Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Escape (A short story)

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was her agitated look that caught my attention. I was sitting on the side seat of a second class compartment of the Chennai Mail, at the Ernakulam Junction when the girl came in, hurriedly pushed the VIP suitcase under the seat opposite mine and sat down, with a sigh. She locked eyes with me for a second, then turned away to look outside. Her eyes and the tip of her nose were red; she had obviously been crying a lot.
I looked out of the window and saw the guard wave the flag. Soon, the engine driver blew the horn and the train jerked into motion. We were on our way. I glanced at her now and then in the surreptitious manner that all lndian males look at females in our repressed society. Her shoulder-length hair was tied up in a ponytail and she wore half-inch black heels. The toenails were painted a bright red. Her white full-sleeved shirt bulged out because of her big breasts.
A few stations went past. She suddenly stood up and went towards the toilet. I watched the swaying of her rather broad hips in the tight blue jeans and felt a quickening of my heartbeat. I felt a desire to talk to her. Basically, I was curious about what had happened to her. So I went and stood near the toilet. After a few minutes, she stepped out, wiping her face with a handkerchief. It was then that she saw me. I saw her eyes widen in surprise.
“Excuse me,” I quickly said. “I know I am a stranger but you are crying and I feel that you are in some sort of trouble. Maybe I could help.”
I did not know what to say after that confident start. I was afraid she would snub me. There was an awkward silence. She stared at me for a few moments, as she folded her handkerchief and tucked it inside her pocket. The only sound that could be heard was the clatter of the train wheels on the tracks.
“Can I trust you?” she said, looking at me intently.
“Trust?” I said, feeling relieved that she had not rebuffed me, “how can I prove that? One develops trust over a period of time but you can take a chance.”
She did not say anything but it was clear that she was thinking something, probably weighing the pros and cons about confiding in me. I gave her a quick smile.
“You came alone,” I explained. “In Kerala, that is very unusual for a girl. So I felt that you were leaving without telling anybody. Maybe, I am wrong.”
I paused. She continued to look at me.
“You are right,” she said, finally. “I am running away.”
“Why,” I said.
“It’s a long story,” she replied.
“Why don’t we talk about it?” I said, in an encouraging tone, “no point in keeping your troubles bottled up. You have to trust somebody.”
We returned to our seats and sat down.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Susan,” she replied, “and yours?”
“Reggie Thomas. I work in a computer firm in Chennai. I had come to visit my parents in Tiruvalla. What about you?”
Susan turned to look at the other passengers. A middle-aged man with thick black spectacles sat next to his wife, rolls of fat around her midriff and a quivering double chin. They had two children, a boy and a girl, who were looking out of the window. “Mummy, look, a squirrel,” the boy pointed through the window at a tree. The rest of the seats were empty. It was February and clearly, the off season.
We had a little privacy, since we were in the side seats and they were sitting near the windows on the other side.
“I study in St. Anne’s in Ernakulam,” Susan began, and then carried on in a rush, as if she was had been waiting to talk to somebody, “I am doing my second year in English literature. My parents stay in Dubai. My father works as an engineer in an American construction company. I have an elder brother who is studying in the Regional Engineering College in Kothamangalam.
“I stay in the college hostel. All the girls in my circle of friends have parents who live abroad in places like Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. To be frank, all of us are spoiled. Our parents send us a lot of pocket money every month. We are young and easily bored, so you know what it can lead to? Initially, we used to spend our money on movies, good clothes, going to restaurants, etc. Then we got bored and started drinking.
“A few of my friends started experimenting with drugs but I was afraid to touch it. I preferred to have whisky with soda although in the beginning, I did not like the taste. We were a gang of five--Manisha, Anna, Savitri, Sheila and myself. We have known each other from class five onwards when we had all been enrolled in St. Anne’s boarding.
“A few weeks ago, Manisha came up to me at the lunch break and said, ‘Susan, guess what I did in the first hour of college today?’
“I was puzzled. Monisha looked very excited. ‘What did you do?’ I asked.
‘I went to bed for an hour,’ she said. ‘Five hundred rupees.’
“I stared at her shocked. This was the first time that I was hearing something like this. ‘You mean to say you have become a call girl, Manisha. I don’t believe you,’ I said.
‘Oh, it’s fun,’ she said, ‘five hundred rupees for just one hour’s work. This is the sixth time that I have gone. The men are of quite a high standard. They are willing to pay a good price. The man I did it with, he is a Malayali from the Gulf. Nice guy. He is in his fifties. But Sheila prefers the Arab sheikhs.’
