Fiction: The Good Girl

Supriya Rakesh

- Supriya Rakesh

The most interesting thing happened to me this afternoon.
It was 2 O’ clock and like every other day, I was reading my newspaper at my office desk, in a futile attempt to ward off the after-lunch drowsiness. Even the extra-strong canteen coffee wasn’t helping. I could catch a quick wink in my office, but if some-one happened to see me…well, that would not be good for my reputation!
So, I was turning through the pages, when a news-piece caught my eye.  It was in the right-most corner of the eighth page. Local authoress wins an award for her second book. Maggie something, she was called.
I smiled when I read the name.
You see, back in the day, I knew a Maggie. I knew a Maggie pretty darn well...
Part 1. Philosophy Majors
See, this was a million years ago when I was still a young lad. Young, carefree lad- in college, studying for my Masters in philosophy.
Why? you ask me, shocked. I don’t blame you.
Papa did the same thing when I told him. Now, who in their right senses wants to post-graduate in philosophy? Not some-one who wants employment prospects for sure.
My father had his plastics business that his father had set up when they first moved to Bombay.
Small as it was; it had sustained a family of four for about twenty years. Papa had secretly hoped since the day I was born that if nothing else, his precious first-born son would take the plastics legacy forward. Still, in my family, we supported each other even in the most ridiculous decisions. So Papa reluctantly agreed, paid for my tuition, and prayed every Sunday that I would come to my senses soon.
So, why would I do something so stupid?
Well, I had my own reasons you see. On the day of my graduation, as I smiled for pictures in my black robes, the rising star of Xavier’s college and the pride of the D’Costa family, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Absolutely none. The plastics store was a good backup, but I knew I would be bored to death in a month, maybe even drive my Papa bankrupt.
So, I needed some time to figure things out. And more importantly, I didn’t want to work too hard. Take it easy, enjoy life. So I thought- I like reading, I don’t mind writing long, boring essays, my grades are no great shakes. What program would be easy to get into, and easy to come out the other end? Well, it didn’t take a philosopher to figure that one out!
There was also another reason for this decision.
You see, a guy of 21, well, likes girls. And a philosophy major meant that the four dudes in class were blessed with a highly conducive demand-supply situation, when it came to the gals. Yeah, I did take an economics class or two!  
And among the four dudes, of course it came down to persona, wit, charm and money- the first three of which I had in plenty. The fourth, well, I could make up for by treating my girl like a princess. Long story short, I found a large number of girls keen to attract my attention. The talent pool was good, and diverse. Tall, skinny, petite, voluptuous. I could not complain about the variety, or the fashion.
So every season, I followed them following the latest trends from that damn Cosmo magazine they all used to read. Like I said, I wasn’t complaining. A dude likes it when a girl makes an effort. And tries to look appealing to him. That way, everybody wins.
Which is why I hated Maggie Pereira.
Maggie was the sort of girl you wouldn’t even notice if she sat next to you. She looked plain, dressed in drab colours, as if going to a funeral, every single day. She always wore the same outfit – a white long-sleeved shirt, an asbestos grey skirt and a chequered jacket. As if some-one hadn’t told her that school was over! Or there were colours other than grey, blue and white. And did she know anything about the invention of beauty salons?
The only reason I even noticed her is because she spoke too much in class. She always sat right in the front, on the first bench, that too on purpose!
From there, she would bond with the teachers, answer their stupid questions, make strong arguments about everything and refer to God and religion, in almost every comment. Some-one told me her parents were theologians. Her father was a Theology professor at an only boys’ college (seriously?) at Elphinstone, and her mother was a Sunday school teacher!
So all in all, she was the proverbial ‘good girl’- bookworm, teachers’ darling, liked by everyone. Everyone except me. Damn, she got on my nerves every single day!
I am not quite sure when or why I developed such a strong feeling of dislike towards the girl. Maybe she ignored me at some point, or in general. Maybe it was because she was so sure of herself, despite being so unattractive. Or that she such was such a Miss Goody two shoes, what with all her funeral dressing and good manners. And I hated that sort!
