by Manoj Nair

You apply the nail polish with deft strokes, gingerly on your toe nails. Scarlet Red. It is your favorite color. The cotton balls between your toes feel soft and ticklish. It mildly arouses you, it’s your foot fetish .You so want to apply the polish on your fingernails, but then you realize it might be stretching things a bit too far. The toe nails will he hidden by your shoes.

Scarlet red underwear and brassier to match. You like the lacy frills on them. You like the feel of the soft silk against your body as you slip them on. Aditya will love them. You imagine the glint in his eyes, the hunger in his lips, and the urgency in his hands as he grasps you from behind. Oh, you cannot wait for him to come home.

Aditya. Your eyes had picked him up from across the long mahogany table in the board room. The CEO was passionately presenting the new human resources policy .He smiled at you and you approached him at lunch break.

“Want to grab a drink later?”

His eyes darted nervously across the room as he muttered “yes” under his breath.

That drink was the beginning of a torrid affair five months ago.

Ding dong”, the doorbell. You tuck your shirt into your black jeans, one hurried look in the dressing table mirror. You are wary of the scarlet red showing from under the collar. You resist the urge to throw open the door and grope him. You look through the eye hole; a habit you picked up over the years living on your own.

Mr. Sheshadri, your landlord, is nervously pacing the corridor. He enters the hall hurriedly forgetting to remove his chappals outside. He seems edgy. The newspaper is rolled up in his right hand.

“Srikanth, you need to take down your flag “, he unfolds the paper.

Supreme Court upholds Section 377, screams the headline. The letters in black ink swim in front of your eyes. Sheshadri uncle holds you up with his left shoulder as you stagger to the sofa.

A faint memory of father hoisting you on his shoulders crosses your mind. You miss his muscular warm hold, his firm grip. The grip that held you firm to your cycle seat as you learnt to ride without the side supports. It’s been four years now since you last spoke, since the day he asked you to pack your bags and never come back home. He had an aghast look on his face though not the surprised kinds when you broke the news. He said he knew you were a bit odd but since you kept it your private matter he didn’t care. Now that you have decided to be open about it, it was best that you live on your own.

Mr. Sheshadri brings in a glass of water from the kitchen. He is coaxing you to drink. You were surprised when Mr. Sheshadri agreed to let out his house to you. He was the fifth landlord you had met that week. The others had looked you over and had either demanded more rent or refused flat out. You could feel the oncoming smirk .Sheshadri uncle had handed over the keys without a fuss. You had wondered why.

He lives across your corridor on the same floor. You were wary of him in the beginning like you were wary of the milkman who idled around after you picked up the milk packet. He is a traditional South Indian Brahmin who worked all his life in a government job and lives with his wife in his sparsely furnished apartment. He is nearing retirement now. The gayatri mantra played aloud in his single cassette player early morning is your alarm clock. He seemed more traditional than your own Appa. And he didn’t look the type either .The type who would hang out with other men. He hadn’t made any advances or dropped any hints. It’s when he spoke about his only son settled in Canada that you realized .You could hear the tremor in his voice. He felt he had failed to understand his son. He showed you his photo, tucked away in his wallet. You saw the almond eyes, the crop of hair falling across the forehead, the pinkish lips. You understood. You didn’t discuss his son after that. Never again.

Mrs. Sheshadri never visits. She sends you a plate of idlis and filter coffee on Sunday mornings. She stands behind her door when Uncle rings your doorbell.

“Srikanth, Srikanth” Uncle shakes you from your half consciousness.

“Yes Uncle. I am fine. I will be alright. Just give me a few minutes”.

Uncle leaves, quietly closing the door behind him.

You pick up your phone. Speed dial.

A metallic recorded voice “the mobile number you have dialed is currently switched off.”

“Where would Aditya have gone? “You wonder. You haven’t heard from him since last evening. Work had kept you busy and the new project you are leading has a tight deadline. You check your messages. No new message.

Aditya. He had insisted on having the corner table at the bar, far from the prying eyes. He never stayed overnight, always headed back to his wife .Of late he seemed a bit edgy .Refusing to acknowledge you in the office; avoiding you at lunch time. He says he is scared. Your tickets are booked for Europe. You believe time spent together in the streets of Paris will give you more privacy.

He didn’t show up at the rainbow parade last week. Sheshadri Uncle walked with you till his arthritis acted up.

You go about your morning routine in a daze. Speed dial.

The number you have dialed does not exist, please check the number you have dialed.”


Editor’s Note on 377:

377 is not Manoj Nair’s first work to appear in Eastlit. His previous published pieces are:

  • Stefan appeared in Eastlit April 2016.
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