Short Story - The Vacancy


A frail middle aged man wearing dirty old black shirt and grey pant stood in front of a wall for long and stared at it trying to read something. The poster was pretty simple, a black and white print out stuck on a broken wall outside an old garage. If Madan wasn't desperate enough for some cash, he wouldn't have even looked at it because he was tired of working under people but right now it felt appealing. It clearly mentioned, "No age bar, No Qualification Required, Call now". Anyone who knew Madan knew the fact that he was as educated as a cow but he was street smart and he knew how to get what he wanted until a month back when he was kicked out from his job as a driver. His boss has caught him stealing alcohol which was kept in car and Madan couldn't do anything but beg for forgiveness, his boss on the other hand was happy he didn't have to see Madan's face again, he anyways hated him from day one. His boss had a special hatred for poor people, he didn't like people like Madan, he preferred being surrounded by fair skinned good looking people. If it wasn't an urgent recruitment, Madan would never become his driver.

It was already 6.30 pm now and the clouds were getting darker thanks to the impending rains. If he called now and fixed his slot for the interview, he could have something to show to his irritated wife and hungry sons.

He couldn't go back home until he got some money, he knew Kali would hit him with empty vessels like always and treat him like a dog in front of all chawl dwellers. He was tired of being ashamed and useless, being uneducated still remains his greatest regret. But he couldn't blame his parents, after all they lived and died on streets, how could they afford to educate three kids in Mumbai? Food alone was a struggle, if it was not Kali's job as a maid, even his sons would never see the face of a school in their lifetime. This ad looked perfect to a looser like him. Madan dialed the number from his half broken old mobile handset that he had stolen from a guy while traveling in a local train.

Someone picked up the call and a man spoke in a dull, uninterested hoarse voice, he was probably holding the phone too close to his mouth as Madan could almost hear his breath,
"Hello, tomorrow come at Gate's End, horse statue, behind it, at 3 pm sharp", the man spoke slowly but to the point and before Madan could reply anything, the call was cut. He stared at the number on the poster and checked the number he had just dialed, the numbers were indeed the same. Who was this man? Were these details for the interview? He wanted answers so he dialed again, but no one picked up the call this time. He tried a few more times, but no one answered his calls. Cursing the man on the other side with some really fowl words, he pinched the skin between his thick eyebrows and looked up to the sky.

He wasn't carrying an umbrella as he didn't have one and he hated rains. Every year rains meant his house would end up flooding and whatever little he had would float on streets. He always felt angry on the government for not looking after the less privileged like him, if it was a superstar's home being flooded then the government would have solved the problem in a minute.

At times he wished his life was different, but he knew wishes come true only when they were worked upon but the problem was that no one he knew was ready to give him work because he had failed in almost everything he did. He slept on a bench outside the railway station nearby and decided to to behind the horse statue and meet the man the next morning.

The morning was average, he kept wandering on the street for over an hour. Breakfast was never a concept, eating food was never an important part of his daily routine. The street was crowded, people ran from one end to another in hurry. On the roadside he saw a small shop selling chips and hot tea,an urge to drink tea captured his soul but he had literally no money on him right now. He sat on a bus stand until it was 2.30 pm and then started to proceed towards the Horse statue which was a few turns away from his house and he as familiar with. The Horse statue had been installed in honor of some artist and now pigeons were the artists splashing it with poop everyday in and out. At 3pm he reached the Horse statue at the Gate's end. There was no one visible there, he went behind the life size bronze Horse statue and still couldn't find anyone. The area around was fairly secluded, this was the south end of the city. A few feet from here was a small port where fishermen anchored their boats, the rotting smell of dead fish was very evident in the air even here. The last time Madan had eaten fish was over 10 years ago on the day of his marriage, he had hated it back then for its sheer smell and still nothing had changed. He waited there for a few minutes and decided to call back the number to check. The phone on the other side rang for a few times but yet again no one answered his calls. He sat there on a railing surrounding the horse statue and questioned himself if he was on the correct address or he had read something wrongly as it would have been quite possible considering his reading abilities. And just when he was about to give up and leave, an old man walked towards him from behind the statue and stood right in front of him. Madan was a bit taken aback.
"Yesterday, you the man called?", the old man dressed in a white shirt and jet black trousers spoke with droopy eyes covered with a million wrinkles which made it appear as if his skin was slowly melting away from his face.

