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NAVAL LANGA

FIRST CHAPTER

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CHAPTER  ONE

THOUGH THE MEETING was not a premeditated or diarised one, it ended with a difference. The difference I was never prepared for.

Everything began like this. It was August in its youthful days. Thrashing rain. The downpour acted as a sword, dividing city dwellers into two sets. The dwellers had their compelling selections: half of them ran into their houses; and another half ran out of their houses. The reason was obvious. They held restricted balance of faith on their walls, the sliding walls, weak by age and neglect.

I was simply heading to a building. A speechless building on the opposite edge: a shopping complex that was lighted up with neon tubes in one side; and on another, it was pale and blue with power-cuts. The multi-storey composition of shops and cellars had a slippery ground floor, the ground floor involving a crude parking, ancient potholes, and garbage of a folded past. However the entire city was not a different bucket.  

Rajpore, a city of tall temples and low roofs, was nowhere on the map of India before an army camp of British soldiers decided to extend its tenure. Easy water and fuming tobacco farms must have provided initial reasons. Thereafter its fair climate, central location, and an all-weather racecourse played a stabilizing role. Then the officers, advanced in age, wearing remarkable weight of medals—the medals heavier than the heads they had rolled—on their uniforms, started to like the place.

They, the officers of advanced age, lived to pass their December days in playing cricket and clapping for fours, sixes, and falling wickets. Their game was their mantra of relief between two wars. They all clapped triumphantly when the great second war ended. They walked out, leaving all the catches dropped, when newborn nations washed their undefined borders with blood.

I hate history, as historians hardly care for the recent past. I wondered why they stop writing when the time-lap of last fifty years begins. The second world war always owned last pages. Perhaps they thought it unwise to consider UNO as history.

A reluctant recess of rain, and I stationed my car on a frontal space. Just below a ‘No Parking’ sign that was obscured by the hoardings. I would be back in minutes, and nobody would mind it on such a stormy day. Nothing was going to be changed. That was what I thought. I was unaware of the process, which was to commence after half an hour: the process that was to change my life altogether. First step in water, second on a gritty land, and I jumped on curved steps. Then Tick Tack Tick: my speeding sandals. 

I went into Kanan’s shop.

Kanan: an authorized owner of ten-by-thirty feet of hard soil in middle of the market. In addition, he owned rich layers of fat around all of his bones, a pair of eyes of a fasting cat, and a height just above poverty line. This hardly completed the whole picture. Whatever amount of other properties he carried on his not-so-bad face, half of it would be an ample stock for a grocery trader. And yes, I liked him. Not for his saccharine words or the balances he had jailed in his bank accounts, but for he was my friend’s husband. My dead friend’s husband.

Kanan stopped counting of his rain-thinned trade. From a distance of twenty yards, he could smell my Golf Club attire: the Club jacket, reddish shirt, and creamy jeans. He owned a nose too, not a dog-like one, but a little bit more sensitive. I wiped out water running on my face, while entering, and cared little about other ashes of the rain. 

“Would you tell me the date?”

“Oh Sweta. I really need you today.”  Kanan tried to pre-empt a strike. It meant he had forgotten to pack my provisions as ordered. “But you asked me… some date…” 

“The date from which your mind has stopped working.”  I tapped my fingertips on a wooden counter and scrolled eyes on a shelf.

“I was just thinking of you.” He screwed a cold drink, a small bottle, and put it before me. It was the last thing he would do for others: the cold drink. Standing beside a glass shelf, full of cheap chocolates, he extended his politeness. “I met one very special man today. Intelligent like you. The gentleman is appointed on a high post at city civic office. Recently.”

“Everyone is special and gentle for traders like you. Greedy stock of creatures.” That was how I could respect his clan. 

Standing in a kitchen-feeding corner, I ran not-so-hungry glances over a loft where stuffs like bakery, tinned butter, and pickles were piled up. Random looks at all the kith and kin of human food, and I fished out a chocolate box with one single-woman-sized butter-tin. Canned food was not my branch of interest. Too much cramped, I believed.

