Singapore Girl – by Nabina Das

by TBLM

(From Nabina Das’ soon-to-come short story collection “The House of Twining Roses – Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped”, LiFi Publications)

When Sita stole those clothes, she was sure the old woman wouldn’t know. It was a whim anyway. Sita always did things out of whims. I’m not that type. Rather, the supportive kind. Besides, I didn’t see myself as a thief. I just gave her company. We were friends. We did what friends do to each other. Share a harmless pastime. I think Sita wanted time away from Rehan, so the attic probably was a refuge. And the old trunk, full of clothes, was right there. I was visiting them because I detested lonely weekends, especially in summer, unkind north Indian July. But it was hellish up here in the attic now, with no electric fittings. No air or light. Only a hole of a skylight.

Inside that little musty attic, she kicked around like a possessed soul. Lacquered lamps tumbled. Brass flowerpots tainted green with age tumbled. She toppled dusty window blinds rolled and kept standing in a corner. Sat on a sooty mahogany stool and dug her heels into piles of rugs with pictures of half-birds half-humans flying about a heavenly orb, and roses and geometric patterns. Oof! Ouch! She hit something hard and yelped. That’s how the old metal trunk showed up underneath a rug. Blackened with age. We pored over it like folks on the beach. When sea creatures are swept ashore by waves. Unknown fish, dead dolphins, stranded baby sharks. The trunk’s rustiness tasted salty on the tip of my tongue.

“Here, help me.” Sita panted. As though she found a secret lover.

The trunk clanged and clattered in its rusty joints. The lid was heavy. We held it up and then pushed it back together. There! A huge cavernous box it was. With piles of clothes inside. Smelling of old cologne, mothballs, dried flowers, and sandalwood. Our treasure find shone under the skylight, a stage light.

“Gosh, it’s all mouldy inside.” I was breathless in the heat.

“Sweetheart, clothes!” she said. “The old woman’s clothes! Must be fabulous.”

Certainly they were. I was told Sita’s landlady used to be an actress in the past – reasonably successful in her heyday. Acted on the stage as well as in some films. Someone like her got to possess stylish clothes.

According to the ‘landlady lore’ that Sita passed on to me, it was a scandalous business for ‘decent’ Indian women to be acting in films back in the fifties. The landlady would have perished in ignominy – and courting spinsterhood – had it not been for the man who married her, so the story went. Being married, she managed to keep her fashionable clothes, expensive perfumes, as well as her respect in the society.

Sita tugged from the top of the pile.

“The odd voman iff touffing Evope.” Her muffled voice came from deep inside the pile of clothes.
“Ahh, swelss so effotic in hya.”

She raised her head and squealed. The attic reverberated it. Yes, I understood it smelled exotic inside the box. Or maybe she said erotic, I don’t know.

Sita, my former college mate, was a twenty-eight year old wiry woman whose boy-cut hair sometimes stood up in little spikes, especially in times like this when she was excited. The hair formed a sort of dark crown on her scalp. Her pincer-like hands rummaged away, her upper body trembling with a nervous energy. As our adventure progressed the pincers became batons or robotic appendages and we crouched on a sizzling Delhi summer afternoon over the knee-deep pile. Crisp cottons, stiff gabardines, ankle-length robes, flowing skirts, and much more.  Kept flying out.

Until the blouse emerged.

It had a generously wide round neck, a waist-hugging cut and intricate ornate floral patterns – yellow flowers strung with a meshing of leaves and vines – around the neck and down the middle, separated by tiny pearly buttons.

Nice, I thought. Almost the same design as the rich textured uniform worn by chic airhostesses on Singapore Airlines. Seen those ads? “Singapore Girl,” I instantly named the blouse. Let’s see, my medium frame and shoulder-length hair would allow me to carry this effortlessly, I judged in my mind.

**

Sita and Rehan’s house was a rented suburban one-family Delhi home, surrounded by plenty of green space that’s rare in the grimy inner city. For me, every visit to their house was an adventure. We had fun. We talked endless. She bitched about Rehan. She took me to pool parties although I didn’t have a swimsuit and stood out in the crowd. We even tried smoking pot. In my twenty-seven year-old lonely copyeditor’s life, such adventure and excitement was limited. For Sita, work was only a part-time affair in a small export house and the rest was fun and leisure. The suburban home protected her ‘not-so-traditional’ life – she lived with her engineer boyfriend – like several other young people. Although live-in relations were still unpopular in 21st century Delhi, in general people no longer unsheathed their knives at it. Folks watched Bigg Boss and blogged on Sulekha.com about hot issues like “living in sin”!

