December 4, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

Himmat Kaur found herself distracted. She was sitting in the departure lounge at LAX International airport, waiting to board her flight to Seattle. Nearby, two gate agents stood behind their computer screens looking very occupied with something important. A small television in the corner was hanging from the ceiling, almost like a forgotten friend, broadcasting the day''s news to no one who was particularly listening. A few passengers were seated, busying themselves by reading or knitting or futile attempts at sleeping. Others slowly paced back and forth in the hallway, whiling away the minutes until boarding would begin.

Himmat tried stretching but found it to be too much work, and ended up slumping in her chair. She felt bored, especially after the intensive week she had just had. The seminar that she had flown to LA to attend had exceeded her high expectations. There was so much that she had learned in these five short days, it would probably take a month just to sort out all the content and organize it in her mind. Not that she was slow. She was top of her class and had an impeccable 4.0 grade point average. No, her problem was that she all too often got bored. She needed mental stimulation, something to keep her mind occupied and engaged. So her parents had found it ideal to allow her to attend this highly technical seminar, full of numbers and calculations, formulae and scenarios. Even she had to admit that it had challenged her. And that's exactly why she loved it so much. She had taken copious notes all through the five days. Her fingers, wrist and forearm were sore from all the writing. But at least she had the satisfaction of having captured everything. When she got back home, she would sit down and study all the material intently, going over it thoroughly until she had mastered every nuance of every topic that was touched upon. She knew that there was no topic on Earth that could elude her when she dedicated herself to study it. She fearlessly voyaged into areas and subject matter where others dared not tread. And she always, sooner or later, mastered the subject at hand. She had not admitted defeat yet. And she was always looking for another challenge. It wasn't hubris, it was more like a need. It was the way she was wired. If she didn't constantly feed and challenge her mind with new and difficult problems to solve, she felt stagnant, bored. Incredibly bored. And that spelled the death knell to her. So she was always driven to look for and solve the most difficult, intricate, impossible problems she could find. She had just started college this year, and was only eighteen years old. But the truth was, Himmat felt that most of the classes were pedantic, and the subject matter was covered at the pace of a slow crawl, which only served to add to her frustration.

The sound of a crying child broke her reverie and brought her back to the airport departure lounge with the soft elevator music playing in the background and the freshly vacuumed dark blue carpet. Two seats to her left, a young woman was lifting her crying infant out of his stroller and comforting him. Himmat looked at the young lady curiously -- she seemed much too young to be a mother. She was slim and petite, had long blonde hair that had been hastily tied in the back with a hair tie. She had a small, oval face and bright, blue eyes. She seemed tired, though, as if she had gone too many nights without enough sleep. Her child calmed down as she soothed him in her arms, and after a few minutes he settled down and eventually fell asleep. He was plump and chubby with baby fat, had a few wisps of light blond hair on his small head, and his eyes matched his mother's.

She looked awkwardly at Himmat and said, "He's not really doing well with traveling, this is a difficult trip for him."

"Aw, poor guy," Himmat replied, "do you travel a lot?"

"This is the first time," she said, "we came to see his grandparents."

"Oh that sounds like fun! He's a cute baby," said Himmat, "what's his name?"

"Thanks, his name is Cole."

"That's a nice name. It suits him, I think. I'm Himmat."

"Mallory. Nice to meet you."

"Do you live in Seattle, or are you connecting to another flight there?"

"Seattle is home. I don't really travel at all, most of the time I'm taking care of Cole. But we really had to come on the trip, it was very important."

Mallory suddenly became very quiet, her eyes glistening with tears. She looked down at her baby.

"Why?" Himmat asked gently. "Is anything the matter?"

Mallory shook her head, as if to say that everything was fine. But then her brow furrowed, and she couldn't hold it in any longer. She nodded, and then closed her eyes and sobbed silently, tears started rolling down her cheeks.

Himmat got up and sat in the seat next to her, and gave her a hug.

"It's ok," she said softly, patting Mallory on the back.

"I'm sorry," Mallory wiped her tears with her hands.

"No it's ok," said Himmat, "what happened?"

"When Cole was born, he was a perfect little baby boy, my little baby boy," Mallory explained, "but then, something started happening to him. Something was wrong, so I took him to see his pediatrician, and he referred us to a specialist. They did a lot of tests, and they said that it was a very rare condition."

Mallory tried to explain the medical condition that Cole was afflicted with. She couldn't even pronounce it, tears came pouring out when she stumbled trying to say the long, complicated name.

"What's the treatment?" Himmat asked, trying to move Mallory towards a more hopeful frame of mind.

"It's an expensive procedure," Mallory replied, "It will take multiple treatments. Cole's father doesn't want to be part of his life, he left as soon as he found out that I was pregnant. He ignores all my calls. He changed his phone number so I couldn't get in touch with him. My parents help me as much as they can, but they don't have a lot of money. They barely have enough to get by themselves. I came here so Cole's father's parents could meet him. It was their first time to see their grandchild. I thought, maybe after they saw him, they would want to help. They can afford it. But, they didn't agree."

"Why not?" asked Himmat.

