The Inbox Zero Hero

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Barring the phone, 4 year old Mira did not have to compete much with her brother for her father’s attention. 6 year old Rohan had his own iPad that he kept busy with. 

“Daddy, daddy, look, I am so sassy!! I am dancing, see? Daddy!” Mira screamed in thrills as she ran up to her dad when her ballet class ended. 

Raghu was busy reading yet another email about his upcoming China trip. He usually opened emails within one minute of them being sent. Responding, however, was a different story. He did not realize how much brain matter he was consuming on thoughts about the quirkiest reply that he could give to amuse everyone on any given email chain.

“What is it baby? Ahhh, I like the way you twist your ankles and spin, you look beautiful!” He held his phone in one hand and scooped Mira up from the floor as he stood up. He glanced ahead as if to make eye contact with his daughter’s ballet teacher but saw that she was busy talking to another parent. 

“OK! You guys ready to go?” A true by product of this electronic generation, Rohan sat hunched over in the chair, transfixed on his iPad.

“Get up, get up! I still have lots of packing to do!” Raghu yanked his son by his right elbow which was still clutching onto the iPad.

Together they walked out and into their car which was parked opposite the doors of the ballet school. Raghu texted Richa as they headed home. “Baby, hope you are on your way to the airport . good news the flight to Detroit got bumped to 9am . I can start a couple of hours later than I thought . See you soon !“

Richa was on a Ski trip with her girlfriends in Denver. It was a little odd for her to go on a trip this late in April, but he never questioned her. She didn’t have too many questions about his whereabouts either.

“Do you have to work daddy?”, Mira quizzed and seeing her dad engrossed in his phone, she alternated between staring out of the window or glancing at what her brother was upto. Rohan was asking YouTube over voice, “How to make Transformers out of clay?” 

Entering their town home from the garage and up the stairs onto the main living floor, Raghu walked a little forward and sideways enough to drop himself onto the love seat. The kids ran past him and scattered themselves in the house. He lifted his feet up and put them on one of the arm rest and the other arm rest supported his head.

One by one, he replied to his emails. No matter how long he put off replying and what the subject matter was, he had a standard reply.

I am cool with that. :)

Sent from Raghu’s iPhone.

“Daddy, can I have some cheese and crackers?” Rohan woke him up.

“Yah, yah, baby, come over, hop on over. Watch for any spills!” Raghu jumped from the sofa and ran towards the island in the kitchen worried that he did not intend to take a nap. 7:17pm.

He thought quickly. There would be no protests over cheese quesadillas. He opened the freezer door.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit! It’s all your fault, you guys keep distracting me! I needed some cold soda this morning and in a hurry, I forgot it in the freezer. Your mom is going to kill me!”

“What are those, daddy?” Mira walked over from the toy room and looked frantically at her dad. The aluminum soda can had burst in the freezer leaving pieces of metal and cola colored ice all over the walls and floor.

“Daddy, do you know what this is called. Bull ship, I made a ship with Legos, it has two horns, so it is bull ship. Get it? Get it?” Rohan giggled showing off his Lego creation that he had gently placed on the island.

“Yeah, I get it, can you guys see that I am having a problem here?!” Raghu sounded annoyed. 

He kicked the freezer door shut with his right leg and washed his hands full of colored ice in the sink. He quickly ran to the pantry and made two peanut butter sandwiches and along with two chocolate milk packs put them in front of the kids. The kids ate quietly and quickly.

Raghu took a beer out of the refrigerator and grabbed his phone from the living room couch and walked back to the kitchen island opening a messenger app. Many minutes later he realized the kids were no longer there in front of their empty plates.

As he walked upstairs, he heard the kids in the master bedroom. Mira was sitting on her mom’s vanity stool and Rohan was playing with his bull ship on the carpet. Mira was holding a mirror and pulling out imaginary chin hairs using tweezers. 

Raghu laughed and playfully scolded her for doing that. “But, daddy, I want to look like Elsa!”

“Elsa, Elsa who, darling?” 

“Arrrgh, Daddy, it is Ellssaaa, not Elsaa!” Mira and Rohan looked at each other and giggled.

“From school?”

“Nooooooooooo, Elsa from Frozen?! Remember, we watched it for her birthday at Disney! Daddy??” Rohan could not believe his dad’s ignorance. “Duh??!” The kids giggled again.

“Heyyy, you can’t say stuff like that to daddy! Come on, you have to get into bed soon! And guess what? Mommy is going to be home soon!! Yay!”

As he undressed them both, Raghu tossed their clothes one by one into the hamper to their cheers. They were always amused by their dad. He is their hero.

He laughed heartily and huddled behind them to hurry up and get into the bath tub. He planted them one after the other in the tub and ran the semi hot shower. As they splashed around, he told them that they had 5 minutes to soap up and wash.

He sat down at the corner of the Jacuzzi and watched the kids. He heard a single ping. It was Helen. She lived next door. She had enrolled into the GA Tech MBA program with his encouragement. 

“Hey you want to tail gate?”

“Isn’t it too late for that?” He liked code words.

“Didn’t you know Korean girls have no manners?”

As he was replying and reading her messages, Raghu realized he was sitting on the side of Mira’s bed and was drying her with a towel.

“Daddy, can you read me Slugs and Snails daddy, please daddy?” Begged Mira as she wore her pajamas.

