One such night Debashis Deb She got the call in the evening. She glanced at the mobile, the number wasn’t known to her, and it wasn’t saved in her mobile. She would have dismissed it right away, but she became little curious because it seemed to her that she had received calls from this number before. Who this could be? None of her friends of course, as she had saved most of their numbers which were tagged to their Facebook accounts as well, their preferred virtual place of passing time. Nevertheless, she took the call. ‘Hi Riya! It`s Vishal here. How are you?’ She tried to place the voice under scrutiny but it didn’t match with anybody she knew closely. The voice was rich, confident and carefully indulgent. She waited if he spoke further, for any clue, which could help her identify the man behind the voice, but he didn’t. Instead he waited for her reply. This was little intriguing. She faintly replied ‘Hi, Vishal. I am good.’ Her voice restrained but curious. ‘I have a feeling that you couldn’t place me!’ Vishal said slowly, as if it wasn’t her fault, perhaps his, or of neither. ‘Sorry, really I can’t place you. But since you have my number and know my name as well, we might have met some where!’ She said in voice which didn’t hide her awkward confession. But Vishal surprised her, ‘no, we haven’t met before.’ This was outrageous and embarrassing and she felt to disconnect the call immediately, but there was a kind of warm and earnest gentleness, in the way he spoke, and the pause between the words he had contrived, which exuded his sincerity to admit the truth, which bewildered her and made her more curious than before. ‘Then how do you know me?’ She asked as if this wasn’t a question, but a remark made to a person who could neither be ignored nor welcomed. ‘We met on Facebook, virtually, though you didn’t accept my friend request. Rahul is a friend.’ He gave the first clue. Rahul was her cousin, few years older to her, who now lived in Bangalore. He was a software engineer and worked for a MNC. ‘Are you calling from Bangalore?’ Riya thought it was preposterous to call an unknown woman from that far, and she couldn’t hide her surprise just considering it once before she understood her mistake. He must have come to Kolkata. ‘No, I have just landed in Kolkata and I am on my way to my hotel.’ He said. She could hear the gentle hum of the car at the background as it went past the busy VIP road which led to the main city from the airport, occasionally interrupted by annoying horns of buses and taxis which added to the disorderly chaos. She got her second clue; the man had just disembarked from the flight, which meant she wasn’t absolutely wrong. But why did he call her? She almost decided to disconnect the call as the usual pleasantries had been exchanged already, and there were nothing
left to carry this conversation forward, but Vishal spoke again, ‘ I will be here for tonight only. Tomorrow morning I will fly to Nagpur.’ She considered the statement absolutely irrelevant, no way of her concern, and said nothing. She thought he would disconnect the call now as she had conveyed the necessary hint through her nonchalant silence. But he didn’t. ‘Are you busy?’ The question made no sense to her again as she couldn’t see her meeting the unknown man for just being a friend of her cousin and who was not even a virtual friend in facebook. ‘How does it matter to you?’ She said annoyingly. ‘Am I bothering you? I will disconnect if you are busy. I can call later.’ Vishal said in an earnest and sincere voice. ‘But why do you want to know if I am busy? ’ She retorted, ‘and if I am not busy what do you want to tell me?’ ‘I would like to invite you to be my guest this evening. I am staying in Sterling Towers, off the EM Bypass, I am sure you know where it is.’ Riya was flabbergasted; she hadn’t expected such an outrageous invitation before. She was a grown up woman of twenty-five and worked as a front office executive in an import-export firm. She was aware of her voluptuous curves which were reasons enough to have many of her colleagues to do her favors without asking. She had her share of emotional crisis, having dumped two lovers herself and being dumped by another. She had a fairly libertine attitude towards sex, though no man could say she was a slut. She had her dignity intact in her carnal quests and it was never in exchange of money. It had to be a mutually accepted proposition, and she had an eye to single out a man from a crowd of grown up boys. Vishal`s proposal, though apparently innocuous had an amorous tinge, and nothing else was needed for her to understand the subterfuge. She looked at her watch, it was half past seven. She had enough time in hand. But she hadn’t seen Vishal, neither did she know anything about him. Was he really a friend of Rahul? In any case, she thought, she was in game, for it had been months she had lead a celibate existence, since last break-up with her boyfriend. ‘Could you give me some time to think about it?’ She said. ‘Oh yes, definitely. Take your time, I will send my car; you have to tell me from where you like to be picked up.’ ‘Okay.’ She disconnected the phone. She went to the bathroom and took a brief shower. She lived in a studio apartment in the nineteenth floor of the Condo in the Christopher road. She lived alone; her mother came once in a while from Jamshedpur where she lived in their family home. Her father died two years ago