‘Sheila also does this,’ I asked, stunned.
‘You are such a prude,’ Manisha said and laughed, ‘It’s nothing to get shocked about. Sheila does it. Anna goes whenever she needs the money, which is usually at the end of the month. Savitri goes now and then. But Sheila and I are the regulars. Sheila prefers the sheikhs because they pay a thousand rupees for an hour and sometimes more. But I am afraid of them. Some of them look very cruel. They also might have some sexual disease or the other. You cannot say with these sheikhs. They don’t use condoms.’
“I was amazed, Reggie. I could not believe that such a conversation was taking place inside the compound of St. Anne’s. Manisha kept telling me, ‘There is nothing to feel shocked about. In fact, after a while, you will enjoy it. Sex is like eating or sleeping. Something natural. This man whom I make love to, he is sensitive and kind and treats me decently. He will be here for a week. Why don’t you see how it is?’
“I recoiled in horror. What was Manisha saying? I wanted to be a virgin till my wedding night. She seemed to be reading my thoughts because she said, ‘Come on Susan, nobody looks for virgins these days. In Kerala, people don’t do things out in the open, but at the same time, it is happening. I am sure of that. Will anyone look at me and say that l am not a virgin?’
‘No, Manisha, I don’t want to do it,’ I replied.
“But Reggie, you know how it is in college, the peer pressure is too much. Since I was alone and needed to be part of the gang, I knew I had to do it. Otherwise, I would be ostracised. After Manisha, Sheila talked to me. Then Savitri came and spoke to me. Later, Manisha came to my room at night and whispered to me all that had taken place between her ageing lover and her. It was like reading a pornographic magazine. Her description was so vivid. After three days of non-stop talking and persuasion, along with their casual attitude towards the whole thing, I finally agreed to go. I was also quite curious by now. Manisha said that she would take me to the hotel...”
It was at this critical juncture of her story when I was sitting on the edge of my seat, my eyes focussed on Susan’s red lips and brown eyes, that a loud, harsh voice interrupted us, “Meals ticket, meals ticket.” I jerked back as if I got a shock. I looked at the man, who was wearing a blue uniform and had a grey stubble. I shook my head and said, “Susan, have you brought anything for dinner?”
“No,” she said as she shook her head.
“Do you want vegetarian or non-vegetarian?”
“Veg will be okay,” she said, as she took out a purse from her pocket.
“It’s okay, I will pay,” I said, as I took out a fifty rupee note from my wallet.
The ticket man looked at us, with narrowed eyes, as he gave me the tickets. The sun had set and it had become dark outside.
The light inside the compartment was a dull yellow. The two children who had been talking so much had become silent. The boy had his face pressed against the shoulder of his mother and was fast asleep. The father had closed his eyes, his chin resting on his chest, and the little girl was sleeping on the bunk. Only the mother stared out of the window even though there was really nothing to see.
I looked at Susan and said, “Please continue. You stopped at such an engrossing moment.”
Susan nodded. Then she leaned forward and said softly, “It is a sad story. Anyway, this morning, Manisha took me to a posh five-star hotel on Marine Drive. The receptionist was a young woman who was quite attractive-looking. She smiled at us and Manisha said, ‘Hema, please connect me to room 120.’ Hema did so and gave the phone to Manisha who said, ‘Sir, this is Manisha here. I am downstairs in the lobby. I have brought along a friend. Do you mind if she came instead of me?’ Then she nodded and said, “Okay.” She looked at me and said, ‘Susan, you can go to Room 120. It is on the second floor.’ Manisha smiled at Hema as she led me to where the lift was, a little further away.
‘Are you are sure you don’t want to come?’ I asked. She smiled and said, ‘He is a little old. He does not need two women. If you are frightened or if you are not in the mood, tell him. He will not mind it. I will come in the afternoon and spend some time with him.’
“Surprisingly, I didn’t feel so nervous. Then I asked Manisha whether Hema knew what was going on and she replied that the girl sometimes went to the rooms in her off-duty hours to earn some extra money. Manisha pressed the button and the lift door opened and I entered. I turned and she smiled and said, ‘Remember, it is room 120 on the second floor. Good luck.’
“I got off at the second floor. There was not a soul in sight. All the doors were closed. I walked past the first, the second and then the third door. Then, on the fourth door, in the upper half was the number 120, on a shining brass plate.
