I could not help stealing long glances over at her, hunched over my diary in the small coffee shop that had become my haven in this little lost town. For a very weird reason I was trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of buffet – the one with the food, not the one with the smacks(just thought I’d clarify), so there I was struggling with buff which rhymes with rough –ay and buff that rhymes with woof-ay when in she walked, well in truth she struggled a fair bit with her umbrella right at the door before she stepped in.
That is what caught my attention to begin with- for she carried an umbrella just like mine, the rainbow umbrellas as they were called were quite popular in this part of the world( well I’d let you figure out why they were called Rainbow umbrellas).
The weather over here had been very fickle, it would be sunny all day and then in another moment it would start raining, it was much simpler to carry an umbrella wherever you went. When it did not rain people would use them as a walking stick to help with the gradient. Every eating place in the city had a tall basket kinda thing in which people tossed in their umbrellas as they came in, she put hers in right next to mine.
So there she was- framed in the doorway, her hair hung out behind her being buffeted around by the wind, she wore a white top that seemed to curve around her almost casually, as if the perfect fit was solely by chance and had been completely unintended, the skirt ended a couple of inches above her knee. She wore no jewellery.
Before I knew it I was writing her description into my book. She was significant in some manner, in what way-I did not know? There were no moles, no birthmarks, no scars, no pimples or the evidence of any ever existing, her fair skin was unblemished, the lips were neither too big – you know the kind when you already have bee-stung lips and then a bee actually stings you so that they grow to twice the size, and neither were they too narrow- they were perfect in proportion just like the rest of her– I somehow stopped my inappropriate train of thought. Yet I could not help looking at her every few seconds. She held her mug of coffee in her hand and I could almost feel the sensual pleasure that she was experiencing merely by holding that cup, the way her fingers came through the mug handle and wrapped around it, wisps of steam rose from the mug and disintegrated just before it could strike her face. She ran a hand through her hair pushing them back only for them to fall stubbornly back in place a second later, she had the grace of a figure skater- she made the mere act of pushing her hair back seem like a 10 point act.
I had to get out of there, I picked up my diary flung it into my bag, grabbed my camera and walked over to the counter to settle my bill. I casually glanced at her again as I fished for 100 bucks in my wallet, she was staring right at me. She moved her eyes over to the guy behind the counter and then to other people in the shop as if I had been a part of a careless scrutiny of her surroundings and nothing else. But something about her look disturbed me, I looked over at her again but she was looking out of the front window now.
I was very conscious of all my movements as I picked up my umbrella from the basket, my mind had to fall back on every bit of its cognizance to stop me from looking at her. the outline of her shoulders stood at the edge of my vision as I reached for the door, the line of her top as it snaked around her neck, I had no idea what I would do if I stayed here for another second. The few drops of rain helped me get back to reality, what had I been thinking? That she would stop me in the doorway and ask me for my number? I could not help scoffing at myself as I started walking the short distance from the coffee house to my hotel room.
“Umm Excuse me.” She had to say those words a few more times before I realized that they were addressed to me.
I almost gasped as I turned around. Was there really a God out there?
“I think that’s my umbrella you’ve got.” I barely registered her words as she gestured to the thing in my hand. “You see, they are practically the same umbrella but yours has a straight handle while mine has a curved one.”
I finally caught on. “I’m so sorry” I muttered unintelligibly, “I guess my mind was elsewhere.”
“Not a problem.” She stretched out her hands, one held out my umbrella while the other waited for me to return hers, remarkably, if you took the umbrella out of the picture she looked as if she was asking for a hug, stupid umbrella. Our fingers brushed slightly as we exchanged them and for a moment it felt as if we were holding both hands- again if you took the umbrellas out of the picture- damn the umbrella.
“Well. Thanks.” She said, and started to walk away.
I stood rooted to the spot as if all awareness had slowly seeped out of my body, as if my capacity to think had been taken away as our fingers had touched. She stopped and turned, “umm can you help me with another thing please?” She said.
“Sure.” I said slowly.
“Actually I just got into town a short while back, could you please direct me to a pharmacist nearby? I have a brain splitting headache.” She gestured back to the coffee shop we had both stepped out of, “I thought a cup of coffee would help, but well, it hasn’t.”
My eyes followed every movement of her body; “Sure” I said again, “There is one about 100 metres down this road.” I paused, “I’m walking in the same direction, I can walk you if you want.” Sometimes, just sometimes, I surprise myself- this was one of those times.
She gave me an appraising look as if assessing how much of a flight risk I actually was, “That’ll be great.” She said finally.
“How long have you been here?” she asked me after a while, “You are definitely not from around this area, where are you from?”
