‘Have you ever felt like punching a guy in the face?’, asked Hyukjune, as Marc and him walked down the concrete parking lot that stood adjoining the small food court. The sun shone brightly that Friday afternoon, showering sunny San Diego with a sultry warmth that pleased those from tropical climates and irked those from temprate ones. Hukjune was the shorter of the two, at 5’7 he was about average for a Korean. Marc, a Spaniard stood tall at over 6 feet, as if the tribulations that had shortened the Spaniards a generation before him had vanished as soon as Franco’s hold over the country dissipated. The two techies had recently moved to San Diego to work at one of those boring old firms that produced electronic chips that powered everything from light bulbs to laptops. In keeping with the highly oscillatory behavior of the tech market, the firm at which the two of them worked previously had recently suffered a downturn and the talented engineers had left quickly, arriving at the currently green pastures of San Diego.
Marc looked down at Hyukjune, his eyebrows concentrated questioningly. ‘What was that again?’
‘I asked you if you have ever felt like punching a guy in the face.’
‘Oh yeah. Plenty of times. My ex-boss for instance! That guy was a pretentious jerk who deserved a nice punch on his face and a kick in his nuts. Then there was that guy from the bar the other day who kept grazing past my wife. Man, if it was not for Jennifer, I would really have had a go at him!’
‘Yeah, you probably should have anyway. But that’s besides the point. My intention was to ask you if you have wanted to punch someone without any real reason at all.’
‘You mean like a stranger?’
By this time the two of them had reached the Indian place that they were headed to for their weekly Friday lunch. The restaurant was one of those where the customer walks up to the counter which is arrayed with a line of dishes from amongst which the customer makes a set of choices which are served out by efficient workers into thermocol dishes, followed by the token “Do you want anything else with this sir?” along with the requisite fake smile, culminating in a quick swipe of the ubiquitous plastic card and the perfectly half-hearted fakery of “Have a nice day sir” and “You too”. The restaurant was popular with the office goers due to the efficiency of the production-line-like service and the relatively moderate prices and hence Hyukjune and Marc joined a long line that shuffled along with a pace that matched those with bound prisoners.
‘Yes, no…well, something like that’, continued Hyukjune, replying to Marc’s question. ‘Let us say you see this person everyday. You do not actually interact with, or even give him one of those standard smiles, you just see that him and you frequent the same place at the same time regularly. This person has never done anything to harm you or disturb you or anything. So, he is not a complete stranger in that his is unknown to you, but he is unknown to you! Do you see what I am saying?’
‘Yeah. This person could be someone on a bus or a train or something that you take everyday.’
‘So why would you want to punch him?’
‘Not just punch him, punch him in the face’
‘So no other part of the body?’
‘Yup. Just the face.’
‘Ok….so going back to my original question: Why would you want to punch a complete stranger in the face?’
‘That’s exactly my point. Have you ever felt the urge to punch a perfect stranger who you see everyday in his face?!’
‘No. Not that I can remember at least!’, said Marc, his voice tone indicating incredulity. Marc was used to Hyukjune’s outrageous pronunciations and equally ridiculous questions, but as with all sane individuals his mind rebelled when confronted with certifiable insanity. ‘So, you’ve had recent thoughts about punching a stranger?’
‘Yes’, replied Hyukjune, his attention temporarily diverted by a familiar looking face which had popped up with its body right behind him in the queue. Hyukjune gave the new join-ee a once-over and realizing that the reason he seemed familiar was because Hyukjune worked on the same floor as the stranger, and not because Hyukjune knew him personally, he turned back to Marc and continued, ‘There is this guy at the gym that I go to. I seem him everyday morning. He happens to be an Indian. His timings are such that I see him walking up to the gym through the glass walls as I am sweating my ass off on the treadmill. This lazy-ass bastard saunters in as if he has all the time in the world on a weekday morning and then with the same reluctant lethargy draws out his exercise regimen. And here I am, rushing through my schedule, trying to keep the exercises to minute-precision so that I am not late for work! After the session he sits down in the locker room for a good ten minutes, contemplating the deeper mysteries of life apparently, before heading to the shower. And here I am again, rushing through the shower at break-neck pace, always one step behind the evil mistress of time.’
