I work as a team leader for a non-profit organisation in Bangalore, specialising in publishing poetry written by people from minority communities. It’s a tedious desk job, and I sit in my cubicle and edit manuscripts that show promise, among other tasks. I recently found out that Arjun, the accountant, has embezzled funds over the last few years, but I haven’t approached my boss yet. While I contemplate this, another thought forces its way into my consciousness. It eats up the alleyways of my mind like an abomination with many cavernous mouths filled with myriad colossal teeth. I futilely try dismissing it, but it grows and grows. Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I must get Meena something.
I settle on a rose, a symbol of passion though our ardour lost its sheen years ago. After my shift, I grudgingly walk to the florist and pick one red flower of desire. Looking at the chrysanthemums with their effervescent, yellow petals, I’m reminded of another epoch when passion flared like an unrelenting allegro, quickening impulse. I dread going back to the dusty apartment with its cracked beige walls. So, I message Meena, telling her that I’ll be home late.
I walk past the dirty, malodorous ditches and the decrepit brownstones. A miasma of despair rises from Bangalore, and the slight drizzle only dampens my mood further. As I approach the door to my flat, I find it slightly open. How careless of Meena! What if someone decided to creep in and steal our belongings? I quietly enter, expecting my wife to be seated at the kitchen table, watching Youtube videos on her phone. But then I hear the moaning from the bedroom and freeze. My footfalls become whispers as I approach the slightly ajar bedroom door. I peer in, and a thousand volts of anguish rip through my being. My wife is on top of another man. From my vantage point, I can see the left side of her brown, silky body and her face, partly obscured by her cascading black locks. I cannot see his face but watch as the right side of his muscular body contorts and writhes. Rage wells up in me. I want to barge in and kill them both, but I remain rooted to my spot. A wounded, feral creature rattles the bars of his cage within.
I watch as her moans intensify and become throaty screams. I despise her, but I continue observing them. And then some other feeling, antithetical to resentment, rises within me. Passion. I realise I like what I’m seeing. I try suppressing this emotion, telling myself that my wife of seven years is cheating on me, but it erupts. Finally, Meena convulses and lets out one final cry. I creep out of the apartment, the bulge in my pants visible. I walk to the emergency staircase and climb down. Then I pull my pants down and play with myself. The ecstasy, rising like a crescendo, running parallel to the quick, lively tempo of the guilt coursing through my veins, renews my spirit. Then, having soiled the stairs with white droplets that hold a million lives, not caring if anyone saw, I put my pants back on and go for a stroll.
As I walk under the flames of the forest, swaying in the breeze, I realise that I need to find out who her lover is. I return home after an hour and find Meena typing something on her phone. I wonder if she’s sending captioned nudes to her lover. She looks up and smiles, and I smile back. Wolves masquerading as sheep. Latent desire and uninhibited recklessness creating inky, malevolent tendrils that wrap the heart. We’re both playing a game now, and I’m not stopping until I win.
That night, I wait for her to sleep. I know her phone’s passcode because I found it written on a sheet of paper along with her email password and debit card pins tucked underneath a row of books. I thought nothing of it then and even wanted to tell her to change it since I knew, but I’m glad I didn’t. I unlock it. She’s clever. There are no Facebook or WhatsApp messages to her lover. I then decide to go through her contacts. I find no secret names. I know everyone on her list. I read and re-read the list of names in the dim, yellow light of the bathroom, fearing that she might wake up. Then it strikes me. It feels like a million luminous fireflies of epiphany descending on the broken grey plain of my mind. Arjun. I knew Arjun and talked about him, but I never introduced him to her. I bring to mind his sturdy frame and sharply chiselled face. I look at his number, and it’s the same one on my phone. The swindling accountant is fucking my wife.
I send him a text on WhatsApp, praying that he’s awake, using her phone. I had a fantastic time today. I wait, trembling, but a few seconds later, he replies. You said that a million times already lol. I delete the correspondence and return to the bedroom, gently placing her phone on the table. She’s snoring. I stay awake all night and plan my next steps while I furiously masturbate.
The next day, I confront Arjun in the office during a coffee break. “I need to talk to you about something important,” I say, and his face quivers a little.
“Sure. After work,” he replies with a veneer of confidence.
“Yeah. Let’s meet at the cafe across the street.”
Sitting at the low table, on plump cushions, I don’t mince words. “I know you’ve stolen from the office funds. I have looked through the balances, and things don’t add up. You’ve also deceived people into asking them to pay for manuscript submissions during our open reading months. I’ve received complaints, and you’re in a lot of trouble.”
