Scarspeech

Scars tell stories: this everyone knows. But what we tend to forget is that these stories could move in surprising directions, and their conclusions, rather different from the way you expect.

Consider the case of Vivek Shobhan, for instance. There are three scars on his body which together tell you a tale that at the very least would amuse you or maybe even alarm you. There are, in fact, a few more scars on the 30 year old’s body at this point of time- more than could be expected to be found on an average 30 year old. However, these other scars are irrelevant for the time being, and too many scars, or too many voices in a story only contribute to the creation of cacophony.

So, not lending our attention to those scars that are not central to the tale in question, let us examine the trinity of scars which speak about the downfall of a man whom if you came across, you would  only assume was an ordinary Joe trying to create as many extra-ordinary moments in his life, as possible.

In other words, somewhat like you.

Scar no: 1

Scar number one is reddish-black in colour. The size of a small coin, it’s to be found just above the left nipple on Vivek’s pale skinned body. The fact that he hits the gym every day- or at least, he used to, means that you wouldn’t exactly be hard pressed to find well developed muscles on his body. However, notwithstanding the taut muscles and a general inclination to withstand pain which passionate gym goers develop, the incident which resulted in the scar formation did come across as rather painful for Vivek.

Vivek’s evenings after work are usually made of hours spent with one of his girlfriends- either on the phone or in person. Some days, he would be too tired after a long day at the office to have the presence of mind to come up with platitudes and silly nothings to help lead things from a pub or an ice cream parlour to the bed. On such evenings, he would just go straight home- to his 2500 sq.ft. 3 bedroom apartment in Kormangala that comes with a balcony that overlooks a pool in the backyard. The pool- shaped more or less like a woman’s napkin, wasn’t large. But then, Vivek doesn’t know how to swim, though he did enjoy watching one of his girls wade through the water in a bikini- or sometimes naked as on the day they were born-whenever he brought them over.

On evenings when his head still throbbed with the pain of having to handle multiple irate clients who thought it their birth right to vent their frustration at life at some poor call centre employee, he would just sit on the balcony of his rented apartment (which ate into almost half of his monthly salary). On such evenings, with a dreamy look in his eyes, he would gaze upon the water in the pool, conjuring up shapes and fantasies of women and money- the water’s reflection could make surprisingly convincing contours of women. He would lose himself in these dreamscapes while drinking premium whiskey(He had a fetish for Indian malts).

In other words, a few rather pleasant evenings.

But not so the evening when someone snuffed out a cigarette butt on his chest.

**

That evening he came home, after a short halt at the liquor mart on his way from the office. Opening the front door with his key, he got in and sighed- a sigh of relief which he gave every day when his eyes fell on the thick Persian carpet and the different pieces of furniture in the living room the kind of which an average person- including Vivek’s mother and sister back in Sri Lanka would only ever see in a furniture expo(In the section which they would demarcate in their mind as ‘Too fancy for us!’). Every piece of furniture and utensil in the house(except for the plasma TV and the wicker chair in the bedroom) belonged to the owner of the house who lived abroad, and was included in the rent.

Vivek couldn’t help but be consciously grateful for the rather luxurious inner surroundings of this house where he has been living for the past two years- this luxury was a far cry from the mundane environs of the house in Sri Lanka where he grew up- a house his father built over the years with the cash he amassed as a clerk in the Government’s vehicle department. It was only ironic that one room in the house was given as ‘home stay’ for the tourists who visited Lanka- the room, or the house in its entirety didn’t exactly make for the most pleasant of habitats for visiting tourists.

Pouring a drink, he drained it in one gulp. The day has been particularly punishing- not only did he have to deal with two irate customers on his juniors’ behalf, it was also the day when he had to make a monthly report to his boss- a gentleman with an extra-ordinary capacity to remain angry at the same thing for a long time- like, for instance, the shoddy performance of someone in Vivek’s team.

As a team leader, it was Vivek’s duty to handle such matters but it never ceased to amuse him thinking about how worked up people could get when discussing such things as the value of a dobberman’s tooth cavity(Vivek’s team worked for a client in the US that sold pet insurance).

“Silly fuck!” he muttered, thinking about the events of the work day as he poured another drink.

It was while walking with the second drink in hand, towards the door of his bedroom that he sensed that something was amiss. Being proud of the rented luxury of his life, he was only too familiar with the different contours and edges that made up the different luxury items in the home- and if a single painting by the stairs was tilted even a little, if the lampshade was lowered a notch more than usual, or if a flower was missing from the antique vase, he would register the fact, if not consciously, at least subliminally.

This, his subconscious told him, was a case of an addition rather than something being removed. And this, his ever perceptive subconscious further added was an addition of the animated kind- as in, whatever was extra was alive, breathing, biological.

As it turned out, the biological presence was a man. Even though the man was sitting, Vivek could see that he was easily twice his size and at least a head taller than him. Dark skinned with pockmarks, the man’s wasn’t the kind of face one would generally wish to see in the course of a normal day.

And if you see it, you are not bound to forget it any time soon either.

Vivek gulped seeing how calm and relaxed the man looked, sitting there on the far end of the white sofa- the one adjacent to the television, tapping his fingers soundlessly on the armrest. He even had a thin smile on his face. The hair on his head was fast thinning, which made it hard to estimate his age c but if Vivek had to guess, he would say the man was the right age to be in the business of putting the fear in others.

“It’s a nice place you have here. But somehow you wouldn’t think it would be this nice, looking from the outside.” The man’s voice was as raspy as his face looked ugly. “Why don’t you take a seat here?” he said, pointing to the single sofa beside him.

By all reckoning, it could be seen as a funny scene- a stranger asking the man of the house to take a seat. But Vivek didn’t find it remotely funny, for even though he has never seen the stranger before, he knew only too well who it was- a man sent by Rajkumar.

And that knowledge was enough to send a shiver down his spine.

