A story about a chance meeting between two stangers ...
“You seem to be new around here”.
He turns to look at the source of the voice. ‘Stunning!’ is the first word that comes to his mind. A delicate nose in an oval face, and sparkles in her eyes like constellations. Face framed by luxurious cascades of dark hair shining bronze in the light. A full mouth curved in a coy, inviting smile. They are sitting next to each other at the hotel bar.
“Never seen you here before”, she continues by way of explanation, as he continues to gaze at her.
“Yes” he says hesitantly, looking away, dazzled a bit by her brilliance. “I’m here on business, I am not from this city”.
“Did you see any of the sights, this is a beautiful city, you know”.
“No, been too busy”.
“How about a sight-seeing tour tomorrow. If there’s even a pillar worth seeing, I’d know all about it”.
“I’m leaving tomorrow”, he says flatly.
“How about a night tour then?” she leans closer to him and her voice drops. He turns again to meet her gaze. It’s like a mocking searchlight, daring him to refuse.
“I imagine that would be more expensive”, gazing right back at her, meeting her dare.
“Yes, but so much more exciting.” She has added naughtiness to the cocktail of her gaze. He finds the combination irresistible.
“Yes, I can imagine.” His smile finally breaks through, dimples appearing on his cheeks like warning headlights. “The name is Ranjeet, shall I buy you a drink?”
“Me, Maya” she says, eying his dimples. “Thank you, but I don’t drink on the job.”
“How about a soft-drink then?” He notices that his heartbeat has risen perceptibly.
“Orange juice, please” she says, turning towards the barman, who produces one as if on cue.
“What a shame you are leaving tomorrow, we could have had such fun. I know secrets about this city that even the locals don’t know about.” She has leaned closer to him, and somehow he finds her perfume, a heady floral scent, more intoxicating than the vodka he has been drinking.
“I’m sure you have more secrets to reveal than the city”. His smile is impish and wicked at the same time, dimples dancing on the fringes.
The look she gives him then is dark and indecipherable. “Come on then, what are we waiting for, escort me to your palace. I am at your bidding for an hour.” She slides off the barstool and links her arm in his.
When they reach his room, she kicks off her shoes, puts her purse down and proceeds towards the bed. He turns to the mini-bar to fix himself another drink, rummaging for the ice and the Coke. When he turns towards the bed, she has already taken off her clothes and is getting under the covers. He puts his drink down, takes his shirt off and gets into bed beside her.
She reaches across and with her open palm starts caressing his bare chest. Little currents of electricity ripple across his skin. His hand finds her moving hand, closes in on it and arrests its motion.
“How many clients do you get on a night?” He props his head up with his other hand and asks looking down at her lying back on the pillow, her hair soft and radiant around her face like a dark cloud.
“Hmmm… lemme see, sometimes two, sometimes even three,” she says smiling up at him.
“So if I paid you three times as much, would you stay the whole night?”
“Ah, that hungry, eh?” A sly look comes into her eyes. “Sure, why not?”
For a long moment he gazes into her eyes and then asks her softly, “Can you feel my heart beat under your hand?”
The hard lines on her face blur and a certain softness waits wanting to break through like as if her face has gone into soft focus. The sly glint vanishes and the glimmer of a spark starts up in her eyes.
“And now with your hand on my heart, can you tell me Maya, if you have ever made love?”
She gazes back at him searching his eyes for clues.
“Yes……, a long time ago”, her voice has a slight edge of pain and shadows gather around the edges of her eyes.
“Are you willing tonight to stop being a call-girl and be a woman?”
The shadows crowd closer but the sparks put up a fight. A heroic fight, for they crackle and blaze until she calls a truce by closing her eyes.
He continues to gaze at her closed lids, his hand tightening over hers on his pounding chest. When she opens her eyes again, the shadows are gone, but the sparks are clouded by a dull patina of doubt.
“All you have to do is clothe your body and bare your soul”, he says gently. “You can start by telling me your real name”.
“Sheetal”, he repeats looking away, out of the window into the distance. “Shee…tal” he says again slowly, as if he was turning a crystal in his hand and was watching fascinated at the light glinting off its various facets.
“Sheetal, pleased to meet you ma’am” he says with a slight bow to his head and smiling at her, his dimples appearing suddenly. Disarming her so completely that her defenses melt like chocolate on a hot tongue.