I couldn’t quite digest the fact that she didn’t give me the least bit of attention, you see. Remember what I told you about the whole demand-supply thing? So I was used to the girls all dying to talk to me, flirt with me, bat their eye-lids at me. But not she, the repressed child with Freudian issues.
The guys laughed at me when I pointed it to them once.
“She has you wounded buddy; looks like you want this chick real bad!!”.
Crazy bastards. Can you believe that? I could not. That’s what I was telling Tina at the movies that Friday.
Tina was a chick from my class of course- tall, hot – the works. We were catching the latest Hollywood flick (A rated and everything) at Sterling, I think.
“You know what I am talking about right? You have seen her?” I appealed, wanting some-one on my side.
“I don’t know”, she replied disinterested, “She seems pretty nice. Friendly...”
“What!!?? No, but she is definitely repressed right?? Why else would a girl be that way?” I whined on. 
As you can guess, Tina lost interest in the conversation; and in me pretty soon. Let’s just say I did not get lucky that evening.
Damn you Maggie, I cursed. Just coz you have no action in your life, you’re ruining mine!
The next few days I kind of laid low.
Tina was giving me the cold shoulder, the damage was already done. But also, I was kinda worried about what the guys had said, and Tina. What idiots! I wasn’t that hard up that I would be obsessed with Maggie Pereira.
I mean- look at her.
May be, it would be a good thing for her though. I would be doing her a real favour, by liberating her. Yes, I could rescue her from her moral prison and show her how life needs to lived. She needed some-one like me to do that, she needed me.
For some reason, which I cannot fathom now, that idea, slowly and surely took a stronghold in my head.
Stupid, I know, but I became the self-appointed saviour of Maggie’s soul. Yes, basically, I planned on seducing her, but only as a favour, for her own good. Become the knight in shining armour, rescuing a damsel in distress. But how?
I thought about it for a whole long week as I watched her in class, observing her every move, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. I had to work out a new strategy, you see. My usual plan of action would not work here- the boyish grin, the witty one-liners, the flattery.
Yes, I was well aware that ‘the good girl’ was immune to my roguish charm.
Part 2. Grand Plan
So I began to formulate the plan, the grand plan to save Maggie Pereira.
It had to be very clever, you see. And custom-made for a different sort of gal; the type no-one would usually bother to seduce. But I had accepted the challenge, and trust me to put all my energies into a project, once I set my heart on it.
So, to chase the good girl, I started play-acting the good guy.
Now, obviously, this meant a certain dent in my reputation, and grave injustice to all the other chicks, who I would now have to ignore. It was ok, I told myself. Most of them had enjoyed a little bit of me, and their souls were hence intact. They could, for some time, do without me. Me marching on this noble path. And on this path, I must walk alone.
Step one, I had to do something to enter Maggie’s field of attention. Make her notice me, so she would reckon with the force that was going to hit her, and blow her mind!
I could not help feeling a little smug (the rascal that I was) as I sat at my usual spot at the back of the class, plotting. As I saw Maggie bent over her desk, making eager notes in her boring notebook, my evil plan birthed itself!
See, it may not seem like it from what I have told you this far, but truth be told, I was a pretty smart guy. Like even book-smart.
May be not Maggie-smart, but the ‘could-do-well-if-only-he-could-be-bothered’ kind of smart.
I would breeze through exams without as much as two glances at my books, it all just came to me somehow. Even philosophy and shit. Just wired into my brain, the way plastics were wired into my old man’s brain.
So anyway, long story cut short, my plan would begin with me deploying my smart-missile onto Maggie’s attention-field, and end with her eager for my smart-loving.
I started reading up texts and stuff. It seems we had all been given a list at the beginning of the year. I gave up my position of pride at the back of the classroom, and slowly and gradually (so no-one would take notice); started shifting forwards.
I began to ask questions, make observations, even picked a smart argument with the teacher. Within a week, I knew baby, she was taking notice. The first time I opened my mouth, she looked behind (as did the whole damn class), with like a crinkle over her eyes, in the shape of a question mark.
