Postlude

Just over a year ago I’d set myself the challenge of another storytelling experiment Experiment 2. At the time I assumed that it wouldn’t take me more than a few months to complete all my stories. Of course I hadn’t reckoned on life scuppering all those best laid plans. As I got involved in various projects at work, juggled home duties, parental responsibilities and an incredibly full social calendar, writing seemed to slip further and further down the totem pole. Oh I could quite easily shoot off a thought piece, with minor edits and minimal tweaking. But writing fiction is rather like trying to produce a baby. When things go smoothly, labour is still painfully laborious. However, some babies are breech, and have to be coaxed into position. Some stories are equally difficult to birth. Here the labour is fraught with difficulty and you enter a whole other world of extra agony.

Thus it took me a year to produce these babies. Not all were liked or well received. Yet each of them is dear to me, as each baby is to his/her mother.

At the time I had started the experiment, I had mentioned that there would be a link between these stories. A link that I didn’t want to make too obvious. I’d thrown down the gauntlet to my regular readers to guess the link. I am, once again, listing all my stories here. Let me know (in whichever fashion you like- comments, personal messages, inbox) if you have managed to figure out what that link is. Good luck and happy reading!

Veritas (Experiment Series 2- Part 1)

Umami (Experiment Series 2- Part 2)

Sakura (Experiment series 2- part 3)

Funk (Experiment Series 2- Part 4)

Saudade- Experiment Series 2 Part 5

 

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Saudade- Experiment Series 2 Part 5

Last night I went dream walking with my mother. She held my hand as we walked. She let me rest my head against her chest, under the old oak tree. I listened to the beat of her heart- dup dup, dup dup, dup dup. Then I woke up.

Humanoids are not meant to dream. They eliminated that error in subsequent generations. They pretty much eliminated sleep too. I am First Gen- HMF1. The experimental generation. The generation that is slowly dying out or being eradicated. The guinea pigs of the Humanoid race.

We are not the Humanoids of History. Machines that were meant to imitate human form and behaviour. In the 22nd Century, they seem so basic, so amateurish, they are almost laughable. Our DNA is far more complicated than that. We were the first generation that had technology incorporated with designer human DNA. We could feel all the good human emotions like love, empathy and gratitude but be free of all the bad ones like hatred, jealousy and anger. We were the epitome of Bio tech engineering. The pinnacle of HumTech evolution. Or so they thought.

They didn’t factor in loneliness, despair or saudade.

The scientists that created us are long gone. Dead for over fifty years. Our longevity is debatable. We were meant to live for 200 years or more. But at around 80 most of us started to develop kinks. Some ‘fell off’ bridges, others ‘fell asleep’ on train tracks. A handful of us survived. They still haul us into the lab for tests. Psychometric tests they say. We know they are not. Those of us that display the start of any kind of human eccentricities or foibles are marked for elimination. It is swift and painless I hear. Maybe it would be a relief. Except that, in my Humanoid heart, I also harbour the human will to survive and the human capacity for deception.

It helps that they haven’t developed a test for saudade. There is no English word for it. In Portuguese it’s a mixture of longing, melancholy and nostalgia. A feeling of loss, of wanting to go back to a state of…. what? This is the question that has kept me awake the last 90 years. What am I nostalgic for? Who do I miss? Where do I want to go back to?

My dream last night cracked open the door to an answer.

We were conceived in petri dishes. We were embryos in artificial wombs. We grew and developed, surrounded by the hum of machines. Then why do I miss my mother’s heartbeat?

 

*

“Kevin”, the HMF9 named Clara calls out to me.

“Present”, I beep to her, and she swiftly marks me off her digital board. I look around at the half a dozen of us here for our quarterly tests. Most are familiar faces. We show no outward signs of ageing. We were all meant to get to the optimum age of 25, and then stop physically maturing. Inside, most of us are pushing a 120. There is a weariness about us that Clara lacks. She is still perky, still in her peak. Maybe they eliminated the weariness too?

