How would you like your coffee?

Disclaimer: All characters in this play are fictional, a work of imagination and bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. Any similarities otherwise, if any are but purely co-incidental, and in no way a deliberate attempt by the writer to name, shame or disgrace any particular individual.

CAST:

Doctor – Dr. William

Lawyer – Mr. Harold Reginald

Dying man: Mr. Ronald Hoffman

His son: Mr. Dennis Hoffman

Dream vision employee: Mr. Michael Summers

Michael’s sick wife: Mrs. Rachel summers

Michael’s co worker – Mr. Ahmed Hameed

Waiter @ hospital café

Random people at the café.

Random employees of Dream Vision

Dennis Hoffman’s secretary – Suzy

Narrator: how does one define ‘insanity’? It would be doing the same thing over and over; and expecting a different result every single time. By this benchmark most of us would be insane. Most of us end up doing the same mistakes over and over again, hoping the outcome will be different each time. What does it take to get us out of this deadly loop? What is life then, how does it fit into this insane world? Is it only a fleeting breath? Or is it something of much greater significance, with deeper implications? I don’t know, you decide. But first,

Let’s visit Mr. Ronald Hoffman who is on his death bed in a hospital. By his side stands his trusted friend and lawyer Mr. Harold Reginald. And that (pointing to the Doctor) is Dr. William, Hoffman’s doctor. Mr. Hoffman is very ill and doesn’t seem to have much time in his favor. The three are awaiting the arrival of Hoffman’s son. The year is 2007 and the onset of the global financial meltdown is just starting to show its hideous face.

Scene 1: Hospital Room

On the hospital bed, a dying man drawing his last breath. By his side, stand his monitoring doctor and the man’s lawyer. It seems they are awaiting the arrival of someone, the man’s son. The doctor’s aren’t very optimistic about the chances of him surviving the next hour.

The doctor monitors his vitals carefully, makes a note on his pad and then turns to Mr. Harold and beckons him to the side of the room away from the patient.

Doctor: Mr. Harold, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but there really is nothing more we can do. His critical functions are deteriorating quite fast. Is there anyone you should call, I think now would be a good time. (pause) I am terribly sorry.

Harold: Doctor, his son is on his way, half an hour…. Please!

Doctor: I shall try my best to keep his vitals stable for some more time, but beyond that, there is no guarantee.

Harold: thank you doctor!

The door cracks open, and in walks the dying man’s son holding a phone and trying in great effort to end the conversation with the person on the other end. He shows the least amount of regard or concern for the fact that his father is on his death bed. The doctor looks at him in utter bafflement, while the Lawyer gives a ‘here we go again look’ and sighs.

Dennis: Ya.. ya.. ya.. That sounds good. (pause) Perfect. My secretary will get in contact with you. Bye. (He puts the phone away and looks at the doctor and lawyer) sorry about that, business, you know how pressing it can get at times.

Harold: I should like to think there were more pressing matters at hand here Denny!

Dennis: Oh! Please Mr. Reginald save the speech, I’m on my way from a conference in Brussels, endured a 5 hour long flight and haven’t slept in two days! Flying over time zones, if you know what I mean. And believe me the last I want to hear is your lecture. It’s a miracle that I was even able to make it to the hospital.

Harold: Denny!!! You knew almost a month back that your father had been bought in for observation; I have personally e-mailed you the results of every test your dad underwent. Don’t tell me you missed those among the other business correspondence in your inbox! You’re far too smart for that!

Dennis: (slaps his thighs in desperation) just tell me where I have to sign on the paperwork, and let’s get this over with. I have a dinner meeting scheduled in… (Looks at his watch) about 2 hours, (looks back at the lawyer) so chop chop… let’s get moving, have to head back to the hotel and get a shower before dinner.

Harold: Son, you already know that your dad’s fortune is yours. You were there when the will was certified. All the paper works have been completed long back.

Dennis: so all I have to do is wait for the old man to puff his last? Great, then why am I here?

Harold: DENNIS! Your father is DYING! I called you here so that you could be near him in his last moments.

Dennis: Oh really?! What’s his lawyer doing here then if there is no paperwork?

Harold: I may be your father’s lawyer, but our relation goes far back than that. We were friends long before you came crying into this world. (In a reasoning voice) Denny… I beg you; you have what many people would kill to have, a chance to be with their loved one during the last few moments. Please hear what your father has to say. Please.

