The Played (aka “Rent-a-gent”)
Flash Fiction (with a quick word on subversive tendencies)
I’m sharing here one of my earliest pieces of flash fiction, a version of which was published in a literary journal last year. Here’s the story.
The Played (aka “Rent-a-gent”)
Amar reached the theatre's grand double door, panting. The usher at the door smiled but wouldn’t let him in, “Sorry Sir, the play already started. You’ll have to wait for the next set change. Should be less than 20 minutes.” Amar sighed, nodding at the usher.
His mind was already racing. Boy, is she going to be upset! Usually her texts started about an hour before any such event. This time though she hadn’t texted him at all. Must be livid. Or maybe…made peace? Ha! He chuckled at the improbability of that. Well, at least he always showed up. That’s a promise he’d made to himself. Life lessons from his Dad who’d bragged about always maintaining a “work-life balance”, then gone and died three weeks into his retirement.
Amar walked over to the concessional and bought himself a beer. Might as well make use of the time. And get ready for the third degree that was coming. Surely, she understood his schedule by now. After all, they’d been dating for over a year. Just play it cool. See where it goes. Hopefully it won’t be like the blow up three months ago when she’d walked out. It had taken him a whole week of flowers and gifts to win her back. But she was worth it. Except for this timeliness madness. Tap tap tap. His foot needed to stop. The usher was calling him.What? 20 minutes already? You see?! Where does the bloody time go?
“Can I see your ticket, Sir? 4G-12. So go right into this section. Row G. Sixth one from the front. There’s no row A. Enter to the right and count down from 15. I can see your empty seat from here,” the usher rattled off pointing inside.
Amar dove into the dark theater. Why couldn’t they let one light come on if they were allowing latecomers? He peered ahead. On stage, figures in black were dashing about the set. He reached the row and tried to squeeze in. She was talking to the guy next to her. The guy looked over at Amar. Then she turned towards him too. She was smiling as if she’d been enjoying a joke with the guy, and gave a small wave. Gorgeous, as always!
Amar reached her, sat down. He leaned over to kiss her. She kissed him back thoroughly. What? No anger, not even a hint? The play that good? He settled in his seat and exhaled. Life was good. The play resumed. A few scenes passed. He started getting restless.
Really, plays were her thing. Even though he did show up every time. Perhaps not exactly on time, but he did. Maybe that’s what was counting in his favor, finally! He chuckled louder than he intended. “Shush!!” She was looking at him in mock horror. That’s when he noticed. She was holding hands with the guy next to her. What the…!? Who’s this guy?
Now Amar couldn’t stop shuffling. He pointedly stared at her in the dark hoping she'd look at him. But nothing. She was so into the damn play. What's even the name of this play? Looked complicated. Too many people, too much talking. How do people do this?
Finally, the intermission!
The lights came on. Amar looked at her and the man. They were both smiling at him. And she hadn’t let go of the guy’s damn hand either, “Hello darling! You made it. Meet Deepak.”
Amar refused to look at Deepak. “Who’s he? What’s this?” he said pointing to their interlocked hands. She laughed giddily. “Oh this! It’s all good, honey. At least say hello to Deepak.” Amar continued to glare at her. She let go of Deepak’s hand and took his, “Darling! I’m trying to make this work for us. Just like you wanted.”
“What’re you talking about?” He continued glaring at her.
She stopped smiling and took his hand in both her hands, “Honey, didn’t you tell me to find ways to occupy myself, mingle, meet others? So I got creative. I found Deepak. He shows up whenever I want. And he’s totally cool. He even leaves whenever we want. No stress. This way you can take your time whenever you’re running late and I’m never waiting alone.”
That stupid Deepak was nodding amiably. Amar could have punched him. “This is not what I meant!” Amar could hardly get the words out.
“But why?” she shrugged. “It’s a…what did you call it? A win-win. Didn’t you say that was the way to balance work and life? In fact it’s a win-win-win, because you know what? I think you two are going to get along just fine!” She laughed loudly, looking back at Deepak.
That same laugh that had gotten him hooked in the first place.
As you can tell, that story came from a naughty, subversive place. A few stray thoughts on subversion, etc.
I was recently invited to read another of my flash fiction pieces Prayer Beads and Samosas at the Flash Fiction Forum’s 10th anniversary event in San Jose, CA. It was wonderful to share in a community of impressively talented writers. One of the delights of embracing this path of writerhood has been exactly that.
My introduction at the event read: At six years of age, Reena declared that when she grew up she was going to be Prime Minister of India so she could blow up all schools. Fortunately with age her ambitions shifted. Subversive tendencies, not so much.
And while time and place — and the observation that most “revolutions” are much worse than the malady itself — has tamed some of my subversive tendencies, they don’t fully ever go away (although my derision for traditional education remains intact). Instead, slower, purposeful change with a vigilance for unintended consequences and an eye on history (which we’re susceptible to repeat) is the way. Wish I’d known that in my youth!
Anway, speaking of upheaval, it arrives heartily in the world of traditional publishing too. This platform, Substack, itself is all witness, proof and contributing cause for that shift. More on that another time.
As usual, I’d love your comments, likes, shares on the story. All the ways in which you support my dreamy endeavors keeps me going.
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