“She has come again.” Mushtaq, the salesman at the Louis Vuitton outlet in the UB City, whispered to his manager.
The manager, Santosh Gowda, a first-generation graduate from Mandya, saw the salesman from the corner of his eyes through the palm that was covering the handheld. He was in argument with his new wife.
“What is it?” he asked the salesman, “Not you, Jaan, hold a second,” he placated the other side and asked the minion “Can’t it wait?”
Mushtaq nodded and returned to the counter. He had asked the new intern to keep an eye on the girl in a magenta hoodie.
“Who wears a hoodie to haute couture store?” He whispered to the intern. She nodded, twitched her lips. The customer was window shopping for the third day in a row; same time, the same hoodie.
“What would you like to see, Madam?” Mushtaq hated to call such vagabonds with respect. “A few scarfs and bag charms today are at a great discount.”
The girl lowered her hood and stretched her freshly done eyebrows at Mushtaq. Then she burst into a giggle. Soon, she got frenzied. Mushtaq and the new girl from the North East got startled. With no previous experience of handling a maniac, he instructed the junior to get a glass of cold water for ‘Madam’.
The girl stopped laughing, took the glass offered nevertheless. Nonchalant, she unzipped the hoodie to take out a bunch of pink two thousand rupee notes from its in-pocket and put on the table in front of Mushtaq.
“Twenty-six thousand, seven thousand and eighty,” he had told her the price the previous day, “including GST.”
Counting, he gestured the intern, a dental student earning a few bucks in the evening, “The Mona Lisa chain bag of the Da Vinci series, there.”
The intern picked up the bag and gave it to her, “Please check it, Madam.”
A grey-bearded, bald man in a sky blue linen Nehru coat ambled into the store and patted her bum. “Done, sweet? I am hungry.” He saw the bag, “Ah, nice choice!” He winked at the girl, “Like me!”
The girl smiled; the kind you do when you miss the train and realise that there is none to board until the next day.
Mushtaq had seen in the last two days the girl was accompanied by two different men, both much older to her twenty-something. Those men sauntered in the corridor outside the store, never stepped in. The first day, she had just done the recce. The second day she had selected and bargained. She had tried to convince the men, to no avail.
This man, who held the girl by her waist as she caressed her new possession, seemed more confident. He kissed her cheek on their way out.
Females! Mushtaq smirked, glad about the first sale of the day.
“Good evening, Sir, table for two?”
Biren, twenty-seven old from West Midnapore district near Kolkata, had memorised the essential English phrases in the eight months he worked in Bangalore. First, at Arbor Brewery, and then at this upscale Japanese resto-bar, he had learnt to keep his language and curiosity contained to the limited agenda he was trained for, gracious hospitality and maximum billing.
The girl had a magenta hoodie on, coughing off and on. With her red canvas shoes and the torn jeans, she could be mistaken for an underage student for this bar. She was twiddling her index finger of the right hand into the long chain of the bag, Louis Vuitton imprinted on it, winding and unwinding.
The man looked matured, almost double the girl’s age, the kind who solved problems as a profession. He was confident in the company he had. Biren got excited to think about the billing their table could generate.
They chose a table for four, put their bags on the chairs and sat on the sofa next to each other. At seven thirty, the happy hour customers were out, and the dining crowd was yet to come in. There was no one in the section they chose.
Biren presented the menu cards, “Something to drink, Sir? We have good quality Saake.”
The girl looked confused with the reference. “Japanese beer, very mild”, the man spilt wisdom, “Try no?” The man perused the menu card as if he was seeing the report card of his daughter. “This one,” he pointed at something premium, “Askabari.”
Biren looked up. “Asakabari Suijin, Sir? Good choice!” he smiled, “It pairs well with fatty meats like pork belly and fish, like toro, miso black hog, rib-eye steak. What would you like to have, Sir?”
The girl giggled. First, in the bursts of a couple of seconds, then in continuous spasms. The man seemed unsure and unfamiliar with such maniacal fits. “What happened, sweet? What’s so funny?”
She shook her head in negation, yet couldn’t stop giggling. Composing after a few minutes, she whispered something to the man’s ear. He laughed heartily as well, hugging and embracing the girl in exuberance. The girl clutched the man’s hairy hands, sleeves rolled up, with passion, aggression and umm… insecurity? The man pecked the girl on her lips. The girl recoiled, waving her index finger in a ‘no’, smiling.
