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BONGO FROM BIHAR

Bongo was having a baby in Bihar.

His stomach bulged out of his singlet as he sat beside me, splat fat on a Mumbai mat. It was evident he hadn’t washed for a while. He leant over and rested his head on my shoulder, shuddered and started to sob.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this sudden emotion. I couldn’t give him a reassuring hug – he was far too huge for that and anyway, he was leaning on my arm.  I decided on manly silence.

‘Weugh-h-h,’ he wailed, ‘ba-a-a-a-b-e-e-e!’

Bongo was a security guy at the Hotel Apollo – but he was born in Bihar where he had a pretty wife. Well, he thought she was pretty – he’d hardly seen her; just long enough to marry and impregnate before he hurtled back to Mumbai. She sat gestating in the village in Bihar – he slept in his sweat on the roof of the Hotel Apollo, working triple shifts. Obviously, it was all getting a bit much for him.

‘I work, I work, I work,’ he sobbed, ‘I must make fifteen thousand this month, then I go to Bihar! I have baby. No village. We need Doctor, hospital – everything safe. We go Patna.’

More manly silence. I could see the domes of the Taj hotel just a block away, lit up, bruised and empty. Bongo really did need a wash.

He grunted and sat up.

‘O.K. Sorry. Finished now.’

*

Kindly Uncle Dogster got up to leave.

‘Ow-w-w.’

‘You pain?’ Bongo looked concerned.

‘Leg. Ow-w-w. I’m old.’

‘I get you massage man – tomorrow night. Nine.’

‘Fine.’

There are five hundred massage men in Mumbai and Bongo was determined I try each and every one of them. I couldn’t stop him. Each night another youth would be delivered to my room to prod and pummel in the hope of a miracle cure. Each morning I’d stagger down and Bongo would leap to his feet.

‘Leg?’

‘Ow-w-w-w.’

‘Tonight. One more. Nine.’

‘Fine.’

After five of these gentlemen in a row I could barely walk.

‘Bongo, no more O.K.? No more massage. Ow-w-w-w.

‘Yes, sir,’ he nodded gravely.

So, that night at nine…

*

Like many a first-time father, Bongo needed some cash. Here I was. He just wanted to keep on providing ‘services’; as many as possible, because every time he provided a service he got a two-way cut; a percentage from the service then a juicy tip ‘for the baby’ from me for providing it. It was in his interests to keep me consuming.

‘Anything else you need?’

Bongo became my Mumbai fixer; he delivered my beer, my take-away coffee from Barista and my charas, a nightly surprise in the form of a mystery masseur, taxis and tourist tips with a friendly smile – he pressed the lift button for me, opened the door, collected my washing, shoo-ed staff from the computer when I needed it and made it known in the neighborhood that he was my guy and I was his; if somebody screwed me over he would kill them. He was worth every bit of his baby’s baksheesh. I felt obliged to consume as much of everything as I possibly could.

*

Nine o’clock.

S-s-s-s-Bong-a-a-a,’ the voice said, ‘s-s-s-Bonga, Mr. Dogster.’

Bongo was so drunk he couldn’t even pronounce his own name. I didn’t know that at the time. I just thought it was a bad line.

‘Come down. I have a man for you.’

‘No more Bongo, no more massage man…’

‘No, he’s different. Come down. He’s my friend.’

Why not? There was nothing else to do.

Gokul,’ Bongo slurred, ‘meet me at Gokul!’

I knew this was a mistake. It was.  I went out anyway.

All I knew of this place was a doorway opposite my favorite shopkeeper, a glimpse of tables, a roar of Hindi, a line of motorbikes and handsome young men outside. I passed it ten times a day, to and from my barber, Leopold’s and the joys of Colaba. I stood outside it drinking chai with the shopkeeper, bought my cola from a booth right next door – but I’d never once been brave enough to go in. Everything is hidden in India – until you find it; then you realize it was there all along.

If someone suggests a night at Gokul, be very, very scared. It is the most notorious rough-trade bar in Colaba.

*

There was Bongo and his mystery friend waiting on the street. We slid into a cubicle deep inside Gokul, past one hundred sets of glinting black eyes. The seat was three feet wide and about a foot deep with a high timber back, perfect for furtive plotting. I was jammed in the slot against the wall, a chrome-rimmed table digging into my ribs. Bongo’s friend squashed in beside me with a predatory smile. He stared at me silently with adoring doe eyes, breathing heavily.

He was a deeply unattractive young man with a very large, moist mouth, a hook nose, Harpo Marx eyebrows and an odd expression. I thought at the time he may have been slightly retarded, but he was just naturally stupid.

Bongo slipped in opposite us and grinned.

‘He’s a rich man,’ he said to his friend in Hindi. ‘What do you think?’

His friend nodded eagerly and replied with a machine-gun spray of words. If he had a name I’ve blocked it out. We’ll call him Bingo. He had no English at all but a great deal of Hindi.

Bingo’s behavior was already very strange, rather too eager, over-excited and garrulous. He was carnivorous and slightly out of control, crazed with the prospect of a kamikaze attack on my wallet. He seemed even more crazed at the prospect of sex. More to the point, he was drunk. As I’d never seen him sober, it was kinda hard to know when he was not.

Bongo just breathed beer.

‘You like?’

Clearly, they had concocted a money-making plan.

‘Ohh-h, no-o-o-o, Bongo.’

‘He’s my best friend – very good man.

‘Ohh-h, no-o-o-o, Bongo…’

‘One day off work to meet you tonight. Full night with you – full enjoy.’

How can I say this gently? He’s practically sitting on my lap. There must be things that arouse me less than Bingo but I can’t think of any right now – maybe sex with a dead squid. Really, all I had to do was get up and leave – but I was blockaded, both by Bingo’s body and my own stupid wish to please.

‘He’s a very nice man but… no, please Bongo. No-o-o-o…’

Bongo only translated the ‘very nice man…’ part.

My neighbor beamed and shot back a brief reply in Hindi. One leg clamped against mine. A bony hand reached over under the table and grabbed my knee.

Bongo leant across the table.

‘He wants to kiss you.’

‘Wha-a-a…?’

It’s a car crash. I recall a glimpse up one of his nostrils and then a giant pink clam.

‘Wha-a-a…?’

The clam hurled itself against my mouth. Wet, runny and determined, the toothy void advanced. Poking out of the clam was a purple slug. In a Gokul’s booth in front of sixty other people – pressed against a wall, Dogster was impaled by the tongue of death.

Argh-h-a-loof-a-rgh-h-no-o-o-o!’ he said.

Bloop-a-bloop-a-bloop went the tongue.

‘Argh-h-h-argh-h-h-a-larga-a-alerk.’

That’s all I remember.

*

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