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“Inmates of Guan..ta..na.. Bay..” Buxton could not keep up with the teleprompter, “cut, cut!” he blurted and gestured slicing his neck.
In a remote corner of the newsroom, Holger Ramhorn was sipping caffeine in a hope to boost productivity while struggling to calculate his pension at the earliest eligibility. He caught the word ‘cut’ on his headphones that whenever he shouted, generated a commanding effect similar to a gunfire warning – the actors froze and the camera stalled. However, the director’s lingo uttered from other throat caused a great deal of turbulence in his gut. Once again, some oaf of a newsreader attempted to take over the livelihood of Director Ramhorn. He sprang off the chair as if his bottom detected a pointy object and gushed to the broadcast platform.
When his searching finger located the zealous intern newsreader, who was engaged in telling something humorous to the camera operator, Ramhorn filled up his lungs and cried, “Hey you, what the heck are you doing? Are you directing my cameraman!?”
Untrained in dealing with a roaring bear aiming a finger that looked like a pistol barrel, Buxton raised his hands in surrender. Owing to such a dramatic turn of the event, the newsroom morphed into a wax museum and trembling Ramhorn seemed he was addressing a particular one of several statues around. The proof of another life existing in the newsroom was Principal Camera Operator Stephanovich’s lip, which began twitching every few seconds.
Buxton lowered his hands rather quickly. Ramhorn taking it as a disengaging behaviour, pushed his finger-pointing arm back and forth and yelled, “Didn’t I instruct you to just read the freaking prompter?” Looking as impressive as a raging bear, he turned around in anticipation of consenting nods from the statues. The intern Switcher a couple of yards from Ramhorn avoided the eye contact. Stephanovich kept observing the design of the floor tiles, as his lips continued involuntarily movements. The sound engineer had disappeared, most likely for a washroom break, and the side Camera Operator had assumed a position of a private staring at a distant wall while waiting for Sergeant’s inspection.
Seizing a lull moment, Buxton expressed his desire to comprehend the situation. However, his meek attempt went unnoticed by the news director interested in a continuum of the reprimand.
“Do not!” Ramhorn paused to refill his lungs, “I repeat, do not ever try to do my job, period!” Marilyn sitting on the anchor chair, nodded obediently as Buxton’s proxy. Ramhorn removed the lid from the cup; gulping some coffee, he stared at Buxton whose body had visibly shrunk in last couple of minutes.
“And mister, if you cut my cameramen one more-” Ramhorn raised the hand holding the cup, splashed the high Celsius liquid on intolerant body parts that resulted in his immediate departure from the scene.
The camera started rolling. “Inmates of Guantanamo Bay,” Buxton’s head jerked a bit, “dug a kilometre long tunnel from the prison cells and escaped last night.” He turned to the side camera, this time suppressing the head jerk. “US Marines are hunting sick-teen, I mean, sixteen runaways hiding in the Cuban Island.” Stephanovich was still rolling the camera and watching him with a nervous eye. Buxton felt the dews popping on the edge of eyebrows. The tie stifled him and it was quite uncomforting to maintain a stance of a neutral but an affable newsreader. He hated the overly bright studio with tall walls and dozens of ugly fixtures hanging from the ceiling. The finger aiming at his forehead replayed and Buxton ached to chase down that polar bear and bite off the finger.
Waiting for words to start scrolling, he wondered if Tom Brokaws and Peter Jennings of the news-reading luminaries ever had to deal with directors’ atrocities.
Buxton read the rest of news and waited for end of his segment. “This is all from the Orb news at noon.” Although not been directed by Ramhorn and despite a wretched state of mind, Buxton felt compelled to conclude his delivery like his idol Adam Grand; he looked at the principal camera still rolling, pointed his thumb to the juxtaposed anchor and spoke with alacrity, “Back to you, Marilyn.”
At that juncture not anticipating Buxton’s thumbing act, Marilyn had bent down from her chair to fix a wrinkle on the stocking. When he glanced beyond his thumb, Buxton got perplexed. Instead of a cheery anchor, he spotted a crisp shadow on the light-diffuser umbrella a few yards away. In the harsh light of the day’s event, Buxton’s positive thinking had dried out. With aide of his imaginative faculty, he judged size and shape of the shadow to be that of a supple female lurking in a decisive crouching position. After a moment of reflection, he was convinced that the hidden intruder holding a long pointy object was none other than his estranged girlfriend, Vifareli who worked at security department of the studio. Remembering her last voice message predicting dismantle of his specific body parts, Buxton believed the love-delirious girlfriend would leap on him carve his heart out any moment. Such a jolting possibility uprooted him from the chair and the vocal cords shifted instantly to release yelps for a rescue.