“As I stood in front of the door, I was overcome by nervousness. I didn’t not know what to expect. Anyway, I gritted my teeth and pressed the bell. ‘Come in,’ said a voice from the other side. I pushed open the door and saw a man standing at the window with his back towards me. I went in and shut the door. It was a nice big air-conditioned room, with a blue carpet, the bed with the obligatory white sheets and fluffed up pillows, and a TV set at one corner. I stood near the door and stared at the man. Then he turned and it was then that I got a shock that broke my heart into two. There is really no way to describe what I felt.
“Because the man I was looking at, was my own father. The reason why I had not recognised him immediately was because he was wearing a red shirt that I had not seen him wear before. It was something that a college student would wear. It looked so odd on him, with his grey hair. We stared at each other in a daze. My father opened his mouth in stunned surprise as he stared at my skintight jeans and white semi-transparent t-shirt and black heels. For the first time in my life, I saw him lose his composure. He was always so stern and in self-control. Now I could see his Adam’s apple go up and down. As for me, the tears began to roll down my face. It was just too much. My father was in town to attend a cousin’s wedding but I thought he would be in Muvattupuzha.
“I turned, opened the door and ran down the corridor. The last thing I heard was my father’s shout of, ‘Susan, wait a minute.’ But I ran down the stairs, almost losing my balance on my high heels. I ran past Hema to the road. Thankfully, there was an auto-rickshaw waiting there and I quickly said, ‘Take me to St. Anne’s hostel.’
What a shock it was, to realise that Manisha was going to bed with my own dad. Of course, I knew that he was a Malayali from the Middle East, but how l was to know that it was my own father.
“The auto-rickshaw reached the hostel. I saw Manisha standing near the entrance. She saw that I was crying and asked what had happened. I took her up to my room and told her the news. It was like slapping her face. She looked stunned. I had a sudden urge to run away, to get away from this terrible discovery. I opened a suitcase and filled it with clothes. Manisha asked me where I was going. I told her that I had enough of this sick life. My father was sick in the head, he was nothing but a pervert. I did not want to see him again. I told her that I was going away forever. Manisha did not say anything. She stared at me blankly.
“I checked my purse and saw that I had only Rs 500. I wrote out a cheque for Rs 2000 and took an auto-rickshaw to the bank. I collected the money and went straight to the station. I decided to go to Chennai. I felt that in order to start afresh in life, I needed to be in a new place. I tried for a ticket for this train and, surprisingly, got a reservation. I stayed the whole day in the waiting room and then in the evening, I got onto this train and now here I am, talking to you.”
For a while, we stared at each other in silence.
“What an amazing story,” I said, licking my lower lips.
Just then the meals came and distracted our attention. I was feeling quite hungry. I delved quickly into the rice and the sambar and the beans and the mango pickle. It was typical train food, served in steel plates, with those small round containers, placed in a semi circle inside the plate.
After dinner, Susan said, “Reggie, thanks for listening so attentively. I needed to speak it all out. It was tormenting me so much. I feel much better now.”
“Relax,” I said, “Have a good night’s sleep. Try to forget about it.”
“It is going to be difficult,” she said.
“I agree,” I said, as I watched her spread out a sheet on the lower berth. A few moments later, I climbed up to the upper berth.
The next day, as the train entered Chennai Central station and the passengers got ready to get down, I turned to Susan and said, “You can come along with me. I live in a sort of outhouse. My landlord, the Nairs, are liberal people. They will not mind. They are an old couple with no children.”
Susan had no hesitation in saying yes. Perhaps she was a little nervous of staying alone in a hotel in Chennai.
We got into an auto-rickshaw and went to my quarters in Nugambakkam Road. I opened the gate and led Susan to the outhouse on the left. It was just a single room with an attached bathroom. I asked her to wait outside while I went by the side of the main house to the back where the kitchen door was always open. Murugan, the old servant, in his familiar red lungi and a white towel wrapped around his head, gave a gap-toothed smile as he handed the key to me.
“The master and Madam have gone to Egmore,” he replied, to my enquiring look, “they will only come back in the night.”
Susan and I entered the outhouse.
“Sorry,” I said, looking around, “the room is so dusty. It is near the main road and there is always some dust coming in through the window. Why don’t you have a bath? I’ll clean up the place in the meantime.”
Susan placed the suitcase on the bed, opened it, took out a red salwar kameez, a white towel and a brand new Liril soap, still in its shiny green covering, and went into the bathroom and a small toilet kit.
As I began to sweep the floor and the window sill with a broom, I thought, ‘how amazing there is a girl in the bathroom now? Who could have predicted this when I got on the train yesterday?’
