*Recounted “off-the-record” by PTA Clerk Goga to our intrepid correspondent, Farhan Faltoo.
AN HOUR BEFORE UNBANNING PUBG:
Awash in cold fluorescent light and swirling with arctic air, the white-walled conference room radiated an oppressive authority.
Atop its slick maple wood floor displayed two rows of brawny modular tables in a horseshoe pattern: mahogany and with bevels the girth of Sachin Tendulkar’s bat.
Some ten feet away, at the head of the second row, Member Naveed sat hunched in a cushy black swivel chair, transfixed by his laptop screen.
A burst of flashing colors glinted off his teak-brown spectacles, while round his corded neck hung a striped green bandanna rolled up like a cigar and knotted at the collar.
My fingers throbbed in time with my ticker.
Is this a bad time to ask for advance pay? But if I don’t take a chance, I can kiss my contest spot goodbye.
I quietly padded inside the room and halted beside the table; my hands tied before my crotch in a feeble attempt to conserve body heat.
His worm-like brows squished together as he furiously pounded the keyboard, and every so often, he jiggled the helmetlike headphones clamped atop his barren head, grunting and muttering cusses.
My tongue flicked across my cracked lips and I shifted from one foot to the other.
Why’s Hitler fuming today? Did the general steal his favorite toy? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was gaming, but that’s preposterous. The PTA’s express mission is to suck the joy out of our lives.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said meekly.
On a dime he flushed crimson, and his puffy lips and toothbrush mustache trembled as if revving up for a drag race. Soon his chin upraised toward the ceiling and he let out a guttural roar; his white-knuckle fists stabbing the air.
I recoiled and swallowed hard. But I only said hello…
He snapped off his headphones and slung them to the far end of the room. Then he crumpled forward, his elbows propped on the tabletop, and face-palmed.
“I have shamed the boy scouts,” he croaked.
Good job, Goga. The one day you seek a favor is when your boss has a mental breakdown.
I bit my upper lip and cast nervous glances round the room. “Are you all right, sir?” I asked delicately.
He startled and nearly toppled backward. Then he slammed shut the laptop lid and goggled at me.
“How long have you been here?” he squealed.
Long enough to confirm you’re a lunatic.
I shook my head, simpering. “Just came in, sir.”
He yanked off the bandanna and set it on the next chair. Then he fidgeted with the stationery strewn about his station and cleared his throat.
“What do you want?” he asked gruffly.
Time to act a toady. The brown sahib loves nothing more than a groveling lackey. I stooped a few degrees.
“Since Eid is near, could you please release my salary in advance? Mother would overjoy at new clothes this year,” I said with a winsome smile.
He stroked his round chin and squinted at me. “What’s your name again?”
“Goga, sir. From procurement.”
He flipped open the laptop and punched its keys while throwing me suspicious glances.
I kept my taut grin. Everything should be okay as long as he doesn’t interrogate.
He thumped the table asudden and yelled, “aha.” Then he eyed me with a steely face. “Are you the Bhola King?”
My eyes widened and my lips shaped into an O. How does he know my PUBG avatar?
“What’s that?” I asked in a wafer-thin voice.
He reclined in the chair and folded his arms over the chest, his pursed lips a shriveled paan. “You, son, are in real trouble,” he said grimly.
Blood drained from my face. Goddammit, how did he find out I was using the company servers to play? No more free lunches for those fools in IT!
“You have any idea how much grief the general put me through because of you, huh? Good thing our hired snoops finally came through,” he continued.
There goes my lifetime employment. Why are these mother-lovers so gung-ho about only banning PUBG?
My shoulders humped and I touched my forehead. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to disobey orders.”
“Have you no sense of decorum?” he snapped. “How dare you rank higher than your superior officers?”
A concrete pound cake whacked my gut. I can’t have heard him right.
My pinkies thrust in each ear and scrubbed them raw. “Pardon?”
He drummed the tabletop and scowled at me. “I tried to bury the matter because I play fair, but the general won't shed his combat fatigues and war paint until we bring the top ranker to justice. Hell, he’s ripped out half his fake hair in frustration.”
My sphincter spasmed from the possibility of an unannounced bowel movement.
Incredible. They banned PUBG because he’s a sore loser? Do these idiots not realize people have tons of money tied up in the game?
“I wouldn’t dare slight the general,” I rasped.
He arose, unkinked his steel-gray jacket with the flat of his hand, and strode toward the wide blue-tinted windows behind him. There, his back turned to me, he slipped his hands inside the trouser pockets and rocked back and forth on his feet.
“I won’t deny he may hang you by the nuts when he discovers you’re his underling. He banned the game to smoke you out after all,” he said.
My pulse quickened to a coke-fueled gallop. “He wants to win that bad?” I asked, incredulous.
Member Naveed spun round and pushed his spectacles up his nose. “Some ex-army guys should just buy houses on the battlefield,” he said, shrugging.
My arms limply drooped to my sides while my skin prickled from phantom boils. “What should I do?”
He held my mournful stare and patted his mustache. “Well, you could surrender your account. That might put him in a forgiving mood,” he said coolly.
I knew it. The only bright spot in my pointless life and these thugs want to snatch it away. But that’s not the only problem here. Should I refuse, the general will hound me to the ends of the earth and my case won’t qualify for political asylum even in Somalia.
I broke into hiccups. “What if I loan the account for a little while?”
A sly smile crept over his lips and he tee-heed. “Son, ever seen the government repay a loan?”
THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) on Thursday lifted the bans on popular online game Player Unknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and live-streaming application Bigo after meetings with the representatives of both the companies.
The decision comes after a lot of back-and-forth between the state-run regulator, the courts, and the PUBG game's fans, who had expressed outrage on social media platforms.
In a detailed order released a couple of days ago following a consultative meeting with citizens, government officials, and PB, the authority had insisted the online game was "highly addictive” and a "wastage of time" and noting that it was necessary to block the online game in the interest of public order.
*Autocrit scores our stories against published general fiction. Here's why we decided to report these scores.