Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cicada - Part 1

“Every sinner has a future”

It was just another classroom, with chairs arranged in neat rows and a massive white board hanging on the wall. Except for the tiny bits of paper on the floor, the room appeared fairly clean. Most of the chairs were occupied by the students, who were busily occupied in their world of texting and gossips. It was one such elective unit that the students found it too engaging to miss out. Number theory!!! Not, because the numerals were attractive, but it was the lecturer, Eleanor Everett. She made every session of hers a stand out one. She has a fetish for the numbers, excluding her age.

Despite in her late thirties, her flawless skin tone and agile nature made her more attractive among her colleagues. Eleanor walked into the class clutching a green folder containing her tutorial sheets. Her strides and the stiletto sound brought the chaotic class to an order. The students began to flip the pages, trying to make the most out of the textbook. Meanwhile, Susan with the pencil in her mouth made a cheeky smile at Ryan, who was sitting across her. Sensing her smile, he arched his brows and blew a kiss to her. She tried to shy away, but instead, she giggled something to her friend, Kanisha. Kanisha turned towards Susan’s direction and whispered, “Are you fucking serious? Don’t tell me you did that”

Ryan had a fair idea of what their gossip was about and he couldn’t reveal his embarrassment. With a half eaten apple at his desk, he is a typical student in any university. Being a mediocre student never dwindled his interest in his studies. But, he had to study hours to scrap a pass in his exams. He was always looked down because of his below average academic performance. Somehow he believed that he would make it big, just like the stalwarts he sees in magazines. He wanted to be independent, but things weren’t promising. Having been moved out of his folks place, he found it hard to meet his ends.

He juggled his spare time working in a petrol station and subway store. Most of his meals included the junk stuffs that were on specials at his workplace. Often, he fell sick because of the shit load of aerated drinks and French fries. He could feel the extra pound of flesh around his waist. With so much pressure on him, he found Susan to be his only solace. At times, her divine smile and her voice echoed in his heart. They shared a common interest for movies, which brought them together. She loved the little trivial things about him. The manner in which he spills his cereals, while trying to dig his breakfast into his mouth. Every time he does that she wipes it for him and plants a kiss on his cheek. She felt it was cute and loved his naïve behaviour.

Still, she argued with him for not spending enough time with her. With a slight shift in the air, they finally had their date night. On a cold night, with temperatures dropping down to single digits, Ryan fancied the idea of lovemaking on Susan’s garden. The gossip was all about their date night. Kanisha felt a bit of jealousy creeping inside her and it was quite explicit. Susan loved every bit of it and her eyes revealed it too, ‘you know what?” and she hushed something in Kanisha’s ears. There was a sudden burst of laughter that erupted in the class and everyone turned to look at them. Ryan gave her a look that meant “what are you doing, baby?”

At the same moment Eleanor wrote something on the board, which brought in another series of joy and laughter around. It read something like this, ‘Cicada – credit card’ and she began her lecture,

“Morning! I can sense some smiles amongst you. That’s good start for a Monday morning!” said Eleanor.

“Number theory doesn’t look great on any morning”, mumbled a bored looking gal, trying to play with her curly hair.

Eleanor tried to smile and said, “Let’s make the Monday morning interesting and exciting. The assessment of your last tutorials would be available tomorrow”.

That was the panic news that Ryan didn’t want to hear. He wasn’t happy with his performance in the last tutorial. Every number on the sheet stared at him for an answer. All he could manage was an attempt on each problem and he had little knowledge on proceeding further. The fear of failing the assessment made him feel weak.

“There’s no need to stress about your tutorial assessment. It’s done and dusted. Anyways, I’m quite shocked to see such a poor show from you people. Let’s hope it’s a wake up call for everyone and not the end of the world. Do remember that every sinner has a future” said Eleanor in an assertive tone.

