There were files and files — files all around. Satish Kapoor would get in the horse carriage, take them all through Oakland. He would go to Rockridge, he would go to Chinatown. He would go to downtown Oakland, he would go to East Oakland. Where was it that he did not go?

He was a man of medium height, almost sixty years old. He had a fair complexion, he was quite handsome. But his hair was turning gray. And his life, was it of any worth?

They were old files, papers and documents that he had worked on. “Petroleum Data Interpretations” (1981), “Motor Gasoline Supplies” (1983), “Crisis in the Straits of Hormuz” (1983), “The Quality Control Notebook” (1987), “The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990” (1992). And so on. He tried to explain these documents to people, his contributions to them. Most people did not seem interested. The documents were too old, even poorly written. The subject was obscure — and even outdated.

“I will fix the grammar,” he said. “I will recopy, even type if you want. I will redo in fair copy.”

But the people were not interested.

One time he was in East Oakland. It was an old, gray building, nondescript. The steps were gray and dirty, they had not been swept in some time. Here and there were some puddles — were they from the recent rains?

He climbed the steps, came to a long hallway. There was the smell of sour milk, of fish and onions being fried somewhere down the hall. There, in the far corner, he thought he saw a small mouse.

He had come — why had he come? To share his documents? To share his past? To share his heart?

He knocked on the door, he waited. The door opened. A man stood on the other side. He was in his undershirt, he wore light gray pants. The belt was loosened, one side of the leather strap dangled beside him on the right.

The man pressed his body to the door, made way for the visitor to pass.

Satish Kapoor entered and sat on the cane chair. He took his stack of documents, laid them on the floor beside him.

The host looked at the stack, did not seem pleased. Satish Kapoor noticed that. Not many people were impressed by the documents. Was this a learned man, a wise man? Was he the same as the others — was he an exception?

The host offered tea, Satish Kapoor declined. “The documents,” his eyes seemed to say.

They did indeed get to the documents. Satish Kapoor explained, the other listened. He explained, the other listened. And was the other moved?

“Crude oil stocks fell 1.3 percent from the previous month, but motor gasoline stocks showed an unexpected rise of 2.7 percent. Distillate stocks are close to the low end of their historical range — but far in excess of minimum operating inventory (MOI) levels.”

“As of January 8, 1982, total primary stocks (excluding SPR) were 1,269.3 MMB. This is a decline of 1.1 percent from the comparable period in 1981, but an increase of 1.2 percent from the previous month.”

“Gasoline consumption for 1982 is expected to range between 6.47 and 6.78 MMB/D (see Exhibit 2). This range brackets the 1981 average of 6.59 MMB/D.”

The other looked at Satish Kapoor, shook his head. “Too detailed,” he said.

“A preliminary analysis, based on potential supplies of 2.9 MMB/D and a potential demand of 2.5 MMB/D, indicates that current residual stocks are more than adequate. The analysis assumes that winter demand for residual fuel will be 130 percent of the prior summer’s base use. In the peak season of 1977–78, the winter demand was 119 percent of the prior summer’s base use.”

Again the other looked at Satish Kapoor, shook his head. “Too specific,” he said.

Satish Kapoor was disappointed. But he did not lose all hope — not yet. He said that there were general points — bigger points — as well.

“Crude oil imports into the U.S. today have a much higher sulfur content than they did seven years ago.”

“A big point,” said Satish Kapoor. “A big point!”

“To evaluate historical supply trends for motor gasoline, three components must be analyzed: refinery production, net imports, and net stock withdrawals (or additions).”

“A big point,” said Satish Kapoor. “A big point!”

And again:

“The ‘average range’ and ‘minimum operating inventory’ estimates for crude oil stocks, distillate fuel oil stocks, and residual fuel oil stocks may no longer be valid. They are based on the ‘throughput’ levels of 1977 and 1978 and on critical factors affecting stock–holding behavior — interest rates, levels of demand, perception of stability in world market, etc. — that have changed substantially over the past few years. A revision of the average and minimum estimates may, therefore, be in order.”