Biren, higher secondary, son of a grocery owner from Contai, was too new to the urban landscape to witness such public display of carnal affection and remain unaffected. He felt tightening of his trousers near the crotch, and intervened, “Sir, shall I take the order for the starters then?” he repeated the sake and the dish, “fish, or pork, Sir?”
“You take pork?” The man nudged the girl below her left boob, brushing against her soft tissue intentionally, “Or are you a veg, like most of the southies?”
The girl grimaced in mock anger, a smile pasted on her face like the lady on her bag (famous picture, Biren couldn’t recall the name) and nodded.
“Ok. Medium spice, bhaai. Take your time.” He pushed a hundred rupee note in Biren’s palm, “Keep it, keep it, take good care of madam, ok.”
The man turned and looked with conceit at his prized catch. The girl remembered to look into her mobile and scroll.
An excellent way to start the evening, Pinto Sir would be happy with him for selling an expensive meal. Main courses are yet to be served, and the bill didn’t look anything less than three thousand already.
After passing on the order, Biren left the hot kitchen to stand at the air-conditioned corridor, looking through the glass for more customers. With more people, out of embarrassment, he hoped, the budhha and the bachhi would stop cajoling each other. Biren stood near the door. From there, he could see the libido exhibited by the shameless man and the girl playing to his tunes. The odd pair reflected on the photo frame next to him.
Biren waited for fifteen minutes. No new customer came in. In the reflection, he could see the girl remove her hoodie and keep it folded on her lap and that of the horny fucker! Waves on top of the hoodie indicated an oscillatory motion inside. The man tried to keep his face stoic through the service, an occasional expression of pleasure giving that away. The chef walked in, pleased with his efforts and tapped on Biren’s shoulders. Biren wanted to show the chef their act, but given Saito San’s own amorous inclinations, didn’t feel it safe.
Soon, he served sake and the side dish to Table no 5. The girl composed herself. The man was probably at his wit’s end and was unhappy with intervention, “I told you to take your time. You don’t get English or what?” Resigning to the fact that he couldn’t complain about efficiency, he began to rant, “I work in hospitality as well…” and went on.
When they were leaving the restaurant after a quiet, undisturbed hour with no addition to the bill, much to Biren’s chagrin, the girl had again put on the hoodie. The man had a damp patch on the sky blue jeans in the upper portion of his left thigh. Biren didn’t get into any speculative thoughts about it after seeing that the man had left a five hundred rupee tip along with the approved slip of the credit card.
“Look at her,” the shortest loafer, Basav, in a gang of four pointed at her with his eyes, “not that one, idiot, the girl in a magenta hoodie. Yes.”
The other three looked at the girl, indiscreet in turning their heads around.
“What? What about her?” they were curious.
Basav took a dramatic pause and let go of the breath held back, “I saw an old man dropping her outside the Cubbon park station.”
“So? Might be his father, no?”
Basav chuckled. “Father? My this…” He gestured by thrusting his pelvis into his folded palm, thumb projected out. “The man kissed her full on the lips.” He winked.
No one believed the congenital liar, “Arre, I saw! He dropped her near a dark patch, next to the park. A white Duster suddenly lit them up. I saw.”
The boys seemed half convinced, ready to have ‘full fun’. They kept looking at her and giggling, making lewd jokes. One of them tried to make a video of her, failing in that as she looked up from her mobile in their direction. She left for the next compartment, which had more women and men returning home by the last metro. The boys followed her there.
“Majestic”, the mechanical female voiced. The door opened, and she alighted. The boys had to go far. Basav had college at eight-thirty the next day. His attendance was razor thin and could not be weaned further if he had to graduate the following year.
They didn’t follow.
“So late! You know what stories I made to the aunty?” Basanti was working as a junior data analyser in a large IT firm at J P Nagar. Aligned with Australia, she had a late shift the next day. “You stop such nonsense, ok?” She wrinkled her nose, “Drank again? Oh, girl, you will be sure kicked out from the PG and take me along with you!”
The girl, who had arrived with a headache and tired legs, smiled at her roommate and flung her latest prize, the Louis Vuitton logo shining on that.
“Original?” The roommate from Samastipur, Bihar seemed shell-shocked. “How do you manage all this with your receptionist’s salary?”
The girl removed her magenta hoodie, stripped off her colourful shoes and the torn jeans to the Tee and the boxer and lied down on her bed.
‘Ting’, a Snapchat message asked whether she had reached home and asked for a plan to meet again. She replied, giggled, and then it took Basanti some time and a glass of water to calm down her hysterical laughter.