‘Or I can let it be if you want to return the dress. The return policy is great in the USA,’ Debu said.
I fumbled to find the price label on my back. He laughed, picked up a cutlery knife from the table and cut the tag.
‘What’s up, guys?’ Avinash asked as he noticed Debu bent over my back.
‘Nothing. I liked the dress. Just wanted to check the brand,’ Debu said.
‘You advertising types, always curious,’ Avinash said.
Post-drinks the group decided to go to Ray’s, a famous place for pizzas.
‘What’s your favourite cuisine?’ Debu asked me as he ate his pizza slice.
I had no favourite cuisine. I couldn’t say Indian. It sounded too unfashionable.
‘Chinese,’ I blurted out.
‘I know a great Chinese place. Would you like to go sometime?’
Did he just ask me out? Nobody has ever asked me out. Thank you, Banana Republic. Oh, maybe he is just being helpful. He is saying he will tell me of a Chinese place I can go to sometime, alone. Is that what he means?
He looked at me, waiting for an answer. Say something, Radhika.
‘Huh? Yeah, why not? You can tell me the address, or if they deliver. . .’
‘I meant with me.’
‘Oh,’ I said and became quiet. Say something else, you stupid girl.
‘Yeah. Just you and me,’ Debu said.
My heart began to beat fast. Is this what people call a date? Can I ask him to clarify?
‘Okay,’ I said, letting out a huge breath, ‘we can.’
‘Next Friday?’ he said. Thoughts darted across my head. Isn’t he too forward? Wait, he is just fixing a time. Else how will it ever happen? Will it look too cheap and desperate if I say yes? Will he think I am a slut? Why is there no user manual for how girls should live on this planet?
‘Friday?’ I said and shut up, like a bimbette. He must be wondering how Goldman ever hired me.
‘Yeah. Weekend. No office next day,’ he said, his voice uncomfortable. He didn’t know if I was trying to blow him off or just being the usual idiot that I am.
‘Okay,’ I said. The effort it took me to say that okay felt like lifting seven heavy suitcases.
‘Cool. I will message you the time and address.’
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘Only if I have your number,’ he said.
‘Oh, of course. I’ll give it to you,’ I said.
‘Distressed Debt: Special Situations Group,’ the slide on the projection system read. The associate training class became radio silent. Distressed Debt was the hardest group to crack and join in Goldman Sachs. In any year only one or two associates were offered a role in the group. Those who made it earned the fastest promotions and the best bonuses.
Everyone had waited for this presentation.
‘Good morning, everyone,’ said the speaker on stage in a British accent. ‘I am Neel Gupta, partner at the Special Situations Group in the Hong Kong office.’
I looked up from my desk. He was six feet tall, lean and had a muscular frame. He had high cheekbones and a light brown complexion. He had salt-and-pepper hair, more pepper than salt, actually. He wore a crisp white shirt, a pinstriped navy-blue suit and a matching tie.
‘I will be giving you an overview of the Distressed Debt Group, in my view the most exciting place to be in Goldman Sachs.’
I sat next to four American girls: Maggie, Angela, Jessica and Carolyn. They looked at each other and made he-is-so-hot gestures.
If he wasn’t a partner he could be a model in one of those ads that show distinguished men buying expensive watches.
‘He is gorgeous,’ a girl behind me whispered.
Focus, Radhika, I told myself as he switched to the next slide.
The slide showed various stages in the life of a business. It started with the inception and start-up stage. It went on to growth, maturity, decline and demise.
‘Angel funds, venture capital and private equity. These guys help companies that are just born or are growing up. In clinical terms you can call them the maternity ward.’
He turned his back to us to see the slide. All the girls in the class exchanged glances with each other. The girls from the Hong Kong office felt extra lucky to have such a hunk in their office.
Neel continued, ‘We, on the other hand, belong to the death ward. We come in when the company has failed, when the time has come to either try something drastic or. . .’
He dramatically paused at the ‘or’ for a few seconds before he spoke again. ‘Or the time has come to pull out the life support, or liquidate and close the company. How easy do you think that is?’
He moved around the classroom and stopped right next to me. He had great perfume on, the kind that makes you want to go closer and smell it some more.
‘You, young lady. You think it is easy to shut down factories and fire people?’
I was gobsmacked. I didn’t expect to be asked a question in the GS training class, which had people from around the world. What if I said something stupid? What if everyone laughed at my Delhi accent?
I got up, nervous.
‘Sit down, young lady,’ Neel said. ‘Answer from your seat. Where are you from?’
‘Ah, I grew up there. Moved to the UK when I was ten. Anyway, so when would you recommend closing a business?’
‘When all other alternatives have failed. When keeping it alive means throwing good money after bad. When hope dies, I guess.’
‘When hope dies. Nice way to put it. But isn’t it heartbreaking when that happens?’ Neel said.
I remained silent. He moved to the front of the class.
‘Can you blame the undertaker for burying dead people? If people are dead, they need to be buried,’ Neel said.
His macabre analogies made his point clear. It also added notoriety, a level of excitement to distressed debt. What Neel said next helped further.
‘I became a partner in twelve years. Other parts of the firm, it takes twenty or more. Our associates make what VPs make in other groups. I am not allowed to reveal numbers, but if you stick around in distressed debt you will end up a very wealthy man or woman.’
Goldman Sachs never liked to discuss wealth in public. This, despite the fact that everyone at the firm was essentially there because of the money. Trainees whispered they had found out Neel’s equity in the firm on the Internet. He had thirty million dollars’ worth of Goldman Sachs shares. His hotness level spiked even more.