The Hidden Place

By Pranav Bora

 

Let me confess two things honestly at the first place. First, I was not supposed to be here & secondly, I cursed myself for wearing the hideous cap. I sat quietly on one of the unreserved table. It is after a long time that I had been to a pub. The restaurant was dimly lit. The blue neon lights and the live band playing slow country music at the other end made the atmosphere livelier. The place was once an Iranian bakery serving delicious muffins, pastries and above all, the famous shrews berry biscuit. After the death of the old owner, his son converted it into a swanky pub and restaurant. The pub is at the basement.

Young couples held hands and some are swaying to the lively music. The crowd is gradually starting to swell, today being a Saturday evening. At the next table are seated two young guys, must be in their early twenties. One of them is toying with the cell phone while the other is trying to eye one of the girls seated across the table. I thought I saw one of the girls smile at him. I turned my head away moments before the young guy’s eyes caught mine and caught me staring. A familiar tune distracted me. The band was playing Lobo’s once famous hit track “I did love you to want me”. The Disguise 1crowd went hysterical. Some things never change, I thought.

Suddenly, my mind raced back many years back, years ago, when I was a student, maybe in fifth or sixth standard. The day is still so vivid, as if it happened yesterday. There was this band of seniors whom we used to idolize at school. The day was teacher’s day celebrations. We were eagerly waiting for the last performance. The band took on to the make shift stage of the church and starting singing, “I did love you to want me” much to the disdain of the teachers sitting in the front row. The crowd of student went berserk. I let out a smile at the thought.

“Sir, would you like to order something?” The waiter asked me inquisitively for the second time. I said politely with my best impressive smile, “Not now, I am waiting for a friend, thank you”. The waiter smiled at me and walked away. I am sure he must have cursed me under his breath. Where the hell is he, I thought. It still amused why of all the places, I asked him to come to the restaurant named “The Hidden Place”.

I cursed myself for calling at the number displayed in the advertisement.  It has only been a few days that I had come to the city. “Don’t worry, it is just a matter of few months and I will be there soon”, I remember my wife say at the airport. I lazily went through the menu and looked at the price list against the items. I cued the waiter and ordered for a Murphy’s stout beer. I watched as the waiter poured the contents into a tulip glass. I took a sip of the bitter beer and the aroma of the malted barley hit my nose. I looked around. By now, the girls from the other table had joined the guys and were laughing playfully.

“Mr. Kumar”, called someone from behind. I turned around and saw a tall guy standing next to me. He was wearing a green floral shirt and a white trouser. “Yes”, I said a bit surprised. “I am Vinod, we spoke in the morning today”, said the guy. “Oh, yes, please sit down”, I said pulling the chair next to me. I called the waiter triumphantly and ordered for another beer. Vinod looked around the place and I could decipher from his look that he had never been to this place before. He spread his arms around the leather chair and felt the leather with his finger tips. He ogled at the girls, looked wide eyed at the bartender as he used one of his many tricks as he mixed a martini for the guy in the blue suit at the counter.

“Do you have the number? I need it urgently. I am all alone at this place, I hope you can understand”, I blurted at one breath. He smiled, “Don’t worry, my services are the best, there will never be any room for any complaint. So, what is your preference?” I just shook my head and said, “I got no preference, just that my requirements should be met”. “Okay, how much can you afford?” he asked as he took a sip of the chilled beer. “Well, not quite high, maybe in the range of Rs.1000 – Rs 1500”, I said. “Sir, are you mad? You got to raise the bar more”. I wiped my lips and said, “Okay, I cannot give more than Rs.2000.” He thought for a moment and said, “You seem to be a nice gentleman, I will give you one at Rs.2500”. I thought hard and reluctantly said, “Okay but I hope I have your guarantee that there will be no room for complaints”. “Sir, believe me” he said reassuringly.  He called the waiter and asked for a pen and paper. He wrote a number neatly on the paper, folded it and handed the piece of paper to me. I finished the beer at one gulp and walked out of the restaurant.

Once inside the car, I pulled the cap away and smiled at my reflection in the mirror. I could not believe my luck. Finally, the long wait is going to be over. I am a married man. So what if my wife is not with me right now, I thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about the luxury that awaited me the next day. After coming here, tomorrow is going to be the first ever Sunday that I am going to relax and enjoy. I stopped the car a few meters away from the beer shop. I brought a few cans of beer. A whiff of air brought the magical smell of the kababs from the nearby Marrakesh Restaurant. It is okay, I said to myself reassuringly as I ordered for some Makrana kababs.

