The alarm rang at 5:30 on Thursday, as usual. But unusually for Seema she reached out and turned it off. After all, today was a special day and the least she could do was enjoy the guilty pleasure of sleeping in late. It was about 9 when she opened her eyes again. She felt rested and ready for the day ahead. There was so much to do. She stopped by the music player on her way into the kitchen and slipped in a John Lennon CD. She sang along with Woman as she watched the water for her coffee boil. Outside her kitchen window, Hyderabad was already into its day. The roads were choked with traffic as people made their way to their offices. She smiled to herself and proceeded to make her coffee. She took it out into the bedroom balcony, which was quieter since it didn’t look down on to the main road. But here too, the signs of the day in motion were all around her. The vegetable hawker was already there and so was a cackle of women, haggling with the poor man. She always found it strange that people would haggle with the vegetable hawker for a rupee but would pay 200 rupees for a pack of popcorn at the movies.
She let her eyes drift around the courtyard. It was full of people moving purposefully. Everyone knew where they were going and maybe even why they were going there. Unlike the Paul Simon song. The coffee cup drained, she went back into the air conditioned comfort of her apartment. The Hyderabad heat was reaching its peak at the end of June. The thermometer had touched 45 the previous day.
“Well, at least it can only get better from here on”, she told herself.
She finished her toilet work and then prepared breakfast for herself. She decided to pamper herself and put together a European breakfast. Sausages, bacon, an omelet, two slices of bread with a liberal helping of butter. She washed this down with a glass of orange juice. Give Peace a Chance and Strawberry Fields provided the soundtrack for breakfast. It was good.
She went into the bedroom and did the bed. It wouldn’t do for her guests to see an untidy bedroom. After all, she was known for her fastidious neatness. The sheets fell neatly over her bed, every side of equal length.
“How do you get it just right?” Mariam had asked her once.
“By doing it right every day you idiot”, she had wanted to say. Instead she smiled and said, “Practice.”
She folded the blanket so it was exactly one-third the length of the bed. Then the pillows were puffed up and placed just right. Invitingly right.
“Every time I see your bed, I want to jump in and take a nap”, Suresh had told her.
Of course, a nap in her bed would be the furthest thing on his mind if he did get in her bed. The poor guy had been trying to fuck her since the moment they met. She wondered if he ever had fantasies about her. And if he did, whether he wasted any sperm thinking about what he would do with her in bed.
Next she changed out of her night clothes – a spaghetti tank top and Jockey shorts. Folded them neatly into the clothes basket.
“You fold your clothes into your wash basket?” Trisha asked.
“Yes”, she had replied as if it were the most normal thing. It was, at least to her, a most normal thing.
“Waste of time isn’t it? You are going to dump it into the washing machine anyways.”
“Neatness in things that nobody sees ensures neatness in everything”, she explained gently to her niece.
She opened her cupboard and pulled out two cardboard boxes.
“What a wonderful idea! Your cupboard looks so organized. How ever did you get this idea?” Mariam had crooned.
“From the pharmacist actually”, she replied.
“Hmmm…..I see what you mean. I really must do this. Where do you get the boxes from?”
“I have them custom made. I’ll give you the address of my supplier.”
From one box, she chose a t-shirt and from another a pair of jeans. Clothed, she went to the dressing table. There she combed her hair, powdered her face and placed her bindi. She carried the wash basket to the washing machine and placed her clothes in. She selected the wash cycle and then began to straighten the house.
She turned her attention to the living room first. She’d spent the night watching old home videos. Her first camera had been a Sony Handicam which she had bought with her third or fourth pay check. A video camera had always travelled with her since then. She always had a camera with her.
“Oh Seema! You wouldn’t have the video of my anniversary, would you?”
Of course, they all knew that she would. She always filmed and she always stored what she filmed. The cabinet below her television was a catalogue of her life since the day she got her first camera. Every event in her life was recorded and stored. The previous year, she had gotten them all transferred on to DVDs and she liked to put them on and relive the warm moments of her life.
She wondered if her guests would enjoy watching some, if not all, of her videos.
The thought dragged her back to the present. She collected the glass, bottles, snack containers, and tissues. Then she wiped the glass stains and powder from the snacks off the table. She used the vacuum cleaner to clean the carpet and the sofas. Then she wiped the sofas down so there was a uniform texture to the fabric.
She did the dishes next. Each washed dish she placed face down on a long mat beside the sink. Once done, she took each of the dishes and wiped them dry.
“How American”, Trisha had said.
“There are good things to be learned, even from the Americans.”
After placing the dishes back, she picked up each container that was out, wiped them and placed them back in the cupboard. Then she wiped the entire length of the counter top. By the time she was done, her counter top and sink sparkled like the day they had been put in. She turned on the exhaust and the fan to ensure they dried properly.
She went back into the bedroom to choose her clothes for the evening. She’d already decided to dress simple. She didn’t want something outlandish, so that it was spoken about. Neither did she want something that would go unnoticed. She always liked to be complimented on her clothes.
“Nice top”, Suresh told her.
“Thank you”, she replied with a smile.
“But why a black bra under a white t-shirt? Wouldn’t a white one be better?”
“Because I am not fair and the white bra would stand out against my skin”, she told him.
“Never thought of it that way.”
“You were right”, he told her a few days later when they ran into each other at the office pantry.
“I usually am, but what are you referring to?”