I nearly stepped into a puddle as I tried to put words together to answer her, it felt as if the mind knew what the answer was, but the words kept moving around and I could not form any intelligent sentences, so just when I was about to step into 6 inches of freezing water her hand reached out to grab my elbow, “Careful over there.”
I thanked her with a smile. “No, I’m not from around here. I’m from Delhi, been here for a couple of weeks.” She just kept looking at me as if waiting for more. “I’m taking a break between jobs, I quit one a little while back, and I’m giving myself a little time to relax before I start somewhere else, see a few places, and click a few photographs.”
She muttered something that was too low to make out.
“What about you?” This was starting to feel more and more normal with every passing second.
“Oh, I really don’t have anything as interesting as that to tell you.” she said, “I’m only here for a couple of days, a mini-vacation and then I’d go back to my same old job on Monday”
She was an intriguing person; she both stood out from everything around her yet at the same time seemed to be as integral a part of the landscape as the mountains in the distance.
“Maybe we can catch up for a drink later tonight.” I said as I dropped her in front of the pharmacy.
“I’d like that.” I quickly gave her the directions to a popular Tibetan place nearby, worried all the while that she might hear the loud thudding noise my heart seemed to make.
I lay back in my bed a while later staring at the ceiling. It was one of the cheaper hotels in the city; if you are planning on staying indefinitely you take special care to scrounge wherever you can. I could not begin to imagine why that woman had affected me the way she had, I could still feel her hands on my elbow, as If a part of her- the faintest of essences had wrapped around while she stopped me from falling. There was something different about her, something in her eyes; it felt as if I had never seen an eye twinkle in my life until I had seen her eyes.
Hours later we sat opposite each other at the back of the restaurant. The city was full of small narrow restaurants, there were seldom more than 5 tables in a place and they stretched in wards rather than along the road.
Nobody who saw us would’ve felt that we had known each other for only a few hours. She had changed into a jeans and a sweatshirt, again- nothing she wore tried to accentuate her curves, but neither could they camouflage what lay underneath. We talked of a hundred different things as we sat there; we talked through the courses, and before we knew it we were walking down the narrow roads into the night.
A couple of guys glanced at us as we walked past a brightly lit ice-cream shop. “Do you have a boyfriend? “ I finally asked her. I felt stupid for asking it, I had known her for like half a day and I had no business to know it, I silently cursed myself for acting like such a dork.
She didn’t seem to think so though, “no.” she answered, she looked sideways at me as we walked, “do you?”
I muffled a laugh, “No”. She looked sheepish but did not try to broach the topic again.
I showed her around the whole of the weekend, and when it was time for her to leave she decided to stay back for another couple of days. We ate all our meals together, she left her hotel room after a day and took a room right next to mine- apparently she did not mind the mildew one bit. It was a small three lane town, and we must have walked through the place at least a couple hundred times. The night before she was finally scheduled to leave for home she asked me to come along “You’ve been here for almost three weeks already. Don’t you think it is time to head back to the civilization?”
I told her I wanted to write, that this was the reason I had come here in the first place, no laptops, no mobile phones, no emails, just me and my journal, colouring pages.
“You could colour pages back in Delhi.”
“I could.” I muttered, “But I’ve been working on this story and I’m sure I’m very near the end.” I told her I’d leave for home as soon as I finished.
She kissed me at that instant. I was more shocked than pleased. Before I could start taking any sort of pleasure from it, before I could start thinking, before I could get past the amazing softness of her lips she broke contact. I had stood frozen all the while. She carefully curled her arms around my neck and pulled me close, the fact that I knew what was coming did not do anything to prepare me for what was coming, her lips made contact with mine for a second time. She seemed almost indifferent to the fact that I was frozen still; she alternated between my lower and upper lips. She broke apart for a second time and looked into my eyes, less than an inch of air stood between us and she waited for me to get a bearing of myself, I could feel her slightly hastened breathes, I could feel the warmth that exuded from her and seeped into my cold body. A faint smile played across her face, “Do not be afraid” she whispered. I finally made the journey across the abyss to her waiting lips. We kissed in that alley for a while more before ducking into our hotel rooms.
Later that night as she lay next to me she finally asked, “So you found the ending to your story?”
All that had happened in the last one hour had been a surprise. When I had set out for this place I hadn’t ever thought that something like this would happen, finding love in a strange land, I had read things like these before, even fantasized about it, but never in wildest dreams could I have put it together the way it played out.
“I think so.” I finally said.
“Then you’ll come back with me tomorrow?”
“Yes.” I felt her sigh with relief. What had she thought I’d say? “You know something Dipannita?” I said after what seemed like an hour, “I’ve never done anything like this in my life.” She started to smile.
She sat up on an elbow and gazed down on my face tracing a finger along my chin, “you know something Shruti. . . . ” I waited for her to finish, “there is always a first time.”