. I don’t believe in the evening of scores. It is an odd habit. But – but shall I come to the point? My words! My beautiful words! Here’s the first one.

‘Bestiality’. Oh. How sweet a word! Mellifluous! Melts in the mouth like butter, doesn’t it? Mm. And just look at it! I also have it in camel brown but this brick-red colour is simply divine. And what a coincidence! It goes so well with your kurta! You and ‘Bestiality’ are a match made in heaven, Mrs. Kohli. And it comes in – drum roll, please! – four font sizes! Twenty four, twenty six, twenty eight and thirty six. Mrs. Kohli, if any other salesman can get you this word in four font sizes, I will quit my job, leave the company and go back to my village. Will raise chickens. And try very hard not to think of your cat-like eyes. Haha! I’m not flirting! Just being a ‘silly goose’, like you sometimes say.
And here’s another one! ‘Melanoma’. What a gorgeous fruity word! It has melons in it! Feel it! It’s incredible, isn’t it? So smooth! I love how – What? Really? Oh… I didn’t know that’s what it meant. Hm. This is not good. Meaning is always bad for business, Mrs. Kohli. ‘Pusillanimous’ used to sell like hot cakes before people found out what it meant. Discovered it had nothing to do with cats! Tch. I tell you, Mrs. Kohli. This ludicrous obsession with meaning will be the death of this poor man… Dammit! Like a fool I thought no one would be able to resist the temptation of some ‘Melanoma’.

Never mind, never mind. On we go. Life goes on and so should we. Next word is… ‘Tantamount’. This one’s a pukka limited edition. One font size and one colour only – forty six and light salmon. But what a fabulous word, Mrs. Kohli. It’s two words for the price of one! ‘Tent’ and ‘Amount’. I will be straightforward with you. Fixed price for this one. Haggling is useless. The word is simply too much in demand. If I sell it for even a penny less, I will be hurting my own pocket.

What was that, Mrs. Kohli? What’s the latest gossip, you ask? Mrs. Kohli, aap bhi na… You know I stay out of this whole risky gossip business. But well, I can tell you that your Mr. Kripalani on the third floor? What a temper he has, baba! I heard him yelling at his children. Arre, who screams like that at his own little ones? Frightened me so badly I dropped ‘Sense’ down the staircase. What a loss it was too. I loved that word. ‘Sense’. Simple and everlasting. And down it fell like Mr. Jack and Miss Jill from that reprehensible hill. Shattered, the word is. Un-put-togetherable! Humpty-Dumpty-fied! I’ve tried for weeks now to mend it. But, tch, no use. Breaks my heart but what can I do? There’s no point in trying to make ‘Sense’ anymore, Mrs. Kohli. It just won’t stick!

What was I talking about? Oh yes, that man, Mr. Kripalani! He gives me the heebie-jeebies. So much anger! He’s asked for ‘Valour’ and ‘Fortitude’. In sable brown and mustard yellow. I got them both. They’re right here in my bag. But by god, I’m too terrified to hand them over to him! Bad for business, this is. Customers with a temper.

Mrs. Kohli, here’s the last word I have for you today. You know Mrs. Tendulkar from the ground floor? She’s been after my life for this beauty, but as I said, I keep my favourite words for my favourite customers! I’m – ha! ha! – a man of my word, Mrs. Kohli! And here’s the wonder… ‘Anaphora’. Oh, what a luscious word! It reminds me of beaches, of being young. How does a word make you feel young, Mrs. Kohli? I never understood that. ‘Anaphora’. It reminds me of islands, of sand, of childhood… it reminds me of my mother… Actually, I think I’ll just hold on to this one for a little longer… So right you are, Mrs. Kohli. Again, I am a silly goose!

Now, of everything I’ve shown you, you can – Oh my God! A disaster, Mrs. Kohli! A catatonic catastrophe! A calamitous concatenation! A conundrumous confounding! Mein Gott! Look, look what has happened! The words – they have jumbled up at the bottom of my bag! All mixed up and smashed together! The bus ride here was so jerky. That has to be it, the culprit of this farce! My poor, poor words! What the hell is ‘Onomatopostulate’? What is ‘Symphonanoptimum’? And ‘Verbatimorose’? God in heaven, what am I supposed to do with that?! What in the world is ‘Hippoplexy’?

Maybe there’s still time, Mrs. Kohli. If I hurry back to the factory, perhaps I can salvage something. And you say I get to travel, you say it’s a good life. Hardly, Mrs. Kohli. If only. But I’ll come again tomorrow. Hopefully, all this mess will be straightened out by then. Yes, yes, thank you, I’ll definitely need luck for this. But do remember, please don’t forget, I’ll trouble you again tomorrow, Mrs. Kohli… Don’t forget, okay?… It’s – It’s the best part of my day.”
Door closes.

 

Tushar Jain

Tushar Jain

Tushar Jain is a Bombay-based Indian poet, playwright, and author. He was the winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize, 2012 and a winner of the Poetry with Prakriti Prize, 2013. Subsequently, he won the RL Poetry Award, 2014. He was a winner of the DWL Short Story Contest 2014 for his short story "A humiliating day for [Dr.] Balachander". He won the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing, 2016. His work has been published in myriad literary magazines and journals such as the Madras Mag, thenervousbreakdown, Antiserious, Raedleafpoetry, pPapercuts, Into the Void Magazine, Edify, among others.

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