Short Story: Girlfriends

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Painting: NATALJA PICUGINA

By Madhu S Nair

Mohan Gopal was annoyed to receive a telephone call from an unfamiliar lady voice, one early morning. He was fast asleep when the phone rang. Autumn mornings were cold in the city. Mohan Gopal was a late sleeper and he didn’t have to get up early mornings to go to work. He worked as a timekeeper in a luxury hotel, his work shift started only in the afternoon.

“Who is this?”

Mohan Gopal answered the call, obviously irritated at waking up too early. There was no immediate response for his query, but he could hear a deep breathing sound.

 Mohan Gopal tried to identify the voice in vain. He was sure that the call was not from any of the six girlfriends he had; he had never goofed up in recognizing their voices. Anupama Malhotra, who was his dearest, preferred to talk in Hindi. He loved to hear it. According to him, the Hindi-speaking habit added to the sensuality of girls.

Lissy John the imitated the British accent but her Indian English crept in whenever she talked fast. She had never lived in Britain but the Queen’s English was her passion.

The Korean girl Son Jin called only during nights. She spoke broken English and the pronunciation was typically oriental. She never hesitated to repeat what she said. Her calls were short, mostly informing her boyfriend that she was on her way to his apartment. She had the sole right to sleep overnight in his place. Mohan Gopal treated her as his part-time wife. She cooked, cleaned the apartment and did the laundry, apart from making love to his heart’s content during her weekly visit.

Sarika Ratnam spoke in a shrill tone and her shrieking voice had a melody too. She was a sophomore in a community college nearby. She visited Mohan Gopal during her lunch breaks. Her association with him was platonic; she was trying to get away from the lovebug of her professor who was of Arab origin. She had never considered Mohan Gopal as her boyfriend but the urge to meet him was intense and spending time with him was a solace to her.

Nadia Pancrasy was Italian. She spoke English with a heavy Italian accent. She was probably the most good-looking among Mohan Gopal’s girlfriends. She had long black hair, her skin looked like it was naturally tanned, her facial features were sharp – she could very well have passed for an Indian girl. She was poorly educated and worked as a waitress in an Italian restaurant. Mohan Gopal’s attraction to her was mostly carnal. She outsmarted all the other girlfriends in bed.

Carol Mckenly was the only one who spoke the native American English. She used Mohan Gopal as her bodyguard whenever she went to collect alimony cash from her former husband who was an Iranian. She claimed to have committed a mistake in marrying him in her teens. Her Catholic faith was one reason for the separation; she had refused to embrace Islam and move to Iran with her husband. Mohan Gopal loved to go out with her, mostly for movies. Carol was a movie buff aspiring to be an actress someday.

Mohan Gopal was not in love with any of his girlfriends except the one back home. He was candid with all the local girlfriends in the beginning of his friendship so as not to harbour any hope for a long-term relationship or marriage. He told them about his love for the girl waiting in his native country. Only Anupama Malhotra didn’t believe his story. She kept on pleasing him in every way possible. Her asset was an acute sense of humour; Mohan Gopal loved this trait in her. Moreover, her academic achievements were better than his; she was on the verge of finishing her doctorate degree. If not for his love for the innocent girl waiting in India, he was sure to have considered marrying Anupama. He didn’t reveal his affairs with other women to Anupama, for he sensed that she was in love with him. But he bragged about his sex escapades to Lissy John who was thrilled to hear the details. She too told him about her having good times with a giant black Romeo. Saritha Ratnam was childish in confessing to having sex with her Arab professor in his Mercedes car. She giggled while disclosing the need for prophylactics and lots of tissue paper to be kept in her school bag.

 Mohan Gopal had been holding the receiver for an answer for almost a minute. Impatiently he asked again, “Please tell me who you are?”

“Rekha Ravindran, Dr. Ravi’s wife.”

He could make out that she was shivering while mentioning her name. He knew Dr. Ravindran well and had met him a few times at functions organized by immigrants from his native place. But he couldn’t recollect the name or the face of his wife.

“So nice that you called me. Can I help you in anyway?” His question was casual, but it was reassuring for Rekha.

“Can we meet?” Her request was blunt. The playboy in Mohan Gopal woke up. He didn’t think twice to answer.

“Of course, I love to. Can I come over to your place?”

She nodded yes. He knew the location of her apartment which was only five minutes’ drive from his place. He had gone to that housing complex many times before to meet a couple of his friends who had lived there. He wanted to meet Rekha before she changed her mind.

“May I come now?” He hesitatingly said.

“My husband is not here now”

For a moment Mohan Gopal was confused.

Was her invitation meant to meet her husband also? He acted decently.

“Then I will make it some other time”

“No, no come now, he doesn’t know I am calling you.”

Mohan Gopal felt relieved. He noted her apartment number and told her to expect him in an hour. He took a quick shower, dressed casually and got into his antique model Volkswagen Beetle car. He was careful not to park inside Rekha’s apartment complex, for he didn’t want to be noticed by his friends living there. He drove into the parking lot of Seven Eleven store nearby. Since the parking lot was shoppers’ only, he went in and bought some mint flavour chewing gums. He wanted to smell good while meeting Rekha.