"Yes, I had called, I read your poster about..." Madan said in a friendly tone trying to impress the man already.
The old man was uninterested. He didn't allow Madan to complete his statement and signaled him to follow him. Madan did as said and the old man walked like a penguin who had been hurt in one of his feets. They entered the kitchen of an old restaurant through an old rusty iron door. The kitchen was messy and busy. Chefs were working non stop pulling and pushing their hot woks from one burner to another, the aroma of freshly made Chinese food was stronger than ever. Madan thought the old man was probably going to offer him the job of a waiter which he wouldn't mind. He carefully followed the man trying to dodge stands of vessels knives and food around by moving his shoulders inwards towards his body. The old man did not speak a word throughout and didn't even look back to see if Madan was even following him. Forget speaking, he hadn't even asked Madan his name or told him his own.

And then he stopped abruptly in front of a glass cabin. The cabin was made to house one man and a desk so them entering it already made it crowded enough for Madan to stand close behind the old man like he was standing in a packed local train. The slim looking man sitting behind the desk wore a black jacket, black sunglasses and a thick gold chain, he looked like he had just popped out from a shady old Hollywood con movie. He was reading something on his mobile when the old man tapped lightly on the table to announce their arrival.

"What is your name? How old are you?" the man spoke while still fidgeting with his mobile screen.
The old man moved back and left the cabin and Madan stood there answering the man's questions.
"My name is Madan, I am here for a job"

The man looked up from his mobile and pushed his sunglasses a bit lower to have a better look at Madan. He then observed him head to toe like Madan was some item for sale. With a deep breath, he opened the drawer of the table and removed a gun and placed it on the table. Madan froze, his eyes fixated on the gun. He had cheated people for money many times but he had never seen a real gun ever before.

"Take this. Kill the man you see there. I will show you his photo, look very carefully and try to click a mental image of it in your head", the man took out a bottle of hand sanitizer from the same drawer that housed the gun and rubbed a drop of it between his palms.

"I don't want to get my hands dirty with this work anymore so I will pay you Rs.300,000 for this. It will take you a few minutes to execute the killing and even if the police catch you it will feed your family better than you yourself can. I think it's a fair deal. Wasim will take you there."

Madan couldn't believe his ears. Was this man crazy? And for the sake of sanity, this was a kitchen, this man was sitting in middle of a kitchen. Was this a dream? or a nightmare to be more accurate? He pinched himself and it hurt. He gulped down saliva from his mouth which was drying up speedily.
Madan had hit people in his chawl before and he himself was beaten up many times by his wife but he had never thought of killing anyone. But the amount here was huge, it would make his wife not only happy but also end his turmoil of searching and doing a job, at least for a year or so. But something inside him didn't approve of a murder, he could get caught & he knew how cops hit the ones who are locked up.

"I am sorry I didn't knew it was this kind of a job. I can't kill someone for money. It's just wrong and it's criminal to do that." Madan spoke animatedly.

"There are many things that are criminal on this planet. What kind of a job you thought you would get which did not require any qualification at all? Look at yourself, do you even have a choice?" And he laughed. His teeth had brown stains which usually develops due to constant smoking.

"Whatever, I am not doing this." Madan turned to leave.

"And what makes you think you can reject my offer? You haven't realized it yet, have you?"

The man looked at Madan and spoke with a wicked smile. Madan could only stare at him. The moment he tried opening the cabin door, the man pressed an alarm button stationed on his table and all the chefs working in the kitchen froze for a second then picked up butcher knives from a stand and ran towards the cabin door, few seconds later they were all surrounding Madan, he was in a circle of knives.

