Raj Gupta Mansion. August 6. 10p.m
“Sir, the background check on Negai Hoshino is done.”
“Give me the files. *goes through the files* This confirms it. He is a wisher.”
“Yes. The Intel would suggest so.”
“That little rascal. Messing with me right under my nose. I’ll have to teach him a lesson.”
“Should we go apprehend him.”
“No, there is no need to take this outside. There is still a chance that a wisher is out there. Besides, he still thinks that he is on top of everything. Let him come tomorrow, we will deal with him then. I have my feast tomorrow as well. We could use that as bait to keep him here.”
“Sir, but there is one complication.”
“Negai Hoshino is on leave tomorrow.”
I stood before the granite slab planted straight into the ground. Burning incense placed on its top and flowers near the bottom. Words engraved on its face :
“Hoshino Family Grave.
“(This is where you wanted to come on your day off?)” Dee inquired.
“(Yup),” I whispered back as I put down my bag and closed my eyes. I did not expect a Jinn like him to understand the purpose of grave visiting. But surprisingly enough, he did not say anything further.
August 7. The day all the curtains were lifted and I got exposed to the truth that was my life. The reason why I was like this. Each year I return here with nothing changed. This year was no different. Just this time my life was not as boring as before. I had something fun to do after all this time. An activity, which this devilish brain of mine could enjoy.
*Tap tap* I heard footsteps approaching behind me, so I turned to look.
“Negai. You were here too?”
“Amaaya,” I called her name as she put the flowers she had been holding beside mine. “I should be the one asking why are you here?”
“I come here every year. Surprised?”
“Yes, because I have been coming here for so many years and I never saw you here before.”
“Maybe because I usually come a bit late. Today I was free so I decided to come early.” She joined her hands and closed her eyes in prayer. Once she was done, I asked the main question.
“Why visit her. It is not like you had any connection to her.”
To my question, she just laughed and rubbed her hand all over my head, “You silly boy. Why do you overthink everything so much. There does not have to be logic and reason behind everything. Some actions just happen naturally.”
“I have to disagree with you there.” people could get away with saying ‘I just felt like it’ or ‘it was fate’ but there always has been a reason. They just couldn’t identify it.
“You have been like this since I met you. This quiet little boy. And I had no idea what’s going on in his head.”
“I must have been a hard child to deal with.”
“That was harsh,”
I had said that half jokingly because I knew it was true. But hearing it first hand was just painful. Thankfully Amaaya elaborated on her statement.
“Haha. I mean you didn’t say anything. You didn’t ask for anything. You never cried, never smiled and never even went out to play. You did nothing. How was I supposed to deal with that?”
That was the time when I had just lost Hoshia and learned the truth about my father. About my life. My father married Amaaya sometime later, but I was still in shock. Eventually, I grew up, matured and came to terms with it in my own respect. But the colors of life only faded away into monotone. Life became dull as a reason.
“And after all that no matter how I approached you, you never responded. And after everything, you never once called me Mom. I thought that you were so attached to your mother that you hated me for even trying to take her place.”
“That is not true. If anything, I have always had respect for you, to stick with me despite all of that.”
She made an expression that said ‘thank you’ before continuing, “I was going to give up though. As a last shot at hope, I visited your mother’s grave. You know, just to know what kind of a person she was to get you so attached to her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Didn’t I say that there are some things that don’t need any reason or logic?”
“I mean I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but this is just a slab of stone. What could you have possibly seen to change your mind?”
She closed her eyes as if recalling that day in her mind, “You. I saw you here. This little boy, standing at her deceased mother’s grave. No words left his mouth, no tear dropped from his eyes. He just stood there for hours. And then as if finally mustering up the courage, he said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll live how you wanted me to. So, carry on.’”
I just listened to her with no reply. “See you’re doing it again,” she giggled at my habit of staying silent for too long.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Nothing, really. Because now I know, that eccentric little kid was just a kind little soul that had to grow up a little early.” she gently patted my head. And then all of a sudden she pulled me closer to her. “So here you have it, Hoshia. Your son has grown to be a weird boy with weird rules in his life that I still can’t figure out. But rest assured, beneath all that quirkiness is a kind heart,” she announced to the gravestone.
“Who are you talking to?” I said with a straight face.
“And there you go again ruining the mood,” she released me from her iron grip.