After a while, Susan came out, a scrubbed look on her face, her black hair hanging wet and loose, a red bindi in the middle of her forehead and a necklace of red beads around her neck. She looked attractive. I placed the broom under the bed and went for a bath myself. After I wore a blue t-shirt and jeans, I said, “Let’s go for breakfast.”
We walked down the road and entered an Udipi restaurant, where we ordered masala dosa and coffee. As we were eating, Susan said, “Reggie, don’t you have to go to office today? It is Tuesday, a working day!”
“I am taking the day off,” I said. “After all, it’s not every day that I have the company of an attractive girl.”
Susan looked at me quickly to see whether l was teasing her or not. But when she saw that I really meant it, she said, “Thanks very much. You are very kind.”
“So what do we do now?” I said, as we stepped out on the sidewalk. The road was choked with traffic—buses, cars, scooters, autorickshaws and pedestrians. There was a cacophony of noise as the sun beat down on our heads.
“I don’t know,” Susan replied.
“I have an idea. Let’s go to the Theosophical Society in Adyar. They have about 200 acres of woodland. We can get away from the noise and the pollution.”
“I am game,” she smiled.
We got into an autorickshaw and went to Adyar, a thirty-minute ride. We sat quite near to each other, that our shoulders touched now and then as the vehicle went over some potholes.
We got out and walked into the beautiful silence of the Society grounds. There were rows and rows of tall, ancient, twisted and gnarled trees, which had seen hundreds of years of human life. We could hear the chirping of sparrows and the occasional cawing of a crow and there were blooming flowers all around. We sat on a bench surrounded by a cluster of trees and I took a deep breath.
“How poisonous city air is,” I said, “you can feel the difference now.”
Susan also inhaled deeply.
“Yes you are right,” she said.
Susan’s light brown face looked fairer. The salwar kameez looked good on her—small yellow triangle prints on a red background.
“Susan, what are you planning to do now?” I asked, all of a sudden.
“I don’t know,” she replied, looking at me. “I haven’t thought about anything. I am feeling zapped.”
“Okay, I have a suggestion,” I began, “I am being honest with you. Coming to Chennai is no solution actually. You are close to finishing your second year in college. It’s February now and the second year exams are in...when is it?”
“April,” she said.
“What is the point of losing a year?” I continued, “It is better to go back. I know that you have found the whole experience sickening and you are justified in feeling that way. I remember that you told Manisha that you don’t want to see your father ever again. But, after all, he is your father. He has given you a wonderful life, with a high standard of living.”
“But no love,” Susan interrupted suddenly, “no love at all.”
“Well, can he be blamed for that? He wanted you to have a good education and that is not possible in Dubai. That is why he enrolled you in a boarding school in Kerala. Maybe he hasn’t realised that you missed out on love. Nobody is perfect, Susan. Your father tried his best.”
“What about the fact that he slept with Manisha and has a secret sex life? Do you think that is pardonable?” she said, her eyes flashing with anger.
“All of us have our weaknesses,” I explained, “Maybe, your father’s weakness was sex. Or maybe he was unhappy with your mother. Maybe he stayed in the marriage because he wanted to protect your brother and you.”
“Reggie, do you think my father would have forgiven my mother, if for example, he found her in bed with a man, her son’s age?”
I fell silent. I was taken aback by the different angle that she had taken.
I stared at her and rubbed my hand through my hair.
“I don’t what to say to that,” I said, finally.
“He is a liar,” Susan continued, her eyes bulging out in rage, “for a long time, he used to tell my mother that he had to travel to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Oman for business. And then he would be gone for a week. But now I know that all along, it was this secret sex life of his that was taking him away from my mother…he is sick in the head. He is cold and aloof and has no warmth. He has treated my brother and me, like as if we were subordinates in his company. How can I forgive, no, you cannot defend my father. His sin is unpardonable. But what you said about finishing my education makes sense.”
We were silent now. I was taken aback by Susan’s anger. I didn’t know she possessed such a sharp resentment in her. A slight breeze blew in from the nearby river. A few minutes passed in silence.
“Susan, if you go back, you should not stay in the hostel any longer. You must stay away from your friends. All this experimentation with drugs and drinks and sex can only lead to disaster. Instead, I advise you to take a paying guest accommodation. Stay with a middle class family. You will develop moderation and a sense of discipline if you live with middle class people. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Susan said, fingering the beads of her necklace, “I don’t know what to do. I feel so confused.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’ll go for a walk. You sit and think about what you want to do. Nobody will disturb you here. You will be quite safe.”
