He sat on the rickety plastic folding chair with an equally plastic smile on his face. The book release had gone well. A number of people had gushed about his earlier work as if he was releasing an anthology instead of a new novel. He had made the obligatory speech about how he wrote, why he wrote and who he had to thank. He'd always felt that his public speeches were the best fiction he ever wrote. If he ever stuck to the truth in his speeches, they wouldn't last longer than a minute which was most certainly not the done thing.
And so here he was sitting on the most uncomfortable chair in the world, sipping something which was rather optimistically called "coffee" but was, in fact, closer to banana skins in terms of taste and distilled water in terms of consistency. All the same, he was impressed by the drink as it not only succeeded in tasting nothing like what it was supposed to, but also frequently lunged over the rim of the little crumply plastic glass as if it wanted to attack him. He started to toy with the idea that the coffee might just be an organic being which had recently evolved into a mobile liquid and was wondering why it was being thrown into a rather foul-smelling mouth, unwashed for over 24 hours as a result of a busy schedule. That is, the person whose mouth it was had a busy schedule. The mouth itself had no schedule whatsoever other than drooling over a pillow at 3 in the morning everyday without fail, when the author had fallen asleep and the salivary glands took advantage of the brain's momentary leave of absence to do whatever the hell they wanted.
"Um, excuse me?"
He looked up. the 40 year-old woman with the 12 year-old child in tow was frowning at the book he was signing.
"My son's name is Ujjwal, not..."
He looked at the pen in his hand stupidly. Somehow, it had written 'Sentient Coffee?" on the first page of the brightly coloured book he was signing. He coughed, embarassed, apologised and corrected the dedication, handing the book back to the kid, plastic smile once again firmly in place.
God, why had he ever wanted to be a children's writer? Not a day went by when he didn't ask himself that question. Growing up, he had always seen himself as a second Roald Dahl, writing bitingly funny adult short stories as well as imaginative novels for younger readers. But for some reason his pen was incapable of writing anything but the most childish of children's stories, thus only fulfilling half of his dream. True, his series of novels had become insanely popular, catapulting him to fame, but he always felt as if he wasn't living up to his own expectations. He would curse his simple tales of far-away lands populated by creatures culled from various myths, only to churn out another one, and then another, and another! His mother would tell him he was just being too hard on himself, that he should be thankful for how lucky he had been so far, to stick to what he was good at, to be proud of his gift and to stay off drugs. Somehow, he had managed to fail to fulfill all but the last of these objectives. And so, while his hand wrote his name over and over again on glossy paper, while his ears dully registered the gushing praise of devoted parents, the halting words of shy children, while his mouth smiled that most inane of smiles, his mind went over familiar lines of thought, picking away at his dreams until he was thoroughly disgusted with everything, the book launch, the fans the fame, everything.
Suddenly his hand stopped moving, deprived of a book to sign. He looked up, curious to see what had brought about this momentary reprieve. In front of him stood a short woman in her mid-twenties, slightly on the healthy side, something he noted with approval, sick as he was of the women he privately called 'Maidens of the Goddess Anorexia'. She had long black hair and a rather forbidding look. Her glasses were obviously carefully chosen to suit the shape of her face, which was attractive, but not made up. In fact, it seemed this woman made absolutely no attempt to allure; her clothes were simple and (he noted with some surprise) khadi. Obviously, a so-called 'intellectual'. This surprised him, as did the fact that she was over 15. Most people who weren't children, parents or non-readers looked upon his work with some contempt, labelling it 'kiddish' and 'derivative'. The highbrow intellectuals were especially scathing of his writing and wondered how such an untalented hack had made it big, something which he was both painfully aware of as well as something he privately agreed with. This woman in front of him quite clearly fit the description of the kind of person who would loathe him.
'So why is she here? She isn't going to publicly humiliate me, is she?' he wondered apprehensively. The fact that he was uncomfortable around the opposite sex made it much worse.
She continued to study him for a minute, and then cleared her throat, as if she was about to participate in a debate.
"My name's Anita Sen." Her voice was oddly flat and monotonous, as if she was vaguely bored already.
"I'm your number one fan."
To be continued...