Story Detail

The Scent of a conscience
by Rochelle Potkar
Pages: NA
Lessons in infidelity
Reviews: 0

“I always get attracted to another woman’s husband,” Shonali said, removing her top. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and her breasts waggled on her slender frame.

“Why is that?”

“Ah the sense of being supreme, the way they look at me with fear and an instinct of insecurity. It drives me crazy! It brings me to a non-stop mood.” She winked.

Fahaad watched her break into a slow-motion dance, her naked thighs jiggling, her buttocks reverberating around her thong and said, “Wish all women were like you then.”

“You know one of my ex-boyfriends was so possessive, he would make me get bills and receipts of every place I went as proof that I went nowhere else.” She twirled, purled, and spiraled her hips.

“Really?” laughed Fahaad, “Then?”

“I left him! I would have been a folio queen for the rest of my life otherwise.”

“Yeah, it matters how another man treats a woman. It gives me cues on how I should treat her.”

“As if you have no idea of your own, ” said Shonali, whirling the bark of her body like a wave, before removing the thong. This was protocol. He couldn’t touch her until she finished the slow sway of her hips to a self-taught African-Indian dance.

In the tawny light of their cheap hotel room, its smoke-smelling satin bedcover threw a burgundy color on her skin, turning it murderous.

Panting lightly, she bent over and kissed him. Then sitting over him she watched how ready he was, smiling as she eased his cock into herself. She rowed on as he maintained a derisive poker face.

“That game again, haan?” she said.

“Yes.”

“As if this is not happening to you?” she whispered as her hair water-fell over his face.

“Resistance is great against our wobbly-kneed weaknesses,’ he said between breaths, ‘I don’t want to let go, yet I have no choice here.”

“Sweet trauma, wanting and not wanting at the same time,’ she allowed him deeper, ‘Playing games with yourself,” s he said between gasps. The tip of him was hitting her now where she sought it the most, creating waves and tsunamis of wordlessness. She screamed and screamed while noticing how quickly it faded into thin air. They were too outward, those screams, their ring lost, making them sound empty. Not full-bodied and wholesome as they had sounded earlier in this affair.

He grunted too, in dismissive tones too uncouth for his otherwise smooth manners. How many voices we had within ourselves!

Now it was their great wet world between them, reeking of debris.

She got off and they caught their breaths, and then some winks of easy slumber, falling into the open lush arms of night with the smells of their own effusions. She had known their hums for some time. They were so indefinable that they could be accepted favorably or unfavorably, depending on what state of mind she was in.

But instead of feeling happy tonight about the familiarity of their whiffs, she felt fusty.

This had been happening for the past few weeks now. She noticed that they were getting into a predictable routine. Even though they enjoyed every kind of union, the novelty was diminishing. It was starting to feel like a bloody marriage! The only thing new apart from the multiple orgasms was that his wife had got to know of this thing between them, and had threatened to leave him.

Oh! What drama she had whipped up, berating Shonali over text messages; ending each one with the same line, ‘Leave my husband alone. Leave us alone.’ Later Shonali heard how she badgered and bashed Fahaad up, punching, slapping, and boxing him. What’s worse was that he took it.

He, the flat-stomached, gym-going kind. He, the no - nonsense guy. He, the lean dude with the smartest two-liners, who never had to work hard to win women over. His aloofness, his pride over being well-read and well-travelled was enough to get him many women. Any woman. But he was also one who could tolerate his wife Seema’s beating.

The more he talked of her torment and anguish, Shonali noticed their sex got better. In fact, the more distressed Seema got, the better their sex was. If she was calm and collected, there was no chance the orgasms would be so fulfilling, thought Shonali. While she was at it with Fahaad, she would often think of his poor wife. The taste of forbidden fruit getting all the more delicious.

*

Fahaad started and awoke in the middle of the night. Being a light sleeper, it didn’t take much to disturb him. “Did you hear that?”

Shonali stirred and listened. There was some shouting in the distance. It seemed to come off the far road below, cutting through the descending quiet of darkness. A single voice, most probably a man’s. “Some drunk?” she volunteered, watching the room’s garish night lamp flicker.

“Asses. They always choose the night to disturb someone else’s peace.” Fahaad pulled her into the comfort of his warm body, chiseling away at her with new desire arising in him, scooping more of himself to a convex where she could rest. After their second session in the fumble of half-sleep, they slept like dogs, ghosts, death, memory. The dark collapsed around them.

The man screaming outside wasn’t really affected by alcohol. There was something else bothering him off his senses. He had stormed away a few hours ago

from the worst place he could have been in—his own bedroom.

This man had two faces, like everyone else. One that he showed to the world, and another that was reserved for his fantasies.

