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Mightier than the sword?

“Hey, hey!” the fattie screamed at the thin one. “You cheapo!”

The thin one didn’t respond.

“Yeah you, what do you think you are! Such attitude, what are ya trying to get, eh?” the fat one taunted. “Just look at ya body. I can see through completely, haah!” He commented in his bombastic voice. The other one still didn’t respond, choosing to just stay still.

“You think you can just stay quiet, eh! Yeah, of course, what can a cheapo say? Your mouth is only meant to spill when one prods you a thousand times, right?” The condescending voice became louder. “Look at the cheap plastic on your body! Haha.”

They had been sitting here for a long time but had not had a single conversation because of the heavy class gap between the two. It was only in times of despair like these that conversations started, even though on false notes. When we fear something, it is only then that the sense of somebody being nearby relieves us. It was the same feeling that the rich one felt.

The Modern stationery shop had been in an isolated region in Pune where the only customers that used to come were school students and shops. The shopkeeper made sure that the stationery shop was refreshed at the start of each school year with essential items for children, but during other times of the year, the shop was used more like a mobile phone shop. Several mobile phones were on display with tall billboards of cellular phone plans and discounts. The business was enough to sustain his family of two but was not enough to generate any savings. The shop had seen several kinds of items, from phones to sweets to chocolates, but none of them had led to a highly successful venture, so he no longer wanted to start anything new.

The 10 feet by 10 feet shop had the counter lined up with mobile phone dummy models that were replaced every week. Behind the counter was enough space to occupy only a stool on which the owner sat, followed by shelves from the floor to the top. The most prominent shelves had more mobile phones, sim cards, phone accessories and cables. Only looking at the top shelf could one say that this was a stationery shop. On this shelf, there were rows of pens and pencils, printing papers, notebooks and writing pads of different sizes. The items were ordered such that the ones that were sold the most, such as the cheap pens and pencils and cheap notebooks were kept in front while the others went at the back of the shelf, hidden in darkness.

It was on this shelf that these two pens found themselves. The cheap one was sitting in light but did not heed the comments by the shiny, expensive one sitting at the back. They were different in many ways, not only because of their costs but also because of their attitude towards others. While the rich one had been brought to the shop seven months ago, the poor one was brought in just a couple of months ago. Both of them, however, had outgrown their anticipated times at the shop.

“Hey, ya! Can’t talk or what, eh?” the rich one asked once again.

“What do you want, sir? Please let me sleep while I can. Once someone buys me, I will have to slog, work really hard, unlike you rich brat, whose only point is to hang in someone’s shirt pocket.”

The rich pen was quick in taking offense at the comment. “Do you think I am incapable of writing? My superior German nib can work far better than your cheap one which will break as soon as someone flicks a finger at it.”

“Of course, if a nib is never used, it will never break. Ain’t it simple, my rich friend?”

“With my nib, no one has to worry that it will not write when needed. With you, everyone has to think about you drying up if not used. With me, such problems don’t arise. I am always ready for writing.” The rich one taunted.

“The only problem is, no one wants to write with you. They just want the shiny look until they get bored of you. All the people that will use you are anyways rich hypocrites and politicians. People who don’t care about other people. People who just care about money and nothing else.”

“Well, the poor ones who will use you don’t even care if you exist or not. You will just be thrown away after a month or so. How do you feel about that, you snob?”

“Actually, a good master will take good care and refill me rather than throwing me away.”

“As if that matters… Anyways, what are you without a refill? A pen whose refill dies loses its soul, you see, eh.”

“Not even in the smallest amount, sir. I have committed my owner a certain performance and only after I deliver that performance will my refill be changed. Anyways, who are you to talk, no one cares about you as well. Your users will usually have many like you and losing you won’t make them a difference.”

The rich pen stayed silent for a few seconds. The stinging comment was in a way true. All its users had just kept it for the sake of owning it. There were only a few people who would write with it, and those people would soon get bored of it and throw it away. The poor one, on the other hand, would be thrown away only after it had fulfilled its promise. It felt sad, but the debate had to go on.

“At least my owners would wear me proudly on their shirts.” The pomposity of the rich one was still speaking. “They wouldn’t leave me hanging on a table in a penholder.”

“Haah, what good is a pen that doesn’t want to sit in a penholder?”

“You see, normal horses stay in stables, but the premium racehorses stay in stud farms.”