“I can see that you have good taste in living spaces,” the man said after lighting a cigarette. “I have been sitting here for a while waiting for you to come in. Usually, in such situations I would feel thoroughly bored. But not here- here, I felt downright enthralled-by many things, like that black sculpture of a dancing woman on that table in the corner, or the ornate hangings on the wall- I don’t even know what they are called.” Taking a long drag from his cigarette, he continued, “Please don’t think that I am a fan of such fine articles. Oh, no, I don’t give a shit about such things as beauty- except if it’s in women.” He winked before adding, “I am just enthralled by the fact that one could surround one with a flower vase that probably costs more than what I would make in a single month. And I am particularly fascinated by the fact that the person who has these things is someone like you- someone who showed the temerity to steal from Raj anna!” He raised a hand, halting Vivek from uttering the words of protest he intended to. “I was just enthralled by the fact that a lowlife like you could be surrounded by such fine artefacts. Sure, I too am a lowlife, I don’t deny it. But you- you have a pretension.” The man moved closer to Vivek so that their faces were now divided by mere centimeters of space. “You pretend to be a good boy when you do all these bad,bad things..And you know what Rajkumar anna does to bad boys?”

The man waited for an answer, blowing smoke right into Vivek’s face. “I…I don’t know!,” Vivek managed to say, overcoming the fear which suddenly had him like an iron clasp on his balls.

“And you wouldn’t want to know either,” said the man. And just like that, he stuffed the cigarette out on Vivek’s chest, piercing the Van Huesen Silk shirt with the glowing tip, making his skin burn, making him grunt, a scream rising at the back of his throat, making him lose his grip on the glass which slipped from his hand, spilling whiskey on the carpet.

“Two weeks,” the man continued using the same slow drawl in which he spoke so far. But now, somehow, the tone came across as more menacing. “That’s all the time you are going to get to bring whatever money you stole back to Raj anna. And don’t think that your partner in crime is going to help you in this. He is no more in a position to help,” he added.

If the fear that rose in Vivek’s brain since the man’s appearance was a reddish glow, hearing what the man said last, the hue brightened all the way to the dark crimson of blood.

There were a few questions that had occurred to him before- including how the man managed to get in without disturbing the front lock or tripping the alarm system.

But all those questions seemed like a moot point when the man left, leaving a coin sized wound on his chest and the acrid stench of cheap cigarette in his nostrils.

**

If Vivek had needed a confirmation that the man who made a surprise visit to his home the other night wasn’t fooling around, he got it the very next day at work.

“Has Thushar turned up yet?” he kept asking someone every hour or so, until in the afternoon, as he was coming back from lunch, someone informed him that they found Thushar’s dead body in his apartment. “He hung himself from the ceiling,” said someone. “Apparently, they haven’t found any suicide note but the police suspects it was a case of love failure,” said another.

Vivek barely heard such things- not even when they were spoken in his earshot. He was thinking of what the stranger said yesterday, and also what the stranger- or someone else associated with Rajkumar could do to him. After all, Thushar was Rajkumar Yedyurappa’s nephew. And if the man could do away with one of his relations so easily, what could he not do with Vivek- just a guy who was his nephew’s colleague?

Scar number 2

By the time Thushar joined the BPO, Vivek has already climbed the ladder to become a team leader.

Thushar headed another team and keeping to the hierarchy, they became close friends soon enough. It was only when their friendship progressed beyond the stage of sharing joints to sharing women that Thushar told him that he was the nephew of Rajkumar Yedyurappa- the businessman whom everyone knew had interests that spread beyond the legit.

“One of uncle’s pet operations is converting black money to white money. For this, he runs quite a number of shell companies, in many parts of the country but mostly in Karnataka and Kolkata. They, I believe could use someone like you,” Thushar told Vivek.

They were sitting in Vivek’s balcony which overlooked the pool, while a hired escort sucked each of them off in turns.

“Listen, you have told me how frustrated you are with the limited prospect of growth that working in a BPO brings you. I know that you are someone with an eye for the finer things in life. Now, let me introduce you to my uncle and you would see a finer future becoming clearer, as clear as the water in that pool,” Thushar had said to him long after the escort had left, and a full moon, pock-marked and looking fragile was up in the sky.

The idea of a more prosperous future did strike his fancy. But that wasn’t the sole reason why he agreed when Thushar proposed introducing him to his uncle.

There was also his mother and sister to think about. After his father died, his mother had to struggle quite a bit to bring up both her children. And if that sounds like a cliché from an old movie, that’s because certain truths that persist in society have a way of ending up becoming a cliché.

But that doesn’t take the sting out from the struggles which one endure. Thushar’s sister, Vaishali was doing her BA in English at the time. She hoped to become a school teacher. As for his mother, she had given up the work at the prawns factory as a clerk now that Vivek has started sending money regularly.

But the money that he managed to save after spending on women, booze and the weekend escapades with the women to any of his favorite resorts was rarely enough to take care of things comfortably back home. This he knew, but goddamned if he had done anything about it!

The feel of a mouth wrapped around your cock was sometimes sensual enough to make one forget about such tiny details as a mother and sister back home.

‘Now, if the deal with Rajkumar Yedyiurappa came through, I might be able to do something about the affairs at home,’thought Vivek.

So it was that, one warm afternoon , he found himself sitting with Thushar at a roadside Punjabi dhaba on his way back from meeting Thushar’s uncle- a pleasant faced man with a long forehead and gleaming skin. Seeing the 48 year old who always wore a white shirt and pants, you would be hard pressed to believe  that such a decent looking gentlemen could be involved in such things as money laundering and illicit diamond mining.

“The deal is simple,” said Thushar, after taking a sip of the cold lassi which the waiter just served him(Vivek, being someone with continental leanings had ordered a Pepsi). “The shell companies need runners-people who can move money-physical money-from one location to another. Yes, so.. the runners. Now, it may sound very simple-have someone who can transport cash, but we are talking about significant amounts of money here. Lakhs, that is. So they need people whom they can trust. And they need people whom the cops won’t bother checking when they are crossing a border- so, anyone with a criminal record is out, just to be on the safe side.”

“How do you know I don’t have a criminal record?,” said Vivek jokingly.

