Anupam, one of the dozen who joined Lighthouse Research this year, scratched his left earlobe and nodded.
"I know it looks like a lot of work, but once you get the charts ready, it's mostly copying and pasting into the right places", reassured the manager. Then as if to underscore the importance of the deliverable, there was an added bit of depth in his voice "the deck is critical to the client presentation today".
"Sure. As you said, it isn't a lot of work", Anupam smiled. His manager returned the smile "Great. Get started on it then". Pretension works best when it's on on both sides.
Walking to his desk, Anupam tries to swiftly calculate the damage. This could take hours and may well stretch beyond midnight. Well, this is how you make bones in this industry. He had a month of fun; induction, soporific speeches by practice heads and veeps and numerous soft skill trainings. Now comes the call of duty.
He wasn't complaining either. Those trainings were getting on to him, to tell you the truth. Four years in IIT prepared him for a lot, but not corporate trainings. He always had issues with listening to a lot of gyaan but these were altogether something else. To make it worse, most of the other rookies were from B-schools who seemed to (or at least pretended to) enjoy them, judging from the enthusiasm they showed at role-playing and asking questions.
His momma didn't raise no fool, either. Anupam knew that though he was definitely not an exception, there were very few here straight out of grad school. The company is run by MBAs. Anupam and some others are the select few who have broken through the ranks simply because of the buoyant job market these days.
Back to work.
A couple of hours later, Anupam was almost cursing aloud. There had to be something he was missing: the FIFO figures refused to tally. He stood up and glanced over at his manager's desk. It was empty; craned his neck to check whether his bag was there. Nopes. The leather bag, which he suspected was modeled on the one Shahrukh carried in Main Hoon Na was gone. Damn!
Anupam looked around. The crowd was thinning. There were some pockets of resistance (!), a select few who still haven't retreated to their abodes. With a kamikaze grin on his face, Anupam sat down and got at it again.
Didn't help much. Still at loggerheads. Frustated, his hands directed the mouse to the internet
explorer icon on the desktop. Wikipedia is a trusted old friend, and a few moments of surfing can't do him much more harm. Ten minutes into the Large Halidon Collider, Anupam's thoughts drifted into the spreadsheets and then he got it. It was the Budapest figures- he hadn't added them up.
Problem fixed, he went back to finishing up on the charts. A better part of an hour passed. Partial darkness jolted out of his work-induced reverie. They were switching off the lights as there were a very few people on the floor. He checked; only five were remaining on this part of the floor, and he had at least a dozen slides to go. He recalled the dictat "This has to go today" and cursed. Frigging time Zone management.
More lights began to be switched off. The floor looked strange, with pockets of illumination.
Struggling with the formatting, Anupam soon discovered that he was the last one on the floor. Standing up, he scanned the floor. There were none to give him company and he almost did a double take. Hard to accept that you, the rookie, is the only one left on the floor. Just then laughter drifted in from the gate, the reassuring banter of the security.
Anupam, now relaxed at the familiar sounds, began to stretch his limbs. His bottle was empty. He wasn't particularly thirsty but felt he needed some exercise. Holding the bottle, he began his journey towards the cooler.
The office at night is a queer place. A beehive of activity otherwise, housing at least a hundred
people,looks somewhat unnatural at this hour. The computers, embattled by the ferocity on it's
keyboards and constant lumination of the screens, look to be resting in peace. In fact, if he
didn't know any better, the dark monitors looked like ghosts. Like hundreds of ghouls staring back at him. The darkness (only a few lights were now on) helped nurture the scene. Quite an unnerving feeling, Anupam could feel a slight shiver.
The cooler had a surface mounted CFL right on top of it. He sighed and put his bottle to fill. Straight up were the washrooms. Dimly lit, the straight corridor reminded of the numerous horror pictures he'd seen. There was something about horror and corridors. Or maybe all horror writers are claustrophobic. But surely there has to be some connection.
His bottle filled, he wished to hurry back at his station. Picking up a brisk pace, he didn't want to
Suddenly all the lights went out. Anupam froze in his tracks, terror suddenly gripping him. It took a few seconds for the antibodies of reason to fight back. Wait a minute, he told himself, must be some sort of outage. Backup will definitely take care of it soon enough. Still, his throat a bit dry, he took a swig and started walking towards the gate. They don't call them security for a reason.
They were there. Four of them, one struggling with the emergency light and the others engaged in some local drivel. They looked up at him. "Kuch nahi, saab. Do minute main theek ho jayega". His confidence restored and prospects of a client escalation encouraged him to get back to his station.
A strange thump on the ceiling. Anupam spun around, trying to narrow down on the cause. Then a lot of thumps in concert, as if something was running around. Rats. Amazing, really; no one could have guessed that this glass and concrete marvel had rats in it. This is India.
Rats were trying to kick up a ruckus and for a split second he considered getting on the intercom and alert the security on the menace. Then decided otherwise; some good it will do, perhaps only serving to distract him as it would surely be entertaining to see them jumping around, with their shoes or some contraption in their hands, donning the role of exterminators. He knew how funny it can all be, having seen his Dad cavorting around to kill those pests at home in his adolescence.
With the rats trying to give him company, Anupam started on the Org Chart. A bizzare noise jumped him. It was as if someone was furiously typing on a computer. With no one around, this was definitely weird and a strange fear gripped his nape. He could feel the hair rising on his hands and neck. He looked around. Nothing. No one around, yet the clackety-clack kept on.
Anupam suddenly felt two very appealing reactions: to explore what's going on or to hell with it all, write an apology to the client, marking the manager and head home. He was already a wreck and things were getting worse. One more funny thing and he could actually cry out. The acute sense of embarrassment, always very strong in the salaried classes, told him that would be extremely unwise as the guards will talk and in no time he'll be the laughing stock: A rookie who got scared on his first all-nighter. Nopes, that can't happen to me, Anupam reasoned. He calmed himself, slow and long breaths actually helping him regain his composure. Let's finish this up, and save the goddamn job.
His last chart finished, all the while ignoring whatever that was happening in the background, Anupam felt a tide of relief sweeping over him. Checked his watch, two frigging AM. The executive summary and then...
The ping of the e-mail sounded unnaturally loud. His neighbour had locked his desktop and not switched it off. Typical but scared the hell out of him. He quickly finished the exec summary , wrote a hurried mail and after pressing the send button, he threw his head back and closed his eyes. Tried to whistle, but only a 'phew' came out. It's time to go.
Shit! he forgot to mark his manager on the mail. He dug it up, forwarded it with the standard FYI... Lights out. Once again. This is getting better and better. He ought to better go now, before he loses it entirely. Getting up, he felt something tugging his shoe laces. Formal shoes; can't do with them, can't do without them. Must be other foot tying up the laces. He looked down.
They must have been cat's eyes. They burned as brightly as a star, but hid under the desk. Anupam tried hard but could not spot the cat's silhouette. This was odd; rats are possible but surely no cat can enter the office. Not with the security and the setup.
To confound matters, as a sick joke, the computer finished it's job and shut down, the screen turning black. Was it him or did ... the eyes shine brighter?
He swallowed; swallowed hard. He desperately willed to move but his feet seemed glued to the ground. Then he felt it. It was here all along, that sense of morbid fear which was only brushing past him, alerting him of it's presence and going away, as if teasing him. But now it wasn't going anywhere. It was behind him. He slowly looked around.
At first it was nothing.
Then hundreds of eyes shone under the other desks.