Prose | Short story | The Masseur
Irfan got the masseur’s job because of Lala Ratan Lal’s wife. She had made it clear that only a man would be allowed to massage her husband recovering from a mild stroke. After her death last month, Lalaji asked Irfan to look for another job elsewhere. A forty-year-old unmarried masseur like him, with no other skill, would not be able to earn that much anywhere else. Lilavati had fixed his salary with annual increment and seasonal bonus packages to ensure that he stuck to this job.
In the last five years, Irfan considered this job to be secure like government service. The prospect of being jobless terrified him now.
He threw himself at Lalaji’s feet and urged, “Huzoor, punish me the way you like but don’t deprive me of the chance to serve you. I want to die in this house. Have mercy on me.”
Lalaji had not forgiven his daughter for marrying outside the caste, not even allowed her to attend her mother’s funeral despite pleas from friends and relatives. There was little chance that Lalaji would reconsider this decision.
“Today is your last day here. I do not enjoy your massage. Your hands are coarse and you are always in a hurry,” Lalaji revealed his flaws.
“Huzoor, you were so happy with my service. I never gave you any scope to complain all these years. The fault is mine perhaps. Of late I am passing through a crisis in my personal life. My aunt wants me to marry. I have refused many times but she insists with threats now. Without this job, I cannot think of settling down,” Irfan explained.
Every morning at ten Irfan arrived with towels and a tray, having at least five different bottles of oil – almond, mustard, olive, coconut and amla. Lalaji was unpredictable in his choice. It depended on his state of mind. Sometimes he wanted to smell fragrant. Sometimes he wanted to smell raw and pungent. Sometimes he wanted just one kind of oil. Sometimes he preferred two or three oils – different ones for different parts of his body.
During the last ten years in this household, young and attractive women had not been employed under strict orders from Lilavati. The kitchen was managed by women who had lost their sexual appeal and appetite for sex. Driver Ram Chand had once during an informal chat on a rainy evening spilled the secret. Lilavati practiced cleanliness and the presence of menstruating women in the household was something she could not tolerate. She was always worried that a young or beautiful woman would ensnare her husband – an astrologer had predicted that Lalaji would marry twice. During her lifetime, she proved the astrologer wrong with her watchful gaze. Now, with her passing away, the prediction would perhaps come true.
When Irfan said the entire town looked up to him with respect for being Lala ji’s loyal servant and this honour was the sole reason for his existence in this world, Lalaji softened his stand.
“What else can you do?”
Irfan was silent, ashamed that he had no other skills to talk about. He forgot that before coming to this house he used to work as a night guard in Friends’ Colony where he was beaten up by residents for failing to prevent burglaries.
Lalaji saved him from further embarrassment. “I think you speak well. Your words are soothing to the ear.”
Irfan was glad that Lalaji had discovered a quality in him.
“So it means I could stay your humble servant.”
“From now on you will massage my ego. Same pay, same benefits.”
Having saved his job meant he had saved his life from a dark, grim future. Irfan grabbed his feet to thank him for being generous.
“Whatever you order, Huzoor, it will be done. Just keep your blessings on me, never throw me out. Let me die at your feet to experience what heaven is,” Irfan said admiringly.
Lalaji enjoyed this flattery and broke into a laugh.
As Irfan made an attempt to leave with the oil bottles placed in a tray, Lalaji said, “Oye, keep these here, you may go.”
“Ji, Huzoor,” he bowed several times to ensure that he had paid proper obeisance before leaving.
Irfan bumped into a beautiful, young breathless girl rushing upstairs. “Is Lalaji there?”
“Yes, yes,” Irfan replied nervously.
She smiled and hurriedly climbed the last flight of stairs.
This was the first time Irfan had seen a young woman in this house. He was reminded of the strict control exercised by Lilavati. Curious to know what she was here for, Irfan stealthily climbed up and stood near the wall for a long time. When he overheard nothing, he peeped in.