“Let’s just say when Raj uncle wants to know something, he gets to know it,” Thushar said with a straight face which wiped the smile right off Vivek’s face.

“For every run that you do,” continued Thushar, “You get a percentage. A good percentage- I will see to that!”

The words he said and how happily Thushar smiled when he agreed to his proposal that day at the dhaba, remained fresh in Vivek’s mind. Indeed, the memories of the day ran through his mind like a spool as he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, twisting his body around in an uncomfortable manner, just so he could see how much the scar on his back has healed.

This scar, on his back was close to his left shoulder and the wound that put it there was not nearly as pain inducing as the one on his chest. On the contrary, he was barely aware of the pain at the time Rochelle broke his skin with her long nails, while she grinded her hairy vagina against the base of his penis.

But the problem was that it was quite evident that the scar was a love-scar: something that his other girlfriends may not find all that cute when they see him naked next- assuming that they would get the chance to see him again-naked or otherwise, assuming that his ploy with Rochelle would work, thereby giving Rajkumar no reason to send him to the after-life.

In the mirror, he saw that the scar had turned purple, like some sort of poison was pumped into a pouch of skin.

“Shit!” he muttered. Taking a deep breath, thinking how a love mark was the least of his worries at the moment, Vivek turned the light off and exited the bathroom.

**

Though he went to bed with an intent to sleep, his mind kept drifting back to the previous night when Rochelle was here, on this same bed which was fast becoming drenched with his own sweat- the liquid beads of fear.

Though he had known Rochelle for about eight months, it was only the third time that she had come to his place. And unlike most of the other girls in the long list of girlfriends he has had(the first one was the teacher at a computer training institute in Colombo where he attended for a certificate course back when he was just eighteen), his first meeting with Rochelle was something that he knew he would never forget: because it was the only time a girl had approached him, instead of the other way around.

In fact, Rochelle had eyed him, unbeknownst to him, on the weekend before their first meeting.

Vivek had gone to the Social pub in Church Street precisely because they always played their music loud, and, they attracted a very young crowd- you would be hard pressed to find anyone above the age of 35 on a Saturday night. Vivek hoped that the combination of loud music and the presence of chilled out youth(not to mention some chilled beer) would placate his girlfriend when he told her that they must break up.

“I am so sorry. It’s just that there are a bazillion things going on at work and I just can’t stay committed to both work and you. I mean, I don’t want to give you anything lesser than my everything, and when I can’t do that…I don’t want to see you hurt, you see?” Even as he said it, he knew how lame it sounded. However, after downing the eighth pint of the night, he was gone far enough to not care about such things too much.

But the girl- an oval faced beauty with a black spot on her cheek,  though inebriated, didn’t find what he said the least bit amusing.

“You jerk!” she shouted and poured what was left in her glass of beer on his face before walking out like a storm-filled dark cloud retreating into the horizon.

The scenario was one of the extreme possibilities which Vivek had envisioned while driving over to the pub. ‘Even if it happened, the young people in the pub wouldn’t give it much mind- after all, these things happen in their lives frequently enough!’ he had told himself.

Either he grossly over-estimated such things happening in young people’s lives or the young people were more interested in spectacles than he thought, the crowd in the pub stared as one when the girl poured the beer on the man’s face. One of them- a goateed dude who grinned like a goat- even shouted, “Hey, gal! That’s good beer, don’t waste it!”

One of the youngsters who kept her gaze on the man who literally dripped beer was Rochelle.

Unable to find a table, she and her friend had taken seats at the bar counter. Sipping on her beer, Rochelle calmly apprehended the man who has just been humiliated. His muscles strained under the silk shirt that he wore. His dark brown eyes had an intensity which showed that notwithstanding getting alcohol poured on his head by girls who were pissed at him, an intelligent soul resided behind the forehead. His jet black hair was neatly combed to one side- like he were one of the impeccably neat gangsters you see in old films, and his face had sharp features like chiseled chin and neatly carved cheekbones- the kind of features which completed the illusion of a gangster.

Rochelle estimated him to be in his early thirties.

That put him a little higher above the usual age bracket of the men whom she preferred.

At the age of 24, Rochelle had developed a well-defined template for the kind of men she liked to lay- they should be physically lean but not too masculine(she didn’t like the idea of her sex partner being physically way more powerful than her), they should have a somewhat vacant look in their eyes(she didn’t want them to be more intelligent than her) and they should also be in the age bracket of 20 to 27(Who wanted to screw old men anyway?-and in her book, anyone above 27 was old). Then, there was also the fact that she turned down anyone who approached her rather than the other way around(Her theory was that if a man made the first move, he would be hard to subjugate in bed)

Keeping to this criterion has enabled her to have some fantastic experiences in the past one year which she spent travelling the world- a ‘project’ that was funded by her businessman father and fueled by her thirst to find fun in the world on her own.  Growing up the only child to her wealthy father and a mother who went to literally any length to spoil her, she grew up believing in the power of the female.

And when she encountered the word feminism for the first time in an entertainment news channel, she knew that she would always be a feminist- right until the day she died.

Ideas like never allowing a man to subjugate her on bed quickly got linked to her concept of feminism.

The man who sat in the red cushioned seat at a table by the window, his cheeks reddened as he felt the eyes of strangers on him at his moment of embarrassment didn’t exactly fit her criterion for man-hunting. For one thing, his muscles were too well defined for him not to be rather powerful, then there was the matter of age, not to mention the obvious intelligence which lurked behind those eyes.

But after amassing the wealth of travel experiences over an year in places including Bali, Paris and Amsterdam, Rochelle was ready to expand her definition of feminism. Since returning from the trip, she has wondered on multiple occasions- usually in the night, lying in her bed, gently teasing her clitoris with a fingertip, how it would feel like to make a conquest of a better man- an intelligent and more masculine one than the ones whom she usually approaches.