A jam-bottle, sitting on an upper loft, and Punjabi pickles from a lorry-fresh box ended the weekly circuit.  “He is really a nice man: a charming face, pleasant nature, and a man of action.”

“Great. Then what is he doing here? He should be in Hollywood.”

“Sweta, if you wait…” For a while he failed to find a better rejoinder to his petition. In such a situation he would pass his palm on head where the middle-aged hair-army was retreating with a sweeping speed. He did so. Then he found out some retail phrases from his trading vocabulary. “You will find him interesting. Really.” 

For me, ‘men’ were never ‘interesting’. Especially the men sitting on high positions remained my distaste. To cultivate such distaste I had not moved from place to place. I had read lurking lust in their eyes at all the places: schools, colleges, and company parties.

Despite my strong dislike for them, the men flocks, they had not stopped hoping for things from me. Whatever they hoped for, I gave them only one thing: hate, the consolidated hate. The whole tribe of ‘you men’ was just like a swarm of skin-germs, I believed; and the germs deserved hate and repellents. 

I placed a cheque on cashbox and unheeded what Kanan said. There were reasons for doing so: Firstly I was impatient to be at home, and I held a controlled amount of faith on Kanan’s narratives. Tick Tack Tick.

“Sweta, please.” He persisted as an insurance agent.

A feel of retort and I stopped near the glass door, the door that was closed on whole of the world outside. “I said no. I am not interested in seeing your ‘very, special, man’. Okay? I’m going.”  

            

                                

HAD I GONE to Golf Club there would not have occurred such an unexpected reorder. They, the club people, never hatched any surprise under their chest. They were good people. No one ever asked me questions starting with why, where, when again et cetera. They avoided trivial issues; they talked only about the sticks they used, the clothes they wore, and the cars they imported last.

But looking at the oceanic outfield, I decided against the Club. As I descended few steps, there emerged an athletic figure of about six feet. Ascending with ease. I paused for a moment to gauge the contours of the interesting emergence: a man with harmonious face, his simply tailored and quiet clothes, and the eyes—looking at signboards upside. The eyes, not as black as his curly hair, looked like a pair of birds flying in search of a place for building a nest.

After analysing the pensive design of his face, I could sense much more than what Kanan had reported.  When he was at a striking distance, I lashed out a considered question. “Are you the ‘very special man’, a bald man in that shop is waiting for?”

My aggressive query was bound to baffle him for a while. It did. It took some moments to get his wonder subsided. When recovered, surprisingly soon, he seemed to have filtered the connotation of words shot at him.

“Ma’am, I like the storm in your words, and it will be nice if you join me.” 

Euphony of his syllables mismatched the reputation of the place he reportedly belonged to. City civic officers were uniquely famous for their rudeness, a disease that was contagious. Civic office had never cared to sanitize itself. The man looked free-from-the-infection. I joined.

“You must be Kanan’s close friend.”

“I am his only enemy.” 

The door passed.

“Oh, welcome sir. It’s very nice of you to take trouble on this rainy day.” Kanan had two strange skills. He used greasy words needlessly; and he shook hands for a fairly long time like the Chinese people would shake in front of a press camera. He applied both the skills.

“Sweta, Mr. Ajay. Officer at civic office.” Kanan introduced him as he would introduce a profitable brand of chocolate, or a saleswoman would describe a tin of baby food before a pregnant woman. He could not do otherwise. His trade barriers. “And sir, here is Sweta. Only Sweta. If I say she is my friend, she will throw stones upon me.”

“No, she may not. She has thrown enough on the steps.” He slanted his head with an unreserved smile and addressed a brief-stop-look at my diamond-studded earrings. “Mr. Kanan let me say I have a name, Ajay. And please, avoid calling me sir. I’m just a friend at your floor.”

While Kanan dismounted three chairs, I kept my eyes working over the outlooks of ‘just a friend’. He had a voice, the voice that reminded me the grapes and olive oil. Though Kanan’s description—his officer-ship—did not seem impressive, as the man in spotless clothes took his chair himself without waiting for a peon or something similar.

