At this point, he makes his first mistake: he attempts insouciant laughter. It comes out as the gurgle of a disgruntled cistern. Somewhere in the room, a distinguished looking lady briefly turns her head in his direction, but gets back to her companion's twinkling chatter. But that distant action is sufficient to tug the carpet from under our cripple's cowering toes. To his eyes (which are too scared to look up at reality), the entire room is staring at him, agape in horror. "Who is this leper?", they demand in silent scream. "Did *you* invite him?", they seem to accuse each other.
The pretty girl who invited him has breezed over in her delightful mien. "Glad you could come". All the cripple's blood vessels begin to smash against his cheeks. Aware that he would begin snorting blood if the social pressure wasn't instantly released, our man makes the next mistake. He produces his underplayed smile. Underplaying is cool. Controlled. Suave. In reality, the cripple's smile comes out like a glare from the Count Dracula school of etiquette.
He watches as his hostess immediately puts the distance of several guests between them, and sighs. Why must he suffer so? They have parking spaces for the physically handicapped; guide dogs that cheerfully escort their masters to bungee jumps; gesture-controlled systems for Dr. Strangelove. But what about the socially challenged? Who will give us a sympathetic pat on the head, he thinks. And yes, unlike the others, he does want your sympathy.
Lost in such thought, the cripple fails to recognise the obnoxious one arrive beside him. He often runs into the obnoxious one because social gatherings had a way of spacing light years between themselves and these two. The cripple has his dignity and would not simply fall into the clutches of the creep just because he was the last man in society. But the social invalid's hints of boredom are as much of a washout as a fresh shower in the Atacama. The parasite clings on until dinner is served. The cripple wonders: what did that interaction cost him? Does everyone at the other end of the room think we are best buddies?
In the buffet line, he finds himself just behind an old classmate. They used to be close but then the chap got married and the ties withered away. Largely because he has no idea how to talk to someone's wife. Do you talk about exhibition sales? about home loans? implications of quantum string theories on Dirac's equations? He feels resentful against the education system that leaves him so severely incapacitated. Shouldn't the universities of the land teach useful things instead of chartered accountancy or COBOL or triple integrals? Meanwhile, the friend greets him with exuberance, and demands his phone number. Another social neuron in the cripple's circuitry blows past the blood-brain barrier. In unconscious reaction, he pulls out his own phone for support and presses a few buttons. "You keep your number in there as well?" chortles the friend. The wife, a keen curator of the husband's social network, plops a chicken leg on her plate in response.
Sitting by himself in a soothingly unlit corner, the least comfortable man in a two-mile radius ponders on the many detonations on the social minefield. In future, his strategic defence would consist of lying without remorse, to build a protective moat of excuses to ward off any invitation to any gathering of more than one. The first step towards that glorious future would be to dispose of plate and tissue without running into any friendly fire, and melt away like the Invisible Man on a New Moon Day during a game of Blindman's Buff.
As he walks down out of the side gate, he congratulates himself on the only success of the evening: all due to his supreme skills in making himself scarce. That too before the dancing & party games began. Then a car honks and he finds himself staring into the headlights of a stylish automobile. The car sidles up. The rear window goes down and he sees her, nay Her, looking out with a pleasant smile. "Going home? C'mon, I'll give you a lift".
She steamrolls his protestations and assures him that his company was worth more than he imagined. His two left feet were trying to stamp each other out, but somehow, he hop-skip-and-jumps his way into the seat beside her.
As soon as he sinks into the plush upholstery, he is a man transformed. It may have been the sharing of her secret - "these dos are such a nuisance, aren't they? I always long to get away. Don't you?" or just the cool air unsullied by the presence of unwanted Homo Sapiens in natty outfits. Ah, he speaks as confidently as a ice-skater who had just landed on his feet despite three Axel Paulsen jumps in zero gravity. Whether it was Sartre or the Kabaddi World Series, the evolution of slang in 90s rap or the Raaga Shivaranjani, the now-socially valid soars and dives, like a seagull having discovered Richard Bach in a corner of the local library.
As they draw outside his house, she holds her hand out and thanks him for his 'cerebral company'; how she ought to keep going to parties if only to meet rare birds like him. The car speeds off doing an insignificant 100 kmph as he becomes aware of the need to sit down.
Well, that hadn't been so bad, had it? Perhaps, if he had the tutelage of those like his most recent (and undoubtedly admiring) companion, he might one day surf the societal waves with a nonchalant glass of wine in one hand and a nary a worry in the other.
At that point, I'd like to have reported that our man slept the sleep of content, with fair angels strumming golden harps in accompaniment to his honeyed dreams. It might have been so, had he not performed that routine task of undressing in preparing for bed. For, it comes to his notice that his trouser zip was already undone.
And then began that bottomless vortex of excoriating social autopsy - how long...? did they..., what did he...?, when did I...? and so on.
There, for now, pauses the boring adventure of the social cripple.