• Under the Raintree Festival

'Girls Wearing Pants' by A R Sara

"I hope you don't mind me joining you girls for lunch?" Shekar joins us at the table, without waiting for an answer.

"How come your company sends an all-girls team? The girls wear the pants in your company?" He chuckles, looking at Gia and me. We both decide to let it go. We are at the client campus cafeteria, having our lunch. Gia and I are consultants from the same company and are here to deploy an IT solution.

"And a girl DBA! So fierce. Data integrity, scalability and what not! Full force and those bossy boots you wear!" His tone is mocking as he gives me a once over.

Before we could respond, he continues. "Just kidding just kidding. Nothing personal!" He says raising both hands palms outwards, while nodding and shaking his head at the same time.

"Not funny," I say sternly, my expression grim, hoping this discourages him.

He chooses to ignore my remark. "The way you put forth your points about performance. So aggressive! And your body language," he says, his eyes travelling down Gia's body in an exaggerated manner.

Some parts of the solution were supplied by Shekar's consulting company. During the morning meeting, we had called out some of the workarounds in his code which required rewrites before it can be integrated. He had readily agreed to take care of it after a brief hesitation. The meeting had ended on a positive note or so I had thought.

"Is this about the morning meeting, Shekar?" Gia asks, echoing the question on my mind. "What about it girls?" He asks innocently. "I had to call it out, and it is a minor fix from your end anyway. Hope this is not about that?" I ask. He raises his eyebrows. I try not to lose my cool even as my growing irritation tinged with anger is ready to spill.

“Girls…” he drawls.

"Kindly don't address us as girls! You are way offline with your comments,” I cut in, hoping to put an end to Shekar's cringe-worthy behaviour.

"You were on track! His code has issues and it had to be pointed out. No need for us to explain," Gia looks intently at me.

"Aw... You girls are overreacting now!" He cackles.

"If I were you I would watch my words, Shekar," says Mike, a client employee. His mild warning is submerged in a light tone and a pleasant expression.

"They are my countrywomen, so nice to joke with them. They understand," Shekar says, winking at the business analyst Mike.

"You presume," I tell him, restraining the anger now threatening to bubble over. There is a voice in my head, telling me to walk away, without making a scene.

"I am not a fellow country woman," Gia clarifies.

"Care to share a brownie?" I ask Gia, getting up, trying to put a stop to the mortifying conversation. This was awkward. I didn't want to call attention. Better to ignore and walk away. Take it up with the human resources, later.

"You both are going to share a brownie?" He is grinning at us now. His voice has gone up several notches.

"You know what I would like to see? A cat-fight between the two of you," he says with a smug smile.

His voice carries across the spacious cafeteria of the client company. Loud and clear. Sounds of other conversations cease. We could see few of the folks on the tables around us taking obvious interest. Twisting around in their chairs to look at us. Most of them are males, I notice.

Someone hoots. A male voice.

"A roll-on-the-floor girl-fight between the two of them!" he says in animated tones looking around and winks at no one in particular.

I have lost my appetite for the chocolate brownie.

"You are crossing the line," I tell him, looking him in the eye.

Mike guffaws, shaking his head.

"He already has," Gia says. Her eyes are glinting. "Interesting proposition Shekar has. Passive aggressive behaviour, isnt it!?" She remarks, looking at me.

"Forceful too in putting his point across. He is itching for a fight," I respond.

"Let's give him one," she says.

She pushes back her chair in a smooth motion, rolls up her sleeves and flexes her rippling biceps. Her pant and shirt emphasize her lean and wiry build.

"Kick boxing is her hobby," I explain.

Shekar's eyes light-up in anticipation.

She whirls around to face a smirking Shekar. "Ok, get up!" She gestures to him. "It is you I choose to fight," she says, pointing a finger at him. "Let's go. You and me. Square off mano-a-mano. A fist fight," She issues a challenge.

There is some subdued laughter around us. Mike's face puckers like he has bit into a sour lemon. All the attention is now on Shekar. The self-effacing smile slowly leaves his face.

Will he say yes? I wonder.

"Get up," she insists.

He blinks, his face turning red. He looks thoroughly embarrassed. Is he actually shivering?

"I was just joking," he mumbles. "You girls took it seriously.”

"Girls?" She lifts her chin, and he seems to cower.

"You call that an apology? I ask.

"Ladies, I thought..." he begins. Then pauses.

"I am sorry, that was sexist of me." His voice is contrite, but low. Almost a murmur.

"Can you all hear him?" I direct my question to no one in particular. I hear subdued 'no's from the other cafeteria patrons.

"Louder, so the audience around you can hear," I demand, looking at Shekar.

"I apologize," he says looking around. "That was uncalled for. It was disrespectful," he chews the words out. "I am truly sorry," he says addressing us both. Then opens his mouth as if to say something more but clams it shut.

There are murmurs of approval around us.

Shekar gets up silently and leaves the cafeteria, without a backward glance."Is your offer to share a brownie still on?" Gia asks. I smile.

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