The first person that Serafin met as he walked down the road past Hari Mandir was Pandurang Hede. He had been walking peacefully amid the usual Margao traffic and was quite startled by Pandurang's loud acclamation, but not startled enough to wake up.
'Arre, Serafin! When you came from Abu Dhabi? Yesterday only Vaishali was asking about you,' said Pandurang with a broad smile, slapping Serafin on his shoulders. 'Why don't you come home and have tea with us?'
Serafin shook Pandurang's hand heartily and then hugged him. He touched his cheek to Pandurang's, just on one side. Some of his Hindu friends couldn't quite swing their heads properly to do the both-cheeks thing. They would sometimes end up banging their heads on Serafin's nose. Christians in Goa had a lot of practice at feasts and weddings, greeting each other on both cheeks and as a result of this, Serafin believed their necks were stronger and more flexible than those of Goan Hindus.
'I would have come for tea, Pandu,' he said with an almost apologetic squeeze of his friend's hand. 'But the thing is I am only dreaming right now. I am not really here, you see? This is just a dream.'
'Ha ha, I see!' Pandurang laughed. This often happened in dreams, Serafin knew. People don't argue much in dreams, everyone accepts anything quite easily. 'So you are just dreaming right now, annh?'
'Yes,' said Serafin. 'What if I come over to your place for tea and we start having tea and I suddenly just disappear!'
'Ya ya,' laughed Pandurang. 'And what if instead of you, I disappear! Then who you will have tea with!'
'Exactly,' added Serafin. 'What if the cup of tea that I am holding just disappears? No tea!'
'And what if Vaishali disappears! No cup, no tea, and no nothing for me! Ha ha ha!'
The two men laughed heartily by the side of the road, holding their shaking bellies until tears came to their eyes.
'So I'm really sorry I can't come for tea right now, Pandu,' said Serafin wiping his eyes. 'I have not really come down from Abu Dhabi, I will in a month's time. And then, really I will come to your place to have tea. Give my regards to Vaishali, okay?'
'I will, I will,' said Pandurang. 'It's okay, no problem, you come, then we will have tea and food and everything.'
They bade each other goodbye and Serafin continued on his way past Hari Mandir. The smell of bhaji from Cafe Prasad swept strongly through the smoke of passing cars and bikes, but Serafin wanted to have a bite only at Bombay Cafe further down the road. It felt so good to be in Margao again, even if only in a dream. Seby standing at the door of his Claudia Cold Storage Stores waved at him. Costao seated at his sewing machine under the staircase didn't look up. He never did. The skinny fisherwoman who always sat with her basket at the corner of Cafe Prasad was tucking her skirts between her legs. Maybe she too preferred the bustle of this old market area rather than the huge New Municipal Market on the outskirts of Margao.
Serafin wished it would rain. He hadn't experienced the rains in Goa for three years. He had sworn that he would walk openly if it did rain, and get soaked to the bone. The heat of Abu Dhabi had dried him terribly. He desperately wanted the rain. To bathe in it, to drink it.
He walked on the pavement past Virgincar's printing press, the letterpress one. Virgincar's sons had set up an offset in Panjim, but old Rama still sat at his letterpress machine, printing receipt and cash voucher books for God alone knew whom. That was when he suddenly became aware of Babita walking in front of him. Babita in a salwar kameez, swaying as she walked, the curves of her body straining against the fabric of her dress.
I am dreaming, thought Serafin, as he walked behind her, breathing the heady mix of her perfume and evening sweat. I can reach out and touch her. I can just hug her from behind and nuzzle my face in her hair and smell her neck. God! Babita! His loins curled up in lust as he shivered with desire. She wouldn't be able to stop me or do anything to me – this is just a dream. Maybe she will open her mouth and kiss me with her tongue running all over my lips. Maybe we will just lie down on the steps of Gurukrupa Electronics as I tear her kameez apart to nibble at her nipples, as she grinds her thighs into my groin. O God O God…
That's when he got slapped really hard. The left side of his face stung with pain and he saw stars all around. As his head cleared, he realised he had reached the corner of Lily Garments and was being held at the collar by a dark, hefty man. Fanchu!
'Chedyea-potachea! When are you giving my money back?' asked Fanchu squeezing Serafin's neck and grinding his heel into his victim's foot at the same time.
'Fanchu!' croaked Serafin. 'H-how are you! Just wait, just wait, let me go, I will tell you!'