Susan nodded, leaned forward and placed her face in the palms of her hands.
I got up and walked deeper into the woods, till I came across another bench. It was cool and pleasant, as the leaves of the trees formed a canopy and very little sunlight filtered through. I lay down on the bench, closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep...
An hour later, I got up and walked back to where Susan was sitting. She smiled and said, “I am going back. I must finish my degree. As it is, I don’t have enough money to survive here in Chennai.”
Susan held my hand in hers and continued, “It was foolish of me to run away like this. But l have enjoyed the break and your company.” She had nice, soft hands. “I will take a paying guest accommodation, as you suggested. It’s a good idea. Reggie, will I be able to get tickets for tonight’s Trivandrum Mail?” My mind was in a whirl. Can the touch of another skin have such an impact? But I managed to say, “We can go to the station and try our luck. After all, it’s the off-season now and miracles do occur in the Indian Railways.” She smiled and casually pulled her hand away. We walked out of the Society and took an autorickshaw for Chennai Central.
“I am paying the fare,” Susan said, putting her hand into her jeans pocket, as the auto reached the station, “as it is, you are spending time and money on me, a complete stranger.”
“You are no longer a stranger,” I said.
Susan smiled enigmatically. She stood in the ladies queue, which had only five women in front of her and within minutes, she was in front of the glass paned counter with her reservation form. The man at the counter, who had a red tilak on his forehead and oily black hair, looked at the form and punched some keys on his computer terminal. The screen came to life, figures danced up and down and sideways; he pressed another key and the crick-crick sounds of the Wipro printer could be heard. Susan had got a reserved ticket for that night’s Trivandrum Mail.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. We had lunch in a Chinese restaurant. Susan insisted on paying the bill. We laughed and joked and ambled down Mount Road, window-shopping and holding hands. We had chocolate ice cream at a parlour. We then went to see “Where Eagles Dare”, the Richard Burton classic.
After the movie, we rushed back to my room. Susan folded her used jeans and t-shirt and put them along with the dried towel and the soap into the suitcase. As I watched her do this, I felt that this wonderful day was coming swiftly to an end and there was a sense of loss within me.
“Susan,” I said involuntarily, as she straightened up after locking her box, “can we kiss?”
She looked at me quickly, a little surprised. I could see the black pupils in her brown eyes enlarging in concentric circles.
“Why,” she said.
“Just like that,” I said, in a rather pensive voice, “I don’t know. Perhaps I will never see you ever again. Who knows.”
She looked at me steadily.
“It’s been such a wonderful day,” I added.
Then she said, “Okay,” and smiled. I stepped up to her and put my right arm across the back of her neck and slowly, I put my lips on her lips. How soft her lips were. She parted her mouth and closed her eyes. I put my tongue between her lips and touched her tongue. I felt an electric current pass through me. Susan also put her arm around my neck and soon, we were kissing very hard. My eyes were closed and I inhaled the faint smell of Dove soap from her face. I was beginning to get very excited, as my body pressed hard against hers, and as our tongues interlocked in a frenzy of excitement, I could feel my hard-on getting bigger and bigger. We kissed for a couple of minutes and I began fondling her breasts. Through the cloth and the bra, I twisted her nipples, which had become very hard. But then, through a sheer assertion of will, Susan broke off and stumbled backwards. I looked at her in shock and confusion.
“Reggie, let’s keep it at this, please,” she said, as she gasped.
I was disappointed, I wanted to do more, there was a bed nearby, we could have gone all the way but I am not one to push things.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “We were having a good time.”
“Yes I know,” she replied, “maybe, next time. I am not really in the mood today.”
“Okay,” I said, “it was short but sweet. I will always remember it.”
Susan smiled.
“Come, let’s go,” I said, picking up the suitcase, “we are getting late.”
At the station, there was the usual bustle. Passengers rushing about, looking for their seats, the monotonous drone on the loudspeaker about the arrival and departure of trains, groups of people standing in front of a television placed on a high shelf and craning their necks. The Trivandrum mail had already arrived from the railyard. We walked down, looking for S2 and seat 15. It was a side seat. The train was not crowded at all. I sat down on the opposite seat and smiled at her. Susan’s face looked flushed and there was an excitement in her eyes. “Oh Reggie,” she said, “could you give me your address please? I want to stay in touch with you. I had a lovely time today.”
