The Abandoned Bra
Editor's Choice
Category: Short Story
Author: Soumi Paul
Season 6

The Abandoned Bra

The days I get up late are the days I hate going to work the most. My heart is not in this job. It hasn’t been in any of the jobs for the past five years. “This is it! I’ll finally have a purpose”, I tell myself every time I change jobs. And slowly, this too, starts feeling like my beaten coffee left unattended on the glass table next to the couch – cold and insipid.

I skip breakfast on the days I get up late and head straight to the shower. Living alone has its small joys – I can walk back to my bedroom naked without worrying about a scandalised flatmate or a horny lover.
Choosing an outfit for work has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I don’t want to stand out but I do want to be noticed every once in a while – maybe a quick glance in the middle of a heated meeting or an appreciative nod on the way to the cafeteria.

I choose a pair of linen pants in dull lavender and spot an oversized white shirt that doesn’t need ironing. There, a minute and a half saved, I think. In a brief moment of ecstasy at beating time at its own game, I pick up the shirt a little higher than I should have and let the long sleeves fall against the gamchha carelessly wrapped around my neck. My parents pack me an extra gamchha or two every time I go home. In the humid weather of Bombay, I prefer them to damp towels. There are times when my nipples perk up against the slightly coarse texture of the gamchha while drying myself – leaving me mildly embarrassed even though I’ve no company.

Today, the gamchha attempts no such brazen act of forbidden desire. It remains pressed against my freshly-dried body – limp like a penis past its moment of love and yet I’m more embarrassed than ever. The wet gamchha has left a colourless stain on the shirt. It might be hard-to-spot but just like a murderer who eventually comes back to the crime spot, my eyes keep going back to the tiny circle where the colour of the fabric is slightly darker than the rest. I try to dry it by ironing the shirt all over again but the heat from the iron only makes it more visible.

By now, I’m almost an hour late for work. The traffic on Western Express Highway is bad around this time. I hurriedly put on a salmon pink bra and adjust my breasts inside the wired and padded cups – cold to the touch. I reach out around my back trying to fasten the hook against the third loop – the tightest embrace it can offer. I fumble with the loops for a few seconds but in vain. Exasperated, I take the bra out and turn it around to fix the hooks. I plan to bring them to the front and fasten them first, before moving them back and fitting in the cups at their right place. On a closer inspection, I realise the hooks have given away.

I had bought this bra from a small shop in Metro Plaza – a shopping complex off Ho Chi Minh Sarani, housing about fifty small shops selling cheap outfits, footwear and accessories following the latest trends in Bombay. I wonder what the Vietnamese Communist leader would have made of the shops – built with the singular purpose of fuelling capitalistic aspirations into the emerging middle class of the city, lined on a street named after him.

I was dating a married man back then. He had accompanied me to the lingerie store to help me choose a couple of bras and panties to carry when I move to Bombay a few months later. The polyester lingerie in the loudest reds and pinks displayed outside the shop had lent an air of eccentricity to our otherwise mundane shopping experience – as if we were a honeymooning couple on the streets of Bangkok planning to spice up our nights before going back to our boring lives with his parents.
We had taken our time choosing bras in monotones of white, beige, black and grey, feeling through the fabric, pressing the cups a little with our thumb – in anticipation of what was to follow inside his car once we stepped out of the shopping complex. I was unsure of the salmon pink bra he had added at the last minute. It had a flower at the cleavage and I was worried it would stand out in an awkward manner when worn inside solid-coloured shirts.

“Are you sure we should buy the pink one? I’m on a budget”, I told him. “Absolutely! I can’t wait to take it off you”, he had whispered seductively in my ears. We had walked out of the store, hand in hand, and he had treated me to phuchka outside. The tangy water with the spicy potato mix inside the deep-fried balls had given me a bad acidity later and I had to stay up all night drinking cold water and Gelusil.
It has been more than three years since we parted ways. In the end, he chose his wife who felt she had no other option but to take him back. Despite being together for seven years, it was oddly easy to get over him, almost as if we had nothing but sex keeping us together.

But I’m overwhelmed with an all-encompassing sense of loss today. The now-defunct bra has made me conscious of the absence of our relationship all over again. I realise how different my life has been after breaking up with him. I no longer sit at home over the weekend – waiting for his calls and the subsequent brief visits. I don’t bother to shave my armpits or my pubic hair for months at a stretch. I don’t carry a mouthwash in my purse any more.

The doorbell brings me back to the present. It’s probably the cleaning lady. She has a key but today she has had to ring the bell since the door is locked from inside. I toss the bra in my laundry bag and throw a kimono on to open the door. As soon as she walks in, I ask her to empty the laundry bag and wash everything that’s inside.

“There’s a bra with missing hooks inside. Don’t bother washing it. Just discard it when you take the garbage out”, I tell her as I step into the kitchen to boil some potatoes to make phuchka for breakfast.

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