“Rochelle, what’s up?” Her friend’s voice broke her reverie. Shaking her head, she ordered another couple of beers for herself and Clara. Clara was her best friend whom she has known since they were mere toddlers. She was the only person to whom she spoke of her ‘conquests’ openly. But for some reason, she didn’t speak to her about how a heat rose in her loins when she thought about the guy who has just been humiliated by a girl.

Not yet, she thought.

**

The next weekend, Rochelle went out with Clara to the Social pub at Kormangala. Social was one of the few pub chains in Bangalore which could boast a dedicated clientele- their savvy interiors, good selection of music and food that’s actually worth the bill were all things that gave them an edge over most other city pubs.

The man she saw last weekend had looked like a regular- there was a certain familiarity with which he moved around the place that she had noticed. As a frequent pub hopper herself, she knew how certain watering holes could make you feel like you were home- the turns and corners and the ambience all too familiar and comforting. But she didn’t think that the man would return to the place of his humiliation- the Social pub in Church Street the very next weekend.

But he may very well be in a different location of his favorite pub- assuming it is his favourite pub.

“And if he is here with another girl, then I am gonna let him go. But if his company is other male friends or his own lonely self, I am gonna make my move,” Rochelle said to Clara as they sat sipping beer and munching some French fries.

About an hour after they came in, Rochelle sighted Vivek walking into the pub. He was on his own and took a seat by himself. She gave him some half an hour before making her move.

Two days later, she found herself in his bed.

But things didn’t work out as she hoped. He wasn’t willing to subjugate himself, not even when she told him that the pleasure she could give him if only he would let her tie him to the bed posts would be “fantasy made reality.” But to her liking, he didn’t try to force him too much on her either.

But that wasn’t the kind of liking that she was after.

They met a few times after that- mainly in ice cream parlours(she had a fetish for black currant ice creams) before he took him to his place again. Many times, when she made a suggestion about going to his place, he resisted, giving her some excuse which even the dumbest person on earth would know was made up on the spot. And Rochelle certainly wasn’t the dumbest person around. Nonetheless, his resistance only made her yearn for him more.

When the conquest came, she thought, it would be that much sweeter.

The second time in bed with him didn’t bring her the conquest either- not even close, in fact. After making love, she lied cradled in his arm, running a lazy finger along the side of his limp(but still sizable) dick.

“Why was it that that girl walked out on you like that that night at the pub? Was it because you declined to be subdued by her?” she said, teasing him because he failed to comply with her wish to tie him up this night as well. She now playfully tied the satin cloth around his hardening penis.

“No, she was a girl who was turning out to be too much for me. She had a thing for the finer things in life-she was, after all, the daughter of a cruise ship captain-so I guess, I should have expected such things..To put it very simply, she was becoming just too expensive for me!” With anyone else, Vivek wouldn’t have been this candid. But with Rochelle, he didn’t mind. In fact, he hoped that such candid expose would make her distance herself from him, thinking him to be cheap.

At first, he was fascinated by this young woman who so boldly approached him at the pub and in mere two meetings made it clear that she would like to sleep with him. However, it didn’t take him long to figure out that she was the domineering type- out looking for a thrilling experience at his expense.

He wouldn’t have mind it too much- after all, a fuck is a fuck.

But the problem was that she tried to have the upper hand not only on bed, but even when it comes to the simplest of things- like choosing which restaurant they should go for dinner.

As a lifelong womanizer, Vivek was used to girls who grew up getting their way. Like Rochelle, whose father, upon her demand even opened a global-standard salon in Kormangala for her, just because she didn’t want to get into any conventional job and wanted to be her own boss.

However, the level of control that she tried to exert on him verged on the pathological-  if he were to bring her flowers, she would ‘hint’ at the best place to get flowers for her, down to the type of flower and colour. When they went trekking, she picked the spot, the time of day, the day, the colour of the trainers he should wear and the kind of lunch they should pack.

As someone who made frequent conquests of girls himself, he wasn’t entirely comfortable in a relationship where the balance of power shifted away from him.

But when he told her about how a certain girlfriend turned out to be too expensive for him and so he had to dump her, Rochelle just giggled, her plump breasts jiggling like silent bells.

“You are a naughty one, aren’t you?” she said, tapping on his nose .

After that night, he tried to avoid her by all means, deliberately failing to call her back when she leaves a message on his phone(“I miss you.”, “The rain reminds me of you! Or the drops of sweat falling from your body J”). On a couple of occasions he even cancelled a date at the last moment, making excuses that were barely more than mumbled incoherencies.

But, to his surprise and dismay, she always sought him, calling him time after time and making one dinner or trekking plan after the other. At the back of his mind, he was aware that perhaps even unbeknownst to her, she was falling in love with him.

But the realization didn’t please him much. On the contrary, whenever they met for a dinner or a scoop of ice cream, he was almost always absent minded.

But that was not just because of his disinterest in the girl, it was also because of something that his colleague and friend Thushar told him the other day.

It was lunch break and the two friends were at a Chinese restaurant near their office- the one with the giant dragon’s painting out front- the dragon’s face looked a bit like that of a parrot’s, in Thushar’s view.

“I wanted to talk to you about something very serious,” Thushar had said, the lone noodle hanging from the edge of his mouth undermining his attempt at seriousness. Nonetheless, Vivek listened carefully: Ever since he started earning some extra income which far surpassed the salary he got from his daily work at the BPO, Vivek tended to listen closely to his friend whenever he thought he was being serious.

He listened as Thushar spoke in hushed tones about a way to get even more money out of the deal with Rajkumar Yedyurappa. “Instead of giving all the money that you carry to the intended- the second party, you keep a portion to yourself, telling the intended that you know someone through whom you can roll the portion of money and get an exorbitantly high interest in return. A part of this extra profit would go to the second party, in return they should inform Rajkumar that they have got the full amount from you. There will be at the most a month’s delay before you would give them the money you kept back, plus part of the interest that you made on it!”After speaking, Thushar grinned like a champion at the end of a sprint and leaned back in his chair, smacking his lips, savouring the taste of the noodle soup still fresh on his tongue.

“But would anyone trust us if we told them that?” said Vivek, chewing on a chicken piece contemplatively.