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand how you normal people think.”
“But we still get along.”
I do whatever I want and Amaaya never stops me or interferes with me. Probably because I have never really done anything that required her stepping in. But despite having a mysterious relationship, we somehow do get along.
“If only you could get along with your father too,” and then all of a sudden, she said something that completely ruined my mood. And I know she could sense it. She always had whenever she talked about Father in front of me. But this time, she followed through, “I mean out of all of us, he is the closest to you. And most like you. Isn’t it weird that you two don’t get along?” She could say that because she did not know what I did. And she did not feel what I felt. But I know she was only trying to deepen our relationship. Maybe our conversation had urged her to deepen our bond. That is why, respecting her feelings, I answered her sincerely.
“Father and I may be alike, but trust me, we are never going to get along. If you want to know why, then just remember how I was when you first met me. And know that whatever a child grows up to be like, it is never because of a single parent alone.”
I took my bag and proceeded to leave, “Good bye, Hoshia. Amaaya.”
Amaaya just stood there with a melancholy expression. With thoughts in her mind that I may never come to know.
“(Of course I knew that. The reason I changed my mind that day was not because I saw you trying to be tough. It was because that day you called her ‘Hoshia.’ You refused to call your own mother ‘mother’ but you called your father 'father’.. That’s when I realized, it was not me that you deemed unworthy of being your mother. You deemed yourself unworthy of being anyone’s child.)”
The sun was setting. It’s orange hue reflecting off the bridge under repair. The workers had left for today and once again the ground was all mine. Soon the first star of the evening twinkled into the sky and many more followed. This was the specialty of Hoshi no machi. The town where the stars gathered. And this splendid view never ceased to amaze me.
“(So, what was all that about?)” Dee, after being silent for so long, finally spoke.
“What?” Since there was no one around at all, I answered him normally.
“(Your mother having that chat with you)”
“Like you would understand.”
“(Neither would you. And I don’t think she does either. A kind heart? You? Oh please. As far as I know, you don’t have a heart.)”
“I don’t blame you for thinking like that. But I have to agree with her. I do have a heart.”
“(How would you know. All the things that you do without even batting an eye suggest otherwise.)”
“True. But once you know someone truly heartless, you will start to think otherwise.”
“Yup. He is what you can call heartless.”
“(Does that mean I chose the wrong per-)”
“Don’t you even dare.”
“(I am joking. Jeez,)” his joke caused a nerve to pop on my forehead. “(I am sure you are different. Aren’t you like a closet pervert with a secret dark side that you don’t show to anybody.)”
“That is a weird way of putting it but is that really how I look?”
“(Pretty much. I mean you look like a quiet introvert to everybody else. But as soon as you find something interesting, let me tell you, you smile like a total pervert.)”
“I do not!”
“(Yes you do)”
“*sigh* It is not like what you think though. As I grew up, I came to realize just how devilish my brain was. How I thought about everything with logic and reasoning rather than feelings and ethics. That is exactly how my father thinks. But unlike him I had a heart too. A heart that kept me from becoming like him. That is why slowly everything started looking boring to me. Because if I tried to make it fun myself, I would definitely go overboard. And I wanted to be in that house as little as possible. Because I felt Father’s lingering presence whenever I was idle. So, I just tried to live my boring life as best as I could. But I knew someday, something interesting could happen. Something that would once again put my mind to work.”
“(And here I am. With the wish game.)”
“Yup. And no matter what I say, I only feel that it is too interesting to pass up.”
“(But doesn’t that mean you don’t have a kind heart at all?)”
“You’re back here again. I already told you, if Amaaya says so, then it is so.”
“(But I just can’t imagine anything kind from you. You always have an ulterior motive.)”
“I think if she says so, then she is right. But what she is doing is not looking at the whole picture.”
“Whenever an honest person is sent to work among a bunch of corrupts, he always ends up getting stoned.”
“(Yeah. Still don’t get it.)”
I sighed at him.
“I just mean to say, a kind heart in a body ruled by a devilish mind is nothing but a curse.”
I did not care if he understood or not. I stood up and went near the river.
“So, how about we focus on something interesting now,” I took out the special register I had made that had all the batches ever made in the Mithaas factory till the end of this month listed.
“(I don’t know. I feel like you are not yourself today. You really want to do it?)”