Then as I opened my mouth more, she looked less and less puzzled. Though she didn’t speak to me directly, I could see her agree with a nod, disagree with a head-shake and most frequently, smile at my funny-guy comments.
Now I had to take the game to phase two.
Actually talk to the girl, perhaps ask the girl out for a coffee-date. In ‘good-girl’ vernacular, that meant a coffee-date while pretending to study.
So one day, after class, as Maggie was collecting her notes and papers into her school-girl satchel, the predator approached. Obviously I mean me.
“Hi, umm… Maggie, right?”
She looked up, surprised.
The whole time I talked (32 seconds), I felt her eyes deeply boring into me, trying to decipher my intentions. It was scary man, especially since I knew that my intentions were nowhere close to noble.
I want to talk over some stuff from class from class, I said. 
Yes, the arguments on post-structuralism or something like that.  Just the college canteen. Just twenty minutes. Oh, she took the bus to Bandra West? She’d get late, I understood. Just that I had some very interesting observations on the points she had made. And I just had to discuss them. Yes, with her.
Damn right I did, why else had I spent the last three weeks studying?
Finally, after what seemed like a whole day, she agreed.
Later, Maggie told me she was heavily suspicious of me asking to meet her like this. She wasn’t used to any of the guys talking to her much, so she thought it might be a prank. I looked suitably pained at such an insinuation.
But this was weeks later. By this time, I was seeing Maggie for coffee (and study) on a regular basis. Yes, I had certifiably entered the good-girl’s good friend zone.
Part 3. Saturdays
Maggie did not have too many friends, I soon realized. During those months of coffee and study, I seemed to be the only one.
I wondered why. Maggie was sweet and polite and well-liked in a oh-such-a-nice-person kind of way, but I had never really seen her hang out with anyone. Maybe people found her a bit weird, kept their distance.
I remember asking her about it once.
“So, what do you do on weekends?”
“Nothing much. Sunday morning is church. That day is kind of for the family. We are all so busy all week, so that’s when we really get the time…”
 “Oh! My sincerest condolences to you. Hope your Saturdays are better!” I smirked.
 “Nope, pretty much the same...” there was a twinkle in her eye.
 “But why??” I whined.
I felt really sorry for her. I mean, if I had to save her soul, I had to start somewhere.
 “I don’t mind, really. We have some really great, charged conversations at home. The kind you and I have. So I don’t miss having friends my own age. Besides I see my cousins in the summer…”
“What do you mean miss having friends?” I persisted, though I hadn’t missed her earlier allusion, the backhanded compliment, the acknowledgement of our growing closeness.
“I have just never been a friends-person. I don’t really get along with people...”
“What are you talking about? Everyone likes you!”
“Of course they do, what’s not to like?”
Oooh, I liked sassy Maggie.
“I meant, I don’t like most people. Small-talk is ok, pleasantries are fine. But, I don’t know how to say makes me sound like an awful person...”
“No, no tell me. It’ll be our little secret..”
“It’s just that... I find most people boring.”
 I looked at her with surprise. I could see now why Maggie didn’t quite fit in with the world. She found everyone boring, coz no-one had really gotten to know her brand of interesting.
“See, you are judging me, right there...”
“No, no. I am way more awful than you” I laughed, pretending to hold my stomach.
“Of course, there is you...” 
“I am flattered.” I grinned.
“So why don’t you hang out with me, on Saturday?”
“May be I will.”
A pause to take it in. I had been just asked out by Maggie Periera!
That brings me to four days later, the morning of my first date with Maggie.
The first signpost of success. A hard-earned invite into Maggie’s world. I should have been patting myself on the back. But instead, come Saturday, I actually thought of not going.
First things first, I wasn’t quite sure it was a date. That was a big problem.
I was a simple fellow, you see. When I went out with a girl, it meant a ‘date’. When I was out with friends, they were dudes.
Both situations were predictable.
