Nothing prompts a man to act than the caustic words of a woman questioning his manhood and threatening to take away his son.
Phones had been ringing all through the day. The brotherhood of auto drivers had been on the man’s tail through the day. Information was collated and passed on. It was no longer a question of price as it was a question of pride and respect.
The man stopped the car at wine shop, purchased a quart of vodka and got back inside. The day had been long and tiring. He navigated the traffic and made his way to the apartment leased under the dubious name, David Davidar. A name different from the one he used to enter the country, Frederic Raphael. A name different from the one he will use to exit the country, Joshua Ferris. Names he had seen on book covers, books he had no interest in reading. The only things he read now were letters he kept locked in a safe box back in Leumi Bank, letters written by his wife and kids.
The driver stopped the auto by the side of the road and made the call, people had been waiting for all day.
The man opened the door, switched on the lights, opened the freezer, pushed the bottle of Vodka in, pulled out a frozen bag of peas and placed it over the back of his head. He found the remote for the iPod player and played the music as he pulled out off the tie off his neck and proceeded towards the bathroom for another shower.
‘Is he alone?’ The voice over the phone wanted to confirm.
‘The lights were off before he went in. He switched on the lights…’ The auto driver commented all that he saw. Little money went a long way. The guard had been more than happy to cooperate when the crisp pink and orange colored thousand rupee note was crisply snapped in front of his face.
‘Keep watching. Will be there in another 10 minutes’ the voice on the other end of the phone ordered before hanging up.
The auto driver and the watchman of the gated community spoke in the language of the migrants, Hindi.
‘What did he do?’ The watchman inquired, wanting gossip to share with his drinking buddies.
‘Not sure, but whatever he did, he is going to pay for it. Big time’ the auto driver smiled knowingly.
‘Where are you from?’ The auto driver inquired.
‘Nepal!’ The watchman proudly proclaimed.
‘My wife’s brother’s friend went to Nepal once. Said you could buy a kilo of Ganja for two hundred rupees’
‘You get everything in Nepal.’ The watchman offered a beedi to the driver, the driver shook his head.
‘Then why the fuck did you have to come to Bangalore?’ The auto driver demanded, as the watchman lit up his beedi.
‘No jobs there. Full politics. Full violence there. Wife’s sister works in Indira Nagar. She said you get paid five thousand rupees a month just to walk a dog twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. So we moved’ The watchman narrated the story of his life between hard pulls on the rolled up tobacco leaf.
‘I don’t understand how wives know so much about the world even though it is us men going out and working and earning money for the family’ The auto driver lamented.
‘You have TV and cable connection?’ The watchman inquired.
‘Got it in dowry’ The auto driver answered.
‘That’s how! See, we men, what do we do?’ The watchman waited for the auto driver to answer to his rhetoric question. The driver kept quiet, waiting for the watchman to explain further.
‘We men, we go out, we see the world, we try and see where we can earn enough money so that the stove keeps burning and how we can get a drink or smoke and forget about all the stupid boring things that we do through the day. Like I can’t go to sleep without drinking a quarter of rum every day.’ The watchman pulled hard on the beedi before dropping it down on the tar road and twisting out the burning embers with his toe.
‘But my wife, she goes and washes vessels in all this big, big peoples’ house. She talks to the big madams and their children. And they keep watching TV or doing things on the computer. Then she comes home, cooks for the kids and watches serials. And when I come home, she tells me that the kids don’t have eggs with toys in them. The cable bill has to be paid. I shouldn’t drink so much. I should act more like the big people. And seeing me, the kids will also act like that and we can move up in society. We don’t care for such things. What we need is a warm body and enough booze to let us sleep in peace. Women, even they don’t know what they need’ the watchman explained.
The two men shared a moment of silence. Only to be broken by the loud rat-ta-tat sounds of four-stroke CNG engines of autorickshaws.
The English speaking auto driver got off his auto. His neck wrapped around with a foamy skin colored brace. The dangerous looking men got off the other four autos. The other auto drivers were in a worse condition that the English speaking one. One auto driver even had a crutch to support himself, his leg taped up with makeshift sticks and heavily bandaged together. The goons threw their pre-mixed bottles of cheap whisky and mineral water down by the side of the road. They were ready for some action.
‘Where?’ The English speaking auto driver inquired, his question, more a threat than a question.
‘Third Floor, Apartment 3A’ The watchman answered, his mind racing for an excuse to account for his absence when things got hairy.
‘Anybody come in or go out?’ The English speaking auto driver interrogated the chatty auto driver.
‘No!’ The driver answered, his head shaking vehemently to support his statement.
‘Hospital! NOW!’ Somebody yelled as the autos were hurriedly started, broken bleeding bodies hauled themselves in as they scampered into the traffic.
The inside of Apartment 3A looked like a crash site. Broken glass, furniture littered the marble floors with blood splayed across the walls. The man lay on the floor clutching his sides. His face bruised and cut. He pulled himself off the ground and trundled with great effort into the bathroom to take a look in the mirror to ascertain the extent of his injuries. He knew if he didn’t close the opening in his gut, he would bleed and die in the next seven minutes. He shoved the tube of toothpaste between his teeth to clamp down on as he gingerly pushed his index finger inside the bleeding wound. He remembered his battalion commanding officer’s words at the end of his long first day at training camp.
‘Pain is your ally. Pain is going to be your one true friend for the rest of your life. Pain is going to be that motherfucking whore son of a bitch who is going to tell you when to call it quits. Eighty Nine percent of you numbskulls are going to fail this program. It’s a fact. Out of the remaining eleven percent, only two will get selected to mount missions on their own. I am looking for just two men, two men who will treat pain like it’s their first pubescent orgasm. Two men who will grin and clap their hands when pain presents itself like a nymphomaniacal whore in Manila tripping on ‘shrooms begging for your cocks. Because gentlemen!’ The instructor paused for dramatic effect, his eyes sweeping up and down on the uniform rise and fall of his troops up and down, while screaming the push up count.
‘Because if you are feeling pain, it means you are still alive and you should be happy! And I want to see smiles on your ugly faces’ The instructor barked.
The man grinned as his fingers felt around the gooey mess that was his innards. He tried hard to keep his eyes open even as he slumped on the floor, to conserve energy. His eyes vaguely made out the plastic box of dental floss. If he could just reach it, without letting his index finger moving from the open artery, he still had a chance. He tried pulling himself up, using the washbasin for support.
The washbasin broke. Water sprayed. He lay on the wet floor, unconscious.