That was the first time I ever used a toilet paper. It was disgusting. The white sheets of paper were smeared with red and there was no familiar comfort of colourless water washing down all the degenerate. I looked around the posh restroom and felt nauseated by the absence of life.
Water. I smiled hopelessly at my lack of the western mannerisms and felt a strong desire to call the room service for a mug. The dotted line across the tissue taunted me further. I wanted to tear along the line with perfection but ended up with a rag of paper,the roll untidily left hanging next to the pot. Not fit for a Sofitel? I questioned myself as I looked into the mirror of the luxurious hotel. The last few days had left their imprint on my face – deep dark circles had nestled around the eyes, black uneven growth on the cheeks and dry hair. Outside the hotel washroom, I could here the tick tak (talk) of high heels. I could smell affluence mixed with the smell of new clothes. There were women who were dressed perfectly, their shoes making the sound, announcing the arrival of the polished class. There were times I had behaved like them-spent on expensive clothes and sat for salon appointments,but none of it could give me class, the way the rich emitted.
In the lobby he sat impatiently, looking at his watch, he sighed. I wasn’t there of course to see him sigh, but I knew. The short message that sat in my phone had announced his arrival curtly. ‘I am at the lobby’ Over the phone he had made clear that he wouldn’t want to wait for me. I wasn’t sure if I needed to express my annoyance at his impatience. I quickly grabbed a fresh cotton stub, a bottle of moisturizer and shamelessly tucked at the toilet roll. I teared a few metres and stuffed the paper in my new Carslon red bag. The toilet paper sat in my bag, and at that point of time I didn’t know how much it would help me later.
As I bade a final goodbye to my friend whose room I had stepped in for just freshening up, I realised how the luxurious interiors had made me forget where I was. Outside, he and I negotiated whether to hire a cab or just board a local. I say negotiation, because most of our conversations were indeed negotiations. We were two dealers who were earning bad debt by being around each other. Everything was about what I wanted and what he could offer without any ‘surplus spend’. Like running a factory which had long stopped delivering. Funny, I thought to compare a living relationship to something so lifeless. But the world had become this. Toilet paper, no water.
When we finally got on the Bandra station, I felt a deep desire to just hold his hand, just the way I had months ago when we hadn’t known that a cavern will soon rock our world. When I had called him two days back there was a lot of silence that filled both our words. I had told him I would be in Mumbai and would like to see him. He had sighed and distractedly agreed but had been clear in telling me that we would straight away head to the bus station and he would help me get a bus ticket back to Pune. There was not enough time to accommodate a lunch or quick breakfast, he had lingered on the words longer, as if waiting to hear my response. When there was none, he carried on adding with a big smile that he would make sure I get a ticket. I had smiled at his words. I smiled often nowadays.
What other dignified way did I have to accept my still lingering, hopeful attachment to him? For as long as 30 mins, after the call,I had stood by the window watching it rain. My scribbled notepad and unsharpened pencil lay on the desk. There were a few papers with numbers scribbled in huge fonts that I was supposed to call. An interview with a snake charmer, a press conference and a visit to the nearby slums were waiting for me. But my heart wasn’t there. I continued to look out remembering my last Mumbai rains with him.
It was July when I had met him first. It was raining and there was a nervous energy around me. I remember giggling at wrong things, making too much noise while moving the fork on the plate and talking animatedly over dinner. I remembered the late night, the embrace, the peacefulness and the companionship that I had easily got attached to. And I remembered the next morning, the tea and the smell of his being around. My trail of thoughts were interrupted as a group of people walked into the compartment. I felt my hand brush against someone’s thigh. The man next to me stood too close, so close that I could smell his socks too. I looked up to see myself surrounded by men. Tired looking faces, drenched in sweat waddling in life.
He sat quite far away. But his eyes were constantly looking at me. This time he had given up easily to my demand. I loved to stand while I took the local ride and I, remembered how many times he had stood by me… Sometimes, holding my hand, sometimes cupping my waist with his hands, and sometimes when there were too many men, forcing me to sit down. He would stare at anyone he spotted looking at me. His stare and my smile. I always felt safe.
Today these touches and smells didn’t matter. Today his eyes were enough to make me realise that I was afar. And alone. For the next hour, we passed the smaller stations, the bigger ones, saw new sets of people taking the ride and heard the announcement for the arrival of stations. But it felt like pages from my life were emerging and mocking at me. I saw us in happier times and felt pity at my weakness. I saw him looking at me, tired and confused. And when we finally arrived Bandra we quickly made to the bus depot without much discussion.
‘I have missed you’, I managed to say at last.
He just nodded. ‘Did you miss me too?’ I wanted to ask him whether I mattered at all?
‘Well’, he said, ‘I am getting married. Have been busy in all the preparations.’
The words escaped his mouth later, they first got registered in my head. I had waited for him to say them for so long, as if in some way I knew. As if in someway I had imagined a bad dream and rehearsed it several times.The tiny bump was well hidden behind my orange raincoat. I got on the bus and used the toilet paper to wipe my tears all the way to Pune.