“Dee, I believe in keeping a balance in life. Because if you don't, life tries to keep a balance itself and it never ends well.”
“(So we are having a mundane boring day because…)”
“We are going to have a lot of fun tomorrow,” I peeked into the register. I had highlighted an entry since the day I made this register.
Batch A-6 8 Aug
I looked at it one final time before setting it on fire.
As I reached the mansion, preparations for a feast were underway. Today was August 8 and Raj Gupta’s last day in Japan. He was throwing a feast to show his appreciation to all of his employees. According to my knowledge, the feast was supposed to be yesterday because every employee would have been available on a Saturday. But I guess he called everyone on a Sunday, so that it could actually be his last day.
What I did not expect was to find him in the kitchen in a uniform.
“Alright everyone, I will be in charge of the desserts today,” he announced to us.
Today me, Mr.Fuji and Kuzuhara, all three of us were present in the kitchen and leading us was Mr.Shakkar Raj Gupta, mastermind behind Mithaas himself.
“Hmmm, do we have enough ingredients? What about the flavors and base?” he asked Mr.Fuji.
“I think it should be enough for a meal.”
“But this is not a meal, but a feast. We need more. Call in supplies.”
“Yessir,” Mr.Fuji immediately turned around and called out to the head chef, “Head chef, please call the factory and ask them to send supplies from the A6 batch.”
The head chef made the call and soon the supplies arrived. And then we bore witness to the art and mastery that was Shakkar Raj Gupta’s confectionery skills. Mr.Fuji and Kuzuhara could only stare at his mastery. I did not like sweets or desserts at all, but even I was in awe at some points. Before long, he had prepared a mountain of desserts that we didn’t think we could finish. But it was satisfying just to see him prepare them.
“What are you looking at?” he scratched his head, “It's not something special. Hurry up, it’s almost time for the feast, we have to get them to the table.
Everyone was staying late to attend the feast. Mr. Raj Gupta made his speech thanking everyone for their hospitality and toasted to a bright successful future for Mithas. And with that everyone started filling their plates. As a non-sweet tooth, I focused mainly on the other dishes. But I was avoiding sweets for another reason as well.
“Negai Hoshino, have some dessert,” Raj Gupta came up to me. He had been going to everyone present. He even made the security guards and bodyguards attend the feast, even if for a short time.
“Thank you but I have eaten as much as I could,” I refused him.
“But no meal is complete without dessert,” he said, but all I felt was that his whole meal was dessert. He had a sweet tooth was an understatement. He and his daughter ate sweets all day long. And even now I could guarantee he ate more dessert than the main course.
“Apparently mine is,” and then I laughed to not sound offensive. And he laughed in reply as well.
“Well, your choice,” with that he moved away. But just as he was passing me by, “(Meet me in my room on the 1st floor,)” he whispered in my ear ominously. I didn’t know why he had called me, but I wanted to be alone with him anyway. But there was this nervous tingling in my chest.
Smoke entered my throat as I entered the break room. The only people present there were my two colleagues, Mr.Fuji and Kuzuhara, each with a cigarette between their teeth.
“What are you people doing?”
“Clearing our heads with a post meal smoke,” Mr.Fuji replied in a flat tone unlike his usual rowdy voice.
“Yeah,” Kuzuhara joined in, “did you see how he made all those dishes by himself. And with such perfection.”
“I don’t think it is that surprising. After all, he has to be a master confectioner to build a company and take it to multinational status in just under three months.”
“Yeah, but seeing his mad skills up close is kinda depressing. It looked like something I could never achieve,” Mr.Fuji added.
“But the desserts that you make are delicious as well,” Kuzuhara said.
“All I have been doing is following his recipes given to me the first day. I only applied for this position because Home Economics was the only subject I was good at in school.”
He took a big puff and then released all that smoke slowly. “Life is hard sometimes.”
“It sure is,” Kuzuhara did the same as him.
“Give me a smoke,” I said.
“You smoke? I thought you were the type to hate smoking,” Kuzuhara expressed his surprise at my sudden demand.
“I could say the same about that innocent face of yours.”
“True,” he smiled as he passed me a cigarette and a lighter.
“But me and Kuzuhara have our session everyday after work. But I have never seen you smoke,” this time Mr.Fuji gave his opinions.