He didn’t have to ring the bell to enter Rekha’s apartment; she was anxiously standing inside, front door half-open. She seemed to be at ease, but Mohan Gopal got nervous. He looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. She was just out from the shower and was wearing only a bathrobe. Her long hair was wet, and she had the fragrance of sandalwood soap on her. Mohan Gopal was at a loss for words to start a conversation. Both looked at each other for a few minutes. She came and sat next to him in the sofa and lightly kissed him on his cheeks. That was the signal which indicated why he was summoned. Mohan Gopal felt what was happening was like a dream come true. He held her tight and pressed her tits. She eased the process by disrobing, and apparently she didn’t wear all inner-wears. Their love session was in the sofa and it was brief. Mohan Gopal realized that he was playing the role of a gigolo which he didn’t mind repeating for almost a couple of months. Each time he enjoyed more the food she served post lovemaking sessions. Out of curiosity, he asked her once why she wanted the relation to be so mechanical without a trace of any love. She blurted out the truth.

“I want your baby; Ravi’s will look ugly”

Mohan Gopal was shocked. He never believed that he was so attractive that a woman would choose him just to impregnate her.

“I am not so handsome for you to fall in like this.” He shared his apprehension to her.

Rekha Ravindran was not looking for the most beautiful guy in the world to mate. She had a pre-marital affair with a young boy called Asok, who resembled Mohan Gopal to a great extent. Her family was not aware of it and Rekha was hesitant to bring the issue to their notice for the simple reason that Asok was five years younger to her, apart from the fact that he belonged to a different caste. In the meantime, when a proposal came from a doctor settled abroad, she had decided to be practical and had readily agreed to marry him. His dark complexion and midget look didn’t bother her. The prospect of a luxurious life abroad was a dream for a girl from a lower middle-class family.

When Mohan Gopal met Dr. Ravindran the next time at a private party he had a close look at him. Despite his dark colour and short height, he looked very decent in a fashionable attire. He proved to be a talented musician. Mohan Gopal was impressed by discovering the artist hidden in the physician who entertained the party singing a love song. He felt guilty in cheating a nice gentleman. Rekha who was clinging on to her husband throughout the party didn’t even say hello to Mohan Gopal, in spite of repeated sessions of lovemaking with him a day before.

Next time when Rekha called, he pretended to be sick. After a few weeks when he called back, she pretended to be sick. The affair ended unceremoniously. Mohan Gopal realised that lust without love had only a short life. Nevertheless, the short affair had a positive effect on him. His habit of running after girls slowed down. He joined a prestigious university for a Master’s program. When he arranged his job to be part time and took studies seriously, his girlfriends started shirking him. Carol Mckenly moved to a city far off securing a lucrative marketing job. Sarita Ratnam married her Arab professor and left for Egypt for her honeymoon. Anupama Malhotra took up a teaching job in a remote town in a southern state. She compelled him to escort her to join in her new job. It was a long car ride and in between they stopped at the historic Lorain Motel in Memphis city where Dr. Martin Luther king was assassinated. They decided to stay there overnight. The next morning when she joked that her honeymoon had the smell of blood, Mohan Gopal realized that her sense of history was infantile.

He retorted, “Do you mean you screwed in memory of Dr. King?”

She apologized but still Mohan Gopal’s esteem for the women further eroded in practical terms. He stayed with her for a week and helped her to find an apartment and arranged all the necessities for her comfortable stay in the new environment. While bidding goodbye, Anupama was in tears, as she believed that she had lost him forever.

On returning home Mohan Gopal found a note left in the mailbox, from Lissy John.

“You, son of a gun, left with that bitch without letting me know. I could have come along for a threesome. Anyway, I am happy for you; I am sure you will have a bright future. Do not disappoint the girl waiting for you back home. Never met her, but my instinct tells me that she will be an asset for you. I had to rush back home since my mother is seriously ailing. Not sure when I will return or see you again.

Your lover forever, with no strings attached, Lissy.”

On reading it, Mohan Gopal realized that all women were not alike; they were a mix of flowers and thorns.

Mohan Gopal got busy with his studies. He was left with only one girlfriend, Son Jin. As usual she continued to visit him every week to cook, clean and make love. She had no demands, never asked him to take her out or buy presents. On the contrary, she lent him money whenever he needed. Mohan Gopal was extremely touched by her attitude towards him; she never uttered the word, ‘love’ even once. In bed, at the height of ecstasy she would utter words in Korean. He thought she was complementing him for his love skills. The poor guy never knew that she was married and had felt guilty of what she was doing. Her husband was on a long wait in Korea to get a green card as the spouse. Whenever Son Jin made love with Mohan Gopal, she shut her eyes and fantasized her husband was on top of her and talked to him in Korean.

Mohan Gopal had the habit of watching late night television news before hitting the bed. On that day he was shaken by what he heard in the news headline.

‘An Indian lady was arrested for homicide. She had drowned her infant child in the bathtub.’

The picture displayed was of Rekha Ravindran.

Mohan Gopal had a sleepless night. In the morning he called Son Jin and requested her to take care of his apartment and left the key in mailbox. He took the evening flight to India.

After a few months, Mohan Gopal returned to America as a married man. This time he arrived in a different city.

Bio:
Madhu S Nair is a prolific writer in Malayalam, the language of the state of Kerala in India. He has published more than 25 books, mostly travelogues, a dozen stories and two novels. He lives in Trivandrum, India. Email: madhunairusa@gmail.com

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