The other looked at Satish Kapoor, shook his head. He looked, he pursed his lips. Perhaps he felt sorry for him — he actually felt sorry. But was there anything that he could do?

Some twenty minutes passed, perhaps twenty–five. “I am sorry,” he said at last.

Satish Kapoor was dejected — how could he not be? He had come in full of hope. And this hope, where was it now?

But Satish Kapoor did not give up, not yet. He would leave the host, he would go outside. He would get into his horse carriage. He would go to the next house and the next. He would go to Rockridge, he would go to Chinatown. He would go downtown, he would go to West Oakland. He would knock on this door, on that. He would knock softly, loudly. And would they let him in? Would they care?

* * *

Satish Kapoor did indeed leave. He said goodbye to the host. They walked out the door and down the hall. Another door. Another. Satish Kapoor walked out the main door and down the ten dirty steps.

Satish Kapoor continued his journey. He went from street to street, from alley to alley. And did the people listen? Did they care?

“I am here, sir.”


“Are you home, sir? Are you kind, helpful? Will you let me in?”

Satish Kapoor spoke about his documents, his papers. And did it help? He spoke about the detailed points, he spoke about the general points. And did it help?

The days passed. One day Satish Kapoor went to the building — the famous tall glass building in downtown Oakland. The lines at the building were long that day — they were especially long. There was a long room, black tables with plastic tops spread throughout the room. Men sat at these tables. Some wore suits, some wore casual slacks. Some wore exotic robes — African, Afghan, robes from throughout the world.

One man was seated there in a white shirt and white pants. He had pitch–black hair. His eyes were black, but someone had put kohl in his eyes — on his eyebrows, his eyelashes — and it made the eyes look even darker. He looked like some actor in a movie, or perhaps in a play.

Satish Kapoor approached the man — approached him timidly.

“I have come,” he said.

“Yes,” said the other.

There was a moment of silence.

“I have brought the files.”

The other was silent.

Satish Kapoor reached into his plastic bag and he began to take out the documents. There was dust on the top, he blew on the dust. Some of the dust flew toward the host. The host was not pleased. The visitor was nonplussed — apologized to the other. He apologized profusely.

“A mistake, sir, an error.”

The other was silent.

“An aberration, sir. I am a careful man — I pride myself on it. Why only yesterday …” and the visitor stopped.

Apparently the visitor was about to tell a story — some relevant story about what had happened yesterday. But he seemed to have forgotten the story. He seemed to have lost the thread of his words. He seemed …

The documents were on the table, the other began to examine them. He flipped through them, studied them for some time. He lifted his head.

“A petroleum man, I see.”

“Yes, sir. These are from my early years. Petroleum was important then — it is still. That is …”

And again the visitor stopped.

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.

No answer.

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Clean air.”

“Yes, sir.”

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.

“Two dollars!”

“The papers are old, the topic tedious. The topic is outdated. But you seem like a nice man. You have lived a long time, seen much. Is it not so?”

Satish Kapoor was silent. But the other was not stupid. He understood.

“Two dollars, I will keep the documents. I will put them on the shelf. Every eight months — perhaps nine — I may open them, take a peek.”

A peek: what an interesting phrase he used. Two dollars was hardly a big sum. Was it an insult? But the world is a hard place. Beggars cannot be choosers. The other was accepting the documents — was that not something? He would perhaps take them out, peek at them. Was that not something?

Satish Kapoor was bold, he addressed the man directly.

“Are you insulting me?” he said.

“What is this?”

“Are you insulting me?”

The other smiled — allowed himself a smile. It was a small smile at the corner of his lips. He had lived a long time, he had seen much — perhaps too much. He held one of the documents — held it again a foot before his face. He read. He read for a minute, perhaps for two minutes. At last he lifted his head. Did he look tired, bored? Did he look impressed?

“I have seen many papers,” he said.


“I have seen papers and papers.”


