Disclaimer: Mild erotic content
“So if I do end up sleeping with this guy, can you tell me what would be your psychological analysis of the situation?” said Lena, raising an eyebrow across the table.
She watched as Serene’s hair fluttered in the gentle breeze of the fan, as an image flashed before her – Lena leaning forward, planting a gentle kiss on the therapist’s lips, savoring her shock and the crumbles of the strawberry lip balm.
“I would say you were giving in to your symptoms,” replied Serena, matter-of-factly, clearly unaware of Lena’s wandering mind.
“Sexual needs are a human requirement.” replied Lena, brushing aside her own hair roughly.
“Yes. But what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t sleep with this guy?” Serena smiled at her, almost as if the therapist enjoyed the mental bondage that she was putting Lena into. Lena could have this guy, but she shouldn’t. Lena had to undergo the turmoil of watching him every day. Like a hungry predator lusting after a deer grazing a few feet away.
“It’s not going to kill you, Lena,” said Serena calmly.
“But I think I am a nymphomaniac”
“Using sex as a distraction does not classify as mania.”
Lena fixed Serena with a bored stare. “Well, I addictively use it so.”
“So you are going to faint of sexual starvation?” The twinkle in Serene’s voice was maddening as it was alluring, “And in the off chance that you do, a mental facility is the safest place anyone could be.“
Lena cringed, thinking of the depressing mental facility that was NIMHANS, Bangalore. Crowded with shoddy clothes, disheveled, hideous saris, gangs of burqa-clad women and their bearded brooding men. The place brought home the memory of the worst of times. And she never scored anything more exciting than anti-depressants that everyone seemed to be on, and did nothing but dispatch her into an uncool zombie trance.
“I want a mood stabilizer,” she declared, putting her hours of googling to more entertaining use.
“You’re already on medication,” said Serene, “Perhaps, you should consider why you have these constant sexual thoughts. “
“Because I am losing control!”
And this was true, and she would lose her job if it went on. It was during a presentation at work. Someone had gently brushed Suhaas’s shoulders, asking him to move. And mid-sentence, she halted, her tongue frozen, gripped by the visuals flashing in her mind. She sat down and took a gulp of water, a cold bead of sweat trickling down. Her manager, Mayank asked her if she was OK.
This would not do. “I need sex, Serene.”
“You can have sex with your husband.”
“He’s not my type. “
“Which is what?“
“What is boring, Lena?”
Lena drowned an inward scream with what she hoped was an equivalent glare. She hated these questions. One after the other. And she was paying for this by the hour.
“I don’t get a high from cheating on my husband if that’s what you are implying.“ Nothing was more humiliating that lurking around behind everyone’s back at a dingy hotel or a bachelor apartment.
“This has nothing to do with morality. You know that.“
“Why can’t you let me sleep with Suhaas?”
“Lena, we need to record these sessions. Did I, at any point in the discussion, say that you may not sleep with anyone. Did I, at any point, every ask you to do anything at all?”
“So, you are saying that I am absolutely free to do what I want. I can sleep with this guy or not. It’s up to me. “
“Yes. It is up to you.”
“But if I sleep with him, I am giving in to my symptoms?”
“And what symptoms are these. “
“You tell me”
“What if I am just a girl who likes a boy?”
“It’s possible,” Serena said, with a long sigh, as she checked the watch around her wrist. “For now, you need to be with your symptoms. Feel its discomfort. Avoid being controlled by it.
“So what am I supposed to do about my sexual needs until then?”
“Anything you want. Please yourself, maybe.“
“That’s not working.”
They stare at each other for a few seconds, and Lena wonders if she sees the hint of a blush.
Lena sits beside Suhaas at his cubicle, trying to fix his software tool, which has failed yet again. Its fails frequently enough, though not as much as she would have liked, despite her best efforts at covert software destabilization. She leans closer and breathes in his raw scent.
Uninstall the tool, she says. Undress while you’re at it, she thinks.
She leans back in her chair, taking in his frame, the curve of his lean back.
Uninstalling takes forever, he complains, his note a high treble. Is there no other way?
She looks at him as if he’s screwed up the tool in ways he could not even begin to comprehend. He sighs and reaches for the water bottle that is on Lena’s side. Lena doesn’t move, and appears to be engrossed in the tiresome contents of the laptop screen. His hand brushes the narrow shaft of air before her breasts, and he looks flustered at what he interprets as his own impropriety.
