Rajesh had managed to get hold of the key to Duke’s flat. I don’t know how he did it, but that evening there were four of us waiting in that cramped sitting room for Duke to arrive with his new bride. Duke had been gone for almost a month and the room smelt very stale. I wished we could open the set of small windows above my head, but we would have lost the element of surprise if we had done that.
‘I hope the train isn’t late,’ I said, hoping for an assurance from Rajesh or Sameer that the train would be on time. Instead Sameer snarled at me. ‘You were the one who wanted to meet Duke and his wife as soon as they arrived.’
‘True, but I didn’t really expect you guys to get carried away. All I said was that it would be interesting to meet Duke when he comes back with his wife.’
‘We should have met them at the railways station. Now for all we know, Duke and his missus are having dinner at a restaurant before coming home,’ Trilok said.
‘What exactly did Duke tell you over the phone when you called him up?’ Sameer asked Rajesh.
‘That he’ll be coming back today.’
‘That’s it? Nothing about his wife? Or the wedding?’ Sameer persisted.
‘He just said he would come back today. I asked him if the wedding went off well. To that he replied something like .. he would come back and tell us everything. It was very noisy in the background and I didn’t ask anything else.’
‘You should have asked him if his first night was a success.’ Trilok suggested with a snigger.
‘I’m sure Duke pretended to have one of his migraines and went off to sleep,’ Sameer said, to the accompaniment of smirks, sniggers and laughter.
Everyone was silent for a while. There was no sign of Duke or his newly-wed wife. ‘We could just leave and come back later,’ I suggested once again.
‘You go home if you like,’ Rajesh told me, knowing fully well that I would not leave. If I left, I’d have to go back to the flat at Vile Parle which I shared with Sameer. There was nothing much to do in that flat other than to watch TV. Trilok looked at his watch and I followed suit. It was around seven thirty.
‘Getting late for you, is it?’ Rajesh asked Trilok who ignored him.
‘Do you have permission from your wife to stay out late?’ Rajesh persisted. Trilok was the first among us to get married. Now Duke had followed suit and most probably it was Rajesh’s turn next.
I don’t really remember why we started calling Duke by that nickname. I have a feeling it was because Duke once exclaimed “I wish I were the Duke of Kent” while watching Wimbledon on TV. I don’t know for sure since I wasn’t around when the Duke said that.
‘Come off it. I don’t need anyone’s permission to stay out late.’
‘Is that right? Let’s say Duke doesn’t turn up till nine thirty. Will you still hang around here?’
Trilok gave Rajesh a lopsided grin. ‘Just you wait. One day you will also get married.’
‘Just because you made that mistake, why on earth should I do the same?’ Rajesh retorted.
‘I hope your theories are correct. If not, we’ll all have wasted our time,’ Trilok told Rajesh.
‘Did anyone insist that you join us here today? Please do carry on. Go back home to your wife.’
Trilok was silent at that. ‘I’m sure you are right. Duke does show all signs of being a ……..’ Trilok’s voice trailed off.
Sameer agreed. ‘I’ve never met a more effeminate male in my life.’
‘When was the last time Duke’s special friend visited him? Just a day before he went off to get married?’ Sameer asked Rajesh.
‘Just a day before he left,’ Rajesh reiterated.
‘Did they make a lot of noise?’ Trilok asked.
‘The usual level of noise.’
‘You ought to have eavesdropped.’
‘Did they make any grunting sounds?’ Sameer asked, only to be almost slapped across his face by a grinning Rajesh whose palm swished past Sameer’s face.
‘You naughty bastard. How many times do you want me to repeat this stuff?’
‘I feel sorry for Duke’s wife,’ Trilok said. ‘An innocent girl is going to suffer for the rest of her life. The poor thing.’
‘We are going to take care of Duke’s wife, aren’t we? Why do you call her a poor thing? She will be taken care of by her husband and all his friends.’
‘I pray to God that she is a beautiful girl.’
‘Do you think Duke would have accepted a dowry?’ Sameer asked Rajesh.
‘I’m sure his parents have taken a dowry. After all, Duke is an engineer and he works for an MNC.’
‘Have you found a new flat-mate?’ Trilok asked Rajesh.
‘Not yet,’ Rajesh responded. ‘I hope I find someone soon. I don’t want to pay the entire rent on my own for much longer.’
‘That was a fine thing Duke did to you. To leave that flat with just a fortnight’s notice.’
‘I don’t blame him. I don’t think he knew about his wedding much before that.’
‘Why on earth did he agree to get married? He ought to have more sense.’
‘He just succumbed under pressure. He is almost thirty two. And his parents have been trying to get him married for the last eight years!’
‘Any idea how much rent Duke is paying for this place?’
‘At least 30K a month. After all, this is Bandra West.’
‘If ever I have a daughter, I will never force her into an arranged marriage,’ Trilok declared. ‘Let her make her own decisions. If things go wrong, she won’t be able to blame me.’
At that moment, the key turned in the door. We hurriedly took up our positions. Rajesh had a rose garland in his hands. I picked up the plate filled with fruits. One of the bananas had a joss stick struck in it. Sameer took out his lighter and lit the incense. Trilok got his camera ready. I wondered what I should say. Congratulations? Welcome to Bombay? Welcome to Mumbai? We wish you both a very happy married life?
Duke opened the door and looked at us all in shock. He took a moment to recover, holding open the door for a few seconds as he did. He then entered the room dragging his suitcase after him. We waited expectantly for his wife to follow him. Instead, the door slowly swung shut.
‘You guys! How did you manage to get in?’ Duke demanded of us.
‘We wanted to give you and your wife a proper welcome,’ Trilok said with hesitation. At any moment, we expected Duke’s wife to open the door and enter the room.
‘How was your journey?’ Rajesh asked Duke politely. There was still no sign of Duke’s wife. Was she weeping outside the door?
Duke dumped his suitcase on the floor and slumped on the sofa next to me. By now I was convinced that Duke had left his wife behind in Patna.
‘Where’s your wife?’ Sameer finally asked him. ‘Hasn’t she come with you?’
Duke looked at us all for a moment and said, ‘oh! I called off the wedding at the last minute. I decided that I couldn’t get married to a girl I didn’t like all that much just to please my parents. I really didn’t like the girl even though I had agreed to marry her.’
‘In that case why did you agree to the wedding?’ Trilok asked Duke.
Duke gave him a baleful look and turned away. He didn’t reply.
‘So your parents will continue to look for your dream girl?’
‘Of course, they will. That’s their job, isn’t it?’ Duke said petulantly. ‘What else are parents for if they can’t find you the girl of your dreams?’