We meet at 9.30 am sharp. That’s when the office starts. For once, I am punctual. I sit in his sleek purple sedan. There was a time when I thought that he and I were soul mates because his car was purple in colour and purple has been my favourite colour for years now. After seeing him smile accommodatingly at painful customers, hearing him worm his way with the bosses, I have lost something of my naivety. Colours no longer make soul mates.
We are quiet. The traffic is as it should be. But he has told me we are not driving very far from the office campus. Working with him for over three years, I have learnt that he has a son. I have met his wife on two occasions and have had no opinion of her both times. He knows that I still don’t know the difference between its and it’s and use them interchangeably in presentations. He loves pointing it out to me. It makes him feel superior. He has never really overcome his insecurity of having studied in a vernacular school for five years. I am convent educated, city bred, and correcting my grammar pleases him.
“I have made enquiries. This place is discreet.”
I nod. Once you decide to scratch an itch I wonder how necessary it is to be discreet. But he is a married man. He is my boss. My manager in charge of my appraisal. He will need to be discreet.
“It won’t be more than 4,000 for one day. I have 2,000 with me. Do you have the rest?”
I nod again. This is his way of ensuring we don’t form an emotional bond, though he doesn’t say it. I smile at his blatant insecurity. Or maybe he’s just a cheapskate. Purple car or not, no soul mate of mine would make the girl pay. Especially when he earns more than me. Especially when he made sure my appraisal last time came with a bonus but no hike. He knows, probably to the last rupee, how much I make and how much I spend.
We drive then to a serviced apartment that our company leases often, if our guesthouse is full. I know the manager of this place. I have made bookings often. I think again like I have a million times, how this idiot man came to be my boss. He knows how to play the game, a voice asserts. Even so, this is the unofficial company guesthouse.
“Ma’am, so good to see you. Sir, welcome. You should have just called me. How many rooms do you want this time?”
“Just one. And for today. We are not pre-booking. Please see we are not disturbed. We have an offsite presentation to prepare.”
I am mildly irritated by his use of office jargon, his need to show what a workaholic he is. Once, after a 12 hour stretch, when the entire team was ready to collapse he had loudly proclaimed, “I am so fresh. One more coffee and I can work another 12 hours. This is the life.”
“Give us a smoking room, please.” I know I will need alcohol and cigarettes and a wee bit of the indica I have rolled in my pack if I have to get through this day. This night.
“What’s the cost for a smoking room?” Since I am paying half, I want to say, how the fuck does it matter? I don’t speak.
“Smoking will cost you an extra 500, Sir. If you take a smoking non-ac, it will be 3000 only including the 10% discount minus the tax.”
“Do we need AC?”
“Please give us the smoking AC. Please.” The second please I utter is open-ended. No one knows whom I am addressing, not even I.
Since that is settled we collect the keys and are about to move when the Gurgaon office team arrives. “Hi, nice presentation yesterday. You should get the account. Have you come here to meet José? I think he’s still at B5.”
I nod warily at their compliments. Act preoccupied.
“José. Yes. We are here to speak to him. We’ll wait.” He says and we scurry to our room, insert the key in the socket. The lights come on. The AC hums.
He moves to the double bed. I place my tote on the table and get my cigarette case out avoiding his eyes.
“Why are you doing this if you don’t want to?”
I stare at him. He has begun to strip in slow, economic, calculated moves. I am surprised. I would not have attributed perceptiveness to him. Unless it’s at work. Unless it’s scenting vulnerabilities of others.
“Mad Men. I just wanted to have an affair with my boss after watching it.”
“Are you serious? You wanted to have an affair? After seeing a serial? You are more unstable than I thought you were. What kind of a delusional world are you in!”
I light my cigarette and inhale. We still haven’t touched. He will make a move suddenly, I know. I need to stall him and lighting a cigarette seems a good way to do that. “Why? What’s delusional about it? Do you know, I thought you were a good man when I first joined this company. I had such a crush on you.” I exhale.
“Listen. I have already told you. This is not an affair. At the most, we can be fuck buddies or colleagues who also have fun. Don’t get ideas in your head. Now, come here. I want you to…”
“Unbalanced. Is that why you didn’t recommend me for the promotion? Why do you call me unbalanced?”
“Listen. We are not here to discuss all that.”
As he nears me and holds my arm, I blow smoke into his face. “Humour me” I say and smile. His grip on me eases. He’s back in power, in charge. It’s so easy with men.
“Confidence is your biggest issue. I told you that. See now? That Gurgaon team said your presentation was great. But did you believe them? Did you at least say thank you? That role needed someone who would be confident.”
“I am confident. I just…”
“That ‘I just…’ is why you are unstable. In any case, it was a man’s job.”
“Wow. Your wife must love you.”
“That’s the problem with you women. You talk of rights but don’t want to deal with responsibilities. Don’t spoil my mood. Let’s fuck. It’s been building in me since you sent me that very graphic email.”
“Did you like it?” My voice is low. I play on the uncertainty, almost shy, definitely eager to please.
He is pleased again. “Yes. It is going to be a day to remember. Even a night. Not its. Yes. Yes, I liked it. Let’s start. Call me honey. Kiss me.”
“Wait. Before we do, I want to tell you that it was nice of you to reply to that mail.”
“I can be nicer.”
“I have no doubt of that. But you blew it. The last appraisal. That’s when you should have been nice. Now, it’s over. See?”
Confusion. Then fear. He shakes me up. The ash flies all over. My hair is undone. Slow calculation. Understanding dawns. “You, bitch. You didn’t.”
“Done. Even your wife got a copy. Mahesh from Accounts told you this place is discreet, yes? But now, we’ve been seen together by an entire team.”
I have ruined a man and I feel nothing. It would probably have been easier to just quit the job. I could have found another one. I would have. But I saw his chat window. ‘She is very unstable. It’s her age, I think, but she’s very delusional. Thinks no end of herself. I feel sorry for her so I didn’t want to sack her. But three months is all I am giving her. Keeping you apprised of the situation, boss. Kindly bear in mind.’ This, after he stole my ideas, my presentation, and passed it off as his team’s efforts. Implying he was covering the inept asses of his useless team but doing it with such grace. Now I had beaten him at his own game. Say one thing. Mean another.
He was quiet. The wheels working. Only his eyes were moist.
“It’s not Mad Men, you see. It’s House of Cards, I watched. It is. And look, Boss, or do you still want me to call you honey? I got the it’s right.”
Note: Because for years now I wanted to write something pulp and didn’t know if I could. This is likely trashy but I am writing again after centuries of block so we are happy.