From quite a few days, without her expressed consent though, Patricia’s words were churning curds in Lolita’s mind. (quite a country expression, she told herself) They had met by chance a month ago at a party. This chance meeting had come after years; amidst the cacophony of music, talk, laughter and dazzling lights that marked the party, Lolita had spotted Patricia.
Hugging and kissing that followed brought back trails of memories of the college days and both choked in the race of catching up. Finally, they burst into uncontrollable laughter and promised each other to meet very soon; telephone numbers were exchanged and then both plunged into the vortex of the party.
Patricia or Pat, as her friends fondly called her was known to be ebulliently charming in her college days. She married a guy from the Middle East, as is the case with most of the Mangalorean girls and had flown off within a month to join her husband. A long stay of sixteen years abroad had not changed Pat greatly. A mother of two, she still had those pranky, girlish looks, same husky laughter but her personality oozed a sophistication, exposure of working abroad and the ‘well-informed’ billing due to her travels with her husband George. She showed a class of her own, observed Lolita, which she herself lacked; or at least that is what she felt.
Lolita was a typical Mangalorean girl, satisfied with one thing at a time. She wanted a college degree and she worked hard to get one; she wanted a steady job and she got one in a Bank and then she wanted a sober, down-to-earth man as a husband and she found one in Mark. At times she thought her name sounded too fancy for her well-balanced nature.
Mark too worked in a Bank in an officer’s cadre; he was too meticulous in his work and there was joke about him that he double checks a photostat with the original. At home he was systematic, disciplined but at the same time, loving and caring. But he had a certain charm, which had escaped Lolita’s inventory which she had taken before she said yes to him. Mark was a good man; four to five cigarettes a day, couple of drinks on a Sunday ?Lolita was happy. Now after sixteen years or so, they had their own little apartment and Mark had just booked an Esteem, after kick-starting a scooter for the past so many years. And their two kids, Lolita’s happiness reached the pinnacle when they arrived.
"Where’s your Mark?" Pat’s question shook Lolita out of her reverie. The party was on and they had run into each other again. Pat was sipping beer.
"Come, we’ll find him," said Lolita, fondly holding Pat’s arm.
Somewhere in the corner there was Mark with a group of men and ladies around him. Their attention was fully on him and even at a distance Lolita could hear peels of laughter from the ladies.
"Excuse me?Mark," Lolita raised her voice to reach him. "Mark, I want you to meet someone!"
Mark turned, saw them and turned back and gave a deep bow to the ladies before he excused himself. And then he came to Lolita and Pat.
"Mark," began Lolita. "Mark, this is my college mate Patricia, Pat to make it short, she was in the Gulf for quite a few years?"
"Sixteen to be exact," Pat interrupted, appraising Mark from head to toe.
"Yes." Lolita fumbled a little. "And now she and?her two kids have come down for good and settled down here, in Mangalore!" she rattled off. "George, I mean her husband, still works in the Gulf," she added.
"Vow!" exclaimed Mark. "When charming distractions like you settle down in this Mangalore, we men unsettle a little," he said, bowing slightly to Pat. "Charmed, I am sure," he said.
Lolita was taken aback a little at this; I haven’t seen this guy turning on his charm like this, she said to herself. Or have I?
"Not even a shandy, Lolita?" Mark now turned his attention to her. But without waiting for an answer, he turned back to Pat, spoke to her, drew a few laughs from her and excused himself to go back to his group.
With a deep sigh Pat picked up another beer from the waiter. "Come," she said to Lolita, her voice sounding a little tipsy. "Let’s sit there and talk."
"Oh, I’m bushed," said Pat as they found a relatively quiet corner and sat down. "Two dances and this second beer?we aren’t getting younger, are we?" Lolita did not respond.
"Anyway, you hang on to him, eh?" Pat’s words caught Lolita unawares.
"What’s that again?"
Pat threw back her head and laughed.
"Your man, I mean," Pat explained. "He may not be a Mel Gibson or a John Travolta but he has the charm, you know."
"Mark is never like that!" Lolita suddenly became defensive. "I know him very well."
"My!" exclaimed Pat. "Still those goody shoes, eh?" she continued to laugh. "This is where we go wrong, my dear," she sipped her beer, rather pensively. "These men, however beautiful their wives may be, however much they may love them, they all nurse a particular fixation in the corner of their hearts. Those eyes, that nose, that bust line?. somebody else’s, I mean?" Pat went on talking.