“Wad of cash”

Eleanor began her lecture with an overhead projection illuminating the dark lecture hall. Ryan seemed to be unperturbed by the growing numbers on the presentation slides. Every slide had an array of numbers and symbols, followed by theorems and axioms to make his life more miserable. He glanced sideways to find Robert, sketching a caricature of Eleanor. Robert was so good at doing caricatures that everyone pestered him to do one. Ryan was intrigued on the fact that how the caricature of Eleanor would turn out.

At the same moment, Eleanor came back to her earlier note ‘Cicada – credit card’. “You must be all wondering as to how a Cicada and credit card are related. I’m not sure if you have heard about Cicada. Any ideas on that?” asked Eleanor.

“Credit card company” someone shouted.

“A mathematician…”

“Its an insect…” said Robert, hardly looking away from his sketch book.

“That’s right. What’s so special about these little creatures? They have a unique lifecycle from the rest of their counterparts. They would emerge out from their eggs every 13 or 17 years depending on their species. In other words, they remain buried underground in larval stage for such long periods. But, when they come out, they do in millions” with a deliberate pause from Eleanor, like a magician to reveal the final part of his trick.
“Don’t you find something weird about this? Isn’t it interesting to find these insects so obsessed with 13 and 17? Why not any other numbers?” Eleanor beamed with an evil smile.

Most remained silent while a few fiddled in their gadgets to seek help from Google. Meanwhile, Robert came back again with an incisive reply, “13 and 17 are prime numbers. Their prime numbered life cycle is mainly to avoid their emergence with their predators’ life cycle”

“Well said, Robert. The insects didn’t pick these numbers randomly, but, after a series of trial and error methods, they chose them. Biologists call them as natural selection. Just imagine if their predator had a life cycle of 5 years, then the probability of cicada encountering their predator is reduced to one in every 65 (13x5) or 85 (17x5) years. That’s how mathematics is beautifully blended in nature. Such theories extend in our daily life, too. Take in case of our online transactions, the debit and credit card purchases; they involve prime number theory” explained Eleanor.

Ryan was so engrossed in the caricature of Eleanor that Robert was sketching. The caricature had a curvy nose like witches with bulging eyes of Eleanor. But the word ‘credit’ spelled back Ryan with a million thoughts that has been pondering him over the last couple of days. Having being pushed in an abyss of debt, Ryan was so grave about jobs that could save him. That’s when he came across a guy named Edwin, who offered him a career in modelling. Edwin’s words still echoed somewhere in his mind, “Trust me mate! You can make it big and walk out with a wad of cash”

Ryan still remembered the gruelling drill that he had to undergo at Edwin’s place, in order to seize the modelling opportunity.

“Over-ambitious kid”

Three days earlier, Ryan was at Edwin’s house for a trail photo-shoot. The room was aesthetically designed with French furniture matching the shimmering wooden floors. Every inch of the house smelled of luxury and richness. But, Ryan looked anxious with Edwin seated in a plush burgundy couch in the massive living room. “Let’s get this straight. There are three things that you need to know, before we start” began Edwin, who was small man with rimmed spectacles that embraced eyes of wisdom.

“The reason I chose you is quite simple. You have bloody good features, especially your face. We are after a skin tone like yours, though, it’s a bit pale we can work on that.
Before moving any further, any questions, mate?” asked Edwin with an authority.

“Naah! All good”

“Alrighty! Here comes the second, we’re a firm that trains potential people for modelling industry. This is a listed firm and we aren’t into dodgy business.
I know, what’s in your mind, this isn’t porn industry and no cheekiness. Is that clear?” asked Edwin, while he cleaned his glasses.

“Yea. What kind of modelling, are we doing something like, Tees? asked Ryan in a curious tone.

“That depends on the clients and our special team. But, it’s mostly apparels and men’ accessories. You will be amazed at our modelling spectrum.
Now, it’s my turn to ask a few questions for you. Honest answers are much appreciated”.


“Do you have a girlfriend? If so, how often do you have sexual intercourse with her?” asked Edwin.

