9th August 2010, 11.10 A.M.
“Okay, are you on the Collector Office Road now?”
“Yes,” Raghu yells into the mouthpiece pinned to the left collar of his t-shirt. Two strands of thin, black wire trail from his ears and merge into one at the mouthpiece of his earphone. He is sporting a pair of dark goggles, his routine when he rides a bike. “I see a Southern Spices to my left now.”
“That’s fine. Now go on straight until you find a rift in the road.” Anitha’s voice boom from the ear piece.
“Her tone annoys him. Ha-ha,” I articulate the sound Ben and I have agreed upon to signify laughter between us. “What’s she doing, by the way?”
“If you want an exact description, she’s reclining on the sofa in their anteroom with her legs propped up on a decorative table, applying nail polish, with her head cocked and her phone braced by her shoulder,” recites Ben.
“All the more reason to taunt him,” I look back at Raghu. A sleek, posh car trundles in front of him, blocking his path. I know Raghu, and I know his riding a bike. It is the same as it always is in his hometown, even though the bike is not his own now but his friend’s. He refuses to be deterred, maintains the same breakneck speed and manoeuvres an expert arc around the car, careening the bike to an ominous angle in the process. Straightening up past the vehicle, he holds the bike’s balance with one hand and fluffs his hair with the other in a proud aura.
“Why do you think he insists on this kind of meeting?” I query.
“What kind?” Ben’s voice echoes with a hint of sarcasm.
“You know.. this special kind.”
“Sit tight for a few more minutes, and we’ll both see why together.”
“Oh great, that was enlightening.”
“Tee, come on. I don’t know things like these any better than you do. This is the first time I’m going to witness the meeting of two lovers in fact. I hardly know what to expect. Honestly, I don’t give a shit anyway.”
“The only thing you’ve perfected learning from humans is foul language.”
“And you, naivete.”
“Okay, here I am by the rift in the traffic,” Raghu says, raising his voice above the din of the traffic.
“Oh, well.. yeah.. the rift. Do you see a baby gift shop to the left?”
He carefully turns his head left to spot one. “The one named, ‘PL Kay Baby’s World’?”
“Something like that. Fine, you’re on the right track. Keep running straight. You’ll come to an intersection in some time. Turn left there. And, Raghu, make it slow.”
“Slow would not work, Anu darling. I can’t wait to see you.”
A shy smile comes in response. “Don’t get any ideas, my dear.” She croons.
Raghu and Anitha professed themselves lovers two days after their first meet. Raghu could hardly restrain himself from showering praises on her alluding to her beauty. Anitha pretended indifference to his comments and changed the subject whenever he warded off towards poetic phase (which was too often), yet her smile carried a subtle intrigue for his compliment not even I could miss, let alone Raghu. Ben and I listened with awe as he expressed to her his fancy of each one of her niceties he had seen on the beach -considering the span of the meet and the distance of their separation -with such conviction that Ben had bet within a few minutes of the conversation as to which turn their affair headed next. I played devil’s advocate for two days until Raghu proposed love to her. She was only too glad to accept. It was time for Ben’s I-told-you-so.
“What was his story to his mom again?” asks Ben.
“You can’t wait to find reasons to abuse him, can you?” I knew he was going to bring it up sometime soon. His response was a perfunctory one when I told him Raghu’s encounter with his mother the day before, an oddity in itself, more so since the subject was Raghu and the context repugnant, a combination Ben seldom lets pass without reprimand. I remember thinking then he might have been occupied with something else. Something interesting for him, like Anitha’s father shouting at her on the top of his voice.
“Tell me,” He persists.
“He told her he needed money as one of his friends met with an accident. He stated he had to help.”
“And she believed it? You’ve always told me he is the problem child of the family.”