A simple wristwatch sparkled on his arm and our eyes met once again. Managerial egomania, the stink that I disliked most, was not traceable. He took out a handkerchief, white as wing of a dove, wiped out his slightly broad forehead and sat attentive as a first-bencher.

“So, where do you stay, Ajay?”                              

“Behind the riverside guesthouse, near City Garden. I had stayed in that guesthouse for initial weeks.”

“Oh, you were Madame’s guest. Then you’re guest of the town.” Kanan lived far away from any of the branches of faith. But he had reserved his faith-corner for Madame Lataji; an autocrat by nature and a social servant by deeds, she lived at far end of the city—on the opposite bank of river. People loved her, obeyed her words, and revered her as a photocopy of some divine power.

“It is not so. Only my grandma told me to contact her.”

Kanan could not hold his idol worshiping. Praising Lataji, he sprayed a full tank of words in all the directions. The guest stood by his simplicity. He used effortless vocabulary to reveal that he had neither seen ‘Madame’ till the date nor heard her name before stepping in the city. My tool of deconstruction had a sample to work on. His word-flow.

Kanan involved Ajay in dry talks of trade; he would do it with anyone. He would talk his best achievements, too, in the driest words. He did it extensively.

Sitting tranquil, I applied compass of my senses to scale the ‘guest of the town’. I tried to count the factors that composed the face interesting. His sportsman-like frame did not look more in age than mine: I was twenty-seven. But from where did he get the flair, the controlled flow of syllables? I had heard voices, too many, but none was so appealing, or that could get a woman clicked at her substance.

Kanan went on telling him how city civic men were non-cooperative to the traders, and I recalled the men I had seen: the men, holding bearable virtues, gifted with appealing looks, boasting of their athletic physiques, or having crude combinations of such things. Here was a man, looking intermittently at me as if he had never seen a swimmer woman’s shape, an oval face, a sharp-tip nose, and whitish-wheat colour skin. Strangely enough he seemed to have an unusual interest upon my earrings. Glancing at frequently. 

As the talk went on, Ajay seemed standing diametrically opposite to the tribes of men I knew. Such were his accent, the rhythm, the mode of moving hands and head, and the thoughts he aired. His unsoiled eyes, and the restraint on speaking about himself, stamped him as a man standing at a pole’s distance from the creatures I had seen in bulk at parties, social gatherings, and isolated backside of the woods.

Kanan turned on shutting down the shop, as he had completed his rhetoric about me: I was his fast friend; I was an event manager in an advertising company; and I owned a separate office with a bold-letter nameplate on its door, before which my assistants feared to stand. The man in whites remained a patient attention. 

“Ajay, we shall have dinner together. Please.”  

Kana’s pleasure was on the top of a tower. He was in the company of an officer. And he perhaps wanted to stretch the company up to a hotel, serving economy class of dishes. He would talk his trade worries: rising prises, falling profits, the new government, and how severely the city civic people taxed his goods.

Earlier in his bearable youth Kanan had an experimental run behind certain noble pursuits, which involved body and brain. Failing in that line, he and his madness had bought a ticket for trade route and settled on bank balances. Thereafter he developed no habit that engaged his mind. Though he was still a gentleman. He never threw a glass-bottle on roads; he neither tempered with water-meter at home, nor he could gather sufficient courage to whistle at women. The gentlemen wanted Ajay with him.

“Ajay will go with me. He is my guest today.”  I broke silence. Kanan suddenly looked at me. His face was full of confusion, as there was no history of inviting ‘a man’ at my home. But he remained non-committal. 

“Ms. Sweta, but I…” Ajay switched over to me, exclusively.

“Have I given you any option?” I pointed my finger at his nose-tip.

Ajay raised his hands in submission and smiled a yield, a gentleman’s yield. He closed his eyes and slanted his head. That was the gesture the children in higher strata of society were taught: how to behave while honouring a genuine invitation. He showed his education, perhaps.