Clad in dhoti, Lalaji lay prostrate on the charpoy, his chin propped up by a bolster. Moaning and groaning gathered momentum as she slithered her hands over his body.
The respect he had for Lalaji was gone after seeing his lustful side. It was clear why he was replaced. Without standing there to watch the rest of the sensuous massage session, he came downstairs. He was worried how long he would survive in the new role since he had no proper education. Once he exhausted the limited stock gathered from his grandmother’s narration of heroic folk tales during his childhood days, he feared, he would begin to sound repetitive, earn the wrath of his employer and no mercy would come his way.
Irfan had been assigned perhaps the most difficult task of massaging his ego – to make it bloated like his tummy. A girl had already replaced him, and a girl speaks softly and sweetly. If Lalaji wanted to hear those balmy words in her pleasant voice, then he would only be left with the option of jumping off from the terrace. He inspired himself to compose catchy exaggerations because it would reach her ears as well. The whole night he entertained thoughts, jotted down similes using his infertile imagination. Though he felt sleepy in the morning, he did not take a nap in the fear of being late. He took a quick bath, followed by tea and biscuits at Bablu’s shop and arrived early at Shanti Kunj.
Lalaji ignored his punctuality as an attempt to impress.
“You’ll have to wait for a little. Let Reshma come – my Thailand-trained masseur. Today you will see how artfully she runs her fingers and does not treat me as a piece of dough like you did.”
Irfan pretended he had neither seen the girl nor had any information about the trial massage session yesterday.
“I am happy you have a professional masseur now, much better than me, Huzoor,” Irfan said almost apologetically. He stayed away from making further comment.
The masseur arrived late. But Lalaji ignored her coming late.
“You are punctual. I like it. Well, let me first introduce you. Meet Irfan, a gifted speaker. And she is Reshma, a trained masseur.”
Irfan did not look at her face in the fear that Lalaji would notice his attraction for the girl. He clasped his hands and greeted her with a polite Namaste whereas she was ready for a handshake. Lalaji clutched her hand and drew support from her while climbing the stairs. Irfan followed them at a distance, watching Lalaji place one hand on the cleft of her buttocks.
Surprisingly, in her case, Lalaji made no specifications. She chose olive oil and daubed a liberal quantity on his spindly legs. As her hands began to relax his muscles, Lalaji asked loudly, “Oye, idiot, why are you quiet? When will you begin?”
“Huzoor, just arranging my thoughts, begin with the best actually.”
Reshma cast furtive glances at Irfan but he kept his gaze fixed on the floor. She was eager to hear him speak. Irfan came closer to Lalaji’s ear in order to keep his volume low.
Lalaji interrupted his narration by raising his hand and issuing a reprimand, “What is wrong with your voice? Be louder. Let the whole world hear your praise.”
Reshma exercised complete control over Lalaji’s body as she set her own pace and made her chubby client toss and turn around several times. He showed no irritation, unlike the days when Irfan asked him to do so. When she ordered him to bend his knees, Lalaji not only bent them but also spread his legs as wide as possible to tantalize her with his turgidity.
It was awkward to shower praises on an old fogey in the presence of a young girl. He feared his words would sound funny and unconvincing to her. Her giggles would rupture his thought process.
Without further wasting time on building up a story, Irfan went straight to the lines that would give Lalaji a high.
“There’s just one man in this entire world who dares to stare at the bright sun. Lalaji’s eyes lend light to the universe. His vision shapes the future.”
“Don’t stop, Irfan.”
While the soft female hands caressed his torso, Irfan’s phrases tranquilized his mind.
“There’s no one chosen other than Lalaji to make India and Pakistan unite one day. Lalaji can rewrite history.”
“Continue,” Lalaji said with delight.
While Reshma ran her fingers deep into the wobbly flesh on his back, Irfan delivered another gem.
“Who dreams of making the poor rich? Lalaji will see that poverty quits India. He’s the saviour every politician should consult before framing policies. Garibi hatao se garibi mitao.”