A stimulation brought by the ping of a phone, an excitement so powerful, most other senses seem to shut off. It leaves you with very little chance to reflect on anything. Anything remotely substantial. It’s a common man’s life, filled with few passions and countless distractions. And Raghu lived in a self-infused electronic avalanche.

“I am so sorry baby, I can’t today. I will do it after I come back from China! I will be downstairs working, OK? Sleep tight!” He said tucking them into their beds. He kissed them both and left the room.

“When you kiss daddy, daddy when you put good night kiss, hearts come inside my body.” Mira murmured.

He is their hero.

As he sneaked out of his house, Raghu left an urgent sounding message to his wife. “Honey, folks are arriving for some last minute meeting at Helen’s to sort out final details of the trip, I will explain later. The kids are in bed, everything is fine!”

He then pocketed his cell phone and hurried over next door. There wasn’t a dry leaf on their joint driveway, let alone cars.

He walked into Helen’s townhome through the unlocked front door and closed the door behind him. “Pow chikka pow wow..” He growled as he spotted her in the kitchen. 

“I am getting into the shower. I am super tired from all the packing!” As she walked from the kitchen towards her bedroom in the dim lighting, he thought he will lose his mind scanning her.

“I just remembered I didn’t shower this morning.” He walked behind her pulling his shirt up over his head. “I hope you don’t mind.” He reached for under her shirt and grabbed onto her flesh.

Distracted and passionless people claim to go with the flow. Raghu, the guy who just that morning messed up a major assignment homework for Tyson foods, the guy who was kicked out of one of the collaboration teams because he plagiarized an entire case study from the internet – word to word – was having a passionate affair with his neighbor. Passion is a funny thing. 

*

Next morning, when he woke up, he felt wasted. He cursed himself for giving into temptations. He turned over in bed to see if Richa was next to him. He smiled and began to wake her up.

“Good morning, time to go is it? Are you all set?“

“Hey, I am so sorry Rich, I couldn’t get up to get your bags yesterday night. Taking care of kids is exhausting man! Can we have coffee together? Don’t get up yet, let me get ready and then we can both go downstairs.”

“Thank you, love you.” Richa folded herself at the waist and made a 90 degree angle with her body as she rolled over to her left side to catch a little more sleep.

Raghu showered, got ready and made coffee and came upstairs to give it to Richa in bed. She complained that she was bone tired and couldn’t get up. He kissed her and told her she had a full hour before the kids need to be shipped off to school.

Outside in the cold moist morning, he waited for the cab alongside Helen. The Great Wall of China would be a good place to have a quickie he joked. She looked hung over.

Inside the plane, he read his cousin’s update on Facebook. “Late night irani chai with wifey”. 

He added his own status update. “Visiting China for business and school. Going to miss family for 13 days :(

Until his flight took off, he refreshed the Facebook feed multiple times feverishly scrolling up and down to re-read statuses of friends and family from around the world. As the plane prepared for takeoff, he realized Richa had liked his status. He put the phone on airplane mode and snoozed off.

*

It was 2:45pm Saturday local time when Raghu’s MBA team landed in Beijing. His entire Cohort was piled into a bus and brought to the Marriott in downtown. Chris was Raghu’s roommate for all the four cities they were visiting. Raghu liked him, he thought of him as his younger alter ego.  

They showered and came downstairs to gather at the lobby. Raghu kept an eye on what the younger gang was up to. After all, he didn’t feel 40 in his heart.

Eventually, the cooler gang decided to go to the Yellow Duck restaurant which was walking distance from the Marriott. Chen Hong, who had uncles in town, had suggested the place. As they passed the pearl market in the Beijing business district, a few of the girls insisted they stop and buy some knock off purses for themselves. Raghu bought pearls for Richa. He asked Helen if his wife would like the necklaces he bought and she simply laughed. He smiled at her for approving his taste.

At the long dinner table at Yellow Duck, Raghu felt mostly ignored and alone. He looked at the menu, tried to make sense of the English the waiters spoke. After dinner and a few drinks, he noticed Helen, Chris and Matt were heading out. 

He was glad someone tried to stop them, “What, you guys checking out for the night?!”

Chris paused to turn back and reply. “Yeah man, it clearly says here, no drug taking and trafficking. No soliciting and whoring prostitutes. We need to get ourselves some room service. Ha ha ha ha.“

As they walked away into the night, Raghu stared at their backs hoping Helen would turn and make eye contact with him.

After picking through his food, he excused himself and stepped outside with a beer he was still working on. He sat down on a cold metal chair in a dark corner and smoked what was left of a borrowed cigarette. He thought of how cigarettes looked between Helen’s lips.

He looked at his phone. He had not signed up for the international data plan as it was expensive, he could only call. He thought of the kids and Richa. Atlanta was 12 hours behind. 9am Saturday is too early to call.

A few of Mira’s many words came to him. Words that he did not pay a whole lot of attention to then. Words he now wished he had replied to with reciprocity. Raghu wiped off a few tears mixing them with the bottle’s sweat as he clutched his beer.

“When you kiss daddy, daddy when you put good night kiss, hearts come inside my body.” He is their hero.

Recreational parenting creates a distracted gene pool. The phenomenon can be perpetuating and is a sad result of all matters related to our modern, electronic and connected civilization. The worst output is the urge to be at any other place than the one that we are presently in. This time, another place. 

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