All characters involved in sexual activities in this story are over 21 years of age.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just coincidence.
The Small Sugar Bowl
It was a cool Friday afternoon when the last of my stuff was carried up to the new apartment that I had shifted into. Not that I had much. Two large suitcases that contained my clothes, and a few cartons of other stuff like cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery, shoes, books, linen, my computer and other things. I was moving in from one fully furnished apartment to another, so there really wasn’t any heavy stuff like furniture and appliances to be brought over.
I took a leisurely shower and was stepping out to pick up some groceries when I saw him entering the adjoining flat. He placed a finger of his left hand on the biometric lock and simultaneously pushed open the door with his right.
“Hi, I am Reshmi, your new neighbour,” I said. He looked up, smiled and extended his hand.
“Hi, neighbour, welcome to our apartment complex.”
I took his hand as I gazed into the loveliest pair of eyes I had ever seen. “Hazel? Or was it more to the green end of the spectrum?” I wondered, as I realised I was still holding his hand.
“Thank you, I moved in a while ago, just stepping out for some groceries.”
“There is a supermarket just 100 metres to the left as you step out of the main gate, you should find your stuff there. But should you need anything, just ask, I will be glad to help.”
“Thanks, got to run along, see you later,” I said as I rushed down the stairs.
When I returned an hour later, I looked at his door. It was firmly closed, and I could not see any lights inside, or rather there was none filtering out from under it. As I walked into my flat, and started making myself some dinner, I started to think about him.
In the short conversation that we had, he had not given me his name. But he wasn’t a weirdo, he had been polite and welcoming, and helpful too, pointing out that the store was nearby. The eyes of course were captivating, but there was a gross mismatch. Green eyes on a person with a light brownish complexion, a complexion that pointed to Dravidian genes? Well, I guess genes do have a freaky way of expressing themselves. The voice was clear, though soft and came through as belonging to a mild mannered yet an assertive and confident personality.
“Well, we are neighbours, I will surely get to know him better as we go along,” I said to myself.
I am an early riser and I woke up at 5:30, after a rather restless night. It happens to me when I sleep in a new place and I knew it will take a couple of days for me to get used to this new bed in this new apartment. As I placed the water on the gas stove to prepare my morning cup of tea and pulled out the sachet of milk from the fridge, I realised I had forgotten to pick up sugar from the store the previous evening.
So here I was, a sleepless night behind me, no sugar for my morning fix, and now a foul mood. I had three options. One, go to work without the tea, two, tea without sugar or three, borrow some sugar from the neighbour. Though I tend to be wary of men in general, the third option, especially when the neighbour was polite, courteous and had those fascinating green eyes, seemed the best.
I sprayed on some deodorant, and stepped out. I hesitated. It was a Saturday, maybe he would be waking up late? Then I heard his door open. He stepped out to pick up his milk sachets from the ‘milk box’ just above his biometric sensor. The ‘milk box’ is a standard fixture in most apartments, where the milk delivery boys drop off the milk sachets early in the mornings without having to wake up the resident. I had one too, except that I had yet to arrange for my supplies.
He heard me approaching and turned towards me. “Hi, good morning, could I borrow some sugar?” I asked.
“Sure, step in, what would you prefer? The usual refined sugar, or sugar cubes or the organic country sugar?”
“You run a grocery store inside or something? Just plain white sugar will be fine.” I laughed, as I stepped behind him into his apartment.
“Do sit down, I will fetch it for you,” he said and stepped into his kitchen.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee was filling up the premises. The apartment was just a mirror image of mine. It was simple and tastefully done, two sets of double seater couches facing each other forming the longer sides, and two single seaters forming the shorter sides of a rectangle. In the middle was a centre table, that had a beautiful miniature Mughal painting printed on it.
I sat down on the single seater, and as a very noisy military helicopter rattled its way over the apartment, causing some of the glass panes to vibrate, I pulled the centre table towards me to examine the painting closely.
He came out of the kitchen smiling, with a small glass bowl of sugar, covered with a plastic cap, sat down on beypazarı escort the opposite single seater and placed the bowl on his side of the centre table.
Crash! There was this sound of the glass bowl shattering on impact with the floor.
