Novel drafts make for an absorbing but exhausting experience. I’m deep within the proofs of my next novel acquired by Thomas & Mercer, THE BLUE BAR, and working on its sequel at the same time.
Check out their excellent site, and join in, if you like. (Links open tomorrow, I’m taking an early start.)
This slapdashfic is a 1-hour timed-writing exercise: a crime author’s take on a love story ( without using the L-word):
STORY TAGLINE: It is not, until it is.
I like that he hasn’t touched me yet.
The whole Sunday we’ve been together, he has spoken to me like I was any other friend, not a bar girl he’s taken out for a day on the beach.
The Aksa is different from the beach at Juhu-Chowpatty. Cleaner, for one. I can sink my feet into the warm wet sand without worrying about what I might step on. The breeze is cool and doesn’t stink of chemicals or the refuse people leave behind on Mumbai’s beaches.
Strangely, there are no people about—only a man in the distance holding the hand of his toddling daughter.
I share my rooms with six other bar girls. I’ve never been on such an empty stretch, nor anywhere this quiet except for the endless swish of the sea, and the waves crashing on the shore. They seem cheery, with much to say, but then disappear without a trace into the sand. Just like us bar girls.
He’s rolled up his thin cotton trousers. Strong legs and clean feet. He’s walking in the water, leaving me far behind. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d held my hand and taken me along, but he seems to know what I want.
To collect these sharp-edged sea shells that look like butterflies, and tiny stones, red and yellow and black. To sniff the dank seaweeds. To chase the waves. To raise my skirt above my knees so I won’t get it wet, without worrying about raising it too high.
I told him I’m nineteen. He’s a police constable and particular about such things.
I’m old enough at seventeen. Been at the bar for four years now. Most nights after hours of dancing, I feel like I’m thirty. Today though, I want to go back to the times when I ran in my leafy village streets, worried only about escaping my friends at play.
When he returns, I’m buying cotton candy from the one sleepy vendor at the edge of the beach. He brushes my money away, hands me the pink ball of fine sugar strings.
Shocking me, he gets one for himself. With his serious expression and clipped, lampshade mustache, he doesn’t look like the type. He’s twenty-two, he says. Looks older until he smiles, and then he is much younger.
His mustache dims his full-lipped smile, bright and almost womanly on his square-jawed face. When a few strands of candy get caught up in it, I itch to reach up and brush them off, but a bar girl dare not touch a police constable first, not even one as nice as him.
He catches me looking, and brushes his mouth, snagging the sticky candy strings, licking them up. He does it like a boy would. I laugh, but it is to hide my hitching breath.
We walk side by side, but our hands don’t brush. I watch his forearms, chiseled, veined from his karate sessions. He tells me about his dojo, and about the times he has arranged security detail on this very beach during a Bollywood shoot.
It reminds me of the pretty girls and handsome men on the big screen. I try to imagine what it would be like, if it were me and him. Like my friends say though, none of it is real.
I’m supposed to ask him for money, for gifts, in exchange for my body that is routinely groped each evening at the bar. The body I haven’t given to anyone yet. I’m a bargirl, they tell me. Not a prostitute. I can choose who to go with, and when. But it must be soon.
Find yourself a good-looking man for the first time–it will hurt, but at least it will be with a man you like. Then use your youth to make yourself a nest egg, just like any accountant or sportsman. They laugh when I stare. You’ll understand, they say, someday you’re like us when no one wants your body, no matter how cheap you let it go. When your body betrays you. Get them when you can. Get him while he wants you.
He looks into my eyes when he talks, listens when I tell him about a movie I watched, does not insist I hold him tight when I sit on his bike. He drops me close to my place before nightfall, his gaze lingering over my face when he tells me how much he likes talking to me. That we should do this again. He pats my arm. I put my hand over his for a moment, and then he’s gone.
That night in bed I think of him, his forearms, his legs. His hard shoulder beneath my fingers when I sat behind him on the bike. I imagine his touch. I run my fingers through his thick hair. I trace the line of his lips. I picture him without his mustache, vulnerable. Without his clothes. I put him in a groom’s attire, the wedding white dhoti. His bare, muscled chest. Our first night. Our daughter. Chores at home. Him cooking me meals. Meeting his friends’ wives. Our daughter who is not a bargirl, who speaks long words very fast, and people listen. Who does not invite men’s eyes on her body to make a living. Who has a daughter, even smarter than her. I picture growing old, him and I.
I turn to the bare wall, and close my eyes, and I make myself linger on the veins on his forearms instead of his words, his smile, as I drift to sleep.
It is his name that returns to me instead. Arnav. I turn it over in my mouth, caress it with my tongue as I whisper it so the other girls won’t hear.
Arnav. I reach back into the recesses of childhood tales from my grandma before she died. The Sanskrit meanings. Arnav, I remember, means the waves, the wide ocean, the endless sea.
WORD COUNT: 992, FCA
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