Expelleth Shame

The man has seen him before, of this Nakul was sure.

Not just once or twice, but plenty of times. He remembered seeing the man eyeing him when he went down the stairs a couple of mornings ago on his way to work. Then, there was the time when the man was at the grocery store when he went to buy some provisions. Though he saw the man out of the corner of his eye, looking him up and down with a special interest like how many people beheld the things in the “New arrivals” rack- a new variant of Lays and an imported Dark chocolate among them-with interest.

Nakul himself was a new arrival in the building. It’s not been more than two weeks since he moved into the flat. The apartment building was located in a street in Thavarakkere- one of the most congested residential areas in Bangalore. The good news was that the place had a higher concentration of Malayalis, not to mention some really good(though small in size) restaurants that served Kerala food(which Malayali could, after all, resist a well made fish moli and appam?). The bad news that was the building was right next to an abattoir which meant that when the wind drifted, you may have to shut your nostrils.

Despite such inconveniences, Nakul liked his flat well enough. For one thing, having a 1 BHK was way better than living in a PG. For his first two months in Bangalore, he stayed in one of the better PGs he could find and the experience was akin to taking residence in a congested train compartment. Then, there was also the fact that the flat wasn’t all that far from work. Sure, he would have liked to find one even closer to his office, which was at Dollars Colony in JP Nagar. But out there, he would have to pay almost what he was paying for the 1 BHK as rent, for a single room.

As for the man who lived in the flat opposite, who eyed him like a dying fish on land would a bowl of water, he didn’t know whether he was good news or not. Whenever he saw him outside of his home, he was always dressed in a half-sleeved shirt and khaki pants- somewhere between a freedom fighter and a regular government employee. He wasn’t old enough to be a freedom fighter. Nakul pitted his age at around 40, though given how the man obviously worked out- Nakul had looked at him enough to catch the contours of his body showing through the fabric of his clothes, he may be older.

Presently, Nakul felt the man’s eyes on his back acutely, almost as though his gaze was a finger that extended through the open door of his house and reached all the way to Nakul. With the gaze, Nakul also became conscious that he was wearing nothing but a vest and a brief. It was already past 11 in the night and he had assumed that no one would have their door open at this hour- most of the people who lived in the apartment building were people who lived with their families. Wild nights of partying wasn’t exactly the norm around these parts.

The reason why Nakul stepped out of his flat was to turn the pump on. The switch for the water pump was mounted on a panel right outside his door. He could have called the building’s security guard cum caretaker- an emaciated old guy who spent all his time smoking cheap beedis, to get it done. But to have the man climb the two flights of stairs just for something that he could do himself in a jiffy felt like cruelty. Then, there was also the fact that he could hardly wait to get under the shower.

From a city with an year round pleasant weather, Bangalore has long since become the devil’s anus in terms of heat- at least during the summer. It wasn’t unusual for Nakul to wake up during the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Part of the reason was the poor ventilation in buildings that were built more with the purpose of accommodating the largest number of people than for their comfort.

The man in the opposite flat was sitting in a chair in his living room- Nakul could see a large picture of the Goddess Laxmi seated on a lotus and shedding unending gold coins from her palms on the wall behind him. The man was watching the television- tuned to a Malayalam news channel by the sound of it, but when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, he looked in Nakul’s direction.

Seeing that Nakul was in his vest and briefs, he looked him up and down, a smile of unmitigated relish on his face. Nakul noticed how his eyes lingered at his crotch area. Turning around, Nakul got to the panel on the wall. The wooden panel creaked as it was pulled open and within it, he found the switch for the water pump. Flipping it on, he felt the familiar hum of the motor being turned on.

The water tank would be full in about five minutes. He waited for those five minutes leaning on the railing which overlooked the dirty street outside- vegetable remains and empty plastic wrappers were remnants of the market day. Nakul stretched his arms elaborately as though he felt tired- which he did.

If there was one thing that made your head crave for some rest come night, it was a day spent coding.

He was aware of the man’s eyes on his back. He even did a few squats as though making use of the waiting period for the tank to fill, doing a minor exercise, pushing his ass up elaborately every time he came up, taking pleasure in the fact that a man with a good physique was enjoying the sight.

The sound of the water pouring from the roof- the sign of the tank overflowing, brought an end to his mini-calisthenics . He turned the switch off. He didn’t look at the man in the opposite flat again, not even as he was closing the door to his flat.

But as he walked towards the shower, there was a smile on his face.

**

His office was some three kilometers from his new home.

But more often than not, Nakul walked to and from work. There were multiple reasons for this. One was that he felt like he could use with the exercise- because the rest of the day at work, he just sat in front of a monitor, typing one line of command after the other. The fact that he considered the auto-drivers of Bangalore as the worst scum of the earth was also behind the decision. The two months or so that he has been in India’s silicon valley has been enough for him to realize that given half a chance, the auto drivers of the city would overcharge you to hell. It’s like they were put on the planet earth to show you exactly how bad, uncouth and irritating a human being can be.

The third reason for his decision to walk was his love for jazz. Walking with his earplugs in his ears, listening to Coltrane or Parker or Davis shoot a high note was one of the genuine pleasures that he has experienced in his 22 years on earth. Yes, the fact that the lanes between his work and residence were mostly chocked with traffic and not exactly a walker’s paradise took away the charm from the music somewhat . But still, it was beautiful-especially when he could see a leaf dancing in the wind being lit by the golden light of the sun, to the accompaniment of a delicately held tone in the trumpet.

Once, he told his father that that was the reason why he wasn’t keen on getting a motorbike- eliciting a weird look from his old man.

Unless he was too bushed after work, he would walk home as well.(He still regretted the last time he took an autorik home-after a day in which there were just too many bugs to fix and he felt dizzy with the pressure).

While coming back home, it was his habit to stop at a bakery and have an egg puffs and a Coke. By the time he arrived at the bakery, he would have covered three fourth of the distance- meaning he would be at a point where he could use with some motivation. And what better motivation than a well made egg puff?- the thing that he has been in love with “from the first bite” as he would tell his friends. Not that he remembered when the first bite was made, but it felt right to say so.

As in the preceding two weeks, this evening also Nakul walked into the bakery- a small joint with an extra counter from which they sold fresh juices. The bakery was run by a Malayali youngster, and as soon as he saw Nakul, a smile broke on his face. “The usual?” he said.

Nakul nodded as he took one of the empty stools. The egg puff and Coke were brought to him soon enough. And Nakul didn’t delay  biting into it.

Halfway through it, someone took one of the other empty seats- in fact, the one right next to him. He found it rather odd given how almost all the stools- some eight of them were empty. As he bit into the puffs, he felt as though the person next to him was looking at him.

Looking up, he saw that it was the man from the opposite apartment to his flat.