They wait for the installation to complete, an expected digital world eternity. He fills the awkward silence with his grumbles about Mayank, their boss, who has forced him to revoke his resignation.
Lena looks at him with quickening interest. Why? what happened?
As he is a contract employee, he tells her, he is obligated to wait until the contractor finds a replacement, which they haven’t. The contractor was now promising a raise, but not enough to match his new company’s salary. It was such a good deal, this new company, with opportunity to travel. And Mayank could never let a contractor travel, when he had so many full time employees.
She stared at him, gripped in the moment. Blah Blah Blah, he says. She didn’t care a hoot about his aspirations. But his face looked magically sweet in distress. He had to stay here, at her eyes distance, while she tried to bide Serene’s symptom clock. Her meal ticket was not escaping. It would stay tied down to that tree.
And his mother, he continued. She was frail and weak. And wanted him by her side.
Eight weeks of meditation actually had the capacity to invoke empathy in its subjects. Meditators were far more likely to give away seats in a bus to ageing and pregnant women than non-meditators.
Lena was on week nine of meditation. She tried. Poor mother, asking Suhaas, oh son, come over, I feel so tired. I want to see you before I die.
No, nothing. She felt nothing. Suhaas could stay, here. His mother could die somewhere else. Parents die. No point worrying too much about it. Suhaas had a job to do.
And Serene’s symptom clock was ticking.
That was all until the woman Anya, threw her arms around Suhaas, during one of the coffee sessions, in a characteristic display of vulgar sentiment.
The boiling point of blood was 212 degrees Farenheit. The same as water. Lena’s warm hands raced to her mouth, stopping the damn expletive.
Didn’t Anya have enough problems of her own. A son that conveniently got sick pre-release, the busiest time of each quarter. A husband that was constantly traveling. A boy toy that could never get enough sex. What were these married women into these days? 6-pack abs with creative leanings? Preferably artisitic or literary. And sex at bachelor apartments.
Was she imagining it, or was Anya’s hand traipsing down the nape of Suhaas neck, while she told him how she would miss him so much after he leaves for Pune.
Observe your breathing. Observe your thoughts. Observe it, and it shall disappear. Tibetan Mindfulness.
The images splash across the mind’s projector behind her eyes:
Suhaas, stripped naked, and spread eagled on a four poster bed. That slowly elevates to 180 degrees to the ground at the magical click of a switch. And stands erect. Like his sweet dick. Lena smiles. A little blow job, we want over here, is it? She’d take out the little strap-on. No, she wasn’t going to give it to him in his ass. This one is with the rigged vibrator, she tells him. And watches his sweet consternation. A little dash of oh so sweet confusion. And she runs the little vibrator over his bare white thigh. And watches him jolt in sudden realization. A bit of shock there?
How about this, then?
Owww, that hurts, he says. She loves the little noises he makes. Like a little girl.
And it was driving her wild. Her eyes were getting clogged. Her vision was blurred.
Stop it, he shouts. It’s not funny.
She runs the little device over the full length of his leg, and watches him scream, as it leaves rosy little marks, like the rosy rings of a plague aftermath.
She licks her lips wet.
Don’t ever let that bitch touch you again, do you hear me.
So much for meditation. Bitch Anya.
Then his mother fell. From the roof top of her Pune apartment.
When Lena was in sixth grade, Divya Bharti, 19-year old leading Indian actress, slipped and fell to her death from the balcony of her five-story apartment and landed on the ground floor parking. The neighbours found her in a growing pool of blood. Suicide? Drug incident? Murder? The newspapers had had a ball. A still from Saat Samundar had been splashed on the front pages of the local newspaper. Lena still had the clipping.
But how does a mother fall from a roof top? Is the mother ok? Where is Suhaas? Lena’s heart was beating like a savage cow skin drum at a pagan festival.
He’s already left for Pune, says Mayank.
She obsesses over whether to call him.
Mayank informs the team that Suhaas’s mother was in the emergency.
She imagines the call. Do you think your mother will live? No, that wouldn’t be polite, to say the least. She would have to wait for it to drop in conversation.
How is your mother, is perhaps a better question. Except of course in a cruel twist of fate, the mother decides to die just before Lena makes the call.
What if he starts to cry over the phone. And Lena couldn’t even touch him. Or hold him.
