Sunday, June 24, 2007


Words are things; and a small drop of ink
Falling like dew upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

-Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Myriad ways, one destination - A Zen Koan

Akihiro-san sat on the tatami mats and watched the illuminated stripes fall on the wooden floor. He saw each band quiver with the eagerness of a treasure hunter on the last leg of his mission. They flickered when some bird flew past or a cloud swept a fluffy playful hand over the eye of god.Om
Akihiro-san smiled and his eyes widened gradually.
"Indeed! Each of them is the sutra tripitaka of Buddha!"
He ran his eyes over them and watched as each golden strip of sutra sang out to him in a language he didn't understand but with the Truth he realised.
Hardly had the sutras reached the strip near the dysfunctional bolt of the door, Hajime's shadow grew from the unread sutras towards the the ones read and realised. Soon he stood blotting out most of the sutras with a dark umbra. Fragments of the sutras tried to pierce him through the sides but the central darkness remained.
"Come in, Hajime."
Hajime opened the door gently and bowed several times before entering. His footsteps were not along a line which Akihiro-san drew. The Master smiled as he was familiar with such a tread.
"Sit down, Hajime."
Hajime hesitated, before slowly sinking to the floor. He hadn't raised his head and Akihiro-san knew the weight of his problem.
"Master, I am sorry to disturb you. I didn't mean to. I wouldn't have done so, had it not been for something that has been bothering me for long. Pardon my lack of intelligence, Master."
"Hajime, we need to go buy fruits for dinner. Daisuke-san is unwell today. Would you be interested in joining me?"
Hajime raised his head sharply in confusion. Had his Master not heard him? Or was this how he was to be punished for disturbing his Master? He nodded and rose slowly to prepare his Master's geta. Akihiro-san smiled at the yawning golden patch at his doorway; the shimmering stripes were gone: Doesn't immense brilliance wipe out the simple beauty of wisdom?
Akihiro-san slipped into the sandals and wore his broad cap to protect him from the sun. His wicker basket was light but large enough to carry sufficient fruits for his students and himself.
Their walk out of the gate was carried in silence. When they started walking up the road towards the market, Akihiro-san waited for the mule-cart to pass before he spoke to Hajime.
"And why does your heart pull your mind so low?"
Hajime's happiness was visible. He smiled and bowed low.
"Thank you Master. I shall not delay in confessing my troubles. Over the past few weeks I have been reading the sutras carefully and have memorised them."
"Like sweet scented oil on the river?"
Hajime looked at his Master in confusion. He hadn't understood what his Master had said or why his Master smiled after saying so.
"I am sorry, I don't understand Master."
"Go on, Hajime."
Hajime cleared his throat softly and proceeded.
"The sutras are very good and deep. Hisoka-san gave me some more books from the library regarding the history of Buddha. That was when I lost clarity. I am sorry for not being a good student."
"A student's worth is not measured in how much he learns, but in how much he empties after realising."
Hajime waited for an explanation but found none coming. He moved to the side to let another mule-cart pass.
"Master, may I?"
"Go on, Hajime. The market is not far away."
Hajime prayed to the gods to let him speak the most appropriate words.
"The Buddha is great, Master. There is no doubting that. But in his land, there were great seers before him, and now in our land there are seers whom we revere. Many are the unknown lands which may also nurture the deepest of minds. Those who came before, never knew of the Buddha..."
"I... I am not sure. They did come before him and..."
"Go on, Hajime."
"Those who came before, never... might not have known the Buddha. Those who live far away in unknown lands, might not know of the Buddha. With the Buddha came the scriptures and our Zen school. Were it not for the Buddha, all this wouldn't be there..."
Hajime was silent out of fear of having been stupid one too many times.
"The Buddha did gives us all of this, Master. Would I be far from the truth in saying so?"
"Go on, Hajime. I can see our fruit vendor already."
Hajime hastened to raise his doubts.
