Vineetha Mokkil is the author of the short story collection, "A Happy Place and other stories" (HarperCollins). She was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Award June 2018 and was a nominee for Best Small Fictions 2019. She received an honorable mention in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction 2020. Her fiction has appeared in the Santa Fe Writers' Project Journal, Gravel, Barren, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and Jellyfish Review among journals.
Tango With God
Phil found god. On Monday morning, he marched into the conference room, all fire and brimstone, and gave us the news.
None of us knew how to respond. I smiled politely. Luckily, I didn’t have to congratulate him because he avoided me at meetings. He would stare at the white walls or the giant blue screen in front of us when he asked me a question. When he bustled past my work station in the day, he looked right through me like I was made of smoke.
Drunk on a glass of flaming Jamaican rum, I had let him kiss me at the last Christmas party. One kiss under the gangly tree. One drunken misstep, but the man read it all wrong.
Phil went all out for his affair with god. Showed up at church every Sunday, went to confession, quoted the Bible to us heathens who needed saving. Let’s pray, he’d say, at the start of our morning meetings. Let’s praise the Lord. Head bowed, I sat across him, trying to keep a straight face. Bible quotes, typed in big, bold letters by Phil’s personal assistant, glowered at me from the wall.
Phil gifted us pocket Bibles with matching red covers. A gold trim ran around the edges, glinting when it caught the light. I shoved it at the bottom of my desk and never saw it again. Some people took it home with them. The rest threw the book in the bin when he wasn’t looking.
We started betting good money on how long Phil’s tango with god would last. He’d stuck with ‘save the Asian elephant’ for six months. Four weeks with his vegan diet. His obsession with oceans and the absolute state they are—his longest streak—fizzled out in a year.
All through summer, Phil clung to god. Leaves turned amber, light liquid gold. Phil’s eyes grew brighter in the autumn. He spoke in the feverish tone of a fanatic. Faith was his shield. God, his strongman. He felt invincible. Nothing on earth could bring him down.
And then the fire broke out in office on a windy Monday evening. When the alarm wailed like a banshee, all of us sprung up and shuffled out of the building in single file. Computer screens blinked at empty work stations. Fluorescent lamps flickered like dying men. The whole floor emptied out, but Phil sat hunched over his desk, fingers flitting over the keyboard, ignorant to the alarm, oblivious to our warnings. He was untouchable. His god would watch over him.
In about 20 minutes, when he stumbled out of the building, his eyes bloodshot, his sandy hair singed, he shook his fist at the blue black sky. “Damn you!” he spluttered, squinting at the heavens.
I pocketed a neat pile of cash that evening from my colleagues. I’d bet that Phil’s love affair wouldn’t outlive the autumn.
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