But Susan did not have any paper on her and neither did I. I noticed a newspaper lying under the seat and picked it up and tore a part of it. In the white space, above the columns of print, I wrote out my address in Chennai. I gave it to Susan and she folded the small paper, till it was the size of a one rupee coin and put it in her handbag. I wondered suddenly whether she would lose it. But I did not say anything.
lt was nearing departure time--6.55 P.M. So I got up and went outside and stood on the platform, near her window.
The whistle blew. I shook her hand through the window and said quickly, “Thanks for the kiss.” She smiled and said, “Reggie, thanks for everything. I will stay in touch with you.” Then she waved as the train slowly moved past me and then I watched and watched till the last bogie became smaller and smaller until it was swallowed up by the night.
I did not see Susan again. I have no idea why she did not stay in touch. Perhaps she lost my address. After all, it was a small piece of paper. I don’t know why I didn’t try to get in touch with her. I knew I could do so if I went to St. Anne’s. I felt that since she did not stay in touch, maybe she didn’t want to stay in touch, despite the magical day we spent together.
The years went by. At 31, I finally got married to Philomena Mathew, who came from a well-to-do family in Kottayam. Philo was a Bharatnatyam dancer and her only condition was that she should be allowed to dance, after her marriage. I had no problem in saying yes to that. She was a good wife and we had a good marriage. Three years after our marriage, she gave birth to a boy. We named him Francis.
Life went on. My kid began to grow up.
A couple of years later, my wife and I, along with Francis, boarded the Trivandrum Mail. We were going to Kerala for a week’s stay. I was now Materials Manager in a plywood company, having quit the computer firm. I lived in a company flat and had a car for my use. In our compartment, there was a nun in a grey habit. We started talking and she turned out to be, by sheer coincidence, Sr. Josephine Mathew, the warden of St. Anne’s hostel. She looked to be in her fifties, with worry wrinkles on her forehead and constantly blinking eyes.
“Sister,” I said, “how long have you been the warden?”
“I will be completing ten years this October,” she replied.
I wondered, all of a sudden, whether she knew Susan at all. And then I realised that I did not know Susan’s surname. What an amazing oversight that was.
“Excuse me, Sister, do you remember a girl called Susan. She used to stay in the hostel a few years ago. I don’t know her surname but her parents lived in Dubai. She had an elder brother who was studying in the engineering college in Kothamangalam.”
“Susan,” Sr. Josephine repeated the word and frowned. It would seem as if her worry lines became more prominent as she tried to recollect the name.
“Yes, I remember her,” she said finally, looking at me.
“I met her many years ago, on this train. She was a nice girl.” My wife looked at me quickly, as she struggled to hold down Francis who was sitting on her lap and was stretching his legs, wanting to get down to the floor. She had a puzzled look on her face. I had not told her about Susan before.
Sr. Josephine reached out and gathered Francis in her arms and put him on her lap and said, “Hers was a tragic story. She left the hostel and took up a paying guest accommodation. Then I was told that she fell in love with the son of the owner of the house she lived in. They were a rich family and the son was spoiled. He was supposed to be a heavy drinker and gambler. He did not care for Susan and perhaps, took advantage of her and maybe, rejected her.
“Susan committed suicide by hanging herself from the fan with a rope in her room. There were rumours that she was pregnant. I heard this story from Susan’s close friend Manisha who has now gone back to Malaysia. Susan was a nice girl, very sensitive and emotional.”
“Where are Susan’s parents now?” I asked, feeling my mind go numb with shock.
“They are still in Dubai, I think,” Sr. Josephine said, as Francis tugged at the nun’s rosary, which hung from a black belt tied around her waist, “I don’t know. I have no contact with them. A sad story.”
I did not know what to say after that. I became silent. I spent the rest of the evening with all sorts of images passing in front of my eyes. That lovely day that I had spent with Susan. How happy and carefree we had been although, like Sr. Josephine, I did detect a sadness within her. How beautiful she looked, with her clear brown eyes, in her red salwar kameez. And then I remembered the wondrous kiss that we had in my room in Nugambakkam Road. I recalled the slap of tongue against tongue. The electric feeling that I had experienced. But Susan was dead, dead, dead. What was the meaning of life?
And now here I was, with a wife and a child and my life just went on. A survivor. After dinner, as I was settling in under the sheet in the middle bunk, my wife whispered in my ears, “Reggie, you have to tell me the full story tomorrow!”
There was a touch of naughtiness in her eyes when she said that. My wife looked pretty, with her hair tied in a long plait, a red bindi in the middle of her forehead, and beautiful oval-shaped eyes.
I smiled my assent although I knew that it was one of the shortest and the saddest stories of my life.

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