The wall clock made its presence felt with its relentless tick-tock, the only sound apart from the gentle whirring of the Xerox machines and the coffee machine that were being operated by Akash. He was working late in the office. It was 2 A.M. already, and he needed to get that presentation ready for the meeting at 8 A.M. that day.
He was the only one to stay back in the office that day. Everyone had left for home to enjoy some precious time with their families. He mumbled to himself, “Stupid Xerox machine! Had to run out of paper at this godforsaken hour!” He kicked the machine, but ended up hurting his toe instead.
“Ouch,” he winced in pain and jumped on one foot, holding the other closer to his stomach. Adjusting his glasses, he went down to the store room. The office was a two-story building with the first floor housing all its employees and the ground floor used for recreational activities and storage.
He gulped nervously. He did not want to go downstairs at that time of the night. Rumors were ripe in the office that the ghost of a security guard haunted the place. His coworkers had heard strange voices and whispers whenever they dared to venture into that haunted area after 12 A.M.
Of course, Akash had laughed it off as hearsay back then. Now, when he was all alone and it was well past midnight, he did not feel so cocky about it anymore. He contemplated the two choices before him – get yelled at in front of the entire staff or quickly fetch the reams of paper.
Gulping down his coffee, he adjusted his glasses and grabbed a torch from his drawer. He also turned his mobile flash on. He walked down the stairs, afraid that the lift would trap him inside and he would have to cry his lungs out with nobody to help him.
“Relax, you’re just stressing yourself unnecessarily,” Akash said to himself. Holding both the torch and his mobile in front of him, Akash ventured down uneasily. He reached the storage room door and examined his pockets. Thankfully, he had taken the keys from the administration staff earlier that day.
Looking around nervously, he turned the key in the lock. However, it seemed to be stuck. Beads of sweat were beginning to trickle down his temples. Wiping his forehead with the back of his sleeve, he made another attempt. Thankfully, he was able to unlock the door this time.
Feeling relieved, he quickly walked in. Rummaging through the numerous shelves, he looked for the reams that were supposed to be stacked somewhere around. In his haste, he began opening all the drawers and cabinets while watching out for any unusual signs.
“Why is it so hard for the staff to keep things out in front so everyone can find them easily?” Akash ran his hands through his hair, which he felt like pulling out.
“Believe me, I’ve asked that to a lot of people, but nobody quite knows the answer.”
The words made Akash stop dead in his tracks. As far as he knew, he had been alone and muttering to himself. His heart began pounding fast and his body was trembling with fear. He had his back turned to where the voice had come from, so he decided to pretend that he had not heard it.
He stood like a statue for a minute or so, frozen by the familiar sound of the cabinets and cupboards opening behind him.
Muttering the name of every deity he could think of, he turned to the side. He somehow managed to keep his eyes half open so as to be able to see what was causing that racket. He was sweating buckets and shivering so bad that his teeth had started chattering.
And then he saw it, or rather him. Instead of a ghost or a shadow, it was a normal human being; a man around the same age as him. The man was looking for something. He was dressed in plain clothes and there was nothing unnerving about him.
Akash wiped his face once more and nervously asked the man, “Who… who are you? And what are you doing here?”
The man raised his head and smiled at him. “Oh, I’m sorry for startling you. I should’ve introduced myself. Well, I’m Raghav, and I’m here to help you.”
Akash reached for the edge of a nearby table and grabbed a ruler in case he needed to defend himself. “Help me? With what?”
Raghav was carefully foraging in the file cabinets. The only sound in the room was the whoosh of papers and stationery that Raghav kept rummaging through. Akash was about to say something again when Raghav exclaimed, “There you go.”
He had found the papers and held the ream in his hand, “I believe this is what you were looking for?”
Akash sighed and grabbed the stack as if it were some sort of gold. “Yes, yes… I was. Thank you.”
“Glad I could be of help. My work’s done,” Raghav smiled and turned to leave.
Akash gave him a puzzled look and nearly screamed, “No, wait. How did you get in? The doors are locked from the inside. Are you a burglar?”
Raghav crossed his arms and leaned on the wall. “Well, do I look like one?”
Akash scanned him from head to toe, his eyes traveling from his feet to head before resting on his face again. “No, but how did you get in?”
“I have my ways. Now, if you’re done, I’d like to take your leave.”
Akash’s fear was now giving way to worry. Now that Raghav did not look like a ghost to him, his mind took him back to his overdue work. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly 3 A.M. and he really needed to go home and get some sleep.
Stifling a yawn, he said to Raghav, “No, wait. I need your help. Can you work on a computer?”
Raghav smiled again, “I happen to be a computer engineer, my friend.”
Akash’s eyebrows furrowed, “Then why are you breaking into buildings like a burglar?”
Raghav replied matter-of-factly, “I earn more that way. My father used to work as a housekeeping staff member long ago. He wanted me to become a marketing professional, just like you guys working here, sitting in front of the laptop and looking busy.”