"The Buddha is great, Master and I do not doubt that, but there were and are people on this Earth who do not know of these sutras. How then have they attained enlightenment? How then are they clear? How then can", he paused to gulp his fears, "can the sutras be the true path?"
Akihiro-san smiled and said, "We shouldn't buy only the sweet fruits. It is vital to mix the sweet fruits with some not-so-sweet ones too."
They proceeded to pick fruits and drop it into the basket. Once the basket was loaded, Hajime rushed to carry it for the Master.
"Isn't it surprising, Hajime, that although you carry a basket of sweetness, nothing rests on your tongue to acknowledge it?"
Hajime bowed low, because he thought he understood.
"Come, Hajime, let us sit there and have a peach each."
They proceeded to sit on a bale of hay and Hajime rushed to wash two peaches at a nearby well. Akihiro-san watched the young boy sprint the length and thought to himself: Isn't Time the creator of all thought and also the destroyer of that which is not of thought? Isn't turning that around, the purpose of true wisdom and Divine search?
Hajime was standing in front of him with both peaches offered to the Master. Akihiro-san picked one and nodded his head. Hajime waited for his Master to have his first bite before he sank his teeth into the soft rind of the fruit. Akihiro-san motioned to a spot near him and Hajime took his seat.
There were several vendors hawking their wares. They beckoned the passerby and promised fine deals and discounts. The Master thought to himself: How does the peach maintain its sweetness even in the midst of all the activity of the world? He waited for Nobuo-san to arrive, selling his needles and thread spools. He heard his voice call out from around the bend. He was proclaiming the strength of his threads and how they would make every woman look a hundred times more pretty. Akihiro-san smiled.
"Hajime, what you raise are valid questions. Why, the Buddha himself did not follow his scriptures before gaining Nirvana. Isn't that strange?"
Hajime nodded his head slowly.
"What matters is beyond the scriptures and well ensconced in them. Without the scriptures a man is like our Nobuo-san out there."
Hajime turned around to watch the vendor walk carefully into the market square. He carried a basket full of spools and a broad tough board with needles stuck in them. Children kept poking fun at him and were teasing him.
"Nobuo-san", cried the little brats, "Can you thread a needle? Do you know the eye of a needle?"
Nobou-san's milky eyes looked heavenward and he smiled.
"Young ones, you need two good hands and a tongue to wet the tip of the thread. If only you stopped prancing around, I will teach you to do that with your eyes closed as I do it with my eyes open though essentially closed."
As the children ran away, Nobuo-san tried to imagine how children might look. Would they be essentially pure cottony softness with the warmth of sunrise in Winter? Or were they simply a digression on the way to adulthood? He shook his head. Forming images in his head was something he could never do and all that guided him was smell, touch and his heart.
Hajime returned his gaze to his Master.
"Do you mean that a man without the scriptures is blind, Master?"
"No, Hajime. Watch."
The Master raised his hand to the monastery nearby. The prayer gong struck within the confines of the walls. Nobuo-san and all others in the market square bowed their head low. Akihiro-san and Hajime also bowed their head. Everyone resumed their work and the Master continued to eat his peach. Hajime waited for some explanation. Seeing none come his way he spoke to the Master.
"Master, I don't ..."
Akihiro-san's eyes were focused on Nobuo-san. Hajime watched him too. The new sugar-candy vendor stationed under the tree struck his bell thrice. Nobuo-san stopped in his tracks and looked confused. He slowly bowed his head in the direction of the bell and turned his head around wondering whether others were bowing too. After a moment's pause he continued to walk on, proclaiming that his threads were worth their weight in gold and that even royalty bought their threads and needles from him.
"Shall we go?"
Hajime was transfixed in the immense import of this incident as well as in the truth that his Master revealed without resorting to a sutra.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ooh Aah, Just a li'l bit, Ooh Aah, a li'l bit more