All she could do then was to drive down to the therapists office, persuade Serene for a drive, pass her a sedative, and wait for her to wake up so that she could pass 1000 kilo volts of electricity through the nipples of her trussed lithe body. The safe word was NOT to ask another goddamn question.
It’s a week later when he finally returns. By then her finger nails are bitten to a jagged knife.
The mother hadn’t died all week. Of that Lena was sure. Mayank would have informed them of that much.
He looks thin and waif-like. His eyes are haggard. His lips are chapped and yellow, like he’s been on a regular diet of dehydrating anti-depressants, and nothing else.
He looks at her as if he was craving a good night’s sleep. She feels a sharp tug at her chest. Her inner knife.
Take a long drag of one of those Tibetan Buddhist breaths. Imagine the nicotine of peace running through you jittery veins.
Please don’t cry, she begs him internally. There was no way she couldn’t reach out and touch him after that. Her leg was pulsating like a kitchen grinder, turning her chair electric.
He’s just tired, he tells her. He’s been in and out of hospital all week. His mother only fell off two stories. Which means broken bones. And surgery. Which meant money. Of which he had very little. Which is why he wanted a change of job in the first place. Of course she couldn’t loan him a paise. Because it would hurt his pride.
The next time his software tool misbehaved, he pinged Lena for help as usual, and she sat at his cubicle, attempting to fix it. He looked spaced out into the screen most of the time, except when he answered two calls from home, and told her that his mother was in a bit of pain, but she was recovering.
She whacked the tool back into shape and removed all the bugs she had personally introduced.
With the tool behaving so well, she saw less of him now. Her chat tool no longer blinked with his desperate pings. She resisted the urge to walk into his zone on the floor, in the pretext of talking to someone there.
She tries replacing death metal with yoga chants. For an entire week.
She began to discover pools of hours, where she manages to survive without a thought about him.
She begins following politics regressively, national and worldwide, the more controversial the better.
Lunch hour becomes more entertaining. She deliberately raises explosive topics with volatile teammates and spray them with her condescension. Do you guys even care? A Dalit student has died. The students are protesting. The nation is revolting. Please look outside your little computers for a second. The outburst felt good. And it wasn’t tagged as abnormal.
She meets Serena that week and informs her that she was getting better. She understood why she had to be off sex. She was dealing with her symptoms.
She thinks about it for a week and offers to help Suhaas. He had a lot on his mind, she said, its OK, she could help him.
She tries not to make unwanted pretexts to meet him.
She meets Mayank. “I think we can let go of the contractor Suhaas. ”
Mayank looks at her, his mouth wide open. “But you said the load was excessive. We needed to keep him?” This was quite the 360 degree. She’d been adamant until now.
“I can manage. Thanks.”
Suhaas stops over occasionally for a chat. His mother was doing well. His mother’s accident seems to have softened Mayank. Mayank had informed Suhaas that he would try to arrange things so that Suhaas could leave.
Lena unties the deer and told it that it was free to escape. Run along now, she tells the creature.
Suhaas reaches over and touches her hand. Lena looks up, startled. Thanks for helping me, he says, thanks for being there for me, it means a lot.
He gave her a smile. A slow rising moon in the night sky.
You should come to Pune, and visit my home, he says, it’s a beautiful town.
Lena forces a smile, and watches herself nose-dive into a pool of familiar gloom.
After that, there seems a sudden disappearance of propriety. And somehow, he establishes himself firmly inside her personal space.
And he was suddenly everywhere. Asking her questions. Meeting her eye at random intervals during meetings. A conspiratorial smile. A shared frown.
And then began the touching. Sudden jolts, that sent her epidermal layer into shock. Hey, here is your networking text book. Touch. Hey, be careful, you’ll hit that car. Touch. Hey, the tarpaulin.
Lena held on for support, breathing hard.
Did he want her too? She was imagining it surely. Reel in your thoughts. What was the fucking yoga chant. Still your desires. It doesn’t matter if he wants her or not. Serena’s clock has to tick to completion.
He wiggled beside her on the lunch table, cornering her into limited space. His body inches away. She could still move without touching him. But she could move and accidentally touch him. No social propriety broken. Lack of space. Nothing we can do about it.
And so he held himself away, as if he knew her little game. He just needed to be close, and wait for her to do the rest. Her subconscious prodded her, ordering her to brush up against him.
The predator was suddenly the prey. The predator tied to the tree, the deer playfully grazing around. Just a good pasture around here, you see.