He stood there like a statue while all the chefs pointing their sharp stainless steel butcher knives at his neck. The man walked out from the cabin and signaled all the chefs to relax by waving his left hand up and down. They moved away the knives at once.

"You either kill or get killed, what's your choice? You have two minutes to decide, we all have work to do, you see?", the man spoke and everyone stood still. Madan had realized what great danger he had put himself into. The only thing he could now do was smartly run away from here.

"Okay, Okay I will do it. Show me the picture", he spoke hurriedly.

The man swiped left right on his mobile screen and showed Madan a photo. It was of a middle aged bald man who looked like he had been over eating since his teenage days. The man was smiling in the head shot, the picture looked like it was cropped from another picture, a part of someone's hand was visible on the man's shoulder in it.

"Okay, who is this? Why do you even want me to kill him?"

"You would have known him if you did anything else than wasting your time in searching for idiotic jobs. This my dear is Mr. Fazel Contractor, he is a Richie rich who owns restaurants and pubs and what not, none of your business". The man stopped talking and took a deep breath.

"Okay, but why do you want me to kill him?", Madan was sweating profoundly.
"Because he is my father"
Madan stepped back in absolute horror. But before he could say anything, the man continued speaking.

"And as you see, even though I am his son, I haven't had any luck with the royal money he has inherited from his father. It's only fair to me, it's the way nature functions. He has outlived his stay on this planet. Look at me, I will be turning 45 next year and he will be turning 75 this year. How long do I have to wait for that old man to believe in me and give me the power to run this business. How long do I have to work here like a bloody employee? I am doing that for the last 20 years now and I am really tired."

The man stopped speaking again, this time realizing he had spoken a bit too much; probably he hated his public outburst of emotions. Madan rubbed his forehead his hand. He understood the man's frustration but he couldn't understand why was he chosen?
"Okay, But why me? You should hire someone who does all this work" Madan asked.

"Why not you? Frankly speaking, you are the only one who called. Wasim Bhai was tired manning that phone, I had ordered him to speak very less if anyone does call and bingo. You called and now you do the task at hand, take the money and disappear. Yes I can get it done through any killer but they all can be traced. You have the luxury of anonymity for which I am paying you"

The chefs with knives surrounding them were listening to everything attentively, their heads and eyes focused on the floor. No one dared to look up at the man with sunglasses who now went back to the cabin and walked out with the gun and the piece of paper carrying the address. He handed them to Madan who had now understood that he was being made a scapegoat, he had to run away. He decided to take the gun and the address and just flea, that was the only possible solution he could think of right now. Just then the man rang the bell again from the cubicle and Wasim Bhai appeared.

"Wasim, you know what to do right?", he asked the old and tired Wasim who had just walked in hurriedly into the scene. The old man nodded his head vertically and held Madan's hand and pulled him towards the door. The chefs went back to their woks and continued cooking like nothing had happened.

Madan closed his eyes in frustration and nodding his head sideways he picked up the gun and the piece of paper with the address on it and slid both in his trouser pocket. He walked with Wasim Bhai who had just placed a gun in his trouser pocket as well.
He couldn't kill a man in his wildest dreams, he had to find a way to sneak out from all of this. The faces of his two sons wandered before his eyes, he couldn't do this to them. His own father had left him to die on streets when he was little, he didn't want to do the same to his sons.

Wasim Bhai was holding his hand sternly and pulling him forward. Suddenly the Wasim Bhai who had seemed to be harmless all this while had become the one who was pulling him into a crime that could end his life. Madan did not want to be arrested, he was afraid of his wife but right now he was afraid of the police and these men more than anyone else. The dark lane ended and they proceeded towards the brighter main road, Wasim Bhai left his hand.

"I kill you, if you try to run, I shoot you. See this Bungalow? Go in and do, I waiting here. If you don't come, half hour, I come in and give you to police, you thief. Use brains."