This is so unlike this blog. Really, it really isn't in the vein of the posts that go up here, but when I sit back to think what is that vein, I am drained of blood and left with a numb tongue (which is a common occurrence when blood is drained). A well-meaning friend with whom I was discussing the nature and dynamics of this post, shuddered at the thought of such content pasting itself on this blog (that holy? :-o ). She recommended that I put it up on another blog. I thought creating a new blog for the sake of one post was not really the way I saw myself spending a good afternoon (not that I have many ideas for the same).

Readers who are still sucking their thumb, or cross their heart every time someone says "*ex" (and hence wouldn't study dinosaurs) or shut their child's ears as soon as someone talks about the real person behind the stork should perhaps not read this post. This post is bad. Chee chee!

I was recently returning to Bangalore and groped my way into the upper berth (which is the only place that I fit into without forcing my feet to act like a toll bridge blockade for the narrow aisle of the train). For those who aren't familiar with Indian railways, feel blessed. Most compartments are configured as sets of 8 berths.

---------------- (S)

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The line marked (S) is a pair of berths along the side of the train (hence, S. Profound, no?). The parallel vertical lines are sets of 3 berths each. I take the upper berth which is the topmost berth along the vertical lines. The space between (S) line and the parallel lines is the aisle and is usually as narrow as shown here. What lies there depends on the compartment. If you are in the sleeper class (no clue why that is called so. Everyone sleeps whether out there or elsewhere!) it is usually dotted - and colourfully so, at least to the Biharis - with peanut shells, a pickle that flew out of the spoon that was being vigorously shaken over someone's plate, a lot of liquid (usually accompanied with a baby crying at one end of the trail), lots of slippers and more. In the A/C compartments, it is usually less colourful - and hence, not fancied by the true blooded Indian - but has its own share of vibrant strokes. The beauty of traveling by train lies in the personal touch that each passenger lends to the journey.

Such a personal touch (ewww!) was lent to my journey back to Bangalore. As I was saying, I was in the upper berth with one foot of legs and feet hanging out ready to knock any vendor's basket or a Sardarji's pagadi. Ever since I saw someone lose their footwear - when taken off before they went to sleep - I go to sleep with my feet well clad!! "Don't you find this uncomfortable," a friend had once asked. "Not as much as getting off the train without anything on my feet!" That is my personal touch to your journey.

So here I was enjoying a good night's sleep while being bounced between plywood lining and the two cold steel bars. The A/C would freeze my derriere before I turned over and ... the rest is of no concern to you! I don't enjoy traveling in the A/C compartment, because the world is sealed out and I recall one incident when the A/C refused to work and the people in the compartment broke the tough tinted plexiglass (?) in order to gain some ventilation. I was once given an extremely drenched pillow to use and I had to stealthily place it near some snoring passenger's legs. I wonder why people clucked their tongue and shook their head at him the following day!

So here again, I was enjoying my sleep and probably dreaming of a marriage between consonants and vowels and how musical that wedding was! I woke up to some whimpering. I check my watch and it glowed a green 4:00 back at me. That was an odd hour for someone to be up and whimpering. I looked around and couldn't spot anyone trembling or sobbing visibly. I went back to sleep and I saw a "thimble" dance around a shrub and run over to kiss a "rig" under a sprig of holly and several "thimblerigs" born. It is so unfortunate that vilest children are oft born to the simplest and most hardworking parents. While I was reflecting on this - in my dream - I heard the whimpering again. This time I knew it wasn't that little .... forget it! Odd things spring up in my dream. So I woke up and rose to religiously splatter my forehead on the roof of the train. I looked around and the "whimpering" seemed to come from the upper berth on the side (please refer to the partially-to-scale diagram above). I recalled the lesson from school Physics (which seemed to be very different from college Physics) where the eyes widen in the dark to allow more light to enter. I was busy wondering whether my eyes were widening out of respect for Physics or for the knowledge that was dawning on me.

The man on the side upper berth was having telephone-*ex. Suck the thumb, cross your heart, shut your kid's ears because I know you are still reading!! Chee chee to you.

Since I wasn't sure who was in there... Let's toss them both inWell, I am not sure of the *ex of the passenger though his/her activity was surely *ex. Let us assume that it was a guy because another friend of mine said "Chee, it can't be a woman." I am still trying to understand what creation of God was at the other end of the line! So let's damn the man, spit on the side and bottoms up (a difficult task in the upper berth. I need to lie down, pour water into my mouth, rise a little and then swallow it in little by little, lest my trembling core muscles get a cramp).

So where were we? Aah! Watching a man under a blanket with unusual tremors around the spatial centre of the berth. It took me a while to realise this thing and I was hoping he (we agreed on a He, right?) would be a little more quiet. More embarrassment was to follow. People around me heard him too and woke up to look straight up at the man (me) on the upper berth. I had to often do the act of checking my watch and letting it glow to let them all know that I wasn't the one whimpering - for some widely accepted reason, a man who checks his watch and makes it glow at 4:00 is unlikely to whimper under any calamity. I so like it when stereotypes work in my favour!! :-)