He was smiling at Nakul.

From up close, the man’s skin appeared to be a little more rugged than he had thought. And his thin mustache appeared darker than natural, though Nakul couldn’t ascertain whether the extra-darkness was the result of careful application of dye or not.

Divided by mere inches, he could smell the man- he smelled like soap. Lavender.

“You recently moved into the Vaishnavi apartments building in Taverekkere, right?” the man said in Malayalam, adding hastily, “You are a Malayali, aren’t you?”

Though the man was smiling, it wasn’t the vile smile of a pervert. It was almost gentlemanly.

Nakul nodded. “Yes, I moved in to the flat opposite to yours,” he said.

The man didn’t give any indication that he has seen where he lived. Instead, he merely nodded. “Nice to meet you,” he said, giving Nakul his name.

After ordering a coffee, the man asked him the preliminary questions deemed necessary in such a situation- where was he from? How long has jhe been in the city? What did he do for a living?

“No surprises about that,” said the man when Nakul told him that he was a software coder. “Everyone is a computer programmer in Bangalore!” Laughing, the man patted Nakul on the side amicably. The first physical contact he has made.

Like his smile and the friendly laugh, the simple pat too wasn’t vulgar or indicative of any sexual interest.

But the gleam in his eyes and the almost desperate way in which he kept asking questions- like he was so keen to keep up the conversation- were indications enough for Nakul to know what the man aspired for.

Nakul has never been in a gay relationship before. In fact, he has never told anyone- not even his closest friends that he was gay. His experiences with his sexual orientation were limited to fantasies while masturbating and a couple of chance encounters that resulted in him being in a dark alleyway(and in one case, an abandoned public toilet), getting his dick sucked by some random stranger.

But the way some men touched his thigh almost by accident when they were in a bus, or how a hand might graze his behind in the train even when there was enough distance between them were all lessons that taught him about a certain nervousness that was in the touch of someone who wanted sexual gratification.

This man’s pat brimmed with such nervousness.

The man lived with his wife and 10 year old daughter, he said. “The summer vacation has begun and so they have gone home to Kochi for a week. I am stuck here on my own. What can I do? I can’t easily take leave from work like that, can I?” the man added with a sigh. He didn’t say what was his occupation, neither did Nakul ask.

The sigh was a tad too theatrical, Nakul felt. Nonetheless, he enjoyed the conversation, if for nothing else, for the sole fact that for the past couple of weeks, except for talking with his parents and sister on the phone every night, he has had hardly a conversation outside of the functional.

When they got back in the apartment building, it was almost 7. Nakul was surprised that they had a long conversation- though he couldn’t remember them discussing anything specific. It was mostly about the small things in Bangalore- the proliferation of North Indian chaatwallas and the way modern youngsters dressed here like foreigners and such things. It was mostly the man talking and Nakul listening. Owing to the length of the conversation Nakul ordered a couple of extra egg puffs while the man had another coffee.

They reached the second floor where they both had their apartments. Nakul was about to say “Nice meeting you, see you!” when the man, without any pre-amble said, “I know that you just had a couple of Cokes. But, if you would like, you should come in and have a cup of coffee. After all, you are new in the building. Now that we have properly met, you should come and enjoy my hospitality.”

The weight of the courtesy made Nakul think that the man must be working in some comoany’s marketing department.

The niceties aside, Nakul knew that there would probably won’t be a coffee once he accepted the man’s invitation. Even if there were one, it would be a means to an end- and the end would most probably on the bed.

He hesitated just for a moment before saying that yes, he would be delighted to come in.

**

As far as affairs went, that one wasn’t too bad. At least, as long as it lasted.

For one thing, the man never tried to anally penetrate Nakul-a point which he was strongly opposed to. The man preferred doing things that brought Nakul pleasure. Nakul spent almost every night at the man’s house during the week when his wife and daughter were away.

When they went out together- as they did a couple of times, they went as friendly neighbours. Never holding hands or showing any sign of physical intimacy in front of others. In fact, there was an aura of strict formalism to their proceedings in such moments- more often than not, one or both of them would have their hands folded in front of their chest, or when one talked, the other would nod reflectively, as though he were digesting the fine points of a lecture on international affairs.

But in the bedroom, they went to whatever extents possible in terms of physicality.

“Do it!” said the man one night. He had his ass presented to Nakul and was inviting the younger man to stick his dick in. Nakul hesistatedonly a moment before he broke a condom sachet and pulled the protective device out.

“No, without it!” the man said, his voice brimming with passion, urgent. “It’s only when you do without it that you can know how beautiful it is!”

Nakul had told the man about his limited sexual experiences, about not ever anally taking anyone. “I would give you a good crash course in one week,” the man had said.

Upon the man’s exhortation, Nakul had his very first ass, without the protection of condom. It was messy, but he liked it.

Such experiences were plentiful during the week- when Nakul got to experience things he has never tried before(though there was just the one time when he did something without condom). In other words, the man was true to his word about giving Nakul a crash course in carnal pleasures.

As for Nakul, he was happy for it, if not grateful.

What he had an issue with was the man’s behavior after his family returned from Kochi.

**

A couple of times, Nakul said hi to the man whenever they met on the stairs in the building but the extent of the man’s response was a barely perceptible nod. Nakul didn’t think much of it then- thinking naively that he might be preoccupied with something in his mind-after all, he was a family man and family men were creatures with lots of thoughts in their minds. But then, he began to notice that it was a regular occurrence.

If the man’s wife or daughter was with him, he would even avert his gaze on seeing Nakul, even though Nakul has been introduced to the woman and child by the man himself once.

Soon, Nakul stopped saying hi to the man even when they came across each other.

He knew well enough that the man could only behave as though they were mere acquaintances once his family got back. But the reality was that the man didn’t even act as though they were acquaintances- it was evident from his body language and the way he kept eye contact to the minimum that he wanted their interactions to be as close to zero as possible.

It’s probably paranoia, thought Nakul. At the thought of a glance or a simple gesture giving away the kind of relation they had, the man behaved  with an over-arching fear, he thought.

His rational mind told him that that too could be justified- if he were a middle aged married man who had an affair with his neighbour- he would go to any lengths to make sure that nothing was suspected. And that’s doubly true when the neighbour in question was another man.

But still, that didn’t mean that the emotional part of his self was okay with it. He found it hard to focus on music as he walked to work. He became irate at the simplest of things- like when a shopkeeper gave him a chewing gum instead of one rupee because he didn’t have change, and he kept hoping that the man would one fine day turn up at his door and apologize for avoiding him these last few days, telling him that it was all a misunderstanding, that they should get back together.

But no such encounters happened.

And the encounter that did happen was of another kind.

