Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Perfidy

13. Perfidy.

He was late coming back home. These days one could never be sure when the dreaded pink-slip would arrive on a silver platter just when you had asked the office boy for that sixth cup of chai. It made little sense to mark time sitting at your desk, but at least it made you visible, he reasoned.

It was close to one o’clock when he reached his street, and he was walking towards his cigarette-wallah just past the gate to his apartment building when he noticed her, or rather, saw her bare back. It was beautiful - straight planes converging towards a natural depression at the base of the spine, just before the bulbous vivacity began beneath. He couldn’t stare for too long, obviously. There were the curious eyes of the cigarette-wallah to contend with, so too the watchman who had already registered his home-coming. He pulled out a tenner on his way back to the gate, and stretched it out in her direction as dismissively as possible without losing a step. She grabbed at it and that was all.

He was longer at the office the next day. As he walked his usual route back home, he saw her again, this time hidden from view of everyone else because of the bushy tree that stood on that part of the pavement about twenty feet before the gate to his building. He stopped and drank her in – lying sideways, still bare-backed, and as yesterday, a shredded excuse for a sari covering her sex and most of the front. She hadn’t even bothered covering up her emaciated left breast as she lay there in the dirt breathing hard in her sleep with the two street-dogs lying a few feet away. When the lights of a passing car shone on them from the road, he bent down and pretended to tie his shoe-laces.

The next day was Saturday and the Mrs., had a trip planned to Pune. She was surprised that he had agreed to let her go so easily without the usual complaints about how he would cook, clean and manage with her gone for two whole days. But then she remembered his unusual ardour in the bedroom last night, and thought jovially that it must have taken a toll. After she had left, he walked straight into the bathroom, and washed it out as he had never done before. He then turned on the geyser and went into the bedroom to change the sheets and lock up everything that could be easily filched in the Godrej. He then filled up three large buckets of water with steaming hot water and laid out the scissors, nail-cutter and soap carefully on the basin. He then went into the living room and stood pensively at his window, overlooking the building society park and beyond that, the gate.

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