My mind was lost in ecstasy at the thought of the events of the next day. The few more hours seemed to be eternal. It was as if I couldn’t wait for the night to end. I closed my eyes and envisioned her at my door step. I will let her do the work while I will just lie down and relax. Oh, just the thought of it brought goose bumps. Wow, sheer bliss awaits me tomorrow, I thought as I opened the door to my flat. A wicked smile beamed on my face.

As I set in the balcony sipping the chilled beer, I recalled the incident that took place a few weeks back.  I felt the need of it within a week since I came here. I thought I could manage but I was wrong. Being new in the town was the disadvantage. I hardly knew any place where I can get it. I could not discuss it with my colleagues. It had only been a week or two since I joined the new office and moreover, I haven’t been much friendly with anyone either. I used to look furtively at the agency every time I used to cross it on my way to office. The agency was rather small and I was skeptical whether it will be able to meet my requirements or not. Finally, one fine day, I went to inquire. I was dressed rather shabbily that day, the day being a Sunday. I was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt which had seen better days and a pair of chappals.

“Yes, what can I do for you?” asked a guy sitting on a huge brown worn out leather chair. Must have been brought from the Wednesday flea market, I thought. A mahogany table was in front of him. About four to five mobile phones were spread haphazardly on the table. I cleared my throat and said my requirement. “Okay”, he said without even caring to look at me. At that moment, one of the many phones rang. “Oh sir, why do you have to bother to come to my office? I will be there in the evening.  Ok, sir, ok. Today evening for sure” He disconnected the phone and said to the guy sitting next to him, “The deputy engineer called” and they started talking amongst themselves.

I shifted my weight on the chair and cleared my throat. The guy turned and asked, “Ok, so where were we?” “We were talking about the services”, I said a bit agitatedly. My anger was evident on my voice. “What is your budget”, he asked rather curtly. I said, “Between Rs1000 – Rs1500”. He looked at me with a confused look and started to laugh thumping the mahogany table wildly. I felt rather embarrassed. I got up and said, “That is my budget, if you can provide me one in this budget, let’s talk else I am leaving.” They were unmoved by my words. I said exasperatedly “Okay, what is the minimum rate?” I asked swallowing my pride. He spread his arms and locked them over the back of his head. “The least is Rs.6000. If you are willing to pay that much, I can provide you one which fits your requirement”, he said. “What, Rs.6000? Is it not a bit high?” I almost screamed.

At that moment, a red SUV stopped in front of the office. He leapt from his chair and almost ran out. “Please come in” he said as he let in a burly man wearing big gold rings on every finger of his hands. He looked menacingly at me and looked quizzically at Vinod. There was only one chair inside the office. “Sir, if you don’t mind, can you come tomorrow”, he said to me smiling. I reluctantly got up from the chair. He immediately grabbed the chair and pushed it towards the man. They started talking, least bothered to my presence. I felt belittled in my shorts, tshirt and chappals. I held my head down and walked out. I was filled with embarrassment and anger.

That night I couldn’t sleep. My big male ego had been hurt and my mind was scheming on how to avenge it but could not find any way out. I finally gave up the idea and dozed off. I would have completely forgotten about the incident had I not noticed the eye catching advertisement from the same agency in the newspaper a few weeks back. I went through the advertisement and dialed the phone number. A male voice answered the call. I said to him about my requirement and waited for the usual reply. “What is your budget?” said the male voice lazily. I was well prepared this time. “The budget is not an issue as long as the services are good”, I said with an authoritative voice. There was a silence at the other end. I heard the male voice talking to somebody else. “Why don’t you come over to my office?” he said after a few seconds. “Well, I am a bit busy these days. Moreover I got to finalize the deal before I leave for my holiday to Pattaya”, I said. He did not reply back. “Would you mind meeting me at this restaurant which is located at Koregaon Park?” I asked. “Of course not sir, it will be my pleasure”, he said enthusiastically. I could barely hold my laughter at his changed tone. I gave him the address and the timing.

When I met him at “The Hidden Place”, I couldn’t help noticing him gazing at my imported watch every now and then. I purposefully wore it on my right hand so that it grabs his attention whenever I motion my hand. There was no way he could recognize me in the faded blue jeans and the white Armani shirt. The chilled beer was the icing on the cake.

I took a bite of the kabab and finished the beer. Finally I had my revenge today. I beat him in his own game. I took out my phone and dialed my wife’s number. “Honey, we got a new housemaid from tomorrow. The deal was struck at Rs. 2500”, I said triumphantly as if I had claimed my piece of lunar land. I heard laughter at the other end of the line. “Did he not recognize you?” she asked. “C’mon, with that hideous cap even you could not have recognized me”, I said laughing out loud. “Now do you finally agree that honesty is not the best policy always?” asked my wife. “I completely agree now”, I said.

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