If it’s a date, I know it, she knows it. Both want the same thing, and both know what to do to get there. I flirt, offer compliments, and make cheeky jokes. She dolls up, touches her hair a lot, and laughs really hard while touching my shoulder.
It could go well (as it usually did), or it could backfire (like the one with Tina). But everything goes by script. No ambivalence.
But a date with a friend, which might not actually be a date. But then again, it might.
What was my plan here? How was I supposed to act?
Also, I felt a little bad. Like I was tricking her or something.
Poor Maggie thought of me as a friend, a nice guy.  For all my heroic conquests, I had never dated someone through deception, you see. I had never really had to.  
Come noon, I called up Maggie to cancel.
“Oh, ok…” She sounded disappointed, like she had expected it.
There it was, the first friend she’d ever planned an outing with, was obviously bound to ditch her. When she hung up, I somehow felt much worse than I had all morning.
Five minutes later, I called her back.
“So I have moved some things around...and…” I could almost picture her smile.
“See you at 5-30.” She didn’t let me finish.
That was the first Saturday I went out with Maggie for a movie.
Maggie looked nice on Saturdays.
She wore colours- greens, violets, once even a yellow. As if she kept colours for the weekend, like they were a special thing. Or maybe, I was a special thing. Still no make-up, but I wasn’t going to complain.
I didn’t dare to bring up her wardrobe choices. I was in the zone of trust, so I could if I wanted to. But I had a feeling this was a sensitive subject. Some sort of guy-instinct, I guess. You never, ever talk about something that can upset the girl. Especially when things are going so well.
Things were going well, so to say.
My social life was now non-existent, rather willingly signed away. The chicks I was avoiding, well for Maggie’s sake. The dudes were ragging on me, so I was avoiding them as well.
 I didn’t mind though.
My days were full; full of Maggie of course. In the evenings I would read, since I had nothing better to do, and since I needed to keep up with the class, and with Maggie. Some of the books had even started to make sense, I was like ‘damn this is kind of interesting’.
I had little choice, you see. Maggie couldn’t come out evenings, and my Papa-Mama weren’t as interesting as Maggie claimed hers to be. My younger brother, a bigger dimwit. But who knew, he too would read to keep up with a girl some-day.
So the weeks flew by like that; college, study dates in canteen, back home, a little TV, some reading. But Saturdays, they were something else.
We were going out most Saturdays. Usually, it was a movie. We’d head to Gaiety/Galaxy cinemas for the latest blockbuster. Or sometimes a Hollywood flick, so a bus to Sterling. If we had watched all the movies already, we would watch one for the second time. Coz we had really liked it.  
Else, we would try one in a language we didn’t get, like that Italian movie onetime. Or was it German? We almost got thrown out once for laughing too hard in a very serious one, about World War, I think. Sometimes, we would just hang around the Band-stand promenade or share a veg cheese toast at our sandwich place in Elco Market.
Maggie was nice on Saturdays.
She was more fun; as if coming out with me without her parents’ knowledge, and wearing colours made her all wild and rebellious. Like she was two people- the smart, good, weekday Maggie, and then this fun, silly one.
Of course I took credit for it.
“Maggie, you are getting fun in my company…”
 “Yes Robbie. You too, in mine.”
Let’s cut to two months later, to the tenth Saturday I would go out with Maggie.
I remember it nice and clear. I am older now (wiser too I believe); and my memory is nothing great. But this day I remember so damn well.
It was the day I kissed Maggie Pereira for the very first time!
I was thinking of her that morning, as I cycled around the neighbourhood to get some butter for my Mama. She had been nagging me about it (Mama I mean), so I was like okay woman, I’ll do it. I rode past a couple, being all touchy-touchy and googly-eyed. And suddenly I felt sorry for myself.
When will I have a real date?
I hadn’t gotten talking to Maggie just to be her friend, you know. Evil or otherwise, there was a plan, wasn’t there? What had happened to me, was I chickening out? Or now that I didn’t hate her, find her repulsive or repressed, my grand project had lost all meaning? Damn, would I be watching movies every Saturday forever and ever?