“Very well said, keep it up.”
Reshma had progressed to his shoulders and Irfan got an idea instantly, “These broad shoulders carry the weight of Himalayas…Himalaya putra Lalaji…”
A black cat walking precariously on the parapet stopped to listen. Irfan paid another tribute: “Who else but Lalaji can chase away the big cat with a light pat. Lalaji is the real tiger of this world.”
Reshma arched her eyebrows in appreciation of the narrator’s creative skills. Lalaji recapitulated Irfan’s eulogies, “Roshni do duniya ko. Akhand bharat. Naya Itihas likho. Garibi Mitao. Sher darr jaye. Khoob kaha. You captured my dreams and wishes so well. I had almost lost a talented khadim.”
Reshma had navigated every part of his body – except what lay inside the dhoti. After the massage, she began wiping her face, neck, and hands clean with the soft white towel used by Lalaji.
“You heard him speak. Which one did you like?” Lalaji sought her opinion.
“Difficult to pick. Maybe Akhand Bharat. My grandfather also nursed the same dream.”
“If you two work together like this, I can get maximum pleasure and forget the pain of losing my dear ones.”
Lalaji picked up the towel thrown carelessly by her on the charpoy and placed it on his lap.
“It’s my job to keep you satisfied and so it is with him I guess,” Reshma said.
Irfan’s fervent nods were followed by a string of ji-ji-ji-ji.
Earlier, after the massage, Lalaji would get ready for a bath, perform puja and then answer calls from the wholesale market dealers. Assuming it would be the same today, Irfan took leave. Reshma did not seek permission, thinking that Irfan’s appeal was on her behalf as well.
As she began to walk towards the door without carrying the bottles, Lalaji said, “Irfan, deposit the tray in the bathroom. Henceforth, you will bring this tray upstairs and take it downstairs every day. The lady finds it difficult to climb the stairs with the load.”
“Ji Huzoor, definitely.”
Irfan maintained a stiff upper lip while coming down. He went straight inside the house to deposit the bottles without asking her to wait for him. But he found her waiting for him near the entrance gate. “You took so long inside?”
Irfan did not look back to see who was following him or watching them from inside the house or from the terrace – servants, guards, Lalaji himself or the closed circuit TV cameras installed in every nook and corner.
Once out of the spiked iron gates, Irfan gathered speed. Reshma’s high heels played spoilsport. She lagged behind him, oblivious to why he was in such a hurry. After entering the next lane, Irfan slowed down to explain.
“You don’t know how difficult it is to work here. You do not know what charges will be slapped on you the next day.”
He proceeded to answer the questions Reshma had raised.
“The nosy cook was asking about you. I said nothing much. They feel jealous of me. Lalaji assigns me challenging tasks all the time. Never takes no from me. He treats me like his son, trusts me in money matters. Bank deposits, cash withdrawal, I am in charge. I disburse salaries and place orders – right-hand man you can say.”
“Your speech, personality, and job profile can impress any girl,” Reshma said with admiration.
“I am not sure, haven’t seen it happen yet,” Irfan confessed.
“What if I ask you to praise me some day? Not at Lalaji’s place, though.”
“Well, if you insist I can, but I don’t think you will be happy with the result.”
“You leave the happiness part to me.”
“Ok then. I’m ready. There’s jubilee garden nearby, try there.”
Reshma agreed to the offer and they entered the park teeming with couples in compromising postures. After a combing operation, they found a vacant bench – half-hidden by a palm tree near the lakeside – smeared with dried bird-droppings. Reshma sat on the cleaner edge and ran her hand through her long black hair to look inviting. Irfan occupied the other end of the bench, thinking of what to say in order to impress her.
“You are not looking at me, means I am not beautiful enough to inspire you.”
“The truth is you are so beautiful that I can’t choose the right words.”
“I have heard that hundred times. Say something poetic, that goes right to the bottom of my heart.”
“You have a heart of pure gold.”