Dennis: that won’t be necessary! (He gets another phone call) now if you will excuse me, I have to take this one. (Takes his suitcase and walks himself out of the room)

The dying man waves his hand feebly to his dear friend and lawyer. Harold goes near him and bends over , The dying man whispers something in his dear friend’s ears and falls back into the cushioning of his pillow. There is no more movement to be seen.

The Doctor does a few checks and nods his Head.

Doctor: I am very Sorry, if there is anything I can do……… (Takes a 4 second pause) I’ll be outside. (Pats Harold on his shoulder and exits)

Harold removes his hat in sorrow and looks down for a few seconds then turns away.

*(curtains fall)

Scene2: The Hospital Café.

Narrator: Having left his father’s room and unaware that his father has breathed his last, Dennis makes his way to the crowded hospital cafeteria for a quick coffee, before he heads back to the Hotel. In the meanwhile he is hoping to get his calendar organized for the rest of the week.

Now Mr. Dennis is a product of Wall St. An Investment Banker, groomed from the top B-school in the country, Mr. Dennis is your perfect 21st century business tycoon. Head of his own financial institution, he is the kind of guy who would be among the first to know if an un-invited fly flew around the corner in Wall St. A 1000$ haircut and branded personality, yes that is Mr. Dennis to you. Business calls, market projections, performance indices and numbers; all these are just part Mr. Dennis’ daily life.

It is in the same café, that we meet another personality, who could not seem to be further removed from Mr. Dennis life than the Sahara sands were to the Amazon wet lands. Meet Mr. Michael, an employee at Dream Vision, a charitable organization. While Mr. Dennis’ day revolves around money, Mr. Michael’s revolves around the betterment of human lives.

How would these two personalities interact, if fate were to put them in touch with each other? What would each learn from the other? We are about to find out just that. The coffee shop does seem to be crowded.

Dennis stops by at the hospital coffee shop to get a coffee and get his schedule organized before going to meet his client for the dinner meeting. He walks into the café area and seeing that the café is occupied, spots one vacant seat next to another gentlemen (Michael) who has occupied the other chair in the two-seater table. Dennis walks over

Dennis: Hey, excuse me, mind if I sit down?

Michael: Oh Please, by all means.

Dennis takes the seat and keeps his suitcase and coat by the side

Dennis: Hi I’m Dennis. Pleased to meet you.

Michael: Michael, likewise.

Dennis: So, someone you know in here?

Michael: Yes, My wife. (pause) You?

Dennis: My old man! He doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Michael: sorry to hear about that.

Dennis: yeah well… you gotta do what you gotta do right?

Michael: Right.

Waiter walks over to take the order. Michael already has a coffee and so he asks Dennis.

Waiter: what can I get you sir?

Dennis: cappuccino please. Sugar free. Double cream. Thank you!

Waiter notes down the order and walk away

Michael: so what do you do Dennis? Work I mean?

Dennis: Hedge Funds.

Michael: and what would that be?

Dennis: that’s a tough question. Well… I take money from people who have enough to spare, tell them about the gains they would make in this investment, I do the investment, and make others rich. This would also include me.

What about you.. eh…umm.. what do you do?

Michael: well I take money from those who have money and the heart enough to give and try to give its benefits to people who don’t have any.

Dennis: sorry, umm.. you a stock broker?

Michael: (laughs dismissively) ha ha ha.. no.. umm.. I’m a social worker you can say. I’m an employee at Dream vision. You know, charity work, red cross, that kinda stuff.

Dennis: Oh, yes of course, the saviors of the world!

You lot think you can change the world don’t you? Well let me spell it out for you my friend, money talks, and that’s the only thing that has the power to change the world. It can do wonders to you man! I don’t understand why you would go through so much in order to help third world corners of the world? Invest in yourself, buy a house, a car maybe; get a policy for your kids. That’s smart investment I tell you.

Michael: erm.. well maybe, but I’m not quite sure I agree with you dear friend. You see the thing is tha….

Their conversation is interrupted as Dennis’ phone rings; he briefly looks at it before attending the call.

Dennis: Yes! (pause) oh He has, has he? (pause) I see. (pause) No that’s alright, I’ll take care of it. Yea bye! (Hangs up the phone, and turning back to Michael) sorry about that, it was my dad’s lawyer. He just called to inform that my father has passed away.

Michael: I am so sorry!

Dennis: oh no, don’t be.

Michael: shouldn’t you be there with him?

Dennis: why? He’s gone. Whatever else needs to be done; his lawyer can take care of it. After all its part of what he gets paid for.

Michael: what now?

Dennis: Now, well I have a meeting to attend to in the evening, after that take my billion dollar inheritance my father left me, and find out some new things to invest in. I don’t even know how many zeros are there in that!

