You hardly sleep that night. It’s one thing to be ostracised; another to be mentally ill, but it’s terrifying to be both. You didn’t ask for this. Your friends deserted you the moment you dropped out of college, deeming you a layabout or a loser with no ambition who’ll amount to nothing. That’s India for you — a place with no second chances, a country where once you’ve failed, you’re blacklisted, called an anathema, a reject, a fuckup.
You didn’t need Jimmy imbuing you with the ugly green colour of madness, but he’s done it. You can’t shake off the thought that Pinky’s cooks their ex-employees, making sauces out of them. The idea is ludicrous and irrational, but your life hasn’t been normal in any sense the last eleven years. Years spent, lonely and looking for companionship, while your exes laughed their arses off at your misery. A decade spent trying to reach out, either by playing silly pranks on so-called friends or asking them to meet you, both of which they met with hostility.
It’s time to admit it — you’re a fucking pariah. A nut-job who’s just as twisted as Jimmy. You ran a marathon yesterday and then sobbed, asking everyone real and imagined to forgive you. How messed up is that? That you weren’t even on that skunk weed only makes it more bizarre. And you followed a weirdo in a pink jacket into his house and took a job he offered. He said that he was expecting you. Is anything real anymore?
You wonder if everything is one big, nasty hallucination. That’s the last thing you need. Finally finding yourself in a realm where distorted post-physics, the stuff of dystopian, nightmarish sci-fi, replaces physics and turns reality inside out. You can’t trust yourself. How can you then be sure that you’re actually working at a burger shop, selling fries for a living?
Remember, you once boasted that you’ll get a gold medal when you complete your master’s degree, do a MPhil from a prestigious government institution, and become a PHD scholar with sharp, astute insights into the mind, diagnosing patients and existentially grappling with their sins and trauma. Clinical psychology, you declared, would push you to a post-Jungian moon where your mind expanded beyond archetypes and the collective consciousness, spurring an intellectual, feverish orgasm of connections shown in brilliant research papers, points argued for and against, and women (it’s always the women) adoring you and wanting to get a fraction of your genius.
But here you are, a shit, working in a burger shop, believing a lie that tells you that you’ll climb to the top. You won’t. But you wear the pink jacket and stonewashed jeans and clock in because it’s better than watching porn and mooching off your parents.
As you flip burgers, you can’t shake off the paranoia urging you that you’ll be the next Alfredo or Ruby. You see Nadia working the counter, and Jimmy doing cartwheels in the kitchen and you want to punch him. Slam him against the counter and demand an apology for yesterday.
What the fuck were you thinking, shitting on people, running from cops, and fucking with my mind? You want to scream, but you hold your rage in while you slather the blue Ruby sauce on the buns. Forgive me, father! Forgive me, mother! The thoughts echo and you want them to stop. To go far away and never bother you.
You settle into a rhythm, slathering buns, cooking the patties, placing the patties in between the buns, and topping it all off with lettuce and tomatoes. The work becomes an obsession — it’s all you’ve got now. You keep at it, pushing the finished product towards Jimmy, who seems like he wants to say something.
You ignore him and keep working. You’re a monster they can’t stop. A burger-making-demi-god who flips a switch on somewhere within the corners of his mind, while he imagines flipping Jimmy off, and works, fixated on burgers. You smile and then cackle and laugh hysterically while you make them. Nadia looks at you, but Jimmy does another cartwheel. You’re a maniac. A burger fiend. There’s a raw aggression to this — a BDSMesque delight in the pleasure and pain of making burgers and cooking fries. A sadomasochistic thrill that makes you slam the frying pan on the table and laugh some more. It’s a ‘munch’, only it’s not a gathering of freaks who like whips and chains. Just you, the frying pan, the spatula, the wrapping paper, the patties, the buns and the steam. You’re into this. It must be some weird, twisted fetish like coprophila or coulrophilia. One gives the weirdo pleasure when he wipes himself with shit. He probably gets a stiffy when he has a bout of diarrhoea, the purge an intoxication greater than absinthe. The other wants his girlfriend to look like Harley Quinn while he’s boning her, the pleasure taken in her holding a balloon in her left hand and blowing gum while they rock the bed.
But you’re another kind of freak — you get both pleasure and pain from flipping burgers. The pleasure of satisfyingly cooking a good patty, the pain of your arthritic fingers hurting from all that frying and sauce slathering, the painful pleasure of knowing your life’s down the toilet and you’re flipping burgers for a living which gives you an immense hard on. You go home after your shift and masturbate like an internet stalker; only you aren’t chasing young women or men, you’re getting off on being a college graduate who’s working in a burger shop.
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