By: Vikram Shah, NLSIU
One evening, I ring Butter Fingers and ask her to come with me to exchange the tee she’d gifted me. Not to be particularly nitpicking, but she never picks the right size. Or colour. That’s what I like about her.
“You actually think I’m going to come with you to Linking Road right now? When Master is batting?” Who said rhetoric can’t be an art form.
“If I go on my own, then it won’t be your gift any longer.”
“I’d still have paid for it, fucker.”
“But if I pick up something else, which you know I will, I’ll have to pay for it. And then, you’ll have to give me the money if it costs more than what you bought me. Or, you’ll have to take some back if it costs less. Kills the gift feel, no?”
She’s a woman at heart, so she buys that. She talks non-stop as she drives me. Master is creaming the English bowling, Bandra has lost its charm, women don’t know how to drive. When we park in the gully adjoining Naganis, she’s rambling about how she’s not arty enough to be creative director.
In the shop, I extract the tee which I want to exchange.
“No exchange allowed, sir.”
Guess who steps in. “I buy stuff from here regularly. I’ve exchanged clothes before. Why can’t you exchange it?”
“Company policy, ma’am. Exchange of clothes is not allowed.” He points to a sign which says exactly that.
The colour rushes into Butter Fingers’ cheeks. She lifts her aviators and scorches the poor bugger with her gaze. He says, “Ma’am, I cannot do anything. You can talk to the manager if you like.”
He disappears downstairs to call his boss, while Butter Fingers clicks her tongue as Raina leaves something that pitched outside off.
“Che. Master would have punished that. Pull to square leg boundary”. Shop boy returns with a strapping, young man wearing a tee in the same design and colour I want exchanged.
“Look, what’s the problem with getting the shirt exchanged? He hasn’t even worn it.” I nod meekly, and watch those fingers move as she talks. If she was holding something in them, it would have fallen. Thank god I didn’t give her my heart. More precisely, thank god she didn’t take it.
“Ma’am, company policy. Exchange is not allowed”. Second time in the day someone points to the board. I look at her expectantly. She’s buying time. She stares at the life size blow up of Master in the corner of the shop.
A glorious turn of the head, swiveling with the upper half of her torso. Like Master when he pulls to square leg.
“I know Sachin Tendulkar personally.”
Boss hasn’t seen this coming. She has given him a legitimate reason to continue staring at her. He manages a garbled “Sorry, ma’am?”
“I worked with him on the Adidas ad. The one that is playing on screen right now. I can call him, and we can get this sorted out.” This is Bombay, and this is Butter Fingers. So it doesn’t sound silly. If I would have said it, Boss would have given me a lollypop, and asked me to run along home.
“If he wasn’t playing now, I would have actually called him.” A Blackberry is thrust forward. I look around the store, trying to avoid Boss’s gaze. If she pulls this off, I swear to myself, I will never, ever entertain the possibility of being married to her.
Boss is incredulous. At this point, he still seems to think that the greatest batsman of the modern game won’t bother himself with a tee shirt exchange in a retail store, simply because he endorses the brand and has worked with the customer on a television advertisement.
But that point doesn’t last for long. Like so many men before him, he begins crumbling. I see him capitulate before my eyes, and hope that I don’t appear so pathetic. I have a sneaky feeling that I do.
“Ma’am, this is such a small thing. Why are you getting so worked up? Sir, please come and choose another one. Though I wouldn’t want to exchange. See, I’m wearing the same one. Haha.” I’m a man who keeps his word. I begin deleting images of wedded bliss.
Butter Fingers’ face breaks into a smile. The fault-line of her lips swallows everything around her. Boss and I lose everything in the earthquake. Butter Fingers plonks herself on the seating, and tut-tuts at the game while Boss continues to look at her from the corner of his eye.
I pick up a green tee that is not two sizes bigger than my normal size, try it on, and present myself to her. She tears away from the screen, tilting her big, gorgeous head.
“It’s nice, men. But it’s not too much different from the one I picked up. So much drama you do.” After all this, I’m the drama queen. I stand there like an idiot, wondering at the ease with which she slips in and out of the cloak of feminity.
There are two overs to go before the Indian innings comes to end. Butter Fingers does not have to insist that we wait, and watch. Waiting and watching. I’ve become a master at that game at least. Bhajji is swinging, and connecting. Butter Fingers hoots like a hooligan. There are no gentlemen left in this heartbreak of a sport. Boss’ minions are slapping each other’s backs. But Butter Fingers makes them look like a bunch of Englishmen sitting in the members enclosure at a Headingly test.