Thushar told him that he has already got some shell companies who were willing to try that. In fact, he said, he has already done a few gigs on his own. Having Vivek on board would only broaden the operation.

The more Thushar spoke, the more it made sense to Vivek.

When ma called last week, she has told him about a good proposal which his sister has attracted. The boy was a senior software programmer with a leading technology company in Colomobo. As per ma, the boy’s family is wealthier and better-placed than themselves. “It’s sheer luck that Vaishali has attracted such a proposal!” she has said.

Vivek too thought so, and when he talked with his sister, she too sounded delighted about the proposal. She even talked with the boy a couple of times, she said. “He came across as a nice chap,” she said in an off-handed manner though the shy delight in her tone wasn’t lost on her brother.

The dowry and the money for the wedding itself..these were things that have been nagging him ever since.

Given such a backdrop, perhaps  it’s obvious why what Thushar said made sense to him.

And the operations went smoothly until Vivek started delaying in giving the second parties involved the money that he promised. He had in fact sent the money back home once Vaishali’s wedding was arranged. In other words, he double crossed even Thushar and went behind his back to send the money home.

“But you told me that you have given the money to the dealers so that they could get you the bloody interest!” Thushar fumed when he came to know about the betrayal.

“I am sorry. I told you about Vaishali’s wedding, right? Some unforeseen things came up which couldn’t wait, and so I had to send money home. I promise I would give you- them- the money back as soon as I have it!” Vivek said, trying his best to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

“And where do you suppose are you going to get the money from?!” shouted Thushar. Vivek din’t have an immediate answer to that, not anything better than, “I would think about it!” But before he could say anything, Thushar added, “And do you have any idea what would happen to us if Raj uncle comes to know about this? The man is my uncle but he is a complete beast, you should know!”

If Vivek wasn’t convinced of that idea then, he certainly was when two days later, the stranger appeared at his home- as though he were a ghost who could walk through walls. And when the day after that he learned that Thushar was dead, he knew that his time on earth was very limited.

Unless Rochelle helped.

**

Once the clock started ticking towards the two week deadline that Rajkumar’s man had  given him, Vivek’s brain got into overdrive, thinking up possible ways out. He sought the help of a couple of his ‘friends’ whom he had thought ‘dependable’ but who turned out to be not so in the circumstances.

He decided that the only way left was to play his cards with Rochelle.

He called her up one late night- she has told him that she went to sleep always late, watching Netflix episodes to the wee hours of the morning. She picked the call on the second ring. She sounded breathless as though she was in the middle of running.

‘Fucking vamp!’ he thought. ‘That’s what she is. Breathless with anticipation! Cunt!’ But such thoughts remained in the stratosphere of his brain, never escaping to the outer space of audible reality.

“What are you doing?” he said in his sexiest voice.

After a brief hesitation, she said, “Why don’t you take a guess…On second thoughts, you shouldn’t. I would be thoroughly embarrassed if you got your guess right!” she added coquettishly.

‘Cunt!’ he thought again. But swallowing the word down before it bubbled out of his mouth, he said, “Okay, then. I wouldn’t dare guess. For I wouldn’t want to embarrass you one way or the other. But..I think I would be more than glad to be embarrassed for your sake.”

“What?-“ It took her a moment or two to realize what exactly he meant. And when she did, her eyes widened in a pleasant surprise. “Oh, Vivek, I knew that you would come along!” Making the best out of the situation, Vivek said, “Yes, you know I don’t go for such things normally. But I have been thinking, with you, it’s different, special, because you are special..”

By the time he was done talking, Rochelle’s breathing has become even more rapid.

**

“That was amazing, Vivek. Truly, thank you,” Rochelle said, planting a kiss on his belly. The satin chords with which she had tied his arms to the bedpost lied curled by his hip. The bed and in fact, the entire room’s air was thickened with the smell of sex like a hundred incense burnt at once- assuming the incense gave out a less than usual smell.

“I am glad that you liked it,” said Vivek, flashing his best smile, the one which granted him entry to the hearts, and more importantly, beds of many women. He gently pulled her towards him and kissed her on the lips.

Ruffling his hair playfully she said, “Would you like to have your hair coloured?”

“Not particularly. Why did you ask?”

Shrugging, she said, “Just that I thought it would suit you if you were to dye your hair orange. The staff at my salon would only be too happy to do it for you, you know. And they are the best in the city!”

“That’s what every salon owner says about their staff, I suppose!” he said, smiling, though deep down he was miffed by the fact that she was trying to impose a wish of hers on him again.

“Come on, it’s not like that!” she said, laughing. “My salon is not just another salon. For one thing, it has for its lead hair stylist none less than Prateek Shukla-someone who frequently works in Bollywood films. Then, the equipment, I wouldn’t even know where to begin…Suffice to say that they are the Strar trek equivalent when compared to what most salons have. And you have the wonderful interiors which was done by none lesser than Ashuthosh Kapadia!”

“Ashuthosh who?”

“Oh, Vivek, you don’t keep up with such things, do you? You must! Ashuthosh is one of the leading interior designers working in Indian right now. His clients include the Ambanis and Virat Kohli! He did the interiors for one of the bungalows that belong to my dad’s business partner. That’s how I came to know about him.” Her eyes fluttered when she spoke about Ashuthosh whoever.

“Oh, I am sure he cannot be all that good!,” said Vivek jokingly. “No one is all that good!”

“No, but he is! In fact, even if you don’t get a haircut or a makeover at our personal grooming centre, you would feel like paying just for being in that space for a while. That’s how good he did it!” she said.

Seeing an opening to put across his proposal, Vivek sighed theatrically. “People with a whole lot of money can indulge in such luxuries as hiring an interior designer who is just too good to be true!”

Playfully jabbing his chest with her elbow, she said, “You are not exactly living in a hut yourself!” He looked at her. He realized that he has never told her that his luxury apartment was actually rented.

He sighed again. “No, I am not. But that doesn’t mean I cannot have money issues, does it?”