I showed him door by turning of my eyes.

 

 

THOUGH THE cloudy sky went on changing its aggressive colour into a harmless hue, it was not easy for the mercury-bulb lights, standing on a track-dividing ridge, to write bright lines on the mud-plated roads. Going was silent until a woman, carrying load of cardboards on her head, strolled in middle of the road. She faltered on road as if she was on fasting. A suave horn failed to deter her. I could get free passage only when she took a turn and went on her way.

Again I had to stop at a crossroad, near the Band Stand.

A motorcade cut the tranquillity of air into pieces. Perhaps a VIP was in hurry to reach at a lecture ground to befool the people. It was a thriving profession. Duty-bound policemen in dark blue dresses dammed the traffic. Everything sorted out at sides. Normal people were shunted onto pavements to wait for their ordinary life. Whole atmosphere recovered an endurable look only when the ministerial caravan disappeared in full. 

Ajay, the man having a face as tacit as a good hope, sat in a manner that would emit dialogue, breath-by-breath. I had never ventured on imaging that I would invite a man at my home, that too at night, or I would feel free with a man. Though I was not contemplating a second thought, it mentally associated me with the face of the man who sowed seeds of hate in my being.

It was fag end of my schooling, the days of bordering womanhood. Seventeen. While passing through last lap of my sufferings, I respected one man. He had taught me the niceties of language. My English teacher. He owned a lot of things: his own house, a new two-wheeler, and good repute among women. That was luxury in the town we lived. He gave me books to read and paid my fees, once or twice. If his age were considered to be a meter, he was just like my father. Though I had no such respect for my own father. 

I went through a tremble as I recalled the day. On that day I had completed my last lesson on ‘Feminine Gender’. As the teacher’s family was away, I offered him help in kitchen. ‘Let us cook and dine together,’ the teacher said. The student followed. 

I was unaware of a waiting volcano within his skull.

It was hard to believe how the man whom I trusted most had put on skin of an animal. Our beliefs are so lame: we require clutches of our past experiences to help our belief stand. But here, unbelievably the interior of the kitchen, the utter loneliness, and one powerless female prompted the devil. Smelling the rot, I immediately ran at door. He chased me and closed the main door. It sent the whole world, all the books of ethics, and notions of sanity outside. Double in body-weight and strength, as he was, he threw me first on floor and then dragged me on a bed.

 That beast pulled out my clothes. All: one-by-one. He had time; it was his time. Once he pressed my knickers tightly into my mouth, I was sure I would die. I could not protest; I could not fight back in defence; I could not shout for help. I was being crushed within the walls, and the walls did not come to my rescue. He was mad. He licked all over my belly and chest like a hungry dog. The naked beast ruptured my body, my soul, everything, again and again until froth appeared on his lips.

Stroke of two o’clock at night, and I was running on a naked road. Madly. With blooded clothes and lost virginity. It was the day; it was the night that had impregnated me with hate.

 I did not see his face again. But I sent a chit. ‘Do not show bravery to come within range of my eyes, you coward. Otherwise I will slaughter you.’ He did not. I knew he could translate the word slaughter, which I had underlined in red—in its true colour. But why I did not go to the police? The policemen and trustworthiness never resided side-by-side in our town. They were unreliable, unreliable for a young girl, for a poor young girl.

The days passed; the body-wound healed.

But I was not the same person after the day. The cycles of time went on with swelling hate.  I left the city; I completed my college-study; the incidences and the years flickered as scenes on a theatre screen.

                  

                       

APPARENTLY SILENT spell ended at four-storey building. I drove into parking slot and did not insist for a lift to reach at second floor. The steps were comfortable. Marble flooring. Ajay helped the bags when I opened my skinny purse to explore its interior for keys.

“Are you settling here?”

“I like the land and people here,” he replied.  

“Family?” 

“Grandma. Only surviving connection on the earth.” At that point of time his face flashed out a grim colour. I smelt something like a hangover of some painful incidences. His words sailed out like a wind passing through a wounded land. Within no time the man managed his balance.

