It was a still and balmy evening. The stars were out, the lamps were lit, and the barbecue was roasting. Soon the drinks were laid out on a tray, and sniffing good times in the air, a woman emerged to investigate. Large of build, lugubrious of bent, she drew a seat and then she cast her lascivious eye around. Her hair shone, her teeth gleamed, and her expensive red dress revealed her.
Her gracious hosts, genteel and kind, with doctorates from the Sorbonne, then offered her a beer. “You look so thirsty sitting there, would you like a Heineken?” At that she scoffed with due contempt. “Imported? That’s just wrong.” With all respect to her Marxist zeal, and the Duty Free bounty it conserved, they wholeheartedly agreed. They fetched her whiskey with water and ice, a tad too clean, but it all felt well deserved.
It was gone in about twelve seconds. It wasn’t long before her eyes continued their predatory perambulations around the verandah. One of the literary critics had lovely curly chest hair. Then there was a wire mesh exporter, admitted to the gathering because he was the son of a maharaja, and had the most sublime taste in shoes. And unlike most other exporters of wire mesh he did not wear garnet rings.
With a genteel leer, she tried to engage them in a conversation about the breast as a motif in Greek mythology, and leaned forward, her hand brushing her smooth throat. They smiled without showing their teeth and praised the organic mushrooms served on golgappas instead of crackers. She switched to Hennessey then, since import liberalization is just one aspect of the crumbling of cultural boundaries. Or something. They were discussing pasta aglio e olio. For some reason that made her think of stomachs churning in planes, of frogs slowly, vocally choking to death in a tureen full of bubbling olio.
The host, dressed in a maroon silk kurta with embroidery around the neck, leaned forward and asked if she wouldn’t mind fetching a bottle of white wine from the fridge. “Of course I don’t mind, right away.” Slightly rubber legged, she took the bottle of wine out. Nobody else was in the room, so she drank straight from a bottle of Scotch in the drinks cabinet.
She handed over the wine and declared she was terribly thirsty. She had another two drinks, in three minutes, then two, and, as hoped, started to feel as powerful as Godzilla. Looming. The verandah was small, but then so was Tokyo, and she didn’t allow herself to doubt her strength. She could pretend the chairs were buildings. Tip tip topple.
There goes Tokyo. She clawed the air and roared softly in what she hoped was an accurate but more polite interpretation of the beast’s preferred mode of communication.
Inexplicably then, the group began to talk of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. They all loved the book, they said. It had so much emotional resonance. She growled more insistently, loudly. What the fuck? They had Godzilla, hairy, horny, and dangerous, sipping drinks and eating tofu tikkas with them, and all they could talk about was a little boy’s coming of age?
She could tell them a thing or two about coming of age, but they probably didn’t want to hear it because she couldn’t situate her story in a complicated socio-historical Context full of Contrasts and Contradictions. The three Cs that when taught successfully to a hydrocephalic gibbon could make him sound like the most erudite member of a book discussion club.
She fumed, feeling rather hydrocephalic herself. Just substitute whiskey for water in the brain. Suddenly, there was silence. Blessed, blessed, but strange. The hairy literary critic broke it. “Excuse me?” She looked around her. Her theory on mental retardation, gibbons, and the contemptible nature of erudition had obviously been shared with those present at the gathering. Perhaps she’d even punctuated it with a little more roaring and clawing.
She sensed herself melt out of her shaggy monkey suit, because that’s all it felt like suddenly. Still, those sitting closest to her looked decidedly panic-stricken and poised to flee.
Inspired by her noble labrador bitch, she slid down to the floor and tried to hide under the table.
It was a gesture of pacification, submission, appeasement, but it seemed to make the host angry because he stood up and yelled, “What is this?”
The hiding hadn’t worked either because she was too large to fit under the elegant glass-topped rattan coffee table from Indonesia. The enormous strength of her apologetically cowering rump had overturned it.
The tikkas, the bottle of Hennessey, the mushrooms, the wine, the glasses. The accusatory debris lay around her. And the peanuts. She would have laughed had she been less scared.
She sat up and tried to smile. “I think the mushrooms disagreed with me.” She vomited over the remains of the repast to prove the hypothesis, but the host would have none of it. ‘You’re drunk. It’s disgusting.”
“Could I have the beer? You know, that Heineken?”
“You need to leave now. I’m calling a cab.”
“Couldn’t you hold me? Like that time I came to see you in Paris. That was such a beautiful time. The trees were gold.” She started to cry.
The host’s wife looked as if the mushrooms had disagreed with her too. “What is this madwoman talking about?”
The host clasped his head in his hands. “ She’s drunk. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She growls, goddamn it, she comes to a party and she growls and talks about hydrocephalic gibbons. You said it, she’s mad.”
And even though the trees had been gold and the bed had been warm and the wine had been cold that time in Paris, the woman had nothing to say. She could not scream, “His bum looks like Gorbachev’s head.” He had no birthmarks or scars to speak of. So she went home with the wire mesh exporter.
She was thankful the next day that she had said nothing because the host’s wife was her sister and such a revelation would have made compulsory family get-togethers unbearable for the next 20 years.This way they’d be unbearable for the next five? She could do nothing but guess. She picked up the phone to apologise.