“What the fuck! But, how does this fit in here?”

“I want an answer, not some bull shit,” said Edwin with his arms across his chest.

“Ridiculous! I’m in a relationship and I don’t keep a count on our nights”, murmured Ryan.

“That’s fine. You might find this weird, but I have seen several young chaps like you, switching their sexual orientation after getting into modelling. Not that I’m against that, but I giving you a heads-up” smiled Edwin.

Ryan gave a half-smile in a mocking manner, “What’s the third one?”

Edwin walked towards Ryan and patted his shoulder reassuringly. “You will be paid $50 for every photo that gets approved. Not to forget, we do a good 50-100 photos a month. Trust me mate! You can make it big and walk out with a wad of cash”

“That’s insane. That’s heaps. Hang on! Where does the photo go in? Retail outlets?” whistled Ryan.

“Don’t be over ambitious, kid! You aren’t modelling for Calvin Klein. Its mostly online stores like ASOS. So now, are you still keen to work with us?” enquired Edwin.

Ryan didn’t want to let this go. The colour of money and the smell of luxury was engulfing him. “Be wise enough to grab the right moments in your life, as you may not have a second chance” smiled Edwin and left his business card with a letter ‘E’ and its mirror image embedded on it. Pretty much looked like two ‘E’s’ glued together. The glossy finish and smooth texture of the card felt wonderful under his fingers. 


With a million thoughts rattling his mind, Ryan felt hard to concentrate on his lecture. He had a week to pay for his bills, but his bank accounts have already dropped to negative figures. Now that the assessments are out, he felt nervous. He was watching Eleanor closely, wondering how lucky she was. To have a permanent job that pays a six-digit salary and 17% superannuation. Unlike him, where he needs enough shifts to meets his needs.
 Meanwhile, Eleanor explained the complexity of prime numbers and their impact on security systems. Sensing Ryan’s stare, Eleanor stopped her lecture and remained silent. She was sure that Ryan wasn’t focussing on her lecture, during the last couple of minutes. Students felt the growing silence in the class, while, Ryan’s mind was totally engrossed in a different world.

“Ryan!” Eleanor’s voice echoed among the recess of the walls and deep in Ryan’s ears to yank him forward. Like a lost person in the woods, Ryan felt the apprehension with too many looks at him. His mind raced to look for a possible excuse to save his embarrassment, but eventually, it mumbled ‘Not again. I do every time in her classes’.

“Ryan, are you with us?” asked Eleanor sounding so polite.

Eleanor’s question pinged him with discomfort. His behaviour had all the markings of a guy who has woken up from hypnosis. Shifting his body didn’t make much of a difference.

“Yeah. Feeling a bit unwell. I should be fine”

Eleanor walked towards his seat, “Are you feeling nauseous? Take a break, if you want”

“Naah. Of late, things have been quite hard, so I’m a bit stressed. Sorry about that” Ryan apologized by looking at his notebook, while avoiding eye contact with Eleanor. The world turns out to be a hell, when the lecturer stands right beside us. The atmosphere in the class was pregnant with his edginess. The palms began to sweat.

“I can see that. Your recent grades didn’t look promising, so you better pull your socks up to pass this unit”

Her words brought pain and never ending grief in him. He looked at her, possibly looking for mercy, like a convict waiting for the guillotine blades to come down. Tears blurred his vision and throat felt dry.

“If you would like to talk, I’m available at my office this afternoon.” Eleanor patted him consolingly and walked back.

“I guess; we are pretty much done for the day. Thank you students, Good luck with your results”.

Click or copy and paste the below link to read the final part of the story

Cicada- part 2

“Doing it in my way”

Eleanor marched into her office, which resembled more looked like a constrained space. Her wall was dotted with a canvas painting of a young lady. It was a modern painting that incorporated paint smudging technique to portray different textures. The purple wings emerged from the shoulder blades of the lady on the painting. Eleanor was so obsessed with the painting that, every day, when she walks into her office, she tries to gaze at it. Looking for the nuances in the painting, as if digesting every single bit of it. The knock on her door startled her. It was Ruth, her fellow colleague who was in her late forties. She was one of the admin staff who floated around different casual jobs in the university.

