“Disappeared? What d’you mean disappeared?” said Aaron Fox as he took the cigarette out of his mouth and between his fingers.
His moustache told a story of constant perseverance, regular trimming and dying. His hair though told something different. The hairline had started receding and had now reached almost halfway through the top. The sideburns looked uncombed and tangled within. You could hardly notice his eyes behind those huge specs and that also helped the wrinkles on his face. He flicked the cigarettes with his fingers to dust off the ash in the ashtray. Then brought it back to his lips for a long puff.
Sam stood in front of him behind the chair. He didn’t bother sitting. How could he even think of sitting in such a situation. He just stood there, running his palms through his curly, blonde hair, like he always did.
“Total nutjob of a guy”, said Sam, “Said he feared that ‘they’ might know, you don;t even know ‘them’. Like he was being watched or something. Just ran outta the cabin and closed the door behind him. When we opened the door, boom! He was gone. Vanished almost in thin air.”
“And you couldn’t find him? Couldn’t even notice the guy walking away in what was to be an open field?” Fox stared right through Sam.
” I told ya boss. We searched the whole surroundings. I mean, people hadn’t even heard of this guy before. Didn’t even know where he come from. They just saw him a few days before in the village when he made this whole prediction thing.”
Fox now leaned on the table and flicked his cigarette in the ashtray. “Let me just get this straight. You’re trying to say that some old, hippie Arab guy, who somehow knew English, told himself to be about 2 million years old, had no whereabouts and had somehow predicted the storm, agreed to an interview with us and disappeared within 2 minutes of it? Into thin air?”
There was an awful amount of silence. Sam just stood there. No reasonable explanation could be given to an incident like that. After some time, Fox spoke.
“Look Sam, you’re a good lad. Now I know there’ve been problems at home…”
“It’s not about that…”
“I understand what you’re going through but that shouldn’t affect your work.”
“Its not….”, interrupted Sam. “…..about that.” His voice a little louder this time . His words a little slower. He took a deep breath. “Look I know what I saw alright? I mean, Eric was there and…”
“And where is that fat fuck anyways?” Fox leaned back in his chair.
“He’s in the video room. He’ll show you whatever little we got.”
“Look Sam whatever you have here wouldn’t help me. People wouldn’t believe some voodoo Baba who claimed a storm to be actually legit.I mean, Jesus Christ, the amount we have on video, they’d think of him as a maniac claiming to be a million years old….”
There was a long silence. Suddenly, Fox’s phone started ringing. He let it ring for another second, still staring at Sam as if he’d rip apart every bone in his body. He picked up the phone and then put it down again to cancel it.
“He said he was 2 million years old”
“Yeah I know, I know.” Fox said in a solemn, low tone. He leaned forward and looked Sam straight in the eye and banged his hand on the table “Now listen to me kid. You go out there in Arab, wasting my Airfare, wasting my time which could be used on some other project and you bring me this, this bullshit explanation about some old guy magically disappearing in thin air. I don’t give a shit about problems at home…”
“That doesn’t affect my work.”
“DON’T YOU DARE INTERRUPT ME!”, stormed Fox, now breathing heavily. There was an uncomfortably long amount of silence in the midst of a backdrop of a cacophony of phones ringing all at once. He took another long puff of his cigarette and extinguished it in the ash tray. “Look Sam. I’ll give you one last chance. Bring me the guy. Or bring something me else. Something more legit. And this time with interviews that exceed more than 3 minutes. Also, thorough background and personal details. Otherwise you and that plump friend of yours, will go packing, and would probably have to work in a local news channel doing weather reports all your godforsaken lives.”
Fox’s phone began to ring again. He didn’t even bother to look at it. “Now you understand me?”, he finally said and leaned back in his chair, now facing the window behind him.
Sam headed towards the glass door. As he opened the door, he finally heard Fox pick up the phone.
“Rough day?” asked Victoria. She didn’t even look from the paperwork she was doing.
“You got no idea”, said Sam.
Victoria smiled. A flick of her brown hair tickled her cheek. She placed it behind her right ear.
Sam had seen this flick of hair somewhere. He had felt it swoosh across his face when he sat in her lap. Somehow it was as if Sam had know this woman all her life. Yet somehow Sam knew nothing about her. All he could remember were those lilac eyes. But they weren’t lilac anymore. He could could see the dimple on her left cheek. But somehow the dimple wasn’t there. All he knew was how much he loved her. But somehow he didn’t even recognize her. She was trying to say something. Her lips moved, but he couldn’t hear her. And then he woke up.
“Sam?”, said Victoria. “Sam?”
Sam stared at her blankly. He knew her. She was Fox’s secretary. He’d known her ever since she worked here. She wasn’t her. She couldn’t be.
“Yeah?” asked Sam.
“What about Saturday night?”
“Oh um…” Sam stammered a bit. “Saturday I…I gotta work on this thing with Eric.”
“Oh! Oh of course.”
“Cause you know he’d fire me if I don’t.”
“Yeah. Yeah I get it” Victoria’s intercom buzzed, “VICKY WOULD YOU BRING ME THE GODDAMN COFFEE ALREADY!”, spoke a frustrated Fox voice.
She pressed the button and spoke, “Coming right away boss.” She rose from the desk closing the paperwork file.
“Maybe some other time” said Sam and run his palm through the hair on the back of his head.
“Yeah. Yeah sure.” Victoria started walking towards the coffee machine on the left.
Sam stood there and watch her leave. He then turned around and started walking towards the video room. “Why are you doing this to me?”, he thought.
Eric was glued to the laptop screen when Sam opened the door to the video room. He had definitely outgrown his grey T-shirt. The thick beard had now grown a bit too much and Sam could definitely smell a man who might have spent ages since he last took a bath.
“Backstabber” said Sam as he walked towards him. “Threw me under the bus didn’t you?. And now you’re sitting here watching porn on your laptop while Fox whiplashed my ass in his office…”
“Sam you need to watch this” said Eric. He didn’t have the usual childish tone. He kept staring at his laptop screen transfixed.
Sam moved towards the table and took a seat beside Eric. A video of the interview with Salem had been playing. Eric paused the video and then replayed it.
Sam saw the whole 2 minutes 36 seconds of video. He stared at the screen as the change in pixels drained the colour from his face. He stared at Eric who was now scratching his head. He hit the replay button. Once. Twice. Every time it was the same result.
He could hear himself asking the questions.
“Okay so this is interview number one in a series of the upcoming few.Broadcasting for Discovery Channel under the category ‘New Arab untitled Project’.We’re interviewing Mr. Salem…say what’s your last name sir?”
Sam had replayed the video thrice now. It was the same cabin. The same yellow lights lighting up the whole cabin. The same chair. The same questions. Only this time, nobody was answering the questions back.
And this time, there certainly was nobody sitting on the chair in front of the camera.