I lay awake on my bed listening to Genie move about.
I didn’t get him. I didn't know what he did. How he survived. Fish and Genie had expressed no plan, so far, to leave. It made me happy and stressed me out – I didn’t want them to go.
I sat up. Genie had told me not to come into the kitchen. That he'd be working.
“Doing what?” I asked.
I changed tack. “Can I help?”
He hesitated, looking at me carefully. Then he smiled and shook his head. I hung around as late as I could and finally Genie ordered me to go to bed. Somewhere things had changed between us. He was no longer my parents’ Man Friday, or took orders from me – we had become equals.
I hung around near my bedroom door, trying to listen. Nothing. Finally I lay in bed and thought of my ex, my parents, my job, bad things... and then, I had that recurring thought I always did. I envied no one. I had no sadness except the gaping hole that represented my parents. I had a cousin and some friends who loved me dearly and I was slowly making myself whole.
I stood at the window and watched the neighbours. Some were awake. Two of the neighbours were having an affair. I hadn’t realised until Aunty Glory told me. One neighbour's husband travelled on work often and the other's wife worked night shifts at a BPO.
“How does it work, Aunty Glory – they’ve both got kids,” I asked. We were sitting in Aunty's sitting room, watching one of the parties in question.
“I don’t know, my dear. Maybe they lock the door.”
“Or meet somewhere else?”
“The high isn’t going to last long.”
“We can’t know that, Aunty. Do you think the spouses get signals?”
“Signals, my dear?”
“I mean, that something's wrong. That their better halves are not as good as they should be.”
“Not everyone's the way your ex is!”
“Um... that’s not what I meant.”
“That is what you meant. Marriages are difficult. Sometimes great. Sometimes awful. Sometimes equal parts nonsense and adventure, goodness and wickedness. You can’t say. But everyone wings it.”
I didn’t believe her. I believed in soulmates. Like when she swore like a sailor at Uncle John and he blew her a kiss and tried to kiss her. He bought her cigarettes, even though he was allergic to tobacco. She looked at him, a scrawny, stunted man, like he was the sexiest man in the world. And he never stopped staring at her, his eyes always shining with love.
“They’re both on drugs,” Roma told me once.
“Yeah,” Anjali, one of my best friends, said. She passed the binoculars and half-smoked Gudang Garam cigarette to Roma. We were in my sitting room, the curtains mostly closed but slightly parted for us to spy on our neighbours. This was a rare reunion. My parents were out of town, Roma had a break from her family and Anjali was visiting. And my parents’ neighbours were more exciting than theirs.
We were spying on the actor who had moved into our society, temporarily – according to the watchman. The actor was living in with a famous older model and they were fast attracting attention for their furious fights.
In the day they had been at my home, Roma and Anjali had only watched the actor and Genie. We hadn’t had much luck otherwise.
“You should spike the drinking water here with LSD. Or something hallucinatory. Would Benadryl work? We’d need several truckloads for just one wing of this society. Maybe Genie can help us with something stronger,” Anjali said. We looked at Genie.
He grinned. My cousin and my best friend had improved Genie's mood vastly. He was mostly smiling, flirting with them and driving us about everywhere. Of course, I had to thrash out the business of ciggies and booze with him. I didn’t want him to expose my evil habits to my parents. His presence complicated things.
“You’re asking me for permission to have cigarettes and alcohol?” Genie's eyes gleamed.
“What are you asking me to do?”
“Not to tell my parents that we're drinking or smoking.”
“Is that wise?”
“What they don’t know can’t hurt.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you going to tell them, Genie?” I felt exasperated by this roundabout conversation... and his unwillingness to fall in with my plan.
“No. But I won’t lie to them if they ask,” Genie grinned.
I was terribly annoyed, and had an amused audience behind me – Roma, Anjali and Fish. I could hear snickering from the tank. Idiots!
Roma and Anjali had told me not bother, but they were leaving once my parents returned and, heck, I had to live here. I wanted all my loose ends tied. Clearly Genie would never do anything he didn’t want to... even as a favour!
We realised that we were having no luck. So Roma and I went to bed. Anjali held back to keep watch through the curtains, but I had a strong feeling she wanted to chat with Genie.