Then I came home, and obviously the grocery was all wrong and Mama was nagging about it all afternoon, so I forgot about my misery till I finally saw Maggie in the evening.
She looked pretty, in a soft lavender blouse, her hair all fluffed up.
Next thing I know, in the middle of the movie, she takes my hand. I know she is looking at me from the corner of her eye; I notice her from the corner of mine.
On the screen, a bloody gunshot action sequence unfolds, cars exploding and all. Maybe she is scared and needs my manly protection. Or maybe she wants to tell me my breath smells of chips.
So, I turn to face her.
Just like that, without any warning, she kisses me. Just one kiss.
On the way back, walking on the pavement, we were both silent. It was weird to talk about it. Like what was I supposed to say? Yeah, it was just weird.
Finally she broke the ice.
“So have you ever dated someone?” then she laughed at her own question. Of course, my reputation had gotten ahead of my make-over.
“Yup…” I grabbed the chance at some conversation. “Have you?”
“Hmm… sort of.”
I was just attempting small-talk you see, so you can imagine my shock when she said that. What? I wasn’t going to be the saviour? There had already been one. What?
“Yeah, sort of. Not a boyfriend. But something like that.”
I didn’t get any further explanation. I didn’t want to press for more. I was too startled, first the kiss, then this shocking information.
I’m an old man now, almost touching forty. The wisdom of my years tells me, it was probably a good idea. For one, it would have at least a little bit ruined, this vivid memory in my head, of the day of the kiss.
Secondly, what if she had started about my exes?
Part 4. Tripping
I did find out the full story of this somewhat of a boyfriend. But this was another time, another place, a couple of months later.
It was summer-ish, I remember, and Maggie and I were going away for the weekend.
It took some convincing on my part. She was still uneasy lying to her parents, especially to sneak away out of town with a guy.
But what had to be done had to be done. Very soon, college would shut shop for the summer and she would be off to Goa. It was an annual tradition within the larger Pereira family I was told, folks coming together over summer, at their house down by the beach.
So I wouldn’t see much of her for two whole months.
And she was always saying she hadn’t really been anywhere. Not without her folks, at least. She was always saying she liked adventures. She was always saying she was a little tired of being perfect and obedient all the time. I made such and other arguments till she gave in and agreed to our little trip.
To tell you the truth, there was another thing kinda bothering me.
The whole question of what were we? After the kiss at the movies, it was assumed that we were involved. Assumed, but never spoken about. Neither of us knew how to talk about this stuff I guess, or we just didn’t want to.
Maggie didn’t need things defined and spelt out, at least not when it came to me. Most days I couldn’t care less, it was fun and I wasn’t complaining. By then, she was more of a habit, just a big part of all my days.
But he continued to haunt me, this damn boy from her past. Who was he anyway, and where the hell did she find him? And did that mean I was a ‘somewhat’ boyfriend too? Did I make the cut to be called that?
Whoever he was, surely he hadn’t worked as hard for it as I had. No, I definitely deserved a more note-worthy position. Now that I think of it, I was a little bit bonkers, getting all competitive and territorial with a dude I knew nothing about.
I just had to make sure I was more than that, more than him. And there were only a few ways to find out. So off we went for the weekend, I borrowed Papa’s car and we rented out a place at an inexpensive resort in Matheran. And by inexpensive I mean lousy.
It was a two hour drive. On the way, we stopped for cold drinks thrice, played music at an ungodly volume and talked even louder over the noise. Then, leaving behind our car at a large parking lot, we rode two very muddy horses up the hills.
But yea, I think it was pretty clear what was to happen once we got there.
Only now, it seemed as though it was my soul that needed saving!
Which brings me to the morning after.
And by that I mean, the morning after I slept with Maggie Pereira. I will pause here for effect. And some well-deserved applause.
When it finally came to it, the moment of truth, it was just easy and normal. Maggie didn’t play hard-to-get like some girls tend to do, just for the heck of it. May be it had never been that difficult; or my months of hard work had paid off well. Maggie is right, I remember thinking, as I lay awake, smiling at the ceiling fan. There really is a fair God up there!