I nod at Ashwin. Him of the dark complexion and indeterminate origin. I wish we’d spoken more, had had a chance to connect when we were younger. Except, back then, we were too busy performing. Being the supreme HumTech beings that our indolent creators, the humans, wanted us to be. We had filled the gap in the market. The gap that had been created by the absence of labour, and the affluence that was widespread after the Great War had nearly destroyed the world.

Mankind, in all its wisdom, had decided that in its recovery from the ravages of war, there would be no more differences between the rich and the poor. Religion was eradicated, as were borders. Everything was distributed equally : from food to wealth to education. A Utopian society of compeers.

A society like that needs slaves to keep the masters happy. And so, we were designed. As the HMF1 we did really well the first 70 years of our existence. So well that 8 further generations were designed, each one superior to the one before. 

HMF9 are apparently so good that humans have started to elevate them to companions and partners. As the last of the First Gen Humanoids, we are only around for nostalgia sake, and do very little anyhow. Our capacities have depleted and our speeds slackened over the years.

Ashwin tilts his head to indicate the stranger in our midst. She is incredibly beautiful. That I noted within the first three seconds of setting eyes on her. There is a certain hauteur to her. She carries herself as though she is privy to knowledge that none of us have. I feel a bizarre pull towards her. I do not act upon it.

There is a strange inevitability to the fact that we are paired with each other.

We walk into the lab together in silence. We sit side by side. They start with the usual tests on the terminals. We answer the questions with silent clicks. Then we are laid on parallel beds as they poke and prod us, and check our vitals. Finally, they show us a series of films to monitor our reactions. I laugh and cry and squirm at the appropriate moments. I feel none of these emotions. I want to scream, and bang my head against the wall. I want to pull every wire out of every console and smash every bit of machinery in here. Instead I smile, and pretend to be alarmed when the image of some pre historic monster appears on the screen. I have become very good at deceiving.

She sits very still showing no emotion whatsoever.

I watch her from the corner of my eye. Is she damaged goods? Is this deliberate? Does she want to self destruct? For if she doesn’t respond as she’s meant to, there can only be one outcome for her.

I can no longer bear it. When the techs are distracted by something I give her hand a warning squeeze. Momentarily startled, she looks at me, her eyes wide. I try to convey through mine how important it is for her to play along. To pretend she is still a functioning Humanoid. She smiles at me sadly, and something inside me twists.

 

*

Later that night they come for me. I am led into the room where she is. She sits cross legged in the centre. Her hair is parted in the middle and flowing down to her waist. She has a red dot on her forehead, and her eyes, those extraordinary eyes, are lined with kohl. There is a simulated oak tree behind her. They place my head on her chest, and I hear the familiar dup dup, dup dup,dup dup.

All at once, it makes sense. They knew. They knew all along. She had been planted to catch me out. In trying to save her, I managed to implicate myself.

So this is where my story ends. It is not a bad end after all. My masters in their infinite compassion have made sure that my saudade is laid to rest forever.

I barely feel the scratch of the needle, as I fall asleep in my pseudo-mother’s arms. I hear her final whisper, “Go in peace, my son”.

I am finally home.

 

THE END

©Poornima Manco 2017

 

Just a number

When I was just a chit of a girl, I thought life ended at 40. You were meant to have done it all by then: Career, travel, marriage, babies, hobbies, accomplishments. I mean 40 was Old. Surely, life’s trajectory would start to power down. Right?

Wrong.

Now, I find myself on the other side of 40, and laugh at my infantile vision of the future. Sure, I’ve done the career, travel, marriage, babies and hobbies thing. But accomplishments. That I’m only just getting started on.

There is a lot going for youth. For one thing, you have time on your side. There is an expanse of a lifetime waiting to be discovered, to be explored and enjoyed. Also, all your faculties are pretty much intact. You can still hear and see, and soak up knowledge and information like a sponge. Your memory hasn’t taken a beating yet. Your hair is thick, your skin is supple and your body is limber. You are admired by men of all ages. Your personality is not set in stone, and your innocence still shines through attractively. Yes, youth is a valuable currency indeed.

What youth doesn’t have on its side are wisdom and experience.