"They didn't want to acknowledge that Cole was theirs. They said it was too much money. And since Cole's father wasn't even in the picture, they were even questioning if Cole was his son. I'm on my own, and I really can't afford it by myself."

"Doesn't the state health plan cover things like this?"

"I have filed the applications, but it's a long waiting list. And they told me that they weren't sure if this type of thing will be covered. They said it might be, but there's a lot of fine print and exclusions and other stuff, other rules so right now there's no idea."

Himmat listened to Mallory explain how she had tried unsuccessfully to raise the money for her son's medical treatment. She had been trying for months, scrimping and saving, but she had only managed to save a small fraction of what she needed. And nobody was willing or able to help her. Mallory described how much money she had managed to put into the new savings account she had opened for this purpose, and how much was actually needed to cover the expensive treatment.

"My son needs this treatment," Mallory said, "if he doesn't get it in time, this condition could worsen and could affect him for the rest of his life. It could cause permanent damage. I couldn't bear that!"

"You're under a lot of stress," said Himmat. "I can't imagine how difficult it must be for you."

Himmat suddenly became aware of all the background noise in the airport departure lounge, including the forlorn television hanging in the corner from the ceiling. The daily news was over, and now they were covering the news of the financial markets. Words popped out at Himmat, terms and phrases she was newly familiar with. She turned to look at the screen.

"And in trading news, the Dow Jones industrial average rose over one hundred points, with all the major indices advancing to hold in black for the year ... "

Himmat found herself staring at the screen. As the television hosts rattled off numbers and statistics and displayed graphs and charts describing the state of the financial markets, Himmat's attention was captivated. She stood up and walked over to the television, staring up at it as if in a trance. All the charts and numbers that were being flashed up on the screen in quick succession strangely made sense to her. She smiled a little as she realized that the lessons from the seminar were bearing fruit.

As she stared at the charts being displayed, she began to notice certain patterns. The instructors at the seminar had talked about this, but they had strongly cautioned that this was an extremely risky market situation. They had warned the students that this was not something that they should venture into, at least not until they had had several years' experience trading in the markets, and knew exactly what they were doing. As beginners, they should steer clear of these particular kind of trade setups, regardless of how lucrative and profitable they appeared to be. It was deceiving and dangerous for newcomers. Here was where the dragons lay, and many a neophyte trader had been decimated after being lured in with the promise of massive returns.

Himmat paid attention to warnings. But she also knew when to take calculated risks. She kept watching the screens as she played out all the various potential scenarios in her mind. Did she forget anything? No. Wait, yes. Maybe. She went back and mentally reviewed everything from the start. Yes, adjustments would be required at levels previously unnoticed. She frowned. It was a complex trade. She wasn't sure she could keep track of all the variables.

She pulled out her phone and tapped a few buttons to log into her brokerage account. She stared at the screen for a moment. She had a small balance, mostly from money she had saved up by doing summer jobs and various freelance programming projects. In order for her plan to work, everything would have to go exactly right, at least for the first several iterations. The probability was not in her favor. And the risk was enormous. She was about to take the safety rails off and venture into financially dangerous territory.

She turned around for a quick glance back at Mallory. Then she took a deep breath and entered the trade details. She had to do some quick calculations and note down the specifics of the plan. She was going to use an insane amount of leverage. She was going to break all the rules she had just learned about how to trade safely. But in this case, there was no other choice.

And then she was ready.

Her finger hovered over the green button. It was time to commit. A moment of fear, hesitation, doubt. All her insecurities came rushing to the forefront, clamoring for her attention. But there was one trump card she had -- her intellectual curiosity.

"Can I really do this?" she thought to herself. The question itself obliterated all other feelings, and she was immediately consumed by the burning desire to find out whether she was right about her assumptions.

She pushed the button.

The phone chimed as notification arrived that her order had been received and processed. Another chime came seconds later when her positions were filled. If they were here to see what she was doing, the seminar instructors would have been screaming at her for her folly.

Standing around for the next few minutes was awkward and tense. She fidgeted a little bit, tried to follow the ongoing commentary on the television, and tried looking out the windows. But none of it could settle her mind.

Finally, there was movement in the market. She quickly checked her phone for the status of her position. The tiny groups of numbers on the screen made her smile. She had confirmation of her assumptions. She quickly entered another trade, and then another, and another, cascading them with multiple conditional orders based on market conditions, date, and several other variables. She had used the maximum leverage available to her, and one false move would completely wipe out her account and probably put her in enormous debt. But if she was right . . .

She walked back to Mallory and sat down.

"Hey," she said, "I think I can help."

Mallory looked puzzled. "I don't understand," she said, "Help, how?"

"Well, it's kind of a long story to explain right now. But if I'm right, there should be enough money to cover expenses for Cole's treatment. We should know soon, by tomorrow or the day after.  Next week for sure. If it all works out, I'll have it wired to your bank account."

"But--" Mallory's confusion was apparent on her face, "you would do this for me? Why? We only just met."

"Yeah I know. But you are in need of help," replied Himmat, "and right now, I am in a position to help."