“Oops! How did that happen?” he yelped.
I jumped up, “I am so sorry, perhaps you didn’t notice, I moved the table towards me a bit.”
“Sit down please, don’t move, you are not wearing your slippers, I heard you removing them when you came in and there will be glass shards everywhere. Just stay put. I am the one wearing slippers here.”
He got up and moved gingerly towards the front door and groped around with his foot till he felt my slippers, bent down, picked them up and came towards me.
“Wear them before you get up, I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Just then, the doorbell tinkled and a couple of seconds later the door opened.
“Saved by the bell,” he laughed, “this is Vimala-ji,” he introduced the middle aged lady who had entered the house, with the ‘ji,’ a vernacular suffix of respect that a younger person attaches to the name while referring to an elder. “She takes care of my apartment and me.”
Then he started to answer the queries of Vimala-ji, as she fussed over him. “Yes, it was I who dropped the bowl while handing over the sugar to our new neighbour Reshmi… yes, it was totally my fault… no, I have not had my coffee yet… yes, please clean up the mess and in the meanwhile I will make coffee for all of us…”
He turned to me as Vimala busied herself with the cleaning operations. “I am sorry about this, why don’t you just stay back and have some coffee here. Or if you prefer tea, I can make some for you, I have teabags, but no loose tea leaves.”
I smiled. “Coffee will be fine, can I help you with it?”
“Don’t worry, the coffee is ready, I just need to heat the milk a bit and add it to the decoction.”
Then he grinned wickedly, “Let me know how many spoons of sugar, I will add it to the cup in the kitchen itself and bring the coffee across.”
“I am really sorry about…”
He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “Let me get the coffee first, then we will talk.”
The coffee was excellent and I told him so. Then I started again. “I am sorry I moved the table…”
“Reshmi, hold it, I should have heard you moving the table, it is my fault.”
“You couldn’t have heard it, there was a chopper flying overhead then. But I guess you were just absent minded at that moment and didn’t see that the table had been moved.”
He looked at me with those captivating eyes.
“We are neighbours and I might as well tell you this before you find out from someone else. I can’t see, Reshmi, I am blind.”
I could feel the blood draining from my face. Then I fought back my emotions. “You are kidding me, right? You seem to walk all over the house without any problem.”
“So long as every thing is in its usual place, I have the entire apartment mapped in my head. Move something even an inch, and disaster will strike, a bruised knee, a scraped shin, or like just now, a broken bowl…”
“I really don’t know what to say, except that you are a man of exceptional courage.”
“And you are a lady with exceptional empathy. I was expecting some words of consolation and pity, that is what happens most of the time, and was inwardly preparing myself to not scream. That compliment and you have just made my day.”
There was silence for a couple of minutes. “I must also tell you this,” he continued, “I have a very heightened sense of hearing, touch and smell to compensate for my inability to see. I know where you are from the direction your words come from, I can conclude what you mean when you say something by the inflection in your voice and by the changes in your breathing, yet I cannot see your body language. To that end, sometimes, I may misconstrue what you say, or not exactly understand what you mean and thus come across as crass or rude.
So don’t let this ever upset you, if you find something that I say or do unsettling, just point it out to me. I live in this perennial fear that my disability may screw up a relationship, so I always lay my cards on the table.”
“You haven’t even told me your name, what do I call you? Mr Green Eyes?”
“Sounds better than ‘Green Eyed Monster!’ But why don’t you take a guess? I can give you a hint though, it has to do with the eyes.”
“Hari?” I guessed. Hari means ‘green’ in Hindi, it also stands for the all seeing supreme god, as Hari also means the god who removes the sorrows of his devotees.
“It is not so complicated. Try again.”
“Correct! My parents were fascinated by my eyes when I was born and named me ‘Nayan.’ Except that the name is pretty meaningless now.”
He was not being cynical, he was just laughing at himself.
“I better get going. I work in a bank and we are open 1st, and 3rd Saturdays and the 5th, if there is one.”
