Long Way from Home
Daman, March 2013
Daman is a small coastal town without a railway station. Every weekend dehydrated men arrive by the hundreds to the hotels that dot the sea front, hopping across the border from the dry state of Gujarat in SUVs and sedans, their throats parched and their libidos shrunk, followed by their fat wives with bleached faces and pudgy limbs waxed. Sex and alcohol, the forever cocktail, that’s what they come here to get.
And that’s where Rony comes in.
Rony is thirty. He has dark, long sideburns, breath spiked with cigarette, and hair loosely falling over his forehead. He is a charmer, in direct contrast to the Gujarati businessmen who arrive, their paunches ahead of them and their wives a few steps behind. Those men head to the bar just after checking in, leaving their women to glide to their rooms and freshen their make-up.
Rony’s MO is failsafe. If the target is elusive, he lets them go. It’s a feeling, an instinct he has. He gets gifts from the women he acquires successfully, and he likes to hang them as trophies on the walls of his small one-bedroom house: paper napkins stained with lipstick, handkerchiefs with frills on the edges, undergarments, strands of hair, chunks of fake jewellery that sparkle in the night light.
Hotel Tabasco, Daman, 15 March 13
‘Hey, where’s the rest room?’
The woman who asks Rony is plump and her voice tired, but her eyes hint at something else.
‘The best one of all is up in your room.’ Rony winks and follows her into the lift.
They hold hands in the lift, not looking at each other. It’s the touch that matters. Like lovers. Real lovers.
Her dress is a one piece – easy to disrobe. They play the fantasy like the year before: watching her husband in the bar below, her sluice gates opening and the memories jogging faster as he empties his beer and looks vacantly out at the calm brown sea. Rony times his explosion with the last sip the man gulps. It’s perfect.
The exit is quick. If he sees her husband, he won’t be sure it is him. He can recognise the man only if he sees him from above. But recognition is irrelevant.
Today, when he comes to the door, the woman discloses her name: Sharmelee. They have one more session. Her husband has slowed down with his beer in the bar below and to ensure that the timing isn’t missed, he turns slower too. The session isn’t mindless; it is sensual, strangely more meaningful, with his mind participating and not a mere lump of forgotten protein like before. And he thinks Sharmelee looks happier in the end as he takes the money, which makes him even more satisfied as he returns home richer than all his earlier adventures. She has paid him a hundred thousand in cash.
Mumbai, June 13
‘You come. Fast. I have till nine tonight’ she had said over the phone.
Sharmelee is in a suite on the sixteenth floor. The curtains have been drawn. They hold hands for a minute and Rony says he is happy to be with her. But for some reason she seems withdrawn.
They move to the bed and undress. Her body quivers as Rony climbs on top of her. Her moans suggest pain to his thrusts, not pleasure. But it could be the air of an unaccustomed city playing on Rony’s nerves.
Later, as he rubs warm Turkish towel all over her as she asks him to, he tells her jokes which seem to make her even sadder. Rony thinks it is over as he takes the money and rides the train back to Daman. The sex was great, the money was good, yet something remained out of reach, truncating the rush her company got him before.
Hotel Tabasco, afternoon, 10 Sep 13
The sunset is fifteen minutes away. Rony has just had a swim and he is staring at the drifting clouds, the recliner flat under him.
The transition had been easy. As soon as he got the job as the sports teacher at a local school he acquired a girlfriend. Rather, Gloria acquired him. Their eyes had met at the church, and for the first time in his life, it was a girl who had made the first move. It was also the first time Rony didn’t know what to do next.
He felt shy, awkward, like a virgin, when after their second meeting her eyes turned rounder and her lips curled back to release warm breaths on his face in anticipation. They stayed like that for a few minutes, or it might have been seconds because Rony was nervous. When finally Gloria kissed him, and he returned the kiss, long and gentle, his tongue darting like a hesitant predator, he thought to himself ‘is this love’?
Rony opens his eyes to a man shaking his shoulders.
The man walks him to a table and as they slide into their seats and Rony looks up, his eyes jump to the two other men who silently appear on either side. They seem as if they are all muscle and look like trouble, their silence orchestrated, eyes strangely dead. Rony imagines they are either making up their minds or waiting for the sunset. His thoughts turn to Gloria. Could these men have anything to do with her?
‘What the fuck do you want?’ Rony thinks they look stupid as their faces widen in smiles. It seems as if they were expecting this from him.
The man seated across takes out a gadget and flicks a button. ‘What the fuck do you want?’ Rony hears his recorded voice. It’s a voice-matching gadget. He hears himself saying sweet-nothings to Sharmelee, sharing silly jokes, which sound sillier now.
‘You don’t recognize me? I am Sharmalee’s husband. She died three months ago in a hotel suite in Mumbai.’
The setting sun glints its final orange in the middle-aged man’s eyes.
‘You are a dead man,’
Rony gets up and runs, the three men at his heels. He hopes he can outrun them
but they catch up with him in the car park, kick him along the ground and finally shove him in the back seat of a black SUV. As Rony gives in to the numbness and falls unconscious on the drive, his mind struggles to find who mattered more: Sharmelee, or Gloria? His last thoughts are of Sharmelee, her body, her laughter, her hunger for him, her sadness. And her money that he no longer needs now that he has a job.
His instincts have taken him long way from home, Rony thinks, as he stares at the shining nine mm pistol. And now, when he wants it most, he has no choice.
Founder-Editor of Open Road Review, Kulpreet Yadav’s writings have appeared in Muse India, Litro, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Sonora Review (online), Blue Fifth Review, Monkeybicycle and others. India Unlimited – Stories from a Nation Caught between Hype and Hope, Lifi Publications, 2013, his first collection of short stories, was released during the World Book Fair at New Delhi. When not writing, Kulpreet loves to travel, experiment with food and do photography. Kulpreet’s new novel Catching the Departed will be launched in Singapore in July 2014 during the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators ‘Bridging Cultures’ event. He lives in New Delhi. More at www.kulpreetyadav.in.