It’s been oft repeated that “Youth is wasted on the young”. I’d like to think that youth is just a rehearsal for the main event. Can you imagine a world where age and maturity had no standing whatsoever? Where youth and naiveté governed everything? Where everyone was put out to pasture at 40? Shudder!

I remember when aged 18 and supremely confident of my intelligence and looks, I’d joined a Foreign Language course. Amongst the predominantly youthful class, one person stood out. He was a pensioner over 60. Our initial surprise was soon overtaken by his charisma, his enthusiasm and his desire to learn. Needless to say, he was a star pupil. I learned then that age was no bar to scholarship or edification.

Even as I set about living my life: finding a job I loved, a man I loved and discovering through the years, the joys of parenthood, I realised how facile my initial timeline had been. I had been trying to condense my life within parentheses, when true living had commas and exclamation marks and paragraphs that ebbed and flowed and sometimes crashed into one another.

Whilst all those initial milestones of my imagining were secured, it was the lesser moments, the ellipses of my living that made the story of my life a rich and colourful one. I realised that no matter how old I got, I could still carry on learning and exploring. I could still diversify. I could still re create and re imagine myself. I could be student and mentor. I could inspire and be inspired. I could marvel at the accomplishments of a 20 year old just as I could at a 50 year old’s. The only limits were the ones that I imposed upon myself.

With that in mind, I choose to live my life with gusto. My manifesto is to try and experience everything (within reason). I pursue my hobbies with the same passion that I give to my career. I try and be a good partner, a good parent and a good friend.
My mantra is to live life to the fullest. If I fail, I pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. What’s the worst that can happen? I will fail again. So what?

When that full stop comes, as it inevitably will, I want the book of my life to be a worthwhile read.

 

Paradise Lost?

In Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Satan postulates that it is “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven”. Interestingly, I’ve come across a completely opposite mindset lately.

On my travels across India in the last few months, I had occasion to speak to a lot of people about the changing political landscape. There were very many valid concerns about the rise of radicalism and right wing rhetoric, about callous and unthinking laws being put into motion to the detriment of the common man, about the lack of infra structure to support the rapid expansion of metropolitan cities and/or small towns, and a general fearfulness and dread that democracy, such as it is, was being eroded by an authoritarian government.

However, what shocked and saddened me was the stance of a particular generation. This is the generation that was born shortly after India gained its Independence from the British. This is the generation who was too young to remember what it was like in the days of the Raj, but old enough to have enjoyed the remaining benefits of a disciplined governance and a healthy infra structure. Their stance is paradoxical to Satan/Lucifer’s. They truly believe that as Indians we were better off being ruled by the British. That we are a corrupt and morally bankrupt nation with a slavish mentality. That, like chaotic teenagers on the loose, we will end up destroying India. That, under the British, there was cohesion and rule of law and a principled superintendence.

Of course there was. The British saw the Empire as an extension of Britain. They plundered while they ruled. But they also built the railways and the schools and the courts, and everything was tickety-boo. For them.

Winston Churchill, that great hero who led Britain to victory in World War 2, once said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” His antediluvian statements can be dismissed as the thought process of the time. Of a culmination of the Imperialism practiced by many European nations, with the justification of subjugating, colonising and ultimately benefitting the savage natives of the East and of Africa.

Yet, by admitting that we were better off as a colony, aren’t we also admitting to being those very repugnant savages that Britain chose to bring to heel?

India had a rich and varied cultural history much before she was colonised. There was education, tradition, art forms and healthy trade. There was also casteism, infighting and poverty. It wasn’t perfect. Nothing ever is. What over two hundred years of colonisation did was try and make India into a pale facsimile of Britain. And that is the vision that some choose to cling to, to this day.

While I am not in agreement with the myth of the puritanical Hindu land where aeroplanes and surgery were invented in whatever century B.C., neither do I agree that India should have stayed under the British Raj. Whatever great muddle the country is in now, it is it’s OWN muddle. One that the free thinkers, the activists and the common public, will help unravel in due course.

