The trouble with Aster was that he had no sense of proportion. But he was a good husband to Tria and an excellent father to his only daughter Rose. But Tria was at the end of her patience with her husband’s lack of practical sense. He had no ordinary common sense. He never invited his boss to dinner. Thus he never had any promotion. And he never had any extra pay.
For one thing, Aster never understood the value of showing docility. He stayed away from where he thought he would be useless and merely increase the crowd. Who was he to take decisions like that? Was he not being fed from public funds?
Then there was his dangerous tongue – a tongue that dared to criticize even his boss. He did not care where his words would ultimately travel. Hence it proved very dangerous – dangerous only to himself. He wasn’t very rich and would be ruined if he got hit even once. His greatest positive point was that he did his work with utmost efficiency and honesty. But these days is that enough? Only a man without practical balance as Aster would fail to see that if you are not in the good books of the influential people you might fall a victim to other’s anger and jealousy any moment.
And such a misfortune did strike him very soon. He went and told his colleague, Brin, that their boss Apor took bribes. News probably travels even faster than light because it soon reached boss’ ears and Aster was sent for. Brin advised him to deny everything. As there was nothing written so steps could not be taken against Aster if he denied the whole charge from the start. Impractical man that he was, Aster did not listen to this good advice.
‘I hear that you have been saying that I am not acting properly?’ asked Apor quietly from his comfortable chair. Remaining cool now was very essential. Aster stood still refusing to answer. He wanted to hear the word ‘bribe’ from the mouth of Apor. It would be so funny, he thought. This showed his touch of madness. His job was in danger but all he thought of was light hearted things as if he were looking on life as an observer, not actually living it.
After a moment Apor said, ‘well?’
‘Yes Sir?’ answered Aster.
‘I heard that you are saying that I take improper money. Not my salary, a bribe.’
‘Yes, that was the word,’ smiled Aster internally. See how a guilty mind can’t use the word directly, in a straight fashion.
‘Yes, I have said so and I can do so in writing as well. But in that case I’ll have to mention the name of Coondray and Associates’ as well. Isn’t that the Company who made you rich, Sir?’
‘This fellow is truly mad,’ Apor thought. He felt a little uncertain. He could go to jail if everything was disclosed, he mused. But no one would believe Aster. He was only a subordinate and in Pibland only the man holding the highest office was believed.
The conversation went on for a few more minutes. But Apor knew how the story ended and so did Aster. But Apor’s powers knew no bounds and very soon he managed to dismiss Aster.
Aster had always managed to make both ends meet. But now with no job and no money he was finding it difficult to feed his family. But Tria and Rose were both very supportive. They tried to keep him in good spirits all the time. But with no food, they slowly started losing all hope.
The clouds cleared and they could see the glimpse of the Sun when Neptune, Aster’s school friend, rung them up and invited them to visit Washington for 15 days. ‘We don’t have anything to lose if we go to Washington. All our expenses are also being paid for.’ ‘Yes Mummy! Let’s go. I don’t like this country and I’m sure Daddy would also agree,’ and so he did. The very next week they packed the few clothes they possessed, locked the door of their rented home, took the plane and flew to Washington.
When they arrived the next day, Neptune was there to pick them up. They had never gone any-where outside Pibland. All the lights and the noise was new to them. After an hour’s drive they arrived at the Wilson Apartment, Neptune’s house. He was a bachelor and worked as the Assistant Manager of Jason’s Furnishing Company. He had been born in Pibland but after completing his studies he had decided to come to Washington to pursue his career.
They were having fun in this new place but deep inside there was always the lurking fear – the fear of seeing the fun-filled days nearing its end, the fear of returning to Pibland and above all the fear of dying in poverty. Aster did not know about it but Tria had got a Bottle of Cyanide with her. She had thought very deeply about it and had decided that ‘If I am lucky I will live. That will happen only if I remain in Washington. However, if the 3 goddesses of fate – Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos – decide to contrive against me and my family then I will open this Cyanide Bottle and we…’. Her thoughts had been interrupted that moment but her decision had been final – she would not return to Pibland only to see her entire family perish.
They found that luck was on their side. Neptune brought a job offer for Aster. It was in the ‘American Department of Chemicals and Engineering Goods’. Aster joined the very next day. His post was not very high and nor was his salary. But it was alright for the beginning.
He started working with full vigor. He did his work to the best of his knowledge and ability. Everyone was happy with him. Soon ‘extra-time’ work began and with that began the flow of extra money. It seemed as if everything had changed – but wasn’t it too early to feel that way?
One day a certain thing happened that changed the entire play in which he was the hero. He heard, through his colleagues, of a consignment that was being sent to France and it just so happened that it was uninsured. While everyone was expressing their worries, he started thinking: “What will happen in case of an air-crash? How can I put the Company into the risk of such a heavy loss knowingly? I should do something and that is to ring up the Insurance Company and get it insured. Yes, that is exactly what I’m going to do.” Aster sat on his office chair, pondered for a few more minutes and dialed the number – 432122.
‘Hello… There is a consignment going to France, uninsured.’
‘How much is it worth?’
‘2.75 Billion Dollars! The flight leaves in an hour.’
‘What is the insurance premium?’
‘One Million and Thousand, Sir.’
‘I want it insured.’
‘Yes Sir,’ and the man stamped the paper – the consignment was now safe and legally insured. Once again Aster’s old habit had surfaced to the top – the self that tried to solve the world’s problems all by himself.
He came home feeling elated. Rose had gone out to play. After a short talk, he came to the point and told Tria of the ‘great deed’ that he had performed that day. ‘What? You got the consignment insured? But you are not in charge of it, are you?’ ‘No. But the one in charge did not do his job, so I did it,’ Aster said with the same tone that had become very familiar to Tria.
‘Great, you’ve done it and put your job in jeopardy once more. If you lose the job then there is no hope left for us.’ She went on in this vain for a long time till Aster got fed up and rang up Neptune.
‘Oh my God! Why did you interfere? The boss hates it. I know him very well.’
Hearing this Tria slowly got up and walked to the drawer and with a lot of mental anguish, took out the Cyanide Bottle and held it up for her husband to see. ‘This is what we are going to do now. Neptune can look after our daughter.’ They sat down after closing all the doors and windows and making the room as dark as possible. The Cyanide Bottle was between them. They looked at each other for the last time, tightly held onto each other’s hands and drank that dreadful poison.
A minute later the phone rang and the answering machine answered, ‘Please leave the message we’re not in now.’ The man from the other end answered, ‘Congratulations Aster! You have earned yourself a promotion. We, for this day forth, make you the Manager of the Consignment Section. You will move to your villa in your own personal Mercedes tomorrow. Pack up immediately. Thank you for insuring! There has been an air-crash but because of your timely action we have been saved a lot of money. Good bye!’
Time moved on and everything was very still and very silent. But after half an hour something stirred – yes it was Aster. A moment later there was another movement, now it was Tria. They were alive. But how was it possible? Such miracles are possible only when the poison is bought from a Pibland shop. Because in Pibland nothing is right – people take bribes without batting an eyelid, people’s minds are adulterated, even a simple poison is adulterated. In Pibland, probably cough mixture is sold as ‘Cyanide’.