“Common, give me your exclusive stuff.”
“Honestly, your face makes me forget the world. I forget words when I see you.”
“In the morning you praised Lalaji to the skies. No breaks, no pauses then. I was present there, but you did not miss a single phrase.”
“It was fake. I cannot do that with you.”
“If your fake sounds so real, I wonder what your real stuff is.”
Noticing beads of perspiration dotting her forehead in the sultry afternoon, he suggested, “It’s too humid. Let’s move. It won’t happen here.”
“Even I think so. You are nervous. I will choose an indoor spot next time.”
“As you wish.”
“Tell me one thing, how is Lalaji in his dealings with women?”
Irfan wanted to take this chance to explain why he lost the masseur’s job and why he was replaced by her, but he played it safe as he could not confide in her just yet.
“You will find it out in a few days.”
“Got the hint,” Reshma said while walking out.
Whenever they met during working hours at Lalaji’s residence, Irfan’s interest wavered. He tried every form of meditation to retain focus but Reshma always distracted him. He had already developed feelings for her. She noticed him turn his face away when she massaged Lalaji as if he disliked her for doing this work. Within a fortnight she became sure of his feelings.
One afternoon, after coming out of the gate, he said to her rudely, “You don’t know how much I hate you for touching that old jerk. He is sick.”
“I know, but I am a professional. I touch many clients every day. I do it all the time. My hands are for all. I can give this to you as well. But remember, just my hands.”
“You will massage me? If Lalaji gets to know -”
“Who will tell him? You? Certainly not me?”
“If we get caught then –”
“It is a dream for me.”
“I will fulfill it with a little co-operation from you, my dear,” Reshma said in poor emulation of Irfan’s flattering style.
The time was not right to make a proposal. In case she reported it to Lalaji, he would lose his job. He wanted to wait for stronger overtures from her side before drawing any conclusion.
The lucky day arrived soon.
Reshma proposed the idea of visiting Irfan’s house. Though he was excited to hear that, he was also conscious of the ordinariness of his small dwelling unit in a downtown locality where all sorts of elements lived. Since she was keen to see his world, he brought her home after work without considering how his snooping neighbours would interpret their relationship.
“You live alone. No other member in the family?”
“Parents died years ago. Only an aunt is alive. Comes once in a month to convince me to get married.”
“Why don’t you marry then? Need someone to arrange your house and your life.”
“I haven’t liked any face.”
“You mean not even mine?”
“No, no, you are the most beautiful.”
“I am speaking the truth.”
“Your praises are due. Remember.”
“You had also made a promise.”
“This is the place for fulfilling it.”
The possibility of getting a body massage in his room thrilled Irfan. A great achievement to have Lalaji’s beautiful masseur run her hands on his servant’s body.
He brought a small bottle half-filled with mustard oil from the kitchen cabinet.
“I am sorry this is all I have at present.”
“Enough for a session.”
Reshma assisted him in getting rid of clothes as she often did with Lalaji. He felt ashamed wearing shorts in front of her. He obeyed her order to lie flat on the bed. She mounted him without hesitation and poured a little bit of oil on his chest. Irfan closed his eyes to enjoy the slow, rhythmic movement of her hands.
“Your touch is indeed magical. Lalaji was right about you.”
“Is it fake or real?”
“I don’t think you have ever massaged Lalaji like this. Can’t get more real.”
He lay face down like Lalaji did and wanted to enjoy the session from every side.
“I wanted to tell you something – if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead. I am not offended so easily.”
“A man with a strong body and personality should never serve another man.”
Irfan’s ego was pricked. He wondered whether Lalaji had disclosed anything about his past to her.
“You mean I should not serve that Lala?”
Reshma gripped his biceps with her oily palms.
“I would never want my man to serve another man. He should be master, not servant.”
To make sure he had not heard it wrong, Irfan asked, “You mean I am your man.”
“Didn’t my touch make you feel so?”
“With women, it is difficult to make out.”