70 years of Independence may not have necessarily evened the playing field for everyone. Yet, as a relatively nascent nation rebuilding itself, India hasn’t done too badly. Every nation carries the burden of its History. What it chooses to do with it, is entirely to its own discretion.

Chosen servitude is voluntary abdication of responsibility. It is a cop out of magnificent proportions. Can anyone be happy being enslaved? As Thucydides, the ancient Athenian historian once said, “The secret to happiness is freedom…And the secret to freedom is courage.”

 

Blinded

I have always believed that if there was one sense I would be unable to live without, it would be sight. Of course, the loss of any sense would be devastating, but I am such a visual person, that somehow I could not imagine not being able to see. Last night, I was temporarily blinded.

It all started a year ago. A friend was cataloguing an intriguing variety of dates with her husband on Instagram. I asked her what this was about, and she explained that she had stumbled upon this concept on Pinterest. Ah, the power of social media! Basically, whoever took the lead, planned an annual marathon of monthly dates. They could be as simple or as complicated as the planner wanted. A lightbulb went off in my head, and I asked her if she didn’t mind my poaching her idea. My husband’s 50th was approaching, and I was sorely lacking in funds and imaginative gifts at the time. This way I figured, not only could I spread the love over the year, but also the expense.

The idea took root in my mind, and I started looking for interesting experiences that we could do as a couple, and even as a family. I sat and mapped everything out. I looked at the calendar, figured which dates would have to be indoors, and which (weather permitting) could be outdoors. I tried to make each date stand out, and be different from the previous one. Some were simple- like a picnic in the great outdoors. Others were more complicated- like a weekend away in Bath. The organisational control freak within me rose to the challenge with glee.

I did not want any evidence laying around, so I made a list on my phone. I then went and bought some pretty cards and proceeded to write a clue in each one of them. Not only was the date a mystery, but my husband also had the fun job of trying to guess what that mystery was. I then piled all the envelopes atop one another and tied them up with a pretty ribbon. On D day I presented this little pile of envelopes to him with a flourish. So far, so good.

On the 1st of every month, he would have to open the envelope marked with that particular month, and then play the guessing game, which I really enjoyed. Him, not so much. I thought my clues were really clever. He just found them impenetrable. Hey ho! The first couple of dates went without a hitch. Our kids are older, so we were finally able to venture farther than the local Pizza Express, for some romantic couple time. I was starting to feel quite smug. Then disaster struck.

My phone crashed and died. Along with it went my list. Of course, clever clogs here had no manual back up anywhere. Now, I was stuck with ten dates to book, and nary a clue as to what or when they were! I hastily scrambled together a list and once again went through all the mental gymnastics that it had taken to plan the dates the first time round. Eight I managed to retrieve by a combination of guesswork and dumb luck. Two still remained elusive. The mysterious dates were going to be a mystery even to me!

Eating humble pie was the only recourse. On the 1st of December, I asked hubby dearest to please open the envelopes for January and August too. Bemused, he did. I quickly took note, and shoved them back in his hands satisfied. And so followed a year of weird and wonderful experiences.

From ice skating to outdoor cinema to wine tasting to nude sketching, I dragged my half-a-century-and-proud husband the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. To his credit, if he complained, it was under his breath.

For our final date, I picked dinner in the most unusual of places. The clue in the card was: “Let me take you to another world”. Impenetrable huh?

As our Uber driver dropped us off, my husband looked at the heaving pub, and the people spilling onto the pavement, and asked, “Is this it?” He was genuinely confounded that I would bring him an hour and half into London to go to a pub. Not quite.

Right next to it, discreetly darkened windows, a black awning, and an unpretentious door beckoned. Dans le Noir? In the dark?
He was still in the dark as he peered at the menu in the dim lighting. “What is this place about?”,he whispered. “Shhhh, you’ll soon find out”, I whispered back.

Our hostess took our meal orders, told us to put all our belongings in the locker provided, remove anything with lights (watches, mobile phones etc), and then wait to be led in. Presently, we were asked to walk behind our host, sort of conga-style (walk not dance), each of us placing our hand on the shoulder of the person ahead of us. We were led through three sets of curtains, into a completely darkened room. This would be where we would eat our dinner.