(Michael stares wide eyed in amazement at this guy in front of him when he hears ‘billion dollars’)

Michael: you would know had you earned it yourself.

Dennis: you are starting to sound like my father’s lawyer! (Continues talking as though he didn’t hear the statement) I think I’ll buy myself a nice little spot on the Bahamas maybe, a penthouse with a closed in beach just for myself. Hmm… that stretch would be just fine for my summer getaway; maybe a Porsche 9/11 as well, to go along with it. Now that would look absolutely stunning on the driveway. Don’t you think?

(Waiter brings in the coffee to the table; Dennis nods his acknowledgement, and takes a sip from the cup)

Michael: Well… I’m afraid it’s not that simple for the rest of us out there.

Just out of curiosity, are you not affected by the fact that your father just passed away?

Dennis: oh I am affected alright, but not because my father passed away. He was old; it’s only natural for him that he has to go. I’m afraid his time was just up.

I am worried though, about the stock markets, my firm hasn’t been doing that great this quarter, or the past for that matter. (He keeps flipping frantically through some papers in a file, and compares a few sheets in between)

We’ve lost almost a quarter of a million in this week’s trading alone. If the markets don’t roll over our papers Sunday night before Asia opens, my men on the floor cannot do business on Monday.

Tuesday, the entire holdings of our loan and fixed income asset class will be re-evaluated. And an entire floor of workers will be without a job!

Narrator: Michael seems to nod his head in agreement, although quite clearly he has no clue what Dennis is talking about, but he pays attention so as to not seem rude. (Dennis takes another sip at his coffee and goes on…)

Have you heard about the tulip bubble? No of course not! It happened in the early 1600’s (sixteen hundreds) , when some lunatic, hyped up the prices of tulip bulbs to such crazy extents, that at one point a good bulb was trading at ten times what a skilled craftsman earned ‘annually’. They called it the ‘tulipomania’. People sold entire possessions, just so they could have a hand in the tulip market.

Then a year later, (pause) *BAAMM* (claps his hands together) the bubble burst, people saw the hype for what it was; as the prices came down there was hysterical selling and in no time fortunes were lost, hundreds lost their lifetime savings. And all this for a tulip bulb! The mother of all bubbles!

Then there was the great depression of 1930! Next the internet bubble in 2000, fortunes were invested on tiny start-up internet companies, whom the brokers claimed were the future! For all I know, they weren’t even worth a dime! Guess what happened? BAAMM!

But THIS, this is worse than all the others, what’s happening now. The sub-primes are crap; they are no longer the blondes at the ball games anymore. The way the competitors raise insurance swaps are killing and these credit default swaps are brilliant, claim to make money off losses! But they are all falling apart Michael, you understand that? If this continues for another month, that money under your pillow is going to be worth less than toilet paper by the end of this quarter.

Michael: now that’s a mouthful to swallow, do you even understand any of these terms that you’ve just used? (Michael finishes his coffee by this time)

Dennis: No I don’t. But you see; that’s the beauty of it. I don’t need to. Now, my analysts have assessed the financial health of my company to be sound, although that’s good news, it’s not as great as it sounds because regardless of how my firm as an individual entity performs, it will still have to endure the brunt of the market blows that rock financial institutions.

I mean ‘debt’ and ‘mortgage backed securities’ are piling up, CDO’s, CMO’s. No one knows how long these overly rated obligations will hold out, no one knows why these are even out there in the market; and certainly, no one knows how deep this all really is!

You realize what would happen if this bubble were to burst right?

Of course you don’t! You ignorant bum! You don’t have a clue do you? You are so lost in your little service program to save the world that you are completely ignorant of the reality old goat! You wouldn’t understand what LOSS meant, even if it were staring you right in your face! Pathetic!

(Michael takes a moment for these words to sink in; all the while Dennis scans his file. Michael adjusts himself in his chair, gives a slight tug at the scarf around his neck and looks at Dennis)

Michael: are you married son?

Dennis: me? Uh no!

Marriages today are like the economy, in a slump and recession. I find no point in marriage. When you are minting money, everything can be taken care of. (Leans forward and whispers) even your personal needs. (Winks his eyes) If you know what I mean,

Michael: and yet your concern for the economy is quite remarkable

Dennis: oh well! You kno…

Michael: (doesn’t bother for Dennis to complete his sentence) I’ve been married for 20 years now.