Frowning slightly, propping her head on her hand, she said, “Why, what happened?”

He wondered if yet another sigh would be too much, but deciding that it would be worth it, he exhaled one more time before talking.

He gave her the story he has rehearsed in his mind many times over. It was about how his father- a businessman based in S.lanka ran into some financial trouble when one of his partners betrayed him. The crisis was so much that now that his sister has got a good wedding proposal, his mother have to sell almost all her ornaments. “This house,” said Vivek, “was brought for me by my father. I told him that we could sell it and I can move into a rented place-maybe even a PG. But he wouldn’t listen. ‘I must do at least this much for you,’ he says.” As much as it was possible, Vivek gave the impression of crying without tears. “But now,” he continued, “Dad needs another 10 lakh rupees for the dowry money, or the wedding wouldn’t happen. I have helped all I could, but that’s not nearly enough..”

He let the words trail off, hoping that she would fill in, with the appropriate sentence- ‘Worry not, I would help,’ or something along those lines.

But Rochelle merely kept ruffling his hair in silence. Indeed, her diligence was such that one might be tempted to think that the simple gesture was all the solution required for the problem at hand.

The next time Vivek sighed, it was in earnest. It was because he was exasperated with her.

“Now that I have brought the topic up,” he said, “I was wondering..wondering if you would be able to help me out? I would, of course repay you the money once I have it. All I need is a little amount of time- a few months, an year at the most.”

She remained silent for a couple of minutes.

“Of course, if you cannot, I can totally understand,” he said. “In fact, now that I have asked you, I feel foolish. I know that running a high end salon would entail a huge expense. And it’s not like you can ask your father for money, just like that!”

She nodded her head thoughtfully. She said, “That’s all true. But that’s not why I was silent. I was just wondering if there was any way I could help you out.” After a brief pause, she added, “Let me get back to you on this.”

Vivek winced when she touched the nail inflicted wound on his back, making her smile.

**

Rajkumar Yedyurappa was seated in a lounge chair in the balcony of his bungalow in Yelahanka. The place was recently built. His plan was to give it to one of his two sons post his death. But for now, he was enjoying the stay in the palatial place,  even though the stay sometimes got a bit lonely- ever since his wife passed away of blood cancer two years ago, it’s been a lonely life for Rajkumar.

The only silver lining that he could see in the cloud of his loneliness was that he could focus better on his business- and there was a lot to focus on when your business enterprises t existed on both sides of the law.

He was drinking a hot cup of green tea(extremely health conscious, Rajkumar avoids alcohol completely), gazing meditatively at a mynah bird perched on the railing of the balcony, wondering if there was a business opportunity involving mynah birds(he was self-conditioned to always think like a businessman) when one of his aides brought him a photograph.

The aide was a young chap who recently joined the task force of Rajkumar- who had a small army of his own. Being a beginner, Rajkumar thought it apt to put him on field work, to keep an eye on Vivek, to be more precise, so that if in case the buffoon did something foolish like leaving the city or something, the plan could be foiled.

In fact, many in his employ thought that the boss was spending too much resources on Vivek’s case. After all, it’s been learned that the man has siphoned just Rs.10 lakh, and what’s ten lakh for Raj anna?

But what Rajkumar didn’t tell them was that it was a matter of pride. The only reason people respected him- aside from his immense wealth, was the iron hand with which he ran things. But once people came to know that someone- that too a young man, a mere nobody managed to double cross him, they would begin to laugh at him.

No, the buffoon must pay him back. He was pretty sure that by orchestrating Thushar’s ‘suicide’ he had sent the message to the buffoon. But it didn’t hurt to have someone on him. Kids these days, thought Rajkumar, you never know what they are gonna do!

But who is this girl in the picture with the buffoon!, he thought. Buffoon though he may be, he has a good eye for the ladyfolks. This one wasn’t exceptionally beautiful but she still had a charming face, a long forehead and pretty eyes, slightly chubby but cute cheeks. The way she kept her face tilted heightened the cuteness.

They were at a restaurant, a lit candle between them. They were gazing at each other’s eyes like two lovers lost, though Rajkumar saw a slight nervousness in the buffoon’s eye- or so he thought.

“When did you take this?” he asked his aide.

“Last night, sir!”

“I hope the buffoon hasn’t forgotten his deadline. He has just under a week now,” remarked Rajkumar. “Or is he foolish enough to give no mind to his own life?”, he added.

**

Vivek hadn’t forgotten his deadline. In fact, as the dreaded day loomed nearer, he could hardly think of anything else, so much so that on the days immediately before D-day, he stayed home calling in sick, afraid that if he were to appear at work in his immensely nervous state, people would just think him weird, or maybe even laugh at him.

What made him even more nervous was the fact that Rochelle didn’t pick his call the last three times he tried to reach her. Time was, he used to avoid her like the plague. Lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling in a half-crazed state of mind he laughed at how things have changed now.

There were just two more days to deadline. He was now convinced that Rochelle wasn’t going to help him out.

Desperately, he called home, hoping that if he could get back at least part of the money he sent his mother, he could buy himself some time.

But he didn’t even have to ask. Before getting to the question, his mother related the information that she has spent a large share of the money. “It’s good that you sent me the money. Otherwise, I don’t know how I could have made all these arrangements. Your maama helped a lot.” The maama she referred to was Vivek’s father’s  younger brother, and the help he rendered was definitely not financial- he was just a small time tailor.

At this moment, Vivek wasn’t interested in hearing about anyone, or anything that didn’t hold the prospect of bringing him some quickly-needed money.

**

The day before the deadline, Vivek woke up earlier than usual and called  his sister. He talked with her longer than usual, was quite pleased hearing the sound of her talking- with happiness at her impending wedding.

After he got off the phone, he had a long hot shower before getting dressed. He was going to try and make it out of Bangalore, leave the city and go lay low somewhere where Rajkumar’s people wouldn’t be able to find him.

He wasn’t sure when he would get to take a hot shower in a bath cubicle next.