*

It occurred on an evening when Nakul was feeing particularly tired. There were a string of meetings at the office that day, on top of which he had to solve a technical glitch that befell the app. He was having an egg puff and Coke as usual, at the Malayali bakery when a youngster came in. Nakul had noticed the youngster parking his Bullet in front of the shop before getting in, walking with an easy gait, with a skull painted helmet in hand. The dude, dark skinned and with spiked hair, looked to be around the same age as Nakul- maybe a couple of years older. Though short in stature, he had a wiry frame, stout and body bulging with muscles- something which his skin tight T-shirt didn’t do anything to hide.

Nakul couldn’t help but admire his physical beauty. But more than his physical charm, Nakul was taken by the idea that he has seen the dude somewhere, on multiple times.

“I wonder if it’s alright to sit here?”

Nakul wasn’t expecting the dude to come and sit beside him. So, he didn’t have an answer ready. Instead, he simply looked at him and nodded.

When the dude remained standing, Nakul said, “What’s the problem with sitting here? There’s no problem with sitting here,” he added with a smile.

The dude, who had a Coke in his hand, nodded, then pulled the stool closer towards him, a couple of feet away from Nakul and sat down with a theatrical sigh. He kept the helmet on the  table beside them, clearing an empty saucer someone has left behind.

For a couple of seconds, he didn’t say anything. He simply looked at Nakul, as though sizing him up, taking short sips of his Coke.

“No problem sitting here, you said,” he eventually said. “But, no problem for whom?”

Nakul frowned. The dude spoke in perfect English. But from his accent, it was clear that he was a Malayali. “Are you a Malayali?” Nakul said in Malayalam.

Hearing Nakul speak in his tongue, the dude sighed, as though he was for some reason saddened by the fact.

“So, you are a Malayali,” he said, shaking his head. “I should have known it. There are a lot of Malayalis like you in Bangalore.”

Nakul frowned. “Like me?”, he said. “What do you mean?”

“I have seen you…” said the dude, his tone taking a rude turn, “I have seen you with that man..the pencil, we call him, for his pencil moustache..”

Nakul realized that he was talking about the man from the opposite flat. And he had a feeling that whatever direction this conversation was going to take, wasn’t going to be fun.

“We know what kind of person he is. He has tried to get his dirty hand on many of the young people in the neighbourhood. Once, there was even one of his…I don’t know what to call them…in the PG where I stay..Such an abomination, you people are. And I saw you hanging out with pencil, giggling like a girl, although you did try your best not to show what was really happening between the two of you. But it’s hard, isn’t it, to hide feelings of love…Isn’t that the word that you people use to describe such feelings..love?” The dude laughed. A raspy sound that was as much designed to elicit anger in Nakul was it was an expression of amusement.

“Just ask your lover whether he knows the name of Sagar,” the dude said in a serious tone. “He would tell you what I did to him when he tried to lay his filthy hand on me. Or maybe he won’t,” he added and then laughed again.

Before leaving, he said, “You said it’s alright me taking this seat. Alright for you, maybe. But what about me? Will it be alright if someone were to see me with someone like you? Wouldn’t people then think me also as a worm like you?” Grabbing his helmet, the dude walked out without looking back, leaving Nakul in a stunned silence.

**

The next day, the happening which Nakul has been waiting came about- well, at least, half of it. For the man from the opposite flat did turn up at his door.

It was a Saturday and after having gone to sleep late on Friday night, he slept like a log. He was in that log-like state even at 10 in the morning when the calling bell chimed repeatedly. After the third time pressing the bell switch, the man was about to turn away when the door was opened by a sleepy looking Nakul in a pair of boxer shorts and T-shirt.

Seeing who was at the door though, the sleep immediately lifted from his brain.

“Hi, sorry to disturb you,” said the man. “But I thought you were already awake.” The charmingly courteous tone of the man brought to Nakul’s mind the intimate moments they had had- precisely because those were the moments when the courteous façade fell apart and the real man emerged.

Looking around nervously, the man said, “Can I come in?”

He has never been inside Nakul’s flat before. So, once he was inside and Nakul closed the door, he looked around, commenting on how neat the place was- everything in its right place. “So unlike what one would expect in a bachelor pad!” the man said with a smile.

“A maid comes and cleans up the place every other day,” mumbled Nakul. “She does a fantastic job.”

He was curious what the man was here about. Was he no more concerned that his wife and kid would know about their relationship?- if it’s a relationship that they had.

He soon got the answer.

“My wife had to go away on an urgent errant,” said the man. “One of her cousins met with an accident. He is in the hospital, there’s gonna be a surgery. They both share the same blood type- AB negative, so she has gone down in case they are gonna need blood. She took our daughter too with her. I was supposed to go with them but I lied that I had some urgent work at the office today…” Taking hold of Nakul’s hand, he added, “You know why I said that? Because we would get to spend this entire day with each other…we would have a great time.”

One of Nakul’s existential pangs was that he wasn’t cruel. Or rather, not cruel enough. Many are the instances when he has found himself unable to use harsh words with anyone- even when they deserved it.

This time too, he felt the same, though anger coursed through his body like electricity when he heard the man’s words. Then man just saw him as flesh!

Releasing the man’s clasp from his hand, he said, “Get out.”

The man was visibly surprised by this response. His eyes went wide. But then, he lowered his head,and sighing, looked at Nakul again- an expectant look which made Nakul loathe the man all over again.

“Don’t come here again. Ever,” said Nakul.

Without another word, the man left the house.

**

Now that his very first, and short-lived affair has come to an end, Nakul felt depressed. Not because it was over but because he felt used. And that was a feeling he was unused to.

His parents have brought him up, giving him ample freedom to do whatever he wanted to do(though he ended up becoming a computer engineer like most of his peers). For bringing him up, they have never demanded anything in return – except for him to live well. And as for the few friends that he had, he always had a healthy relationship with them, systematically eschewing relations with anyone whom he felt might be using him.

The closest he has come to being used was on days when he would work extra hours to fix some bugs- an extra stint that was the result of the small company he worked for not hiring enough people as part of their streamlined business model. But even then, at the end of the month, he got paid.

So, the feeling of getting used which he got after the end of the affair was practically an alien sensation to him, and one which made him nauseous.

“Are you alright?” his mother asked him one night when they were talking over the phone. Nakul was the mama’s boy while his sister(younger, in her final year of fashion design course) was their father’s pet. If something was off about him, his mother would know from the tone of his voice, even if she heard it over a static-filled line.

Knowing full well that she wasn’t going to buy it if he  told her that everything was fine, he said he had a small headache. “I think I’m not drinking enough water,” he said.

**

One positive outcome of the breakup was that he began to focus more on his work, using work as a means of escape from the vile emotions that kept surfacing in his mind like bloated corpses on a placid lake. So much so that when a new joinee came up to him to introduce himself,  he had to call twice before Nakul looked up from the screen.