This is a fictional series about the narrator, her former manservant and now friend, Genie, and five opinionated fish. The narrator is reliving old memories. She helps her cousin spy on a new neighbour, with unexpected results.******
I gasped in fear. Someone had grabbed my nightdress's collar and was trying to pull me off the bed. I kicked hard.
“Owww! What did you do that for!” Anjali was saying angrily. “Get up, there’s solid action happening out front!”
I could see Roma running out of the bedroom door. I sprinted.
Genie was wide awake, almost naked and at the sitting room windows too. Our building complex was still shrouded in darkness, except for the weak light from the tubelights screwed into the sides of each building and the few streetlights. There were lights slowly being switched on in some flats and people were either opening their windows or balcony doors to see.
But it was no fun looking at Genie. I could see the women of the society gesturing to each other to look at him. He was only wearing a pair of loose shorts and, I imagine, from where the women of Peaceful Society stood, he may have appeared naked.
It was probably the heat that made him go shirtless at night. Ouch!
“What the f...?” I glared at Roma.
“Look, baby. Look!”
The actor Arushmaan Verma was standing in his balcony, leaning against the door, trying to keep it shut and screaming for help.
He seemed to be bleeding from the temple. Only, no one was rushing to his aid.
I ran to my door and began to unlock it. The ladies followed me. But Genie's hands held mine tightly, making me stop.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked me.
“Going out there.” I could feel my adrenaline disappearing down a hole. “He needs our help!”
“Bullshit. You were staring at him, not doing anything!”
“Get my t-shirt” he pointed at the chair near his bed.
“You get it yourself!”
He opened his mouth to say something more, but he was interrupted by a blood curdling scream. The three of us pushed Genie out of the way and ran down the stairs, into the courtyard, into building C and rushed up the stairs to the second floor to flat 206. Of course all of us knew which flat Arushmaan lived in!
The neighbours were standing behind their doors or peeping through their security doors.
We walked slowly, nervously, to the Verma flat. The door was closed. We were stupid for sure. I saw Shahbaz Pasha's mother. “Give me Shahbaz's cricket bat.”
“Give me your rolling pin,” Roma said.
“Give me a chair,” Anjali said.
A minute later, Mr Pasha threw everything out and closed the security door quickly. I could hear the lock turn.
Genie overtook us and was at the Verma door. “Stay in the corridor,” he ordered us.
We stood behind him and he rang the bell. After a few minutes, he rang the bell again, pressing the button for an eternity. We heard swearing from inside, and he pushed us back. The door opened and an overweight older man leered at us. Genie moved in front of us and asked for Arushmaan.
The man straightened, swore at Genie and moved into the flat, kicking the door shut. But before it could lock, Genie put his foot into the doorway and held onto the door.
The man didn’t notice what had happened and was already on his way to an armchair in front of the TV.
He looked irritated, but in a second all our attention was on the two people sitting on the sofas. They - the model and another woman - had passed out.
The man, who unknowingly let us in, was now sitting in the armchair in front of the TV, with the volume on full blast. We waited for him to turn and see us. A shattered bottle, and some blood, was on the ground. From a side room we could still hear Arushmaan screaming.
Genie went to the man near the TV. He didn’t turn. His head tipped forward – the man was falling asleep!
Genie stepped into the bedroom and knocked on the balcony door. “It’s Genie here, from building A. You want to come out?”
“He’s still screaming. Let me talk to him,” I said, pushing Genie out of the way and not succeeding. He stepped away from the door.
I banged the door with my fist, “Arushmaan, I’m your neighbour. You’re safe now.” I tried to pull open the door, but Arushmaan was still holding on to it, keeping it shut and crying.
After a while, his hold slackened and the door opened. He saw me and started coming into the bedroom, but stumbled on the doorstep and fell on me. Genie quickly pulled him off and dragged him to the sitting room, where he proceeded to scream again when he saw the others.
He quietened as soon as he saw Roma come in through the front door. She crouched near him and told him everything was going to be fine. The other man was still sleeping, his beer bottle in his lap.