“The color of the bra. A white bra against a dark skin does stand out.”
She instinctively looked down at her breasts. She was wearing a non-transparent shirt and she remembered that he bra was pink.
“After our conversation I have been noticing it on women and you were right.”
“Call me what you like, it is a good pastime.”
She opened her underclothes box and chose her underclothes.
“No harm in being prepared”, she told herself as she chose a lacy pair in baby pink.
For her dress, she chose a black dress with white polka dots. It fitted her perfectly, almost like it was custom-made. It had the advantage of being classy and sensible at the same time. That couldn’t be said of too many dresses.
The washing machine began to beep insistently and she went out to turn it off.
“The crying child always gets the milk”, she said as she flicked off the switch.
She took the dried clothes out and carried them to the bedroom. She folded them neatly and placed them next to the ironing table. Her underclothes she put into the box and slid the box back into the cupboard.
She lay the clothes out for the evening and then ironed the clothes she’d washed before putting them back in.
Woman was playing again when she put the marinated chicken piece on the grill. She turned off the music player and put on the television. It was already turned to her favorite news channel and she caught up on the happenings in the big bad world as she ate her grilled chicken breast. After she cleaned up lunch, she went out on the balcony for her only cigarette of the day.
“You look sexy when you smoke”, Suresh told her.
“Any woman putting a cylindrical shaft into her mouth looks sexy to your sick mind”, she retorted.
“How well you know me”, he shot back.
“There isn’t much to you Suresh. You like to think you are very smart, but you aren’t. You are just a sick man with a sexual need as big as your ego.”
“I like it when you are angry. Your eyes widen just that little bit and it makes you look so sexy.”
“No baby, I like to fuck you.”
“I don’t think you have too much in terms of preference.”
“In that you are right, or I wouldn’t be fucking you. Now shut up!”
The courtyard was silent now. Almost like the calm before the storm. The women were all gearing up for the madness that were their children to return. They would be followed by demanding husbands.
“What a horrible life”, she though. Then checked herself. They all had something to protect, to care for. Something they would give their lives to protect and keep safe. She, on the other hand, had nothing. At 40, she had nothing but memories. Memories of loves that never flowered. Memories of babies that ended up in abortionists’ trash cans. Memories of friends who she’d chased away in search of success.
“Well today it all ends. It can only get better from here”, she told herself as she walked back in.
She decided to take a nap. A little beauty sleep never hurt anybody.
When she woke up, the sun was already setting. She looked at her bedside clock, it was 6:30.
She made herself another coffee. Below her, the chaotic traffic moved like a huge, sluggish serpent. Everybody was in a rush to get back to their homes as they waited in stationery vehicles. She took the coffee out to the balcony. She lit up another cigarette, she could be indulgent today. She’d missed the cacophony of the evening, when the courtyard would have been filled with kids of all ages and sizes playing in their little groups. Mothers of the younger ones would have been sitting on the benches along the periphery, gossiping while having on eye on the kids, waiting for the eventual fight that would break out. Hoping that they would get to their kid before some kid reached out and scratched or bit them. Now only the older kids were left. A cricket game was winding down.
Across the courtyard, sat the college-going boys. They sat casually as if nothing bothered them. But if you watched them real close, you could see that their eyes would run a scan across the windows of all the young girls, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever their latest infatuation was. Many of the glances also came by her apartment. She was after all everybody’s favorite wet dream. The single, unmarried, career woman. In many minds, that translated as loose, desperate and available.
She flicked the cigarette stub away and walked back in. She went to the movie cabinet and took out her latest DVD and slid it in. She didn’t turn on the television, instead she turned off the DVD player. She washed her coffee mug and put it back in its place. Then she took out the garbage and slid it down the chute.
She didn’t lock the door after she went back in.
She undressed and took a shower.
She put on her dress. She put the used clothes into the washing machine and selected the program. Then she picked up the medicine box from the cabinet and sat in front of the television.
She pressed Play before popping the first pill.
“Please Suresh, delete that picture.”
“Only after you pay the price”, he told her with a smile.
“Suresh, it was taken at a personal moment. You had no right to hack into my computer.”
“Honey, you can explain it all you want once I email it to everybody.”
“Just one last time. Prem is an important client.”
“There is never a last time with you. First it was the German guy with the big order, then that Delhi guy, then the partner from Mumbai. I’ve had it, I am not spreading my legs for any more of your business deals to go through.”
“But haven’t I taken care of you?”
“You said you loved me Suresh!”
“I do. I do. And all this is for our future.”
“No! This if for your future. Your future with Mariam.”
“I am working on my divorce. You know that.”
“Really? Since when does it take 10 years to file for a divorce?”
“These things are complicated.”
“No they are not. I see myself for what I am to you. A whore to be passed around for sexual favors to your friends or business associates.”
“Where do you think all this comes from?” He asked as he pointed around the room. “You think I keep you like this for your accounting skills?”
Her tears began to flow as he told her his true valuation of her skill sets, at least the skill sets she was proud of.
“You, my dear, are a great fuck and nothing else. Your delusions of corporate success? Well that’s what they are delusions. Why don’t you try getting another job?”
The pill box was empty. She had been popping them like she popped popcorn during a movie. She felt the sleep coming. It was welcome.
On the screen Suresh was ripping her clothes off as she stood helplessly, her body wracked with tears.
“Now open your mouth. That’s what you do best.”