Marilyn, as an exception to her generally laidback reactions, rose promptly to identify the source of what she thought was a sudden primate invasion. After banging her head to the table above, she stood disoriented and contributed to the newsroom commotion with a shrill verity of a screech. The sound engineer stood against the wall, took lateral steps and exited out of the room. The Switcher, by now had toppled a computer and landed himself on the floor in an attempt to jump over spaghetti of wires. For an unexplainable reason, he was been shouting for Ramhorn.
In the midst of the chaos, the person emerged from the umbrella cover did not match the profile of Vifareli. In fact, it was the Floor Manager Otto Fishbone whose shadow on the umbrella was misleading due his figure of a ballet danseur. Instead of a dagger, he held a long benign screwdriver with which he had been mucking with a loose screw behind the umbrella.
Ramhorn returned to the scene with a fresh cup of coffee accompanied by a couple of security persons. Without a word, he handed the letter to Buxton, placed a copy and a pen on the table.
“Throw that goof out of here immediately,” he instructed the security in an anticlimax.
Buxton walked to his desk with trailing security to pick up his coat. He stuffed the letter in the pocket and walked out with the security. Nobody said goodbye or even looked at him.
Bloated clouds began drizzling and the studio pavements turned dark wet.
When Katya Humfry walked out of the NEWS Building and slumped on the lawn, it looked as if she was performing a heart-wrenching act of an inconsolable protagonist. The falling rain seemed to accentuate the mood of that scene.
It all had happened unprecedented. Searching for her beau in the NEWS Building, Katya had pushed open the greenroom door already ajar, to find Otto comically bent forward under the weight of a clinging woman. From the mirror view, she reckoned that he was making out with the blonde-news reader and his tongue was attempting to reach new depths in her mouth. Otto was in a mood quite similar to that of a canine in a mating season. The surrounding had begun a tango as she stumbled out in open air.
The thought of being found in such state by people, especially Otto, overwhelmed her. She scooped herself from the lawn and loped to the giant iron gates of the JH Broadcasting. The mustached guard stood up in surprise to see her not in Mr. Humfry’s car. He asked whether she needed an umbrella. Katya registered his moving lips and replied that she was going to walk to the station.
As the gate closed behind her, Katya sank on a bench and sobbed. Inexperienced in coping with deceptive love, her hurt and anger were testing new heights. The image of him smooching the blonde quaked her, ‘how could a simpleton ballet instructor turned Floor Manger deceive her?’ She yearned to run back and kick him at the split of the pants to attain permanent damage to his jewels. However, pragmatism prevails when a romance dreamer is shaken up by a bite of ruthless reality. She tentatively settled on a theme of incognito attacks on Otto Fishbone.
Katya resumed sobbing, though in a smaller magnitude, on recalling that she had misled her poor Dad in the morning. He had a big smile on his face when she had asked to go with him to the studio to learn nitty-gritty of broadcasting business.
The rain got heavier. She detoured to less busy harbor front and got back on Avenue K. The taxi stand was still a few minutes but the sidewalk was getting crowded. Katya felt as if she was in a surreal dream of a witch swinging by the neck of a weak demon, wet raincoats brushing one another and umbrellas colliding under a giant waterfall from the sky.
Under the canopy of a packed Avenue K café, Buxton stood in close proximity with strangers. Before catching the quarter-to-five-bus to Shiva’s place, he was having a double dose of Macmillan poured in a can of coke. Sipping the divine cocktail and watching the raindrops bouncing off the sidewalk, he meditated on metaphysics of existence. ‘What happens to one’s self-worth after getting escorted off the first job? What is the significance of memory, and more importantly memories of undesirable events, in existing now?’
When a banker type of man in a silk tie frowned at him, Buxton realized audibility of his babble and the Banker must have heard him say, ‘God! I stand before you now and here. I am a voice of Grand Adam. Please, please help me apply it for material gains.’
Something must have happened on the walkway towards the Harbor as heads including Banker’s had turned. At the risk of exhaling spirited breath on the neck of an onlooker, Buxton stretched his head to find that a girl clad in white was ambling like a model on the runway albeit under the pouring rain. Rainwater was streaming from beauty’s hair locks. With other eager souls under the canopy, he waited to have a closer look.
Buxton’s amusement was short lived. At a few yards, the young beauty appeared quite dazed and deeply engrossed in pathos of her thoughts. He felt strongly that she was weeping and a mere observer would mistake the tears as raindrops sliding down her face. The wet cloth clung to her body and closer inspection revealed that her white costume had turned a complete see-through. He lost a breath. How on the earth, a pristine beauty was walking through lanes of ordinary people?