“True, pal. But you should see him persuade his mother,” I say. “Besides, he lies plenty. And he lies good.” I recall the ruse he played upon his mother just before leaving for Trichy. I cannot make too perfect a comment on his features due to the obvious shortcoming of my sight, but I heard his mother exclaim in an awestruck voice how easily he could set his face into one that induced pity. She did not believe him, though he sounded more than convincing to me. He must have exploited her gullibility too much in the past. Seeing her hold her ground, I almost believed she would deny him money and his plans would flop. It took him a full hour to break her resolve. He added lies to buttress his story wherever needed, still managing to keep it integrated and logical. At one point, she could question him no more as he had a seemingly valid answer for everything and so she bawled out on him helplessly. It served to shut him up momentarily, giving her upper hand. He waited for a while. Then, he, too, changed his tactic. He sulked. His huff lasted heavily for another hour until their roles got reversed: she was offering him money, and he was pushing it away. After a convincing show, he procured it. I could not help but marvel at his flair for pranks like these.
“Yeah, tell me about it.” says Ben.
“Am I supposed to come across Government Hospital on my way?” Raghu asks.
“Hey, have you turned left like I told you?” Anitha shrieks unnecessarily.
“Yes, ages ago.”
“Okay, okay. Yeah, Government Hospital should come next, and a Sam-”
“A Samsung showroom to the right.”
“Okay, what should I look for next?”
“A Church to your right. Guess you should have come up to it by now..”
“I see the spire, yeah.”
“Fine, take the second right turn”
“You mean, I have to ignore the turn after the church, and take the right turn after that. Right?”
“Yes, chellam. I mean just that.”
“I bet she’s rolling her eyes now.” I comment.
“Ha-ha, yes, she is, indeed.”
“When will her parents be back?”
“Not any time today, buddy.”
“What occasion are they off for? Sorry I forgot.”
“Bundle your sorry and shove it up your ass.”
“I don’t have one. Fine, no ‘sorry’s and ‘thank you’s between us. I got it.”
“Cool down, buddy. It wasn’t like I was imposing on you or something..”
“Cut it out, Ben. I know it wasn’t like that. Now tell me about her parents’ whereabouts.”
“Oh, they have gone to a place called Salem. Heard of it?”
“Think so. She must have mentioned it during their conversation over phone.”
“Took me half a month to memorise the name. It’s her mommy’s hometown. They are attending the marriage of a niece of hers. They left last night and would not be back until night tomorrow at the latest. She called her dad first thing this morning to confirm they are safely away.”
“So why have they left her here? Why not take her with them?”
“That’s too profound for us to understand, is my guess. Some kind of family politics. Her mother was talking something about their relations not having brought their children on the pretence of exams for some function these people had arranged in the past. Her dad was adamant about taking Anitha along too, though. Anitha had been telling her staying home alone for these two days was dubitable, hadn’t she?”
“Yeah. She maintained the evasive answer till evening yesterday. How come they’ve left her?”
“Her mom fought back. There was much ruckus last week over this. Finally, an hour before they were about to leave, Anitha shammed headache for good measure. Her dad insisted on calling the journey off. Our girl here added in a few pints of modesty then. She assured them it was not a serious headache and she would fend on her own. Her father was particularly upset about leaving. He was calling her mom’s relatives names.”
Raghu’s raspy voice interrupts, “I’ve turned right, chellam. A board announces this to bePudhur… is it 4 road?”
“Yes, Pudhur 4 road. Head straight. A lot of turns are going to come zigzagging your way. You are going to avoid all that. Keep the course till you come across a decent building called, ‘Hotel Shaans’ to your left.”
“What kind of a damn burrow are you people living in? I’m tired of rounding the corners.”
“My sweet darling, hold it on for just a few more seconds. You are almost there.”
“Almost there, yeah. It means I have to go for another two miles, doesn’t it?”
She laughed. “No, this time it’s a true ‘almost there’.”
“Hope so. I’d melt and run into the streets if I stayed longer in this goddamn temperature.”
“Ayo, chellam. I’ll keep the AC on for you.”
“I’m tired of listening to their gabble. Aren’t you?” Ben interjects.
“Do we listen to them everyday? It’s our own world and we two all the time. But, accept it, my dear friend, today even you are anxious to see what’s going to happen next.”
“Anxious, my ass.”