(Dennis, now stops scavenging the papers and looks keenly at Michael)

I saw her for the first time at central park one spring morning. The snow was almost gone now, but the chill remained. The wind was cold enough to crystallize your breath and it bought with it the smell of spring… and… it bought Rachel as well that morning. I was just out of grad school and desperate to get my hands on a job, any job. I had been dropping my CV off at every recruiter’s desk I could find.

God knows what made her come to the park that morning. As I sat on one of the benches, arranging my file, much like what you’ve been , I saw her out of the corner of my eyes; she strode calmly through the foliage, enjoying the chirping of the birds and the mix of colors that dotted the landscape. I was mesmerized, there she was walking down the pathway, black boots, she held her coat wrapped tight against her to shield her from the intensity of the cold. She wore a pink scarf and a woolen cap over her head. Her golden hair streamed effortlessly through the cap , to be honest; she looked like a doll you would see in a toy store.

It was quite an intense moment.

There were a few kids who were blowing soap bubbles. As she walked past me, I still do not know from where I mustered the courage, but I stood up and I asked her ‘excuse me there, lady in pink, it’s a cold morning, would you fancy a cup of coffee?’

Dennis: and… what did she say?

Michael: she said with a smile that made me stammer, and look like a baboon, she said ‘yeah sure, I’d love that’. I imagined I had made a complete idiot of myself over that cup of coffee, honestly I couldn’t think of any reason why she would want to meet me again, but she did. And now that beautiful woman I met in the park 20 years back is my wife. I’ve made her coffee every day since, it’s a small tradition we share. We’ve had our share of arguments, but we have never let our bubble burst. There were days when the world would seem so burdensome and then I’d go home and have dinner with her. This much I know; nothing seemed to matter anymore then. It was just the two of us and the happiness we shared.

But the past few years have been hard for us, (a long pause) especially after the cancer started to spread. The past one year in particular has been exhausting. Can you imagine shuttling back between home, hospital, work and then hospital again? It’s enough to dull the heart of even an old soldier such as I am.

You are a smart young bloke no doubt. But there is still much life has to teach you kiddo. To start with; you don’t know the ‘ABC’ of what a true loss really means. You have confined your definition of loss to your computerized office desks, where complex algorithms instruct you on how to double profits. You think that the world of spreadsheets, performance indexes and graphs are what life is about. You couldn’t possible know what it feels like to live with someone you love for twenty years, and get to know everything about that person; even the small imperfections, that only you, of all people were allowed to know. That these small details were what made her YOUR wife. To know that God has put another half of you in the world so that you would meet some day, an angel, who was yours to have, to love and to protect? For whom, you meant the same as well, to be loved and be protected?

No you wouldn’t know about any of that, would you son? And one fine day the doctors told you that it was cancer, while you heard those words you desperately wished in your hearts that they weren’t true. To realize that the cost of treatment is $20,000 and an air ticket more than you can afford? To be by a hospital bedside day and holding your wife’s hands, and the nurses would wish you good night, because they knew that no matter what they tried, you wouldn’t leave. No, you wouldn’t know about that, would you?

I do not consider myself to be a savior to the world because of the work I do but I do what I do, because I don’t think of only myself. So; while I do not understand your world of losses, you have no idea about the losses I battle with everyday. At the end of the day, it comes down to this – how do you like your coffee? I like mine, just the way it is. But more importantly I am grateful for it! What about you champ?

My advice to you son, would be to get out of this trap of misconception you’ve gotten yourself into. Go and spend time with your loved ones. Marry someone special, have kids with her, be there for them as they grow up, take joy in the small things that life brings you. I can assure you that, such an investment, no matter how unstable the economy; will never go into recession, and you won’t be looking for credit direct snaps or whatever..

Dennis: Credit default swaps..

Michael: yea yea same thing.

Listen son, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. But I’m afraid I have to get moving now.

And good luck with that bubble of yours.

Both of them wave goodbye as Michael goes off and exists the stage. Dennis stays a bit longer. He looks at his file and then closes it. Leans back on his chair and relaxes a bit. Then takes out his phone and dials his secretary’s number.

Dennis: Suzy, I want you to cancel the Dinner appointment for tonight. (pause) Yes that’s right, I won’t be meeting with the client. Instead I want you to do something else for me. (Stands up, gathers his things and starts walking out to exit the stage) Okay, here’s what..I want you to book a flight ticket for a Mr. Michael and his wife (sound fades as Dennis exits stage) and have it delivered to….

