Saturday, 20 December 2008

A Christmas Party**

Alwyn picked up the phone, dialled Lorraine's mobile number and then hung up before she answered his call. 'Shit,' he said aloud and redialled the number. No point in waiting for Lorraine to call him back and ask him why he had called. He put the phone on speaker and curled up in a foetal position on the sofa.

'Hi! What's up?' He hated that tone which told him that she was very busy, which she most probably was, reserving the right to tell him she might have to hang up and call him back later.

'I'm off to have a drink with a friend. Just wanted to let you know. Don't wait up for me.'

'Okay. Sure.' She was ready to hang up. He wanted to hit her on the head with the phone, or better still shove his elbow into her face.

'Just thought I should let you know, that's all,' he repeated. The miserable bitch could have had the decency to ask him to help himself to the petty cash that she always kept in the top drawer in their bedroom. No, it was not their bedroom anymore. It was ages since they shared a bed together, with Lorraine preferring to sleep on the couch in her study after working till midnight.

He walked out into the night, wishing he were in bohemian Bandra rather than posh Cuffe Parade. He wished there was a friend who would want to have a drink with him. Not that he had much money. Lorraine had been paying all the bills for the past year and a half. He ought to be grateful he knew, but he hated her all the more for it. As he walked past the Taj President and entered Wodehouse Road, he wished he had taken some money from that drawer. Lorraine kept at least a couple of thousand rupees there at any given time. If only he hadn't shouted at Lorraine last week when she asked him what he wanted money for, he could have legitimately helped himself to some money and then casually informed her. To hell with Lorraine! There was a limit to what a man could put up with. Just after Holy Name Cathedral, he took a right turn which took him past Simon & George Drycleaners and into Colaba causeway. Now Colaba might not be as nice as his beloved Bandra, but it did have a few good watering holes he liked.

He had around a hundred rupees on him, enough for a beer at Gokul's followed by some Rice and Vindaloo from New Martin Restaurant. He wished he had enough for Leopold's, which served booze as well as good food, but no, his hundred rupees would not go so far. Hell! He did not even have enough money to get drunk properly, not unless he were to buy a pint of Old Monk's and follow it up with some RC. However he hated mixing drinks. To him, it represented the nadir of poverty, having to mix drinks to get drunk because one could not afford to buy four or five pegs of good whiskey or rum. It didn't really matter, he could pretend to be drunk and speak his mind to Lorraine.

After dinner, he went for a walk around the oval maidan and considered walking towards the marine drive. He decided not to. The walk around the oval had sobered him and there was no point in walking around any further and getting even more sober. He looked at his watch. It was only a quarter past ten. If he went home now, Lorraine might not even be home. He would look very silly if he got home before Lorraine did, after having asked her not to wait up for him. He wished Lorraine would do something obvious – like have an affair with her boss so that he could leave her. But no, she would always maintain her holier-than-thou attitude which infuriated him more than anything. And anyway Peerbhoy was the sort of guy who never thought of anything other than money.

Luckily for Alwyn, Lorraine was home, having dinner, when he got back. He growled a greeting and walked past her to the bedroom.

'I need to travel – to Delhi,' Lorraine told him as he was about to shut the door behind him. 'Peerbhoy wants me to go with him for the road-show. I'll be leaving tomorrow evening and will come back on the twenty-ninth.'

'So you'll be spending Christmas in Delhi?'

'I'm afraid so. Not that anything much will happen on the twenty-fifth, but we will be doing our homework for the rest of the road-show.'

'Thanks for letting me now,' Alwyn said, hoping to sound slightly drunk as well as sarcastic.

'You'll be alone for Christmas,' Lorraine said with a sad smile.

'How do you know that?'

'I don't know. I just said that.' Lorraine had a calm and matter-of-fact voice, tinged with sadness. If she felt even a teeny-weeny bit sad, she shouldn't go to Delhi. She ought to be on her knees, begging him for forgiveness, for all her arrogance in the past, for behaving the way she had.

'I was planning to go to Carlo's tomorrow evening,' Alwyn told Lorraine. 'And the day after I'm going to Goa with this friend of mine. We're driving down. Will be home for Christmas eve.' Alwyn was surprised with himself for having said all that. It had been a long time since he even thought of Carlo's place or planned a trip to Goa, for that matter.

'I see,' Lorraine said in a wooden voice. 'I'll leave for office very early and will ..'

