FESTIVE SPIRIT/FICTION M18
expenses, but touching it to pay the rent
would be risky. Somehow, he’d have to defer
it — at least until his mother and Chitra
went back to India.
Rising early on Tuesday, Prakash got
ready quietly, as if he had to go to work as
usual. He thought his mother and Chitra
were still sleeping. But the light was on in
the kitchen, where the smell of brewing
coffee greeted him when he walked in and
saw Chitra. Seated at his small table, she
was flipping through a magazine.
‘Going to the office early?’ she smiled.
‘The coffee is almost ready. I can fix you
‘No, that’s fine,’ he said, startled. ‘You’re
up early, Chitra. Hope you slept okay.’
‘Yes…I’m an early riser. But, Prakash, I
did want to say something before you left.
When I agreed to accompany
your mother, I should have insisted on informing you. Making a
surprise visit wasn’t such a good
idea. We didn’t plan it well. I can
see that it came as a rude shock.
You may think we have nefarious
motives.’ She smiled again.
‘No, no, that’s nonsense, Chitra.
Believe me, I’m absolutely
delighted to see you. If I seem
preoccupied, it’s because of a
work issue. But it’ll be fine. Let’s
have a nice long chat this
evening. We can go out for din-
Prakash didn’t linger.
Swallowing his coffee, he picked
up his bag and hurried out after
saying goodbye. Rick was not in
yet at the rental office. Getting
into his car, Prakash drove in the
direction of his former employer.
A mild panic gripped him. How
did it come to this — so quickly?
Not long ago, he had a nice job
with no worries and was living
comfortably, looking forward to
the day when he’d be able to
make a down payment on a spa-
cious condo in a lively, attractive neighbor-
hood. And now, unbelievably, he was close
to being homeless. When the economy
tanked and Prakash got laid off, he had
thought — like many others — the setback
would be temporary.
But even after turning his job hunt into a
full-time effort, there had been no success.
He did get called for interviews, some of
which were promising. That, he now realized, had given him false hope. The money
he’d saved was dwindling rapidly. Unless he
found another job soon, his time in
America may come to an end, putting a
hold on his dreams.
Prakash reached the building where he
used to work, only to feel silly and self-con-
scious. It was a pointless drive. Not want-
ing to be seen by his former colleagues, he
abruptly turned around and drove back to
Sunrise Apartments and parked in front of
the rental office —which was, fortunately,
not visible from his apartment on the other
side. Seeing Rick’s car, Prakash felt a surge
of hope—and dread. Opening the door, he
greeted Rick, who was looking through
some papers at his desk.
striped outfit that included an elongated,
Prakash was still puzzled. Without speak-
ing, Rick took out what appeared to be a
sign. ‘Great Deals at Sunrise Apts…. First
Month Free!’ it read. Prakash remained
silent, waiting for Rick to say something.
Instead, Rick took out another sign, shaped
like an arrow, and held it aloft. ‘Fall
Specials on Fully Furnished Apts... Falling
Then it struck home. Rick wanted him to
don the Uncle Sam costume and be a sales
promoter. For Sunrise Apartments! He was
expected to walk up and down the nearby
streets, twirling the signs, so that people
would be — hopefully — drawn by the
rental offers. Astonished, Prakash was slow
to react; then he nodded. ‘OK, now I
‘So, can you do it, Praycash? I have anoth-
er costume. But it’s Lady Liberty…I don’t
think it’ll suit you. The good thing is that a
beard is not required for Uncle Sam.’
Chuckling again, he added, ‘Listen, I’ll
understand if you’re not keen. Not every-
body is comfortable with it. Just a thought.
This is part of our fall marketing strategy…
we’re trying to attract more tenants. If you
can do it, we’ll take care of the rent for now.’
Saying yes, Prakash put on the slightly
loose-fitting costume in the other room and
left the building, walking self-consciously.
He decided to start at the far end of the
complex and work his way to the street
closest to his apartment. The hat, especial-
ly, felt ridiculous when he stepped on the
pavement and saw the traffic flowing down
the street. Wondering if anybody was
laughing or pointing at him, he forced him-
self to not look at the passengers when the
cars slowed or stopped at the lights.
Initially the signs remained frozen in his
arms, as if he didn’t know what to do with
them. Prakash remembered, a little shame-
facedly, how he would sometimes catch
himself staring at oddly-dressed sign hold-
ers, as they walked or gyrated near inter-
sections and in front of shopping plazas.
Murali Kamma is an Atlanta-based writer and
editor. His fiction has appeared in AIM:
America’s Intercultural Magazine, South
Asian Review and Asian Pacific American
Journal, among other publications.