Rigorous
Volume One, Issue 2


Man, Muddled

Nidhi Singh


Goa was hot and muggy at this time of the year. Luckily, the hotel, Ramada Caravela, where the company had booked the visiting project team, was a first-rate property with a pool in its midst, and its own private beach with shacks and outdoorsy barbecues: it was a relief to be in the hotel’s cool environs.

“I’m so smashed,” Kiara said, at the hotel desk. “Let’s recoup and hit the sack until dinnertime. We still have the whole Sunday ahead to fine comb the presentation.” Rishaan, who seemed to have other ideas, simply stood by, and opened and shut his mouth without a sound. Kiara and Rishaan, already affianced, checked into one luxury suite with a balcony that jutted over the beach, while Diya was tucked into a small room in a corner.

Diya was already sitting at a table when Rishaan and Kiara walked that evening into the dining hall. Diya looked lovely in a low-cut black dress. A fat crooner belted away cover numbers, while the empty dance floor waited for the guests to down a few pegs and loosen their inhibitions.

“What should we order—fish curry and feni—or is there more to Goan cuisine,” Kiara asked.

“I’ll have a scotch,” Rishaan said.

“I, a beer,” said Diya.

“Ahem. I thought we were here on business,” Kiara observed. She was the CEO’s daughter, so she had a right to be didactic. “Okay, I’ll try the house wine then.”

The little group tried to make conversation, but soon gave up trying to be heard over the blaring music. Rishaan kept knocking back shots after another—“dance with me,” he leaned over the table and asked Kiara.

“I am in heels,” she replied, tossing her mane of wavy hair in his flushed face.

“I’ll dance with you,” Diya said, quite gladsome. Tossing back the remaining beer, she grabbed Rishaan’s arm and led him to the floor.

“Go ahead,” Kiara said, but they were already out of earshot. She twirled Rishaan’s engagement ring around her finger thoughtfully; they dance well, she mused, and look good together too.

“Enjoyed yourself,” Kiara asked as he turned off the light later at bedtime.

“Yeah,” Rishaan replied, yawning liberally. His hand brushed against her shoulder, but she pulled away.

“I am tired,” she said, tightly pulling the sheets, which swooshed like the unfurling of sails on an angry sea.

“You’ve been sleeping all day,” he whined.

“You noticed?”

* * *

When Kiara woke up, her hand instinctively moved to Rishaan’s side of the bed, but it was empty. She pressed her head contentedly against the soft, goose down pillows and smiled. She felt rested—the glass of wine had put her to deep, dreamless sleep. I must try it more often.

“Rishaan, come back to bed, it’s Sunday,” she said aloud, stretching lazily and patting down the sheets. She imagined his hard, muscled body, naked in the washroom, and suddenly felt desire sweep over her snug and roused body. She called out again, “Rishaan…baby…” but no reply came. Curious, and burning, she walked around the suite looking for him, but he wasn’t there. Finally, she flung open the tall French windows, and peered over the balcony rails. It was still early and nothing was out there on the grounds—except for the sloshing in the pool. She leaned over and peered closely—it was Rishaan and Diya playfully splashing water on each other, and gamboling around like kids.

She was about to call out to them but stopped. She leaned against the wall and quietly watched. Rishaan had pressed Diya against the pool wall in the shallow end—she could make out his broad shoulders covering her petite and svelte figure. As Diya tossed her wet hair happily, spraying Rishaan, her head turned in Kiara’s direction, and suddenly she saw her. She pushed away Rishaan and floated away. She said something to Rishaan, for he too turned toward Kiara. The man stood agape for some moments in the pool, his arms ridiculously hanging limp by his sides. Kiara, without her specs couldn’t make out his expression exactly, but figured he seemed surprised. Rishaan finally gathered his wits, and waved. Kiara waved back too, and went inside to fix coffee.

“Hi darling,” Rishaan said, as he walked in a few minutes later, wearing a towel. He gripped her waist and smooched her. “Sorry—I thought you would be tired so I let you sleep,” he said.

“Sorry about what? You know I don’t swim.”

“Yeah, that too. Might as well use the facilities, now that we’re paying for them.”

“Might as well.”

“Lovely coffee—you have a magic touch.”

“It’s not mine silly—it’s just pouches and boiled water… do you two know each other from before?”

“N-uh.”

“Good. Team spirit then?”