Apparently Sita’s landlady knew about Rehan and Sita and had no hassles about it. Besides, I was Sita’s trusting friend and guarded her privacy from curious fact-finders. Because we were friends, Sita stood up to me too. Any pitiful looks, and questions and exclamations like “oh, Jaya never goes out,” or “oh, why is she such a loner,” or “why the heck does Jaya always follow you around,” etc., she protected me from all that.

Sita also liked having me over. Although both of us got our Masters in Communication a year ago, I was the more successful one. She always asked me how it was to work in a big newspaper. I explained. She got bored. Still asked. Got bored again. She’s the type that gets bored pretty soon. That’s why she took me up to the attic.

**

The metal trunk was ancient. The landlady was ‘ancient’ too, as far as I knew, sixty-plus. Would she even imagine what we were up to? The old woman was touring Europe, Sita had mentioned. Probably at that moment she was moaning over the eternal enigmatic beauty of the Mona Lisa inside the sprawling Louvre squinting through her thick myopic glasses. Or holding up a hand to shade her eyes for a better view of the magnificently towering La Sagrada Familia. Then nodding to her old husband in a gesture of thanks for having been given the opportunity to visit places she might not soon again, or ever at all, see.

It relaxed me imagining stuff like that.

“Now that’s an eye-popper!” Sita picked up a black satin gown, with silvery streaks along its folds, eyes glowing. “Just when I was wondering what I should wear for the next country club party.”

“That’s a fifty-year-old style!” I blurted out.

Sita was big into the country club stuff. Rehan knew some local big names and drank with them Fridays. But, this was such an old-fashioned choice.

“Sita, the dress is old!”

Sita couldn’t care less. It was a sixties-theme bash. She wanted to look antiquated.

“The one that you’re holding, that one,” she said without looking. “Will suit you well Jaya. Nice flowery pattern.”

I stared at my hand. Yellow phlox and grey-green vines twined along the borders of the sleeves, at the base and around the neck. The old woman must have worn it to her favourite places. When she wasn’t old of course. To tea parties and cocktails. With what did she pair it? A flowing black skirt. Ankle-length crushed crepe. Nah, stiff gabardines and high heels. “Singapore Girl!” folks must have whispered when she made an entry. The blouse hugged her body like a garden bower. Maybe she wore her hair long. Did she colour and cut her hair? I wouldn’t know. If she did, it probably was a Marilyn Monroe fashion, a cross between a bob and a mop. Blonde, naturally. Did that colour suit her? Why not? After all, she was an actress. Every actress wants her hair Monroe style at least once in her lifetime.

“Stop dreaming Jaya!” Sita’s voice arrested my imagination. “Just trim your hair a bit to have the wide cut show your shoulders.” She was generous with such tips. “You got a plump face and a nice bust to flatter.”

“You really think I should try it on? Singapore Girl?”

“You named it that?” Sita laughed. “Wait till the feminists clobber you!”

I’m always good at naming things. It’s a fine cognitive skill. Rare. Feminists may not have such skills, feminists like Sita! My friend was tired after the haul: A flower dress, a black gown, a tunic.

“Why don’t you fold the clothes back?”

She didn’t bother. She dumped the rest callously inside the trunk, shedding some rust and crumpling in a nine-yard long georgette sari that had slithered out.

“Pooh, look at that Jaya! Must be her wedding trousseau or something.”

Usually silk is preferred for trousseau, I wanted to correct Sita. I’ve seen my grandmother’s silks. The thought of my granny made me queasy. Sita just stole an old woman’s clothes. Even if the landlady didn’t need these anymore. Clothes could be memories, right? I tucked in the corner of the orange georgette quickly before Sita shut the rusty cover with a bang. The blouse in my hands felt deliciously smooth. Resigned. Woman in a post-coital repose. Nice! I’m so good at imagining such things.

“Yep, that’d look good on you,” Sita said.

**

Downstairs, Rehan was trying to roll a cigarette against the thwarting breeze at the living room door open to the heat of the July day. Rehan – tall and droopy in the manner of a post-storm Eucalyptus tree, long-faced and fine-boned – always rolled his ‘ciggies’ and licked them well. He wasn’t alone. Sabal, Rehan’s old friend, a surprise visitor, pony-tailed and cheerful, stood smoking with him. Sabal was a dropout from Rehan’s engineering college. Made films with a French team now. Sabal got Rehan a few French condoms that Sita told me she hated.