“So he’s agreed. I’m loaning him some money. For his mother’s operation” said Lena, as she sat across Serene, in the counsellor’s room.
“Why?” said Serene, flipping through Lena’s file.
“What do you mean why? I can’t help a friend?” said Lena, sharply.
Serene looked up from the file, “I thought you decided not to indulge in your symptoms with this person?”
“I…I am not indulging…I kept away from him, all this while.”
“Then why are you going out of your way?”
“I’m just being helpful.”
“So….sign up for a charity. There are so many who need your help there.”
“So I should stop talking to every fucking person I know and work at a smelly old age home? “
Serene looked back into the contents of her file with a sigh.
“Say something!” Lena screamed.
“Black and white thinking, Lena. Classic Bipolar. One extreme or the other,” replied Serene.
“Why can’t you just tell me what the hell you want me to do?” shouted Lena, “I’ll live my life the way my therapist wants. “
“Its not about what I want you to do.“ said Serene softly. “You’ve been coming here for six months. What are we trying to achieve here? In therapy, I mean. What exactly are your goals?”
“My goal is to have healthy sex. ” Lena said, banging the table in frustration.
Serene chuckled. “So it’s not really to get better?”
“To get better and have healthy sex. To get better sex.”
“So you can just go and have the sex you want. What’s stopping you?”
“I’m not better yet. “
“And what is better? Describe it for me…”
Lena paused for a long moment, and sighed. “Control. Control over my thoughts. Control over what I do. What I feel. “
“Aah. So you want control. You don’t want vulnerability. Vulnerability in a relationship.”
“Yes. I want to avoid that.“
“But relationships are inherently vulnerable. You can’t avoid that. “
“That’s why I want to get better. “
“If that is your goal, Lena, I am concerned. If this is what you define as better. This need for control. And with this boy in office….you’ve just channelling your symptoms differently. Delaying the problem. You’re symptoms remain subdued, lying in wait, to surface at the next calamity.”
Lena eyes lingered on Serene’s for a moment, and then she shrugged, her body sinking into the chair.
The clock had ticked to completion. And she’d won a damn chastity belt. Serene had just tricked her into it.
He was leaving in a week. And she was oscillating like a damn pendulum.
Take him. In front of everyone. Or in the evening when nobody was around. Walk to his desk. Touch him. Give him a hint. Something inappropriate. He may react in shock. But he’ll come around. How difficult was it.
Leave him alone.
She saw him every day now. Coffee together, and perhaps even lunch. He seemed sad on some days. Perhaps he would miss her, she wished even as she brushed away her wishful thinking.
“My mother is desperately looking for prospective girls.“ He confided finally.
“You don’t sound happy. I thought you wanted to be with someone,” she said.
“Not someone picked up by my mother. And now she is forcing me to reconsider my new job. According to her, I should take a job that will keep me in Pune.”
“But I thought you wanted to travel.” She was sounding like a desperate tape recorder. What did it matter what she thought?
“Yes. I do.”
“So? Just revoke your resignation. Tell Mayank that you want to stay.”
“No. No. I can’t do that. I’m worried about my mother, too. She is suffering.“
In Lena’s mind, it was the chair in her therapist office. She was swinging it wildly, inches away from Serene’s pretty head, while she breathed down her hot tears.
Nothing had helped. Nothing would help. It was fucking over. And he wasn’t even going to be happy. He wasn’t going to be happy…and it was still at the expense of her own happiness.
What had she achieved?
Who throws away life for a lame-ass reason like duty?
Trapping an animal was easy. You know what they want. You tempt them. You get them.
Most men were animals. She was an animal. She understood animals.
But when does one stop being an animal and become human?
When one cannot understand what one wants or what one would do next?
Tea time. Lena walked towards the laughter at the coffee zone in her workplace. She poured a glass of boiling water and dipped in the tea bag.
She turned around, to the in-house office café, and her eyes held the two of them.
Suhaas and the girl, the curly haired fresher that had joined a month back. He was whispering something, and she leaned forward to listen, the curls falling softly over her amused eyes, her lips poised with a ready laugh.
Suhaas’s hesitant smile tiptoed onto his face, and it stood a troubled crescent, as if terrified at the merriness at a breath’s reach, but forever lost to him, forbidden.
Lena looked down at the silent rain in her tea cup, a growing pool of a new gloom.