“Hi, I am Nashil,” said the new recruit.

Nashil and Nakul soon built a rapport. And not just because they worked on the same module, seated at the same table. They instinctively felt a unity with each other, as though they could talk amongst themselves about things that they may not share with anyone else.

It became a habit for them to go out for lunch together, and sometimes to grab a juice from the nearby Juice Junction in the evenings.

One of the recurring themes of their conversation was how frustrating it was to be working for someone else. Nashil, at twenty five was just three years senior to Nakul, but he has already started (and failed at running) two companies- one was a food delivery app that functioned only in Bangalore and the other was an online tour booking facility- driven towards a niche adventure loving crowd.

“The greatest challenge about making a startup successful, they say is getting funds. But I disagree. The greatest challenge is to get the right team,” Nakul spoke, injecting as much authority as he could into his words as he blew smoke from a cigarette. They were taking a coffee break at one of the small tea shacks near their office. Even though Nakul recalled him being told once that the reason why Nashil’s ventures failed was the lack of backers, he didn’t bring up the topic.

He for one wasn’t going to start any company of his own- he was too insecure a person to do that. So, whatever Nashil spoke about the subject, he listened only due to what you may call an academic curiosity.

But Nashil didn’t let up.

He spoke about how much like animals employees were to the employers who were universally animal-drivers.

“One of the ways in which I feel this animal-herding mentality in our office,” he said one day, “is in the amounts of time that we all have to work everyday. Of the eight hours or so that we spend there a day, we spend at least six hours coding straight.”

Nakul didn’t point out that Nashil was rarely seen to work. (Sitting beside him, Nakul would see him always watching a football match or standup comedy- two things he was admittedly a “diehard fan of.” )He was curious to see where Nashil was going with this though.

“I can’t imagine how someone like you could be working so hard everyday, man!” continued Nashil. “You are young. You’re in Bangalore. You ought to be working less and having more fun!”

“Yeah, you are probably right,” Nakul said, more to placate Nashil than anything.

Barely two weeks after they had this conversation, Nashil quit the company. The quitting took place without any pre-amble. In fact, it was highly unlikely that even Nashil himself had planned it. He simply left the office one night after having to work late because of a crisis with the app codes, and he simply didn’t come back.

Nakul would later hear from his colleagues how when the bosses threatened Nashil saying he wouldn’t get the final month’s pay unless he served the two months’ notice period, he said he didn’t care if he didn’t get the month’s pay. In fact, if rumours were to be believed he suggested a certain place in the bosses’ anatomy where they could sequester the money.

Nakul smiled when he heard the rumour but once Nashil left he came to realise how much of a salve for his broken  soul his presence was. Their chit chats were nothing more than amusing but peripheral indulgences of his day the main objective of which was  work. However, once he began going out for lunch and juice all by himself again, he realized how much fun it was simply to listen to Nashil speak about how the revolutionary need of the hour was “for as many number of people as possible to become self-employed.” There was something refreshing about being around someone who so openly expressed his contempt for the prevalent corporate culture.

And then, there was also the indefinable quality about their relationship which brought them close so easily. Right from the day one, they had a good rapport. On certain instances,Nakul even thought that maybe, like himself, Nashil too was a closet gay. There was nothing in his mannerisms to suggest this, but neither could he remember even a single instance when Nashil spoke about girls in a way heterosexual males would speak about girls.

Once Nashil left the company, Nakul  thought that was that. They were never going to meet again- maybe catch up on Watsapp once in a while, and then that too would end- for isn’t that what happened with such acquaintances?

Not really.

For just two days after he left the company, Nashil called him.

“Yo bro, where you at?” Nashil, ever the Bangalore boy who was born and brought up in the young city, and proud of it, spoke in the verve that’s natural to many who grew up seeing the place of their birth transforming from laidback to oh-so-happening right in front of their eyes.

Theirs was a generation that believed in magical transformations as irrefutably as many believe that Hitler was an asshole.

“Hey, Nashil, so nice to hear from you!” said Nakul. He was lying on the bed, watching a prank video shared by a friend on Facebook when the call came.

Apologizing for not calling him even before this, Nashil suggested that they should hang out together sometime. He suggested the coming weekend, inviting him to his place in Indiranagar.

“I would love to, but I am going home to Kerala this weekend,” said Nakul.

Nashil said that’s not a problem since they could hang out over the next weekend. Nakul said yes.

Only after he got off the call did he realize that he had an erection straining against his boxer shorts.

**

The next Saturday, Nakul turned up at Nashik’s home- a villa complete with a swimming pool in a plush neighborhood in Indiranagar.

“Nice place you got!” exclaimed Nakul, once his friend gave him a tour of the place.

“Yeah, dad brought this place for me,” said Nashil. His father, he said was a farmer- someone whose principal business was vineyards. “Most of them are in Mumbai while a few can be found in the outskirts of Bangalore,” he said.

Nakul had to strain to keep listening as he found his eyes straying to Nashik’s torso. Nashik was clad only in a towel that covered his midriff. He had said that he was about to take a bath when Nashik turned up.

“would you like to join me in the pool?”

Nakul was surprised by how forthcoming the question was. Blushing slightly, he said, “But I don’t know how to swim.”

Nashik gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. The pool is shallow.” He grinned.

**

And so began the second affair of Nakul’s life. He was surprised by the fact that another affair came around so soon after the first one ended but was delighted by it. Compared to the first affair, this one had a few advantages- for one thing, his lover this time around was much younger . More adventurous, they were both open to more experimentation.

Then, there was also the fact that their meetings weren’t all that clandestine. Whenever they met to have sex, it was at Nashil’splace(except for one time when they took a spur-of-the-moment decision to make love at a forest where they went trekking). And Nashil didn’t really care if his neighbour saw Nakul coming in, unlike ‘the man from the opposite flat’ who would twitch like a nervous racoon every time Nakul had to get in or out of his flat, looking around from his door with worry written all over his face.

Also, unlike with that man, the relationship has presented Nakul already with a few genuinely intimate moments that didn’t involve sex. Like the time Nashil surprised him by taking him to a gourmet buffet, or when they went with the intention of binge watching movies at the Oscar Film fest at the multiplex; they instead ended up spending all their time in a nearby pub drinking and  talking with each other, because they enjoyed each other’s company than that of a movie.

In other words, for the first time in life, Nakul was in love with someone.

**

It was a long weekend. The Monday was May day. They had planned to go for a fishing trip to Bhimeshwari on Sunday.  On Saturday, Nakul went with a couple of his Malayali friends in the city to do some shopping. It was mostly for his friends that he went though he himself ended up buying a couple of T-shirts.