and her only brother immigrated to Canada last year. Marriage, to her, wasn’t an unnecessary evil or a nagging cumbersome institution either, but she didn’t see it as a righteous hegemony of male over female. The shocking attitude, notwithstanding, portended ominous conclusions towards her, but she took it in her stride, unperturbed, unfazed. Her male colleagues always looked up in awe but most female colleagues thought she was worse than a bitch. She stood in front of the mirror stark naked after the shower and examined her own body in front of mirror. She didn’t have excess of fat anywhere, and regular exercise and swimming kept her fit and fresh. She took out a pair of black Capri’s from her wardrobe and paired it with a yellow top with a deep neck. She wasn’t fond of accessory except the wrist watch and the handbag, and before she finally came down, she didn’t forget to spray her favorite perfume .She called the number, and it was predictably Vishal on the other side, who was talking to someone. ‘I am reaching the bus stop opposite the Merc showroom in the connector, tell the driver to call me when he reaches the spot.’ She said emphatically. Vishal crisply answered, Oh, yes. Don’t worry. He will be there on time.’ It was a fairly busy evening like any weekday. The never ending stream of cars, buses, motorcycles and taxis went past the potholed road towards the busier EM Bypass. They bellowed grotesque horns, the headlights swapped bright arcs of yellow light against the pillars of the overhead metro rail track where posters of movies, old and new were pasted, some peeling off and some gaudily fresh, as though no space could be left blank and the city had no right to keep herself from being defiled. Like her, she thought, at the age of twenty five, she had used up herself to satisfy the embers of desire which were not entirely her, not always, but she hadn’t objected regardless of the consequences, which might one day confront her in a way that she would find hard to defend. Not that she didn’t hate herself; she did and it was more a selfdeprecatory contempt, not about the coquettish sojourns but about the bitter after effects which often made her feel about what she awfully lacked. She secretly envied her colleagues who were happily married and who never discussed their domestic trivialities to her. The driver pulled up the car and dialed a number. She knew that he was looking for her only, and when she approached near, he ushered her in silently as if he wasn’t a human but a robot, programmed for mechanical movements only. Till she reached his room past the entrance lobby and the glassy capsule elevator, the driver followed her like a shadow and left her when she pushed the doorbell. Vishal courteously welcomed her. It was a spacious room, tastefully done and the air smelled subtly aromatic. A giant French window opened to the balcony and she could see the vast dark emptiness just behind through the immaculate see-through barrier. Vishal was a tall, handsome and leanly muscular man in his early thirties. She noticed two black luggage bags embossed with insignia of the Jet Airlines in the corner. The low center table was empty except a tall glass half full of golden yellow liquid, a
chunk of ice bobbed at the top. He took his seat, a brown cozy cushioned sofa and gestured her to sit down. She sat awkwardly, her back uncomfortably taut. ‘Would you care for a drink? ’ He softly enquired. She nodded silently. ‘What would you like to have? A glass of wine or something else? ’ He had a keen appreciation for the nuances of the feminity and it was apparent from his careful and non- interfering gesture. ‘White wine would be fine.’ She said at last. Vishal took the cordless in-house phone and spoke into it. Then he took a sip from the glass and said, ‘You didn’t tell me why you didn’t accept my friend request?’ She had no answer to it, because she had ignored it like many other friend requests of obscure people. The virtual space was full of nameless perverts and sex maniacs, and she had made it a point not to accept friend requests until she knew about the person. Her mellifluous smile and lithe curves drew attention of lustful male gazes and everyday she would find unsolicited friend requests, which she snubbed without looking at them. ‘Not for any particular reason. Just because I didn’t know you.’ She felt tongue-tied. ‘But you don’t know anything about me even now?’ She faintly smiled. ‘Tell me now about yourself.’ ‘You know by now, most of it, at least what matters!’ Before she could think about the reply, somebody pushed the calling bell. A young waiter came in with bottle of white wine with a plate of collation. Vishal poured the wine in a glass for her and they raised a toast to the city and the evening, which brought them together in a strange way and Vishal knew this wasn’t going to be any different from his usual quests and he would forget her before the sunrise. When they lay naked in the dark room exhausted for a while, Riya felt his strong muscular arm was still supporting her neck, though he was sleeping already. His chest heaved slowly and touched her skin, and with every touch of him she was reminded about the unreal possibilities of a life which seemed too remote. Wasn’t she eligible to have a faithful man as her own? She thought where did all go wrong? Was it her own luscious body which distracted men from looking beyond primal pleasures, or she had messed it up herself. There wasn’t any reason why she shouldn’t get married to a decent boy! She had reasonable education, she was financially independent and she belonged to a good family. But she erred every time, she trusted wrong people only to discover later that she was too naïve and credulous. She knew tomorrow morning he would hurriedly leave as most men did and wouldn’t see her again. And that`s all about it. It was only about instant gratification, a soulless fornication of two human bodies for the sake of it, nothing more nothing less. She didn’t know if he was married, though it mattered little to either of them. But why these thoughts occurred to her now, didn’t she know about it? What made her to think beyond it now? She didn’t know.
When she got up groggy eyed in the morning, she found she was alone in the bed. Her naked body lying under a blue sheet, felt cold, as cold as a snake skin, and the coldness grew from inside which froze her soul. Vishal was gone and a small envelope was kept on the table. She put on her dress, washed her face in cold water and took envelope in her hand. It contained a small letter written by him. He thanked her very much for being his guest for the evening and also said that he had to take the early morning flight not because he had to reach Nagpur, but to take two hundred people along with as he was a pilot with the Jet Airlines. All bills have been paid, and she had the liberty of leaving the room by twelve, midday. Before she considered throwing it into the dustbin, it seemed that the envelope contained one more piece of paper. She put her fingers inside, brought it out. It was a cheque of ten thousand rupees, duly signed by him, blank at the top so that she could write her name. She cried, and cried her heart out because she had sold her soul for the first time, unknowingly.