He would fantasize about the very things that, without the cover of those fantasies, he hated. For instance, rape. In his cold, logical state, he detested it, spoke against it and would have perhaps even found himself in a demonstration against it. He never once molested, bottom-pinched, or felt up a girl… maybe once brushed past a woman in a crowded bus when he had the chance.

And yet in his masturbating moments, he would fantasize about seductive rape. Only then would he get a release. When he would wake up the next morning, he would abhor the very thoughts of the previous night that rushed to him as first thoughts of a new day.

Of late, his fantasies of rape had worn thin. He felt no heat from thinking about them, and understood it was time to move on.

Now they were about his wife making love to another man. He chose Justin, his closest friend, for that. Who better than him? He knew everything about Justin. He had even chanced upon him in common toilets, sighting his body dimensions.

What was more, Justin leered at his wife Nisha whenever they invited him over to dinner or tea. He would praise her in front of Neel, and then some more before their common friends.

Justin had the scent of an animal about him. Often Neel felt like Justin was the only man in the room. Though Neel had never accompanied Justin on his whoring exploits in India or Bangkok, he was updated about them. He knew from the same set of friends about Justin’s past exploits with bar dancers before their shops shut, and of other dames who flitted about him for money or kindness.

Justin could not only give Nisha the time of her day but also make his own nightly moments more magical, thought Neel. So the imaginings took root. Each night, after Nisha slept without so much as a goodnight’s wish, he would trade his sleeping place from their bed to the drawing room, switch on the TV to a loud decibel and start his party.

Timed to a half-an-hour slot in tandem with a Hindi soap on crying daughters-in-law, Neel would dream up a different story of Justin and Nisha. Sometimes, Justin would visit Nisha when she was alone at home, to drop off some stuff for Neel. At other times, Nisha would drop by Justin’s when his wife and kids were away, on her way to the temple, market, or bank. Sometimes at a picnic, Justin’s wife would be busy minding the kids, and he would get a chance to venture to Nisha’s lonesome hotel room. She would have left the door ajar, walking out of the shower in a towel when he would walk in, and they would be caught in the crosshair of hesitation and desire.

After his sofa sojourns, Neel would drag himself to the bedroom to sleep beside Nisha on his side of the bed, but come morning, as the thoughts from the previous night would touch his shores like filth and flotsam from a high tide, he would squirm, angered by his own imagination.

This continued for three months until all settings and scenes leading to Justin’s and Nisha’s infidelity had been dreamt up. Every surprise had been tested, and there was simply no juice left in it. Like hard water, their pairing failed to lather up much foam.

Neel would have to fend for himself again for his business to run.

He gainfully looked at the smart women in his office and nearby offices at Nariman Point. Through roving eyes at pretty passersby in local trains and buses, or attractive strangers in long -distant, outstation trains and low-cost air planes, he searched for new material for a new season in shared cab rides to office, every single day.

He could never think of booking a room and a dame even if they were professional in their pleasure-giving. To begin with, their rates were very high; he couldn’t afford expensive escorts. The inexpensive ones were so cheaply available that he wondered if they came with diseases; constantly at a tug-of-war between their affordability and the perception of a good or bad barter.

High price = good quality. Low price = bad quality. No, no, high price = always good quality, but sometimes low price = more accessibility. No. NO.

High price = no diseases, better awareness, more English in the orgasms. Err, or maybe not.

So, for him, masturbation worked best. Sex was overrated and masturbation so unrated. It was during the time when he had finished composing his next batch of fantasies that he discovered Justin and Nisha were really having an affair.

He now stumbled drunk on this quiet, narrow, and unknown lane as the city cramped around the haunches of night in neon-lit advertising daze. He shouted himself hoarse, looking into the faraway smog that had gathered up like clouds from the day’s onslaught of vehicular chaos.

“WHY HAVE YOU MADE WOMEN, OH GOD?! WHY DID YOU MAKE THEM AT ALL? …AHEAD OF US… BEHIND US… AROUND US. EVERYWHERE!”

“What the fuck!” said Fahaad, pulling a pillow over his ear.

“He is right below our window, I think,” Shonali said, padding across the floor of their tiny room, pulling a satin overcoat over her body.

She watched the shouting man go from under the hotel awning, under the lampposts that showered blonde glow like melting glaciers over the dank street.

Cats mewed wildly somewhere. A dog barked in the next lane. Car tires screeched still further on an outer road.

Neel faltered in the dark lane, removing his glasses as the world blurred. Far at the end of the road, he could see a shape magnified between two brightly lit hoardings. It was the Lord Shiva.

“MASTURBATION IS BETTER THAN FUCKING ANY WOMAN,” he shouted at Him, “WHY DEPEND ON A WOMAN—AN UNRELIABE ONE—WHEN... (hick)

DEPEND ON OURSELVES...?”