“Some of them smell of bananas. Horror!”

“I agree it could have been lavender or primrose.”

“These are outrageous gifts anyway, Jaya!”

Rehan always smelled of tobacco, a chain smoker. Sita didn’t mind that. She found it hurtful and nosey that Sabal, who too stank a great deal of tobacco, gave her boyfriend condoms. I thought, for a woman ‘living in sin,’ he threw too much tantrum. What’s so outrageous about condoms or even the banana smell? Sita was like that. Strange, you may say. But she was my friend. And I stood by her.

Sabal didn’t seem to mind the fact that Sita kept ignoring him. He looked happy reconnecting with Rehan. But he didn’t stop smiling at me. In fact, he came up and brushed my elbow as I helped myself to a lemonade from the refrigerator. July days can kill water buffaloes in Delhi.

“Ah, that thing you’re wearing around your neck – ” Sabal said to me.

“A Tantra motif,” Sita interrupted. “Not something you’d know.” She was curt.

“Ah, a Tantra motif!”

He kept looking at my neck showing through a modest open-shirt collar I wore. It felt uncomfortable. Almost tickled in the neck. A long strand of hair from his ponytail blew in a draft from the air conditioner. I shivered. He smiled more. His face was square, really square, and the cheeks were stubbly. Not unfashionable! Long hair, unkempt shirt, muscular build. Not bad, I thought.

“A Padmasambhava, right? Not just any Tantra motif!” He remarked.

I shrugged. Sabal could be right. The tiny wooden pendant depicting a Buddha hung from my neck on a thread woven from yak hair. A souvenir from my last trek in the lower Himalaya. Padmasambhava or whatever, I had no idea.

“We were filming in Tawang monastery last year, close to the Chinese border.” Sabal and his narration followed me down the hall. “I got these little scroll paintings a Buddhist monk gave me there. Wait, let me show you. I got a couple for Rehan.”

He picked up a packet from a side table. I was a little curious to see what Buddhist thangkhas he might have collected.

“These aren’t ancient but authentically hand-painted. Would you like a beer?”

“No thanks!” His sociability grew on me. “That’s a nice one …,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, you like it? It’s a Vajrayana mandala. Hey, you smell good!”

He stood very close to me. Although unkempt looking, he smelled fresh and sweet, like a ripe melon in the sun.

“What?” I was quite tactless. Slightly flustered.

“Do you often visit Sita and Rehan?”

I noticed he had greenish eyes and a tan around both the corners of his mouth. Cigarettes or the sun. His eyes gazed upon my neck again and grazed downward to slide off from the shirt collar. Our elbows met momentarily again as he took my side.

“Jayaaaa!” That was shrill Sita calling.

Sita’s scream got him to look up at my face. He smiled again. Slowly walking to the refrigerator, he fetched two beers. Leaving Rehan’s on the centre-table, Sabal sat down stroking his own beer, the ponytail dangling behind the couch.

“Why do you have the door open Rehan?” Sita wasn’t calm yet after her attic expedition. “It’s hot out there. And you know you can’t smoke inside.”

Rehan drew back his long neck inside. His tobacco breath mixed with our sweaty breaths and the air inside thickened. Shutting the door he saw her hands.

“You gotta be mad doing this!”

“Oh stop!’ Sita looked up. “We’re just having a bit of fun.”

“With Mrs. Malik’s clothes? You too, Jaya?”

I was about to invent an answer but Sita took charge.

“We’ll put them back soon. Just wanted to see what her clothes were like!”

Rehan walked away to stub out his cigarette, his neck throbbing. But he didn’t fight. He never fought in front of others. I stood silently in Sita’s support. I was one of those rare friends Sita ever invited into her house. Others were judgmental. I wasn’t. I didn’t gossip about their shared life. I mean, I could have been like her, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even date anyone these days. Not because I wasn’t ‘liberated’ enough. Come on, unlike Sita I wouldn’t balk at French condoms. Even banana ones.

**

The yellow phlox-embellished blouse nestled by my pillow side, a daily reminder of my pilfered passion. I could’ve let it hang in my closet. Instead I wore it everyday and watched myself in the wall mirror. Every night, I touched it, felt the soft tissue and fell asleep having a dress-dream inviting an encounter most sweetly sensual. Having trimmed my hair, I sashayed around in my little room. Took stock of my closet another fifty times to make sure I had enough reserve of skirts or trousers to match my stolen treasure. The spirit of Singapore Girl gradually possessed me. I loved it.

