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The blood rushed to his face, he could feel his face getting warm. He was in the middle of a sentence — an explanation, a perfectly simple explanation — and he could not finish. Why?
The other looked at the documents. He looked at them for some time.
“For the week ending December 4, 1981, the average refinery capacity utilization rate was 72.8 percent. This represents a substantial increase from the previous week’s rate of 65.1 percent.”
“For the period ending January 8, 1982, the four–week average for total products supplied was 16.1 MMB/D. This is a decrease of 12.6 percent from the comparable four–week period in 1981, but an increase — probably seasonal — of 3.9 percent from the four–week period ending November 6, 1981.”
“Since January 1, 1981, prices of crude oil have declined by 3.7 percent in nominal terms, and by 10.4 percent in real terms. Non–OPEC sources of crude oil have been responsible for most of the decline. The decline in oil prices has reduced the incentives for many synfuels projects.”
The other read, Satish Kapoor looked diligently at the other as he read. And was the other intrigued? Was he impressed?
There was a silence. It lasted for several minutes — or so at least it seemed.
“The prose is not bad. There are grammatical problems, some but not many. But the subject — the subject is outdated.”
“The interpretations, Mister Kapoor, they are from 1981–1982. This is 2010 — thirty years later.”
“Twenty-eight years,” Satish Kapoor was tempted to correct him, but he checked himself.
“The topic is outdated, Mister Kapoor. It is old.”
Satish Kapoor was disheartened, but he spoke up. “I can revise them, sir.”
“What is this?”
“There are numbers, sir, I can bring them up–to–date. There are statistics — I can change them. The larger conclusions — I can work on them, sir. I can …”
The other smiled — smiled again. “The value is there, Mister Kapoor — perhaps. But it is small, marginal. Would you not agree?”
“Marginal” — how he seemed to insist on the word. Satish Kapoor felt small, he felt empty. He had worked on these statistics — worked on them for years and years. He had gone to work, come home. He had gone to work, come home. He had stayed late at the office — he had stayed until nine o’clock at night, ten. On a few occasions, he had even stayed the whole night.
“The value is there, Mister Kapoor — perhaps. But it is small, marginal. Would you not agree?”
“Marginal” — again he repeated the word. Did he take pride in it?
Satish Kapoor felt small, empty. An outsider would have been tempted to look at Satish Kapoor. But perhaps it is better sometimes not to look. A man is beaten, his dreams are shattered. Is it not best to allow him his dignity — to look away?
The days passed. Satish Kapoor wandered the streets, he wandered the alleys. And did it help? He saw officials, he saw agents. And did it help? He saw people recommended by other people. And did anything change?
A man has documents, he wants others to read the documents. Will they do it? He wants others to accept the documents. Will they do it?
A man is sixty years old. And now? He has lived, he has lived. For what?
One day Satish Kapoor rode for miles and miles. Thirty–five miles, almost forty. There was a place called Fremont. The horse — poor horse — was exhausted. And Satish Kapoor — was he not exhausted as well?
There was a building there — stucco, painted a light blue. There was a small veranda at the bottom, a man sat there selling cigarettes and potato chips. Another man sat in the shade, selling ice cream. Satish Kapoor ignored the men, he took a deep breath. He climbed the steps, he came to a landing. Ten more steps, he came to a second landing. There was a window there; the glass was cracked, part of it had been covered with cardboard and then taped over with thick masking tape.
Across from the window — some ten steps — was an old green door. There was a bell there on the side of the door. Satish Kapoor did not press on the bell, he knocked.
He knocked again, harder this time.
Still no answer.
He pressed his ear closer to the door to see if he could hear any footsteps. He thought he did hear footsteps. The shuffle — the slow shuffle perhaps — of an old person.
Yes, it was footsteps — it had to be. The footsteps got closer. He heard the pushing of a latch. Click. The door opened.
A small man stood on the other side. He was five feet tall, maybe an inch more. He was an old man — eighty years old, perhaps eighty–five. He seemed out of breath. The walk to the door had apparently not been easy.
Satish Kapoor looked at the old man, the old man looked at him. The old man was out of breath. His stomach sagged. He was wearing white pajamas with drawstrings — the pajamas sagged to the ground.
The old man was old, but his hair was pitch black. Satish Kapoor was surprised by this (how could he not be?). His own hair was turning gray. Could it compare?
The visitor’s eyes fell on the old man’s feet. The old man was wearing black rubber slippers, the toes stuck out in the front. The toes were old and slightly hairy; the big toe on the right foot was strongly discolored. “The old man needs to clean, he needs to clean” — the thought went through the visitor’s head. But no, perhaps the discoloration was some kind of fungus or illness — the visitor had read about them in some book once.
They stood there, the visitor and the old man — they stood for some time. At last the visitor entered and was offered a seat. There was a dirty green armchair, a dirty green sofa. He chose to sit on the sofa. A bad choice; the springs were loose and the seat sagged low to the ground.
There was a black cane chair. It looked higher, sturdier. The old man — perhaps smart — chose to sit on that.
They spoke about the weather, they spoke about old age. They spoke about the riots and the labor strikes in the streets. “The world is changing,” said one. “It cannot be helped,” said the other. Thus in generalities they spoke. Thus in generalities they passed the time.
Satish Kapoor had brought the documents with him. The old man was said to like documents. He had documents of all kinds — papers, treatises, newspapers. Old ledgers and old letters where the paper had long since turned brown and crinkly. The world had not been interested in Satish Kapoor’s documents. Was the old man different — would he care?
The two men sat there, they sat there for some time. At last Satish Kapoor could control himself no longer. He reached for the documents, he lifted them from the floor and brought them to his lap. Then he offered them to the host.
The other was noncommittal.
“Some documents,” Satish Kapoor said at last.
The other was silent.
“Work I have done — work over the years.”
Still the old man was noncommittal. He had looked at papers all his life. These papers, these new papers, should they have any interest for him?
But the host was not rude. At last he accepted the papers. His eyes were weak, he brought the papers directly in front of his eyes. Not right. He pushed the papers back — held them now about a foot before his face. Not as bad. He read:
“There are currently nine ozone non–attainment areas that are subject to the reformulated gasoline program provisions of the Clean Air Act. Another 16 areas are designated as ‘Serious,’ 32 are designated as ‘Moderate,’ and 39 are designated as ‘Marginal.'”
“The state of Arizona currently has an oxygenated fuel program covering the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson. The control period begins October 1 and ends March 31.”
“Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, and Washoe County, where Reno is located, both have oxygenated fuel programs. Clark County requires 2.6 percent oxygen by weight between November 1 and February 15. Washoe County requires a 2.0 percent oxygen by weight standard during the same period. There is talk of extending the control period through the end of February.”
The host had apparently seen enough. He lifted his head, he spoke to the other.
“Petroleum, I see.”
The host raised his hand, as if to indicate that he had heard enough. He returned to the papers. He suddenly raised his head again.
“I will give two dollars,” he said.