I’m glad I am not wearing anything conventional, like black (too obvious), white (too boring), red (too eager), or purple (too trying hard to be different), pink (too girly, not to mention silly).
It has to be perfect even though I may never show it. I am very pleased with my choice. It’s all falling into place, I think.
I sit across the table from you, for once taking care not to let my cleavage spill. I like it that your eyes stray to the tattoo and you quickly concentrate on my face. It is a very promising thing. It means you have self control. It means that if we ever do kiss, you won’t startle me with a moan. It had happened once. I never saw him again.
This is how I think.
My friend said it’s wrong. She said I can’t be put off by someone in such haste nor like someone in the rash hurried way I tend to get smitten. I heard her concerns but didn’t feel the need to worry. Or change.
I heard he married. I heard later that she filed for divorce. It seems he whined about everything. I heard how he had made her life hell and how she felt free of negativity and noise, finally, only after the divorce.
My friend, she means well. But now I know that what I do is a good thing. I am self aware now. It means I can skip counselling till we break up. There I go. Being facetious again. Terrible. I had smiled at her then and changed the topic.
I smile now. You are quiet. So I talk about the weather. I am British that way. You catch on. Quickly. Efficiently. Absently. It’s impressive that you converse with ease even when you are clearly uninterested. It’s even better that you don’t look at me bewilderingly with incomprehension when I speak about the heat so animatedly. I am sure it will rain tonight, I predict. You just watch, listen. I think you might get to see it, after all. My smile broadens at how generous I am going to be with you.
Do you need saving I wonder. If you do, of course, I know this will end in painful heartbreak. You will take and take and take. At first with surprise, then in gratitude, and finally as if it’s your due. So much so that you will forget to give me. Anything. Not even a Mallu sari with a golden border that I will wear with a red blouse. Not even flowers that my friends constantly treat me to. You won’t even remember that I like books most of all, with little notes scribbled on the front, your unselfish desire to make me smile even after the world has ended.
That’s how much you will take away from me if you need saving. And I, because of who I am, will give you till I forget I need to get too.
Then when my ex calls me as he does faithfully once every month, he will ask me again, “Have you invested wisely, at least, this time?” And I will remember how my friends are upset with you because they feel you don’t treat me special; you don’t seem to indulge the little girl, the queen, and the lover that I am; at least these three personas. They are really ticked off that you don’t even seem to know that I have personas. That is why they no longer care if you don’t meet us for the Saturday nightcap. You continue thinking my friends are decent, cool, non-interfering. I will resent all of you for putting me in an impossible position, for making me feel like I am in a marriage, and torn in two. Then I will know the beginning of the end has begun.
But we haven’t begun. You don’t need saving. You tell me you are a changed man after the divorce. You have learnt that life is about small glories, little triumphs, well-earned breaks after months of hard work and little sleep. Breaks where you don’t read a newspaper or check mail or use What’s App. Breaks where you struggle in foreign lands that speak little English but how you have found yourself there.
I am just staring at you now. I have leaned forward to hear you better and the teal green shows through. We both don’t care.
I am wondering if you even need a companion. That’s an uncomfortable thought. I know I already like you, and now if you didn’t like me or have a change of heart, I would take at least a month getting over you. I would spend that month sullen, unhappy, shattered; cursing luck, fate, myself.
And that’s when I think if I need this at all. Again. Life is easier without romance. It’s not fun or beautiful but it is easier. Uncomplicated. Bereft of small wants all the time – O I wish he could be here at the launch. He would have enjoyed it, I know. He’s been reading a lot about Gandhi recently so he would appreciate these thoughts.
O I really wish I could sleep with him tonight. I am so bloody tired and it would be good to curl up together with barely anything and smell his neck. I really miss the way his neck smells.
He would totally love this coffee. He would. He is more into coffee than I will ever be.
Not that any of it would be true.
You would say you are so happy you skipped a boring launch. I will smile indulgently then, even as I hurt about why you are so uninterested in my life and what I do.
You would tell me that this missing someone and all is so juvenile. We aren’t teens anymore, no? And in my hotel room in Noida, I would swallow the lump in my throat and sit up straight to look mature even though we are speaking on the phone and you can’t see me.
You would say if you drank coffee after 5 pm, it gives you terrible insomnia and wink at the barista winningly and say, “We don’t need any help with that, no, honey?” And she would be charmed. And I would feel as if the man I loved didn’t exist at all.
That’s real life.
It’s so much easier to be alone, I think. To have your mind open, filled with self interest.
I am suddenly undecided about this date. I lean back on the chair, cross my legs. I decide to light a cigarette. That’s test number three on a date.
You reach out and give me the light. You ask me if I am much of a smoker. I can detect nothing from your tone. I feel small, theatrical, and silly now. I say I smoke occasionally. You nod peaceably. I feel compelled to go on. “This pack has been with me for over a month, see? I will have to give it to my regular smoker friends who don’t smoke for the taste. I can tell if the cigarette is stale. I hate that.” Abruptly, I quieten. Then. “Don’t you smoke?”
“I used to”, you say and smile. Is your smile cold? Are you distancing yourself already? It’s off. I feel it. I have failed my own test, I know. I should not have lit up. I didn’t even want to smoke. But now that I seem to have ruined it somewhat, I am glad I have a cigarette in hand that can make me at least look nonchalant.
“My kids insisted I stop.” Your face lights up as you speak about them. It makes me curl my toes. My daughter, she’s the older one, she’s very stubborn you say with pride. “She made me promise after she saw this documentary on smoking. Since then, I never smoke. You know, I rarely get to do anything for them. I see them only on weekends. I thought this was something I could do. See, that’s another thing. My children will always come first for me. I need you to understand that. You need to be okay about that.”
Something settles within me. I feel as thrilled as if you wrote me a courtly sonnet and read it out loud. “Naturally”, I say. “I would be very displeased if you didn’t put the children first.” I am pretty sure I mean this. But I don’t want to come across as some sort of an activist or worse as someone trying too hard to win your favour by my apparent selflessness and bigheartedness. I don’t want you to think of me as this woman with a wonderful soul who puts your children first and go wah.
That’s not it at all. No.
But past experience has taught me that men don’t think so deeply about things and you prove me right.
“Hey, sorry, I couldn’t help but notice. Is that an aquamarine bra you are wearing?”
My irritation is immediate. It’s as natural as it would be if you had said ‘Anywayz’. “It’s teal. Teal green. How is it aquamarine?”
“Potato potahto”, you say, though it’s not at all the same thing. “Shall we go for a drive then? The weather seems to have cooled. I think you might be right. It looks like rain now.”
You smile at me guilelessly, open, warm.
I can only nod my yes.
I am irritated that my irritation is mounting and that I don’t even know why. I know we will kiss now. I know you will even see my bra. I know something will begin. It’s inevitable now. I am not glad though. It was always inevitable I tell myself. I knew something would happen between us the first time I heard your voice on the phone. I have no idea why I am no longer happy that it’s all working out.
I follow you to the car. You hold the door open. Our bodies touch. Mine tingles in spite of my irritation. You hold my gaze. Measuringly first, then looking for reassurance. But you smile before my expression reveals my uncertainty. Your smile is warm, boyish, excited, even as you sit.
I settle back and stare ahead.
I wish I had worn beige (too commonplace).