After shop-hopping, they eventually ended up in the Form Mall in Kormangala. While they were in a clothing store, Nakul’s eyes fell on a kinky yellow brief in the underwear section. Just by looking at it, he could tell two things- that it was made of superior material(probably enough to justify the price tag) and that the piece was designed to expose as much flesh of the nether regions as possible, without sacrificing the basic function of a brief.

Nakul was aroused, thinking how sexy it would be to appear in front of Nashil in nothing but that. At the thought of Nashil’s eyes widening in pleasant surprise, a smile appeared on his lips.

Nakul didn’t buy the brief right away- his friends, he knew would consider such a purchase highly unusual . After the shopping was done, some of them suggested hopping up to the PVR on the top floor and catch a movie. Everyone agreed, except for Nakul, who said he had to get to the office in the afternoon for he had some work to finish. His friends groaned, made mock expressions of disgust at the idea of working over the weekend, but eventually they left to watch the movie- a science fiction flick called ‘Life’ (which one of them would later relate to Nakul as “lucky you didn’t join us that day!”)

Once he was sure that they were out of view, Nakul stepped back into the clothing store and was out in another five minutes, with the yellow innerwear in his bag. Before exiting the mall, he visited the mall’s washroom where he changed his innerwear in one of the cubicles. He was grinning happily, feeling the touch of the soft fabric on his skin, imagining how it would come off in under an hour- if Nashil was home.

He thought of calling Nashil at one point, to tell him that he was on his way. But then, he thought better of it. He would reach Nashil’s villa in about fifteen minutes. Also, he thought it would be an even greater surprise for him if he were to turn up at his door unannounced.

Throughout the auto ride, Nakul kept caressing his crotch, trying to feel the fabric of the new innerwear through his denim, imagining the hand that caressed him to be his lover’s, and the surprise on Nahsil’s face when he stripped.

But the surprise that waited, was for him.

**

The surprise was too much of a cliché, Nakul would think afterwards.

But at the time when he turned up at Nashil’s place unannounced, all he could think of was how unfair it all was. For his lover was with another man, and that man was in an innerwear, way too kinkier than what he had bought!

Nashil didn’t make any effort to explain away the man’s presence. In fact, he was rather open about their relationship, introducing him to be “one of my lovers.” He even invited Nakul to join them in bed.

“It’s been a while since we have had ourselves a good threesome, isn’t that so, Joy?” he said to the other youngster, who grinned.

He was casual about it all.

And it was the casualness both in his words and  demeanour that pushed Nakul to the verge of tears.

Willing himself to keep from crying in front of the other man, Nakul said to Nashil, “Can I speak to you for a moment?”

They went to the side of the pool, where Nakul started to cry, the grip tightening on the shopping bags in his hand.

“I thought we had something special between us!” he said, whimpering, tears leaking from his eyes with a rapidity which ashamed him.

Nashil looked positively surprised by the comment, as though amused by the concept of a special relationship. Once he got over the surprise, he gently rubbed Nakul’s back, saying, “Honey, you are a very special person to me, you know that!”

“Then, why..why this..?” Nakul said, pointing to the room  where his other lover waited in the bedroom with nothing on but a brief.

“Oh…he is just…just another lover, you know what I mean? He is not special like you. You see what I mean? “

Nakul shook his head. He didn’t see what Nashil meant.

Crying a little more in silence, he said, “I should be going now.” When he proceeded towards the front door of the villa, Nashil didn’t try to stop him. Not that Nakul expected him to.

**

It was two days after he walked out of Nashil’s place for good that the anomaly began.

It was Tuesday and he was in the bathroom, readying himself to go to work. He was in the toilet, relieving himself. The sound of the saxophone easily spilled from the speaker in the living room and coursed its way past the bathroom door to form a soundtrack to him crapping. It was Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew’- an album that he never got weary of.

Rather amusedly, Nakul thought how many such great albums people played while they were in the bathroom, or in the toilet taking a crap. The masters who made such music may not be the most pleased about such a prospect but that’s the kind of shit that you got thanks to such things as good quality speakers available for mass consumption. If the world were a place where you could only listen to music being performed live on the stage, like during the Middle Ages, the number of people who crapped to great music would be considerably lesser , Nakul thought.

He indulged in such whimsical thoughts so that he wouldn’t have to think about Nashil and what happened to that relationship. Nashil might have taken their relation too lightly but that was most certainly not the case with him. And he also knew that he would need some time before he recovered from what he considered was a loss. For, didn’t he, just the other night, cried himself to sleep, so late in the night?

Plop!

He smiled at the sound of turd hitting the water in the toilet bowl, making a rather wacky counterpoint to the smooth passage through which Miles guided his saxophone.

But when Nakul stood up and turned around, ready to flush his excreta down, the smile disappeared from his face. For when his eyes fell on what was in the water of the toilet bowl, he frowned, unable to make sense of what he saw.

For there, in the bowl, all the turds were shaped like a penis.

**

Nakul tried to blink the vision out, but it was no hallucinatory vision- nothing this odd could be brought about by a night of restless sleep.

All the turds in the toilet bowl- small and big, broken or whole, were in the shape of a penis. One of the turds turned over even as he looked, exposing the vein under the skin- or rather what looked so much like a vein under the skin as you would find on the underside of any man’s penis. This detail, more than anything made Nakul gasp- in wonder and also in bafflement, and he hit the flush lever mmediately.

The excreta was all drained away though their image remained fresh in his mind.

An image which he tried ever so hard to lose throughout the day. But it kept coming back to his mind, particularly whenever at work he took a loo break and pulled his penis out to take a leak, and once when he caught himself eyeing the crotch of a handsome man he saw at the restaurant where he had lunch.

When he was back home that night, he felt restless, wondering if something was wrong with him- something psychological.

**

The next morning, hitting the toilet was just about the first thing that he did. And his mind wasn’t put to rest by the sight of the penis shaped pieces of poop that his body ejected this day as well.

He found it hard to concentrate on work that day, so much so that he had to excuse himself and take a half day off in the afternoon, citing severe headache as the reason.

And the headache was real, brought on by his incessant thinking about the oddity in his biological existence.

Crapping, like eating was something that people did every day. But it was something that was almost always done without thinking- practically an activity that doesn’t require your willful intervention- like walking or breathing.

But Nakul couldn’t not think of it whenever he was in the toilet every morning. Not anymore.

And every morning, he found the same thing happening. The sizes and the number of turds would be different but the shape always remained the same as that of the male reproductive organ. On the third consecutive day that this happened, Nakul threw up, feeling nauseated and disoriented.

By Friday- the fourth day, he was contemplating going to a doctor.

But what was he going to say to the doctor? His story would be laughed at, even if he could produce the evidence-which could possibly be the most disgusting thing the doctor has ever seen. Also, there was nothing wrong with him physically. He was still functional enough and there was no accompanying pains or aches that this…this..oddity brought with it.