“All for one, one for all,” he said, making a ‘V’ sign.

“Which one; begs the question.”

“I have eyes only for one—this one.” Rishaan placed his cup on the mantle, and loomed behind her. Before she knew what was happening, with a flick of his fingers he’d expertly slid the robe off her bare shoulders; it fell in a soft silky heap around her unshod feet. He opened his mouth and kneaded her shoulders with his lips, tongue, teeth; and his arms entwined around her, like the devil, touching her nakedness at all the penetralia, forcing soft moans and shivers from her. He raised his head briefly to whisper in her ears, “you are tense…let go.”

“Don’t talk…” she sighed, and grabbing his hair, yielded unto his hot passionate caresses.

* * *

Early guests were still trickling into the buffet room. Rishaan and Kiara, sated after long lovemaking, read the morning papers, and sipped masala chai in an herbal-garden facing alcove. A little later, Diya walked in, wearing self-cropped denim hot pants, and a white, low-cut tank top, setting a storm brewing in the large hall. Heads turned as she sashayed in her dazzling loveliness down the aisle toward them.

Knowing Kiara’s bespectacled gaze was fixed firmly upon him, Rishaan studiedly kept his eyes on the newspaper headlines, even as a glowy Diya cheerily piped a ‘hi’ to them, and took the chair across the table. A nearby auntie swatted her companion’s wrist with a butter paper dosa, as the man just wouldn’t stop staring. Kiara wrapped her arm around Rishaan’s possessively.

“Are we forgetting something here,” Kiara asked, the corner of her lips twitching slightly in a wry smile.

“What,” asked Diya, reaching across and sipping from Rishaan’s cup.

“That we aren’t still in the pool?”

“Oh this—” Diya giggled, gesturing at herself dismissively. “We are in a beach resort—remember? It’s a fun place!”

“True—perhaps one might have overlooked throwing a sarong on then?” Turning to Rishaan, she asked, “What will you have, dear?”

“An omelet,” he said, rising.

“You stay—with your paper—I’ll get it,” she said, restraining him. “Aren’t you coming, Miss,” she asked Diya, who’d tucked her chin on her bent wrist, and was rolling eyes at Rishaan, who seemed to be glued to the headlines on his paper. Kiara had never seen him so absorbed in politics before.

“Oh, of course,” Diya said, and jumped to her feet, and bounded after Kiara as she weaved her way to the chef’s counter.

“Good morning ladies, what can I get you this morning,” asked the dapper chef, half bending at the waist.

“An omelet—what’s the special,” asked Kiara.

“Cheesy masala with mushrooms, ma’am,” he said, rubbing his hands, his eyeballs darting willy-nilly to Diya’s creamy white cleavage.

“Okay,” Kiara said, and moved away.

“Don’t put mushrooms in it—he’s allergic to mushrooms,” she heard Diya whisper to the chef behind her back. She paused, and turned. “How would you know he doesn’t like mushrooms? Do you two know each other from before,” she asked.

“Umm…no. I must have seen it in the office canteen,” Diya replied, picking out quiches and bacon strips.

“We don’t serve eggs in our canteen—ever. It’s vegetarian.”

“Then…I can’t recall who must have told me…” Diya shrugged, and walked away to the milkshake counter. Kiara filed away a mental note to ask Rita from HR to mail her Diya’s CV. Diya, a civil engineer, had recently relocated from the Delhi office—there was little Kiara knew about her.

“Let’s meet now with our computers,” Kiara said, as they leaned back and stretched blissfully after the sumptuous meal.

“What! I though we were hitting the pool,” Diya said.

“Isn’t that enough swimming for one day, dear? Now, we wouldn’t want your peaches and cream complexion ruined in the sun, would we? See me in one hour,” Kiara said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the conference room, and left, with Rishaan trailing in her wake. He soon returned, though. He saw Diya leafing through some travel fliers in the lobby and walked up to her.

“Hey, you are back,” she said.

“Yeah. She’s crunching some numbers, and then she doesn’t like being bothered. A true businesswoman!”

“She has to be—managing a construction business empire. And you’ve come a long way since college, haven’t you—finally getting hitched.”

“Yeah, she’s something, isn’t she? But it’s you I miss the most—you ditched me, and now you come back into my life, and tease me thus.”