“Tell me frankly. Are you afraid of losing job or me?”
“I can sacrifice hundreds of such jobs for a beauty like you,” Irfan assured her.
Reshma inched closer to his lips and prepared to plant a kiss.
The temptation made him grow weaker.
Reshma went ahead with what she desired. As she took his hand to cup her breast, Irfan sprang out of the bed.
“This is not right. Only after marriage.”
“Being a man you are refusing me? I have accepted you as a partner from my heart. You can’t insult me like this.”
“It is not an insult to you, dear. But I am a religious person and this is sinful outside of marriage. I am a God-fearing person.”
“I guess you are more afraid of that Lala,” Reshma charged, visibly hurt.
“You may think so if you wish,” Irfan said to avoid an argument.
“Not wish, it is a fact, you are a coward inside.”
Reshma tied her hair and prepared to leave. Irfan gathered his clothes and proposed to accompany her to the bus stop but she left in a huff. He was frightened of Lalaji finding out the truth about this encounter. Irfan having an illicit affair with Lalaji’s catch. He felt guilty as if he were plucking a forbidden fruit from Lalaji’s garden. Sacrilege! Death sentence! Gallows!
After her unceremonious departure, he realized the situation was not handled with maturity. He was stupid to have preached morality and dragged religion in their steamy romance. He wondered why he couldn’t muster the courage to make love to her when she was more than willing to do so. This odd episode could erect a wall of silence between the two forever.
Next day, Irfan waited for her outside the gate to apologize but she was unusually late. He rushed to the terrace, otherwise Lalaji would take offence. She arrived almost an hour late and apologized to Lalaji in a loving manner that disarmed him. With her arms snaking around him, he forgot Irfan and his glorifying speeches. The poor fellow sat quietly in a corner witnessing the erotic moves.
With each passing day, Reshma became bolder and flirtatious with Lalaji. Her gestures made him confident that she was eager to please him in bed. Lalaji began to crack vulgar jokes and relished her laughter.
“Ask Irfan to entertain us with his sexual encounters,” she said softly one day.
“He’s not married. I don’t think he has any experience except with hands,” Lalaji said to keep him out of it.
“Are you sure no girl has seduced him yet?”
“Absolutely. I don’t think he looks manly enough. Kyon bhai, kabhi kuch kiya kya?”
There had been no conversation between the two unconfirmed lovers since that fateful afternoon. Reshma was waiting to see how much he could take in without protesting. Irfan was waiting to see how far she could go in her acts of shamelessness.
A sudden change of mind made Lalaji summon Irfan to speak on the topic of love while he found the elixir of joy in her massage therapy. Irfan grabbed the opportunity to sound fresh so that Reshma would look at him with love again. What proceeded smoothly came to an abrupt end. His thought process snapped the moment he saw Reshma putting her hand inside the dhoti to massage his sagging butt.
A surge of jealousy broke the barrier of restraint. Irfan charged ahead like a raging bull.
“Take your hand out from there!”
Before Reshma could react, Irfan pulled it out himself and pounced on her. It required a substantial effort for Lalaji to get up from the sunken charpoy. In the meantime, Irfan had sucked her lips and reached her bosom. His ego got a major boost as he did it in front of Lalaji, who had called him a jerk in front of Reshma. He was neither a coward as Reshma had earlier alleged him to be.
Finding no sharp object lying around, Lalaji picked up a flower pot from a corner and dropped it with great force on Irfan’s head. His skull cracked like a coconut. Blood spilled out and smeared Reshma’s face. Irfan still clung to her. Lalaji kicked hard – to separate the entwined bodies. His big foot landed on Irfan’s crotch.
“Bastard, get up, touch her -”
By Devraj Singh Kalsi
He works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata, India. His short fiction and articles have been published in Earthen Lamp Journal, The Bombay Review, Open Road Review, Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Readomania.com, The Assam Tribune, and The Statesman.
His first novel, Pal Motors, is getting published this year.