“Ha-ha,” I reply. Ben has developed a profound bias for their relationship right from its start. It was hate at first sight for Ben with Raghu. Or rather, precisely, hate at first sound. I have never heard him utter a decent remark about the guy, let alone a complimentary one. Raghu hangs around with all kinds of hooligans, but he is not half bad in my view. He spends much of his time with them, drinks and smokes with them, and that is all about it. He never pushes himself too far with them when they choose to be nasty. He has an air of silent cunning about him, I admit. However, in Anitha’s case, he has been faithful since day one. The only obscure part is using me, an additional SIM, for the sole purpose of talking with her, while his communication with everyone else is only through the other card. He has never talked with any other girl as far as I have seen. Nor has he any other girl’s number in his phone. Anitha loves him equally much, by the looks of it. She grabs every chance to talk with him. That has been a blessing in disguise for our friendship, in retrospect. I would not say I like them, still I don’t find any reason to hate them like Ben does. Once I went so far as to say to Ben I supported their love. Ben scoffed at that. He likes me much, and that’s stating it lightly. Yet, in this case, he does not waver from his prejudice. To incense me even more, he never bothers to elaborate on the matter. I decide to nag him into revealing the reason for his hatred now.
“Ben, why do you despise them this much?”
“You know why. Because they’re full of shit. Both of them.”
“I was expecting a more sensible reply.”
“Cut the crap, Tee. You know I’m sick of their talk.”
“I’m not here to keep mum and listen to you abuse them with words I am sick of for no obvious reason. You’d better tell me the reason for your contempt, or I’m not talking.”
“You know what the irony is? You are with Raghu most of the time and you take after Anitha now. It’s her style to make senseless threats like these. Ha-ha.”
“And you take after Raghu when you use repulsive language, as opposed to me. Mind you, I stay by his side all day. Now, answer me.”
He remains silent. I wait.
“Let’s just say I compare their relationship with ours, okay?” he pauses as if for effect.“Draw it out like a graph they show in business news. Have you seen business news? Where they show how business improves with time using blocks scattered over grids? Imagine one like that. Extent of love against time. Or expression of love against time, whichever way you wish to have it. In our case, the line starts out low, crests to a moderate peak, stays there for a couple of days or so. We were excessively amorous with each other on those days, remember? Then it falls down. we messed up good. We squabbled and bickered, turned our heads away, brooded for hours. It was quite a fall the first time, so the line suffers a steep decline. Moving on, we see it go up again, undulate itself between ups and downs for the next few days to eventually settle down into a constant line. It fluctuates by that constant line, but by not much. Petty stuff do not make us leap up to the sky or sink down into the ground now. We know about each other. We go into a row easily, and come out of it just as soon. Now, look at those guys. Their curve, it is peculiar. Right from the origin, nothing is slow about it. It shoots up to a stupendous rise within a minimal passage of time. Not exactly what you would call a budding friendship blossoming with time into a mature love. More like the delight of a baby over a newfound toy, is my opinion. Besides, I am yet to see a crest forming up here as the line is climbing higher every next day. Their love is, it seems, growing everyday without even a slight ditch or level. As such -”
“So you are jealous of their love being better than ours.” I throw in.
“I would not call what we have between us love,” he replies. “And if they call what they have between them love, I am even more averse to naming our relationship so. We are miles better than those crackheads. My point is, it is an impossible curve. If people remained their natural self, gave vent to their genuine feelings, a conflict of emotions or character would poke up at one point or the other. It has not here, meaning one of them, or both of them are faking. You could talk for as long as you wish, building up counters to this theory of mine but it would be to no avail. I suggest you save your breath.”
Arrogant as he sounds, I must confess Ben has a point. I hold back for a moment to give some serious thought to his line of argument. Two things account for ‘the impossible curve’ as he put it. One, Raghu seems to be overtly submissive. Two, as a direct result, Anitha is too bossy. If Anitha said something, Raghu’s course of action would be restricted to one of just two endeavours; he would either do what she said, oblivious to any damage his self-respect or personal dignity might incur out of it; or he would apologise to her profusely, lining up the logical barricades that caused him to violate her word. There is a third option he often resorts to if he could help it: lying to her. I have seen him lie to her as easily as he does to his mother. Anitha proves suitably dumb for him to not think twice about pulling her leg. She smiles victoriously every time he putatively accedes to her commands. She is not privy to his smoking or drinking habits. The image Raghu maintains with her is one of a good boy, and a humble boyfriend inconsiderate of his honour. In my view, Anitha does not love Raghu as much as she loves the control she has been led to believe she could exercise over him, and the twisted freedom the control gives her. She could say anything, he would obey everything (or pretend to), so every window for a fight has been sealed perfectly with servility and deception.