“Your family?”

“Alone.” 

I screwed key and kicked the door, but not so aggressively. Otherwise on any day, pleasant or unpleasant, while entering my home I followed a ritual in three stages: I would kick the door first, throw my leather purse away on a table; and finally I would stand in middle of my drawing room, tossing sandals in any corner, preferably the distant one. That too with flair of a Russian ballet dancer. The door, the purse, and the sandals never complained about the routine.

I went through the two stages, and then put sandals quietly in a corner.  “Would you search for some options for next twenty minutes? Say, napping, reading, or doing nothing.”  I spoke in air. 

I took out one recent issue of WOMAN from belly of a table, placed it on a glass-top tripod. On every normal day, after seeing posts, I would kick the bath door and get myself out of clothes soon. I did so. The whole skin-stock went submerged in a jumbo-sized porcelain tub. The tub: a pleasure spot for me. I read novels while feeling weightless in water.

 After the mandatory minutes, I jumped out of the tub and stood before mirror—a full-sized mirror. My image was within a topless dress that was made of pure silk and transparency. Looking at mirror was not my taste but I went for it, several times in a day. It gave me a feeling that I was not alone in my house.

It was certain that the guest was not to get dishes in time; and I was not an artist at kitchen either. I made it clear at the outset. But he seemed not feeling the curtains of convention hanging. He, however, responded was a pleasing turn of lips, as his eyes were blocked on bookcase. 

“I must thank Kanan.” 

“For inviting at shop or for not offering a cup of tea?” 

“Oh, no. I must thank him for introducing me to a person like you. You live in company of the wizards.”  What he meant was my bookcase, the army books, and the rows of writers. 

To hearing the phoney strings of words was never a matter of surprise for me. I was used to it. Everywhere: in parties, meetings, lonely passages... I wondered how the tribe of ‘men’ could manage all these things: eagerly admiring anything I put on, praising every word I spoke, and rubbing their eye-energy over the open skin available. They were liars—trained liars. For them I was only a kind of material, not more than the female flesh. No one had shown interest in the ‘person’ I was.

I sensed that the man sitting before my eyes, the man from grassland, as he had said so, was wider than an athletic physique and intruding accents. ‘Should I envisaged a real communiqué?’ A thought wave emerged and passed through the streets of my brain. 

“A good collection.”

“I suppose you like the subjects sitting in my shelf.”

“Yes, I love classics and philosophy.”

By then he was near the case, keeping eyes on sides of the books. The managerial persons would treat everything as a potential resource, which they can put to an end use. That was what they were being taught in colleges: that was what I believed. Once the resources squeezed out, they would get rid of them. So to become a ‘classics and philosophy’ fan could be a hard game for them. The Lawrences and the Russels could be neither squeezed out fully, nor they could easily be put to an ‘end use’.

”I wish to have such a collection.”

He completed tour of a fairly long line of authors, ranging from Tagore to Shakespeare. He kept his one leg on a stool and fingertips on sides of the books. Pleasant movements of his eyes indicated that he was not a stranger to the women and men breathing on the pages.

I too thought that I must thank Kanan. Though I needed Kanan for certain other purposes, too. I had contemplated at times that for me, in case of my sudden and solitary death, he would be doing things: the things like cremating my body, or putting it on a pyre, or throwing it into a flowing river, or following whatever the procedure available for quick disposal of such a stuff. The corpse. I disliked corpses lying in queues.

As Ajay stirred the book-connection, a trace of unease passed over my face. I tried a way out, stood beside a window. At a distance, one curved line of city lights along side the lake looked as noose. It seemed the noose was becoming narrower and narrower. A whiff of gloom and I raised my hands pointing at the case.

“Believe me, these books are my real friends, my life-supporting system. It’s hard luck to be alone like me, alone at every inch of life.” My words faltered a bit. “But it… it is perilous to be alone and unhappy.”