A gang of lads coming from the station gazed her and one of them said something to which all giggled. The kid with a yellow poncho made a gesture of cupping his palm in front of his chest. The hotdog vendor laughed at the kids who were debating to follow her.
Buxton yelled at the kids and walked hastily towards her. A few more onlookers stopped to watch. After hollering at her in vain, he removed his coat, walked ahead to block her. Katya almost bumped into him.
“Move away, get lost!”
“Take my coat!”
“What? Who are you?”
“It’s all visible!” He looked away.
Katya crossed her arms in front, burying her face in palms. The sounds had disappeared and air was too thick to breathe. She longed to evaporate into the air at that moment and hide in the dark solitude of her apartment.
“Put it on, you crazy!”
Katya didn’t move. He wrapped the coat on her shoulders and waited.
She looked up and screamed, “Go away, go away!” and started crying.
Buxton felt unnerved, not by the ungrateful reaction but, by her loud response. He waved at her to leave; she stared for a few moments before abruptly walking off to the station. He stood recovering from a jolt of seeing the sad green eyes of purity. It was a moment of nothingness, no thoughts bubbling in his head.
“What happened, Mister?” asked the hotdog vendor. Buxton realized that the bystanders were still watching him. He saw streams of water falling from the shirtsleeve. He ran to the shade and glanced back if he could see her.
On the bus to Shiva’s apartment, Buxton shook off the events of the day and reflected on Vifareli. With a clear conscience in an eerie peace caused by the heavy pour, he felt remorse for having low regard of her. Yes, granted that her curiosity in him had revolved only around the animal love. All metaphysical and platonic needs of living she believed to be excessive baggage of life. But she was an unadulterated soul.
Buxton recalled her opening the fist, one finger at a time, and counting her needs, “Juicy meat, old single malt Macmillan, nature’s scenery, nice touching,” she demonstrated it by rubbing his palm on her and continued, “and yes, country type music, smell of men and some flowers too, and last but not the least long love making.” Her hearty laughter always sounded like diesel engine running on a steep slope. Punching him on the shoulder, she had said, “Now, you tell me, honcho, what else matters in the life?”
‘She had gone out of her way to get me the interview’ Buxton recalled how Vifareli had pushed Ramhorn to get him hired at JHB’. ‘Oh well, I am punished for dumping my obligee’ He left the matter with a cleansed soul and his life was perfectly aplomb at that moment, waiting for a fresh start next day.
Spotting a man in the seat across with feathered-hat adorned in a coat similar to what he had not too long ago, words echoed in his head, ‘take my coat’. What a crazy thing, he had done in spur of a moment, for that green-eyed girl. ‘Life is a box of chocolate’ How true what Gump had said in the movie.
Shiva was waiting with unopened beer cans. Buxton opened up to his chum and narrated the crazy events of the day. After hearing Buxton’s day report, Shiva replied loaded, “It’s all karma. It is all karma of yours, Bucky.” He stared at the deity picture on a wall calendar and spoke, “Do you remember in the college? At the lotto line, you had let an old man go ahead of you? You won five hundred that day.” Buxton nodded and smiled although he could only recollect that they had once lost over a grand in a trip to the casino. Before going to bed, Shiva solaced him about the job loss and suggested that one door of opportunity always remains open regardless of time and place. Buxton agreed.
Katya woke up from a dream to realize that presently Otto was not frantically jumping and fumbling to grab a water flask from her dangling hand while she was in a hot air balloon in a desert.
A few missed calls, three from Dad. His messages were increasingly agitated. She text-messaged him, ‘Dad I am alright! I was zzz. Y’day, I’d to leave ‘cause my g’friend Symphony broke her engagement! I tried calling but storm knocked phones. I love you so much!!! BFN. WB.’
Katya deleted the text message from Otto. ‘Little otter, must have kissed, I don’t know how many rats at work before kissing me in the night.’ In midst of hatching a plan of first attack on him, spying the coat on a dining chair brought her smile. Something about the coat man had lingered all night; his unconditional kindness or that innocent face. ‘Why didn’t he give me his address or number or something? I should have asked for phone number.’ Katya hoped to find him again on Avenue K and made a plan to be there same time on the weekday.
At the mirror checking her in the coat, she put on the sunglasses and walked like a noir detective to the window. When she placed her hand like Sherlock Holmes in the coat pocket, she felt the paper. [III]
The sun sprung in the east radiated the sky with its raw energy. The crisp rays entering the room gave no trace of previous day’s downpour until he came out of Shiva’s place. The trees were bit soggy and air still damp. Nevertheless, Saturday mornings always felt charming and more so in spring.