Lolita suddenly lost interest in the conversation
The party went on well past midnight. As she sat on the bike with her arm around Mark’s waist, her mind was not her own. Pat’s words had invaded her thinking. Fixation? A distinct passion, to be exact, a distinct, unfulfilled passion?
Though exhausted, sleep did not come to her easily that night. Mark was out like a candle but she was tossing and turning in bed.
There was something else that was bothering her and this surfaced unabatedly in her present state of mind.
Just about two months back she had gone to a supermarket after work. Her kids were into junk food, chicken noodles, sausages, ham, bacon. Too much exposure to TV and the influence of Gulfee kids, she murmured. As she was stepping out of the supermarket –
She stopped in her tracks and looked back.
A man was walking towards her.
"It is Lolita, by Jove!" exclaimed the man. "How can I ever forget Lolita? Recognized me?"
"I have seen you somewhere?I" she recognized him. Oh hell, she said to herself. This character and here? She shifted her bags from the right hand to the left.
"May I help you?" he offered.
"No thank you Denzil," she said politely. "I’ll take an auto?."
"So soon? We just met. After years, you see." He ran his eyes on her. "Come on, let’s have a cone at the ice-cream counter. For old times sake. Moreover, I’m parched."
Lolita breathed deeply. Her breasts rose and fell under his roving eyes.
"My kids are waiting, Denzil," she said. "And you know, I’m a married woman now." She immediately regretted having said this.
Denzil threw back his head and laughed. A couple of customers eyed him curiously.
"Where are you, Lolita?" he asked, his tone showing hurt. "I’m a married man too and I have three kids. Moreover, my wife is in town. Came for just fifteen days from States. You know the life in the States?..But tell me when did this law forbidding college mates from having ice-cream come in?"
Lolita couldn’t help laughing and she laughed.
While having ice cream, Denzil spoke non-stop about himself, about his job, house, his Ferrari. I have arrived in life, he declared. He was a charmer in his college days, all right. Some called him a playboy. Many girls had a crush on this bigmouth. Lolita did not exactly loathe him neither did she like him. "I have everything in life," he concluded, wiping his lips with a napkin.
There was a brief silence.
"But men are men," he said with a put-on seriousness. "You know what, love? If I’m ever to leave my darling wife and elope with somebody, it will be you, you’re still something!" he mused, eyeing her closely. "Your Sally Field looks are still very prominent!"
"Liar!", Lolita whispered but she felt a burning sensation in her cheeks.
Denzil insisted that he hire a cab and drop her to her place although it was just a kilometer away. When the cab stopped at the destination he suddenly took Lolita’s both hands and kissed them lightly. Lolita was taken aback.. This is Mangalore you nut, she wanted to scream. Here, everybody knows everybody and everybody is related to everybody.
She alighted muttered some kind of thanks to Denzil and took off. As she was climbing the flight of stairs she realized that she hadn’t even bothered to invite Denzil in. What the hell, she said to herself. He never bothered to enquire about my kids nor about Mark.
All were home. Kids were busy with their homework and Mark had his nose in the newspaper. Thank God, he didn’t bring home his work.
…If a woman nearing forty, a mother of two, could be charmed by a few sentences from a man ….
"You are late," he observed, his eyes still on the newspaper.
"And you are early!" she retorted, acidly.
"My, my!" said Mark in a matter-of-fact voice. "Aren’t we touchy this evening? Rough day?"
She went to the kitchen, unloaded her marketing and coming to the living room slumped on the nearest cane chair.
Should I tell Mark about Denzil? Would it make any difference? Difference? Knowing Mark and his possessive nature, difference would be an understatement. He wouldn’t be angry nor jealous but would chide her, whenever possible, about this meeting. She decided not to tell him. If he comes to know by any chance, and chances were many in Mangalore, what the heck?
She couldn’t deny to herself that she did like Denzil’s company. May be he speaks in the same manner to all the women he comes across but to Lolita it was a novel and scintillating experience. A woman in the shade of her approaching forties, mother of two….and Sally Field?
She would have laced this chance meeting with her own juicy comments and narrated the same to Pat when they met at the party. But something made her hold back. And after Pat had met Mark and warned her about him, she was relieved that she did not speak about Denzil to her, now remembering that Pat too had flirted with Denzil for sometime.