We slept in late the next morning, and missed the free resort breakfast. At the time, missing something free was quite a big deal. But it was fine, we agreed. The food was going to be lousy anyways, plus everyone there, the staff and all, was giving us strange looks.
So we decided to go for a walk, to find us something decent to eat. We had worked up quite an appetite, you see!
The red mountain soil caked on our clothes, our shoes, as we trod up the winding path, in the direction of Monkey Point. The whole time, I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face. I might as well have been jumping up and down, shouting from treetops.
“Yay! Yay! We did it! Yay!”
I don’t remember this too well, but I said it aloud at some point, the dog that I was. I wasn’t expecting what came next.
She turned behind with a mysterious smile.
“Yeah! And you are only the second guy I have done that with!”
It was six hours later and all through the drive back home, I was trying to digest what she’d told me this morning.
My face was a bit red, I was sure, though I was trying so hard to keep it all together. Acting all cool and causal, so she wouldn’t figure something was on with me. Though, there damn well was.
Yet, I goaded her to spill the beans (curious cat that I was) but hoped she would have pity and spare me the details.
By the time we got home, I knew all about Freddie. Maggie and Freddie. Freddie lived in Goa, in the neighbourhood of Maggie’s little summer house. It made sense, that Maggie would find a guy in the only place she had been besides home.
So Maggie had known Freddie ever since they were kids. He was a couple years older, and friends with all her cousins. Last summer, a bunch of them had headed off to a beach party at Baga, to the other end of town. That bunch included Maggie and Freddie, obviously.
At the party, Maggie was really uncomfortable and wanted to leave. She couldn’t stand all the smoke and dope and “people grinding on each other and calling it dance”. Freddie had acted like a gentleman (the dog) and offered to keep her company.
So they had wandered away, walking towards the empty side of the beach, a little drunk themselves on some wine. En route, they made some more bad decisions, and long story cut short, made out a bit at a beach shack.
“Then?” I was visibly disheartened at this development.
“Then, nothing…” Restored to herself the next morning, Maggie had been terribly embarrassed; mortified at what had transpired. She hadn’t spoken to Freddie for the rest of the summer and had been avoiding him since.
Back home, she had continued to feel guilty, and had come close to confessing to her parents. Later, mostly by default, she had made the more pragmatic choice of forgetting, pretending the whole thing had never happened.
“That’s it?” I asked, incredulous. She smiled yes in response.
I was relieved. I still hated Freddie, with all my heart. But I wasn’t so threatened by him anymore. Whatever the invisible competition was, I had already won.
 “So are you planning to forget about this little trip too?” I teased.
“Of course not!” she was a tad defensive. “This time, I knew what I was getting into. Also, is it really a mistake if done on purpose?”
Oooh, I liked naughty Maggie.
Anyways, that signalled the last word on the matter, and was enough for me to shut up. My face returned to its normal handsome colour.
Old Freddie hadn’t really ruined my weekend, although he had kind of tried to.
Over the next few weeks, Maggie and I were certifiably bad!
Such few days, so much to do, before Maggie left for the rest of the summer. So we spent every possible minute together, mostly doing, well…each other.
One evening, Papa and Mamma were out for a wedding or something, so I snuck Maggie home. I was pottering around the kitchen looking for something to drink. Damn, where had Papa put his wine bottles? Did he know I’d be looking for them?
Anyway, when I got back, I found Maggie in my room, looking into my things.
“Wow, your book collection, it’s really something. Not as good as mine, but still, really good!” She was standing by the table with all my stuff dumped on it, trying to arrange it or something.
“Would you believe me if I told you they were all acquired in the last six months, only to impress you?”
“I might!” she laughed. “Wait, I could give you some more. I know what you’d like, blah blah blah..” She was on the nerd highway again, racing off at top speed. I had to stop her.
“Sweetie” I said, in my most charming voice. “Books are the last thing on my mind right now…”
She gave up. We did find that wine bottle eventually, I think. And the rest, as they say, was history!