“And my twin brother was Shaan. I used to call him Shaitaan and he called me She-devil”. Her eyes twinkling at the memory.
“And where is he now?”
“He is dead”, she says with some difficulty, her eyes unfocussing and turning inward to look at some pain that has suddenly emerged.
He takes his head off his palm and nestles it in the nook of her neck, his mouth touching her bare shoulder, kissing it gently. Her smell hits his senses more powerfully than her perfume, a strong earthy fragrance tinged with the oddest whiff of a bubbly, effervescent child-smell. He takes his hand off hers and places it on her bare stomach and leaves it there, like a lover would or a husband, after lovemaking.
After a while, she takes her free hand off his chest and runs her fingers through his hair. “Your shampoo smells divine, which one is it?”
He throws his head back and laughs, a genuinely amused laugh.
“What?” she is perplexed.
“Oh nothing, just thought of something. But seriously, you’ve got such gorgeous hair, you should be a model for shampoos”.
“I used to be. You must have seen my hair lots of times in ads with little bits of my face. That’s how I started out. I was doing well too, lots of friends, money, fun. I even started getting movie offers. Then Shaan died suddenly……… in a fatal accident ……… and I changed.” She pauses, drawing in a deep breath, pain painting wet strokes across her eyes. “Like hell I changed, it was as if half of me had died, the good half. And the ‘she-devil’ then emerged and turned on herself. From then on it was a downward spiral…… into nothingness…… despair, which I have not been able to halt.”
“What about love, husband……?”
“He left too”, her voice cracks slightly.
He bends down to kiss her shoulder again gently.
After a long pause, she asks, her voice somewhat steady. “What about you Ranjeet, no wife?”
“What do you think?” he raises his head again, a smile in his eyes.
“Well, it’s hard to tell with Indian men, they wear no wedding rings…. you tell me”.
“I am married”, he says, eyes still smiling.
“And… you… are here… with me… tonight?” an eyebrow arched in question.
“She is dead too”, he says simply.
“Oh, I’m sorry”.
“No, don’t be, I am not. True love does not die, it lives on forever”. He leans back against the pillow. “Ours was not a marriage symbolized by a piece of official paper, or rites performed in front of people. She was my ‘ardhangini’ in the true sense of the term. I did not know where I ended and she began. She made me complete. Ours was a union that made even the gods jealous, that is why they took her first. Because she was an advanced soul, she already knew what I only realized later. That we are whole and complete in ourselves. I was to find out the hard way, after my life went to pieces, and blinded with grief and brokenhearted, I set about putting my life back together again. And the answers came one by one, it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.”
He pauses, navigating the labyrinth of his mind.
“And I still remember that morning, after a night of binge-drinking, I was sitting up in bed with a massive hangover, my head in my hands, looking down at the floor. The sunlight streaming in through the window and falling on the floor in big patches. I must have seen the sunlight falling like that so many times before. But that day it was like as if it wanted to tell me something. Suddenly, I was flooded with some emotion which felt like bliss. I felt light, my hangover gone, I got up and walked into the sunbeam. Then I felt her presence surrounding me, she was in the sunlight. That’s when the realization hit me that she had been with me all along, all the time, giving me the answers, guiding me. That is when I also realized that that had been the purpose of her life with me, to teach me to love. To open my heart to the possibilities that love brings, to its creativity, to its infinite tenderness. And the purpose of her physical parting had been to show me that love never dies and that all the answers lie within myself. And so, I am not sorry, I am grateful, fully and deeply grateful that she came into my life.”
They lie there for a long time, in the stillness, the echoes of the words they have spoken fading away into the night, and the silence beginning to take on the shape of a melody.
“Will you take me on a full city tour tomorrow?” He is looking at her, his lips unsmiling, but his eyes twinkling like naughty-schoolboy eyes.
“I thought you were leaving tomorrow”.
“I lied”. His smile coming on suddenly and his dimples the deepest she has so far seen. She looks at them as if she could lose herself in their depths, desire coming unbidden into her eyes.
His kiss is sudden and totally unexpected. It is not a hungry kiss nor is it a gentle one. It is like the joyous exultation of a river – when at the end of a long and hard summer, the rain clouds finally break free and flood the earth – as it leaps and gurgles over hills and plains, carrying her along. With no desire but to be itself and exult in its being. Their fingers, limbs, bodies finding each other, merging, in bliss.
Their joy laughing at their pain which retreats like a defeated soldier into the night.