(a fiction short story)
It’s late and the bar at the Savoy is almost empty. There are just three people – a couple, a man and woman, in their thirties, sit together on a sofa; and on the sofa just behind them sits a solitary man, unseen, in the shadows.
It is quite dark as the lights are dim; in fact the lights are so dim that the man and woman can hardly see each other’s face. They have been drinking for quite some time, and, in fact, the woman appears pleasantly drunk as she engages the man in some lighthearted banter, slurring loudly as she speaks.
“She dumped you, isn’t it?” the woman says.
“No. That’s not true. Leena didn’t dump me. It was I who left her!” the man says emphatically.
“Come on, Anil. You think I don’t know everything about you two?”
“You don’t. You know nothing. It was I who left her. I told you once; I’m telling you again! She didn’t dump me. I didn’t want to live with her, so I left her.”
“Fib? Why should I?”
“Masculine pride? What nonsense!”
“When a man ditches a woman she gains sympathy; but when a woman dumps a man he becomes a laughing stock, a subject of ridicule.”
“That’s why you ran away from Bangalore after spreading lies all around that you were the one who had split up with her, when actually it was Leena who had dumped you unceremoniously,” the woman jeers loudly.
“Talk softly,” the man says.
“Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”
“I told you it’s not true. We had our differences. And I wanted a change of job.”
“You know why she dumped you? Because you are a bloody ‘loser’. A born loser!”
“Who told you that?”
“She did. You want to hear Leena’s exact words : ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with a man without a future, a namby-pamby who had no ambition, no drive – a good for nothing geek.”
“Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”
“That’s what she told me.”
“She told you? When? Where?”
“Last year. In Hyderabad. During this same annual IT Seminar. She’d flown down from the States. She even presented a paper – I’m sure it was plagiarized from something you had written or from the notes you kept giving her about your work and research.”
“I’m not interested!”
“Leena is real smart. A real scheming bitch. Mesmerizes you with her wily charms, uses you and then jettisons you, just throws you away when she’s got what she’s wanted. Like toilet paper! Or you know what?” the woman starts giggling, “She treated you like a sanitary napkin! Use and throw straight into the dustbin.”
“Shut up, will you?” the man shouts angrily, “Let’s go now. You’re drunk.”
“I still remember our Bangalore days. When you used to grovel at her feet, your tongue drooling like a lapdog. And now look where she’s reached – the hot shot CEO of a top IT company while you wallow in shit as a nobody in some nondescript place.”
“Please, Nanda! Let’s go,” the man says exasperated.
But the woman is in no mood to go, ignores him, and continues talking loudly: “Leena is smart! She told me she’d managed to hook some NRI Head Honcho. He’s an American citizen too. Her life is made!”
“Maybe, she’ll use him and dump him too!” the man says sardonically.
“Hey! You’ve accepted it! You’ve accepted that she dumped you. I was right! That calls for a drink.”
“No. You’ve already had three big bottles of beer.”
“Who’s counting?” the woman says happily, lurching from her seat, “Okay. If I’ve had too much beer, now I’ll have whisky!” She picks up the man’s glass, drinks it bottoms up in one go, and exclaims at the top of her voice: “Cheers! Down the hatch!”
“What’s wrong with you?” the man scolds her. Don’t you know, “Beer and whisky – it’s risky.”
“And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”
“You mustn’t drink so much.”
“Someone may take advantage of you!”
“Ha! Maybe I want to be taken advantage of? Come, take advantage of me,” she says loudly and snuggles up to him, “Come. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me. Like you used to do to Leena.”
“Shut up. Someone will hear!”
“There is no one here.”
“There is,” Anil says, noticing the solitary figure in the shadows for the first time. He moves close to Nanda and whispers into her ear, “don’t look behind you.”
“Where?” she shouts in surprise and turns around. She sees the silhouette of the man and calls to him, “Hey eavesdropper, why don’t you join us?”
“Thanks. But it’s okay. I’m fine here,” the stranger says.
“No! No! Come on. Have a drink with us. Don’t be a snob!” the woman shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying, the stranger quickly joins them, pulling up a chair opposite the sofa.
“I hope we have not been disturbing you,” Anil says, “We’re sorry. We thought we were all alone in the bar.”
“Not at all!” the stranger says, “in fact, I’ve been enjoying your banter.”
“Good. That calls for a drink!” the woman says.
“Certainly. It’s on me,” the stranger says.
“Nanda. Please. I think we’ve had enough,” Anil pleads.
“I insist,” the stranger says, “just one last drink.”
“Just one last drink!” Nanda repeats drunkenly, “and then the real surprise!”
“Surprise?” Anil asks.
“We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”
“What? Leena? She’s here? In Mussoorie?” Anil asks incredulously.
“Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. Must have arrived in the evening when we had gone out for our romantic walk to Lal Tibba.”
“How do you know?”
“E-mail! I was the one who called her for this seminar.”
“You didn’t tell me!”
“Of course not. And I didn’t tell her that I had called you either.”
“I’m going back!” Anil says.
“You still desperately love her, don’t you? After all that she’s done to you; destroyed you. You’re scared of her aren’t you?”
“Then why are you afraid of facing her? Come on, Anil, be a man! Ask her why she dumped you,” Nanda says. She pulls Anil’s hand and lurches towards the entrance, “Come. We’ll go to the reception and find out in which room Leena is staying.”
“She’s in room 406,” the stranger says.
“How do you know?” Nanda asks wide-eyed, trying to focus on the stranger.
“I’m Leena’s husband,” the stranger says matter-of-factly. He keeps his glass on the table and silently walks out of the bar.