‘REWARD’

“Cunnilingus”

“Cunning who?”

“Not you!”

Ray Carver, having decided to take Benjamin Burham as his protégé, was deep in explanation. The myriad ways of pleasuring a woman. Benji would listen intently, like a scholarship student at an ivy league school. Each night the playboy and his apprentice would meet after their shifts at the departmental store and devote a focused hour to the theory of feminine gratification. The understudy would quiz and question. The master, expound. Uncharted territory that Benji could almost taste. He was hungry. Ray sensed this. And thus, Benji was the chosen one.

Ray, a lonesome kind of middle-aged man, single, a supervisor at the block supermarket Glenn’s, could be accused of having spent his life ‘under the radar’. Benji, the new kid on the payrolls, young, ambitious, if a touch unsure. Easily influenced, had come under a spell from the otherwise unremarkable Ray. In turn, Ray had found purpose. Meaning. Someone FINALLY noticed him. It all began when, on a smoke break, Ray overheard Benji making a mess of a chat with a girl and offered some advice. Three months since, their after-hours meetings had become, ceremonious, sanctimonious.

Ray had promised libido-led Benji that his training was near complete. That very soon, he’d be able to put his education to the test. Benji was beside himself. Eager, raring, raging. On Saturday night, after their ritualistic lesson, Benji reminded Ray

“ So we’re checking out that new bar or what”

“No.. You don’t employ a new education at a bar, what’s wrong with you!”

“Ok, so then where? Name the place and I’ll drive us there”

“Not tonight my little cub. Patience.”

“Fuck you man. When is this going to even happen? I mean, do you even know what you’re doing? How-come I’ve never seen YOU with a chick?”

“Not that it is any of your fucking business but I don’t make a public display of my exploits like you millennials”

“Screw that… Just tell me WHEN?”

“Next Friday. There’s a party at a friend’s house. Come with me. I promise it’ll be the night of your life”

It was anything but easy for Benji. The week that followed, starting with his jilted and hollow weekend, each hour, every minute, a torturous test. Each night the duo continued to meet and his mentor would reassure him. He’d assuage Benji with promises of a sweet sweet reward. It somewhat calmed Benji.

The fateful day arrived. At different points during the preceding week, the two had put in applications for half day on Friday. Why? Because as it turns out, the ‘friend’s house’ the party was a little-ways outside of town. A bit of a drive.  Ray picked Benji up from his place at six in the evening. They set off. The air was thick with anticipation. Beads of testosterone-filled sweat dripped down Benji’s brow as they made their way out of town in Ray’s dilapidated car, AC, radio, malfunctioning.

“Now once we get there we try and blend in. No need to draw any unnecessary attention to yourself. Got it?”

“But that makes no sense! Isn’t the entire point to mingle and impress. Game time man!”

“I have a very special treat for you. For all your patience and hard work. I’ve had this girl in mind for you, for a long time. And we don’t want to come one too strong right?”

Benji’s growing impatience and distrust in Ray vanished. His eyes lit up with a hunter’s anticipation.

“as you say.. you’re the boss”

They drove up a driveway and arrived at this old but majestic looking castle. Ray parked the car in the last spot of the parking area. They got off. Ray pulled out a back-pack from the trunk. When Benji asked him what it was, he was told, supplies, to make the night memorable! Benji was tearing up with excitement. Ray led him. They reached the castle but rather than go in through the front, they went round to where the back door led to the sprawling grounds of the building.

“Shhh… Now we wait”

“But where is she?”

“just wait”

Ray had a huge gulp from a hip-flask that emerged from his back-pack and handed it to Benji.

“drink up”

A slightly inebriated woman, in her mid-forties, not especially attractive, stumbled out of the back door and into the gardens. She walked towards a little fountain and lit a smoke.

“come”

The two men tip toed, reached within a few feet of the woman. In one swift motion, Ray took out a large rod from his bag and struck the woman at the back of her head. She feel to the ground.

“here you go my hungry cub”

The Hunt

Plump with desire, having just been administered her weekly shot of narcissistic narcotics, she beamed as she exited the salon of vanity. Taniya hailed a cab in the tony Soho of London and shouted instructions “to Knightsbridge, pronto!” She was feverish with anticipation as the taxi made its way, winding through congested inner streets of the British capital. Her senses were on high alert, perhaps a side effect of her recently purchased self-esteem; maybe tonight would be the night!

Each moment of the half hour drive felt like a ticking time bomb. The world around her slowed down. Everyone moved at half speed, everything, at reduced pace. Her mind jumped intermittently, blank stares at this paused world, racy thoughts, of a potentially racy night. Her desperation permeated the air, infusing the damp with even more wetness. She finally arrived. At the entrance of the swish night-spot she fixed her Chanel dress surreptitiously. And entered.

The club pulsated. The beat of the electronic music was perfectly in sync with her own. Her surroundings were drenched in hues of psychedelia. Caped crusaders hid in plain sight as they masked their identities with a dizzying variety of actual masks. Taniya took hers out, a dainty half-face affair that revealed just enough, teased, just right. Mystery themed evening, the treasure hunt, had begun!

A man took her by her arm and dragged her onto the dance floor. He was concealed. But his smell captivated. His snake-like movements enchanted. His forcefulness commanded. Taniya felt empowered though she was weak in submission. Giving in entirely to her strange-befriender, she reciprocated his each step, gyrating, slithering, naked affections on display. She, the seductress, became the seduced.

Four minutes into this pandemic of mating-rituals, the ‘stranger’ whispered, “my place or yours?” “Anything”. “Mine then”. With one powerful stroke he lifted her in his arms and vanished into the thick fog of human glory. Out the club, Taniya found herself riding pillion. The throbbing beats of the club had been replaced by the raspy engine note of the cruiser bike. It entered her, enveloped her, ensconced her, consumed her, devoured her. She hadn’t a clue where her caped-stranger was leading her. She rode, a tidal wave…

Her fancy was rudely shattered. The engine had stopped. Masks still on. The man beckoned her into a sprawling mansion. Dimly lit. Sophisticated erotica. ‘Perfection’, she thought. They entered a monumental gate. ‘Are these the pearly gates’, she wondered. The illicit alliance seemed fraught with certainty . Along a corridor, doors lined the lush red carpet. To the very end. A door. A black door. Three locks. Click, click, click. She was tossed in. And the door, slammed shut!

Meet The Maker!

The snowy white magical powder shot up through his nose and instantly infused with his bloodstream. Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh……….. He was a rocket ship. A Space x machine booming through the sky, shattering the stratosphere, emerging beyond the high, all captured in his heaven-induced sigh…

The world became a circus ring, he its lord and master. Commander, ruler, emperor, conqueror, the absolute. Chemically defining his self-worth for over five years now, this, was his nightly escape. His moonlight drive. His break-on-through, to the other side. Anonymous king, basking in the delectable stench of opioid, Himmat, found his namesake!

On his way back from work each evening, he’d stop under the Powerhouse Gym, the kind of seedy establishment that served as the epicentre of an altogether ‘greater’ fitness. There, hiding in plain sight at this Juhu crossroads, one of the busiest intersections in Mumbai, he’d meet his maker – the maker of his evenings, the saviour of his day’s drudgeries. His dealer. It was a well-oiled and rehearsed precise exchange. Seven pm, Himmat and the ‘dealer’, caps partially veiling their identities, would slip money in return for the desired, each evening. A split-second transaction, an entire night of merriment. It was just perfect.

Saturday. The end of the week at Himmat’s dreaded advertising agency. No more nagging, unappreciative bosses, no more banal client meetings, no more story-weaving, no more lies – even if, just for one day. Sunday. Special treats were planned. A cocktail tonight. No fewer than three varied narcotics, Himmat had decided, and set it all up through the dedicated phone he had that ONLY spoke to his delights.

The appointed hour arrived, as did Himmat. Powerhouse was bustling with protein-pumped wannabe actors admiring themselves like hedonistic man-slaves as they lifted the weight of the world using their scant brains. No sight of the ‘dealer’. 9314268989…….. “this phone is either switched off or not reachable.” Death to the deserter. Traitor. Bastard. Himmat remembered his mother’s warning from the year before – “your body is a temple, respect it”. In return he recollected his much-admired chef-writer Anthony Bourdain’s immortal words – “your body is a rollercoaster, enjoy the ride”, which he had, much to his mother’s increasing woes, snubbed her reprimand with. He snapped out of his hazy déjà vu. The tips of his toes curled up. His knees began to knock against one another. His mouth became dry like the desert camel who’d searched the parched barren land for all but one elusive drop of water.

He got into his car and scurried out of the curb, brushing the fender against a superbike that was obviously compensating for one of those ‘lifters’ upstairs. He couldn’t give a damn. His car rushed against the traffic demonically. Within minutes he was home. Oshiwara. His mother opened the door to incessant belling. He stormed in. Straight to the bar. A glass of neat single malt. Down the funnel. Momentary relief.

“Feels horrible to be sober doesn’t it?” “SHUT UP… SHUT UP… SHUT UP…” Himmat ran into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Fell to the ground. Weeped like a child. Then screamed like a banshee. Then cried some more.

Suddenly, there was utter silence. The room was heavy with breath. Drenched in whiskey. Soaked in despair. A minute. Two. Four. Ten. Not a sound. Not a word. Not a cry. Time for another round? Himmat arose. His urgency had dissipated. He carried the ungainly girth of his misery in lethargy-filled steps. Out the door. Into the living room. Past the kitchen. To the entrance of his flat. Then out. Into the hallway. Towards the service steps. Just one flight up to freedom. Permanently. Forever. Eternal.