Shonali watched the man go on, lending his words sharp as knives, into the night. He was tall and well-built, and didn’t look like a derelict. More like a man scorned or jilted. By his gait, he seemed well-to-do, even cultured. She could judge a man’s pedigree from a distance.

“Come back,” Fahaad mumbled.

“Why does the night allow such things?”
“Such discrepancies, you mean? Because the night is wild and limitless. Can you see its edges?”

She smiled back at him in the dark.

“And don’t we always love things whose edges we can’t see?” Fahaad studied Shonali’s silhouette, feeling a stir in his groin.

Even when his wife was like this at home—naked and inviting—he didn’t feel the lust. Probably it was the illicitness that created the need to defy boundaries. He watched Shonali come toward him and pulled her over; sucking the fruit of her lips, grabbing mouthfuls of her flesh from anywhere and everywhere. “You sme...ll goo…ood. Which… perff…ume agg…ain?”

“Jasss…mi…ne,” she said throatily, “and you... for..get it eeeach ti…me.”

*

He had thought of nailing Justin and Nisha red-handed in their act. Then, he couldn’t guarantee what he would do to them. If he was a spider who could spin steaming fantasies, now he could be on a job rotation planning a gruesome murder or two.

A crime of passion, they could call it later for all he cared.

He would knife them in their abdomens, slashing and twisting their entrails and slit their bloody throats; cutting their moans and groans right at the source. Filthy woman! And here he had kept to his fidelity. He may have ogled other women, but never touched one! He had made do with pleasuring himself. Couldn’t she have done the same? He was in search of the sharpest knife for this.

Leaving an hour early from office, Neel visited a large department store searching through the ‘Kitchen & Appliance Section’ where all sorts of knives glinted on display. If he took them all, it would be enough to whip up a food festival. He picked up a Chinese chef’s knife. Its package claimed that it was the sharpest cleaver to cut bone. Animal bone. Beast bone.

Presently he knocked his foot against a stone as big as a football, and his spectacles fell in a sloping corner of the road. He got onto his fours and began searching for them. The night resumed a gristly, pixilated somberness as Shiva appeared, tall as a building, his head leaning against a skyscraper.

“Get away!” Neel screamed at this watching God. “I have done no crime!”

Dreams and nightmares floated by, translucent like a wispy life-force blanket overhead. Rats and snakes, rodents and mongooses, beetles and lizards scurried off their shadows over wet bends.

A taxi screeched in the distance, and a woman in shimmering red got off. At another corner, a policeman and eunuch fist-fought.

“I need my spectacles or I will keep seeing this rubbish!” Neel howled, looking around.

“The madman has reached the other end,” Shonali whispered to Fahaad.

“But there is no fun without background noise.” “Then music should do.” She pushed a button on her mobile phone. A soft instrumental tune played at their bedside, by their still bodies.
“What are you thinking?” asked Fahaad, sensing her quiet.

“… about Seema.”

“She has calmed down now,” he said.

“Oh, has she? Isn’t that good? Now she won’t trouble you.” Shonali rubbed Fahaad’s warm shoulder.

“Yes. But her peace is disturbing.”

“She must still be obsessing about us. What we do, how much better I am compared to her,” said Shonali.

“Oh! Don’t fool yourself. She is quite a pleasure-giver too.”

Shonali’s face fell. She groped for some water, wrapping her long fingers around a glass.

“No. I don’t think that is the problem,’ said Fahaad, ‘Though I wish it was. I hated her being jealous and envious of you and us, but now I want it.”

“Why?” asked Shonali, wondering if he too was enjoying this audacious illegitimacy.

“Because there seems to be someone… now.”

“What do you mean?” Shonali half-sat against the bed poster, and the hours of darkness rendered in stillness.

“She might be seeing someone.” “As in, having an affair?”

“…Out of sympathy perhaps, but she is talking on the phone to someone. Once, I picked up the other line and heard him. He sounded caring. His voice was melodious. He was telling her to distribute her time into hobbies, to go out more often, to take better care of herself, etcetera etcetera, stuff friends tell one another.”

“Maybe he is a friend then?”

“I doubt it. Seema stole her gaze from me after that call. I even thought she was blushing. And she has begun writing with a fountain pen on paper in this age of emails. Just the other day I found torn bits of paper with her lush handwriting on it. It was beautiful but indecipherable. Imagine another man gets to read her handwriting and I, some incomplete words.”

Shonali lit a desperate cigarette sucking into its nicotine, her frown as dense as the tendrils over her head. The dead-weight night invaded further. There was no noise from the man in the street. She suddenly missed him. Her turmoil seemed like the only thing happening right now. A bird squawked through the gloom in the trees.