“Hey neighbour, tell çankaya escort you what, once you get ready for work, hop across. I will ask Vimala-ji to make breakfast for both of us, and also pack you a lunch just as she does for me. When she makes my dinner, I will have her fix one for you as well. If you are up to it, you can have dinner with me here, else I can have it packed and you can eat it at your place. But if you have other plans for the evening, tell me now, so that the extra stuff is not made.”
“Thank you for the breakfast and the lunch. As for the dinner, I would love to join you. Let me bring some ice cream. Which flavour do you prefer?”
“I love ice cream, every flavour. So get me your favourite flavour.”
“Right, breakfast here at 8:30?”
“Just come over, it is not often that I have company at home.”
No Naked Flame
Breakfast was a simple quick affair. Vimala had made ‘Pongal,’ a typical south Indian breakfast porridge, with a spicy ‘chutney’ and ‘sambhar’. There were bananas, slices of papaya and watermelon juice. Then she brought us tea.
It was fascinating to watch Nayan eating. His spoon seemed to be an extension of his fingers, he was literally feeling the ‘Pongal’ in his bowl with the spoon, the tactile resistance the food offered telling him exactly how much quantity to spoon out. On his left was a small bowl of ‘chutney’ and on his right a larger bowl of ‘sambhar’ and he dipped his spoon into each effortlessly. Then his left hand reached out and hovered gently till it touched the edge of the serving bowl of sambhar, his right hand simultaneously hovering till it felt the dipper. Then with uncanny precision, he ladled out a large quantity into his bowl. And as he ate, he would pick up the napkin on his left and whisk it gracefully across his mouth, then place it right back at the same spot. There was no way anyone could make out that he was blind.
“Nayan,” I said, “I don’t know if this will sound stupid or in bad taste, but I mean it as a compliment. Watching you, nobody can even remotely say that you have a problem with your eyesight.”
“You are being politically correct and I thank you for putting it so nicely, but let’s face it, I am blind and there is no denying that. It took a lot of practice, Reshmi, I used to sit at the table with bowls of water, guided and encouraged by my family, to get this right. Water because it was easier to clean up the mess I used to make. Then it was with solid food stuff like cut fruits, nuts and salads, then with foods without gravy, and finally everything came together.”
“But how did things fall apart, Nayan? How did this happen to you?”
“Hey neighbour girl, you have to go to work remember? Can we talk about this later?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have asked?”
“Maybe I would have told you myself? It is okay Reshmi, I like you, be my friend. I can be a pretty interesting guy to hang out with once in a while.”
“Yes, I can see that, you are sweet. See you at dinner time.”
“Hang on a moment, Vimala would have packed your lunch for you.”
I thanked Vimala for the breakfast and the lunch and then thanked Nayan. At the door I waved a goodbye to him, and then shut the door behind me, when I realised he wouldn’t have seen my gesture at all. I thought of turning back, but the door was now shut and I would have to ring the bell for it to be opened. Smiling happily to myself, I rushed down the stairs and started walking to my workplace.
I rang his doorbell at 7 PM. He opened the door almost instantly, as if he was standing right behind it, waiting expectantly for me.
“Hey neighbour, good to see you,” he chuckled.
“How did you know it was me?” I asked as I stepped in.
“I recognise your perfume and your deo, but I can’t smell the ice cream.”
“I got you three flavours my friend, and if you have a couple of bananas from the morning, I will make you a banana split. The stuff is in my freezer, I will bring it across as soon as we are done with dinner.”
“Can you turn on the lights? It is dark in here.”
“How could I goof up like this? I am sorry my friend. Can you step forward a couple of paces, the switches are behind you and I think your face may be in my way.”
He turned on the lights. “Come, sit down, where ever it pleases you.”
I sat down, this time on one of the two seaters. I looked towards the dining table. It was still to be set, only the table mats were in place, and at the centre was a tall candle stick with a candle on the top.
“Is it going to be a dinner by candle light? How cute! But am I not early?”
“Yes, and I am glad you are, gives us more time to talk.”
“I need a lot of assistance from you, Nayan.”
“Sure, how can I help?”
“I need milk in the mornings.”
“That is simple, I am awake when the deliveries take place, I will direct the guy to your apartment çayyolu escort tomorrow morning, unless you rise late, in which case I can ask him to meet you on Monday morning.”
“Tomorrow morning will be fine. How about the newspaper delivery?”