Alwyn walked out of the room and slammed the door shut after him. 'And will go to the airport directly after work..' he could have finished that sentence for her.

The next day evening, Alwyn shaved, dressed and caught a train to Bandra from Churchgate. Before leaving, he opened the drawer and found almost five thousand rupees in the drawer. Had Lorraine kept more money than usual there so that he could help himself to it? No, no way. And even if she had, she was not going to get any thanks for it. Alwyn helped himself to a thousand rupees. Two years ago, before he signed that ridiculous audit report which had brought his downfall, he would not have thought twice about spending a thousand rupees over a single meal. Even a year ago, Lorraine would not have been so arrogant towards him. A husband without money is like a bottled drink that has lost its fizz, he told himself. He ought to lock up Lorraine and prevent her from going to work for a few weeks. That would teach her. Would Peerbhoy fire her if he did that? Most probably not. That old bastard needed her much more than anyone else in his office. In fact, if Peerbhoy fired Lorraine, she would find a new job in a week, while Peerbhoy himself would be in deep shit without Lorraine.

As he got off the train at Bandra and took an auto towards Carlo's place, he wondered why he didn't go to Bandra more often. Was it because he didn't want to be reminded of all the good times he had? Lorraine had been part of those good times. The auto took him past Carter Road and soon he was at Carlo's. The place hadn't changed. It would never change, despite all the changes that were taking place in Bandra. He was a stag tonight and paid the fifty rupee entry fee which only stags paid. Carlo's smelt of food and booze and was filled with cigarette smoke, as usual. In one corner under a large Christmas tree, a middle-aged man stood and sang a Portuguese song, accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer. Three couples were dancing on the small dance floor and all the tables were full. Tacky Christmas decorations were all over the place. A waiter came up to him with a jovial air and jaunty step which couldn't be copied by the highest paid waiter in the world and asked, 'only one?'


Alwyn found himself seated at a table for six occupied by a couple and a group of three people. They were quite friendly, all of them shuffling a little bit to see if some more space could be made for him. He ordered an Old Monk with coke. Alwyn and the couple sat on one side of the table, which had a blue checked top. A woman sitting opposite Alwyn moved her legs a little bit so that Alwyn would have more leg room. She was very plain-looking, almost ugly, but her demeanour was so pleasant, she looked radiant.

They were playing a song he was unfamiliar with. He tried not to stare too much at the dancing couples. They were ordinary people, the sort of people he and Lorraine had been when they lived in Bandra. He had met Lorraine while doing his articleship. They had found themselves with the same group of friends, all of them articled clerks working for the same parsimonious chartered accountant, all of them paid a pittance, but surviving in the hope of becoming qualified chartered accountants themselves and starting their own practices. They didn't start dating till Alwyn passed all his exams and started getting paid decently.

That song got over and the singer started a song which had been one of their favourites when they used to come here. It was an old Goan song, translated into English from Portuguese, a few Portuguese phrases retained in it for atmosphere and a couple of Konkani words thrown in here and there to add spice to the lyrics.

The li'l girl came down to Panjim bay;
The beach boys ran up and barred her way;

That's a fine shiny dress that you be wearing;
Do our eyes deceive, or is that silk threading?

Care to take a turn on the pier with us?
Você vai dançar connosco? Maachche?
Or would you rather go for a dip with us?
Vamos para uma sessão de natação? Maachche?

This dress ain't in any way for the likes of you;
There's no way on earth I'd jive with you;

As the li'l girl waited in the evening sun;
Thuka khobor aha? Ela parecia tão bonito!
The young prince rode up in his Suzuki Shogun;

As the prince and the young girl zoomed off to the east;
The beach boys burped and screamed out a fenny toast;

The singer sat down to take a break. A waiter placed a drink in front of him. Was it just coke or did it have some rum in it?

'Another drink for you?'

Alwyn ordered another Old Monk.

'Nothing to eat?'

'Not for the moment. Maybe later.'

'No no. Not good for tummy. Don't want people falling sick here. You eat something.'

What the heck? He might as well eat dinner and then get drunk.

'I'll have a plate of sorpotel and some pav.' Sliced bread might be mankind’s greatest invention, but nothing could beat the Goan pav.

'Great. A drink for the singer?' How did the waiter know that Lorraine's money was burning a hole in his pocket?

