“None of your Indian Princess act here, my girl. This is a toilet brush. Learn to use it!”
It had been two days since I’d arrived in London, and clearly, Mrs Jhunjhunwala or Auntie JJ wasn’t impressed with the skid marks I’d left in the bog. She handed me the toilet brush and bustled out, every fibre of her being conveying irritation. Slowly, I inserted the brush in the pot and swirled the bleach she’d poured in. The smell made me gag, and a little tear made its way down my cheek. Where was Ratna bai when you needed her?
“Really Gul, it will be a wonderful experience. You’ll become more independent. Learn to navigate a foreign city on your own. Think of all the fun you’ll have!”
Mummy had certainly sold it to me. What she’d omitted to mention was that I’d be stuck in a tiny flat with an eccentric Parsi woman and a flatulent poodle. Said eccentric was taking off for France for her annual girls’ (read old, ugly, fat women) meet, and I was to be caretaker of flat and poodle for (gasp) an entire two weeks! Before she left though, Auntie JJ was putting me through my paces. From making sure I dusted everyday (where was the dust?), took Chi-chi (flatulent poodle) for his daily walk, to going grocery shopping to the local Sainsbury’s, and of course, keeping the bog clean and smelling of (yuck) lavender.
Really, Auntie JJ wasn’t an ogre. She was just particular. (Peculiar springs to mind too).
Of course I knew why Mummy was eager to send me 4000 miles away. It was because of Farhan. She hoped distance would kill the budding romance between us. What she didn’t know was that the romance had blossomed and withered already. I wasn’t going to tell her either. Pride and sadistic pleasure lay somewhere behind my hazy strategy.
So, although, I hadn’t exactly jumped at the prospect of living in London for a bit, I hadn’t dismissed the notion out of hand either. Distance would be a good thing. I could lick my wounds, or maybe find someone else to temporarily lick them.
There were still two days to go for Auntie JJ’s departure though, and I hoped I wouldn’t suffocate to death by then.
Aside of the bric a brac that overpopulated her tiny flat, Auntie JJ insisted on keeping the heating on full blast, and the windows shut at all times. Admittedly it was December, and the air was colder than a witch’s tit, but I could’ve done with breathing something that smelt other than lavender, body odour and dog fart. Every evening, after our dinner of roasted cod, mashed potatoes and mushy peas, Auntie JJ invited me to imbibe a little sherry with her. Every evening I refused politely. I would then sneak into the bathroom, crack open the window, breathe some London fumes in, and exhale the smoke from my sneaky cigarette out.
I was bored senseless, and since Auntie JJ hadn’t dipped a toe into the 21st century with things like mobile phones and wifi, I was at a complete loose end too. I could choose to watch vile daytime television with her, listen to her snort over the Daily Mail everyday, or read the horrendous Regency romances her place was littered with. I chose none of the above, choosing instead to sulk in my room, planning all the naughty escapades I’d get up to while the cat was away.
Chi-chi, the old dog, seemed to sense my restlessness. He took to following me around the cramped flat with an expression that amounted to, “I know what’s on your mind, and I don’t like it”. He’d whine and scratch at my bedroom door if I had it shut. Then promptly deliver a silent, deadly fart as a present as soon as I opened it. I hated that dog. I think the feeling might have been mutual.
On the eve of her departure, Auntie JJ solemnly handed me the keys to the flat, and a list as long as my forearm.
“This is the first time I have allowed anyone to stay here after Persis died”, she sniffled a bit, “I hope you won’t let me down, my child. Your mother said you are a very responsible girl”.
A pang of guilt at the unholy thoughts I’d been having, made me lean forward and embrace her. “You have nothing to worry about Auntie JJ. I’ll take care of everything”.
Later, I aired all my clothes for fear that I’d end up smelling as fusty as her.
The thing about Farhan was that he was just so damn handsome. All chiselled face and grey eyes and musculature to rival a race horse. Religion didn’t come into it. Not for me anyway. I just wanted to get laid, and he was the best candidate for it. Mummy would’ve been horrified if she heard me speak this way. I was the ‘good girl‘, with the ‘bright future‘. I had no business entertaining such thoughts. Except that my raging libido thought otherwise.
At twenty one, most of my girlfriends had lost their virginity yonks ago. So, why was I still unpackaged?
We’d nearly made it. Ayesha had made herself scarce, giving her bedroom to us for our usual heavy petting session. His hand had crawled under my top and I’d arched my back towards him, hoping he’d take it further this time. He’d groaned as I’d touched him. “Let’s do it Farhan”, I’d whispered, slyly unzipping him.
“What? No. NO! Stop it Gul!! What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you?”
He’d leapt off the bed. “I’m saving myself for marriage. You know I’m engaged to my cousin Anjum. You’ve always known”.
“Bloody Hell Farhan! I’m not asking for your hand in marriage. I’m just asking for a fuck!”
He’d looked shocked and backed away. “I can’t do that….my religion won’t permit me to sleep with another woman….”