While he was buttoning up his shirt, he looked out of the window at the garage and saw his Royal Enfield gleaming in the sunlight. The light was harsh even though it wasn’t yet past 9. He had changed the locks on both the garage door and the front door to his home- in fact, he had put on electronic locks.

When the phone trilled in his pocket, he reached for it in anticipation- hoping that it was Rochelle, calling him at the last moment to inform him that she has got the money.

Looking at his phone’s display, he saw that the call was from an unknown number. “Hello?”

His heart sunk when he heard a man’s voice on the other end. His heart sunk even more when he heard what the man had to say. “Good morning, Vivek!” the man said in a cheerful tone. If his North Kannada slang wasn’t too pronounced, he might have been good at a call centre, thought Vivek. “Hope I didn’t woke you up,” the man continued. “I just called you to remind that the time for you to come and meet Raj annna is tomorrow- between 12 PM and 2 PM. Of course, I needn’t remind you that you shouldn’t go to him empty handed, should I?”

The man gave him a couple of seconds so that he could understand that the question wasn’t rhetorical.

“No,” said Vivek, his voice merely a rasp; his throat felt suddenly parched.

“Good, good, good!” the man exclaimed. “So, Raj anna expects you tomorrow, okay? And oh, before I leave, let me also appreciate you on the new plate.”

“Sorry?”

“The new number plate that you got for your bike the other day,” said the man. “Yes, Hyderali’s place out in JP Nagar is very expensive- imagine anyone else charging you this much for merely a number plate! But they are very good- no one uses better material for a number plate than Hyderalis! Scratches won’t appear so easily and the number will be visible even in low light- pretty classy affair!”

‘How do you know that I went to Hyderalis?’ no sooner had the question appeared in the horizon of his mind than it occurred to him how foolish the question was. Of course, the ugly stranger wasn’t joking when he said that day that Vivek shouldn’t attempt ‘anything foolish.’

His bike met with a minor accident last week, as a result of which the number plate broke. It was while he was on his way to a restaurant the day before yesterday to have lunch that he had the plate changed at Hyderali’s. So, someone- one of Rajkumar’s guys was on him all the time. He found it rather ridiculous that Rajkumar would have someone dedicated on his case like that-after all, all said and done he was just a small time crook.

“So, congratulations, ha,ha,ha!” Without another word, the man cancelled the call.

**

The call from the Man With The Cheerful Tone made Vivek change his itinerary for the day. Letting the bag he had packed for his long ride out of the city lie where it was- on the sofa- he went out to the nearest liquor mart and brought home a full bottle of Chivas Regal. Before starting to drink, he got online and transferred whatever was left in his account to his mother’s bank account. It wasn’t much but he figured it would still do the living some good rather than the dead.

For Vivek, by this point was convinced that he was not going to live to see the light of another day.

His game plan was to down the Chivas and slash his wrist in his tub. He was sure that inebriation wouldn’t be enough of a defense against the pain of slashing your wrist, but on the other hand he was also pretty sure that no matter the depths of pain to which such an act takes him, it would still be vastly better than the heights of suffering to which Rajkumar would subject him when he learns he hasn’t got the money.

Come evening and Vivek was lying submerged in cold water in the tub, only his head above the waterline, a razor held diagonally above his wrist. The razor has been held in that position for quite some time now. In fact, Vivek was quite surprised by how steady his hand was and how sober he felt, considering how he finished a bottle of good whiskey in just under an hour.

Another surprising fact was the level of fear he experienced as the moment came closer to do himself in.

“Fuck! Fuck!Fuck! Fuck!” he shouted eventually, accepting the fact that he was not going to be able to do it, after all. And for good measure, he looked at the empty Chivas bottle that sat smugly on the side of the tub, and uttered another “Fuck!”, the most ferocious of them all. Whether it was because he somehow conferred his inability to confront the pain of slashed wrists to Chivas’ inability to inebriate him enough or becausethe bottle was empty is unsure.

He cried, cried like a baby, his salty tears mingling with the tepid water in the tub as he threw the razor away.

At some point- he wasn’t sure when exactly, he fell asleep. He saw a dream in which two sturdy hands reached down and chocked him. The suffocating sensation became so real that he woke up from his sleep. It took a second or two for him to recollect that he was in the tub-for a second he thought that he had died and gone to the afterlife-and the afterlife was like a liquid filled womb. He also realized that there was a good reason for the suffocating sensation to feel so real- while he was sleeping, his head lolled forward, making his face submerge in water.

There was a trilling sound in his ears as he pulled his face out of the water. He assumed it must have got something to do with the pressure building inside his brain- pressure from the suffocation and also from fear. But as the sound persisted even as he began to calm down(relatively speaking) taking deep and slow breaths just as the yoga teacher at the office said you should do in times of stress, Vivek recognized the trilling sound for what it was.

Dragging himself out of the tub, he walked naked to the bedroom where his iPhone trilled on the bed. He had a hard time focusing his eyes- never underestimate the power of Chivas, he thought- but when the dual images which he saw eventually merged to form a single cohesive picture, he saw the caller id on the phone displaying Rochelle’s name.

“Hello?”, he said, his voice a garbled version of his voice in non-stressed times.

“Are you drunk, Vivek?”

A flood of relief washed through his body upon hearing Rochelle’s voice. For a few seconds he thought that the call might be a practical joke by one of Rajkumar’s men- he has seen enough gangster movies to know that people who walked on the wrong side of the law tend to have a sadistic streak.

“Yeah, Yeah!” he said, not without pleasure in his voice as he sat down on the bed.

“Oh, you poor thing,” cooed Rochelle. “You must be worried sick. I am so sorry that I couldn’t return your calls- I…I just was busy with a lot of things.” After a brief pause she continued, “One of the things that I was busy with was getting your money.”

She gave him the name of a restaurant where  they could meet the next day when she could bring him the money.

“Is 11 in the morning fine with you?,” she said.

Willing himself to keep taking deep breaths and not scream with joy, he said, “Sure. 11 sounds fine.”