He gestured widely with his arms, motioning to the papers — or was it the world? — all around him. But perhaps the gesture was unnecessary. The visitor had seen for himself. This was not an ordinary place. There were papers and papers, papers all around.

The old man sighed. He sighed again.

“Come and see me tomorrow,” he said.



And that was it. The old man rose, he walked out of the room. Slowly, slowly — the rubber slippers flip–flopping below him — he walked out of the room.

Satish Kapoor was left staring at his host. The host was gone, he was left to himself.

Two dollars. Was it an insult? Was there meaning to the offer? Was it a symbol of some kind?

Satish Kapoor had traveled, he had traveled. And now? He had searched, he had searched. And now? Something had happened. But what? Was it good, bad? Who could say — who could really say?

* * *

Satish Kapoor rose — at last he rose. He walked slowly to the door and then down the steps. The old man wanted to see him tomorrow — what did he want to see him about? He had something to tell him. What was it? Why did he not tell him now?

But no, no, he should be patient. Tomorrow would come — one day away, just one. And then all would be explained. All would be made clear.

All night Satish Kapoor tossed and turned. And was it so easy? He had dreams — bad dreams. And was it so easy? The old man would tell him something. What?

Unable to calm himself, Satish Kapoor picked up some papers, he read. Again he read:

“Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) has an oxygen content of 18.2, slightly more than half of the oxygen content of ethanol. MTBE is, however, the best source of oxygen of the fuel ethers.”

“The blend Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of MTBE ranges from 8 psi to 10 psi and produces a slight rise in gasoline RVP. Gasoline/MTBE blends that come in contact with conventional gasoline in the distribution system do not produce a rise in the RVP of the commingled product.”

“Ethyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (ETBE) has, at 10, a slightly higher blend octane value than MTBE. This is, however, three octane numbers below that of ethanol.”

“Like isopropanol (IPA), Tertiary Butyl Alcohol (TBA) can be produced by indirect hydrolysis, and the process is similar to that for producing IPA. Isobutylene, concentrated sulfuric acid, and water provide the primary feedstocks. Isobutylene is absorbed by sulfuric acid to produce an intermediate product that is hydrolyzed in a subsequent step. In the Far East, TBA is produced by direct hydrolysis of isobutylene.”

He read, he read. And was he now calmed? He read, he read. And was he now at peace?

* * *

Tomorrow morning came. At a few minutes after ten, Satish Kapoor got in his carriage. He went again to see the old man. It was a long ride, almost forty miles. He arrived there at last.

He climbed the steps, he came to a landing. Ten more steps — another landing. The broken window was there, the green door on the other side. He knocked.

The door opened.

They sat there — the visitor on the sofa with the bad springs, the old man on the black cane chair. They sat, they spoke for some time. They spoke about the weather, they spoke about the traffic. They spoke for some time.

At last the old man rose. “Follow me,” he said.


The host led, Satish Kapoor followed. They were going somewhere. Where were they going? They went down the short hall, they came to a door. They opened the door, they walked to the right. There was a gray door there. The door sagged, there was a fairly big gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.

The host opened the door. It was dark and the motes of dust flew in the air. There was a thin white string suspended from the ceiling. The host pulled on the string — the naked bulb came on.

There were tin trunks there — trunks piled on top of each other. The host lifted the top trunk, laid it on the floor to the right. He lifted a second trunk, did the same. More dust flew around. The host squatted on the floor and then sat all the way down on his knees. There was a third trunk, he opened that. More dust.

The host pulled on the rusty hasp, lifting the lid of the trunk. (More dust flew in the air.) He reached in and felt around with his hands. Finally he seemed to find what he was looking for. It was a leaflet — a small leaflet of some kind. “Copy book,” he said. He took out another leaflet. “Copy book,” he said.

There were indeed several copy books. They seemed to be from the host’s past. Was it a distant past? “This is from my matriculation days.” It was an essay of some kind. The importance of coffee in Brazil’s culture — or something like that. “This is from my intermediate days.” It was an exam paper of some kind. The host had received a good mark — 91. “These are from my college days.” He took out three copy books nicely covered in protective brown paper. There was an essay on statistics — the limitations of the chi–square distribution; an essay on the independence leader Samuel Adams; an essay on the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Satish Kapoor looked at the copy books. He was at a loss.

