Previously: Ruby Iyer is pushed in front of a local train in Bombay, and wakes up with super powers. As she comes to terms with her new identity as the ‘Bombay Vigilante’ – and male admirers – enter…’The Hand’…
– Doing a Rajini –
“I am thirsty.” Ruby ran her tongue over her dry lips; it felt as if her body was having a delayed reaction, to all that physical activity she had put into saving Amit.
“There must be a bottle of bisleri… somewhere. Look na! In the back?” Pankaj continued to navigate the traffic, which flowed as sluggishly as the sludgy water in the slow moving nullahs of the city: before pouring out all the frustrations of the citizens into the inky depths of the Arabian Sea.
“Panky… I was thinking—“
“Don’t,” he snapped at her, “it’s dangerous when you do.”
“ I mean—“
“What Ruby? I am trying to drive through this horrible rush hour, so I can take your sorry ass home—“
“But that’s what I mean, I don’t want to go home.”
“Kya—?” She was pleased to have gotten his attention enough for him to look at her with raised eyebrows. “What?”
“Toto’s?” She mimed drinking from a glass.
“The sea water wasn’t enough?”
Ruby rolled her eyes: “ha ha! Yah, that’s why I need some thing stronger to wipe the taste of that stuff,” she shuddered, then nodded towards the road leading to the left. “Chalo na! (Come on)”
Pankaj veered across the road, seizing an opening, blithely disregarding at the irate storm of horns in his wake. Nevertheless he could not prevent the slight exhale of relief as the small car crept up the smaller road which would take them to their Shangri La: “Aaaj Sunday Hai (Today is Sunday)…” He burst out gaily.
“Toh daru peene ka din hai (So, it’s time to drink!)” Ruby chuckled, “trying to do a Rajini, are you?”
Pankaj bowed his head as if paying his respects “my all time fave drinking anthem. Nobody does a drunken bout like Superstar in Chaalbaaz.”
Walking into the gloomy semi darkness of the neon-lit bunker, that was Toto’s Garage, they seated themselves at one of the rickety tables.
“Beer?” Pankaj asked.
“Beer.” She nodded.
“Where is the garcon? Wai—t—er!” Pankaj called in his fake foreign accent.
In response, a thin, reedy man with a wide smile rolled up.
“Fosters?” Ruby asked Pankaj.
“Honestly, lovely! Fosters?” He shook his head at the waiter. “Kingfisher, ley aao!”
“Kingfisher?” She huffed, “Honestly Panky!”
“Not everyone is a snob like you; just because you have vi-lay-ti (foreign) boyfriend…” He grinned letting his words hang in the air.
“Oh! Yeah. Well if you are moving back to desi fare now, may as well cultivate your local taste buds.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.” She brushed off his dig.
“That reminds me chilli paneer bhi ley aao (bring chilli paneer.)” She told the server, who stood rooted to the spot, following their conversation avidly with a frozen grin on his face.
“GO!” She raised her voice sending him scampering off.
Ruby looking around with renewed interest at the traffic jam of hubcaps, number plates and bonnets jutting out from its brick walls. It was reassuring that while a bridge connecting the islands of Bombay had been built outside; inside, Toto’s nothing much changed.
It remained a favourite haunt for those who wanted to touch the real soul of the city. A little frayed around the edges; a little gritty; but always fascinating.
Her eyes spotted a familiar figure: “F! $* F! $* F! $*ity F!$*”
“Now, what?” Pankaj spoke to the menu card, which Ruby had held up to shield her face.
“There, at the door… no, don’t look!” She hissed as Pankaj swivelled around.
“It’s—“ Pankaj squinted trying to make out the features of the man who had paused just inside the entrance, trying to was making his way
“Edward.” She gurgled, before hastily cleared her throat.
“What, Mr. London?” Pankaj burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny, Panky.” Ruby peered over the top of the menu card: “what is he doing here?”
“I think he is following you?” By now Pankaj was laughing so hard that he had to lean against the wall for support.
Irritated now, Ruby flung the menu card at Pankaj before flouncing off in the direction of the bar, and away from the advancing figure of her ex. Damn, he wasn’t even an ex. Just someone she had kissed—passionately—of course, but still. Why couldn’t men get it when it was over?
Slipping onto a barstool, she ordered: “Whiskey, on the rocks,” and not for the first time looked up at the empty shell of a VW beetle which hung suspended over the bar. “Its safe madam, will not fall.” The bartender twinkled a smile at her.
“Uh… anything… non-Indian.” She looked at the bottles, before pointing to a familiar green one: “Jamesons?”
Within seconds she was taking a healthy swig, coughing in appreciation, as the liquor burnt its way down her gullet.
Exhaling in relief, she relaxed. Sinking into the shell of her body she hunched her shoulders, pretending for the all the world that she was not really there.
“Whisky please, on the rocks: Jamesons.”
A man’s clipped voice next to her had her ear’s pricking up with interest. Here was someone else who shared her taste for foreign liquor.
He was polite too, and seemed to speak with an accent. American? British? Boarding school She never could tell the difference. Or was it simply the way he spoke, as if he came from a privileged background.
Ruby risked a glance out of the corner of her eyes: and instantly choked on her next gulp.
It was The Hand.
–To be continued…