Soon, it was the last evening we’d spend together before Maggie took off the next day.
It was almost 6, I remember, and the day was winding down with a cool, humid breeze typical of late April.
We were standing at the bus-stop, busy at this little game we always had on. She keeps looking at her watch, insisting she is getting late. I turn on my charm, persuading her to stay just a little bit longer.
“Just five more minutes! You know you are likely to miss me…”
Her eyes gleamed at me, in the twilight kinda light.
“You are bad company, you know that?”
“Yes, terrible, terrible influence! That’s all I ever wanted to be…”
Finally, she caved in. We wandered around till we found ourselves a nice park bench in an empty playground. And spent the next hour just talking.
I don’t think I have ever talked to anyone, as much as I talked to Maggie that night. And I don’t mean it in a soul-baring, spilling-out-my-secrets kinda way. I mean the sheer ‘number of words spoken per minute’ way.
Usually I talk to please, choosing my words with masterful care, to get what I want. But that night, there just weren’t enough words in the dictionary.
Later as I walked home, after I’d finally let her go, there was a strange spring in my step. I felt lighter, as if all the talking had made me shed kilos or something. I wondered for a brief moment how my Mama was still fat!
Boy, what a weird feeling it was.
When the weirdness persisted for a whole two weeks after, I finally put my finger on it. Damn it, Maggie Pereira! Could I be in love with you?
Part 5. Downpour
It was tough to spend the summer alone. I’d gotten used to having Maggie around and everything seemed like a damn chore without her.
My folks, they didn’t believe in trips or anything.
“People don’t need plastic in the hot months or what?” For Papa, his plastics were his whole world; for Mama I guess, all seasons were just the same.
Earlier, I’d just hang with the guys. But I was in no mood for their wise-ass comments.  
“Girl got you hooked bro…we knew it!” Those idiots. And I’d have no comebacks coz damn, was it true.
So, I did what I could do best. One eye on the calendar, fan on full speed, I lazed through the dull heat; waiting for the rains, and for Maggie to return.
As the days sizzled by, my restlessness grew.
May crossed over to June, almost time for college to re-open. I didn’t know exactly when Maggie would be back. She’d always said ‘end of summer’, but no day, or date or time. We’d decided not to write or call each other, no postcards or anything. I didn’t know, so I just had to wait.
Slowly, I started to get paranoid. How would I even know if she was back? Would she call me on the home telephone? What if she just dropped by? So, I stayed home even more, lurking by the phone.
One day late afternoon, the skies clouded up with the first signs of monsoon showers. Still no sign of Maggie.
It was now a week since college began.
I showed up every day to class, expectant. One day late, that was common. Three days, no sweat; many kids gone away for the summer hadn’t shown up yet.
By the fifth day, I was cursing myself, and Maggie. Why hadn’t I bothered to ask her the date of her return? And why the hell wasn’t she here yet?
When it had been a whole week and a half, I knew there was reason to worry.
My bad influence apart, Maggie hated missing classes. Even the professors were asking. Was she ill or something? Was something wrong? 
Week two, I decided to ride by her house, looking for signs of her return. A huge lock on the front door, no signs of anyone, the whole place looked deserted. I came back feeling a little deserted myself.
Then one day, out of the blue (or exactly three and a half weeks later), without any warning, she shows up at home.
It was Friday evening, my folks were usually out then, and she knew it.
The doorbell rang and I just had the feeling it would be her; and there she was, standing at the door-step, wearing a downcast smile and her usual grey sweater, holding a large cardboard box.
“Hi…” I could barely manage as I opened the door.
One look at her and I could tell that much had changed between us. My head was bursting with all kinds of questions.
“Just spill it woman…” I wanted to scream. But she already looked so damn nervous. So, I pretended to keep calm, and waited for her to tell me.
Maggie Pereira, I thought. You are breaking my heart!
In the months that followed, that conversation haunted me like a damn ghost.