Strangely, Arjun doesn’t wear a mask of indignation. Instead, he looks at me with bloodshot eyes. There is a hint of sadness in how he sits with his broad shoulders stooped. “My wife is pregnant, and I have a lot of debt because of a gambling addiction. So please don’t report me. Let’s figure a way out of this. I’m begging you,” he whimpers.
A sob story. If he has a wife, and she is with child, why is he sleeping with mine in my damn house? I wonder if he is a pathological liar or a twisted, broken man. Perhaps he’s a sociopath who gets what he wants. But, I wasn’t going to let him play the strings of my emotions and produce some depressing sonata in a minor key.
“I know that you’re sleeping with my wife. What kind of monster are you? Ruining the company’s name and then having an affair with your team leader’s wife? Why should I help you? I should destroy you.”
“What the hell are you saying! You’re crossing a line, Ram. I’m warning you!” Arjun yells, rising, about to strike me.
“Meena Iyer, who lives in Park Apartments, is my wife, you bastard! I saw you two together yesterday in my bedroom!” I shout back. I didn’t expect rage to inundate me, eat me up like giant waves lapping the shore. I lower my voice, but my hands tremble. “We’ve been married for seven years.”
“Meena! She’s your wife! But she told me that she wasn’t married,” Arjun whispers, clearly discombobulated. He wipes the sweat off his brow and leans back on the cushion.
So he isn’t a sociopath. Just an unstable man. I decide to take the next step quickly. “I can help you, Ram,” I say. “But I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything! I’ll stop seeing your wife. I’m so sorry! I don’t know how I can make it up to you.”
“I don’t want you to stop seeing my wife. In fact, I desire the opposite. Yesterday, when I came home and watched you two, I felt rage, but voyeuristic passion enveloped it. I realised then that I liked what I saw. I need you to forward me all your correspondence with her in the future, and I want you to convince her to make sex videos with you. Email those to me. I know all this sounds bizarre, but if you agree, I’ll forge balances and return the amounts you took from the writers, saying it was a misunderstanding.”
“Wait! What! You bastard! You want to incriminate me in a sex scandal!” Arjun barks, hyperventilating and coughing.
“Trust me. I have no intention of implicating you in anything. In fact, I walked to the staircase outside the apartment and masturbated yesterday after Meena came. I’m a pervert, Arjun. I don’t want Meena anymore, but I enjoy watching her with other men. I have a dark, crooked mind, but I’ll help you if you help me. I’ll even tell the director to promote you. Think about it—No lawsuits, no financial problems, a wife you can support, and a mistress you can use.”
“You’re deranged and dangerous. You can’t possibly think I would—”
“You will, Arjun, if you know what’s best for you,” I whisper and walk out of the cafe.
Arjun avoids me for the next few days in the office. I wonder if I should have adopted a different approach. Perhaps, planted a hidden camera in my bedroom. But I need those messages. I love that they are filled with anticipation and nervous tension, building up into an unmitigated force. A week later, I get a string of messages. They include nudes and saucy odes to body parts. Arjun came through!
The next day, I receive a mail when I’m at work. I run to the washroom, enter a stall, and pray for a good WiFi signal. It’s decent enough, and I sigh and shudder as I watch him take her in every imaginable position, adjusting the camera to allow me to get a better angle. She moans and smiles at the camera, but he seems withdrawn and guilty. I don’t care about him, though. What thrills me is that my wife is open to being filmed. It’s a sickening intoxication that makes me hit the high G on the instrument I play like an expert using my right hand. I cry aloud, tears running down my face; Eros and Thanatos twisted bedfellows in me. I don’t care if anyone in the office hears.
Arjun keeps sending me videos, and I watch them, but I realise I need more. Those tiny demon wings which emerged from my back when I first saw Meena come are now giant pinions. I text Arjun. Do one last thing for me, and we’re done. I want you to share Meena with another man and film it. I want to watch her fuck you both. He doesn’t reply. The next day, he isn’t in the office, and that night I find out that he has taken his life.
I pushed him too far! I’m not guilty that he died, but I’m broken that I ruined something that gave me purpose again. I find Meena in the bedroom, clutching a pillow, sobbing.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her.
“Clearly, something’s wrong. You’re weeping.”
“A best friend from college died. We’d lost touch, but we reconnected recently. She came home when you were at work. I loved her, but she had unrealistic expectations. I feel…I feel, I wasn’t there for her. She took her life…Oh God!” She cries, sentences merging into each other like a blur. “She got me a rose. Left it in the vase on the table. I didn’t notice it until now. Oh!”
So, she loved the bastard. Quiet rage builds up in me. I want to hurt her. “I got you that rose for Valentine’s Day,” I say and leave the room.