Dans le Noir? has featured in a movie called About Time. Although not entirely accurate in its representation, it gives one a fairly good idea what to expect. One, as in, me. Hubby was totally dumbfounded. To suddenly and so totally be deprived of sight is a pretty disconcerting experience. Other senses get heightened. You are acutely aware of how vulnerable you are without the sense that gives you your bearings.

There were no subdued whisperings like in the movie. Everyone was talking, and talking LOUDLY. All spatial awareness disappeared. We had to touch and feel for our napkins and cutlery. Pouring and drinking water was a challenge. Food ended up on the table or the lap more than it did in the mouth. Every morsel that did find its way into the mouth was delicious beyond compare. Abandoning cutlery for fingers and propriety for hunger, I marvelled at what a sensuous experience eating food in the dark could be. The flavours, the textures, the aromas took on an added dimension.

We were sat next to a very young couple, and as we exchanged pleasantries, we found ourselves opening up and revealing more of our lives than we had intended to. Darkness provided a sort of anonymity. They were similarly uninhibited. We tried guessing what each of us looked like. We swapped notes on how bizarrely wonderful this dinner was turning out to be. We talked, we laughed, and Roz, the girl, even commented on how, after having shared this intimate dinner in the dark, we could walk past one another on the street and not recognise each other.

For someone who has always believed that sight is the sense I could least live without, it was a strangely comforting experience. Yes, I was disorientated. Yes, I spilled my food, and drank my husband’s water accidentally. But I did not find the dark oppressive or scary. On the contrary, I found it liberating. For once, I felt I was not being judged on my appearance or skin colour or how short I was or what I was wearing. I was just me. And people were just disembodied voices. Some lovely, and some abrasive, some funny and some annoying. Just people.

The blind waiters were kind, helpful and understanding of our helplessness. For a change, they were in their element and we were not. They live with their handicap in our world. I wonder if we bother to extend them the same courtesies.

Thus, my #12datesinayear came to a close. It was an illuminating experience for the both of us. Whilst all our dates are happy memories, this one was extra special. It reinforced to us how very lucky we really are. How nothing, least of all our faculties or our senses, should ever be taken for granted. And yet, truly, even with being deprived of a particular sense, life is still wonderful, and worth living and experiencing.

Even if it is dans le noir.

 

 

 

Overthinker

There’s this lady that works at the Reception of my gym who really doesn’t like me. She has never been overtly rude to me, but every time I approach her, her face turns stony, her gaze glacial and her tone borderline obnoxious. I would think that perhaps that’s just her personality, except that I have seen her laughing with and being nice to other people. So, what is it about me that sets her teeth on edge?

I’m not a rude person. If anything, I am extra polite. Being in the service industry, I can’t help but be nice to people. It’s a default mechanism. Every so often however, I come up against people who take a dislike to me. Some, like the aforementioned woman, I have minimal dealings with. Others, who after a certain amount of time spent in my company, find that they truly cannot abide me. My overriding fear at times like these is: am I horrible person?

Now, I know that I am not a horrible person. I am just an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, and in the course of this life, just as I accumulate people who love me or like me, I am equally likely to accumulate those who don’t. Yet, with a writer’s predisposition to analyse everything, I’m truly perplexed when these instances crop up.

I examine my behaviour. I go over words, actions, expressions; tooth combing them to see how I may have caused offence. In short, I over think everything. Then I swing the other way, trying to feel blasé, as though none of this bothers me, when in reality, it does. It’s exhausting.

I wish I could be that person who lives and thrives, irrespective of others’ opinions of her. I wish these tiny slights or major snubs didn’t dent my self esteem and send me into a spiral of self examination. I wish I had the ability to not take everything to heart.

Yet, without any of this over-sensitivity, would I be the writer I am?

Perhaps that is the trade off.

 

Funk (Experiment Series 2- Part 4)

2006

“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?”

Huh.

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!”

“How?”

“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.

*

2017

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.

 

THE END.

©Poornima Manco 2017