The guy assaulted me every time we bumped into each other. At our colony club, at the plaza, at the tennis court or at Tagore House. He assaulted me in his official chamber too, the nameplate on the swing door of which read P Shome, Branch Manager.

A person with an athletic build, tall and as fair-complexioned as one born and bred in Kashmir, with a chiselled face, prominent cheekbones and a pair of almond-shaped eyes, he seemed intelligent, just as drool-worthy, a guy I’d be proud to spend my life with.

Bruised and battered most sensually, I’d return home, look into the small, round, silver mirror adjacent to my bed, running my palms softly across the invisible love bites on my cheeks, my eyes half-closed in a masochistic fantasy.

I’d be in for the highest thrill when I saw the familiar face reflected in the mirror. He’d creep forward carefully and put his arms around me. The warmth of his angelic smile would mesmerise me and fill my mind with a rush of amorous desire.

I’d then open my eyes and find to my disappointment that he was nowhere in sight. It dawned on me that I was losing touch with reality and saw my end in his eyes. The truth was that I had a crush on him without knowing his feelings.

We stumbled across each other again on a Sunday near the checking counter of the Big Bazar flanking a busy thoroughfare. Apart from being a perfect destination for people who are ready to splurge on quality products of daily use and luxuries, it was a paradise of sorts for love birds and college goers to whom ogling young beauties and handsome guys is kind of a visual treat.

“Is he waiting for someone?” The mere sight of him got my adrenaline going. Dressed in a purple T-shirt and blue jeans like that of a pre-med having a five o’clock shadow on his face, he was standing under the shade of a tree as old as the city, his hands tucked into his trouser pocket. The billboards hanging from the arms of the tree suggested that the tree too had gone commercial.
A love-lorn twit chasing this impossible bloke, I couldn’t help strolling up to him.

“Hi, sir, how are you?” Dressed in a suit of indigo kameez and churidar with a purple toque pulled stylishly over my wispy shampooed hair, I tried to strike a conversation with him like a demure damsel on her first date.

“Fine. Come here often?” he smiled, rolling his eyes, like a fickle flirt who talks to one but keeps an eye on others in line.

“Sometimes,” adjusting my dupatta I replied briefly. Determined to wean him off the glare of other girls, I said without a trace of shame, “Sir, why don’t we get in together? And after we complete our shopping, we can leave together. Do you have any problem?”
“Not at all,” he looked cool, not excited.

Inside, shoppers browsed leisurely around the spectacular and labyrinthine passages because of the soothing spaciousness. I didn’t give him any chance to draw away from me even for a moment. Expectedly, petite girls dressed impudently were eyeing him up, but to my chagrin he too returned their admiration with an appreciative smile.

It prompted me to be bold. I grasped his hand and entwined our fingers together. I felt the blood coursing through the veins as his hand knocked at my breast every now and then. Seeing a trace of nervousness and fear —feigned rather than rea — in my eyes while taking the escalator to the upper floors, he put an arm around my waist and put it away once we reached the particular level. I was elated to notice his stealthy gaze penetrating beyond the necklace lines on my chest.

We walked through the passages that displayed electronic goods, cookware, cosmetics, gifts, jewellery, and finally books. We bought little but viewed much, and after checking out I said, “Sir. ..”

“It doesn’t sound nice to be addressed that way after all this,” he turned his face from my scrutiny. “You can call me Shome — only Shome except during banking hours.” I thought it was a nod to me to go out of my way to cultivate him.

“Can I make a request?” I flicked my hair over my shoulder and fluttered my eyelashes coyly. I was flirty without appearing to be shameless.

“Why hesitate?” he seemed to be immune to the tentacles of my feminine wiles.

“Can you give me a lift?” I said, trying to sound innocuous — a feminine art I learnt from my friends who often bragged about their amorous conquests.
“Is it a big ask for me? Rest assured, I’d be only too glad to do that,” he replied without expressing enthusiasm or pretending to be chivalrous and disappeared.

In just five minutes he reappeared, this time on a maroon-coloured Hero Honda motor cycle wearing goggles and a helmet.

“Please ride pillion. A part of the bypass is in a very bad shape. But don’t worry. I drive neither fast nor rash.”

He was right. The ride was bumpy. Whether I felt unstable or not, I put my arms around him during the 15-minute journey except when we reached our township.

Mom came to know I was onto him. She didn’t object to my amorous adventure. But I wished my dad were alive today to tell me whether I was right or wrong.
***
Our next rendezvous was an upmarket café in the City Centre. I’d fallen in love with him and wanted to tell the whole world, “See this is the guy I love, this is the guy I’m going to marry.” I wanted to make other girls jealous.

While he wore a long-sleeved maroon and navy-blue cotton checked shirt along with a pair of dark green linen-blend trousers, I put on a peach-coloured and brown printed fit and flare sleeveless dress.

