The Chair


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by Shreya Sen-Handley

1 am, December, Monday, Nottingham

I wake with a start. This is not my bed. As my eyes adjust I realise I am in our spare room; my Calcutta Room. That’s OK then, I am just across the hall from my sleeping family. Not far. But as I turn towards the window, I realise why I had woken with such a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Silhouetted against the half-darkness of the frosted pane is a man. He is not my husband and yet he seems completely at home sitting in the chair I had brought over from my old bedroom in Calcutta. I can only see him partially in the grey light but he turns to smile at me. There should, my groggy brain tells me rather feebly, be no other man in this house. But there is something so familiar and reassuring about him, I slip back into sleep.

9 am, Monday, School Run

I have dropped the children off at school and can now think. Did I really see a man in the spare bedroom last night? When the kids tumbled in this morning to wake me, he was no longer there. He’s clearly a figment of my (perpetually) overwrought imagination. But as I let myself into the house, I find myself drawn to the Calcutta Room. I sit on the bed and scrutinise it. This is my history room. The Rathin Mitra scroll over the calico-covered bed is from the artist himself. The Ganesh Pyne pictures sitting higgledy-piggledy on the window sill bring back snatches of conversations I had with the man. The cushion covers are made from Ma’s old Dhakai saris which would have met a less dignified end otherwise. And in ceiling-high bookshelves and on the rickety round table beside my childhood chair are books that bear the imprint of having lived and been loved in Calcutta – dog eared, yellowed, with a ‘cha’ stain or two but only because they are so well thumbed, and by so many. Unlike my hometown, it is the quietest of rooms. And he is definitely not here.

If I slept, would he come back? Why do I want him back?

9 pm, still Monday

The kids are in bed and my husband snakes his strong sinewy arms around me, pulling me down on the sofa beside him. These few hours till midnight are our only ‘couple’ time. I sink into his embrace happily, as always, but tonight I am distracted. Where is The Man? I am thinking of a story I might write, I tell my husband, of the chair in the spare room. “The Calcutta Chair?” he asks trying to look interested, but he is tired, very tired, and drifts off.

1 am, Tuesday, still December, still snowing

I went to bed with my husband, how am I in this room again? I know The Man is there too even before I turn to look at him. He is sitting in his chair by the window. No, he’s lounging; he’s tall. I am in a silky wisp of a slip and should feel embarrassed, but when he sits on the bed beside me and runs his long fingers down my leg, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.  Brown skin against brown skin; quite a departure for me. He leans over and kisses me. I’m thinking, I hope there won’t be any beard burns in the morning, when I should be thinking how could this be happening? How does he get in here? I don’t think for a moment, who is this man, because I know him well.

10 am, Tuesday

I have two free hours in the day to get my story written. What started as an excuse to explain my distraction to my husband has become a real project; a story about my Calcutta Chair. It is an antique armchair that once lived in my mother’s great-grandfather’s house. Many literary lights of Bengal have graced that chair. One in particular, made it his own, scribbling bits of poetry as he chatted.

2 am, Wednesday, December, snowing still

But to write this story well, I have to get to grips with my visitor. Literally. That tired old excuse we writers trot out to cover our tracks. And to convince ourselves we have to be amoral for our art. Soon, I am in so deep I can’t seem to extricate myself.

Our encounters are made somehow more exciting by the fact that he talks to me in my own, barely remembered mother tongue. The poetic turns of phrase make his descriptions of what he wants to do to me, more- no, not refined, quite the opposite- deliciously shocking. Whispering heart-stoppingly dirty Bengali in my ear, he traces the curve of a breast with one sensuous finger, he bends to take my dilated nipple in his mouth but the words are lost and I pull away. I want to hear the words of love more than I want his love (and anyway the beard tickles). His hands cup my rounded cheeks while his lips and darting tongue trail their way down to the mound. Satisfyingly, he intersperses the curlicues of tongue with murmurs so rude, I writhe with both suppressed laughter and unfettered pleasure. The flesh-muffled whispers find their way, just as surely as his creaming tongue, into those hidden places which signal my readiness. I arch my willing body into his.

2 am again, Thursday, December, sleet storm

I awaken when he slips into bed beside me in the Calcutta Room.

I am discomfited by the memory of last night.  But I am clearly here for more, though I cannot for the life of me remember walking into this room. He grins, “E deshta boddo thanda”. His practised hands find their way into me again. But even as I give in to the pleasure once more, questions haunt me; this man would be welcome in any Bengali woman’s bed, how many has he had? How many does he flit between, from night to night?

But most importantly, how do I tell my Bramho mother that I’m fucking Tagore’s ghost?

Writer’s bio:

Shreya Sen-Handley is a former television producer and journalist who now writes and illustrates for the British and Indian media when she’s not looking after children and home in legendary Sherwood Forest. She has written for The Guardian, The National Geographic, CNN India, The Times of India, The Hindu and other publications and sites. A children’s book she illustrated for Hachette was published in April 2014 and her first book of writing, a memoir meets social satire, will be published by HarperCollins in 2016. She also writes fiction and teaches creative writing and illustration.”