I’d laughed then. “So, have we been knitting beanies and discussing politics all these weeks? Grow up Farhan!”
He’d walked out at that point.
Sanctimonious hypocritical jerk.
The bloody dog had to sniff every nook and cranny. It took him twenty minutes to decide where to wee, and another ten on where to poo.I tugged at his lead, and he just gave me a baleful look.
It wasn’t like I didn’t try to make it up with Farhan. I thought it was a lovers’ spat. He thought worse. Much worse. When the sniggers on campus became obvious, I asked Ayesha for an explanation. She wouldn’t meet my eye. After much hemming and hawing she finally explained, “They think you’re a nymphomaniac”.
I nearly spat my coffee out at that!
Nymphomaniac?! Chance would be a fine thing.
I tugged at Chi-chi’s lead again. He came along this time.
“Hey, you! Oii…lady…!”
I turned around to gaze at a strapping six foot two ebony god who looked distinctly unhappy.
“Yes?”, I tentatively enquired.
“You gotta pick up the dog’s poo, yeah?”
My gaze followed his to the deposit on the pavement. Chi-chi had done his mistress proud, and produced the loosest, smelliest, ugliest poo of all time. I shot the dog a filthy glance, and reached for the bag inside my pocket. What a disgusting practice this was. Couldn’t I just leave it there to organically decompose, like people did in India?
“You must pick up after Chi-chi, Gul. You will be fined if you don’t. It’s not just etiquette, it’s the law”, Auntie JJ had drummed this repeatedly into my head.
Yuck, yuck, ghastly.
“You not from around here, I can tell. Where you from?”, he drawled at me.
“Mumbai”, I mumbled, desperate to get away, and get rid of the hot mess in my pocket.
“India? Haha. Chicken Tikka Masala!”
Very funny, I thought, doing a mental eye roll. I started to walk away, but he fell in step with me. He probed, I dodged. Talking to strangers had never been my forte. Besides, my head was still full of Farhan, and all the unspeakable things I wanted to do to him, post rumour mongering.
“I’m David. What’s your name?”
Fed up, I looked him right in the eye and said, “Gul Batliwala. Nice to meet you David. Goodbye”.
He was waiting for me the next day, and the next, and the day after too.
Soon, we established our own little routine. He’d wait for me at the street corner. I’d pretend not to see him. He’d saunter up to me, big toothy smile and loose limbs. I’d studiously ignore him the first five minutes, and reluctantly hand out tidbits of information the other twenty five. I actually started to enjoy our brief encounters, as they were possibly the only highlight in my otherwise tedious days.
Christmas shoppers were out in full force. Carols were blaring out everywhere. London was grey, sullen, festive and expectant, all at the same time. Old memories of being here with Mummy and Daddy as a child, crowded in from time to time. Happier days, more innocent days. Days before Daddy’s affair with his secretary came to light.
“Gool, why you so gloomy all the time?”
Gloomy? Me? I plastered a fake smile on, and looked at him. “It’s called Parsi melancholia”.
That stumped him.
“Come out for a drink tonight? Just you and me? I’ll cheer you up”.
I looked at him assessingly. I had to admit he had grown on me. He was handsome, charming and loquacious. Not the brightest button or the sharpest tool, but hey, who needed IQ in bed?
I opened all the windows of the flat. Lit multiple candles, and fragrances sticks. Dusted everything within an inch of its life. Threatened Chi Chi with decapitation if he so much as pointed his rear in my direction.
David was coming over this evening. This could be the bravest or the most foolhardy move of my life. What did I know of the guy anyway? He could be a rapist, or a serial killer.
Well, at least I wouldn’t die a virgin.
Sade was on repeat on the CD player. The wine was chilling. The crudités were on display, and I had my sexiest underwear on under a Christmas jumper where Rudolph’s nose lit up every five seconds. I applied a little lip gloss, and gave myself a once over. Not bad. Not bad at all. I wasn’t vain, but knew that I had inherited my father’s coltish legs, and my mother’s sensuous lips. Shame that Farhan had no use for either.
Christmas was two days away, and four houses across the street, someone had gone to town with the decorations. All manner of illuminated fauna dotted the front lawn. Father Christmas hung precariously off the chimney, whilst his sled blinded anyone foolish enough to look at it directly. It was all in such poor taste that I didn’t know whether to shudder or applaud.
When the doorbell rang, I felt a shiver go through me. This was it. This could be the night.
David stood at the door in a black jumper and black jeans, carrying an enormous bunch of flowers in his hands. His teeth were in such stark contrast to the rest of him, that a giggle nearly escaped me.
“I got the dog some treats.”
Ahh, that was sweet. Chi-chi obligingly walked up, sniffed him, wagged his tail desultorily and walked away.
“Dog got the melancho thing too?”
I poured him some wine, arranged the flowers in a vase, and then positioned myself close enough to smell his after shave.
“You’re a real pretty girl but you don’t say much.”
“Not much to say”, I reparteed, giving him my sexiest glance.