“Are you done yet thinking of something to retort me with?”
“Raghu is not sincere with Anitha at times. You hold it up against their love.”
“Correction. He is sincere with her at times. Come to think of it, a few times, yes.”
“Infidelity is the prime flaw in any relationship. I’ll give you that.” I muse. “In spite of this better judgement of mine, I still believe there is a deeper truth to their love than that meets the eye. Raghu never hurts Anitha. You could attribute this to deceit, but you don’t see Raghu as much as I do. This guy is no coward. I have seen him stand his ground against tougher shots many a time. I have seen him pick fights all too eagerly for trivial reasons without the slightest trace of fear. I told you about the tantrum he threw in a hotel two days back just because the chutney was too dilute, didn’t I? So what do you think could be the explanation behind this uncharacteristic tolerance from such a formidable guy, selectively with Anitha?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care.”
“Now, you are glossing it over.”
“What’s your theory?”
“So I take it you have no reasonable answer for my question. I stand by Raghu’s love for Anitha, though I make no promises on hers for him. It has been his love for her, his concern not to offend her that has shunted many potential rifts looming over them now and then, triggered mostly by Anitha. His lies do not mean to deceive her, but to just spare her the disappointment of having to stand his not doing what she asked of him. I’m sure he’s guilty of it.”
“Oh, you asked him that? He confessed to you his guilt for fabricating things to Anitha?”
“Very funny. In case you don’t appreciate it, I am no more intelligent than you or Anitha in this. He talks to her, and that’s all she is in his life. I’ve never heard him utter a word about her even to his closest friends. It’s his own secret. His own divine secret, I think. That said, I am making assumptions about his intentions in Anitha-affair, just like you do based on his conversation with her. I’m optimistic is all.”
“Wonderful. Are we done? Is the matter closed?”
It is Ben, after all. He neither accepts defeat nor quits a debate. “You’re such a crackpot.” I curse.
“I’ve reached Hotel Shaans, Anu,” Raghu proclaims with an exhausted sigh.
“Raghu, you are really there, aren’t you? Tell me I’m dreaming.” she whispers.
“You’ll know when I come over there and pinch you. What next for me?”
“A row of bikes must be standing a few paces past the hotel. You are going to park your bike there now.”
“Is it safe?”
He cuts across the road and decelerates to walking pace, surveying the uneven row of bikes in front of a modest restaurant. He takes two minutes to find a crude space among the hastily parked vehicles. With exaggerated care he sandwiches his bike in a cramped territory encroached by poking handlebars and footrests. He then cradles his hands on the pillions of two bikes he is trapped between, one his own and the other next to it, and vaults over the tangle of overlapped footrests and protruding taillights.
“So, which one is your home now?” Raghu asks, removing his goggles and shoving them into his jean’s pocket.
“Not so soon,” She giggles. “You are yet to walk.”
“Come along the road that goes in opposite where you are now. It should be a turn to the right from the road you just came in. A temple is by the left corner.”
“Okay.” He dries his face with the handkerchief he has just taken from the jeans. I suspect he does not consider taking a walk in such scorching weather an encouraging prospect, but refrains from mentioning it to Anitha. Her response would be, “Can’t you bear a little heat for my sake?”, and he is not gutsy enough to say no. He inquires Anitha for more details regarding his course and lumbers accordingly.
“So silent, windbag?” I nudge Ben.
“I am watching their little show, as are you.” Ben replies curtly.
Raghu crosses the road, and walks dolefully along the path. “I could use the bike here.” He mumbles.
“Your bike would stand out in this small lane. There’s no decent place you could park it in for hours without alarm.”
“So I’ve got hours.” He laughs sleazily.