“Hello sweetie!” Ruth pecked Eleanor, leaving a slight trail of the dark pink lipstick.

“Hey love! How have you been?” smiled Eleanor.

“I’m good dear. You look pretty today”.

Eleanor dismissed her comment, but Ruth was one of the few persons she always confided in. More like a sister with occasional tantrums and a shoulder to cry upon.

“Ruth, you know me better, don’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose so. What’s bothering you, sweetie?”

Eleanor went back towards the painting, trying to admire the work. But her mind was occupied in something else. She smiled to say, “Nothing Ruth. It’s just the Monday blue”.

Sensing Eleanor’s turmoil like a mother, she embraced her. Eleanor was safely tugged in Ruth’s arms, feeling the warmth. “It’s high time that you need to start thinking about a family and maybe...”

“Ruth! Don’t talk like one of my lover-boys. Relationships and marriage aren’t my thing” said Eleanor and freed herself from the embrace.

“But, something important is missing in your life. I’m no expert at this relationship thing, but I know one thing for sure. When I go home, I have a wonderful husband to pamper and hear my silly chat”.

“Relationships doesn’t bring happiness in one’s life. I don’t want to be in this so called relationship package. Right now, I’m independent. The sense of freedom to try new adventures. With wings, just like the girl on the painting” Eleanor lifted her arms in trying to impersonate the painting.

Ruth smiled sarcastically, “This isn’t fantasy, my kid”

“Maybe you are right, I’m just another independent woman, who is trying to push her luck”

“You are a stubborn bitch” smirked Ruth.

“Yeah! A bitch who likes to do things in her own way”


“Never go unnoticed”

Ryan couldn’t feel his legs. They were numb. He didn’t move an inch from his chair. Edwin’s office reception looked eloquent with all the modern furniture. The company logo was printed on the wall. The grey letters in plastic reflected richness. A smart looking woman at front desk smiled occasionally at Ryan. He rubbed his arms anxiously, thinking about Edwin’s decision. Two days back, he rang Edwin to give his consent for modelling. On the other end, Edwin looked pleased on his decision. ‘Wonderful mate! I need to get my superior’s approval on this. Come to my office tomorrow, we can finalize things’

He had been sitting there for a good thirty minutes, except for the numerous glances from people walking across the reception. The tense situation made his tummy feel funny. He wanted to use the restroom, but he feared he might lose the appointment. He rose from the chair and stretched his legs. A warm up would be better, but certainly not in this outfit. The crisp white shirt and blue trousers made him look like a model.

Edwin walked into the reception in his thousand-dollar suite. His expensive perfume filled the room.

“Welcome Ryan! How’s day been?”

“Pretty good. How about you?” asked Ryan.

“Not bad. A few meeting with our clients. I’ve some good news for you, my boss is happy with your photos. Looks like you are in, mate” smiled Edwin revealing his perfect white teeth.

Ryan wanted to jump in joy. He was all smiles and wanted to hug Edwin for making this happen. “Thanks Edwin. I’m so grateful to you. This means a lot to me”

Edwin waved his hand, “You deserved it. Before that, my boss needs to have few words with you. You can even sign the contract forms today. How does that sound?”

“Not a problem. When shall I meet?”

“I’ll check that for you now” Edwin walked to the receptionist and made a call.

Ryan couldn’t believe that finally something wonderful is about to be staged in his life. A profession like modelling would be a dream for most people. With so many potential aspirants towards this career, he was randomly chosen. He thought, maybe, it was an act of the God, to reward for all his good deeds. As Susan always says, ‘Sweetie, all your hard work will never go unnoticed’. He smiled in happiness and his phone vibrated to give him an email alert.

