"Who steals my purse, steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he who filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed."
- William Shakespeare
The weather had been most amenable for the better part of the day, the sun having shone mildly since morning, and now with the faint hint of dark clouds hovering in an otherwise clear sky, and a cool breeze blowing in from the river, everything seemed perfect. Having been basted, barbequed and roasted in the scorching heat of the summer for over two months, the scent of rejuvenating showers were most welcome, and no wonder I was feeling so happy - all contented, and at peace.
In fact, there was a spring in my step, and a song on my lips, as I strode down to the neighbourhood coffee shop situated at the street corner, under a half block from where my apartment block stood. It was late afternoon, and I was headed for a meeting with my new friend, Aditya, Adi for short... a meeting that he had urgently requested... having impressed upon it's importance, and sounding sufficiently distressed - 'sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad'. And being me, always ready with a helping hand for a friend in need, prepared to lend a shoulder, I had sallied forth.
Well, that is the noble code of Himanshu Mitter's life, strongly believing in the old adage - 'a friend in need, is a friend indeed' (or, 'friend in deed', whichever it is), and holding it close to my heart! Firm in resolve, and conscious of the faith of a friend and confidant... unflinching in my fidelity, and unwavering in my dependability... Always aware of the trust, that friends, put in me, in unburdening their heart's sorrow, and always honouring that confidence. And as Shakespeare had once commented, 'action is eloquence' - so too I, always at my friend's side... ready to render my good deed, soothe a ruffled feather here, and a jagged nerve there.
I had met Adi about three weeks earlier, at a friend's party, and soon after our introduction, we hit it off. He called the next day and soon he was calling everyday, chatting for hours together. We even went out for a couple of movies when his boyfriend was busy at work and he was getting bored, sitting alone.
Vivacious, intelligent... impulsive at times, yet incredibly sensible, Adi was an extremely handsome young man, and he could just never stop gushing about Ritu, his boyfriend... giving me the minute details, telling me every bit since the day they first met, about a month back, up to his moving in. Laughing as he narrated the small anecdotes, adding sly asides. Ritu was just amazing, he said, awfully caring and very considerate... and he, Adi, was terribly happy.
And then, just two weeks into our newfound camaraderie, there seemed to be a slight crease over that happy brow... Well, Adi finally confided, there was indeed a fly in his ointment of joy... namely, my number. Ritu, he said, had found the scarp of paper with my cell phone number, tucked under a stack of Adi's clothes in their bedroom. No name, just a number... and while Adi was still asleep, Ritu checked his mobile for calls, and discovered the umpteen times that Adi had called me... and also my calls to him. He checked for SMSs, and found a few of that too, including the time and venue of our last meeting...
Well, he charged Adi, accusing him of two-timing... And Adi, confident in his innocence, and his devotion to Ritu, refused to explain, or introduce the name-less number, until Ritu apologised.
Matters ground to a halt right there - Ritu refusing to retract, and Adi declining to relent, both remaining adamant.
It was obvious even to the most base of human intelligence, that this was simply a case of the green-eyed monster mocking the flesh it feeds on, in other word, jealousy!
I had suggested that I meet this Balaam's ass and drum some sense into that thick skull of his, but Adi had insisted that I do no such thing. "I don't want you to be involved in this," he had said firmly. "And if he can't trust me, then there is nothing one can do!" And then, like the very sensible young man that he is, he smiled, adding, "I'm sure I can make him see reason..."
And now, the matter, no doubt, had reached its fiery climax... and I just couldn't be anywhere else, but by Adi's side, holding his hands and lending him my shoulder... offering all the moral support that he may need... and sound advice, if that's what he sought.
But unbeknownst to me, the Power that's well beyond our comprehension, and that invisible Hand that goes about working in truly mysterious ways, had other plans in store... and as Shakespeare had so succinctly put - `there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,' so also, my philosophy was about to be challenged. But, at that point, unaware, I trotted on, turning the corner and entering the familiar environ of the coffee shop...
"Hello, sir," Jay greeted me with his customary welcome smile as I headed for the empty table near the large bay window. "The usual?" he asked as I sat down.
