Fiction

The Odd Man

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He was an odd man. Contradictions were marked on his body just as they delineated his character. He was at least six feet tall and endowed with a good physique and a swarthy if pockmarked face. Machismo exuded from his person in a controlled manner. But it was his voice that faltered fatally – it was a base voice that was inconsistent, so that tonally, it came out in spurts and gave the impression of feebleness. With his specs he seemed like the movie version of a liberal arts professor from a university in Bengal. And yet if you looked into his eyes, there was no depth, no wealth of wisdom and learning to be found there.

The middle finger of his right hand was chopped off at the top, and he was very conscious about this defect. He never told any of us how the accident happened. He would turn rather cold and stern if a new acquaintance happened to refer to it. Naturally, we never mentioned it.

He excelled in sports and revelled in his apparently limitless abilities in the field. He played football, he played cricket, he swam, he played carom. If a new sport that he didn’t know came along his way, he would narrowly observe the rules of the sport, and by the third round of the game, he’d be ready to try it out.

There was a kind of allure to him, a charm that revealed itself only when he was engrossed in a game. Once I noticed a few women intently watching him play carrom from afar. I saw the way they moved ever so slightly when he took hold of the striker and, as a trial, struck it across the board before he actually played his turn. He would look at the carrom coin as if there was nothing else in the world to see. And he was very often successful in pocketing the coin he aimed at.

He had erred in marrying Muana. He said so himself, he would say so every other time when we excused ourselves for a cigarette break. Muana was shrewd and calculating, but she had a heart. She was also sensitive: she knew what he thought of her and was bitter. Muana was madly in love with him, she couldn’t help herself. He couldn’t help himself, he was repulsed by her and didn’t know what to do.

We were discussing adultery once. He was a staunch Believer, he believed in the great sin that it was. “Adultery is wrong,” he said to me, “once you are married, you are married. You cannot have that sort of a relationship with another woman. Adultery, adultery is a sin.” He repeated this over and over again. He grew increasingly worked up as he said it. I could not tear my eyes off him. It was as if, in talking about adultery, merely in saying the word, he was experiencing a strange kind of pleasure. It was as if by saying the word he was imagining it, and in his imagining, acting it. Soon he grew sweaty. I was embarrassed but he did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. He wiped his forehead, butted his cigarette, and wordlessly proceeded to re-enter the building. I quietly followed.

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