“Shut up.” She smirks.
“He’s started flirting already.” observes Ben.
“What’ve you got against that?” I retort.
“Nothing except having to put up with their lewd follow-up fantasies.”
Raghu’s flirtations with Anitha are as annoying for me as for Ben, although I’m not going to acknowledge that to him now. This trend started only a few days back; it’s hard to believe it anyway, considering its extent and frequency. It is a special ground wherein Raghu does not hesitate much to take liberty and Anitha is not strictly dominating. Closely following his proposal of love, Raghu’s temperament took an imperceptible turn towards coquetry. Anitha responded with anger at first. However, with time, she appeared to thaw with Raghu’s flattery after bracing herself in vain, with not even half of the resistance I expected of her. For no particular reason, I find myself not approving of this change which, as per Raghu, is integral to love. I am annoyed in the first place and so Ben’s reaction needs no explanation. He has been breathing fire over this.
“A four-way intersection will come next, Raghu.” Anitha sounds shallow now.
“I can see it.” Raghu wheezes.
“Oh, you sound sick, chellam. Not too long now. You skip the intersection and take the second right turn.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Don’t take the turn immediately. Let me see if any of the neighbouring dimwits is poking its head out.”
“I can’t help wondering how this guy has friends everywhere he goes.” Ben says in a manner of changing the subject.
“He is resourceful, pal, and so are his friends. This guy he’s borrowed bike from, he’s a friend of his friend in Madurai. His story to them is that he has come to attend a college symposium here in Trichy. He’s bunked college today, too.”
“And how would he explain his prolonged absence to his family? He started from home last night. He would not be back until midnight today at the latest from the way things look.”
“No sweat for him. He has already told his mom the road accident of his friend happened here, on Trichy. So, in addition to demanding money from her for his allegedly altruistic reasons, he has appropriated fund for his journey as well. You have no idea how cunning he is.”
“Seems a long time went into the premeditation of this excursion,”states Ben.
“Where are you, Raghu?” Anitha asks, her voice tense.
“I’ve come to the turn you told me to take. It’s got a board pointing in. One that says, 3rd cross street.”
“So,” He hesitates. “Shall I?”
“The coast is clear,” Anitha mutters. “It’s the last house to the right. It’s got two stories, and is painted light green. Don’t stop or walk cautiously to look around or pause to think. Just move it fast and don’t talk while you’re at it. Once you reach the house, slip in quick.”
“Meet you soon, Tee.” Ben says.
“Indeed,” I reply.
“Okay. I’m coming.” Raghu breathes. He hangs up, plucks the earphone out of his phone, coils it around his fingers, and stows it into his pocket. He then shakes out his handkerchief again from his other pocket, dabs it against his forehead. A strained gasp escapes him as he pushes it back in. A stray dog curled up by a lamppost in the corner raises its head to give him a curious look. He straightens up, his chest swelling dramatically, and takes the turn.
The lane looks vacant. Perpetual noise of automobiles and torrential human movement that infest the world just beyond have not so much as touched the deserted street. Rows of elegant buildings line up on both sides, each with a gate wide enough to allow a car and another small, redundant entrance for people. Raghu discerns he is the odd man out in the otherwise empty street. He fastens his pace. Halfway through, I see it is a cul-de-sac. This narrows down Raghu’s options, I see. He would look like a fool coming up against a blank wall to someone who looked unless he stepped into Anitha’s home. He would no longer be able to change his mind and just pass through the street even if someone was looking out of the window and became curious of his actions. Throughout that tense minute, I remain equally anxious as Anitha and Raghu. He gives a perfunctory glance around as he nearly bolts toward the last house to the right and pushes the man-sized gate a bit too hard. It swings wildly, letting out a piercing squeal. He spins, alarmed, gets hold of it before it hits the wall and pushes it back home, unknowingly making it squeal again. His hand shakes with veritable palsy.
“Get in here,” says an urgent whisper from the front door. He looks around to find it open by a crack. I see a faint movement of shadows from within. He darts his way around the car parked on the porch, springs up the short flight of stairs to the front door. It stands ajar but shows no signs of welcome. He pushes it open and storms in. His feet hitches in the doormat, nearly tumbling him over.