“How does the new haircut look?” I asked a colleague at work.

He thought it was pretty. I had never let my hair down, literally. Always tied up my straight dark hair in a severe knot. Now the silky touch felt good on my shoulders.

“Oh … and something’s changed about your clothes too.” My colleague was a tad reserved when it came to describing feminine allure.

He motioned at his own neck with a finger. A wide scooped neck. A lot of smooth skin. I chuckled. Yes. I’ve been wearing rather unconventional stuff these days. Also there were dangerously thin materials, daring sleeveless tops and extra-low jeans in my inventory. Things no one’s ever seen me wear.

**

Their house looked different a few weeks later on a Saturday afternoon. Cleaner, brighter, free of the memory of our stealing expedition. I was surprised – actually pleased – to see Sabal still there. His earlier unshaven face rounder and smoother with impeccable shaving. The ponytail was gone. He wore Rehan’s Hawaiian shirts that were slightly large for his five-foot-seven built. I couldn’t help reflecting that the accidental houseguest was looking good.

“Nice seeing you. We’ll talk later.” He smiled. The tan around the corners of his lips was fading. “I’d really like to.”

The summer heat abated a bit, Rehan and Sabal went smoking on the porch. I noticed the ash gradually building up on the sprightly pansies Sita planted in the house front, dimming the dark purple and pink cluster. Sita was in the shower, Rehan told me.

“She plans to go somewhere?”

“We’re having a party Jaya.” He said through puffing.

Oh, how come she didn’t mention it in our phone conversation last night?

“We decided only this morning. Some of Sabal’s and my friends are in town. Sita knew you’re coming anyway.”

Yeah, she knew I was visiting them after a longish gap. She said on the phone last night that Rehan was being dotty. Didn’t mention Sabal. Or the party. I sauntered around. In the hall, new cushions loafed on the sofa. The kitchen gleamed from brushing and cleaning, a pot sat on a sleeping stove. Five in the evening, the sun was still a warm fuzzy ball rolling across the sky that ended in a kids’ park facing the house.

I went up to the study. I slept here whenever I made a stop at Sita’s. On an airbed that was currently lying breathless under a teak table. I put down my duffel bag and looked around. Whether Sita read much or not, she gathered interesting books. Coffee table books, paperback whodunits or thrillers, and poetry books with pretentious names like Eyes Open Shut or The Sigh of Memory. It was nice living and sleeping among books.

Somewhere along my reverie a telephone went on ringing. I got startled only when the wall clock – it belonged to Mrs. Malik, like the sofas, the sprawling mahogany dining table with six chairs, and dinnerware – in Sita’s room rang six times in a loud “gong-gong” refrain. I also sensed hushed conversation downstairs. Had guests already arrived? Well, it was six anyway. I should change. I did bring my Singapore Girl, my prized possession. The slippery touch, as I wore it, aroused my skin. It was smooth, shimmery. Did I bring my black crepe skirt to pair with it? Rehan’s acquaintances were known to be successful and chic.

No mirror in the study. Darn! But I knew what this blouse did to me. It’s that special feeling. The one you get when the long sleeves stop exactly at your elbows, the shoulders stand out carefully carved, the neckline exposes just that much skin desired to be seen flushed, and the sides caress the waistline like a lover’s hands. I became someone else the moment I wore it, the feeling I’ve been relishing every night in my little room. Twirling around in that small study, sniffing fresh shampoo from my straight black hair tickling the shoulder blades, I heard footsteps run up the stairs.

“Open up!” It was Sabal.

What’s he doing here? I opened the door an inch. “Be down soon.” I had to do my lipstick – a frosty nightly purple.

“Sita wants me to tell you something. Let me in,” he said, and wriggled in.

He perched on top of the study table, tilted his head backwards and surveyed me.

“You look beautiful.” No longer sounding hurried.

“What is it?” I wanted the news

“Well, she said if you’re planning on wearing something you picked up from the attic, you can’t. It’s called, umm …Singapore Girl.”

Why can’t I? Sabal explained that the landlady was coming as a guest at the party. She’s in town. She had just called to see if Sita or Rehan was around. Sita couldn’t say no to her. But she had to warn me against wearing the “stolen” blouse. That’s Sita’s word, I clarified. I didn’t steal it, Sita knew. Then fine, I won’t wear it.