The sight of the email subject sent a shudder of fear in him. It read ‘Assessment outcome’. Having subscribed to the assessment results, deadly things got delivered without any delays. His fingers clicked the open tab to reveal a surprise blow.

He wasn’t sure, if he was reading it right and had to double check the email. For a moment, he felt like shouting in joy. Indeed, he jumped to yell out,

“Hooray! I passed my assessment” Ryan was dancing in the corridor, while the receptionist laughed at his funny gestures.

“Like an empress”

Miracles do occur and for the first time, they were orchestrated in Ryan’s life. With such a poor performance in the assessment, he believed that something out of ordinary should have happened. Perhaps, they call this as the purple patch of his life.

Edwin gave him a puzzled look, “No time for celebration young man. You need to meet our boss before the paperwork”. He pointed a door at the end of the corridor.

Ryan pushed the door open, to reveal a tidy room that barely looked like an office. An expensive canvas portrait of an Indian welcomed him. The lines on his face looked so surreal. A part of him wanted to feel the texture of the feathers in the portrait. His fingers slowly caressed the golden shades,

“Go easy on them. They cost a fortune” said a feminine voice. A voice he has known for a while. Eleanor stood behind him, watching him like an empress. With her hands folded back, she led him forward. Ryan sat on the chair, while Eleanor leaned against her long table.

“Surprised Ryan?”

“Looks like I can’t take any more surprises for the day. Hope I don’t have a heart attack. Don’t tell me you own this place?”

“Of course, I own this place, Ryan. By the way, congratulations on your result. You must be more than happy, don’t you?” Eleanor made a smile that planted numerous deceptions in him. She pushed forward the documents towards him.

“Yeah. With the modelling contract and the results, I just can’t express my happiness. Thanks Eleanor”.

Eleanor moved closer to him, “I appreciate your honesty, but you must understand the fact that I had to go, out my way to get you through the assignment. Trust me Ryan, your assessment was nowhere near to a pass. So, its time for you to return the favour”.

Her words pushed him in to a realm of perplexity. “Favour from me! Are you kidding, I’m a struggling uni student” Ryan smiled nervously.

“I know about that. That’s the reason, you were offered this modelling contract. To keep you away from your financial crisis. Meanwhile, you need to do something for me” Eleanor came close to him, with her lips were brushing his cheek.

Ryan had his eyes wide-opened, when he realised what she was up to. Like a magician revealing the final part of the act, he realised her prowess in deceiving him into this trap. The initial part of luring him into a modelling career in a company, totally owned by her. Edwin was just a pawn in this process and he had nothing to do with letter E. It was Eleanor Everett, the two E’s of the company. Finally, a pass in the assessment was the carrot she made to dangle in front of him. Felt like swearing on top of his voice, damn.

“This isn’t fair. You are trying to exploit and take advantage of me. That’s bigotry” Ryan’s words began to rumble with nerves catching him.

Eleanor laughed and walked around the table, “Bigotry! Let’s not make it dramatic and personal. I appreciate that you have a girlfriend and you love her. All, I want you to do is be my escort, who can meet my desires. I’m sure you don’t have much choices left, Ryan”

“Are you threatening me? I can’t succumb to your filthy ideas. No one can stop me from walking out of this office” even though Ryan felt weak, he tried to gather his courage and raised from the chair.

With no sign of capriciousness, Eleanor moved behind him to grip his shoulders, “Don’t be an idiot. If you walk out now, you are literally throwing away a modelling career, in terms of modelling and your degree. Now, that sounds like a threatening. Not many get the role of being a private escort. If you can satisfy my needs, I can refer you to my close circle of friends. Of course, you get paid for every hour. Roughly, $200 per hour. Just think about the money, you are going to make in this”

Each word of her was poised slowly with utmost accuracy to pierce in to his brain. There was hard knot in his throat that kept shifting its position up and down. He wiped the single drop of sweat that broke from his forehead. Eleanor lifted his chin,

“You are stressing too much, dear. There’s no place for morale values at the moment. Do you remember the last lecture about cicadas, insects and natural selection? They plan their uprising based on prime numbers. If you are to survive in this world, you need to think and act smart”.