Silence occupied the spaces within walls until I opened side windows. One of the two windows opened on greenery of a garden. Another overlooked the hard reality: the uncertain roads, panting chimneys, sweating bodies of men and women and their dimming fates. There lived people toiling under scorching sun, and people returning home without sufficient rice to feed their bellies; there ran smooth roads and multiplex theatres, to cater needs of those who sipped costly wines, spent weighty credit cards, and talked about eradicating the poverty: a wonderfully co-existing projections.

Once I shuffled the curtains aside, a spate of wind rushed in and toppled a plastic toy sitting on a table, an interior stationary table.  “Well Mr. Handsome, don’t you think this heap of books is quite sufficient to bury my whole body?”  

“No, certainly not. The women and men perspiring in your shelf are generous and loving at their hearts. There is no record of their being openly violent. I know all of them. And I hereby request them to kindly take care of my beautiful friend.” 

He folded hands and bowed his head towards the case, as if praying before an idol in a temple. His jovial utterances, devotional gestures, and my springing on the floor: these were the factors that boosted my running into kitchen. The word-wind swept away the dust. That despair. The juicer that had not tasted fruits since long went on stirring. Its stirring ended into two mugs and a transparent jug between. Transparent like my topless.

“We’ve met by an accident. So cheers for the nice accident, man.”             

“Cheers, my friend.” 

I showed him some of new purchases. “You may take these books.”

“I’ve read this one.” He shuffled several pages of a hardbound. “I’ve a good friend at the library, near my office. She cares for my literary needs.” 

He took one Bertrand Russell with him.

 

 

OUR TALKS went on speedy high way, smooth in quality and wide in detail. I spared no event: the events, which gave me pleasure or pain, repute or disrepute. The self, the inner self that had taken form of a fearful girl or a ‘most wronged person on the earth’ at times, was set on revealing itself. 

Voicing the feelings en bloc, recalling the past readings, and revisiting the travels are just like rerun of our life. We both went through the reruns. Hilarious. It was the word that danced in the air when I narrated how I had won a big amount at a casino, once, and how the money was spent.  Purchasing the stuffs I would have never imagined otherwise.

Ajay echoed by recalling his difficult areas of life.

“I was nearly crushed after failures at my earlier jobs. Thank God I am posted here,” he said. “Last three months, before I came here, were sufficient to throw me into grey of despair. Previous two jobs ended as my failed encounters with reality. Moreover I had to suppress the dejection from my grandma.” 

He narrated why he never regretted for leaving his previous jobs. His bosses had no infirmities as such. They were not wicked fellows; they were not villains. They simply belonged to a general class of dealers and resembled to all other traders who repaired their road-bumps by spades of currency notes. With wide power to throw money into open mouths, Ajay’s sole job was to persuade those gentlemen on high posts who had leaking lips and inking powers to sign big contracts—in anybody’s favour.

He refused to be a tool.

The air needed a lighter tone. I inserted my favourite sitar player in the music system. It was a tune for which there were few takers. Listening the instruments was my second cave to be hidden in: first being warm water. During the process, weight of a biscuit box stood reduced to nought, and butter-tin, the single-woman-sized butter-tin, sparked its bottom. Slices of bread sailed through the whispered jokes. The eating became a sideshow. Neither I nor he too, perhaps, was aware of the articles we were chewing and allowing to pass through our throats.

I spoke out what I had suffered in childhood. There was everything on the table: my cruel father, and how he was a wild animal to my mother. A suck of a length of air, and I went on.  “You won’t believe Ajay, but I felt relieved when… when my mother left home forever.” 

“Oh. Then what happened? To mother.” 

“When I got a paying job, I started searching for hear. I found out her, bed ridden in a hospital. But my luck was hard as crust. She survived only to see my two salaries.”

“It happens. But you’re a brave lady.” 

Ajay sketched how taxing was his job, how lazy was his staff. City Civic office was a big zigzag, a place of a unique chaos where one plus one hardly became two. A unique equation. After his posting, he narrated so, there were two slots of power in civic office: Mr. Haider the Chief and Ajay, an assistant administrator. They stood as two surviving trees in an oasis.