“You look beautiful,” Sabal repeated, smoke-smelling, raspy and urgent. Two feet from him, I felt the warmth of his skin mingling with mine.

“Why aren’t you wearing that lovely pendant from the other day?” He extended his right hand pulling me closer to him.

A green stone bracelet clasped his wrist. The right index finger was gone yellow from chain smoking, I was sure. He slid his hand down and stroked my left arm. The cloth of my blouse reciprocated something, a heady feeling. Something began stirring up.

“Thank you!” I said. “Too bad I can’t wear this. I so wanted to.”

“This? This is Singapore Girl?” His eyes spooned down all over me. “Yeah, too bad you can’t wear it. Wow! Here, may I help?”

His greenish pupils turned turbid. In a passing ray of the evening sun that filtered through a blind in the study window, his face looked meditative. My fingers tiptoed over his smooth cheeks. Slowly. How long was it that I went out with a man or one touched me with such need? Most weekends I’ve been spending with Sita and Rehan. As if I were their guardian or chaperone. Desires, if there were any lingering in me, had yielded place to a stolid routine. Edit nightly reports. Proofread. Sit through boring meetings. Or had they? Recently I had a few people ask me out, invitations I liked but didn’t accept. But every night, wearing the Singapore Girl, I imagined myself in wild sweet scenarios.

Sabal’s square humid hands rested on my waist now, engulfing and warm. Gradually, wherever the blouse felt cool on my skin, it warmed up with Sabal’s touch. Around the wide neckline, the arms, the small of my back. The sound of music siphoned up from the living room to the study before cascading down again. It played on and on in a loop and I guessed no one in the hall cared to change it. No one even cared to find out about us. What was going on here. Throwing off the Hawaiian shirt – scrupulously buttoned – over his head, Sabal lowered me in the narrow space between the worktable and the bookshelves, and tore open smoothness from my skin, while I looked upside down at the Eyes Open Shut book dangling from the table above my head. His moment of grunting startled me, triggering a feeling that I wielded a power on him. New. Surging.

“Gosh, aren’t we late?” He stood up, slipping back the Hawaiian, smoothening the pleats of his khaki shorts and clasping back the bracelet that had come off.

I pulled out a summer top and a gypsy skirt from my bag. Sabal leisurely watched me dress, comb my hair and apply my lipstick. Before I opened the study door, he lightly brushed my lips with his, and seemed surprised at no response.

“Let’s come back here soon.” He nudged me. “Who cares about the party?”

Ignoring him I posed on the landing. I could see some guests lounging on the sofa, drinking quietly and murmuring. From among them, a young woman in a black halter neck turned around, looked up and threw me a quick smile. With a surge of power that I had just acquired, I came down the stairs.

**

The first thing I saw was Sita’s overtly polite head-nodding. She was with Rehan, the colour of her face a mix of white and fuchsia, much like the ash-stricken pansies below the porch where they stood. A tall frail woman in beige pants and a printed silken shirt stood talking softly. Her gaze fell on me in a slow panning motion. The landlady of course. Elegant and willowy, her thin mouth was flanked by smooth olive cheeks.

Saying a hesitant “hello” I went back into the hall, my new self-confidence suffering a tinge of guilt. Pretending to look in the CD rack, I smiled at Black Halter who was also looking to change the music. My ears kept picking up bits and pieces of the conversation outside.

“It’s a gorgeous apartment,” said Black Halter. “I love the terrace upstairs.”

“It’s better in winter.”

“Yeah? You come often?”

“I know them well.”

“So are you Rehan’s friend or with the landlady?”

“Actually Sita and I …” I trailed off. Rehan’s voice, unusually fragile, trickled in.

“Yes, yes, I understand … Oh, please don’t at all worry … Sure, we’ll do everything.” He continued in a woodpecker’s staccato.

“I’ve been waiting to take it away.”

The landlady’s voice had a male-female tone, one that transcends gender, when someone grows indeed very old. It overcame Rehan’s. She sounded increasingly emotional, getting louder.

“Oh, the box’s been lying up there too long. To see it again, oh God!”
The box? The box? I presumed it was the box, the trunk we had ransacked up in the attic she was speaking about. Rehan coughed.

“Um, yes, things are in place.” That was Sita. What did she mean by things “are” in place? “Let me go up and unlock the attic door.” She came in running.

I started running up the stairs behind Sita, skipping steps, nearly falling. Things were not in place because we had the landlady’s clothes. What if she found out?

“Sita, what’s going on? Why does she want her trunk now?”