“Watch out!” a voice calls out.
He straightens up with a sheepish laugh. A few feet away, I see a silhouette standing in darkness. “Close the door da.” I hear her say in a feeble voice. He obeys.
“So this is the one you said is a tough shot. Sure, he’s got guts.” Ben’s words come ringing in.
“Don’t play smart, Ben. He’s doing something illegal here. No sane being would be so tough as to do something wrong without a shred of fear.”
“You defend him well. Quite a loyalty.”
I decide not to credit the remark with a reply. Instead, I turn back to Raghu. He is balancing awkwardly on his right leg while keeping the left raised in the air to unstrap his sandal. Anitha has not moved a bit. She remains standing in the doorway, her posture ghastly.
“Are you planning to extend some hospitality or just stand there like a statue?” he asks as he lumbers his way in.
“Um, yeah.” She recedes into the hall. He follows her inside. He hooks his index finger and runs it across his forehead, brushing the sweat out. “Such a heat!” he exclaims.
“Sit down, you.” she says. “The AC is on.” I strain to hear the low murmur of the machine from a faraway distance.
He flops onto the sofa on the hall. The room has a spacious air to it. I can’t see a thing, though. All the windows are closed. I can make out obscure shapes looming up around the room from the meagre light trickling in through translucent window panes. Her phone, a showy one, is perched on the top of a table by the corner.
“Why is she keeping the room so dark?” I ask.
“Prudence, Tee. She can’t risk someone next door sticking his neck out for a casual glance and finding out a guy with her here.” Ben comments, his voice sounding the same as ever, much to my annoyance. Getting together does not give us any reasons for excitement, whatsoever.
Raghu seems to come to his senses after a while, and shares my doubt. “It’s too dark, Anu. Why won’t you open the windows?”. He makes as if to rise.
“No, no,” Anitha hurries back into the hall with a bottle of cold water misting in her hands. “Don’t do that.”
“I say no.” She commands. “Now, take this.”
He takes the water warily, appearing to vacillate between prodding her into revealing the reason and letting it go. He then relaxes back in the couch, seemingly having settled to yield to her. He swigs the cold water in a rush, sending it running in rivulets along his chin. Anitha sits opposite him. Her fingers are fidgeting tremulously.
Raghu rests his head on top of the sofa, rolls it sideways to squint at her. “Can’t you turn the lights on at least?” He fumbles inside his jeans pocket and takes out his phone.
She whistles, gets heavily onto her feet, and walks to the switchboard by the entrance. In a moment, a fluorescent lamp floods the room with pure white light. Raghu and I see Anitha clearly for the first time.
She has preened herself with elaborate care. Her natural complexion is not a fair one, I could assess that much from my experience with humans. She, like him, is dark to the skin. Somehow her face is bleached white today. Her hair has been done in a pony tail. I cannot do much justice to the looks of her apparel, but they look natty. Raghu drinks in her appearance for a few silent seconds. Anitha stands blushing, unable to lift her eyes to the weight of his gaze. Nobody speaks. Even Ben seems momentarily short of jibes.
Anitha stirs after a while. “Um, how was the journey?” she asks innocently. There is not an inkling of the peremptory authority she exuded only moments earlier.
Raghu takes a leisurely sip. “Not too bad,” he observes, his eyes still on her. “You know too many landmarks for an indoor girl, Anu.”
“I told you about the trip we made two days back, didn’t I?” she turns lively as she explains. “The one for buying clothes for this marriage function my parents are attending now? Well, this time I spent some time looking out the windows of our car and making a mental note of those landmarks,” she laughs. “This meeting plan was already underway then, remember?”
“You were sulking on that day, weren’t you?”
“Hmm,” she says with a blush mounting her cheeks.
“I told you our meeting plan would not work if I took room in a lodge for a day, and you came there to see me. That was what you proposed first -” she looks up sharply at that. “Uh, you proposed it after I told you meeting in a public place is out of question.” He corrects himself. “Come on, you can’t call sneaky glances from a distance yonder a meeting. Not after we have become lovers.”