'Why not? An Old Monk for that splendid man!'

Alwyn found himself harking back to the good old days. Lorraine used to be reliant on him for everything. He was the smarter one, the man who had all answers to his girl's questions, even if they related to her work.

Lorraine had worn a white silk gown for their wedding which had taken place at Bicholim. Some twenty odd friends from Bombay had driven down to Goa. They had drunk so much fenny, it was not funny.

They used to dance every time they came here. Neither of them was a good dancer, but there was something about the place which made everyone break into a dance or start humming a song.

He ordered a third drink and then a fourth. It didn't matter. He had enough money in his wallet and then some more. It was not as if he was going to drive down to Goa tomorrow.

What was he to do with his life? One stupid mistake, a few arrogant words, a refusal to retract and he was ruined for life. He could not go on living like this. Lorraine was too nasty towards him. Everything she did was designed to humiliate him, to make him feel worthless. He wanted to take her to court, make her waste a lot of time and money and finally divorce her. But no, he was the weaker party. Lorraine had a lot more money than he had – most of his savings having been used to pay people off and cover up his mistake. It was a miracle that he did not end up in jail!

When he started his fifth drink, they started to play a Christmas carol.

Mary's boy child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day
Hark, now hear the angels sing, a King was born today
For man will live, for ever more, because of Christmas Day

He tried to tap his feet to keep tune with the song, but gave up after less than a minute. He was too sleepy, but did not have the energy to leave. He must have dozed off for a few seconds because when he woke up their old favourite was being sung once more.

That's a fine shiny dress that you be wearing;
Do our eyes deceive, or is that silk threading?

Care to take a turn on the pier with us?
Você vai dançar connosco? Maachche?
Or would you rather go for a dip with us?
Vamos para uma sessão de natação? Maachche?

This dress ain't in any way for the likes of you;
There's no way on earth I'd jive with you;

'Actually I really like jiving with you.' Alwyn laughed aloud. That was what Lorraine used to whisper to him as they danced to this song. Once Lorraine had worn a blue silk dress and she had looked so pretty and everyone had stared at her and all the men had been so jealous of him as he danced with her. Someone jabbed him from behind. 'Would you please dance with me?' No, it was for real. Alwyn turned around gingerly. Lorraine was standing behind him.

'What are you doing here? Didn't you fly to Delhi?'

'I cancelled. I told Peerbhoy that I couldn't go,'

'Really?' Alwyn could not think of anything else to say.

'Yes. Really. I just told him and walked out. I didn't wait to find out whether he agreed or not.'

'He might fire you!' They both laughed as he said that.

'I waited at home for you to come back. And then I decided to come here and join you.'

He looked at his watch. It was a quarter past eleven. The couple who sat next to him at his table had left but otherwise the restaurant was still packed. Four of five couples were dancing.

'Are you going to drive to Goa tomorrow?'

'Yes of course.'

'Can I go with you?' Lorraine sat down in the empty chair next to him

'Ah! No! I'm not too sure. Not much space in the car.'

'Please, please, take me with you, Alwyn.'

'In that case, we may have to hire a car.'

Lorraine laughed. 'I thought as much. I've been very nasty to you.'

'In what way honey? You kept the house going. If it weren't up to you…..'

'Listen, I don't want to work for Peerbhoy anymore.'

'And why not?'

'Didn't you once say we should start a firm of our own? Messrs Sequeira and Sequeira' He had, but that had been a long time ago.

'I'm no longer a CA. Lost my licence, don't you remember?'

'I am a CA. You can work for me. Help me run Messrs Sequeira and Associates. We'll do everything together. I know a few people and I'm sure you can pull in a few clients as well. How does that sound?' Lorraine's eyes were glowing with happiness. Alwyn wanted to pick up his drink and pour it down her head. And then smash the glass into her face. She would never understand.

'I'd be one of your associates?'

'Just on paper honey. Everyone would know that you are the main Sequeira, not me.'

'Let's make plans after Christmas, shall we? I'm too drunk to think logically right now.'

Lorraine laughed. 'That's alright honey. As long as we are together.'

Despite being drunk, Alwyn had a feeling that he would have to go along with Lorraine's plan, though he didn't like it one bit.

**Special thanks to my friend Jason Keith Fernandes who vetted this story and helped me find the right Konkani words for the song which appears in this tale.

No comments: