I saw him soon after I took the turn towards my bungalow. He was standing next to Ram Prasad, my watchman. I was irritated. I told that numskull so many times not to entertain people while on duty. But would he listen? He was the friendliest person in the neighbourhood. He knew all the maids and chowkidars and their fathers.
I was little bit more than just tipsy. The last peg was a bit much. But I wanted to spend some more time with that chick in the yellow dress before making my move. But that bitch had other plans.
I slowed down as I reached near the gate and switch on the beamer, a signal to Ram Prasad that I was there. In the sudden flood of the headlight, I caught a glimpse of my chowkidar’s companion. A little hunched, he stood next to the gatepost. But, in his clothes and in his demeanor, he did not look like he could be Ram Prasad’s friend. Who was this fella?
As I nearly banged my car on the gate, instead of opening it, Ram Prasad came rushing to me. “Sir, there’s a man waiting for you, since afternoon. It’s very urgent, he says.”
“Who is he?” I asked, exasperated. I hoped he was not one of those poor fathers seeking to find a job for their sons. I never knew what to tell them.
“I don’t know, saab,” my chowkidar said. “He said he needed to see you tonight, urgent.”
By this time, the man in question had followed Ram Prasad and reached my car window. Ram Prasad moved back and the stranger extended his hand. “Hi, I am Abhimanyu Nahar,” he said. He had a strong grip. The name did not ring a bill. I looked at him expectantly, trying to be as accommodating as I could at the moment.
“Sorry,” Mr Nahar said. He looked nervous. There was something wrong with his face. It was contorted. His salt and pepper beard was unshaven. What was wrong with him? Was he crying? “I am sorry,” he said again, “You don’t know me.”
“Do you want to come inside?” I don’t know why I said that. I hated inviting people home, that too in the middle of the night.
“No, thank you, I’ve troubled you enough,” he said and took a pause, as if to collect his thoughts. “You don’t know me. I’m Priyamvada’s husband.”
“Priyamvada. Priyam, from Rambaug Colony in Nagpur.”
“Oh.” It was all I could say. Abruptly, the air around me shifted. I was not drunk anymore. The interior of the car smelt of oranges, and Pond’s powder and a young girl’s skin — Priyam.
Now, it was the time to get into the act. I looked at Mr Nahar with open defiance. What if he was there to accuse me of having an affair with his wife all those years ago? Whatever. Those days, Priyam was nobody’s wife.
“Sorry to bother you,” Mr Nahar said again, in the same unsettling tone. “I thought you’d like to know. I though you deserved to know. Priyam died. Last night. The last rite is tomorrow.”
Mr Nahar turned, as if I wasn’t there at all, and walked away. I clasped the steering wheels and Ram Prasad opened the gate.
I’ll see you soon, Priyam had said. I was just a lover then, nothing else. We were at the Nagpur railway station, hiding behind the bookshop. Her family was at the waiting room. She had come out to buy a newspaper. But your father is not coming back, I said. But, you are coming to Bombay once your exams are over, she said. I will post you the address once we settle down, she said.
I did come to Bombay soon after but the post never arrived.
I was back in the reality, clasping the wheels with Ram Prasad eyeing me suspiciously. I was crying. I blamed it on the alcohol. I sat there, inside the car which still smelt of oranges, blank. Was I sad? I hadn’t seen Priyam in 35 years. Then, why was I sad? But, how the husband of hers found me? What did Priyam tell him about me? Did she remember me? I had forgotten all about her. Did I? Really?
It was going to be a long night. I revved up my car and then turned towards the road. I had to find Mr Nahar.
[A Short Story In The Making.]