“I didn’t ditch you Mr. Italian Stallion—I caught you with a girl—and I don’t know how many others there were. It’s only after we split I came to know of your enviable reputation. And I haven’t come back into your life—had I known you were here, I would have…

“And I’m already seeing someone—he’s a fine guy—I really want it to work with him.”

“Come on, give me a chance,” he said, turning up her chin, and looking into her limpid eyes. He bent slowly, confidently, and crushed his mouth on hers. She gripped his shoulders briefly, lingering awhile, and then pushed him away.

“What’s that? You’re engaged—to the CEO’s daughter. She’s smart—she’s already on to something—don’t get yourself—and me—into trouble,” she said, straightening her dress, trying to squirm back into it.

“Come on baby, let’s give it a shot,” he said, grabbing her arm roughly and dragging her into the corridor, and trying to kiss her again. “Just once…”

She grabbed his collar and held him off. “Okay, if you want me so badly, I will. Let us this very moment walk over to Kiara and you tell her you’re breaking off the engagement. And then you can have me all you want. I want your commitment—right now!”

“Not this, not now—come on, let’s at least pick up from where we left,” he wailed, thumping the wall with a fist. “Give it some time...”

“Why? See? You won’t give her up, will you—she’s quite a catch—it’s the smartest thing you’ve done in your life! You just can’t get over your old habits—all you want is meat—more girl meat! Yes, I did love you once, but then I’ve got over you, some maybe, and some not. But don’t come near me again—I am saving your life—our life here, okay? Trust me!” She shrank away from him, and darted off.

* * *

On Monday morning, Diya set up the display systems, and arranged the charts and graphs, while Kiara and Rishaan went through the slides for the final time.

“Can you guys look at the charts here, and tell me if the sequence is right,” Diya asked.

“Ahem,” Kiara muttered.

“Hey, wait!” Rishaan stopped Diya at one point. “I’m hazy about these carbon credits.”

“Don’t sweat—I’ll jump in if there’s a question,” she said.

Shortly, the Japanese investors trooped in. Kiara introduced her team and then handed over to Rishaan for the presentation of their LEED certified, green commercial project.

The presentation went fine till one investor asked, “how do you convince the buyer to cough up such a high initial premium for a green building?” As Rishaan fumbled, Kiara nudged Diya, who was sitting by her side. Diya walked over to the podium and took on the query. As the discussion meandered, Kiara noticed Diya’s laptop going into screensaver mode. She reached out to press a key to return the screen but paused when Diya’s college photographs began to flip past. The rest of the meeting was a haze for her as she became transfixed at Diya’s collage of personal photos.

* * *

“The meeting went off well?” Rishaan plopped his backpack on the seat next to Kiara’s at the airport, that same evening. “And what was this person you had to meet so urgently, that you came over alone to the airport?”

“A business contact,” Kiara replied, coolly leafing through a copy of ‘Sustainable Architecture and Building.’

“She’s not coming.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Oh.”

“I left an envelope at the Hotel Desk for you. Didn’t you get it?”

“Yeah—I forgot to open it in the rush. Here, let me get it now—what’s in it—a bonus?” he winked, and rummaged through his bag and found the envelope. He opened it, and found out a note and the ring that he’d given her on one knee. He turned to her in panic. “Who told you all this? Did that bitch– say anything to you?” He weaved his hand through her hair and began to stroke her nape.

“During the presentation,” she said, jerking her head away, “I happened to see yours and Diya’s photos on her laptop by chance. Afterwards, when I confronted her, she told me everything.”

“It was something that just blew over from the past—it meant nothing.”

“To you it didn’t, but ask me. Ever since she’s come to the Mumbai Office, you’ve been trying to get into her pants—I’m told. A family is trust, Mr. Rishaan, but I guess you have no clue what that word is. And—I believe you don’t have a ticket to fly out—it has been cancelled.”

“Do I still have the job, or…not?” his voice trailed, as Kiara walked away, without saying anything, or looking back.


Nidhi Singh's short work has appeared in TWJ Magazine, Indie Authors Press, Flyleaf Journal, Liquid Imagination, Digital Fiction Publishing Co, LA Review of LA, Flame Tree Publishing, Firefly Magazine, Four Ties Lit Review, The Insignia Series, Inwood Indiana Press, Bards and Sages Publishing, So To Speak, Scarlet Leaf Review, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Asvamegha, Fiction Magazines, The Dirty Pool, Flash Fiction Press and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in the Dhauladhar Mountains of Yol Camp.




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