"Ah, no, I'm waiting for someone," I replied, and he discreetly withdrew.
The place was almost deserted at this hour and as I looked around I spotted an oddly familiar figure across the room... sitting alone in a corner, facing away from the entrance, silent in contemplation, a plaintive look casting its gloomy shadow across the careworn face that was obvious even from the distant.
Well, once I've met, or been acquainted with someone, for me he is a dear friend for life... a buddy, a mate... and whether he too shared the same sentiment, was, as far as I'm concerned, immaterial! Therefore, seeing the knitted brow, and the drawn and contorted features, the Mitter spirit surged, and getting up I went over...
"Hey, Ritesh, buddy..." I greeted with a hearty pat on the hunched shoulder.
He turned... slowly... and then looked up through vacant, gormless eyes at my beaming face... before turning away without even a hint of joy... or recognition. But in that short instant of eye contact, I had noticed the look of pain and anguish in those hazel eyes.
"Whassup dude," I said sitting down, facing him, "why this gloomy countenance?"
He neither replied nor bothered to grace me with another of his vacuous looks.
"Matters of the heart, I presume?" I ventured, for it was quite obvious to my seasoned eyes.
He let out a sigh... one of those deep, bone rattling ones, coming from the bottomless pit of a tortured soul.
"Unburden thyself, pal," I said cheerily.
No, don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I was gloating over my mate's private sorrow, nor was I desirous to know the gory details out of some sick, voyeuristic pleasure; but rather, I wanted to give him hope... let him know that there was always a bright, silver lining beyond every dark cloud... you know, infuse some optimism, and joy, into his grief-stricken heart.
He turned his gaze back on me... and I perceived a look of distaste...
"Go on, tell me pal," I said softly, with a touch of compassion, "what's it, that's eating you?"
He curled his lips and gave a smirk, a hideous leer, turning away.
"Hey, Ritesh," I said reaching out and patting his hand that rested on the table near his empty cup of coffee, "unburden thy soul, mate, maybe I can help!"
"You?!" he said, once more turning back to face me, the look disdainful, and the tone very dry.
"Trust me," I persisted, ignoring the slights.
"But I don't!" he retorted, the look of revulsion back on his face, a look that one usually keeps reserved for the underside of one's shoe, having inadvertently stepped on animal excreta or any other such disagreeable matter on the sidewalk. "Remember Sachin, and Teddy, huh?"
'The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together...' I stared back at him, horrified... No, not because he had mentioned Sachin and Teddy, and that meant he was aware of that unsavoury incident from my past... No, nor because that past had again managed to catch up with me, 'for slander lives upon succession'... But I was horrified because even after nearly two years the truth had remained unacknowledged, and my friends still believed in those false tales...
'I am a man whom fortune hath cruelly scratched', I thought, and my mind rushed back to the incident he had just referred to...
* * * * * * * * *
It was about a month since I had returned home from medical school, dropping out after just two years of blood, gore and body fluids. I had already renewed my bonds with old school chums... and soon found myself deeply involved in the thriving gay circle of the city. Ever single, I was now actively pursued by all and sundry... consulting, confiding, cross-checking... and generally being friendly, seeking advice and unburdening souls.
I was in my elements, and the Mitter spirit flourished... And when, one day, I found Sachin, an old classmate and fellow gay, vegetating in a dark corner at the local pub, I rallied... He sighed and he trembled... and it came tumbling out... that same old tale of unfulfilled desire... of unconsummated passion.
"Three weeks!" he wailed. "I've dined him, took him around, bought him gifts... and because place is always a problem and he doesn't like doing it in the car, I even booked a room today and brought him along," he continued, his face gaunt, "but he just refuses... wont even take his pants off!"
I tut-tuted, but otherwise remained silent, after all, it wasn't my job to comment on the rights and wrongs of a friend's actions and objectives, or pass judgement on them. "He's here?" I asked.
He nodded dully, "Up, in the room."
"Cheer up dear boy," I said, patting his hand, "Himanshu is here and don't you worry. Give me fifteen minutes and then come up to your room." I stood up and then bending low brought my mouth close to his ear, "Hope you can still get it up, and the alcohol hasn't rendered it out of commission, eh?" And as he looked at me, startled, I winked and was off.
