Sambit made his way to his bike. “Fucking behenchod,“, he cursed under his breath. Someone had moved his bike to make way for their own. You did not touch another man’s girl or his bike. That was just the unwritten rule of the circles inside which Sambit now moved.
He unlocked his helmet and stuck it on his head. He thought back to that fateful day when, once and for all, he learned not to bike safety lightly.
Dusk had been falling earlier and earlier in the autumn weather up in the hills of Siliguri. He had misjudged how dark it would be at 5 in the evening when he said “Bye” to Nidhi to make his way to meet his uncle at the shop. His uncle wanted to buy a bike for his son and Sambit was the resident bike aficionado. A dog had darted in from the side of the road, startled by the steady chug of his Honda, ready to fight him for that stretch of road. Surprised, he had braked hard and inadvetently gripped his front brakes hard. Wheels locked, the bike had skidded a good 50 feet before coming to stop in a ditch. His cleft chin still bore a scar where his face had scraped the road. He had never been a fan of his chin and this scar, he felt, called even more attention to it.
In any case, not only had he learnt his lesson, his uncle had hired him to manage the shop out of a sense of guilt.
In hindsight, his life had forked off from the rest of his crew after that accident. He had a schedule to keep - open the store at 9am, close it at 9pm. Watch the till. Learn to name, spell, and guess the thousand obscure potions, herbs, and pastes stocked on the shelves. Like every other aspect of life, Indian clung to their personal notions of how to be healthy. Some refused all medicines, others swore by modern allopathic treatments in shiny hospitals, still others by the water memory of Homeopathy, and not a few turned to vaidyas and hakeems like his uncle for Ayurvedic elixirs.
At first, they would visit him at the shop. That slowly dwindled to a trickle once his uncle threw a fit about his friends parking their bikes outside the shop. His customers weren’t the healthiest to begin with, navigating a maze of bikes was something to be avoided.
And the long hours drove him and Nidhi apart as well.
They could only meet on his day off or late at night which did not happen very often. In lieu of Nidhi’s body next to him, Sambit turned to the Internet. So, when she did come over, the sex was proving to be simultanoeusly uninspiring and over-inspired.
Yet, he was grateful for his job. He had never been the smartest kid in classroom. This job gave him spending money and a measure of responsibility, so he wasn’t ready to walk away from it.
He straddled the bike and walked his way out of the crush of vehicles around him. Once on the street, he pushed the button to start. The engine rasped to life and then throbbed with verve. He sensed the vibration in his lower back and inner thigh.
He merged with the traffic heading to K.C. Mohanty Park.
His thoughts drifted from the news that Nidhi was back in town to the what waited for him at Mohanty Park. In a secluded corner, a joint, a few leaves of cured tobacco, a packet of gutkha, and a lot of friendly banter were ready for him. If Rishi and Mona ever saw him in that Park, huddled in a circle of young men sitting around a cairn memorializing their fleeting youth, that would be the last of his brunch dates with them.
They shouted their welcomes as he approached. Unasked, some mashed tobacco made its way into his hands. The mehfil, the adda was in full swing. Their ire today was directed at the police for enforcing the helmet rule and on a turf battle between the brash Sushant who supplied newspapers in Mohanty Park Enclave and equally brash Biswa who wanted a piece of the clientele.
“…and I said Madarchod, apni gaand mat mara. Get the fuck out and stay the fuck out,” Sushant said, embellishing his altercation with a few more expletives than the original probably had. “Lauda, I’ve been supplying newspapers in the Enclave for the last 3 years now. Why should I give my customers to Biswa?”
The circle murmured its agreement. They knew how little separated them from being back in the ranks of unemployed, without prospects, with no woman giving them a second look because they had nothing.
“…Sambit, saw your maal,” Sushant once more, using the age old word for property. “In the bazaar. She was with some white chick buying saris. Looks like it was for the white chick. Achi thi mem.”
His heart started pounding. His worlds seemed to be colliding - the aseptic brunch table juxtaposed with this circle sitting tightly packed in a corner of a park away from the prying eyes of society.