The wrinkles on his face felt more obvious when he was speaking. Madan believed him because the man looked like he had killed many throughout his life. His bloodshot eyes had no mercy. The Bungalow was just on the opposite lane. He crossed the road and saw a security guard standing at the gate. He crossed the road and walked towards the gate slowly and looked back at Wasim bhai who was now signalling the guard. The guard saw Madan and went away in the lane alongside the Bungalow and started peeing in the bushes. Madan took this as a queue and opened the gate and entered. Though the Bungalow was huge and a royal one, Madan was feeling thirsty and nauseated. He had never seen such a huge and good looking Bungalow from so close, the door was lavish wooden door with golden floral design on it like the ones they show in Bollywood movies. There was a guard standing at the door as well and he stared at Madan and moved away.

Madan walked inside, it looked like one of the grand five star hotels he had only seen in old Bollywood movies that played in TV shops. There was absolutely no one else in the huge room but he could hear noises of people working in the kitchen alongside and also of a dog barking outside the Bungalow though he had not seen any dog when he walked in.

He tried recollecting the image from the photo he was shown, there was a man exactly looking the same, sitting on a dining table eating something. Madan gulped down his saliva, how was he supposed to kill this man, the man looked up from his plate and stared at Madan. A chill ran down Madan's spine, the man got up from the dining table and was now walking towards him.

Fifteen minutes later, Madan walked out of the Bungalow. Wasim Bhai was still standing on the lane across the street and staring at the gate he just walked out from. He asked Madan about the job status as soon as he crossed the lane.

"Done it is?"

"Yes", Madan said while trying to avoid eye contact with Wasim bhai. He was shivering, his palms were getting sweaty. He had to walk with Wasim Bhai again and collect his payment, all this would probably make sense then.

After half hour of walking again in the dark shady lane, they reached the back door of the restaurant. The man with gold chains was sitting in his usual position in the glass cabin, this time he was looking into his mobile screen and laughing. Wasim Bhai and Madan entered the cabin.

"Sir, done job he says Sir."

The man bit is lower lip and looked at Madan from head to toe. He asked Madan,

"So you killed him? Are you sure he is said? If he is crippled then I can't pay you."

Madan just nodded, he couldn't look the man in his eyes. He looked at the floor and took deep breaths. The man read Madan's anxiety and called someone,

"Check on father, I will hold the phone. Okay, are you sure?"
He cut the call and stared at Madan.

"You son of a bitch, you have the guts to walk in here and lie to my face? What do you think I am? My father is perfectly fine and here you are standing in front of me like a loser. You couldn't do one job, you filthy piece of useless shit. It's time my guests to have Special Meat Biryani today."

And with that he pressed the button but just as the alarm rang and the chefs ran to pick up knives from the stand, a gun shot was fired which froze everyone.

Madan's hand was shaking, he was running out of the kitchen. The man with golden chains collapsed on the spot, Wasim was shocked and ran to support him. The chefs with knives couldn't understand what had really happened, Madan made a headway and ran across the dark lane like he was in Olympics.

He went running to his home and shut the broken door hurriedly. He caught hold of his wife and pulled out two bundles of currency notes from his pocket and stared into her eyes, he was find it difficult to breath.

"We have to leave now. We will live anywhere but here. I will answer all your questions on the way.  Take the kids now."

His wife stood there in utter shock. She pulled both her sons who were busy playing with a stick. They shut the door and left. Within few minutes, they were all on a train to Udampur, not because it was the place he knew but because it was a place where no one knew him.

A week later, Madan told everything to his wife.

"So you killed a man for money?"

"I had no option. It was do or die for me. Like I told you, this guy I killed had asked me to kill his father and when I went there to kill him he made an offer which made more sense. He already knew his son was trying to kill him so he asked me to kill his son for more money than I was being paid and he also told me he would ensure I never got caught."

"I am proud of you", Kali hugged him lovingly for the first time. Madan had never felt this happiness before, it was addictive and it was dangerous.

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