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.
“Roy, you tell me. You are a man, you have lived a life, why is it that men like women who don’t treat them well? What is it that they want?” the mouth asked. With strangers, these questions are asked with more freedom and ease, without the fear of censure.
“I can tell you about men, my beauteous. About women, I have never been curious. They are always so full of talk, overstating the obvious, speaking what should be best left unsaid.” Roy was baiting.
“That’s so not true. This attitude is so wrong. Things need to be discussed, talked about. How else does one know what’s happening? I had seen the signs you know,” she turned to her friend, “he would go silent and cagey when I asked him something, kept telling me he was tired, that there was too much work in office. And I trusted him. How can one have a relationship without trust?”
“You can’t trust men,” the friend said. “The moment they get you, they are no longer interested in you. You gave too much. Always suiting his timings, saying yes to all his weird demands about what you should wear, who you should meet. It was disgusting, I tell you. Remember the holiday when Ritu , Priya, Rajat, all of us, had gone to Goa?. We were all up chatting. He didn’t let you be with us! We were mad at him and madder at you! Like a doormat, you went with him!”
Annoyed at this reminder, the mouth turned to Roy again. The waiter was attentive to our table. The unlikely foursome- two friends each. There weren’t many women in the place. To the mouth and her friend we must have seemed unthreatening- perhaps they thought we were two middle aged professors. We were the only two who did not look up when the girls entered the dimly lit restaurant, did not watch their awkwardness with greed. We seemed disinterested and safe.
Without much ceremony, our table was complete. And the universal appeal of love and heartbreak struck immediate intimacy between slowly inebriating strangers.
“Women are too sensible to fall in love. They want happiness. To be in love is to be doggedly dissatisfied, to be excluded from the mob,” Roy said. He went on after that. He did not stop.
“You talk about love ladies, your small, petty, heartbreaks. Before the next season. you will be with another, and the mythologizing, the complaints, the sharing of intimate secrets will start all over again. You can make it public- you can, there are rituals for it. You will grab another of my species; lure him into respectability and triteness. You will promise him posterity with children, you will offer family dinners and birthday parties, you will numb him with the commonplace. You will do that deviously- and before I can reach him. I had all my bags backed, had wrapped up the deal, I would have been there, but the lines were busy. I was only gone for a few months, I needed that money, the security deposit was steep, and it was his first job, I kept calling…”
“Roy,” I interrupted.
“ I reached as fast as I could,” he turned to me, “What time was it? I dropped by, to freshen up, to shave, he didn’t like the grey in my beard, a quick shave and shower, how much time would that have taken, barely an hour, you tried his number too…”
The girls looked uncomfortable. Roy’s voice rose, glances began to stay on us, the waiter came back to our table a little too frequently to ask for more orders, filling our almost full glasses with more water.
“ I was prepared, this time I was prepared, I had told Mum I would be gone for some time, I never paid any heed to the girls, they were distractions, I let those pass, he never mentioned them with any seriousness, it was a joke between us the whole marital bluff and bluster, women and their foolish earnestness…”
“Roy, this is very offensive,” the friend rose with palpable anger. “What are you saying? You are calling women foolish? You think men are very bright? Women are much better people than men. Look around, more than three fourths of the work in the world is done by women- they take care of family, work, home- there is so much pressure on women…” She droned away. Missing the plot and the tragedy.
The mouth was flustered, catching a phrase here, a hint there, trying her desperate best to overcome her limitation. She strained to catch up.
“Who is ‘he’?” She asked Roy.
“It’s alright. Nothing. Let it be. It’s the drinks.” I felt exposed. I was afraid.
Roy was quiet for a brief moment. Looking into his glass, his hands shaking a little, the flick on his forehead flattened now with sweat. Then he tried to see his reflection in the glass window, a flat silhouette stared back. My face merging with his.
“It must be late for you ladies. The bar should close in an hour. Dinner here is not very good. Before it gets too late, you could grab some dinner at Zen,” I suggested with false solicitousness.
“I am not really hungry. These last few days have been so bad for me- can’t eat, can’t sleep. I keep thinking about what he has done and keep crying all the time. I had so many plans. I keep thinking about all the plans, it’s so hard, all those plans,” the mouth choked, grabbing her glass of water.
“Let’s go, my driver has to drop Pa to the airport early morning. I have to let him off early, let’s go,” the friend insisted.
“Dearest, don’t go yet,” Roy slurred. “Wait a while”. He held the mouth’s arm with shaky firmness. “It’s so wonderful to have you here. What a wonderful evening it has been. I don’t want it to end yet, wait till they throw us out… Have you ever been thrown out? Locked out? Not knowing when you will be let in again?” His grip tightened.
“Let’s go,” this time the friend stood up. “Let’s just leave. Now.”
The chatter in the bar was ebbing. An isolated laughter came ringing from another corner. The murmurs were like bees buzzing in a low tone. The waiters became tardy, slow to respond. The smell of spirits mingled as we retreated inside, each in our head, talking to no one in particular using too many words.
I paid the bill. Outside, night had fallen. The homeless were curling up in their decided corners. The strays were alert. Roy raced ahead, forgetting perhaps, that I was with him, behind him.
I slowed my pace even more. After walking past two blocks, I saw him exchanging numbers on a tissue paper. He looked back and stumbled towards me with some urgency.
“Pal, you carry on. I don’t want to keep you waiting. I am here in Delhi after two years. Had forgotten how lovely the nights are here. And Connaught place, it’s superb. I don’t want to waste your time. I will come to pick up my bags, just in time for breakfast!”
This was the twenty second year running.
I learnt afterwards that Volga had shut down two days later. The day after Roy left.
I don’t know how to end this. I think one day I will succumb to reproaches, recriminations, resentment for not being young enough, for not being enough. And also, for not telling Roy that F did not call after last March.