It didn’t take him long to slide over, and slide his tongue into me. This guy could kiss, and how. From gentle nibbles to doing it a la francaise, he ran the entire gamut. I slipped my hands under his jumper to feel the hard muscle of his torso. He returned the favour. We groped each other till exasperated, I took off my jumper and threw it aside. He grinned at the sight of my red bra. Nope, no virginal misgivings for this one.
Things were getting hot and heavy when I first heard the sound of someone choking. I sat up abruptly, pushing David off me.
“What was that?”
“What?”, he mumbled, trying to push me back down.
“Listen!”, I commanded.
We both listened. There it was again. A strangled choking sound. Chi-chi!
The dog was choking on one of the treats that David had kindly scattered on the floor for him. Panicked I ran over to Chi-chi and started hitting him on the back. Chi-chi carried on choking. Could one perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a dog? I was certainly going to try! I picked Chi-chi up and tried knocking the breath out of him by squeezing his stomach hard.
“Hey Gool! You’re going to kill the dog..”, David looked horrified at the sight of me in my undies, stomach thrusting a choking poodle.
“Help, you useless man!”
“Dunno! Call 999 or something!!”
“They don’t come out for dogs.”
The argument was moot anyway. Chi-chi had only just gone limp in my arms. The dog was dead.
“Gool, I think the dog’s dead.”
No shit Sherlock.
Nothing like a dead dog for buzzkill. To give the devil it’s due, David did make some half hearted attempts at foreplay. But Chi-chi’s body covered with a sheet in the corner, finally got to him.
“Gool…I, ah, got to go now. I’ll see you around, yeah?”
I nodded dispiritedly.
Shutting the door behind him, I pondered my predicament. What does one do with a dog’s body at 11pm?
I got very little sleep that night. First I disposed off the evidence i.e. the treats that had killed poor Chi-chi. Then I looked for the list of instructions and numbers that Auntie JJ had left me. Finally, I ruminated on the possibility that I was jinxed as a person, and as a woman.
“Unhelpful cow”, I muttered as I slammed the phone down.
The 23rd of December is not the day to ring a pet’s surgery and ask for help. The receptionist clearly had her mind on the impending festivities rather than providing any useful information to a distraught dog killer.
She’d listened in silence as I’d explained the situation.
“Well, you could bury him in your garden.”
“I don’t have a garden. I’m in a flat. Listen, could you please send someone out to collect the body. If you could house Chi-chi till his owner gets back, I’d be most grateful.”
“Sorry, we don’t have enough staff for that. You could bring the dog to us. We’re not too far.”
“Yes, but I don’t drive, and I don’t have a car here. Please is there any way….?”
“You could take the tube.”
At this point I’d hung up.
Tears of frustration sprung up in my eyes. Poor old flatulent Chi-chi, lying in the corner, stiffening up with rigor mortis, sent my guilt into overdrive. I started to bawl my eyes out.
After fifteen minutes of self pity, I calmed myself and went looking for a carrier to put Chi-chi in.
Dead dogs are dead weight, I soon found out, as I lugged the suitcase to the tube station. Every ten paces I had to take a break and change hands. Of course Auntie JJ had taken the good case with wheels on her holiday. I’d found this old one filled with photo albums at the back of her wardrobe. I’d left the albums lying on her bed, taken all the mothballs out, and placed them like a charm around them.
Then I had spent a good hour trying to cram Chi-chi into the case.
Hauling him towards the station, I wondered how I would explain this fiasco to Auntie JJ. She’d adored the dog, and I’d killed him. Well, not killed him with my own bare hands, but certainly with my negligence. Some dog sitter/ houseguest I’d turned out to be!
Having purchased my ticket I made my way to the right platform. Two dozen stairs confronted me. I took a deep breath, and started my journey down. I’d made five stairs when the burning in my arm made me stop and take a breath. Two young lads passed me by. They looked at me, said something to each other, and turned around to come back.
“Need help with that sweetheart?”
I nodded gratefully. “Yes please. If you could just take it to the bottom of the stairs, I’ll take it from there.”
They grasped a handle each and started to carry it down. See Farhan? Chivalry isn’t dead. I followed them down slowly. The only trouble was, they didn’t actually deposit the case down the stairs. Instead they carried on at a good clip.
“Hey! Hey!!!”, I shouted, but they just jumped into the train as it pulled away.
I stood dumbfounded.
I guess I’d just been robbed. Of a dead dog.
Parsi melancholia is easily overcome by Punjabi joie de vivre, and three children. Needless to say, I didn’t stay a virgin forever. Auntie JJ never forgave me the death and abduction of her dear Ch-chi. I was persona non grata for the rest of her life. Can’t say I blamed her.
Now, when my kids beg me to get them a dog, I remember the Chi-chi saga, and demur. “I don’t have a good history with dogs”, I say cryptically. Only Sanjay knows the whole story, and he guffaws each time.
Maybe we’ll just get a cat.
©Poornima Manco 2017