Elaine was fidgety right from the morning. She was alone at home. DJ’s mom was staying with him and it’s been more than a week since she had some alone time with him.
Screw the hag. No, repent. Take it back. She’s going to be your mom-in-law.
The marriage was three months away but DJ and El were more or less like a couple for years. She had always proclaimed that she’s never going to get married. It was pointless as far as she could see. And worst of all marriage itself was a patriarchal institution designed to breed a culture of female servitude. But ever since that milestone of turning 30 started looming before her like a deathly shadow she had started contemplating giving in to the idea that her conservative parents had been trying to buy her into for the past eight years or so; ever since she graduated from IIT.
She liked to think of herself as a self made woman. Right from an early age she had tried to be self reliant. Yes her parents had paid for most part of her tuition fees and other expenses till college but unlike most others in her neighborhood she didn’t make them buy her expensive clothes or cosmetics nor did they have to dish out anything for donations for her college admission. No not even tuition fees for coaching classes. Her NTSE and other scholarships had paid a part of her college fees. The highly skewed (in favour of men) male-female ratio in the IIT had only helped fuel her feeling of self reliance. She had fought against the odds and made her mark in what was believed to be a man’s world. She knew how to hold her own among men. And later in the corporate world she had smashed every so called glass ceiling that she had encountered. She felt like punching his nose out once when a colleague of her suggested that she got her way around because of her good looks. She had given him a sound hearing and he had never dared cross her ever again. Looking back she could see that she had pretty much done what she had planned as she first walked through the gates of IIT Kanpur. She remembered that first day. The single engine training Cessna taking off from the airfield inside the IIT had her thinking of her school project where she had made a model aircraft piloted by a remote control and her best friend Priya, who had decided to join an airhostess academy after her 12th. It was her idea that they team up to build the model plane. If she was so crazy about flying why didn’t she go for Pilot training instead of being an airhostess, she had asked Priya. The reply was “That’s not for girls, El”.
She hated weekends and this was a particularly long one, Christmas being on a Friday. She was stuck at home coz her car was in the garage and had decided to stay at home in her bed for the Saturday night instead of Geoffrey’s her favorite watering hole.
Mental Note: Don’t give the car for service anytime before Christmas or for that matter any major holidays.
It was one in the night. The cold was biting into her despite having downed at least four drinks since the dinner. She reached for the pack of Marlboro lights but found it empty. Well trust a pack of cigarettes to let you down when u most need it. But she had backup. She scrounged her bag, there had to be a few left from the joints that DJ had given her last week. Success. She smoothened out the wrinkles on the cig and lighted it. She took a long drag and kept the smoke inside her lungs for some time until she could feel her nerves calming down a bit. Without exhaling the smoke she took another drag in. This was good stuff, she thought.
Half an hour later she was still awake. The dark room was filled with cigarette fumes and she felt suffocated. The TV was also on in the drawing room. She was feeling as fidgety as before. She wanted to be with DJ. She reached for her mobile on the night stand and dialed his number. After what seemed like a hundred rings DJ’s sleepy voice answered.
“Haan kudiye kai zaala?”
She wasn’t in the mood for his broken Marathi. “Deeraj, just shove it ….”, she never liked him teasing her Marathi upbringing. But he loved doing it none the less and had in fact secretly put in much effort to learn the language. But she had called him “Deeraj” and that meant she’s really not in the mood. “Listen, DJ get your ass over her now, I’ve got to see you”.
“No way, I’m not getting out in this cold. And I don’t want to explain to mom the reason for my disappearance in the middle of the night. She’ll wake up the minute I turn the key on the ignition and there won’t be any going out for as long as she’s here”, he said.
DJ had a point his mom hadn’t taken well to the fact that he’s getting married to a Bombay bred Christian girl. She had lined up a list of homely Jain girls for Deeraj her only son when he decided to announce the shocker at home.
What the heck, if he’s not going to get here I’m gonna be there. She didn’t say anything more but slammed the phone down. DJ knew that wasn’t a good sign.
The digital clock on the nightstand showed that it was ten minutes past two. Going out at this time in Delhi in a taxi wasn’t safe, she knew. This was where she liked her hometown of Mumbai much more than Delhi. Raj, yea he could take her to DJ’s place. But the only thing is that she didn’t want to ask him for a favor. But she knew how to have her way around him.