“There is a first for everything,” I buried this matter as I lit up the cigarette and took a good amount of air inside.
Burning smoke blazed through my windpipe straight into my lungs while the nicotine travelled my nerves to my brain as a strange numbness hit my brain. And the next moment, I coughed it all out.
“Easy there. It really is your first time, isn’t it? Don’t take it too deep in.” Kuzuhara guided me.
To be honest I never understood the reason why people got addicted to smoking. It was just taking in smoke and then throwing back out. Surely there were chemicals that stimulated the nerves, but after everything, it still had only bad effects. If I ever came close to understanding the logic behind smoking, it was this moment. The weird kick to the brain made me lose any nervousness I might’ve had. I could see why people would turn to this to temporarily forget their problems.
But in the end, the problems just weren’t going to disappear themselves. That’s why I think smoking would make much sense if used as a buff rather than an antidepressant. And that is why I put out the cigarette when it had hardly burned a quarter.
“Too much for you?”
“Yup, that is enough. I don’t think this is for me.” I declared as I headed out of the room. It was high time I confronted my opponent.
I entered the room where Shakkar Raj Gupta was. The room had a bed, sofas, glass table, showcase and a TV hanging on the wall as well. I assumed it was like a guest room. Raj Gupta was sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine in his hand as a bottle stood on the table.
“Negai. Come in. Have a seat.” he welcomed me with a smile.
“You wanted to talk to me about something, sir?”
“Yes. Would you like a drink first. Of course non-alcoholic, you look underage after all.”
“Thank you for asking but I am full after that lavish dinner.”
“Really? But you did not even eat any dessert.”
“I don’t like sweet things that much so it's fine.”
“Is that so?” He put the glass on the table and his tone got serious. “Of all places, why work at a sweets company then?”
“Because the pay was good.”
“But you belong to quite a well off family. In fact, in your resume I saw that you went to the most prestigious school in the city.”
“My family’s assets cannot truly be called mine until I have played my part in its-”
“Cut the crap.” he practically howled at me to silence, “Let me ask this, are you the one that dressed the ginger cake order?”
“What message did you write?”
“Milkie’s Building 10th Aug 10p.m.”
“But that was not the message I saw on the cake.”
“That’s right. I ordered the cake and that is not what was written on it.” I knew he was bluffing, but damn, what a convincing bluff he did. I almost wanted to believe what he said.
“I am positive I wrote exactly that. If not, then tell me what did you see on the cake.”
“That is besides the point,” he avoided it but before I could press on he shifted subject, “the point is that you purposefully avoided eating any dessert made by me. Why are you acting in such a way. So wary around me.”
“I am not.” but without even listening to me, he just signaled and in an instant the room was filled with men, armed with their guns pointing at me.
“The jig is up, Negai Hoshino. You are a wisher trying to come after me in my own company. I have to commend your balls for trying a stunt like that and thinking I wouldn’t find out.”
There was nothing to say, nothing to hide anymore. “(He knows already. So what are we going to do?)” Dee had no idea that it was his time to shine.
I placed my hand in my pocket. I dropped the wry smile and took an equally serious tone. Bullets could rain at me with one misstep. And my brain was overclocking in finding a perfect way out.
“I have to commend your balls too,” I said, “ approaching me so openly despite knowing that I am a wisher and what I could do.”
“So you admit.”
“You really are an idiot. To confess this easily at gunpoint,” he sighed, “Before I dispose of you. Tell me what you wrote on the cake.”
“Oh there is something much more interesting that you might want to know.”
“Why I didn’t eat any dessert,” I slowly gripped the item in my pocket and slid the button.
“Doesn’t matter. Just tell me what you wrote on the cake.”
“Oh it will matter when you know,” I pressed my thumb against the protrusion in my pocket as hard as I could, letting it cut through my flesh. All eyes were on me. I had to do it fast. As soon as I felt my thumb and fingers getting soaked in a liquid, I said as fast as I could, “I wish all the sugar in batch A6 would turn into salt.”
“Stop-” Raj Gupta shrieked but.
“Wish accepted. Bound,” Dee emerged instantly and said the robotic words. All of a sudden a wave of nausea spread around the mansion. For Shakkar Raj Gupta, who ate more dessert than main course, when all that sugar turned into salt, his blood sodium spiked, blood pressure shot up uncontrollably and he lost consciousness.