Dad's in his chair, reading the paper. Strangely, the TV is on. The Fifth Rule of Living With Parents is No TV till three. "Dad", I whisper, "do we have any coffee?" From behind the paper, he says: "no, but there's wine."
I realize I'm still asleep, dreaming. I play along. "Where's Mom?" The paper is lowered. Dad looks flushed. "She's taken Grammy to your sister's," he grins. His joy is palpable, the sense of liberation almost physical. It's real. I look again, and sure enough, there's a half empty bottle of Red by his chair.
I pull up a chair and help myself to a swig. He reaches for the bottle and misses. And laughs. "Dad," I say, "are you drunk?" Dad is a notorious lightweight. He once set fire to his hair after two slices of rum cake. "Have you got anything stronger?" he says.
A few G-and-Ts later, Dad is suddenly morose. We're on the veranda, watching the gardener chat up the neighbor's maid. Nobody works when Mom's not about. Not even the neighbors. "I'm sorry, son," he says, "I screwed up." I look at him. "You shouldn't blame yourself," he says, "you screwed up because I was never there."
I'm unsure how to react. My Dad has just declared I'm a failure, and taken the blame for it. I may never have to work again! Still, I think, it's also kind of insulting. I should be mad. "It's alright," I say, "I'm fine really." "No, you're not," he says sadly. I decide Daddy knows best. "I want to make it up to you," he says, "what can I do?"
"Can you get us some ice?" I ask. "No," he says, "but I can tell you about life. See son, when a man loves a woman." He's giggling. My Dad wants to tell me about the birds and the bees, but he can't because he's having a laughing fit. "Oh, you're never going to believe this," he gives up. He looks me over, then: "probably no use anyway."
We're out of booze. Dad has brought out his records, and is belting out the lyrics to Sweet Caroline. I'm hungry. "DAD," I yell, "DO YOU WANT ANYTHING TO EAT?" He kills the song, and says, "WHAT?" Then he says, "do you want to watch a dirty picture?"
Turns out he meant the Dirty Picture, the Silk Smitha biopic that sent Indian testosterone levels sky-high in 2010/'11. Silk Smitha was the first bondafide South Indian cine-vamp. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1996 but not before accruing considerable interest in the collective wankbank of an entire generation. Reportedly, Vidya Balan, the actress who played Silk in the movie, was all kinds of sexy.
Dad wades cautiously into the fog of their frustrations, then joins in with all the enthusiasm of a voyeur-turned-participant at his first bar-fight. He hoots, jeers, attempts a wolf-whistle, and looks to me for approval. He's trying out my skin, imagining what I must have been like as a younger man. He's heard the stories, he's read the pamphlets; this is how addicts and reprobates behave.
I've been clean six years. I don't remember a lot of what happened in the years that immediately preceded that period, but I'm pretty sure they didn't involve soft porn at the cinema. Smackheads on student budgets can't afford the cinema. "Dad," I say, "Dad, the guy next to me is ... errr... cashing his cheque."
Later, back on the veranda, I watch the stars in silence. The night sky and the light breeze would lend themselves to serious contemplation if they weren't soundtracked by my Dad snoring in his easychair next to me. I desist from waking him, and swat gently at a mosquito hovering over his arm. He's had a long day.