This man wouldn't stop and unleashed a battery of tell-tale sounds and snorts of all sorts (aah! always the rhymer!) while I kept seriously wondering whether it was a guy or a girl. Then I was wondering whether this was a dream or real. Then I was wondering whether I was going to Bangalore or returning - no, looking at the direction in which a train is heading is no clue. Then I was wondering whether I should pull off the blanket (not mine, dear. Get real!) or not. I was scared. What if he pounced on me and shouted "Aha! Gotcha. Curiosity killed the cat - any size!"? What if... yuck! So here I was busy creating a set of opposite actions and options while letting the moans grow louder. I could hear the voice on the phone too, and it was getting weird after some time as the *ex of the voices was becoming even more difficult to determine. I think he muttered a female name and was asking her not to go away - that could be funny though! Honey! yes, come on... hey! btw, I forgot to pay the electricity bill. Could you kinda hold on - I mean figuratively too - and I'll just be back.

A few people had woken up and seemed rather relaxed about this morning wakeup alarm which never seemed to shut up - slapping it on its head wasn't an option! I figured that Bangalore was near or rather hoped it was near.

There was a young lady below me. I mean berth-wise. Sheesh! So this young lady who was lying below me.... no, beneath me... no, in the berth below mine! Yes, so this young lady who was in this berth below mine (and some silly anti-caste-system fanatic would jump at me if he heard this line) stepped out and started casually folding her blanket. Errrm, am I the only one hearing things? Excuse me, aren't you supposed to cover your face or do something melodramatic? I was disappointed in her. She wasn't reacting at all.

I decided to step down too. Bad move. I tend to jump off the upper berth. No patience for the rung-a-time-and-lo!-you-have-landed procedures of train travelers. I check to ensure that I don't land on anyone's head or foot and then jump down. I suppose that startled her. Gosh! All that noise didn't and a Homo Sapien's jump from the upper berth scares her! We stood facing each other. My back was towards the epileptic man in the side upper berth, and she was facing me (or using this as an excuse to sneak-peek the man of the hour). One cannot pretend being epicene in such a setting with the background score rendered thus. I smiled and asked what seemed to be the second most politically correct question (the first being: What is the time?) of that minute: "Will we reach Cantt station?" She must have felt pity for this bumbling Homo Sapien and she answered: "Yes" (I think the man in the background was also mumbling a few Yes's).

We went to brush our teeth at different locations and I decided to do so at the wash basin on the outside rather than inside the restrooms (why give anyone a chance to let their imagination fly around!?). I walked back to my place and dutifully shook my head at this man who was going on and on for (I had checked my watch) over an hour now. Those who saw me shake my head later smiled at me while we walked on the platform to the exit of the station.

It's been over a fortnight since this happened and if I said that I still remember the colour of the blanket, it is nothing great. All blankets of the Indian Railway are the same colour and have stayed that way for a few years. What frightens me now is what if I got that guy's blanket on my next trip!? Eeeewwww!!! Perhaps I should start carrying my own blanket hereafter! And perhaps headphones, too. I also need to replace the battery on my watch!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Poem's Lament

I fail to see what there is
In a few lines scribbled in haste.
Why write with rhythm amiss -
A soul, that urgency effaced?

Pray, what beauty do they bring
The wordiness out here, here and here?
For whom does your poem sing,
If not for the refined patient ear?

Treat not your earnest reader thus.
She who shuts off the world to read not in vain.
A moment's tryst for your words' buss
A lifetime's affair in a legerdemain.

Give her your all, and soul and love
While you remain, to your self, so truthful.
Though you write: "Heaven of free doves"
She trembles at a promise so beautiful.

Waft your poem in the air of fine rhyme,
Marry it to the nightingale's tune.
Weave in it a dear story not of time,
A dream with plenty magic-dust strewn.

With fingers of words do carefully reach forth
And pluck the naked breast's yearning strings.
For in artful honest spake the poet's oath:
To pledge, renege and awe in verse-springs.

What is the point in such cerebral stunts -
The poem is for the humming heart?
Waste not time for academic regents -
"Scholar" rhymes not with "heart", as does "Art".

What better gift can art ever receive -
Than a soulful, lyrical threnody?
Please pause and let the Muse achieve
Her innocent way through you to she.

So here I'll rest my plaintive lament
And ask of poets and those reaching above,
That words are not to be spat or misspent
But woven to breeze a Heaven of free doves.

Singing a poem...


He had had no name.
Love was all that beckoned him
To his mother
Or to me.

