The following is an excerpt from Gods and Ends by Lindsay Pereira.
He stood at the window of Room 103 and watched the men, women and children of Orlem go by. His glass of London Pilsner sweated on a table within easy grasp. He whistled. It was 1.30 p.m., and girls from Carmel of St Fatima would soon walk by in groups of two and three. Peter intended to wait until they passed, before thinking about lunch or another bottle of beer. The fan in the living room cut lazy arcs through the stale air. The place hadn’t been cleaned properly since his wife left, taking their son, Gavin, with her. She had threatened to do it for years, hoping against hope that he would spend more of his money on them than on alcohol. He hadn’t, so she left. He didn’t mind. Slipping an old cassette of fado classics into the old two-in-one player behind him, Peter hummed along and sipped his beer.
Outside, the sounds and aromas of cooking enveloped Obrigado Mansion like a haze. It irritated him, because it forced him to think about lunch, and how he would have to order a bhurjee pao again. He didn’t want one, but it was the only thing served by the tiny stall at the end of the street, so, for the fifth time that week, it would have to do. Outside, fat Philomena waddled into view. ‘Just like her mother only,’ Peter smirked, mumbling to himself. ‘Bloody fat chick can’t stop eating or what?’ She noticed him staring as she walked past, then dropped her gaze and moved quickly towards the staircase. ‘Walk, walk,’ he shouted out. ‘Your mumma must be waiting with khaana.’ She blanched for a second before hurrying on, ignoring his loud laugh behind her.
Inside, still laughing, Peter stopped to consider the music. It was a song about Maria Severa Onofriana, the famous prostitute responsible for taking fado from her poor neighbourhood in Lisbon to all corners of the world. Peter remembered his father telling him about Severa’s colourful life: her relationship with a count called Francisco, whose name he remembered only because it was shared by his miserly landlord, her death from tuberculosis and eventual burial in a ditch. ‘Sad life, men,’ he thought, shaking his head. Fado always made him melancholy after a while. He forgot Severa quickly though, as the voice of Amália Rodrigues filled the room. Rainha do Fado, his father had called her. The queen of fado, now long dead too, just like his daddy. The song was ‘Vou dar de beber à dor’, and Peter cocked his head to one side and listened intently. Hidden in that music were snatches of memories—forgotten summers in Goa, drunken nights on the beaches of Margao, clumsy kisses with the village girls behind hotels with thatched roofs.
For a few minutes, those colourful images from his past surfaced in his mind. Then, in a flash of crimson, the first group of girls from the convent swung into view.Peter whistled again and laughed uproariously, his only gold chain swinging wildly over his shaking belly. ‘Hello, hello,’ he called. Most of them ignored him, but one blushed, and this egged him on. ‘Shutupmen, Peter,’ his neighbour, Mrs de Souza, screamed from Room 104.
‘What behaviour this is, men?’ she shouted, outside his open door. ‘Decent people are living here. What you’re shouting?’ Ignoring her, Peter continued to laugh. After a minute, she left, muttering about God. ‘Bleddy bitch,’ Peter said to himself. ‘Can’t keep her bleddy husband happy and telling me to behave.’
He returned to his beer and resumed his lookout. He would have to go out and get some more in the evening, because he was left with only two bottles. It was ridiculous what they charged for beer these days. He remembered sitting at a bar behind the church for hours, back when he had enough money to not care about the cost, stumbling out with a bill that never went above thirty rupees. You couldn’t even get one bottle for that amount these days, unless you bought Golden Eagle, which tasted as if a dog had pissed into the bottle.
‘Piss,’ he said out loud. ‘Fucking piss.’ There was no one around to hear him, his neighbours busy with preparing or eating lunch. He would have to eat at some point too, even if it was bhurjee pao. At least the food was still affordable. For five rupees, you got two paos and at least two eggs mixed with onions, tomatoes, chillies and some powdered masalas he could never identify. He didn’t care what they mixed in though, as long as it tasted good. And after six beers, it always tasted good.
For now, he considered going back to his pornography. He had a new video cassette with the title Taxi Girls kept aside for the afternoon. The back cover advertised a promising tale of a sexy prostitute who came up with the idea of a taxi service to get more clients. He liked the sound of it a lot. He would like getting into that kind of vehicle and wouldn’t mind paying a fair amount to feel up a woman like the one on the cover. He hoped it was the same woman though. The last cassette he had borrowed from the video library had a different woman in the movie, which had annoyed him for a whole day. He wanted to see the one on the cover with her clothes off. Why did they have to lie about that? ‘Fucking bastards always cheating whenever they can,’ he muttered.
The girls from the convent had long disappeared, and the street was empty. Lunch was being served at homes up and down the colony, by angry mothers and depressed wives, to ungrateful husbands and uninterested children. Peter thought about those families for a moment, remembering a time when someone served him lunch too. He didn’t care about not having a family any more. Who needed a wife when you had dirty pictures?
Lindsay Pereira is a journalist and columnist. His debut novel ‘Gods and Ends’ was shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature, 2021. You can buy the book here.