“Yeah, yeah, as if staying in someone’s pocket makes you work.”

“The most respected people in the world will use me to sign papers. These people have important roles in the world. If not for my family, many decisions would still not have been signed.”

“To that, it was because of my people that all that was written before the signature was made possible. You can easily see hundreds of people using my people to write before a file went to a boss for signature. You see, we help millions of people do their work, unlike you.”

A young boy appeared at the door, which turned the poor one’s attention towards him. Trying to capture sunlight and shine bright, the poor one checked its own appearance to see if there was any dust on its body. The young boy looked at all the shelves making the poor pen happy that it had a chance of leaving the store while the rich one sat in the back with its eyes wound down.

The boy, with his three-fourth pants and a T-shirt that had the Superman sign on it, moved across the store to see all the items that the store had. The owner sat behind the counter but didn’t pay attention to the boy. The confused young one looked from shelf to shelf, trying to find something until he finally asked the store owner. The poor pen was expecting the boy to demand a new pen.

“Uncle, mobile phone ka cover chahiye.” The further conversation was not of interest to the poor pen so it started drifting back to its sleep.

Behind it, however, the rich pen had a laugh at its heart’s content. So much so, it almost burped some ink out. The poor one stayed silent at first, but the irritating, condescending laughter provoked it within minutes.

“At least someone checked me out. Unlike you, sitting there in the dark. Not even the sun wants to see you. Haah!”

“People don’t want to look at me. If someone wants to buy me, they just come in and ask for me. You see, I have high standards, unlike your cheap showing off to people even when they don’t want you.”

The young kid kept talking to the shop owner checking out mobile phone covers for his phone. He had a fixed budget and was trying to convince the shop owner for a lower cost.

“And, none of the kids play that stupid game with me. The one in which you just hit pens against one another. What kind of a war is that? At least I don’t have to deal with these notorious people.”

“That game is called pen-fight. It is a true test of a pen’s strength. More than anything, it shows off a pen’s valor. I am eager to show my master my worth. My toned body will do much better than your fat body, anyways.”

“I will never have to play that stupid game anyway. A pen’s valour lies in hanging in someone’s shirt pocket, not in fighting with other pens.”

“If you look at history, all men have had to prove themselves in wars. The same is true about pens.”

“It looks like you care more about getting injured than writing. Why should I care, though?”

“Of course, you shouldn’t. You can never face another pen in a war. Looking at your meaty body which doesn’t have any muscle, just fat, I can tell you will be thrown off a desk within a minute. You don’t stand a chance.”

“At least my nib would stay intact.” Although the rich pen tried to find a rebuttal, this was the strongest he could come up with. From the earlier time when the rich one was winning the debate easily to now when the poor one was sweeping away, they had discussed all they had.

A silence engulfed them as the young boy left the store. The poor one’s ambition of getting bought was crushed. The rich one didn’t want to poke at the poor one anymore, but silently kept thinking to itself about its own life. So did the poor one. The silence lasted for a long time with several thoughts going through their heads and none of them coming out through their mouths.

“Whatever we think our advantages are, the reality is…” the rich one spoke, his voice wavering a bit. The poor one listened to it with its nib about to spill ink inside the cap. It wanted to weep, weep till the refill would be done.

“The reality is,” the rich one continued, “both of us are being tested for our patience. Seven months is an awfully long time for me to stay in a shop and two months is the same for you. Whatever our advantages, they were applicable only in the past when people actually used pens. Nowadays they just keep staring at screens…”

“Yeah, that is true. Even though I claim to write more than you, the reality is no one wants to write now. And the same goes for you as well. No one has to sign documents these days, it seems. Machines have truly consumed us.” The poor one added.

“So, my friend, if we have to spend the rest of our lives just sitting in this shelf looking at people buying others in the store, let’s at least not have any animosity against one another. You have your advantages, I have mine. Let’s stay that way.”

Although both of them wanted to get rid of their lives by just blurting all the ink they had, they still had the small, infinitesimal hope that one day a generous person would decide to use them. The hope that people would one day appreciate the tangible value of writing with a physical object as against the keyboards and keypads who made it too easy to write.

The two pens went silent as they no longer had a reason to vent out their anger.

Published in Fiction Pens Short Stories

One Comment

  1. Milind Milind

    Wonderful story!!

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