Nightfall (Part 1)

For me, Delhi meant boys. It’s not about domestic exclusivity, the drawing of boundaries- it’s a love that is found in the streets, in dark corners late at night.

Editor’s Note:
This piece was originally published in The Gaysi Zine Issue 03. This is the beginning of a story serialised in three parts. It is a precious jewel among the many stories published in The Gaysi Zine. We hope you enjoy it; and when you do – do let us know.

“And then there were the girls. Always waiting to be touched in the small of their back, arching when I dug my nails, never knowing that I made the letter F”, he said.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.34.50 pmThere was nothing remarkable about the evening except that it was late September and the fading light fell at a certain angle on the dark glass window at the corner seat of Volga, making us maroon for a while.

He couldn’t resist the extra flourish that surged after the third drink. Sundown and a crowd of elbows at a table made him irresistible.

“For me, Delhi meant boys. It’s not about domestic exclusivity, the drawing of boundaries- it’s a love that is found in the streets, in dark corners late at night. Strangers whose names are unimportant, and after the intimacy, easy to forget. To claim a city that way, to know its murmurs and map its quietest places- that’s the kind of love I have sought”, he said with a performative flair, hoping to cause a ripple of shock.

The receding hairline and the uneven patches of grey made it clear that he was talking about long ago, a fiction made real with reiteration.

“Are you a writer, Roy?” asked a mouth, lunging towards him.

“Oh no! That kind of vulgarity of ambition I have always avoided. To scavenge on life for an audience. I don’t have sex to procreate,” he said.

“What do you do then?”

He always took time to answer that question, never letting on his preparedness. He offered the mouth a cigarette.

“You must smoke. Your lips are meant only to hold a cigarette.”

The coyness of the lips slowly crumbled as the evening gathered dark and the seats around filled with old familiars. He poured his fourth drink and began to collect material.

“What’s your fear?” He asked.

“I don’t know. It’s not fear. I really love that man. When he cries on the phone, I can’t control my tears, it’s like my pain pales and I feel for him, care for him more deeply than I care about myself. He said he is truly sorry. He slipped. He was thinking of me all along. Even when he was, you know, even at that moment. My face kept flashing before him.”

“I can imagine, you have a face that cannot but flash before anyone’s eyes.” He said, lowering his voice to an audible whisper.

“So, what are you going to do?” her friend asked. “Are you going to take him back? You’ll be making the biggest mistake of your life. He fucks around and then comes running back to you when he gets dumped by that bitch. We all knew she would. She is too smart. Why would she hang around with a loser? You know why she did it, you know it.”

“I mean, you know, I can’t live without him,” she said, as the conversation moved to operatic passions and its disappointments.

Shaking the last bits of spirit and ice in the glass to the beat of a popular piano mix, he interrupted the confessional with a playful interjection, a teasing challenge.

“And what can you live without, my dear, what is it that you can give up? Can you, for instance live without dancing, or… or shopping for lipsticks or say, her, your friend here, or if we were your close, you and I, an evening like this?” Without waiting for the inevitable confusion or arrogance that the young always respond to questions that need no answers, he went on, “I, for one, can live without everything. It’s the living with, me hearties, which is difficult. The staying on, the linger and the drag; that is the hard part. So very hard.” The deliberate cadence of that last bit, ‘so very hard’, made us all fall silent. But as the night fell making hazy the faces of strangers shirking light – the sudden roar and thud at an all men’s table broke our momentary disquiet.

This was the twenty second year running since our acquaintance and yet the decades had not waned Roy, though if you looked hard you could sense a certain diminishing. Back in college, he came up with the smartest repartees, the most apposite words, the best lines. And then, one day, he disappeared. In his absence, he soared to greater heights; his anecdotes became lore, his life an epic. Every now and then some bits of information seeped into our conversations, colonising our evenings and after- party reflections. Some said he was with a girl who spoke very little, a tall Amazon with an ass to remember. Then there were phone calls that friends got from strange numbers, voices threatening consequences, complaining of money not paid, from fathers whose sons were caught frottaging in parks.

The years caught up with most of us. Rajiv went ahead and died on us while driving back from Darjeeling with his wife and daughter, Sandeep wrote some books on South-East Asia, Raja grew a beard and broke into the New York art scene as a minor curator, and Bagi got his father’s post in the State bank after his old man died of a heart attack.

I came to Delhi.

The story continues… Look out for part 2. Coming Soon!

About the guest author

Antara Datta

Antara Datta is an assistant professor in Jankidevi Memorial College, Delhi University. She is currently working on her first work of fiction.