Excerpt: Kiran Manral’s new book Saving Maya is the life of a single mother
I rang the bell. There was no corresponding sense of movement from behind the closed door. I rang it again, like unanswered doorbells are meant to be rung, with a bristling sense of impatience. Silence. I waited uncomfortably. I’d still not taken his number because I’d walked off in a huff in the afternoon. I counted till ten. Then I counted till twenty. Then I turned on my heel, because it was awkward standing at an unanswered door.
He must have been bare-chested when I rang the bell. It had been a while since I saw a naked man in the flesh
‘Maya,’ came a voice from a door which had swung open without any sound at all from behind my turned back. What kind of an evil door was it that was so infernally well oiled that it didn’t creak at the hinges on being opening. I turned around, my heart thudding hopelessly out of control.
He was standing at the door, looking most bemused, clad in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that was half pulled on. He must have been bare-chested when I rang the bell. It had been a while since I saw a naked man in the flesh, if one didn’t count the near naked plug uglies who populated the building swimming pool and could probably be booked for being public eyesores.
‘Have you changed your mind?’
‘Not even a hello?’
‘I thought we could dispense with the pleasantries and get straight to business. So, have you changed your mind?’
I swatted down the adrenalin that began coursing its way at F1 speed through my veins. ‘What’s a mind for,’ I replied, feeling my voice shake in a quiver that came from a place beyond my control, ‘if not to change itself and often?’
He stared at me hard, for a long moment. ‘Come inside.’
Another delicious frisson tap danced its quick way down my wine-relaxed spine. Any more long hard stares and I was sure I would spontaneously combust. His house, when I entered and gave it a quick scan, was frighteningly minimal and surprisingly neat and clean for a single man’s accommodation. The living room had two futons placed face to face, divided by a low Japanese style table. A palm tree stood in one corner, verdant and well tended for.
The kitchen, the glimpse I could catch of it from the living room, had a clear platform, and the bedroom had the door closed. What kind of man keeps a bedroom door closed when he lives alone in the house, I thought. Perhaps he had a floozy in there? Or worse, perhaps he had a man in there, which is why he needed me to be his beard, so to speak.
Was he biding his time before he did a Caitlin Jenner on the world? Gah, I had to rein in my overactive imagination now. Maybe it was just infernally messy, like that one cupboard Monica kept shut to the world which was the accumulated mess of all her visible OCD.
He asked me politely to sit down, and disappeared into the kitchen, emerging a few seconds later with two small bottles of cold-pressed juices. He handed me one that said Trim on its label, and I controlled the bristling with a great deal of effort. This was too much healthy eating and drinking for my liking, but my life coach would love him, I knew.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t really stock caffeine or soft drinks, and I don’t have people coming over. Unless you’d care for some wine?’
‘No wine,’ I said shaking my head and then willing it to stop shaking when it refused to come to order. ‘No wine. Noooooo wine.’
He cracked a half smile. ‘Maybe I should rephrase that. Perhaps you’d care for some more wine?’
I gave him a guilty look. What was he, a mind reader in disguise?
‘Nope,’ I replied, determinedly, sinking further into the welcoming futon, retaining my dignity and not sliding into a complete recline by monumental effort.
‘So here it is, the deal,’ I said, putting my hands onto the coffee table, which incidentally was dust free and sparkled to a shine. The mater would have loved him as a son-in-law, I told myself. Rishi’s sloppiness always had her turning her mouth down at the corners whenever she came visiting.
‘Why can’t he throw his dirty clothes in the laundry basket? Why do you have to picking up after him?’ she would grumble loud enough for him to hear, and then he would carp in the closed door confines of the bedroom about how my mother had overstayed her welcome.
‘I have a deal for you. I will play your girlfriend if you will play my boyfriend. Fair is fair, don’t you think?’ My voice, I thought, was definitely slurring a bit.
He raised an eyebrow. I noticed it was well shaped, for a man’s. Had a thread been taken to it, I wondered.
‘What brought about this change of mind?’
My husband – my ex-husband – is getting remarried and I want to attend the wedding reception with someone on my arm. I’m not going to give him the pleasure of thinking I’ve been pining away these past couple of years, while he’s been getting it on and proposing to women with terribly pretentious names.’
‘What’s the name?’
‘Tamanna,’ I replied.
‘Why don’t you like it?’
‘It belongs to the woman marrying the father of my child. This effectively ends all hope I had of getting back with him.’
‘Did you want to?’
‘Nope,’ I replied firmly. ‘Nope,’ I repeated for emphasis.
‘Then why should Tamanna bother you? Surely he’s free to live his own life. As you are to live yours. Unless you still care for him.’ There was a discrete pause. The conversation, which had veered inextricably towards the personal, had now reached the point of no return.
‘I don’t,’ I sighed. ‘But I did once. You’re right though about Tamanna, but could you just indulge me right now and tell me it is a terrible name and she must be a pretentious little twat with silicon inserts and butt cheek implants.’
He laughed, a quick bark of a laugh.