Like an ostrich, he wanted to push himself away from Eleanor. Away from the long list of problems. Away from university degree. Away from this world. For one last time in the day, his phone came alive with a message from Susan.  

“Every saint has a past”

A week later, Ryan was lying in the bed with Susan on top of him. She was trying to draw an imaginary figure on his chest. She was a fountain of beauty with perfect breasts and an olive skin tone. His fingers caressed her body, running through the curves. She giggled, feeling his familiar touch of warmth and fondness.

“You are so cute, my honey bear” She bent down to whisper in his lips.

“Don’t distract me, I was admiring your tits”

“You cheeky bastard!” Susan kissed hard on his mouth. Her fingers brushed his curls that always covered his forehead. She was looking at his face, like a happy child.

“What’s up, dear?”

“Promise me something, Ryan”

He pushed the tongue against his cheek and eyed her carefully, “Tonight, you can stay on top, I promise you that position”

“Stop that! This is something else”

He slid his fingers behind her back. Susan’s head rested on his chest, trying to hear his heartbeat,

“You are a wonderful person, but often you consider yourself low. I want you to get rid of those thoughts. Not, everyone can care a girl like you do. The way you are holding me now on your chest, just like my dad. My dad’s loss left a void in me, sucking away all my emotions. For the first time, I’m feeling that someone is here to fill the void. Promise me that you would stay with me forever”

Her words brought him a sharp pain of guilt that ran deep into every corner of his body. A part of his body wanted to move away from her, while the other felt sorry for her. His last meeting with Eleanor flashed across his mind like a lightning. Her sinister offer and how he had to kept it away from Susan, fearing that he might lose Susan. ‘there’s no place for morale values in this world’

He felt like his brain and mind were competing in a marathon that had no finish line. The race looked ugly and dark. ‘survive in this world… think and act smart’

Susan gave him a vehement shake to bring back him from his hallucinations, “You, alright? What’s wrong with you? Of late you are lost in your thoughts, honey”.

“Nothing dear. I totally forgot about the shift today, looks like Robert can’t make it to the shift. I promised him that I would cover his back. I’m already late, damn!” He quickly rose from his bed and began to dress.

“What time will you be back?” asked Susan and slipped under the sheets.

“When you wake up tomorrow, I would be beside you wishing good morning. Sleep tight dear”

Susan smiled and blew him a kiss. He jumped in his trousers, grabbing his keys and walked out of the room. The night turned out be even colder than what he had expected. It was going to be long night, with the heavy wind that was blowing across the narrow streets.

He lifted the collar of his jacket to keep himself warm. He made rapid strides to turn down down the alley. The narrow passage was decorated with spray paintings on its sides. With a stinking garbage bin that was half open, a homeless guy was next to it, sleeping like a foetus. The wind was getting stronger with the growing noise in the alley, like a ghost. Someone was flashing the headlights of a car down the alley. He approached closer to the car, it a SUV, BMW X7.  Edwin sat behind the steer wheel like a chauffer. Ryan got inside the car to meet Eleanor in her cream top and a black skirt.

“All good?” asked Eleanor

“Yep” Ryan smiled nervously.

“Beautiful. Let’s get this rolling. Here are the contract papers, have a read through and sign it”

He glanced the papers, merely skimmed through. Too many clauses and statements, which really didn’t make much sense to him. He briefly looked at both of them and began to sign the papers. He never realised that this was his defining moment; the moment that is going to make a deep impact in his life.

Eleanor looked at the papers triumphantly, “Welcome to the world of modelling and escort business”

Somewhere deep within himself, his altar-ego smiled, wondering how people lied and betrayed to earn materialistic things. ‘Every saint has a past’

-Balaji Narayanaswamy
2nd October, 2015