Buxton took the late morning bus to home. He approached condominium entrance and the rabble of butterflies began flying in his tummy. For a newsreader, breaking the news with an emotional restraint was not tricky if it was not about one’s job loss and the viewer was not Byron Painskill.
‘I can look in the old man’s eyes and take the humiliating lecture’ He considered telling them the truth right away and his spirit climbed a couple of notches. ‘On the other hand, Mom will be really sad.’ It was always disheartening to see his guileless Mom attempting to hide her own despair and cheering him. He decided to defer the matter until next day. He just had to tell them a plausible story of coat loss. After all, losing an expensive all-season shiny polyester coat with detachable cashmere lining needed a compelling justification.
“What happened? You got flu?” teen brother Joshua at the door asked and ran back to his room.
Byron Painskill had settled on the usual spot in living room. He was watching the rerun of Two and Half Men with Gizmo, who always remained within five-foot radius. Pointing the remote at a bikini-clad girl, he said, “Giz, look at that Megan Fox!” Gizmo looked at the screen and raised its ears. Byron continued, “If that girl wear that kind of clothes at Harbor Square, some Tom or Dick will kidnap her, for God’s sake!” He shook his head and returned to the TV screen. Gizmo continued looking at him as unsure if Byron has more to elaborate.
Noticing Buxton’s presence, Senior Painskill stood up and enacted front desk receptionist, “oh, welcome, welcome back to Painskill’s humble hotel. Sir, we missed your patronage yesterday!”
In annoyed tone Buxton replied looking at Gizmo, “Mom knows that I was at Shiva’s birthday.” He looked at his dad, “And just to let you know, I am not feeling well today.”
At the dinner table, the family congregated. Mom presented Chicken Roast with Capers sauce. Byron and Josh quickly served their plates and began eating. Interestingly, both were eating in identical manner with heads down at the plates and left elbows on the table. Mom was a slow eater. She radiated in witnessing her dish turned out well.
“Oh, guys you won’t believe what happened yesterday!” Buxton felt it was opportune time to broach the topic. Mouthful mom widened her eyes in interest.
“I was eating my lunch at the set. And, the crew was readying for, you know, some murder investigation scene. Cops with a bunch of dogs, that kind of stuff. And my brown coat. Well-”
“What is the name of the film?” Josh inquired while chewing his food.
“Don’t worry about the name, I don’t know.”
“This is last one; don’t screw with your health, Giz!” Byron threw bony meat in Gizmo’s plate.
“Oh where was I? Oh yes, I’d half a sandwich in my coat. And guess what?” He looked Dad in particular who was belching a chicken leg while watching Gizmo chewing its. Byron seemed not interested in guessing anything at that juncture.
“Out of the blue, two scary giant dogs came running and started sniffing my coat on the bench.” Seeing a meager interest at the table, Buxton spoke louder, “long story short, those crazy dogs tore apart my coat literally!”
Byron was suddenly interested in the dinner talk upon hearing a synonym of destruction, looked up, “Who? What?”
“Coat? Oh – ” Josh chimed in.
Buxton did not stop for queries, “Well, the good news is that they were quite apologetic and paid me 200 bucks!” He pulled a wad of bills from his trousers and waved in the air.
“How many times I have told you, don’t keep money in a role. Are you a mafia man!? Bucky, you gotta respect money!” Byron shouted.
“Oh, speaking of the coat, there was a man from JH film or something like that. He left the coat and said it belonged to you. Oh yes, he also gave the envelope.” Josh spoke in one breath, ran to his room and came back moments later.
“It’s not my coat,” Buxton said calmly.
“Okay, then I will take it” Joshua shrugged his shoulders.
“But darling, they probably felt terrible and sent you another coat. How nice of them -” Mrs. Painskill was interrupted by Painskill Sr. who was now fully interested in the matter, shouted at Buxton,
“Do you know that I paid hundred and forty nine for that thing? Where’d you left it?” he pointed at the coat that Joshua was holding as an exhibit for the jurors. Gizmo too looked at the object of Byron’s interest.
“But, mommy, he doesn’t want it” Joshua tried his case.
Buxton reckoned to leave the coat matter; he snatched the envelope form Josh.
Parents were busy arguing on mannerism in talking with kids and significance of money and Joshua had disappeared with the coat. Buxton opened the letter. It had JH Broadcasting Inc. logo and signed by the owner Joffry Humfry himself. Buxton turned away from parents and read:
‘JH Broadcasting, Inc. is pleased to offer you a job as Junior Anchor for our news segment, Around the World in Ten Minutes. We trust that your knowledge, skills and experience will be among our most valuable assets. Should you accept this job offer….