So, if the penis shaped turds were a symptom, he wasn’t sure what the disease was. Neither did he think that any doctor would be able to answer that.

The disease is your gayness!, the voice spoken from some part of his mind came abruptly.

Though it was it was his own voice, it sounded rather strange, like it belonged to someone who was drained of all emotions, like a balloon drained of all air.

And Nakul, with all his might, tried to prevent the voice from sounding again.

His success was limited.

**

The dude grinned. Nakul noticed how pearly white the rows of teeth were. But he wasn’t charmed. On the contrary, he felt disgusted.

It was the same dude- the Malayali whom he saw a couple of months ago at the bakery- the stout fellow who so openly expressed his disgust at Nakul’s kind, the one who made it clear in no uncertain terms how much in disgust he held the man from the opposite flat.

It was Friday night and Nakul was on his way back from work. He was feeling particularly down, and not just because of the workload at work(which was heavy). All he wanted to do was reach home, take a long shower and lie on his bed, chilling to some jazz tracks.

He was almost at his apartment building when he ran into the dude. The dude was at a small tea shop near the building, standing in front of the shop by himself, sipping a hot cup of tea, blowing smoke rings from a cigarette.

Soon as he saw Nakul, he said- in a tone which made it clear that his earlier opinion of him hasn’t changed in the least, “Oh, it’s been a while since we met, isn’t that so? I live in the next block, so I don’t usually come down here- particularly given the type of people who live around these parts,” his eyes strayed to the apartment building towards which Nakul was proceeding.

Moving closer to Nakul, he said in a lowered voice, “Tell me, why are you like this? Is this because you are sp pathetic you cannot get a girl that you go with other men?” Looking Nakul up and down he added, “And do you dress in so tight fitting clothes so that you can attract other men, you filth!” he hissed the last word like a whispering snake, making Nakul visibly flinch.

“Why…what is your problem?” Nakul said, his voice shaking with anger and a sense of shame.

The dude laughed- a short laugh which nonetheless plunged another shaft of pain into Nakul’s heart. “What’s my problem?” the dude said, “Now, that is funny. For it seems that the problem is with you- someone who couldn’t even recognize that he himself is a man!” And he laughed again.

The sound of laughter was well concealed by the overwhelming sound of machines that rose from a construction work that was going on in the empty lot nearby. But to Nakul, it felt as though everyone in the street- the people who had brought their kids to the doctor at the nearby padiatrican’s and the group of youngsters chatting in front of the juice shop and the husband and wife coming out of the temple and the lonely-looking wayfarer who walked looking haggard after a long day of work, and everyone else could hear the dude’s laugher as you could hear a bomb exploding in the dead of the night.

And worse, they knew the reason why the dude laughed- not because he was gay so much as he was weak enough to hide it from public view.

Even as the dude laughed, Nakul got into the apartment building, opening and closing the gate in one swift motion, disappearing up the stairs and reaching his door in a jiffy. Before entering his apartment, he cast a disgusted glance at the closed door of the flat opposite.

**

Even though he was awake by 8 Saturday morning, he remained in bed, doing nothing, staring at the ceiling and the lizard that occasionally criss-crossed it.

He was putting aside as much time as possible one his biological needs. By around 9:30 the need asserted itself as a pressure in his lower back parts and he dragged himself to the toilet with all the enthusiasm of a kid going to school on a Saturday.

Though he hoped that the anomaly has ended, it hasn’t. After flushing the toilet, he laughed like a madman- thinking of how fucking strange this was. He laughed so hard that his belly ached and he thought that he may not be able to stop laughing. He worried that the sound of his laughter may bring people from the nearby apartments running, he expected to hear loud banging on his door anytime now. But even so, he continued laughing for another fifteen minutes. What eventually made him stop was the pain the laughter brought on, which verged on the excruciating.

Lying on the bathroom floor- feeling the coldness of the wet tiles on his back, the emotionless voice in his mind told him that that’s where he belonged- on the ground, along with fragments of filth and shit- for he himself was nothing but filth!

The sound of the voice, or maybe the words, made him laugh again. But this time, the laughter was short-lived, for soon it transformed into tears. In no time, he was crying his eyes out, his lungs craving for much needed air which he simply couldn’t suck in because of the incessant tears.

Once the tears subsided and he could breathe normally again, Nakul pulled himself up and sat with his back to a wall with his head on his hands. He sat like that for half an hour, trying hard to think of nothing before he decided that he needed to take control.

But take control of what and how, he wasn’t sure.

**

He thought he got the answer when his mother called him that night. She has been on his back about the prospect of getting married. He said he was too young for that, but his mother said that people married young these days.

“At least, you meet with her. She is a nice girl, though I’m not sure you would remember her- the last time you saw each other was at aunt Sharda’s wedding, when both of you were teeny tots!” his mother’s voice brimmed with happiness as she spoke.

“Who is Sharada aunt?” said Nakul.

His mother told him a relation so distant that it felt to him more intricate than the toughest intellectual juggernauts that one came across in the course of programming an app.

As for the girl whom his mother referred to, she turned out to be the daughter of one of her friends. His mother happened to see the girl somewhere recently “and the instant I saw her, I felt how wonderful a pair you two would make.” Of course, she said, that’s for him to ascertain. Which is why she has passed his number to the girl who also was working in Bangalore. “Of course, the girl would call you only if you are interested,” she added in the tone which she used in such instances, the one that Nakul called “The sophisticated diplomat’s voice.”

**

Nakul was iriate at first with his mother for trying to set up something like that. But given the circumstances, he thought it wouldn’t hurt for him to take the girl out, if she’s interested.

He has never had a girlfriend, of course. When he was in college, one of his friends asked him who his first infatuation in life was.

Had he answered ‘Loknath’- that was the boy’s name, he was in the 9th standard then, the friend would probably have given him a strange look, and it was also possible that he would cease to be his friend from that day onwards.

So, he lied that it was a girl named Akhila. The name he chose randomly.

Oddly enough, the girl whom his mother wanted to meet was also named Akhila.

“Hello, am I speaking to Akhila?”

Nakul has asked his mother to send him the girl’s number- he didn’t like the idea of the girl calling him. So he called her and the girl picked the call after the second ring. She sounded bored, as though she were watching something unappealing on the television when the call came.

That, in fact, turned out to be true, when Nakul asked her what she was doing, once he introduced himself.

She was apparently watching a Salman Khan movie which she has heard great reviews of but which turned out to be a total bummer. “I don’t know how people could stand such shit!” she said in English.

Nakul couldn’t help but laugh at the vehemence with which she said it. She apologized, saying that since she worked in the media- she was a copy editor for an entertainment blog, she get easily “pissed” if she came across “substandard media productions.”

