Pinky’s Burger House had this quaint-coffeeshop-ensconced-in-the-mountains ambiance. While I flipped burgers and served fries, I wondered if I’d made the right choice trusting Mr Pink (the owner). What was I going to get, working 9-4, wearing a greasy apron, a fading pink jacket with a picture of a walrus on the back, and stonewashed jeans? I didn’t see how far I could climb. I’d trusted Mr Pink because he’d told me I’d find myself, but I was now wondering if he was a conman. The pay was pretty meagre too.
Four of us worked at the restaurant — Jimmy, Nadia, me, and Raju, the manager. Jimmy was this super obnoxious guy with no filter who said the most inappropriate things at the wrong times. I reckoned he was on drugs. Nadia was a shy, bespectacled, nerdy girl who avoided eye contact. Raju locked himself up in his office doing God knows what, venturing out now and then to greet customers and bark orders.
One day, Raju called us in for a meeting, and said, “We’re replacing our Alfredo sauce with a new Ruby sauce.”
“I knew this was going to happen eventually,” Jimmy replied. “What’s next, the Nadia sauce?”
Raju glared at him, and Nadia trembled. It was as if he’d hinted at some inner working of the whole Pinky’s machinery. I dismissed it, thinking it was Jimmy up to his usual nonsense. I didn’t even know the sauce we used was called Alfredo sauce. It was just some orange goo I slathered on the buns before placing the patty in between them.
Two days later, Jimmy arrived at my apartment.
“How did you find out where I live?” I asked him, my heart shaking. I wanted nothing to do with the nut-job. He seemed irrational, unstable, perennially stoned, and weird. The only reason I worked at Pinky’s was because I had some deluded notion of grandeur, which said I’d become somebody if I continued flipping burgers for at least a year. I think it was Mr Pink’s flamboyance and his unusual charm that drew me into this strange realm punctuated with bizarre characters and the smell of mutton.
“I know things, man,” replied Jimmy, and then reached into his pocket and produced a spliff. “It’s skunk weed. Some good stuff, bro.”
“No, thank you. Listen, I got to run some errands, so we’ll catch up some other time, okay?”
“No broskey. You’ve got to listen to what I have to say first. Let’s go to that South Indian place nearby,” said Jimmy while he puffed on his weed.
I went with him, and I don’t know why. Maybe it was the same madness that made me follow Mr Pink into his house and sit at a table, a thought from some unseen dimension, pushing me to explore new things and discover myself, or urging me into absolute recklessness.
As we were walking, Jimmy stumbled. He soon started talking in a strange, pseudo African-American accent, vaguely similar to Theodore Long’s way of speaking. In case you don’t know who he is, you’ll need to watch professional wrestling with its drama, violence and pulp fictionesque scripts.
“Playa!” He said, “You gotta know the truth now. Yeah, the truth. Word.”
His voice had a sinister inflection to it, which matched his new, unusual gait, which involved strutting about, swinging his hands, and looking up at the sky like a proud peacock. It terrified me, but I said nothing, afraid that he might pounce on me or beat me up. I didn’t know where those fears came from. Was Jimmy’s paranoia entering my consciousness and were we taking part in some weird, unhealthy, telepathic synergy, the skunk weed robbing us of reasoning and making everything a series of distorted shapes, even though he was the only person who smoked it?
We entered the restaurant, but Jimmy ordered nothing, instead making his way to the bathroom, knocking on the door, even though someone was inside. He opened it, oblivious to the shouting of the person inside, and then closed it, conducting his business while someone else was using the commode. He exited with his pants down, pulled them up quickly, and ran toward me.
“Run! Terrorist!” He screamed, and the owner and the guy inside, with splotches of shit on his pants, ran towards us, enraged, and yelling obscenities.
We ran on the streets, passing Ganesha processions and cars flying to distant destinations; beggars and rich people with poodles and golden retrievers; beautiful parks and smelly slums, and Jimmy kept muttering to himself.
“Forgive me, father! Forgive me, mother! Forgive me, brother! Forgive me, sister!” He suddenly screamed and kept running, and I ran too.
Soon we were exhausted, but kept running, passing enormous apartment complexes, mansions, bougainvillea coated cottages, coffee shops, vendors selling scrap, more beggars and more processions.
“Forgive me, father! Forgive me, mother! Forgive me, brother! Forgive me, sister!” cried Jimmy, tears rolling down his cheeks, and I don’t know how he transferred his misery to me, but there it was, a punch to the gut, an emptiness where there should be a soul, a cavity right in the center, and I sobbed and sobbed, and slowing down, panting, I leaned on a railing overlooking a lake, and wondered if I should just jump.
But something prevented me, and I looked and saw Jimmy running back in my direction, the cops chasing him. We began running again, while they tried to lathi charge us, and both of us wept, crying, “Forgive me, father! Forgive me, mother! Forgive me, brother! Forgive me, sister!”
I don’t know how I made it back home, but just before I did, Jimmy whispered, “Alfredo and Ruby were people who worked at Pinky’s, and now they’re sauces.”
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