I parked my SUV below a rain tree. There were many in a row, a few of the delights that Bangalore has still to offer. It was quite harsh sunshine around but on this road a shaded peace prevailed. At 2:30, the traffic was sparse. I needed a space where no one would notice me or the passenger who was about to board. I had to wait for ten minutes before she appeared in my rear-view mirror.
Here she comes!
She was covering half of her face in a scarf, in typical Bangalore style. It might be the sun or her apprehension of being seen here boarding an SUV. She seemed lighter and shorter than her pictures on social media. ‘Actress, thinker and enjoyer of life’, her profile tag bragged. In old unbranded jeans and a striped, wrinkled Tee, she was an antithesis to my expectations.
She boarded and settled in with the alacrity of a cat. She sank a little into the seat, face down and hissed, “Drive away, my brother’s friend is there across the crossing.”
After a similar disaster with my ex-girlfriend, I had stopped seeking feminine company for the last decade. My stakes were not small either. I had found in the course of time that more people knew me because of my work and creative pursuits than I thought should. “I saw you in Garuda yesterday,” a site supervisor from the contractor would say. “Did you visit Rajrajeshwari temple last Sunday? I think I saw your car,” a peer will observe with a sly smile. I had no relatives in this city, but I had discovered that my wife’s friends and my neighbours possessed a equally uncanny knack of spotting me at all unlikely places!
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“If you are so scared, why did you call me here? You could have met me at any other place. At my age and position, I would avoid any scandal like plague and…” she had removed the scarf. Close up, her facial features would be a cameraman’s delight. I could now understand why she looked so different in her social pictures. Her other feminine charms were not that prominent under the loose tee.
“You look so much younger than your pictures!” She blushed, yet retorted, “I AM young!” It was my turn to get discomfited. “I didn’t mean that. To a man of 50, anyone would look younger!” I chuckled at my own joke. She laughed as well, the banter loosening up a tight conversation. “Thanks for asking to meet me. I could not have done that.” I feared rejection always, and advancing age was pushing me into the shell even further.
We were on the Outer Ring Road. The afternoon highway was relatively empty and soon I was touching 100 kmph.
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A free lunch?
“Where should we go?”
“You tell me.”
“I hardly socialise. I won’t know.”
“Let’s go to Watson Pub.”
“At this hour? Will it be open even?”
I was poor in social skills.
I send friend requests to so many women that Facebook or Instagram recommends. The acceptance rate of such requests was about 30%. Her profile was very interesting, as we seemed to have several common friends from theatre.
One chat had led to another and she had proposed to meet me, “I am curious to know you as a person. How are you so updated on recent trends despite being from another generation?”
My id hinted possibilities of carnal nature. Meanwhile, my ego was cajoled with the request of a much younger girl wishing to meet me. My super ego found opportunities of a short story from this rendezvous.
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And then the truth emerges
We ordered a beer each and a plate of cutlets. She didn’t sit on the chair on the other side, as one would expect a stranger to do. She sat next to me and her cold, glassy skin rubbed against mine as she ate. I could sense that she could avoid such touch, if she wanted.
We spoke about cinema, her passion, why she thought theatre was exploitative of younger actors and hinted about her parental unwillingness to let her pursue her acting dreams. “I need to walk out of my home and live alone. Can you help me?”
“Can you give me a loan of Rs 10,000? I need to pay up advance for a PG I have fixed.”
An evening of possibilities relegated to the discussions of commerce. I received a phone call just then, and agreed to rush back on an emergency. The girl beside me seeking unsolicited private loans was left very confused.