“You need to understand this dear. Smoking is not only gonna cost you your health but your career too.” Joby showed her the warning mail which she went through and spoke with her eyes still focused on the mail.

“That’s bullshit…” Joby leaned back in his chair and lit a fresh cigarette and took a long drag.

“No, its not… You have to understand this… One more warning letter and they will fire you for unprofessional conduct and that will be a black mark on your career.” Simran kept her hand on Joby’s hand which was flicking the lighter.

“This is bullshit, it has nothing to do with my smoking. They just want some puppy in place of me who will wag his tail at their orders. And certainly, I am not that.” Joby took a long drag of his cigarette and spoke in between of puffs of smoke releasing through his lips.

Simran looked away, she knew that Joby would need some tough lessons to understand what his cigarettes could cost him.

“Ok fine, I will try to cut down my count dear. Don’t be upset now, you know I can’t see you like this… please…” Joby stabbed his smoke and held her hand and gently squeezing it between his palms. At least for the evening, she had some hope.

With a new week ahead, Joby tried his best to curb down his craving for smoke but he could hardly do it. He even stopped keeping a pack of cigarettes with him so that he had to buy a single piece every time and that might help in suppressing the addiction. Chewing gums for a day to avoid taking smoke breaks. Anything he tried, turned out to be a failed attempt and that mounted to frustration for both, Joby and Simran.

It was a busy Monday and Joby was doing his usual chores at the mall when he was called by the management. Joby took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, tucking his shirt properly in before he walked to his boss’s chamber.

“May I come in sir…” Joby was holding the door half open and saw his boss busy hitting the keyboard of the computer furiously.

“Yes…” He didn’t take his eyes off the computer with frowned eyebrows. Joby was waiting patiently with his hands folded.

“Here is your termination letter, Joby. Management has decided to terminate your services effectively from today.” His boss pulled out the letter from the file and pushed it ahead on the table towards Joby.

“But sir… I have been trying to improve things on my end as per the instructions from you. At least I deserve some chance here, I have been working hard for this mall.” Joby said in a shaky voice, he could not believe that Simran’s nightmare has turned into a reality.

“I know Joby, I know but I can’t stand anymore between you and top management. It’s their decision.” His boss replied with a heavy sigh. Joby stood quietly staring at his termination letter.

“You can collect your personal items from your office and need to vacant it by today evening.” His boss added with puckered lips.

“Why to wait till evening… I will leave right now…” Joby stormed out of the office enraged.

“Joby listen…” His boss called back to add few words of condolence.

“Fuck you…” Joby turned back and spoke loudly before banging the door behind him.

With an empty box that Joby picked on his way to his office, he walked furiously and kicked open his door. He was in no mood to meet anyone and just dumped his belonging in the box. He pulled out his I-card and dumped it in the dustbin next to the table and walked out of the mall without turning back to treasure the memories he had cherished there.

“Come on dear… pick up the call…” Joby was furiously calling Simran whose cell was silent as she was in a meeting with the client. Joby’s fingers were trembling with a lit cigarette as he took the long drags to fill up his lungs with smoke and nicotine.

“Call me soon… I am free… and permanently from that sucking job.” After a couple of tries and smokes, Joby gave up and drop a text to her.

After the meeting, Simran saw missed calls and a message from Joby. She didn’t care to say goodbye to her clients and immediately walked out of their office, dialling Joby’s number. He was already home and draining off all the frustration under the shower.

“Sorry dear, I was in meeting with the clients and the cell was on silent mode. Can we catch up for coffee…? I am about reach at our favourite cafe.” Simran dropped the text and drove to the cafe that was part of their sweet memories.

Simran ordered her coffee and was waiting for Joby to turn up. Her mind was riding on the wild horses that can give her a glimpse of the possible future. Something struck her mind and she immediately brought her thoughts into action. After a while, she kept her cell aside and with a sigh of relief and took a sip of her coffee when Joby arrived.

“What happened?” She got up and hugged Joby tightly and whispered in his ears.

“Don’t ask babe. I was busy doing my work in the morning when my boss called me and handed me the termination letter, effective from the moment I took it in my hand.” Joby dropped himself in the cozy couch and rested his head on the rim of the couch behind, his eyes closed and mind running wild.

The taunting silence hung over them with both lost in their different worlds of thoughts. The waiter interrupted the silence when he brought the coffee for Joby. Joby lit a cigarette from his crumpled pack and served his nerves the needed shot of nicotine.

“I told you dear, one day this cigarette will cost you a lot.” Simran spoke with a heavy sigh and her eyes strained on the pack of cigarettes lying on the table.

Joby didn’t respond, he was aware of where this discussion was heading. Arguing at this point was futile and so he kept taking the drags of smoke in between the sips of his coffee. Simran was waiting for anticipation from him. She was staring at him with all the patience she could muster.

“I’ll rather use my brain cells to sort out the situation rather than killing them with regrets.” Joby took the final drag of his smoke and crushed the butt of his cigarette mercilessly in the ashtray.

“There is always a way out of situation. What matters is will the same mistakes be repeated in the future or not.” Simran had begun to lose her patience and it took no time for Joby to realise it.

“Tell me how to sort it out.” Joby straightened up and leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.

“I can tell you but it’s you who has to sort it out dear. And if you are willing to take those hard steps than I can show you a way out of this mess you have landed yourself in.” The creases on Simran’s brow started relaxing finally.

“Go on, I am all ears.” Saying so, Joby touched the pack of cigarettes for another smoke but could see Simran glaring at him and he sheepishly withdrew his hands off the packet. Simran took a deep breath before commencing.

“You need to quit your smoking Joby, that’s the first step for it. If you are willing to do that then I can continue ahead with your assurance.” Simran was stern in her voice.

“I can’t do that, you know that well… But I can assure you that I will cut down the count gradually.” Joby replied and took a sip of his coffee.

“Fine, but you have to give your 100 percent for that.” Simran wanted a confirmation.

“You have my word dear…” Joby placed his palm on hers making her feel assured.

“I have talked with one of my clients, who has a construction firm and they are in need of staff who can supervise the ongoing sites and take care of the raw material stocks.” Simran paused to let her words sink in Joby’s nicotine flooded brain.

“And do you think I am fit for that job…?” Joby asked with a frown.

“Do you have any other options dear…? I mean look around, the way those mall people terminated you, the news will spread like wild fire and no good place will be ready to pick a bad bet.” Simran bit her lower lip knowing that this would hurt Joby but that was the only way left to her.

“Ya, certainly, now I am a bad bet.” Joby scoffed looking away from Simran.

“Don’t take me wrong dear, but you know what is left on our plate now.” This time Simran held his hand to comfort him. Joby closed his eyes, fighting those tears that had already begun to moist his eyes. He didn’t want to exhibit his weakened form in front of her.

“Fine, when is the interview?” Joby this time didn’t hesitate to lit another cigarette. The word BAD BET was still taunting him.

“Tomorrow morning, 9 a.m. sharp.” Simran smiled for the first time that evening. Before Joby could resist the timing she added.

“And please, don’t smoke and go. I have talked everything with them and they have agreed but please don’t mess up this time dear. I have put my reputation on line for you. Don’t disappoint me.” Simran’s eyes were turning moist that melted his heart.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Written by: Hemang
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha

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