Raj was a colleague in office. He pretended to be a perfect gentleman in front of her but she knew he wasn’t. She’d slice open a person, have him diagnosed with one look, a two minute conversation and a shared fag. That was her fool proof process of judging a man. It had never failed her.
She picked up her mobile again. Checked the twitter feed for anything interesting. Changed her status to “Out for a fox hunt”. Then dialed Raj’s number.
“Hey Raj, Elaine here. Hope I didn’t wake you up”
Indiscernible voices on the other side…finally there was a reply “Hey El, No no I was up reading a book, how are you?”
El knew he was lying, and that was what she expected him to do. “Raj, I feel like having a drink how about coming over?” Again she knew what the reply would be. And it was validated by the front door bell.
Raj was practically in his night wear over which he had pulled a jacket, but it was obvious he had tried his best to set his hair down with a quick dash of his wet set gel and the overwhelming scent of the deodorant just confirmed that he hadn’t taken a bath this weekend.
El handed over the pint bottle of beer that she had in her hand to Raj and they sat down in front of the TV on the midsized couch. El knew exactly how to play on Raj’s weaknesses. Conversation was on mundane topics, the TV was muted but the scene showed a new on screen actress trying hard to make her mark with the usual skin show. But El knew where Raj’s eyes were. The dirty bastard; his idea of Catholic girls were probably shaped watching pictures like “Julie”. She suppressed the urge to slap him on the face and said “Raj, let’s go for a drive”. Raj wasn’t exactly keen on the idea. His chances of something happening between them were in his calculations the maximum if they stayed inside the house. But still he reluctantly agreed.
El knew that the key in making him do what she wanted was to keep alive his hopes of something happening. Men!! She thought. She pulled on her worn out blue jeans, tied her hair into a pony, grabbed her favorite jacket from the closet and started to the door. Raj was still trying to gulp his beer down and El had disappeared outside.
“Where to?” asked Raj.
“Hmm, let’s take the highway and towards Noida”, said El. DJ lived in Lajpat Nagar which was on the way to Noida. She was hoping it didn’t come to his mind. She diverted his attention by touching the label in his jacket. “UCB? Cool jacket Raj”.
“Oh you like it? I got it when I went vacationing to New York during Diwali. My jijaji runs a store there.”
Despite the bitter cold El decided to pull the window down. Partly because she hoped the cold and the wind would clear up her head and partly because she hoped the noise of the wind would stop Raj from continuing with his blabber. But that wasn’t to be.
“Listen, El I know something is bothering you, you can tell me whatever it is.” Raj slowly put an arm around her shoulders and waited for a response. She felt as if there was a leech on her shoulder but still kept mum. A shudder ran down her spine the kind of feeling she used to get when she had to clean her bathroom drain. El decided to play along still. “Yea Raj, things haven’t been going well you know, generally”. She knew Raj would assume that things are not well between she and DJ and that’s what she wanted.
Raj grew bolder. This girl was apparently in distress. He saw his moment in that. Damsels in distress were his favorite prey. He brushed a strand of hair that was falling over the side of her face behind her ears. That was his standard modus operandi with women. He could see it working with the so far infallible El. Yes, finally this would be the day. They were coming up on the Lajpat Nagar fly over and the Yamuna appeared up ahead. The highway lay desolate stretching across the wide river bed.
“Raj Raj, are u sleeping or something. Stop the car over here”. He was brought back from the labyrinth of his sullied thoughts. What? What did she say, stop the car? Maybe she had to take a leak. No that can’t be it. Maybe she doesn’t want to wait till we get to the isolation of the Yamuna Bridge.
As soon as the car stopped Elaine opened up the door and jumped out. “I’m going somewhere, it’s just around the corner, you don’t have to come. I’ll see you on Monday then. Bye and thanks for the ride”
Before Raj could even realize what was happening Elaine had crossed the desolate road and had disappeared into a lane on the opposite side. For a minute he thought about running after her. But he knew there wasn’t any point. He had realized what the girl had done. DJ stayed in Lajpat Nagar, he now remembered. That girl was smart. Smart enough to outfox a fox like him.Elaine reached DJ’s house. The light was on in his room. She jumped on to the guava tree in the yard and nimbly climbed to the balcony outside DJs room in the first floor. And just as she landed the door opened and DJ stood there smiling at the girls antics. “You know mom would be proud she’s getting a circus acrobat for a daughter in law”, he said smiling. Elaine laughed and gave a hard punch on his stomach as they moved into DJ’s room. “She’s getting much more than that, a fox tamer too”, she thought.