Anjali pushed a chair near the actor and started tending to his wound. She had managed to get a First Aid kit. “You’ll need to get this checked. It's deep and may need stitches. Shall we take you to a hospital?”
Arushmaan shook his head. Genie stood in front of him, “We need to go to the hospital, boss.” But there was another commotion and Genie made way for a police constable. Now, many neighbours were crowding the doorway.
We hung around for a bit, only because we were ordered to by the police. Towards sunrise, they let us go.
Who could sleep after that tamasha.
We had endless cups of tea, each of us taking turns to make it. When Genie protested our tea-making, Roma brushed him off and said, “We’re partners in crime. Take the day off. Enjoy our company.
“What do you think it was all about?” I asked no one in particular.
“They're on drugs,” Roma said. We all laughed.
Roma shrugged, stretched out on the floor, her arms supporting her head, dreaming. Every now and then she rose slightly and turned to take a sip of her tea.
That glassy look – she was in a good place.
“What are you thinking about, Roma?” Anjali put my thoughts into words.
Roma took a deep breath and smiled. She stared at the ceiling and said slowly. “For a long time, I though Arushmaan Verma was the hottest man in the East.”
We laughed. But Roma sighed and continued to stare at the ceiling.
“And?” Anjali prodded.
“And even though I married, Arushmaan was the man that crept into my dreams.”
“Join the club.”
Roma turned onto her side and propped herself up on one arm, her eyes moving to Genie.
“Just so it’s clear, Genie, I hope what I say doesn’t offend you or sound condescending. I’m going to shoot my mouth off.”
Genie blinked quickly, “Okay.”
“Yesterday, I hated what I saw. Arushmaan was cute, but if I have to holler and swear at my sexy man toy from another balcony and see him crying and snot coming out of his nose – he’s going to fall off a very tall pedestal fast!”
“It's not Aunty Glory that’s on drugs,” Roma continued. “Those buggers in C-206 were up to their eyeballs in some serious shit. I don't know how Arushmaan got hurt, but that relationship is in deep trouble.”
We were quiet for a long time.
“Is he off your list of hotties, Roma?” Genie asked. He grinned when we looked at him in shock.
“Like a nightmare I want to dream about,” Roma said.
Genie laughed and stood up. “Excuse me, ladies. I need to have a bath.”
We watched Genie walk away. He was still in the same blue shorts and grey sleeveless t-shirt he was wearing when we charged into C-206. He had the good sense to slip it on before leaving our flat.
“Really, Roma? Is Arushmaan finally off your list of dream men?” Anjali asked. He had been Roma's crush since he’d surfaced in TV commercials many years ago.
I was curious too. Roma had insisted we catch up and try and meet Arushmaan. But he had fobbed us off rudely two days ago.
I had wondered why we needed to spy on him, but he was the only interesting soul in our colony. Actually, scrap that. That was not true. There was Zeba, the married lovers, Glory and John Gonsalves, Mr Duggal, etc, etc.
“Must be all the tea...” Roma stared at the ceiling, smiling.
“What is?” I asked.
“I could get used to it,” Roma murmured.
“For goodness sake, what?!” Anjali growled.
“Get used to a sexy, hot guy like Genie, tending to my every need. And not a grumpy moment. The last two days – bliss! After a while, I found myself watching Genie. I can’t blame the women in this society – even Aunty Glory loves him madly.”
We heard a vessel topple in the kitchen and all three of us straightened. I could feel my heart in my throat.
I looked at Roma. Shit. What if Genie heard.
We sat still, listening for a sound. Fish watched us, but offered no opinions.
Several minutes later, I went into the kitchen. I saw a thermos, with three cups next to it, on the platform, pieces of cake arranged on a plate on a tray, along with cut fruit in a container and three forks beside it.
I stood still. I could hear Genie taking a shower. I listened for several minutes. When he turned off the shower, I hurriedly put the cups on the tray, shoved the thermos under my armpit, grabbed the tray and jogged into the sitting room.
There was not a chance I wanted to know if he had heard Roma or not.
Good riddance to sexy, unrelatable toy boys. As long as Genie kept his mouth shut and didn’t tell my parents about our midnight adventure, we were good.