Bhajji thwacks the last ball over mid-on for six. 317 for them to get. Butter Fingers looks like she’s the one who’s played a whirlwind knock. Come to think of it, she has. I pick up the bag with the new tee, and we walk out of the store. Shadows never fall on Linking Road.
“I’m in the mood for Bombay Masala? Let’s go?” To her credit, she considers it for a brief moment. Then, she disposes.
“Nahi yaar. Not town. I need to get home, and work on a brief. Client meeting first thing tomorrow morning. Bastard Sahni tells me at three in the afternoon.”
The compromise is McDonald’s next door. Compromises are always predictable. The colours of disappointment and solace from them are always red and yellow. Seating is available only in the open-air area on the first floor. We begin to devour our Maharaja Macs.
It is dark outside, but this is McDonalds. The cheap neon lighting makes its way outside where we are sitting, and I can make out kohl-lined eyes that are tired. They are looking down on the appropriately named Linking Road, bridge between the island city and the suburbs. If only there was one such road connecting our hearts and heads. Butter Fingers goes from Fire Princess to Ice Maiden. Just like that.
“Eh, you know some new place has opened up on that turning, coming from Shiv Sagar side. Right next to Mocha. New place there every six months, no? Sabi says the place is jinxed because it is haunted.”
“Cha, this Sabi says all sorts of things, men. Just because he’s running a restaurant in JVPD, he thinks he’s one Juhu Boy.”
“Eh, you’re always after Sabi’s case. Listen to the whole story first. Back in the old days, when Juhu was still a place where only people with old money had their beach houses, there was a double murder there. Old uncle and aunty used to own that property. It was on the beach then. Juhu Tara and all came later. They say it was a hotelier who had arranged. Same story. He wanted to build there, they refused to sell. Sabi was interested in the place when he wanted to start up. That fellow who ran the Italian place had put it up for sale. Sabi and him go back sometime. He only told Sabi not to consider. He had seen white shapes of Uncle and Aunty throwing pasta at his chefs with his own eyes.”
I roll my eyes, making a mental note to check with Dad about the real story behind the restaurants on the corner. Dad has known Juhu from the time when that fellow who runs the paan-shop outside the now-defunct Haveli would have to turn back on high-tide days.
Butter Fingers starts counting on her fingers the number of restaurants that have come and gone. We argue over some names, and the duration for which they occupied that place.
“Hey, Alisha! Didn’t expect to see you here!”
“Hi Sabi! Wow, what are you doing here?” Mr. Hotshot restaurateur in the house.
“We all need a break from fine dining once in a while, yes? Especially when you run the damn place.” Flash of white above the chiseled jaw-line with just the right amount of stubble. Uneven goatees don’t stand a chance in hell.
Now it’s Butter Fingers’ turn to flash. Her world-famous dimples. My gaze hovers over her face like moths around a flame. “Who are you here with?”, she gushes, as I burn my wings.
“Mamma wanted to pick something up from Metro. And my partner Arjun is supervising the restaurant today. So, driver at her service.” He makes an expansive gesture with his hands, and I see the reflection of Christ the Reedemer in her eyes. So this is what passes for charm these days. No one gives a shit if you know the capital of Colombia.
I force a smile, as I’m introduced to Hotshot. I tell him that I’ve heard so much about him. I’m not lying. As Butter Fingers and Hotshot make plans to meet for coffee sometime, I stare at my half-eaten burger, trying to remember the capital of Burkina Faso. It’s a funny-sounding name, but I can’t remember.
Butter Fingers is still beaming as she watches him return to the air-conditioned area. Then, she blushes. I raise my eyebrows. “I know he likes me, and I think I’m falling for him.” This the most unkindest cut of all. I sit quoting Shakespeare in my head, while stubbled entrepreneurs in white shirts walk away with the affections of women I pine for. Story of my life.
On our way out, we stop to look at the score. The English chase has begun . Strauss top-edges one from Sreesanth. Munaf at third man fumbles, juggles, but finally manages to hold on to it, even as he falls to his knees.
A roar fills McDonald’s as we watch Munaf, cradling the ball like a baby, prancing towards his joyous team-mates.
Alisha turns to look at me. She means only one thing when she says what she says before she hugs me, “Guess who’s not butter fingers anymore! Did you see how he held on to that?”
You can follow Vikram’s writing on his blog- A Gallon of Butterbeer