I had met the kid before, of course with Sachin... A cute little kid, barely sixteen and that's why, maybe nervous. Oh, I knew these first time jitters and was sure I could convince Teddy to relent. He was a nice kid and would listen to reason. No point in leading a man down the garden path and then rebuffing the advances.
He opened the door and stood aside as I entered.
"So, Teddy," I greeted.
He closed the door and came over to where I sat, sitting down on the edge on the bed...
"Just met Sachin," I said, "he's terribly upset..."
"Oh!" he exclaimed.
"What's the problem buddy?" I ventured.
"You're a doctor, right?" he suddenly asked.
I gave an indulgent smile... It's funny how a lot of people think that just two years in medical school can turn you into a doctor! "Nopes, I dropped out," I said, leaning forward.
"Well, you were in medical school, and so you must know a thing or two."
"Well..." he hesitated, "you see, I really like Sachin and also want it to happen with him..." he paused again and then looking up, right into my eyes added, "Say, how long can one just go on using one's own hands, and humping against the bed, right? I really want him to do it!"
"Then where's the prob?"
"Oh..." again he hesitated. "Well, the first week was fine, but once he started to push for it I just couldn't let it happen..."
"I've got something, you know, it's right here..." he resumed, pointing to his right groin, low down, and then patting the area. "It's some kinda rash, circular and red, and terribly itchy! I've tried numerous lotions and creams, but the thing just gets worst. The medical shop guy said it was ringworm, thought I never saw any worm crawling around. I'm afraid to, you know, get naked and let him see it..." Another long pause.
I waited... I'm terribly good at it, always patient, and that's one of my better qualities... serving me well in my job of salving the aching spirit.
"I'm afraid if he sees it, he'll be turned off and I'll loose him!"
I reached out and patted his knees in a reassuring kind of way.
"You'll see it?" he suddenly offered, "you know, maybe you can make out what it is and recommend some proper medication."
And even before I could put in a word, he was up and had worked his jeans off the slim waist, lifting his tee high, brunched under his chin.
And what with all the long narration and even longer pauses, I hadn't even bothered to look at the time... and as he lowered his brief, exposing his genitals to my amazed gaze, the door swung open, and Sachin entered.
His hand still on the door knob, Sachin stared, his jaws dropping low... Teddy still holding his tee up under his chin... one had holding the teen cock out of the way as his other hand pointed towards the embarrassing itch... And I, still sitting, my hand outstretched... eyes wide with surprise, gaping blankly back at Sachin.
Sachin was the first to recover... He gently closed the door, turned around, and staring with eyes like gimlets, said a single word to me through tightly clenched teeth, oh, well, rather, two words... "GET OUT!"
And I did just that... 'though not with bag and baggage, yet with scrip and scrippage'.
* * * * * * * * *
I had long since ceased to provide an explanation of those unfortunate events... tired of the condescending stare of utter disbelief on the face of the listener... and so, I didn't bother to enlighten Ritesh to the actual facts of the happenings, preferring to remain silent instead...
"No, Himanshu, I don't trust you..." his voice cut into my thoughts, "not with your depraved craftiness, and especially NOT after what you did to Beebo, and the way you repaid Sandy's trust in you. Sandy told me all about it!"
That was another of the numerous, unpleasant episodes that I'd prefer not to remember. Trust me, not a word of truth in any of them... yet there are takers!
* * * * * * * * *
This was even earlier, during the last summer at medical school... I was home, visiting, when four of us got together and decided on a short vacation... to Goa.
The resort was spectacular, and the sea was just great, and with the unseasonal clouds hovering in the sky, the blazing sun couldn't do much to dampen our joys. We surfed, and we swam, and lazed around the beaches, generally horsing about... having an amazing time. I was the only guy without a mate, while the rest were all paired... Sandy was there too, along with his latest boyfriend, a kid barely past his puberty... slim and pretty, always giggling away as he clung to Sandy's broad shoulders. Though, at my disapproving looks, Sandy had assured me that he was eighteen, and totally legit.