It came back every-time I was sleeping (or trying to), and every-time I was awake and thinking of Maggie. Even Papa’s secret stash of booze couldn’t save me.
I still thought about her, over and over, until I finally reached the conclusion that it was all my fault. It was me, I was responsible for Maggie rebelling against her parents and dropping out of college. For deciding to move out of her house, out of the city, to live in godforsaken Goa.
She wanted to experience life, it seems; in real, not through books like she always had. She wanted to get out of the little box that had been her life, out of the world of ideas, into the actual world.
To be honest, it all sounded like a load of crap to me. But she went on and on…
She wanted to teach little kids. She wanted to learn how to fish, and how to cook it afterward. She wanted to swim at the beach, she wanted to learn to dance, blah, blah and then some more blah..
“And I’ll never be able to be all that, if I stay here, at home…”
I was quiet the whole time, nodding with effortful understanding.
What could I say? It was my fault. It was I who had liberated Maggie, rescued the poor bird from her moral prison. That had been the scheme all along, had it not? And now that she had gotten all free-spirited, flown too high, I couldn’t stop her. It was all my fault.
I was curious only about one thing, the dog that I was.
“Maggie, does this have anything to do with Freddie?”
She looked somewhat upset at the implication.
“No, of course not..” Then, as I didn’t take off my non-believing glare, “I mean, he’s also gonna be teaching at that same school in the fishing village…”
I didn’t need to hear any more. So I said a quiet good-bye, accepting without protest her generous gift. A large box of all the books she had owned.
“I have no more use…but I want you to have them..”
Then she left, promising to write, to keep in touch. Before she walked out the door, she kissed me on my cheek and said a bunch of nice stuff.
But all I can remember now is “You’re a good guy Robbie. A really good guy…”
Now, I know what you’re thinking, that line is standard ‘dumping’ code. I knew, although I’d never been dumped before. Yet, for some reason, may be ‘coz it was Maggie that said it (Maggie who wasn’t like others), I believed her.
May be I really was a really good guy.
Maggie Pereira was good to her word. She wrote to me, more or less regular, for a couple of years at the least.
I wrote back whenever I felt like it, but not a lot. I was always paranoid that dog Freddie would read my letters and feel all superior and proud.
“Ha ha! I won.” or something.
Then she got busier or maybe just thought of me lesser; the letters started coming by less often.
The last I heard she’d become a writer. Rising author in the Goa literary scene or something. Maggie Pereira, back to her books, I’d thought. But that was four or five years ago.
That’s why my eyes kinda popped this afternoon, when I saw her name here, in the newspaper. In the right-most corner of the eighth page, in the ‘Arts and Culture’ section.
‘Writer from the city wins an award for her debut novel.’
I’m not even sure if it’s the same Maggie. There’s no second name mentioned here. Wonder if she ever married that Freddie, or anyone. Or if she took his name. I could buy that debut novel to find out. On the computer, like kids do these days.
Still, it’d be damn nice if she was the one who won that award. I’d be damn proud.
Anyway, as for me, after Maggie left, the old predator lay low for a while. Didn’t meet anyone, went into complete hibernation. My social life was anyways dead. You wouldn’t believe it, even Tina had gotten engaged by then. Some guy named Andy; and from what I hear, things between them are still randy-dandy.
So I just spent all my time reading those books. They were huge and oh-so-serious! But the only way to remember Maggie and forget about her at the same time. Papa got surer I was going insane, and turned his prayers towards my brother as the new plastics heir.
That’s what I did for the rest of the year, and then some more. It kinda got interesting after a point. So, come to think of it, I just never stopped. In fact, right after I put this newspaper away, I got some reading to do.
Damn! Someone is knocking on my door.
I overshot my afternoon siesta today, thinking of Maggie and all. Now I must rub my eyes, act all wise and important as I entertain some stupid questions.
These buggers don’t get it, you see. I’m getting older now, almost touching forty. And even a professor of Theology needs his rest!

1 comment :

  1. Loved the characters and references to Bandruh brought back memories ❤️


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