Scene 3: Dream vision office

Narrator: Michael having left Dennis at the café heads off to his office. It’s almost evening now and as the sunset throws a spectacular splash of orange across the horizon, Michael enters his Office. He walks by other employees, too exhausted to put forward any form of greeting. He reaches his desk, where his colleague and best friend is also stationed. Mr. Ahmed Hameed, a fellow employee from Jordan. Mr. Hameed and Michael joined the firm around the same time and quickly became intimate friends. They knew exactly what was happening in each other’s lives. And like all good friends, they would gladly take a bullet in the head for the other. Exhausted and drained of energy Michael reaches his desk and slumps into his seat.

Michael walks into the office and sits next to his buddy, Mr. Hameed; Random people walk around the office as they go about their daily work.

Michael: Evening Hameed!

Ahmed: A very good evening to you my friend. (Michael sets his things down and takes a seat next to Ahmed. Ahmed speaks to Michael in a very middle-east heavy Arabic accent.)

Misterr Summers, your doctor eh, he call while you are away. He say to inform you, that since the hospital has receive payment for your wife’s treatment, they like to know when you are want to fly to New York for treatment?

Also this flight ticket for you and your wife came sometime back.

Michael: what?? I could never afford the cost of the treatment, let alone the airfare. Are you sure?

Ahmed: Well apparently is seems a one Mr. Dennis has covered the expenses. He is a friend of yours Mr. Summers?

Michael: umm no, we met at the hospital café today.

Ahmed: well my friend, sometimes God has mysterious way of showing us that he cares!

Michael: Yes!!! Yes indeed!

Ahmed: Mr. Summers, I think that you should go visit wife. Tell her good news ah! Go on, I take care of things here!

Michael: Thank you Hameed! Alright then, I shall see you tomorrow. Take care Hameed.

Ahmed: Insha Allah Mr. Summers. Good bye!

Scene4: Mr. Harold’s office

Narrator: It’s surprising isn’t it, how small gestures can have drastic consequences? His joy knowing no bounds, Michael heads off to tell his wife the Good news, as well as check by the café if his friend is still there by any chance. Our Wall Street ninja, Mr. Dennis has however left the café and is headed to his father’s lawyer and trusted friend, Mr. Harold’s office. Harold who is busy sorting through case files quite intensely doesn’t notice Dennis walking into his office room.

Dennis enters the lawyer’s office, who is busy sorting through case files and doesn’t notice Dennis walking in,

Dennis: Evening Mr. Harold.

Harold: (Looks up, surprised to see Dennis in his office, but doesn’t show his surprise) Mr. Dennis, to what do I owe this pleasure?

Dennis, Listen, (pause) about earlier today, I’d like to apologize. I have no excuses for my actions. I hope you will forgive me.

About the fortune that I have inherited however, I have decided to put it in a trust. (pause) and I’d like you to manage it. I’m only asking because you were my father’s trusted friend and lawyer. (pause) I can understand if you don’t want to, after my behavior today, it would only seem…

Harold: Denny, it would be an honor! But what happened to you? Are you okay? You seem different?

Dennis: well I had an interesting conversation with an old man today.

Harold: speaking of which, don’t you have a dinner appointment you should be at?

Dennis: No, it’s no longer important.

Harold: before your father (pause)… before he (again pauses)… he asked me to tell you… ‘The real happiness a man’s fortunes can buy him is not what he can buy with it; rather what he can gift others with it’.

Harold and Dennis speak the last line in unison.

Dennis: rather what he can gift others with it.

Harold: you knew what he…??

Dennis: Yes, when I was small, my dad and I, we used to go feed the ducks over by the lake. He used to tell me this every time we went there.

Harold: I didn’t know.

About the funeral Denny… what would you like me to do?

Dennis: I’d like to take care of that please. I haven’t been around as much as I’d have loved to when he was alive, at least let me arrange for this.

Harold: My goodness, what has happened to you?

Dennis: well, it all began after I left the room…

They continue talking in the background. As the conversation fades, the narrator comes to the front for the concluding talk.

Narrator: The fabric of life is a delicate and intricately woven masterpiece. It is beyond any one individual or his personal needs. The truth is that we often realize this divine fact only very late, or are just afraid to accept it; some are simply oblivious to this and require a harsh jolt back to reality. But above all, there comes a time in all our lives, when by chance or accident, or by some divine intervention, we happen to meet someone, out of the random, who is able to give us that guidance, direction and maybe even an aspiration that we have been lacking so far. How these events have come to be set in motion is often beyond our understanding, nevertheless the truth remains, the fabric of life is a beautiful one indeed.

I would like to dedicate this short story to one such person, who has helped me to discover this truth. Mr. Abhayan M Savitri.

ESSE QUAM VIDERI.

Nidhinجورج

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