**

11 O’clock on a Sunday, you are bound to find most of the bylanes and inner city streets of Bangalore to be relatively empty of traffic.

And so it was the case at the lane in front of the Blue Bells café in Kormangala 5h block, very near to the Apollo Cradle Hospital. The café was Rochelle’s pick to hand over the money. (“I have it all packed in a duffel bag!” she told him on the phone the other day).

As the minute needle on his watch ticked past the 5 minute mark after 11, Vivek began to get nervous. A waitress- a young Nepalese woman awaited his directions, holding a menu in hand. When she approached before, he told her that he was waiting for someone and would order when she was here.

Unamused, he thought how he didn’t even have enough money in his wallet to pay for a coffee.

He sat at one of the tables by the small bougainvillea garden in a corner of the lawn. The only other patrons in the café at the time were two young girls- one with braces on and the other with her hand in a cast, chatting about technology and other girls and boys they know, their voice easily carrying all the way from the other end of the lawn where they sat.

Out of the corner of his eye, Vivek saw the waitress showing signs of impatience- shifting her body weight from one foot to the other. It was almost 11:15 now and Vivek was thinking of giving Rochelle a call when a car came to a halt in front of the café and out stepped Rochelle, in a red turtleneck and white chinos.

Vivek’s heart fluttered seeing the brown and white duffel bag she carried.

“Sorry, I am late,” she said, taking a seat opposite him. “I had to pluck my eyebrows and it took longer than I thought.”

Vivek smiled. He couldn’t help it. He felt relieved at the mundanity of having to wait for his gf- who was busy beautifying herself to turn up for a date.

But this was no ordinary date. This was a date that made the difference between life and death.

Calling up the waitress, Rochelle ordered a lamb and lettuce burger for herself, Vivek just asked for a cold coffee.

“They make the most delicious lamb burgers in the whole of Bangalore!” Rochelle said. “You sure you wouldn’t order one?”

Saying he was sure and dismissing the waitress with a wave of hand, he said to Rochelle, feeling somewhat impatient, “You got all the money?”

Rochelle nodded, beaming a smile at him. Vivek felt that he could reach across and kissed her on the lips right then.

And he would have. Only, before he could do it, she put the duffel bag between them. “It’s all in there.”

“I really don’t know how to thank you for this,” said Vivek. “Seriously, you are a lifesaver!”

Rochelle giggled. “I have been called many sweet names by many people. But this is the first time that someone’s calling me a lifesaver!”

The sluttish insinuation of there being many people to call her sweet names aside, Vivek still felt unbounded gratitude and love for her.

“And as for ways of thanking me,” she continued, “I think I have a few ideas that we can try!” she winked.

After breakfasting, they left- both in their separate ways, she getting in her VW Polo, he hopping on his Royal Enfield- it had a yellow banner with the words “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on it. Before going their separate ways they promised to meet that same night, Vivek would call her some time in the afternoon.

But whereas the VW Polo snaked its way effortlessly through the different bylanes that would take Rochelle back home, the Bullet travelled but two streets away from the Blue Bell café when it was stopped, by an SUV rashly parked across its path. Three men got out of the vehicle, one of whom Vivek recognized to be the ugly one who got into his home two weeks ago.

Between the three men, they delivered countless beatings and punches on Vivek and 12 slashes on his body with sharp utensils the kind of which you probably wouldn’t find in an average household.

Scar no:3

The third scar which would complete the narrative is to be found on Vivek’s forehead- a diagonal slash starting from the edge of his scalp and ending at the upper edge of his nose.

According to doctors, it was the wound on his forehead that was responsible for the debilitating tragedy that struck Vivek- paralyzed from his neck down, he would be confined to bed for the rest of his life.

Vivek would never know the reason why the three men treated him so rashly- after all, he was bringing their boss his money, wasn’t he?

But Rochelle would come to know what went wrong.

What went wrong was that her father’s business partner was Rajkumar Yelahanka, a man who shared business interest with her father in sectors including hospitality and water(her father ran a water bottling unit in Muscat).

And when Rajkumar’s aide one day brought him a picture of Vivek with a girl in a restaurant where they were having candle-lite dinner, he felt the girl to be familiar, though he was unable to place the girl initially- he has seen his business partner’s daughter just once- at the house warming party of his newest bungalow- the one designed by Ashuthosh Kapadia.

But a couple of days after he saw the picture, he got a courtesy call from the interior designer- who kept a good relation with all his clients, and he was congratulating him on the wonderful party he threw for the housewarming. That was when Rajkumar recalled who the girl was.

By the time he informed his business partner, Vivek and his girlfriend were already at the Blue Bell Café. Knowing how Vivek’s mind worked, Rajkumar had a suspicion that he might try to get the money from the girl.

“First the bastard double crossed you and now he is trying to squeeze money off my daughter!” was how Rochelle’s father responded when Rajkumar expressed his suspicion to his business partner.

Vivek remained in the dark about these things even after he was back home in Sri Lanka- unable to move even a finger on his arms, he remained immobile in bed, tended by a teary-eyed mother and sister.

And when Rochelle came over, she too didn’t tell him about her father’s involvement with Rajkumar.

**

Rochelle flew to Sri Lanka with two of her crew members from Rochelle’s Salon.

“I am sure that you would want to look your very best at your sister’s wedding. These guys-my crew- they are some of the best that money can buy. And they can make you look even better than you have ever looked….better even than how you looked before the..before the incident,” said Rochelle. She was sitting by the bed in his home in Sri Lanka. She exclaimed that it’s too hot in Lanka but that she would still manage somehow.

What with the multiple injuries he sustained on his face and other visible parts of his body, Vivek didn’t exactly look like he was apt for the Mr.Handsome title.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said-his voice barely, the result of a wound on his throat that’s yet to heal. He effected a smile on his face. It was all Rochelle could do to keep from crying.

Taking hold of his hand, she said, “It’s the least I can do, dear. It’s the least I can do.”

Turning to his crew members, willing the tears to keep from jumping the prison of her eyes, she ordered, “Now, get to work!”

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