Nayan walked over to the other side of the living room, picked up the wall mounted intercom of the apartment complex and spoke to the security desk, asking them to send across the newspaper delivery boy to my place the next morning.
“I should have thought of that, why did I trouble you?”
“What else can I do for you, my lady?”
“I need a maid and a cook, but I guess I will ask the security desk, they must have an empanelled list, right?”
“Can I suggest something?”
“Vimala is looking for additional work, she needs more money to make her ends meet as she has two school going kids. She is reliable, trustworthy and has a high level of integrity. Why don’t you try her out? If you don’t find her suitable, say after a month, you can try someone else.”
“Wont that clash with your timings?”
“She lets herself in, does my cooking and then after I leave, she does the cleaning and lets herself out. You will probably have to give her a spare key to your apartment, she can do the cleaning work after you leave. Why don’t you work things out with her? She has an off on Sundays, so you can talk to her on Monday morning.”
“Great, and since she won’t be coming in tomorrow, why don’t you have your breakfast, lunch and dinner with me? You can either suffer my cooking, or I can take you out for lunch or dinner.”
“Of course I am serious. How about breakfast and lunch at my place, and a pizza dinner delivered to either your place or mine?”
“Do you always set up a candle light dinner for all your guests?”
“Not really, when mom and dad were here, mom had set this up once. Now Vimala does this every time my family comes over, which is not often or when I have guests, which is even more rare. During extended weekends and breaks, I go over to my parent’s place. They live in Gandhi Park, which is at the other end of the city, about 40 kilometres drive. But I am very cautious when it comes to naked flames. I rely mostly on the induction stove, toaster, coffee maker and the microwave. Only Vimala or my family members when they are here, use the gas stove.”
Then he laughed. “We can eat by candle light if you wish, but you will have to extinguish the candle completely once we are done.”
“You don’t have your friends over, Nayan?”
“Sometimes for lunch, if Vimala is available to manage things. But if I have more than one person over, invariably things get moved around and I end up bumping into something, or find the wrong stuff in the wrong place in the kitchen. Then reorienting things is a hassle. Vimala knows what works for me, if she makes any changes in the house, she lets me know. She mothers me, she cares, she is fiercely protective and for these I am eternally grateful to her.”
“The lunch she packed for me today was awesome, as was the breakfast. How did you get hold of her?”
“She came looking for work when I shifted here three years ago. Mom stayed over for a month and trained her to adapt to my needs. She has stuck on. Anyway, tell me about what you do at your bank.”
“I am a relationship manager, and I moved in here so that my workplace is close by. Don’t like commuting during rush hours. I have been living alone here ever since I graduated with a masters in economics. Parents stay in Hyderabad, that is an hour’s flying time or an overnight journey by train.”
“Are you with HDFC Bank? The one on the street parallel to ours? That is where I have my account.”
“Hey, yes, who is your relationship manager?”
“I don’t have one, Reshmi, I don’t think I am that high net worth customer for the bank to invest their time and a person on me. Well, I can use the ATM if it is voice enabled, I can write out a cheque using those stencils for the blind, and for other things, I seek help. My sister has access to my net banking and she keeps an eye on my account and pays off my bills online.”
“Do you have your cheque book here? Can I take a photo of a cheque leaf to capture your account number? Then I can figure out how to get you a relationship manager in a few days time.”
“Sure, I will get you my cheque book.”
We talked for a while, I told him a lot about myself, my family, my life in general, about my work as a banker. I found we did have a lot of shared interests. We liked the same kind of music, a lot of authors and writers we read were common, we loved reading plays and poetry and we were both early risers with a craze for physical fitness.
“How do you read, Nayan, do you have lots of books in Braille?”
“Not that many, but technology helps. I listen to audio books, or if someone downloads a book for me, I use text-to-speech software. Then I have voice-over on my MacBook. For most phone related stuff like calling and texting, my girlfriend helps out.”
“Wow! Where is your girlfriend? Do you have a picture of her? Oops, was that the wrong thing to say?”
“She is right here, you can meet her.”
“Nayan, why is she inside?” I asked, looking towards his bedroom. “Why isn’t she here with us?”