He reached the terrace and made his way blankly to the edge. He could see the ocean of people and cars, the ever-present Mumbai cacophony, but not hear it. He could touch the sick humidity, but not feel it. It was on its way out, and away. Life, was leaving him. Liberation. At long last. He shut his eyes. Said a prayer. “Himmat, STOP”! A deep baritone yelled.

 

Brownie Points!

As many of you know, I recently conducted a Food-Based Writing Workshop. One of the pieces I’d written for that workshop to share with my students as an example of a Fiction Short Story arising from a Food-Memory, was a story that’s very close to my heart. I thought I must share it. So here goes! Relish…

BROWNIE POINTS!

(title courtesy one of the workshop attendees, think it was Ratika)

Ever since Kartik was a young child, he loved food. Naturally then, when he was shipped off to boarding school in grade six, all of eleven, he sorely missed home. Such was his obsession with food, that it was perhaps less his parents, more the food, that he craved. See his growing up years he’d been lucky to have been lavished with all kinds of yummy dishes, from traditional Marwari classics like gatte ka saag, matar kachauri to even a few western ones like brownies and pasta courtesy of the maharaj at home; as well as continental delights like the sublime Chicken Stroganoff and delectable, fluffy, runny omelettes, thanks to frequent trips to the Rambagh coffee shop that his mum would indulge him in. His was a fairly forward, modern family which resulted in unabated experimentation with all kinds of foods, vegetarian and non vegetarian.

Now, suddenly lodged in this glorified jail called the Doon School, he felt trapped, thwarted, deprived. He heard countless tales of how his friends’ mums were planning to pamper their kids with all manner of culinary extravagance when they’d get home for their debut vacation. Kartik too, dreamed of the same; of fresh baked brownies, perfectly crisp on the outside, soft like a cloud on the inside, each bite, a little piece of heaven!

The fateful day finally arrived. His first term at school done and dusted, the buses were lined up on one of the school grounds. As if stairways to heaven, the boys boarded the quite smelly, unkempt barges. But their poor upkeep didn’t warrant a single thought, because the mind was clogged with one thing alone – home food!

As soon as Kartik arrived home, quick hugs with his folks, he ran to the kitchen to meet his beloved resident-chef, Bhaglu. He was nowhere to be found. And just then, his parents delivered the greatest blow, one that shattered all the built up dreams Kartik had harboured for months, in one swift stroke – Bhaglu, that most loyal genius of cuisine, had passed away! Kartik fell to his knees. He was bidding adieu to two – to a much respected staff member, and to his food-filled holiday!

Kartik’s parents tried their best to lift his spirits. Assured him that a replacement for Bhaglu was being sought with urgent efforts. That they’d take him out for a meal each day, any place he wished to go. That he’d even be taken on holiday for a week to a destination of his choice, that they assumed he’d choose on the basis of the kind of food he’d want to explore. Nothing worked though. See the problem was that Kartik’s mother had never been a cook. She’d hardly even entered the kitchen except to give the odd instruction. In his mind, and heart, Bhaglu was her replacement. And now, he was gone.

Two days passed, he moped and wallowed around the house, listless, lifeless. Seeing this, and perhaps sensing the real reason behind his strife, Kartik’s mother decided to take matters into her own hands. She returned one afternoon with a batter-mix to make brownies, a particular favourite of her son’s.

Kartik lay sulking in his room, his mother’s plan unbeknownst to him, when he got a waft of the oven being preheated, cake batter being mixed. The familiar aroma of that divine mixture ensconced all his senses, his mind was in a state of flux. He felt compelled to investigate. “who is making brownies, have mum and dad found someone in place of Bhaglu?” There was a hitherto unseen spring in Kartik’s step as he leapfrogged towards the kitchen. And what he saw there made him much more ecstatic than he thought in his wildest – it wasn’t a new cook but his own mother, whom he never expected would cook, hard at work in the kitchen for her darling son. They exchanged a knowing, thankful, teary-eyed glance as Kartik sat right there, frozen, admiring. After all, Bhaglu’s void had been filled by none other than his own mum, what could possibly be better. His plans were back on track. He’d have a fantastic time at home and upon his return to school, would be able to share stories with his mates about whose mum cooked what. He felt at peace but excited all at once. Batter mix ready, it was placed inside the preheated oven and the mother-son duo waited together with baited breath. As the dough rose, so did their spirits. Mother and son, had become one. United in their eternal bond, bound by food!

Kartik said, “just 2 more minutes mum.” His mum began to put on her oven mitts, started to reach for the oven door, and BANG!!! A loud explosion, batter splatter all over, the brownie mix had exploded, as if with it, lighting the onlooking duo’s very lives on fire and burning them to the ground. What went wrong, nobody knew!

Kartik’s mum was inconsolable. She feared the absolute worst. From this debacle, there was no return. She had managed to inadvertently wreck not just the intended brownies, but also her son’s heart in the process. As a fearful Archana was scared to even look towards Kartik, a hand touched her trembling fingers. It was Kartik who said, “mum, I love you, thanks for trying!”