I had my story, too.

It was not the case that I was unpopular among my colleagues. Unpopular like my manager. No. I was popular. My popularity at office swelled in stages: initially it was based on the whitish colour of my skin, then on my ability to achieve the ‘targets of work’ I was given, and lately on my instant decisions of slapping. 

  But Ajay’s reference to his office staff prompted me to get up on sofa and clean my throat. “Let… let me introduce my staff.” 

I copied the movements of my entire staff. One-by-one.

My miming of the office ranged from slightly erotic to heavily funny. The most terrible was my local manager’s character. Mr Nathan. He was a thin primitive ape, coloured specs, and travelling in his turbulent forties. I copied all the functions of Mr. Nathan’s eyes, which always kept touring over his personal secretary’s breasts. He had married twice. First wife eloped with his neighbour; the second was wealthy, seven years older than him and she, the wealthy second wife, called him ‘puppy’.

Ajay kept thumping sofa-sides with bursting pleasure and clapped in between. “O my God. Have an interval, please. Now I will recognise anyone of your colleagues at first sight.”

Adequately satisfied by the show, I rested for a while. Then I caught his hand, drove him into kitchen, and ordered him to sit on the platform.

“Sit here. Just before my eyes.”

There was yoghurt, there was ice-cream, all in the fridge. But I fried a crowd of vegetable pakoras. Switches of my cooking-line were on. With the hot stuffs, the train of talks sailed from my brain-crushing school days to a station of hospital bed, the bed upon which I underwent a scorching pain. I recalled how the nurses behaved with me and treated me as an outcast girl. The doctors had extorted my entire hard-earned savings. 

It was my abortion. 

“I felt my whole body would be cut into pieces. Flames inside.” I passed my palm on the territory, just south of my navel. Effortlessly. “But after two hours I was on my bicycle, man.”

“A bold woman.”

“Not enough. I do fear when I’m naked in bed,” I winked.

Rain had retired, leaving the water-pregnant air behind. The city lights twinkling at a distance drew a line, a line that looked pristine as faith.

“Should I go home now?” The stroke of midnight alerted him. I nodded my reluctance. Descending the steps, I wore a funny silence, as I knew there would be no taxi. Nighttime.

“So, Mr. Assistant Administrator, you will have to go on your feet.”

“I am a good walker. But how far my home is from here?”

He was a novice to distances, the city distances. The big cities hold their inbuilt capabilities to distance a man from the man. In fact Ajay’s home was at a far end of city from the area I resided in.

“I appreciate your sporting habits, Mr. Good Walker.” I first clapped and then patted on his back. “But it will end as a morning walk. So be a good boy, grab my bike, and ride on it, man.”

I wrote a preface for a next meeting.             

 

 

AFTER AJAY left, taking my bike and blowing up the silent lanes, the silence took hold of the spaces within my walls. It was not the case that I lacked in information about men. I had fairly thick data in store about the men on posts. My Ad Company job was very much fertile for such a crop. Once they, the men in striking suits, found a woman alone, they would start praising her: her beauty, her get up, her sandals, or whatever they picked up at first sight. Even if the enticing contents of their words were altered a bit here or there, my men-herd, the men flock in my memory, would be the same. Helplessly same. I had no man in my memory-store who could be Ajay’s replica.

I failed to fill the pieces of time I was left with. I was soaked with a never-before type of unease: the unease that I had felt at the time of my first menstruation, whether it was a sign of happiness or the troubles to come and like that. A mute loitering in open space did not help much. Before going to bed my fingers volunteered to phone. 

“Yes, I’m Ajay…”

“I know, man. But I forgot one thing…”

“My God. What’s the matter?”

“Which is your favourite colour?”

“I like all the colour.”

“There must be one, most favourite.”

“Then wait for a day. You’ll get it. And now go to sleep. Good night.”

      “Night.”                                        

 

END OF FIRST CHAPTER