I called him many things.
Even Raju
When Raju and I had had a fight.
I couldn't punch Raju then,
But decided to punch him.
He came to me
The next time I called him.

He would stand facing me
And let me scratch his broad chin
While I told him stories
Of school
And space travel.
He mooed every time
Flash Gordon shot
A monster.

He would urinate
While listening to
Terrible scenes
And the terrible odour
Was like garlic needles
Thrust up my nose.

I think I loved him
Because I kissed his wet nose
And let him lick my palm
With his sandpaper tongue.
I would also stick out my elbow
So that he would scrape
Where the mosquito had bitten me.

He would place his
Split hoof on my leg
And stamp it with dung.
That was our parting goodbye.

But one day I returned
To the cowshed.
And didn't find the nameless one.
I asked Ahmad-bhai
While he held the bucket
Between his knees
And tugged on the teats
Of a Jersey.
He asked me to go home.

I didn't know what to call out
Perhaps I should have named him.
Perhaps that is why everyone
Want a name for things they have.
To call out to it
In the dark nights
Of an empty day.

TeacherThen I saw him
Cradled in the arms of
Ahmad-bhai's helper.
He carried it lightly
With two stiff legs
Against his back
And two on his tummy.
He placed it near the udders of
The only other person
Who called out with love.
After a few minutes
He was pushed aside
And fell to the ground -
A piebald lacuna.

That is when I knew
That life is a charade of stuffed memories.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The season of marriages

With a friend recently married, and another - more a dear child to me - getting engaged and still another rafting the pre-marital excitement towards the drop, it does seem that marriage and getting married has taken a tinkle quite unlike what it rang in my ears a few years ago. Then it was someone's discomfort in the glaring lights of a video and incessant demands of "Smile" while I got to meet people and play around before the "barjaaragar" (chief cook) would slyly slide a few freshly fried potato chips - still damp with oil - towards me and warn me never to ask him again else he would lose his job. It was when "maamis" (older ladies of the house) would grab my chin-n-cheeks (they always grabbed as much as they could) and kiss into the air before remarking "My god! You are as dashing as the groom tonight!" and I would casually say, "He is the groom only for one night!" It was when I got a chance to be subservient to the men of the house and do their bidding, and my chance to sit at my grandma's feet so that she had a head to pat while she swelled with pride.

That is when I realised that a wedding and a marriage are two different things. I still let my tongue slip and say "I attended a marriage" and then quickly correct myself.

"So do you want a love marriage or an arranged marriage?" the eager voice gushes in my ear. I continue looking at her while others jump in - "High time you got married, E", "Are you telling me you haven't found a single person yet?", "What on earth are you waiting for?" and my candid friend's "Missile launchers don't work after an age, man!". I smile at this pretty face and ask, "Why would I want to get married?" Wrong question.

"Come on, E. Marriage is so beautiful. It is so much fun. So much togetherness. So much fun. You can find someone to complete you. It's so much fun."
"You need that person in your life."
"Because at 75 you don't really want to wake up in an empty bed."
"You need to create dreams and build a family together with someone."
And my candid friend's "Boss, you need the real thing some day."

I still don't understand. I hear beautiful stories of people married to each other and as many (if not more) of people who lived together and also called it a marriage. I see people doing what they did before a marriage with minor modifications. And more often than not, I see marriage growing into a case of "Familiarity breeds consent" - people living their lives without a thought or a sense of fulfillment. Probably, that should suffice in most cases.

When I say that a marriage should be fulfilling and nourishing the soul, people either sleep off or shake their head, or sleep off while shaking their head. When I say that a marriage should bring in life and create a zestful life between the two people, most people continue to do the same or, like in a few cases, I am asked "What is zestful?"

Binding ourselves together...So a friend seated me down at a recent wedding and asked me, "I remember what you had once written. Are you still the same?"
"That was a piece of fiction, yaar."
"Hmm. So are you still the same?"
"And you hope to find that girl?"
"And you are fine staying unmarried forever?"
"Boss, what is with getting married?"
She smiled her usual smile and I really wished the world was filled with more such smiles.
"You will realise that later, but it might be too late."
"So one needs to get married in order to have the artillery in place?"
"I didn't understand a word of that!"
"You did."