All in all, their first conversation went well and Akhila came across as a fun person to hang out with.

**

Nakul hasn’t really thought about the future.

He had a vague idea that when the time inevitably came when his parents would begin pestering him about a marriage, he would somehow manage to convince them that not getting married was to his greater good- the details of this, he hasn’t yet worked out. But he was sure that he would never reveal his sexual identity to them, or to anyone. That would be just too weird, he was sure. No one in his family or friends was like him. There was no precedence to such a thing in his immediate surroundings and he didn’t wish to be the first to break the mould.

The fact that the state hasn’t given gays any legitimacy also meant that even if he were to come out, he would be coming out just to fight. To fight the system, and more importantly, to fight his family.

And from an early age, Nakul has understood that there were so many beautiful things in life for you to waste it fighting. Like jazz and anime and trekking and so much more. He would be content going through life doing all these beautiful things. He didn’t care if he didn’t have a permanent partner in life.

Nakul was thinking about all these things as he was walking to the restaurant where he had said he would meet Akhila.

The restaurant was some two kilometers away from where he stayed, but very close to the PG where the girl lived. He had thought of taking an autorikshaw but he stepped out of the apartment building into an evening marked with a cool breeze and a cloudy sky. So he walked, with the Mahavishnu Orchestra for company, blaring one psychedelic track after another in his ears.

He had thought that the sonic bravado of the band which verged on the playfully cacophonic would drown out all his thoughts- which was one of the main reasons why he chose them for this walk. He didn’t really wanted to think about what he was going to do. He just wanted to do it.

But to his surprise, he found that he could hear his thoughts loud and clear over the clamorous music.

And of all the thoughts, one question loomed louder than all else- Why am I doing this?

In one sense, he would be betraying the girl’s trust. Sure, just because they were going on a date didn’t necessarily mean that they would have a long-standing, till-death-do-us-part type of relationship. But even so, it’s just plain silly-if not worse, to be meeting a girl, any girl.

So, when he knew this much, why was he still doing it?

As loud as the question was in his mind, so was its answer.

It’s because I don’t want to be taunted anymore. Because I don’t wish to be stopped by random strangers on the street and laughed at, because I don’t want to be caught in a situation where I couldn’t offer a better explanation that “Because I wanna watch manga and listen to jazz for the rest of my life without anyone’s interference” when his parents suggested to him the prospect of marriage!

By the time the answer made its reverberations in his mind, pushing it towards the edge of agitation, he had reached the restaurant.

**

Like with their conversation on the phone, Nakul found that the time that he had with Akhila at the restaurant was also pleasant. The best thing-as far as he was concerned- was that the girl loved to talk, and she seemed to have an opinion about everything on the earth- from Donald Trump becoming the president of USA to how Salman Khan’s body looked suspiciously like it has been transplanted from someone else’s- maybe a head transplant has already been done in the case of Mr.Khan!, she said excitedly, making Nakul laugh hard.

Fun as it was being with her, halfway through, he realized with a sinking feeling in his stomach(which wasn’t brought about by the food-which was good) that his apprehensions were true. This was wrong. On many levels. To betray the trust of such an outgoing person, so full of life was not cool. If earlier, the idea was just a theory, now as he sat so close to her, watching her eyes gleam with laughter whenever she made a joke, seeing the curls of her hair jingle- the curls he was sure she must have spent so long to get in shape, it was more than just a feeling- it landed with the force of a well laid punch on his belly.

Once they got out of the restaurant, he was ready to tell her something like “I had a good time,” and scoot immediately when she proposed that they went for a movie.

“My roomie at the PG has gone home- she is from Kolkata, and would be back only the next week,” Akhila said. “I would be stiff bored there. I have this book that I have been reading, but after having so heavy a dinner, I don’t think I would be feeling like reading. Can you read when you are too full?,” she added.

Nakul said that he rarely read. In fact, the last time he read a book was when he was in college and that too a text book. He thought it paradoxical that people would still wish to read when technology has made content absorption so much an act of visual processing.” You can access information so easily through infogrpahics and videos. Why spent time reading. I never get it! Reading belongs to another era, an era before the internet!”

“Spoken like a true techie!” said Akhila, only half-jokingly. She looked at him for an answer to her earlier question.

Nakul was trying to deviate the topic from going to the movies, throwing one theory after another at her for why one shouldn’t read  and start moving with the times on catching more visual content.

But inadvertently, he gave her the hook for her to turn the conversation back in the direction that she wanted.

“So, then, let’s go and absorb some visual content,” she said. “Let’s go for a movie.”

Nakul shrugged, knowing that there was no getting out of it now. She suggested that they go to the nearby Gopalan Mall. Checking the showlist on Bookmyshow, they found that an Amercian horror film was on just ten minutes from now. Nakul suggested that they take an auto but Akhila suggested that they walked fast- “or maybe even run a little. It would be more fun that way! After all, the mall isn’t far.”

So they half-walked and half-ran to the mall, making it to the theater on the top most floor just on time, running up the elevators on the way up, laughing all the while.

The movie began and it turned out to be just another slasher flick from Hollywood. It wasn’t bad, but not good either- that’s the verdict which Ahikla gave after the film. Nakul assented though he had barely focused on the movie- his mind kept returning to the point of “how it was wrong to be hanging out with this girl- so full of life and deserving someone better than him. Someone straight!”

And when he saw a young couple smooching in the row in front of them, it was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud like a mad man.

“Would you care to drop me at the PG?” she said after the film.

It was late- almost midnight. Bangalore is many things but it’s not a city that’s known for its nightlife.

“Sure,” said Nakul. He hired an autorikshaw, dropped her at her PG and then went home.

By the time he lied on his bed, ready for sleep, he got a message from her. “I had a good time. Thank u. Hope it’s the same with u. Hope we can do this again.”

For the third time in recent times, Nakul felt tears springing to his eyes. But he got to sleepland before the eye-ducts leaked.

**

The next morning, he found that the poop-situation hasn’t changed.

“Arrgh!” he shouted with frustration.

This has to end!, he thought. In a frenzy of frustration ,he thought of multiple ideas- everything from starving himself so that there wouldn’t be any poop to begin with, to making himself puke every once in a while throughout the day so that there wouldn’t be too much left for his body to expel.

After about an hour of frustrated thinking, he hit upon a plan.

And he immediately stepped out of the apartment building to execute the plan.

**

When he got to the nearby grocery store, there were only a couple of other customers. The store had a rack up front in which was arranged a number of products- these were the new arrivals, a new variant of Lays and Appy Fizz were among them. And so was a washing powder. Just the thing that he needed.

Nakul grabbed a 500 mg pack, paid for it and ran back up to his home.