“So now?”

Fahaad shook his head.

“Can’t you ask her?”

“Did I care to answer when she asked me about us?”

“You think she could be sleeping with him?” Shonali got a sharp, hard slap to her face. It happened so fast that the shock reached her pelvis much before she could register it.

“She dare not.” Fahaad cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,’ he whispered , clearing his throat a minute later. ‘I love her. You see, she’s my wife.”

“But she could be, couldn’t she?” Shonali said, tucking her hair behind her ear, her face scorching, her cheek smarting, tears forming in her eyes. She turned away from Fahaad pretending to sleep.

So Seema had found a guy after all—a man different from her husband—a forbidden man who could gift her warmth, nourishing and kind words. Gentle words that had a way of wrapping themselves around melted, naked bodies as clothes fell off. How difficult was it to seek succor of naked arm and body then? The natural state of a human being was nakedness. Not clothed.

And Seema would do all this on the days her husband was unavailable. These new lovers wouldn’t even have to hunt for chances. When Fahaad vanished with excuses of 'business tours’, Seema would vanish with her melodious -voiced lover. Shonali and Fahaad would make efforts towards a convincing cover story, and Seema could have her fun for free.

Seema’s nights of furtive moments with that sympathetic and tender new friend could turn out better than her own long-term affair with Fahaad. The freshness of love between two newly-united, passionate lovers was something else! Every little thing would be promising in its discovery.

Shonali turned to watch her sleeping beau.

*

To Neel the murderous evening had dawned when he pretended he was going to Kochi for a work meeting by the night train. But once out of the house, he dragged his heavy suitcase, marching in the opposite direction to hole himself in a cheap one-star hotel room that faced his apartment building.

There he waited for movement: either for Nisha to leave their house or for Justin to arrive. He waited as minutes brutally stretched his patience and then the gruesome hour came with Justin drawing in outside his building’s gate, paying the cab, and walking into the apartment. At that moment, Neel took off from his hotel room, carrying a small tote bag with the big Chinese knife in it.

He didn’t feel like himself as he walked through the lane toward his own building. His skin was wet, his bush shirt soaked in perspiration. He used the staircase to avoid obstructions or visibility in the elevator, and opened his house door using a set of duplicate keys.

There were two cups of half-drunk tea on the centre table, and an abandoned glass of water. The house was strangely quiet like it was a dead body with a still-beating heart. He stole into the passage crossing the empty kitchen.

The door to the bedroom was shut. He turned the knob. It wasn’t locked. He opened it slowly, and stood watching the dark figures in an unstoppable dance. Raging, so fierce, so hungry, so desirous was the woman! No! It couldn't have been his wife. No, not Nisha.

The street light streamed through the gaps in the curtain, painting the tangled bodies in hide-and-seek mosaics. The woman, with her hair long and loose, rode over the beast of a moaning man using every part of her body to consume him. Her teeth bit into him, her lips sucked his flesh, her fingers played with and strummed his tender skin, and her tongue dug his every ditch. All this, and she continued rocking with such vigor that something was going to break.

Neel waited for rage to build up in him to its hilt, for his limbs to fire into action. But he stood frozen, watching the spirited spectacle.

This was not her. It was just not her.

They did not see Neel’s knife fall to the bathroom rug, or hear him drag his feet out of the house.

*
When Fahaad pulled Shonali back into his arms, her body was slack. “Hey, what happened?”
She did not answer.

The light of dawn wavered outside the window as she traced the edges of his face. Round and round, oval and oval. Then she disengaged from him, and began dressing.

“Hey what about our shower together?”

What was the magic in infidelity if everyone had it? What was the point of this affair when somebody else was enjoying more than its original players?

*

The footpath had grown warm under Neel’s body. His intoxication seeped away as he awoke and found his spectacles right near him.

The sky had turned into swirls of ochre. Young people were filtering out of tall glass buildings. Milkmen clanking their metal cans tied to their cycles, whirred on. Security guards clacking their batons on the pavement, walked on. Rat killers and rats, call centre employees and call girls scampered off the bend of visibility. Every doubt and distress was vanishing.

A traffic light frozen in red, green, and orange greeted the traffic revving up in morning mist.

When you dream of something with your truest emotion, does life conspire in giving it to you, in the highest resolution?

He couldn’t kill them. He didn’t even know them. He had never known them.

They were so different from what he had imagined. So ghastly and pure, needy and visceral that his wildest fantasies around and about them were defeated.

He sat by the pavement now staring at the morning that kissed each window in dull light. A tall, pretty

girl emerged from one of the settlements—a ramshackle hotel—and walked past him, screwing-on the front buttons of her shirt.

She looked as lost and devastated as him.

 

From 'The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories'.

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