“I’ve no clue,” she hissed. “She just went tearful all of a sudden.”

“What about the clothes we stole?” I whispered loudly.

“What about them?”

“What d’ya mean what about them? Put them back. She might find out.”

“God! Don’t be hyper now Jaya.” Sita too sounded frantic. “You’ll have to hurry up and do it. Go get your stuff. Fast! I’ll get mine too before she comes up.”

I ran into the study and took the blouse out of my duffel bag. It was a bit crumpled. All Sabal’s fault. And it reeked of my perfume. Never mind. The old woman won’t scrutinize it. Sita’s anguished voice cried outside.

“Hurry up!” She stood on the landing. “What took you so long? Go, now! Oh my God, here they are!” She quickly wiped her forehead.

“Guard me Sita!”

Inside the attic, I tugged at the rusty trunk cover. It didn’t budge, perhaps caught in a weathered hinge.

“Damn! Why did you put down the lid?” I whispered with all the strength in my lungs. Streaming sweat soiling Singapore Girl.

Footsteps – Rehan’s clickety-clack like a restive horse and the other slow and dragging – stopped right behind me. I still tugged away.

“Thank you so much,” the landlady’s male-female voice said.

Suddenly everything dissolved into an uncharacteristic silence. I stood up. The landlady stared at the green-yellow floral bunch in my hands.

“Singapore Girl!” She slumped on her knees.

Minutes passed, smothering us all. Then the old woman slowly crawled down the stairs, back on the porch. The bougainvillea vine by a pillar dropped a few pink petals on her curly silvery head as she leaned on the pillar. One by one, we – except Sabal who watched the drama from the terrace – filed down to where she stood. Some of the guests too stood watching. No one misses a spectacle anywhere. The landlady shook her head.

“My sister looked so pretty wearing that kebaya.” She finally spoke, turning her oval face up towards
the bougainvillea. “She bought that from a Bangkok flea market. Singapore Girl, they told her while bargaining. They’d want her to believe it really was a sample of the airlines dress snuck out of the French designer’s bureau.”

She paused accusingly, as if someone had overturned the belief her sister might have held. As if I had.

“She wanted to become an airhostess, my kid sister. Married a pilot who’s dead now.” She said nothing about her sister’s blouse in my hands. “How I’ve been wanting to see her things again. Her clothes, the silks, the dresses, all she left with me when she went to have her baby.”

Sita gaped. Rehan fidgeted like he stood on a melting metal surface. Someone changed the music inside. Jazz on a summer evening. It poured into our ears in a broken clutter of glass or china. Did someone drop dishes in the kitchen? Hopefully not the landlady’s collection. The landlady got up painstakingly.

“Will I ever fit in these clothes? She used to ask me. Ever go to the country club wearing that breathtaking kebaya, annoying my husband? Remind him of our first time? Oh my baby!”

Although the silver of her curls made her face look brighter, her arched eyebrows as she looked around this way and that way, were mournful. The pearls around her swan neck gleamed like a gloomy nocturnal creature’s eyes.

“It’s my sister’s birthday today.” She suddenly turned around very straight and tall and looked at all of us. “My niece wanted her mom’s clothes. Made me travel all the way back home. Sorry, if I caused any inconvenience.”

“No, not at all,” Rehan said quickly. “The box is otherwise intact if you want it.”

“Sorry this happened.” Sita spoke up.

Brushing off the petals, the landlady went slowly out through the gate.

**

The landlady’s chauffeur-driven car bobbed away, with it her trembling voice, sweeping off all colours from the evening sky. Indeed, it took away the heat of the day, the ashes from over the pansies, and the uneasy silence on the porch. A west wind blew.

The party in the hall was animated. People already had enough to drink. Rehan and Sita looked busy speaking to the others, arm in arm. Haven’t seen them cosy up this way for some time. I was sure they were fine with me, although there were neither sympathetic gestures nor any hard words for me. But when after a solid half hour there was no “Hey Jaya, do you want your favourite rum punch?” or “Jaya, help me portion the mango pudding”, I snuck back up. Voices from the terrace hit my ears gone red with anger or shame. Sabal. His gooey voice spreading over the evening. And, oh, Black Halter too. “It’s a real jade bracelet, an heirloom,” Sabal was blah-ing. “We made a documentary about the Bhutanese royal dynasty last year. The king himself gave it to me. Here, you can touch it!” Black Halter was gushing, clearly impressed. I found the Singapore Girl lying on the landing. Picked it up like a quiet thief.

***