Sometimes, esp. in India, marriage is a thing that must happen at a particularly "apposite" time in one's life. In the practical scheme of things, it does make sense and promises a more secure way of leading life. In the emotional scheme of things it might work too. In the physiological scheme of things it is probably fine (height of youth, right time for bearing a child, etc. etc.) too. In the spiritual sense, it usually isn't, IMHO. So that is 3 versus 1.

I watch the groom and bride whisper things into each others ears and smile or giggle. How did that happen? As in, they hardly know each other and they feel that bond? Amazes me. I have often said that love (and most other things) is just a decision, but here are people who believe that so and so is their soul-mate, the person who has made life meaningful, who is the reason for everything good in their life, and all I get to do is shake my head or fall asleep (of course, I get my turn too). How would one know without having attempted to know? What brings people together always makes me wonder.

And then I ask them (in my head) as to what they ever wanted from a marriage. Isn't that a vital question to ask oneself? Why do I want to get married? And wouldn't the next question be: What can I give to life after a marriage? No, this is not a mental exercise nor is this a call to create checklists. It is about being aware of these things. It is about realising the importance and perhaps vitality of the inclusion of marriage into one's life. Am I the only one seeing a lack of this? A successful marriage is not a case for establishing the pointlessness of this exercise. There was this story about a soldier who escapes somewhere and hides in a maiden's house. That maiden is all romantic and admires this soldier's general who had bravely attacked the enemy, although his battalion had only few weapons. The general had won, but the soldier gives the maiden insight into the stupidity of things which had lead to an accidental victory.

If people believe in accidental victories, I wonder why there is an ever-growing population which insists on "love" or "conscious choice" or "free will" pre-meditating any marital arrangement. If people are fine with entering a marriage with a general sense of comfort and thereafter tackling life as and when it arrives at their doorstep, that is cool (and my hats off to them for being so beautiful). I haven't seen that work very many times nor am I sure I have met a person who can effortlessly make me feel right about associating through marriage. (Another question would be: How does one recognise such a person?) Given that I believe that a marriage is forever and that a marriage fulfills the couple as well as the individual, it is crystal clear that one needs to understand what one realises a marriage to be like (not in exacting terms but as a fairly robust framework) and having realised that, ponder over whether one should get into a marriage even though it might not satisfy completely (ok, so is 50%, basic minimum? Is 70% acceptable enough?).

Another take would be to accept that marriage is just one thing in the entire scheme of things and one needn't break one's head so much over it and accept it the way one accepts one's mom/dad/sibling/relatives without much thought. But I didn't enter into a relationship with them consciously!! So how much does consciousness matter?

So this season leaves me wishing the best for all those entering holy matrimony while I continue to sit in my hammock exclaiming "Holy **it!"

