I was on the scenes of a Woody Allen movie. Well, not actually, of course, but I was in a quaint little hotel in the charming city of Jaipur, attending an evening party thrown by the eccentric, world-travelled, hotel owners, in the courtyard, sitting on a table for two with a bottle of dry red wine and a friend for company. Add to that the fact that we were two girls shortly travelling to Europe together and you can see why Woody Allen would be rushing to make this the beginning of a movie.
There was some sort of Spanish music playing on the speakers that was drowning out the sounds of the dragonflies buzzing about. The lighting was soft enough to make everyone look attractive and hour was late enough to make any joke seem funny. There was a French bloke at the table diagonally opposite ours who’d been making eyes at my Canadian friend, Stella, for most of the night. As midnight approached, he finally got the nerve to make his way over to our table and chat her up. She’d had enough wine to be an easy target and twenty minutes into their conversation, gave me an apologetic smile, and asked if it was ok that she left to “go on a walk” with him. I smiled, waved them away, and let out a sigh as soon as they were out of earshot, which was pretty soon since the music was quite loud.
I looked around—couples everywhere. I was just about to finish my glass of wine and head back, but since this is a story, that’s exactly when a tall, broad, thick black-haired Indian guy came to my table and asked if he could join me for a drink. I said yes, but only if he didn’t try to sleep with me. He laughed and said he wouldn’t dream of it. And I felt slightly insulted and silly that I’d already got myself into a position where he wouldn’t dream of sleeping with me.
He turned out to be a second generation US-Indian from New york who owned a small bohemian art gallery in Brooklyn and was travelling India trying to understand his heritage. How clichéd, I chided him. He laughed and said, just as clichéd as a beautiful Indian girl travelling to Europe to get a sense of independence. Touché.
“Why a stop in Jaipur?”, he asked.
“To get the best of the contrast in culture between here and Europe”, I replied. “Have you really come to learn about your heritage in India or are you just looking to buy beautiful art for cheap here and then sell it at a profit to your hipster friends in New York?” The wine had made me brazen.
“Ouch! That question’s loaded with prejudice, the worst one being accusing me of having hipster friends”, he replied with a gorgeous smile. He drained his wine, poured us both some more, and continued “I was dating this girl back home for three years and everything was going great till it wasn’t. She eventually broke up with me because she said I didn’t know what I wanted in life because I didn’t know who I was. She was right. So here I am.”
Ten minutes into the conversation and we’re already discussing his ex-girlfriend, I thought. It’s fine, not like I wanted to marry the guy… Did I? No. I didn’t know him. I would not marry him. Not yet, at least. Glad I sorted that out in my head.
“Your turn”, he said.
“I told you something brimming with honesty, and now it’s your turn to do the same.”
“Fine”, I started. “I’m 27 and single because I haven’t found anyone remotely fascinating in the last six years and I’m going to Europe to be charmed by boys with an Indian fetish so I have some sort of assurance that some day, in the distant future, I will be enamoured by someone entirely fascinating and share a bed with him so I will no longer have to refrain from watching Doctor Who late at night for the fear of the weeping angles getting to me”, I paused for a breath. “Well, that’s not entirely true. I was for a brief period, sometime three years ago, crushing on a friend but I learned after ten years of knowing him that he’s a complete asshole. The rest of the ‘being fascinated and enamoured’ stuff I said is true.”
As I generally tend to do with people, I left him processing the excessive weirdness that had just exited my tongue. To his credit, he recovered faster than most though.
“That was honest. Slightly hard to follow, but honest.”
“Well, you asked for it.”
He smiled again, and I was aware of a stirring around my mid-riff.
“Listen though, I’m really not going to sleep with you. I don’t do that sort of thing. I’m still one of those few people who’s made sex to be some big deal in their heads, probably bigger than it is, and so I just can’t go around having one-night stands and things. I won’t.”
A tiny laugh escaped him and he continued smiling, “I promise you, I will not try to sleep with you tonight.”
“Good,” I replied, smiling back and feeling stupidly hurt again because he hadn’t tried harder to convince me to sleep with him. What was wrong with my brain?
We talked more. And since this is a story you can picture us talking late into the early hours of the morning, till we were the last people left in the courtyard and all the wine was over.
