Back in bed in the night and on the rushed Sunday after, I replay the whole evening on loop—the restless rickshaw ride, the unnerving struggle to find the right metro platform, the merciless two-minute wait for the train, the heedless texting to make the time bolt faster, the harrowing but sustaining ad-riven Spotify to cudgel the anticipation since leaving home, the distracted, surefooted wobble up to the café in the tall, black heels ill-fed on desire—and terribly wanting!, the Museum of Illusions nine o’ clock that made me wonder if this whole date thing is one fanciful deception, if the hope of having a good time is still as elusive as it’s ever been, if I should have come out at all, if I am perhaps a bit too early, if I should be pissed that he’s rather late, if I should be bothered I don’t care a smidge anyway, if all this could have been planned a little differently, but then when do plans ever manifest themselves the way they are conceived to be and don’t I feed off of all commotion regardless!
Cafe Out of The Box is out of tables and we being we—neither of us had the forethought to make a reservation. The live music serves well to keep my mood buoyant and much else repressed as I fetch in my bag for a cigarette to tame the rest. The guy on the table right in front of me helps me light one with his own and bolstered upon that little act of kindness, the evening flows on to the crooning of ‘likhe jo khatt tujhe vo teri yad mein…’ Right. Bring it on. Yeah, tonight I don’t worship no one, thank you. What good are lethal lyrics when you have stopped leaning into the rhythm or reading into the words because your head’s outgrown the noxious diet of nostalgia you had it feeding upon for the longest time? What good is a boat when you are already ashore and home? So, I will just take this next puff and snub it all out with the same measure of indifference, toodles!
The crowded open space roofed with strings of insistent bulbs and afloat with faces beaming with makeup in unceasing animation over drinks and smokes, the guitar cutting through the pleasant, busy air, the singer irreducibly buzzed on old Bollywood songs, the taste of menthol in my throat and the rush of nicotine in my head as I snapped at myself for not having brought the regulars, the inconclusive struggle to get the string of my mask off the large silver hoop of my earring that had made itself stubbornly comfortable in my knots and proved more professional than them (or even me) at the art of not letting go, the misaligned seating inside where somehow the music pierced pointier than outside where it was being played…all is afoot like clockwork when he walks in with his bald humility, an eager smile, a hasty hug, and of course, a guitar. Right away, we leave the place.
He suggests we try The Chai Story right across the street but since I have already dismissed that immeasurably sad idea in my head moments earlier, we keep walking. Down the main road and the crossing, he sights Route 99 and since by this point I have iteratively asserted I am superfluously cool with anything, we head upstairs. Wholesome but indoors seating which I never prefer and almost never pick but here we are and I bolt into the restroom first thing after we have settled on a corner, and stare at myself three ways in the mirror for four justified minutes. If it is any reassurance, I am leaving the city tomorrow. This is innocuous.
When I am back, I order a Kingfisher Ultra Wheat and he gets himself a Red Bull. And how. Isn’t he ruthless! Doesn’t spare no one that endearing demeanor of his. Okay. guard down. This is going to be an amusing evening.
What do you do?
I flounder, I want to say, but not wanting to drop the warnings too soon, I attempt a meek reply, I scribble. Sometimes. Yes, I am an engineer. No, not IT. Manufacturing and Automation. Frequently manufacture evidence of intellect when summoned and have survived on autopilot mode ever since. Loiter easy. Mind, soul, and sometimes body also. But hey look, I have been listening to you speak to me and yes you are looking but can you see? I haven’t drifted once. Who are you?
He catches the wisp of keen pride in my quick answer. He points it out.
So you see through everything, don’t you? And then you don’t leave things unsaid. Tell me, at what point do you begin to hold back? And what are the chances we’ll ever get there?
I chuckle. He chuckles. We chuckle. The indoors seem so much less daunting and more liberating than I feared. Our faces don’t betray the luxurious ease we are inadvertently slipping into. The loud lamp right overhead doesn’t allow them to.
Once the preliminaries are out of the way, I am burning to announce: and now, the moment of truth. Lay down your cards. Show me what you got. Why this. Why here. Why me.
But his easy candour and deadly liveliness catch me off guard. Very outgoing. I almost feel shy. Do I open up more? Ugh forget it—you win, I am folding already.
We talk some more when he quips: ‘figure out he toh karna hai. Puri life padhi hai figure out karne ke liye.’ And snap! First flashback of the evening. ‘You don’t have to figure out your entire rest of the life tonight.’ So I tell him that I have known that. But then there had also been: ‘You seem like your seat could be on fire and you won’t budge one bit.’ I don’t tell him that. No, I am worse. I don’t get off of the seat, I run—along with it— and every time, neither attempting to douse the fire nor waiting to find out what’s left once it has had its fill.
He tells me how he ventured into music upon a whim and an awareness both more ethereal than the other.
So you are spontaneous. Have you kicked away something good and blooming for want of a new, uncertain pile of promises that ultimately never deliver on themselves? No, you must be wise too.
He says he read me before coming out to see me tonight. He says he liked the fluidity.
Glad. I seldom can apprehend the velocity myself to be able to guard the flow. Bad at math.
But it makes me vulnerable, doesn’t it? Your knowing how I think or feel before I have had the chance to acquaint you myself with it or me or both. But then why did I? What would a knock on the door matter to a building whose windows stay open 24/7 to sun and storm? But then, exactly what makes this scary: right now it does. Barge in already. Take what’s yours. Anything less would be criminal.
He leans in to kiss me. There’s a spark. In my eyes, he says.
Ah! but do you see one between us across this table? Or have I already pulled the plug?
So, whom do you like to listen to?
Dylan for his writing, for his twisted, eerie way of thinking and seeing things the way only he does. AR Rahman for the soul in his music.
I love Alex Turner, I reply.
For both, I want to add, but hold back.
And have you heard Damien Rice? And—and these Indian Hindi rock bands? The Local Train? Naalayak? Swastik? Silk route? Of course, you have. But tell me anyway, I want to know you better. But can I? The pints and the smokes have taken over. Pummeled already, where’s the bell? Fuck lucidity and kindness, hello stiff and absurd contempt of everything. Welcome to this new zone. Prepare for a complete swallow ahead. Ah! so, where were we? Oh yes, have you? Haven’t you? Never mind.
No, wait—call out to me. And call this out, please? I resent doing this and being this. I do it and I am it anyway. But I am more too. So will you be louder then? Anchor me.
Snapping me out of my conflict diarrhoea, he asks first. Why Bumble. Oh, brilliant. We are on the same page then. We kiss some more. And more conscientiously than ever.
Then inside the cab, like a dam bursts open within me. Unbidden. God, I love you for all your candour, for your honesty, for your guts, for your conviction, for your regard and also for your utter lack of it when befitting, for your conduct at once disarming and unforbidding, for your effortless charm, for your unreasonable abandon, for your ability to create joy out of thin air. I love you for all this and more but I still need these ‘fors’ to supplement my love for you for it can’t stand on its own for I have loved before rejecting any kind of stilts to hold it up but lost for both it and I have fallen rough and bare on our faces and are damaged enough to be capable of a singular devotion to a human anymore without the conditional ‘ifs’ and ‘fors’ and ‘becauses’ and ‘sinces’ but you uninhibit me dammit. And despite it all too.
Who are you? A lover? A lamppost? My redemption?
This morning, I wake up humming his song, the sound of his voice in my head. Can’t get it out easy. So I deploy the oldest trick in the book there is to wring it all out of me via the only channel I know.
I write him out on to paper and crumple it away across the room. Wish me luck.
Well, until we meet again, that is. Wink.