Friday, June 01, 2007

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea*

"Walter, there is no point getting agitated. I am your wife, so, sit back and let's go over this together."
He was running his hand over the stubble on his neck. She was glad that he hadn't changed much since she had first met him. Was it five years already? He, sitting towards the rear of the class, looking at her once, rather only once through all the tens of times she had checked him out. He was bound to become a great manager although a weak man. She had done it then and she would do it now. With his other hand he was playing with the handle of the briefcase. Though the soft thuds against the leather of the case were annoying her, she needed them to measure his panic.
"Rita and you have been together for 3 weeks now, right?"
"Yes, but she is just Dmitri's secretary for Christ's sake!"
Dmitri always got himself a secretary every 2 years but maintained his wife for longer.
"I agree and that is why I am saying there is nothing to get agitated about. Now listen."
The thuds were noticeably faster.
"When you two were preparing the report for GM through the night last week, do you recall what she was wearing?"
"What? How the hell does that matter? Now are you..."
She raised her hand against his protests and while he quietened down, she recalled how Rita had shut the door of Dmitri's room with her butt. Those curves couldn't go unnoticed.
"Do you, or not remember what she was wearing?"
"God! I don't."
"Run me through her combos."
"Are you crazy, Liz!?"
"What are you afraid of, Walter?"
"Afraid!? Are you ... ok. I don't remember her suits much. She is mostly in greys... trousers and on Fridays she might wear a short skirt. Sometimes browns..."
"So you did notice that she wears short... short skirts on Fridays?"
"Most of the girls do, Liz. What's up with you? Fridays are when there might be parties or the like and ..."
"But she wears skirts on Fridays? Grey, flesh-coloured, perhaps?"
"I don't recall any..."
"When I had come to meet you before we headed for Jordan's wedding, she was helping you with some data for Saab's report."
"Probably... yeah, right. So?"
"She was in a lilac shirt, flesh-coloured skirt... and garters."
"Come on, she would never show off ..."
"Oh! you notice that she doesn't?"
He gulped down the words that tremulously hung on the tip of his tongue. He looked away at the picture that hung beside his graduation certificate. That woman in there had convinced him into marrying her. How, he wasn't able to recall.
"Walter," she said as she went over to the fridge to get some water, "women would show off their garters either explicitly or let the skirt be thin and tight enough to reveal the outline. Rita is quite classy, isn't she?"
He didn't answer but continued to play with the handle of his briefcase. He recalled his lunch with Rita and Dmitri down at Brigg's today. He never thought a girl kept track of the baseball season's play and she even knew the records of each of the hitters in the Boston RS that year. Burgers, baseball and business at the Brigg's, they had called it. That is what he had called it when he was telling Liz about the day's events. How did that come to this?
"Listen, Walter. I am not saying that there is something cooking, but it is vital to recognise things upfront. Rita is a," she paused, "hot woman, shall we say?"
"I don't think of..."
"She is a presentable person."
"And how many of Dmitri's secretaries have earned that? They were always babes and bimbos, right?"
"So she is different, so what? That doesn't mean I want to..."
She raised her hand again. Never let a man state the truth as what is spoken takes firm root. As she watched him swallow this one too, she searched for the right words to drive it in.
"So she was probably in grey when the GM report was being prepared?"
"Maybe," he snapped.
"And while both of you sat at the same side of your table, you didn't ..."
"She was not sitting at my side of the table."
"I thought you said you didn't remember that night."
"I do remember if I let a person come to my side of the table. She was basically..."
"Whatever, and you noticed her and her clothes - though you don't remember them now - and you surely felt something, right?"
"Come on, Walter. A sexy babe always makes a man more so. A presentable one makes it seem more ethical."
"Rita was doing her work and I was..."
"Also doing your work but you did notice that she was presentable and sharp, too. Quite efficient, right?"
"The kinds you like."
"I prefer efficiency in my office. If a person can't..."
"But such a combination in woman is surely desirable, you would say."
"How does it matter?"
"It doesn't, like finding the winning lottery ticket, but it sure is something we wouldn't give up."
He was getting tired of this conversation and she knew she had to move fast.
"Don't you like her?"
"Doesn't she appeal to you?"
"Not in the way you think."
"I am not thinking for myself, but for you. Trust me."
He seemed to settle into the sofa and that relaxed her just enough.
"You do like her, the way she does her work, the way she talks guy stuff and makes a man feel like a man."
"She is a nice person, Liz. You should really..."
"I don't want to meet her, because that won't help what you are getting into."
He simply stared at her.
"Walter, the more you interact with her, you are going to realise that she doesn't provide any reason for you to not like her. She will be what you can slip into. She is smart, she is here to grow, to climb the ladder, and a patron is always welcome. But think about what it does to your life, your reputation. Think about it, she is just a secretary and why is Dmitri loaning her to you if he hadn't sensed the danger she poses to his marriage?"
"Nothing like that. We can't afford two..."
"Whatever. She isn't going to help you beyond fetching data sheets and putting 2 and 2 together although she can do..."
"Nothing of that stuff. She knows her stuff. She is good."
Liz widened her eyes and recognised that Walter realised that his interrupting her was his last piece of armour falling off. She slowly smiled and got up, not taking her eyes off Walter.
"Hmmm. So this is what it has come to. Cool."
She slowly walked to the fridge taking ten handle thuds at each footstep. She replaced the bottle of water before turning around to face Walter.
"Cool."Under the eyes of the cunning


"Liz, I don't understand how you get to do it."
Mercia was biting into her frank while Liz happily drew on her Camel.
"Mercy, you really need to know what makes Dmitri trip. Every man has this little nerve which when you tap, leaves him faltering and then all you need to do is watch him stumble while your Camel glows red."
"But how did you get him to send Rita off to another sector? Dmitri is now looking out for another babe, but he says he will never be able to replace Rita."
Liz was tired of Mercia's stupidity and ridiculous tolerance - which she called trust - of Dmitri's ways. She stubbed out her Camel and rose.
"Guilt is what makes this world go around. Induced guilt is what makes it go around the way I want it to."

*The title means "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty" in legal parlance.