Well, to make a long story short, on the last day of our trip, I was in Sandy's room... just chatting, when he suddenly got up and grabbing a towel announced that he'd go for a dip in the sea. "One last plunge before we pack and leave," he said.
"Oh, you stay here," he added as I was about to get up, "or else, once Beebo gets out of his bath and finds me gone, poor guy, he'll get terribly upset and all. You know how he is, a real baby!" He grinned, gave a wink and was gone.
I sat... changing channels on the TV and patiently waiting for Sandy's baby - Beebo, to finally emerge from the bath, and then hold his hand and comfort him till Sandy returned.
He emerged, filling the room with the fragrance of wild lemon... scrubbed clean and sparkling... pink and smooth all over, a towel loosely wrapped around the middle.
"Oh," he squealed on seeing me alone.
"Sandy's gone for a quick dip and will be back soon," I smiled reassuringly.
"Oh!" he exclaimed once more.
I smiled, he blinked... walking past the couch I sat on... and then...
The curse of a careless slipper!
He tripped... and stumbled, teetering dangerously... and as I reached out, hoping to steady his foothold and restore his balance... the tilt being sharp, he went over... plonking down on my lap, my left hand passed around his delicate shoulder and grabbing him tight... the towel, already precariously knotted around the slim waist, fell away, and my other hand landed right on his, surprisingly capacious, and rigid, member!
At that instant the door opened and Sandy entered, no doubt much refreshed from his recent venture into the sea.
Beebo jumped up and ran to a corner, still buck naked, sobbing pitiably as Sandy gawked, totally dumbfounded... and then things clinked and clanged in his masculine brain and he arrived at conclusions all his own...
In one gigantic stride he came over, and gripping me by my lapel, hauled me out of the room, slamming the door shut.
No words were spoken, nor questions asked, and neither any explanation provided. I was out... and walking back to my room, to pack and return home.
* * * * * * * * *
As already mentioned, this time too, I didn't bother to clarify, remaining silent. Well, I also had another reason... Ritesh was already down, a tormented soul, now, why contradict him and muddle his already overloaded intellect... And as I was thinking on these lines I spotted Adi, as he entered the cafe.
He paused for a moment, looking this way and that... and as I lifted my arm and waved at him, he saw me, giving a wan, hesitant smile and then started to walk towards our table... Then he paused again, a bit unsure on realising that I already had company, another person, with me. I smiled reassuringly and waved my hand once more, signalling him to come over.
He came, and as I stood up in greeting... Ritesh turned in his chair... looking up at the new arrival...
"So, your sleazy claws haven't failed to sully my life either," Ritesh suddenly hissed, looking at me. "You've truly perfected the art of crafty, underhand deceit... sneaky and slimy," he continued, his teeth clenched, the voice icy, "I should have guessed; the stench surely had the hallmark of Himanshu!" And then, casting one final look, that could have frozen the fires of Hell, he stood up and stormed off, leaving in his wake a very baffled, and gaping Himanshu Mitter.
"You know him?" I heard a distant voice ask... and then jerking myself awake, I looked at Adi, realising that it was he, who had just spoken.
"You know him?" he repeated, staring balefully at me.
I nodded, still perplexed...
"And all these days you never even mentioned it. Why the hell did you call him here," he asked, his eyes flashing. "Especially after I told you not to meet him, or interfere in our matter," he added accusingly.
I stared, totally confused.
He sat down, "Now Ritu will never believe me. I've lost him forever, and all because of you!"
"Rit... Ritesh, he's your Ritu?" I finally managed.
He gave a dark look of disdain, and then getting up, strode off, out of the coffee shop.
My world swirled into a black nothingness as I tottered and slumped back into the chair... stunned 'by the wrongs I suffer and the blows I bear'... Shuddering at the thought of another myth, about my insidious guile, that had just been created.
"You'll have your coffee now, sir?" asked Jay, his cheerful voice breaking into my thoughts.
I nodded dully... still wondering at the unfairness of Life...
Note: The quotes used in this story are from the various works of William Shakespeare
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copyright © author, june, 2008