t started drizzling just as Aftab and I reached the Leeds train station. A bus left the stop and a girl in her early twenties was deeply engrossed listening to her ipod. “Let me have a cigarette before we go in”, said Aftab. “Sure”, I said looking around as people walked out of the station in different directions.
“So, what do you think about our visit today?”, asked Aftab lighting a Marlboro as he spoke. “It is probably a waste of time! This is the third meeting with them and they are nowhere close to a decision. I don’t think these guys will close the deal anytime soon”, I said. There was a fleeting moment where I thought Aftab was annoyed at my blunt observation, but he deftly hid it flicking his cigarette and nodding his head in agreement.
“Our train will leave at 5:05 pm. We have still have about half an hour. We should be in King’s Cross by 7.30 pm. Do you have any plans for the evening before you leave for India tomorrow? You should probably do a tour of London. Have you done any sightseeing at all?” asked Aftab.
“No”, I replied. “This is my 4th trip to the UK in a year and believe it or not, I never felt like going around like a tourist! It is terribly boring without friends or family accompanying you”
“That’s true. Let us plan something for your next visit”, said Aftab extinguishing his cigarette.
We walked into the station. A train had just arrived and a stream of passengers walked out through the turnstiles and out the door.
We found our train and got seats with a table. The train was fairly empty with only a handful of occupants. We settled down and the train left the station. Fifteen minutes into the journey, a stout lady walked in with her vending cart. Aftab ordered a Stella Artois and I got myself Coke and chips. The train pulled into Doncaster station. The train halted there for a few minutes.
Two men came and sat in the seats adjacent to ours. One of them was in his late thirties, wore a nice suit and the other was much younger, probably twenty two and just had a black tie with no jacket. The young man loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves. I noticed that his shirt wasn’t tucked in properly. He pulled out a few cans of beer from the brown paper bag they brought in. In the next twenty minutes, they finished a couple of drinks, joked amongst themselves and laughed out loud.
Aftab and I talked about our work plans for the next three months and when I should visit London next. Our neighbours were down to the last four cans of beer when the man in the suit got up and came towards us.
“Would you mind if we joined you?”, he said.
“No, not at all!”, said Aftab and we shifted slightly to accommodate them at our table. “Good evening, gentlemen! I am Eddie and this is Steve.”, said the older man sitting next to Aftab. Steve sat next to me.
“I am Aftab and this is Giri”. We shook hands.
“Jerry, is it?” asked Steve.
“No, it is Giri… G-I-R-I… more like ‘Gary’. If you say ‘Gary’, you wouldn’t be far off!” I said.
“Are you guys heading back to London after a hard day of work?”, asked Eddie. “Would you care for a beer?”
“Thank you”, said Aftab taking a can. “Yes, we are returning from Leeds after a business meeting”, I said, politely refusing the offer.
“Okay, that’s great. We are also returning after a business meeting. We make signs, you know, neon signs, plastic signs, name boards etc., Steve dragged me to Doncaster today saying he had identified a great prospect, but it turns out they are a competitor and they source material from the exact same supplier in Canada as we do. There is absolutely nothing that we can do for them, so we had a good chat and are returning to London empty handed.”
“Yes, Eddie has been teasing me all this evening. But that’s okay. He has been like a big brother to me”, said Steve.
“That’s right. I got Steve out of trouble and offered him a job. He has picked up nicely and one day he will be a great salesman!” Eddie remarked. “But I cannot forget your first day at the warehouse when you were standing on top of the pallet and asking the forklift operator to move it. You were crazy!” laughed Eddie.
“Are the two of you from India?”, asked Steve.
“Yes, we are! I have moved to the UK about a year and half ago with my family and Giri lives in India. He traveled from India for this business meeting”, said Aftab.
“I haven’t been to India, but my girlfriend has”, said Eddie. “She said Indians are very hard working people… and very resourceful, I might add”
“That’s generally true”, acknowledged Aftab.
“I say resourceful because she had a very surprising story that she told me about her time in Mumbai. When she walked out from her hotel, she would find kids who would point out ‘hey, your shoes are dirty’ and invariably they would be with cow dung! They would offer to clean her shoes. The first time around she let them clean her shoes and just after she paid them a few rupees and walked a few yards, another kid would throw a ball of cow dung on her feet! Then they would come back and make the same offer… They got this brilliant scheme going. She was quite upset about this, but I found it ingenious!”, remarked Eddie.
“That’s an old trick”, I said. “I come from the southern part of India, a place called Chennai and we would have guys who would throw nails on the road and set up a makeshift tire repair shop a few yards from there. Cars and bikes that get a flat tire will stop to get them fixed there. How convenient is that?!”
“That’s very cunning”, said Steve. “Do you know Eddie gave me my first job? I would have gone to jail if I had continued my old ways!”
Eddie was silent for a moment. “That’s right, you know. I bought him the shirt that he is wearing today. He came to me last week talking about this huge prospect that he has found and said we should go to meet them. I told him he has to get a nice shirt and got him one. Today is the first day that he is wearing a tie, you know. I had to knot the tie for him!” laughed Eddie.
The train slowed down and eventually stopped for a signal clearance. There was a wall with graffiti. I was looking at it trying to decipher what it said.
“Did you know when I was a teenager, I was a graffiti artist?”, said Steve. Aftab and I looked up a little surprised.
“That’s right. There were many gangs that fought for turf and I was part of one. I would go around with a spray can drawing stuff. Each artist had their own style and we could tell who wrote what just by looking at it. Once I boarded a train—no ticket of course—and traveled for four hours to paint graffiti. Then there was this time when I almost got caught by the cops, but escaped narrowly by getting into an underpass and hiding there for thirty minutes. Man, that was awesome!”
Eddie took a slightly serious look and said, “You see! This is what I had to change. I had to explain to Steve who was very young and inexperienced that there is no future in being a graffiti artist, being chased by the police and ending up in jail as a vandal. He has now changed a lot and mellowed down.”
Eddie looked Steve in the eye and said, “You continue being what you are now and work hard, you can be a good salesman!”
Steve pulled out a notebook from his bag and took out his pencil. He went to a seat a little farther away from us and got to work. A few minutes later, he tore off that sheet from his notebook. He walked up to me.