Akash could not argue with that. His salary was hardly enough for him to pay his monthly bills and installments. He could not even think of taking a nice girl out for coffee as he relied on the office coffee maker for his daily coffee needs.
Nodding his head, Akash walked up the stairs with Raghav following him. Akash slumped in his chair, his head held between his hands in frustration. He had wasted a good thirty minutes talking to a thief, and now his head felt dizzy as he looked at all the charts and graphs he still needed to draft and finalize.
Raghav peered at the screen behind him and slapped Akash’s back playfully, “You need help with that?”
Akash looked at Raghav as if God himself at descended upon earth. He was almost in tears, “You can do that?”
For the next half an hour, Raghav sat on Akash’s desk. He went through numerous charts and graphs, correcting all the figures and collating the Excel sheets. Raghav was so fast that Akash was sure he would miss something crucial if he were to blink.
Once or twice, Akash tried pointing out that Raghav had input some wrong information, only for Raghav to ask him to cool down and focus on his work. At around 4 A.M., Raghav clicked the save button and yawned, rubbing the back of his neck.
He got up from the chair and stretched his hands and back. Looking around, he asked Akash, “Do you have tea here?”
Until that point, Akash had been busy looking at the presentation Raghav had prepared. He was amazed at how this unknown thief had completed a task worth hours in thirty minutes flat! Akash directed Raghav to the pantry where the coffee machine was.
Raghav walked into the pantry and Akash could hear the machine whizzing, though all of his concentration was on the screen in front of him. After going through half the data, he could read no more. His eyes were beginning to shut. He called Raghav out, but nobody answered back. Akash thought of going downstairs to check on Raghav, but he was both afraid and extremely sleepy to make the effort.
He settled down on his desk for a quick power nap. However, he was snoring heavily by the minute as he placed his head on the desk.
The sun rose up in the sky as light slowly flooded the office. Akash kept sawing wood and was woken up when a hand shook him gently, “Sir… wake up.”
Akash immediately sprang up from his chair and gave out a startled cry. The housekeeping staff member eyed Akash warily. Looking around, Akash realized that it was morning already. He looked at the clock. It said 7:30 A.M.
His meeting was just half an hour away and he needed to prepare for his presentation. Akash left his desk hurriedly and walked into the meeting room. He did all the setup and triple-checked everything.
Fifteen minutes later, Akash had wrapped everything up. He took a deep breath and walked over to the coffee vending machine to get some energy. He was still yawning and needed to be fresh.
The housekeeping staff was busy cleaning the floor. Akash casually asked one of the staff members, “So, how long have you been working here…”
The old man gave him a kind smile. “Jagdish. My name is Jagdish, and I’ve been working here since the company came into existence.”
Akash squinted, “Why haven’t I seen you even once, then?”
Jagdish carried on with his work, cleaning and sweeping the floor, taking out the trash methodically. “I arrive two hours before my shift begins. I work at two other companies as well to help pay my son’s tuition fees.”
Akash’s tone softened a bit. He had been cursing his life all night for not being able to save enough and complaining about just about everything under the sun. Having nothing else to say, he offered Jagdish a cup of coffee and walked back into the conference room.
His boss arrived just five minutes before the scheduled start of their meeting with the client. When the meeting began, Akash stood in a corner, trying hard to not yawn as his boss gave the presentation. He glanced out the windows and there was Raghav, waving at him from the outside.
Surprised, Akash waved back at him. However, he quickly pulled his hand down out of the fear of coming across as a clown waving his hands in the air all of a sudden.
The meeting came to an end a couple of hours later. The client was mighty impressed with the presentation and Akash’s boss gave him a quick nod before walking out of the conference room.
Akash slumped down on one of the chairs. He was physically and mentally exhausted. Normally, he would get a cup of coffee on his own, but he was too tired to get up. He saw an office boy passing by and called him in, “Can you please get me a large cup of coffee? I’m too tired to even stand on my feet.”
The office boy smiled and complied. While drinking his coffee, Akash recalled his earlier conversation with Jagdish and asked the boy, “Why does Jagdish come in so early?”
The office boy threw him a surprised look, “Sir, who’s Jagdish?”
Akash was amused, “One of the housekeeping personnel who comes and leaves early because he needs to pay his son’s fees?”
The boy looked at him quizzically, “Sir, I think there’s some confusion here. We don’t have anyone named Jagdish in the housekeeping staff. There was an old man who used to work here long ago. He dreamed that his son would also work for this company one day. But he passed away many years ago. Nobody really remembers what his name was.”
Akash rubbed his eyes in confusion, “Oh. By the way, is there a way to break into the ground floor?”
The boy shook his head, “Ever since a burglary attempt, all entrances have been sealed and triple-locked. The only entrance is the lift that directly leads to the first floor. You can only access the ground floor by walking down the first-floor stairs.”
Someone called for the office boy and he went about his business, wishing Akash a great day ahead. Akash could only sit with his head in his hands. When he looked up, he spotted the smiling faces of both Raghav and his father Jagdish. They were waving at him from across the road.
There had not been one, but two ghosts, and they were not scary.
…now that you’re here
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