‘Maybe this is the reason why you want to punch him in the face?’
‘No. I am not really irritated by him, I just wonder at the tempo of his life and am fascinated by the speed. I really have no reason to hate him. He seems like a nice guy, he is healthy, does not seem to smoke, and has never caused any problem at the gym. He also seems like the friendly sort who has a minute whenever someone he knows approaches him.’
‘And you still want to punch him in the face?’
‘So why don’t you?’
‘Why don’t I what?’
‘Yeah. You seem to nurture some really strong feelings. The easiest way to overcome this anger that is nestling inside you is to let it take action. Punch the guy and you will feel fine.’
‘I doubt it’, replied Hyukjune as the two of them got to within ordering distance of the counter. He continued, ‘I am pretty sure I can never punch a guy. My fingers wont stand it! I am sure that if I hit the guy a bruise will not even show on his face and I would have fractured my fingers and would probably have lost all use of that hand! Dude, I am not built for physical violence. Hell, a needle freaks me out, imagine broken, dangling fingers.’
‘Come on. I am sure you will case some bruise man.
‘No dude. The only bruise I will cause will be on my fingers!’
‘Amen to that’. At the sudden sound, Hyukjune and Marc turned to identify the speaker. The man who worked on the same floor as Hyukjune seemed to have said, ‘Amen to that’, before returning to browse the menu at the top of the counter. HYukjune gave the man a stare and went back to Marc.
‘So, where was I. Yes, breaking my fingers and loosing utility of my arm with no damage to the person whose face I was trying to drill a hole through. You know what. Maybe we should start a service that did this — went up to people you hated and have them punched by a well-built guy who would know what he was doing.’
‘To the best of my knowledge’, replied Marc, ‘those kinds of people are generally known as the Mafia! Now, remind me again how this works?’
‘You just pick the dish that you want from the list — you’d probably want the lunch combo with a meat dish and a veggie one; it comes with Naan and rice. Pretty simple really.’
‘And which one those dishes is the least spicy?’
‘Dude! Ask the server. I am not even Indian man, I cannot pronounce half the names of the dishes and you expect me to know how spicy they will be?’
As Hyukjune was instructing Marc on the procedure to procure food, the line had moved with its usual efficiency so that Marc was at the counter. Unable to make up his mind, he pushed Hyukjune ahead of him. Hyukjune was about to let the impatient waiter know that combination he wanted, when he felt a tap on his back. The man who stood behind Hyukjune a minute ago stood facing him. Hyukjune raised his eyebrows questioningly when it happened. Marc late swore that he had heard a faint smack — that of bone hitting bone — as the man who stood behind Hyukjune raised his right hand and punched Hyukjune squarely in the face. The hand came with an alacrity that would have no doubt pleased the vitesse-loving waiters of the establishment and connected with Hyukjune’s face squarely on the nose. In a fraction of a second after the impact, Hykjune’s face had turned left and loosing balance his body had crumpled to the floor. The man who had stood behind Hyukjune walked up the counter, his long legs easily stepping over the prostrate Hyukjune, and said, ‘Could I get a number 3 please’. Marc noticed that the man’s right hand, which was used in the punch, lay limp by the side. As the man walked up to the counter surrounded by the shocked silence of the astonished customers, broken only by the occasional sounds from the still functioning efficiency of the factory line, he pulled out his wallet using his left hand, and setting it down on the counter slowly retrieved the credit card using the same left hand. ‘Damn’, he said, ‘It seems like I have lost the use of my right hand for a while!’ and proceeded to pay for his Chiken Tikka and Andra Dal with the 2% cash-back rewards credit card.
‘Who knew, apparently punches are not good for either party’, he intoned.