**

The washing powder pack showed a family- mother, father and two kids, attired in clothes so shiny they might be doing their laundry in heaven. Beside them, a frothy bucket was shown alongside a line that echorted the cleaning prowess of the powder- Nakul didn’t even bother reading it.

But mixing the powder with water was not exactly what he had in mind. Instead, opening the fridge he brought out a packet of curd which he immediately emptied into a glass. He mixed a teaspoon of the washing powder in the curd. After taking a deep breath, he drained the glass to his stomach, ignoring the pungent sting as best he could.

He wasn’t, in fact sure if it would work- but he remembered seeing it in a movie once. In the film, someone mixed washing powder in the food that was served to a guest. It was a comedic routine in which the guest ended up visiting the bathroom frequently. Too frequently.

He waited for the powder to take effect. Half an hour passed and nothing came of this- just a rumble in his stomach- a rumble born from hunger.

He checked the internet to see if it was a legitimate way to get a loose motion. As he looked up google, he thought it would be darkly funny if he were to get some serious illness as a result of this. He also admonished himself for not doing an internet search before he went out and brought the powder.

But it turned out that the process should indeed work. There were many online testimonies from people who vouched for this- though none of them said why they did it in the first place. Could there be among them someone who faced the same predicament as himself?, Nakul wondered. There were also a few people who said the washing powder didn’t do the trick for them. “It just made me feel dizzy, and a little funny in the tummy” was how one commentor put it in a forum.

But since it seemed to have worked for the majority, Nakul hoped that it would work for him as well. After all, he lived in a democratic society and the majority is always right, isn’t that so?

But the democratic system seemed to fail- at least in this instance. For Nakul’s tummy just went on rumbling like a needy baby asking for milk. Instead of the volcanic eruption that he expected, what he got instead was a pool of lava deep within which was asking him for things to eat, to satiate itself. He imagined the lava to be a face with an open mouth that connects to an endless pit.

Hoping that eating something might do the trick, he prepared a double omelette, and sprinkled it with some washing powder for good measures. And that did do the trick.

For some ten minutes after he consumed the omelette, he felt himself to be out of control of his bowel movements. Indeed, by the time he reached the bathroom, he felt the back of his boxer shorts getting wet.

The crap was violent, making sounds as though someone was firing pellets. But once it was over, Nakul felt oddly calm. He looked into the bowl and was delighted to see the liquidy mass, shapeless and amorphous, disgusting even to his own eyes but still delightful given the circumstances. He smiled as he hit the flush handle.

He was but out of the bathroom for five minutes before he came right back. This process had to be repeated eight times altogether on that Sunday.

By evening when the sun was beginning to set and the atmosphere cooled a bit, Nakul was so weak that he could hardly move from the bed. Nonetheless, he kept smiling , thinking how the problem was solved. Somewhat perversely, he kept thinking of the liquidy shit which poured out of his body through the day- the last time he went to the toilet, all that was expelled were a few frothy bubbles but still, he felt great when he saw the absence of a penis-shape in the toilet bowl.

His bottom veritably ached by evening, and his body was craving for food and water. When almost an hour passed without him feeling like hitting the toilet again, he thought that maybe it’s time to finally get something to eat. Maybe eating would once again send him to the toilet but that was a risk he was willing to take. If he were to go to work the next morning, he better eat something now.

He tried ordering on FreshMenu but had trouble connecting to the internet even though he tried multiple times.

He found that his internet recharge had expired. He would need to recharge, and for that he would need to go to the settings- turn on the permission tab to allow the device to use money from the main account to browse the net, then get online, get to FreshMenu, select the food, choose the pay option as the debit card, type in his card details, wait for the OTP, then type in the OTP< wait for confirmation and once the confirmation arrives, wait for the delivery that would take at least another half an hour.

Simply thinking about the long process made him feel weaker. After resting for another five minutes he got himself dressed- ie, he put a shirt over his tee and deciding that the boxer shorts- though faded in colour was good enough, and stepped out.

His destination was just around the corner- a small Malayali restaurant run by a husband and wife duo from Malappuram. The food they made wasn’t all that great. In fact, Nakul was of the opinion that it downright sucked. However, they were the closest and he thought that he could settle for something light like dosa and sambar- there was a lower limit to how bad you could make a dosa.

He was accosted by the aroma of chicken biryani that was being freshly prepared. For his starving senses, it was a jolt as much as an invitation. Soon as he took a seat, someone came to take his order, and Nakul wasted no time in ordering a biryani. Dosa and sambar be damned!, he thought.

The biryani, once he had the first couple of mouthfuls, felt rather ordinary, as he would have expected. Nonetheless, he felt pleased once he had it. The sensation of feeling his tummy full felt like bliss after a day full of violent loose motion.

But as he walked back towards his home, he felt  faint but unmistakable rumblings that originated from deep within his belly- like a volcano getting ready to erupt. He felt sure that he would pay the price for impulsively buying and eating the biryani, by spending the lionshare of the night in the bathroom.

Just as he was about to enter the gate to his apartment building, his eyes fell on the dude who stood in front of the tea shop on the opposite side of the street.

Nakul disappeared from there before the dude could see him.

**

To Nakul’s surprise, his tummy remained calm for the rest of the night.

And when he woke up the next morning, there was a no rumbling to be heard-faint or otherwise. The volcano deep down seemed to have got placated somehow.

Might as well, thought Nakul. He could now go to work. He should have to get ready before that. And of course, even before that, he should take a dump- and see if the self induced loose motion has cured him of the predicament once and forever.

But before proceeding to the bathroom, before even getting off the bed, he checked his phone for any messages from Akhila. For last night, the last thing he did before getting to sleep was to text her. For an age when people limit their most heartfelt expressions to a handful of characters or maybe even a single emoji, the text was rather drawn out. But the gist of it was simple enough- I had a good time with you the other evening, but I don’t think we should see each other again.

The reason for it wasn’t provided. He hoped that she would not ask, that she would surmise something on her own. He did make it clear that he thought she was beautiful and smart and intelligent. As long as she didn’t think it was because of her, he was fine.

Pertaining to his hope, she didn’t ask for the reason.

For when he checked for messages, he saw one- a short message which said she was sorry to hear that. Signing off, wishing him good luck.

With a weary sigh, he got off the bed and went straight to the bathroom. He had to sit on the toilet for almost five minutes before his body-tense from anticipation-relaxed enough to relieve itself.

The penis shaped turds felt to him like life itself was making fun of him. As though his very existence was an object of mockery and nothing more.

He waited till he was completely relieved before checking the toilet bowl. He had hoped that the curious shape of his shit would not stare back at him anymore. But it did. The experiment with the packet of washing powder has obviously failed him.

In the toilet bowl, the turds the shape of penis gleamed in the light that fell in through the bathroom window.

Nakul felt like shouting in anger. But all that came out was a weary sigh.

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