Sleep had not come to her but now her thoughts were organized. If a woman nearing forty, a mother of two, could be charmed by a few sentences from a man of Denzil’s reputation, wouldn’t the effect be same on other women when my Mark speaks to them? I have, in my frailty, dared to hide my meeting with Denzil from Mark and Mark as a man could hide much more than that. He goes on tours, Bank seminars, and sometimes comes late, a couple of times he has been over the rainbow too.
Sixteen years! She couldn’t exactly remember them in detail. Mark has been a traditionally good husband. A saree for Xmas, a piece of jewellary for the wedding anniversary, a hug and kiss at Easter. But Mark had not done anything out of the way to surprise her, thrill her or amuse her. She had not complained but now this meeting with Denzil had her thinking.
Perhaps, she made bold to think, if this Mark gets a chance to spend sometime with that flirt Pat, he too would feel the same. Streamers of innocent sounding incidences which Mark had narrated to her over the years danced in front of her, each of them now with a underlying pointer saying ‘it could be this and it could be that.’
Lolita started monitoring Mark; it wasn’t suspicion but a precaution, she tried telling herself. This built a strange tension, one sided though but it was palpable. The bubble had to burst some day.
There were days when both of them behaved like strangers. "What’s eating you?" Mark had asked a couple of times only to be snubbed by Lolita.
Their Esteem had come, bringing along installments of loan repayments. Mark wasn’t steady at the wheel. Denzil had spoken at length about his Ferrari and its speed and his own driving skills. Why the hell am I thinking about him, Lolita pinched herself.
And one day it happened –
It was a Sunday, kids had gone swimming and they had obtained permission and money from their Dad to go to a ice-cream joint to eat "Gadbad."
Around noon Mark said suddenly. "Dress up, let’s go and eat at the dhaba."
There was only one dhaba at that time in Mangalore and she knew Mark hated dhaba food. He had had it quite a few times while on tours, he had told her. Chinese was his all time favorite but he knew she loved dhaba food. Hey, what is this guy up to?
Loilita’s mind was not on the menu and what Mark ordered did not register in her mind. When the waiter moved away Mark leaned on the table and looked around as if to see any one within earshot. There was no one.
"Loli," he said with a thick voice. Was there a tremor in his voice?
"I have to tell you something," he almost whispered. "I have a confession to make!"
Oh God! Here it comes, she said to herself. I don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to hear it.
"From quite a few days I have been thinking of coming out in the open. But?"
Didn’t have the guts, eh? I knew, I knew, you wouldn’t bring me to a dhaba otherwise.
"I have made a?there has been?I have done something which might hurt you."
Jesus! She exclaimed silently. I just ate a cone ice cream with a college mate. Let’s see what you have done?
"Only you can forgive me!" he was practically pleading.
She shivered. Sweat broke on her forehead. Is this my chance too? Should come into the open and tell him about Denzil? At least then we will know the degree of the fallacy each of us have committed?
She collected herself. Mustering courage she said, "I have something to tell you too?."
"Really?" he said but without any interest. "That can wait. First, you hear me out."
Oh dear Lord, if thou wish, let this cup pass!
Is it that Pat after all?
"Remember Loli," he began; totally unaware of what was going on inside Lolita. "For our fifteenth wedding anniversary we had given each other a Cross gold pen?"
Hey, hey, what’s happening? Where is Pat and where did these Cross pens come from? Has he given it to Pat?
"You know how sentimental we were about these pens?." He waited for her to say something. She did not. "I have to confess I lost mine last month?I searched high and low?"
Lolita did not hear the rest of his words. She choked, coughed and finally cried.
"I knew you would cry," he said, holding her hands. "I’m sorry," he gave her a spotless white hanky. "I’m really sorry!"
Lolita took her own time to settle down.
"I’m a very stupid woman," she said at last. "Really stupid!"
"And why is this reckoning today?" he asked, smiling affectionately. "Don’t I know that? You said, you too had to say something?a confession perhaps?"
Lolita opened her bag and took out her Cross pen and gave it to Mark. "Don’t lose this one," she said. "I will never forgive you if you do."
"Right. But what was that you wanted to tell me?" he insisted.
She held his hands warmly.
"Mark," she said. " My dear saint, I love you."
(Konkani original published in Raknno Weekly translated by the Author)
Translation published in "WOMAN’S ERA" October (First) 2003
Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore