Saturday, April 25, 2015

If We Keep It Quiet

‘It’s best if we keep it quiet,’ the Headmaster said.
The young boy remembered those words and the Science teacher.
His parents agreed to take him to another school. The Headmaster offered ‘a smooth transfer even though it’s mid-year’. Couple of schools owed him that return favour.
The Science teacher was reprimanded. He taught there for thirteen more years. There were other complaints, also kept quiet. He got the National Best Teacher Award a year before he died in a hit-and-run accident. 
Many years later, a fine summer morning, the retired Headmaster was walking in a park with his young grandson. A man in his late thirties came up to him and said, ‘It’s best if we keep it quiet.’
The old man collapsed.
The boy later told the police, ‘That man said something. I can’t remember. If only I could.’ 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stories of the First Night

‘You look tired. Go and rest in the bedroom,’ her half-day-old sister-in-law suggested.
‘Rest for…?’ she wanted to ask.
Instead, she smiled shyly. She made a mental note of ‘the’ bedroom, not ‘your’, not ‘his’, ‘the’. She was bored, not tired. Isn’t he supposed to be with her tonight? She turned to her mother-in-law.
The older lady nodded kindly at her. ‘You go ahead, dear. It is the room on the right.’
It was a decent bedroom. A bed, dressing table, chair, an attached bathroom, air-conditioned too. Someone had deposited her suitcase there. No cabinet or cupboard though. Where should she hang her clothes? The chair should do for tonight. She had a quick shower and put on a new nightdress. Was it too frilly, a bit too daring? She sat on the bed. Too firm, coir mattress was it? She tried bouncing. She moved to the window. She looked best there, she thought. She got tired of standing, sat on the bed again, near the edge, ready to rise quickly. She crossed her legs at the ankles, and presented her profile to the door. After a while, she lay back on the bed, daintily on her side; then sprawled on her back, hands and legs apart, a near-perfect X right in the middle.
She did not want to nod off. That would not do.
That might make a cute story, but it would not sell with her gang. The veterans would say, ‘Yeah, get used to that.’ The unmarried would call it uninspired. She did not want to be the first one without a proper first night story.
The custom started with Nirmala. They were nineteen when she married. Nirmala had told her parents that she did not want to waste life studying. They immediately got her married to a 28-year old engineer in the army, tall, dark, handsome, terribly bald too.
‘Did you carry a tray with a glass of milk and a banana to the bedroom? Did you share it fifty-fifty?’ the gang wanted to know.
‘You idiots,’ Nirmala had laughed, ‘that’s been scrapped.’
‘How can tradition be scrapped?’
‘Who takes foodstuff to the bedroom? Do you want ants on your bed?’
That touch of reality set the mood.
Nirmala recollected, ‘He had one condom. He struggled a lot to open the packet and made a hole in it.’ They had laughed. ‘What to do, we used it.’
‘How was it?’
‘Pregnant, am I not?’
Supriya married two years later. Her first night was in a hotel room. Not enough space at home. He had a few pegs of whisky. She was allowed a sip or two. They sang songs. She made it sound very romantic. Nice story but sounded fictitious, they had concluded.
Anandam was next, at twenty two and a half. She reported that she was molested. It was hard to imagine her skinny, asthmatic husband forcing himself on her. She used to be the shot-put champion in school. None of them dared to voice their doubts about her tragic drama.
Jasmine’s story was hilarious. They had used oil, she whispered, blushing.
‘Massage…?’ a na├»ve unwed asked.
‘No… you know… for that.’
They had surreptitiously taken the bottle of oil from the storeroom. It had the label of J&J baby oil, but the bottle they had had oil that had been used to fry chilly or peppers. His mother liked to conserve oil. Jasmine joined in the gang’s laughter over her story with ‘burning private parts’.
She had no hope of matching Jasmine’s performance but a half-decent story was the night’s first imperative.
He turned up one hour later, looking haggard.
‘Those damn aunts! Last night they took my room and I had no place to sleep. Tonight, they wanted me to drop them off, no one else would do. Bloody aunts! I am knackered.’ She sat up in bed, rather ungainly from her pose of crucified suffering. He continued, more gently, ‘Don’t bother. You lie down. You must be tired too. Sorry for the delay. Why don’t you turn off the lights?’
Turn off the lights, indeed! Was he trying to finish off the night? The situation seemed grim. Will she have to do a strip-tease? Yeah, right, she could imagine his amazed look. He might exchange her for those aunts.
She was standing by the bed when he came out of the bathroom.
‘What happened?’ he asked. He came to her side, looking alarmed, protective, ‘Did you see it?’
‘The spider…’
‘The spider…?’
He took a torch from a drawer of the dressing table. He squatted on the floor and surveyed the scene beneath the bed. She joined him.
‘I have seen it once or twice, quite colourful one, you know, the huge variety,’ he informed her. ‘I have not figured out its hideout.’
She looked interested.
They stood up.
‘Which side do you want?’ he asked.
‘Which side of the bed?’
‘Oh… you choose… I am fine anywhere,’ she was back in the shy mode.
‘Ok, right for me. Let me be your right hand.’ He found that funny. She looked at him. He looked incapable of double entendre. It was just nervous, bad humour, sadly.
He flopped down on the right side of the bed. She went to the other side, lay down and waited for his next move. He reached towards her, leaned further for the switch which was on her side and turned off the lights.
‘I am definitely knackered,’ he mumbled, speedily slipping away into sweet slumber.
‘Oh no, don’t do that, you fool,’ she wanted to scream and shake him awake.
She thought she heard deep breathing from his side.
She turned to her side, facing away from him, disappointed.
She felt fingers on her shoulder. She smiled. There he comes!
The fingers moved lightly on her shoulder, to her neck, back to the shoulder, down her arm, back up again. It skirted past the thin strap of her nightdress. Push it down, she felt like urging. It moved away, down her back and away. She thought deeply, lying perfectly still.
What if that was the spider? She felt gooseflesh first and excited thrill next. What if she turned and found it on his face? How will she displace the arachnid?
She paused when a new line of thinking troubled her. What if her gang had set her up? What if they had told him about the story pact and that’s how the spider entered the scene? Will they do that to her? No, she decided, they were not that imaginative. She decided to try it out on the next one in her gang to get married.
She reached down and picked up her bedroom slipper. Soft but firm, that will do. Spider or no spider, her story needed a good ending. It should feel like a smack to the face.