She nods. “Your reasons made me think. You said if I came to a lodge to meet with you they would ask for a proof of marriage. I got scared. It would make us conspicuous. Of course, in a wrong time. I changed my mind almost immediately.”
“But you still would not tell me your approval of my plan before I’d suffered a considerable tension.” He says with a hint of a rebuke. “You left me begging you to talk with me for the whole day.”
She giggles. “I’m not entirely secure about this meeting even now.” she mumbles.
He does not respond. She looks up to find him staring at her.
“You’ve got great lips.” He says, placing his phone on the table.
“So, pal. We might as well step aside now.” Ben intervenes, as if his wait for the right time to poke in has finally come to an end.
I do not reply. I watch Raghu, an inexplicable dread climbing inside me, as he slowly rises and moves to her. Anitha stands rigid, her lips twisted in a tiny smile, her cheeks beet red with angry rouge. “Don’t you get closer.” she ventures weakly, an order that serves only to goad him into moving closer.
“Tee, my friend. Are you there?”
Raghu towers over Anitha now. Their eyes remain locked to each other. A few moments pass and then, slowly, Raghu’s head pitches down to a peculiar angle. I could discern by the inclination of his head the obscene line his sight is focused in, well below her face. She inhales sharply, perhaps startled by his boldness, and mildly nudges his cheek to make him look away.
“It’s gross, Ben,” I blurt out.
“Uh?” he seems at a loss of words. I must have caught him off-guard with the remark.“What is it, Tee?” he asks after a pause.
“It’s so unfair we have to be tucked in here, unable to do anything but talk and talk and talk, while they could easily move on to next levels and express their love to each other in more intimate ways. One day, they get all excited because they could have a look at each other. On another, they pronounce their relationship love and move on to extend it in queer ways. Now, here they are, with the freedom to not just have a close look at each other but touch, too.”
“And do more. Like that.” The derisive note in his tone makes me look at them. Raghu’s shoulders are hunched. Anitha appears to shake her head without much conviction as his face approaches hers. In moments, their lips come together, her hands restrained by his in a placating grasp. I keep watching with a feeling of sick disbelief, as opposed to another of equally morbid curiosity. They break apart and peck again lightly a few more times. Each kiss seems to chip away at Anitha’s faltering resistance. With time, they kiss vigorously, smacking noises filling the gloomy chamber. Their bodies glue in a tight embrace.
“It’s so awful,” I turn away.
“It is,” agrees Ben. “But you are disappointed we could not do the same.”
“No!” I shriek.
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not. I’m just irritated about we not being able to do anything but talk. I’m annoyed our relationship has to be tethered to our not being humans, making us go in trite circles, while they are allowed to fly by and cross seas, free as birds.”
“So, on a serious note, it’s you who’s jealous now.”
I start to antagonise him, but hold myself. “I guess I am,” I admit, subdued. “Don’t you feel.. well, betrayed by this?” I add. “What’s just in this?”
Ben remains silent. I see Raghu moving past her lips, all set to explore more of her body. I turn away again.
“He’s having a field day. Ha-ha,” Ben laughs. He continues to make funny comments on their actions, one more obscene than the one before, pretending to not having heard my question. I resort to giving him perfunctory answers and false ha-ha’s, somehow content with his changing the subject.
His comments start to lose their vivacity as we both find them working together in a frenzy to cross their bounds of sanity over to a forbidden territory. Kisses become more urgent. Still air inside the room is filled with strained breathing and rustle of rearranging clothes. Raghu whispers filthy remarks to her, which on a normal day would outrage her, but now eggs her on. Her lips murmur feeble protests asking him to stop, clearly not wanting him to. After sometime, he straightens up, grasps her by the wrist, pulls her with him into an adjacent room.
“How does this damn guy know which one her bedroom is.” Ben exclaims with an uncharacteristic calm. They move beyond our sight. I find myself thinking for something to strike up a conversation with Ben, to extricate ourselves from the human madness we are led to witness, to regress ourselves into our own world where we would talk and squabble and laugh our made-up laughs, not caring the least with what Raghu and Anitha talked in the background. I know Ben is thinking the same. I also know he is staring at a huge void anyway, just like I am. So we stay mum, two sensible beings locked up in devices separated only by a few feet, yet worlds away from each other.
