"No, I have no time to see your oil painting," he chided his son. He was late for work. The shift began at 8 and it was 7:30 already.
"Please dad," Rahul pleaded. "I have been asking you for days."
"I know, I know," Vinay replied, "but I don't want to hurry it. Soon, I assure you, son. Soon."
He picked up the keys to his car and rushed down the staircase. Like everyday, a feeling of despair filled his heart. "If not this, then what?" this statement kept running around his head in circles, and everything from disappointing Rahul to his professional frustrations combined in a giant of simmering sadness.
He drove to the office. Thoughts kept jutting in and out of his head. "Where did I go wrong?" he wondered. "A bad father stuck in a filthy job," he saw his face contort with fury in the rearview mirror.
He reached office and logged into his computer. He had recently registered himself on an online freelancing site. The company, Viocon, sent him orders on a daily basis. Since most of them were subject specific and had tight deadlines, he often took only a cursory glance at the Orders List in the hope that he might find something doable.
As it happened, an undergraduate student had posted his Chemistry assignment as one of the orders that morning. The order was worth $65 and comprised objective type questions in organic chemistry. While he recollected little of the subject, he began browsing the questions list out of a feeling that here was something he could take a crack at.
The fourth question on the list was about a reducing agent that plays an important role in glucogenesis. He read the word "Reducing agent" and suddenly a flash of happiness pierced his heart. "Reducing agent," he mumbled to himself, and found himself smiling with child-like glee.
Perhaps he had become a child suddenly. He had been transported to a world of relish and joy. What he remembered about the reducing agent was the irony of its existence. He had learnt about it in Class VII. A reducing agent is the element in a redox reaction that reduces another species and in the process, itself gets oxidised. He heard the soft voice of Miss Thomas explain the process. "In the reaction between Na and Cl to make common salt," she would say with trademark benevolence, "Na donates its valence electron to Cl, in the process acting as the reducing agent by getting oxidised." He recollected how he used to like such things at one time. He was a favourite of his teachers' because he was the best student in class.
He looked around. The room was taking on another colour. Is it possible to change, he wondered? He had become too sentimental, too intuitive. It had made an interest in life difficult. He shirked all notions of life as he knew them, he realised.
But this was good. He might rekindle an interest if he wished. He was enthused by the thought that his existence had been imbued with a life-affirming energy at one time. He was part of the gang (of people who are smart). If he held on to this notion for a bit, it might transform his brain in a gradually seeping way, and he might finally be able to escape that feeling of dread which he experienced often. It was an anxiety that had no certain roots, but it gripped his soul from time to time, perhaps, he now realised, as a plea to dispel the ennui in his life.
And it can be dispelled, he said to himself, and got up with a flourish, like he was walking down the aisle to the applause of thousands of admirers. He walked out the door and took out his mobile. He was terribly excited. He felt rejuvenated and ready for anything. There was a patch of water on the floor near the coffee-vending machine.
In his hurry, he stepped on it and slipped. He fell down, and hit his head against the wall, but as he lay there stunned, he thanked God under his breath for testing his new-found perseverance with a physical challenge. As he pulled himself up from the ground, the words "reducing agent" swam in his head. He tried dialling Rahul's number but the weight of an absurd happiness slowed him down.