“The past,” said the host.

“The past?”

“My past. We all have a past, sir. We keep it in a horse carriage, we keep it in a tin trunk. Is it not so?”

Satish Kapoor was silent.

“Special, not special, who can say? Most people do not care. We wander, we wander, one day we come to a building — or a dark room — someone listens, or we think he does. ‘A soul–mate,’ we say. But is it really so?”

Still Satish Kapoor was silent.

“We wander, we wander. Perhaps we find a soul–mate, perhaps we do not. To us it is something. But to the world?”

“The world?”

“To us it is something — perhaps it is everything. It is all we have. But to the world …”

The old man stopped. Perhaps he had grown tired. Perhaps he had run out of breath. Perhaps he had said everything that was important. There was no more to say.

Satish Kapoor listened, he listened with care. And did he understand?

“I am an old man, sir.” Thus he spoke at last.

“What is this?”

“I am almost sixty years old.”

“What is this?”

“I have worked, I have worked.”

The old man was silent. He played with his mouth. He took his right hand and rubbed the thumb and index finger just above the lips. He did it slowly.

“I am tired, sir, so tired.” And Satish Kapoor fell silent.

The old man looked at Satish Kapoor—perhaps he understood him. He looked at Satish Kapoor—perhaps he felt sorry for him. The old man removed his fingers from above his lips. He took his hand—the whole right hand now— he rubbed it gently across the other’s back. Gently, kindly. He stroked the other’s back.

* * *

Satish Kapoor was an old man. Were there others like him? He was a tired man. Were there others like him?

He had documents and documents—the old man had accepted two of them. Satish Kapoor would wander the streets, he would wander the alleys. And then? He would go to the markets, he would go to the buildings. And then? Would there be other kind people like the old man? Would they accept the documents as well?

“I am no one.” Thus spoke Satish Kapoor. The old man was silent.

“You are a kind man, sir.” The old man was silent.

“I have worked and worked. I have lived and lived. For what?”

The old man was silent.

Satish Kapoor said goodbye to his host, he walked to the door. He made his way home.


That night Satish Kapoor lay in his bed, he thought about the world. He was here in this world—why? He had lived in the world—why?

Satish Kapoor was restless, he could not sleep. He went to the other room and turned on the light. There was a box there filled with papers. He took out some papers, he read. More papers: he read.

“From 1975 through 1978, product supplied increased an average of 9.7 percent from the first to the second quarter. The increase from the second to the third quarter averaged 0.6 percent.”

How tiring it all was.

“Decontrol of the oil industry became final on January 28, 1981. Exhibit II–1 summarizes the results of deregulation and the impact on the various aspects of supply.”

How fatiguing it all was.

“In the 1992–1993 carbon monoxide season, for Case I, the demand ex- ceeds supply by 243 MB/D. For Case II, the demand exceeds supply by 308 MB/D. For Case III, the demand exceeds supply by 173 MB/D. Case IV is the same as Case II for 1992–1993 because the opt–in provisions do not go into effect until 1994–1995.”

Satish Kapoor was a simple man. He read. He was a tired man. He read. The reading comforted him—or did it? The reading tormented him—or did it? Sometimes he was sad; sometimes he chuckled. Sometimes there was a tear in his eye.

In the distance, the dawn began to break. Satish Kapoor sat on the sofa, the documents all around him, one even on his stomach. He turned to the side, he made a pillow with his arms. And he tried to sleep, the simple one (was he able?). He tried to sleep.

“The regulations on reformulated gasoline are complex and their effects are far–reaching. As a result of the regulations, the mix of fuels required at the retail level will increase dramatically, and also change seasonally. Exhibit 29 (pp. 136–141) presents, by PADD, the list of fuels that will be required in each month.”

Pages: 1 2 3 4 | Single Page