“What do we do now?” he asked, looking around at the empty yard. You could hear the dragonflies now. A few birds were even beginning to stir in the trees.
“Well,” I said, “if this was a movie, we’d hold hands and walk to a place where we could watch the sun rise at which point I’d turn to you, you’d look down at me, and we’d kiss.” I let the last word linger on my lips as I looked into his eyes. “But!”, I exclaimed, “it is not. So we shall instead walk to the pool, sit by it with our feet in the water, and continue talking .” With that, I got up and started walking towards the pool. He shook himself, possibly baffled at what had just happened, and followed after me.
We sat by the pool, and as we continued discussing everything from sliced bread and sport to Freud and Van Gogh, he slowly got up the courage to hold my hand, and I let him. The sun eventually stopped shirking its responsibilities and began to rise in the distant horizon. The sky flamed a gorgeous pink, the birds chirped as if their lives depended on it, and the veil of the night reluctantly began its retreat.
“Should we say goodbye now, before the spell is broken?”, I asked.
“What to do you mean?”, he asked in return.
“When the morning light fills up the sky, our spell will be broken. You will realise you have self discovery ahead of you and so will I. Our paths, as in all great stories, are star-crossed.”
“But in all great stories, everything eventually resolves itself and the boy gets the girl”, he said hopefully.
I smiled and turned to him, “What if George R.R. Martin wrote ours?”
“Then I would’ve been beheaded by now, and you’d be the captive of some bastard king. What if Woody Allen wrote ours?”, he asked.
“Then your ex-girlfriend would somehow end up here pregnant with another man’s baby, but claiming it to be yours, and I would secretly be a Hollywood actress in hiding after accidentally killing my director husband.” That got a laugh out of him.
“Whom would you want writing our story?”, he asked earnestly.
I noted the proper usage of “whom”, thought for a while, and replied, “My first instinct is to say Miss Austen, of course. But that would probably involve many years of being separated and wondering what could have been until eventually finding ourselves at an ideal later time. But I suppose that’s better than being written by one of those authors who wold have us go our separate paths and then meet years later to discover how perfectly matched we are but not be able to do anything about it since we were honourable people who didn’t want to hurt our spouses.”
“How about being written by an author who appreciated spontaneity, was a stickler for happy endings, and believed in romance?”
“In an ideal world, that would be perfect,” I sighed and rested my head upon his shoulder.
“Travel with me,” he said.
I raised my head, slightly annoyed at having to forgo comfort, “What?”
“Travel with me. Let’s forget about authors and write our own spontaneous story,” he said excitedly. “We could go anywhere you’d like, continue your trip to Europe, go on my holiday across India, or better yet, make a new plan and go somewhere entirely different.”
I laughed nervously, “We can’t do that. We barely know each other.”
“I’ve learned more about you in one night than I’ve learned about most of my friends in years”, came the retort.
“What about my friend? I can’t just leave her.”
“Oh, I’d forgotten about her”, he said but then continued with hope, “She could come with us, or I could come with you guys, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”
“That’s not what she signed up for. It wouldn’t be fair. Our author wrote us up as fair people.”
He sighed and looked into the water. I rested my head on his shoulder again wishing things were different, that they would miraculously work out. The sun was bright in the sky now and the hotel staff had begun their morning duties, someone was mowing the lawn, chairs were being pushed around, and there was generally noise around us. I tried to tune it out.
Failing to tune out, I heard someone running towards me. I turned around to find Stella coming over in a bathrobe, looking excited. I roused Krish and asked Stella what the matter was.
“I have to go back home, immediately”, she answered.
“What? Why?”, I asked.
“There’s an emergency ship sailing to Greenland in a week and they’ve asked if I want to be the first officer. I know you’ll hate me for this, and I am being the worst friend ever, but this is all I’ve ever wanted! I get to be a part of a crew that goes after a whaling ship. It’s the opportunity of a life time. You must hate me right now, but please understand, this is all I’ve ever wanted!”, she pleaded.
For a second I was dumbfounded. I walked over to her, embraced her, and said, “Sail well”. She cried and burst out into “thank you”s.
I looked up at the sky, thanked my author, and turned back to look at Krish with his gorgeous smile. I was ready to be fascinated.