'Tell me' growled Fanchu as he let go of his neck, but kept his foot pinned down.
'Look, Fanchu, I am not really here. I am still in Abu Dhabi. I will send some money and clear you soon, okay? I'll come after a month or so, or I will ask Angela to give it to you. I'm just dreaming right now, otherwise I swear I would have given you the money here itself. How I can give you the money in a dream? If I gave you now, it would not even be real. By the time you reached home, it would be gone. I swear, I'm not fooling…'
A second slap sent Serafin spinning into the stars once again. But as he staggered and steadied himself, he saw that Fanchu was now nowhere to be seen. In the place where Fanchu was standing lay a dog who looked up at him indifferently, then put out a long pink tongue and began to lick his own balls. Had Fanchu turned into a dog?
But this was nonsense, thought Serafin. He had cleared Fanchu long back. It had been the first thing he had done after starting work at Abu Dhabi. This was just a bad dream. And worst of all, hadn't Angela told him that Fanchu died a year back of a heart attack or something? Was he seeing Fanchu's ghost in his dreams? Was Fanchu still chasing his debts in his afterlife, just as Serafin was instinctively still placating his creditors in his own dreams?
He could have kicked the Fanchu-dog in this dream without any risk of being bitten, but he could not bring himself to kick a dog that was busy licking his own balls. Rather than wait for him to finish, he walked on past Lily Garments and down the Cloth Market road to Bombay Cafe.
He saw Angela through the window of Bombay Cafe, sitting with a man whose back he did not recognise immediately. A rush of joy filled his heart as he walked in. Beloved Angela. What a funny thing to see her at Bombay Cafe with another man, at a cafe where they enjoyed batatawadas and sheera and tea on so many evenings when he accompanied her shopping. He wondered what she would say– after all this was a dream. Would she say 'Papa, when you came!' She had begun calling him Papa as the children were growing. And he called her Mama. These names seemed to embody their love for each other, for their children, for everything.
But she didn't see him as he walked in. Neither did Michael. Michael who worked at her office as assistant manager or something. Serafin had always teased her saying Michael had the hots for her.
What will you do if he calls you for tea, he had often mocked her. I would go, she would reply, we are just office mates, why are you getting jay…and now she was having tea with him.
But she didn't seem to be too happy. She was not smiling. In fact her eyes seemed to be watery and sad. He sat at the table next to them, not too surprised that they didn't see him. That's how it is in dreams. You think you can do anything…fondle Babita, kick Fanchu, surprise your wife, but you can't. Dreams are sometimes more difficult than real life.
How are the kids, he wanted to ask her. He could actually have gone walking to the flat right now and seen the kids, but what if he woke up halfway near the Municipality building…Better to sit here and watch her. Michael had placed his hand on hers.
Poor Angela. When she was sixteen, her cousin had died in a bus accident. Then a year later her uncle had been killed in a motorbike crash. Six years ago her father had died. Every few years someone of hers seemed to die and now too she was wearing a white blouse and chequered black skirt. Serafin felt sorry for her.
He longed to reach out, kick Michael away and hold her and kiss her. But what if Fanchu turned up and slapped him again…
A few tears welled out of her eyes and splashed into her tea cup. She wiped her eyes and got up to leave. Michael rose too and after clearing the bill at the counter – it was probably just seven rupees, Bombay Cafe still kept low rates – they left together. Serafin felt a mixed twinge of heartbreak and fury as he saw Michael casually curl a hand around her waist to guide her out of the door. But what the hell, it was just a dream. You worry about something, sooner or later it turns up in your dreams.
He didn't follow them as he left the cafe. No point in chasing the bad parts of a dream. Instead he walked past the Pimpalkatta compound, past Lotliker Electricals and Morning Star. Then he cut across Azrencar Stationery and Champs, weaving carefully through the parked bikes and cars. He turned left towards the Municipal Square. As he passed Ulhas Jewellers, the mind blowing aroma of beef and prawn patties from Jackris hit his senses. He paused to savour the delicious smell with his eyed closed and just then the first drops hit his face.
The evening sky darkened and the rain came down, slowly at first and then in a pour, soaking him completely as he walked on. Black umbrellas unfurled around him, deepening the gloom.
If he didn't wake up midway somewhere near the Municipal Building or Longuinhos Restaurant, he thought he would just make it to the flat and see the kids. And though he walked on lightly, for the first time in his dream Serafin felt a sudden pang of infinite sadness.