Strange noises issue from her bedroom in a few minutes’ time. I hear her moaning, softly at first, then wildly, as if being assaulted. I hear his laborious breathing, interspersed with profane epithets and rasping grunts. I hear the thump of flesh against flesh in harmony with an offensive creak of wood. I hear her chanting incoherently, her voice rising and falling in a wavering rhythm. I hear all sorts of things, my only reason, if any, for contenting with which in the least could be my luck to not actually look at their sources. Instinctively, I allow my vision to wander to the open door of the bedroom. I see a piece of clothing littering the floor. It is her brassiere.
“I do not envy them, Tee,” Ben starts all of a sudden. “If anything, I pity them.”
I do not reply.
“I won’t say their intimacy does not bother me. It does, to the point of making me upset like you. But I doubt if we would suffer this same desolation were we not cursed with the presence of these imbeciles in our life.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “We exist because they exist.”
“I know that, genius,” says Ben. “Just imagine, will you? Say, we exist and they don’t. In other words, imagine we lead an unadulterated life on our own, purged from human presence, and their -”
“Okay, I got it, Ben.” I snap impatiently. “Now, cut to the chase, will you?”
“Fine,” he says. “Do you think you’d think all these in those circumstances? Would you lament over our inability to see, touch or do shit like that? When humans are not there, and we are by ourselves?”
I pause, listening absently to the squelching noise drifting out of the bedroom.
“I’ll answer for you. It’s a no.” he concludes. “It’s not in our natural instincts to yearn for them. I would be happy just to listen to you talk, and talk back. You’d be no different, either. What disturbs us now is not our apparent lack of options but the ghost of their half-wit love. The love they boast to have for each other, it’s miles short of perfection.”
I stay quiet, this time unsure of what to say.
“As ineffectual as we may be, we are blessed with a satisfaction, thanks to our deficient senses. Look at them. They talked just like we do at first. That did not satisfy them, and they planned a meet. Again, just having a look at each other did nothing to improve the hunger of what they call as their love, so they wanted more. Now they are trying to push it further in bed. Well, in more than one sense. I don’t think they will be content with the results this time, too. They’ll end up coveting for more. You see what I’m getting at? We are free of the greed and these silly needs for improvement in our relationship. The most we could reap out of our affection happens just to be the least we need to do to keep in touch. I think our love has had the consummation theirs would ever have from the moment we started liking each other. We crave for nothing more; not by heart. Our thoughts are just muddled by our envy for their love - one much different from ours - but it’s as foolish as an ignorant rich man being jealous at the sight of a beggar gathering his alms.”
Ben has a way with skinning things down to their true nature. This is not a lame attempt of his to console me; not alone that, anyway. He speaks in earnest. A sliver of peace pokes out of nowhere in my mind. It expands to pervade my thoughts as I go over Ben’s words. I feel foolish now. How could I have thought of their love being on a higher ground than ours? It requires incentives with time, and that means it’s morally corrupt somewhere. As for we two, even if we were endowed with humanly faculties, like Ben asked me to imagine, I don’t think it would make much difference. Because, simply enough, I like him no matter what.
“You are right, Ben.” I say. “I was an idiot.”
“That goes without saying.” He mocks. “You should be proud of us. I am.”
I am proud at this point, too, so much so I cannot bring about myself to say it out loud. Besides I have learned something more than what Ben has said. If you loved someone truly, the last thing you would do is compare it with that of someone else. Love is not a race, after all. It is not about lunging forward to gain a step further than others, thereby proclaiming you are the best. It’s about walking hand in hand with your loved one in a world exclusive to you two, oblivious of others. I hear the sounds of our owners making love with a calm indifference now. I have more important things to do rather than wasting my time over their lust. Like, talking with Ben.
We talk, and they mate, for another half hour. At last, Ben and I both stop our conversation to eavesdrop as the grunts cease, and Anitha’s voice comes out in a tired whisper.
“Raghu, you said you would need some money to get back home. How much do you need, chellam?”