“You look very provocative,” he whispered before directing me to get on.
“But you look like a prince. You know the difference,” I smiled my admiration and plopped myself down on the pillion rider’s seat.

He took a different route and rode smoothly. He stopped before the café which I had never visited before. He parked the two-wheeler and removing the helmet said, “Let’s pop in and see what they offer.” Nudging me with his elbow, he led me to a table where we sat face to face. I thought he was inhaling my lavender perfume.

From outside I couldn’t imagine that its interior could be so classy and gorgeous. It was a big rectangular hall illuminated magically with only two rows of reddish brown chairs and tables with slightly reddish marble tops. The matching wooden floor and the decorated walls breathed an air of hygienic outlook. From the snatches of conversation that reached my ears I felt the place was the choice of the city’s glitterati. The ambience was absolutely romantic.

“Pancakes, dark chocolate and cappuccino mousse for two,” he ordered with the air of a regular customer.
The waiter came and served the food items.

“Let’s start,” he said with the characteristic modesty of a worshipper of Lord Bishnu and gently pushed two plates towards me.
“Have you ever made a pass at a girl?” I said abruptly, taking a crumb of the cake.

“Definitely,” he paused and lowered his eyes, “I, I . . . I propose to her not knowing whether she’s willing or not,” He shyly stuttered out.
“Done!” I mumbled. He clicked a photo of my face glowing in triumph.

“Your face looks as white as a rose with a pink blush,” he said, “I wish I could plant a . . .” he couldn’t complete because the gaze of the fellow diners fell on us. We came out in a huff after paying the bill.
***
At Chandannagar, my matrimonial home, I was waiting, as do all newly-wed brides, with great trepidation and excitement in my bed; covered with flower petals, known as phulasajjya. The room was decorated aesthetically with garlands and bunches of flowers, and lit with night bulbs.

He came almost at dead of night when the ceremonial hurly-burly subsided gradually to an unusual calm. A few cheeky girls accompanied by some young sisters-in-law and not-so-young plump aunties were desperately trying to eavesdrop on our conversation voyeuristically.

He took me in his arm and began to kiss me madly on my blood-lit lips. Caressed, hugged and aroused, I felt his breath on my skin, he being on top of me all the time. Suddenly, he drew away from me, broke down and sobbed,
“The dysfunction’s returned. Please try to understand me. I’m burning with longing but can’t achieve an . . .”

The kite that was flying high in the sky suddenly fell down on the ground. My dream tuned into horror. I was duped, duped by the very man whom I loved, whom I guarded carefully against my real and imaginary rivals. My fairytale world caved in as if under the impact of an explosion.

“Impotent! You impostor! Why didn’t you tell me before?” I jumped up exploding in anger and tore my garland apart. I threw the petals from the bed, hurled the pillow over him, seized him by the shoulder and began to knock furiously at his chest. Failing to calm me down, he flopped down on the bed, his head sunk between his knees and went on sobbing as before.

“I’m very much flesh and blood, not just an emotional creature.” I told him.
I phoned my cousin who had come as a member of the bride’s party and left for Durgapur in a hired car.

Mom frowned as she heard everything from me, cocking one arched eyebrow. Evidently, she was not happy.
***
Five years — five long years — have passed by since then. I’m working with the Railways at Kharagpur as before. In hindsight I feel my decision was more impulsive than rational.

These days, mom looks after my mentally unstable maternal at Serampore. She phones me every evening and often speaks of a guy, an officer at Reserve Bank of India, Kolkata. She’s also sent me a photo of the person, a bearded man with a glint of a mysterious smile in his eyes.

Mom says the guy’s set a condition for marriage — a bride has to choose him without ever meeting him. Strange indeed! He comes to Serampore every week and meets mom as he sees in her the image of his own dead mother.

I give in to her persuasion to have a talk with him knowing that he’s finally agreed to meet a bride. But alone — at Bandhan, a popular guest house.

It’s evening. The foyer of the guest house has been illuminated like a wonderland as if a wedding is going to take place. I wonder why mom, her two sisters and some cousins are present here. They are walking about the area busily as if they have come to attend the wedding. In the background, songs by Tagore are being played.

I’m completely under their grip and go almost numb without any strength to protest. I’m led to a room where one of my aunties t<ells me to wear a brand new Benarasi sari and gives me the make-up of a bride.

After a sumptuous meal, I’m thrust into a well-decorated room, its bed resembling a flower bed. A tall guy in dhoti-punjabi ensemble stands with his back behind me. The perfume, the sweet scent, the music make me go mad.

Before I drop down on the bed, I fall in the arm of the guy who whispers, “Tonight we’ll have real phulasajjya. . . after long five years. And you’ll no longer leave me in contempt.”

“Shome, Shome, please don’t shame me any further,” I murmur closing my eyes and then bury myself deeper and deeper into the embrace of his masculinity without sleeping a wink the whole night. Like him.