I pulled the plastic chair worn out from its original blue gently like Jack Dawson offers for Rose in Titanic. My newfound acquaintance sat in somber silence; chin resting on her palms. Her silver bangles sparkled in an eternal light. A ruby studded gold ring on her left index proclaimed pride and prosperity. I doubted if she was resting her chins on her palms to display her ornaments. The blue flowered silk saaree was a complete combination to her navy blouse which was visible on her left.
I had driven for seven hours with only a cup of tea. It had been a lazy lonely drive listening to a concoction of latest songs from Ugyen panday, Udit Narayan and The Eagles. I had halted for my lunch at the Himalaya Restaurant was brimming with customers from commuters who either travelled towards Hashimara or Rangia. It was a noisy, damp and crowded ramshackle thatch. As I squeezed through the potbellied satiated men chewing on a tooth pick I hungrily drew in relishing reek of fish curry and sweats. A quick glance across the room provided me no space to sit under a fan. Everyone was squabbling over their meals like they were in an eating challenge. At a far corner a chair was empty. Against the wall on the other side I saw a woman watching the rest of us. My negative 3.5 spectacles were poor in a room half lit to conclude any clear caricature of the woman in blue.
‘Who would not like to dine with a beautiful woman in a secluded corner of a half lit restaurant?’ I mused with a satisfaction as I sat even without gesturing to take it. I should have congratulated myself for the courage. It was a rare coincidence to be sitting with an Indian beauty like on a perfect date. A queasy feeling suffused over me as I looked at her. She was staring at me with an inviting smile. There I was, sitting with a woman who could have outmatched any Indian film celebrity. Suddenly speechless, my time seem to have frozen. I was longing to sit there forever. I longed to start a conversation and wet my lips to ready several times. Her gaze murdered every ounce of masculine rawness to woo her into life. I closed my eyes, inhaled the damp air discreetly lest she felt intimidated.
Her lemonade rested under her palms; the bubbles waiting to explode out of the glass. With my sparse Hindi I asked, “You are alone here?” She nodded shyly, still smiling.
“Where are you travelling to?” I continued, wanting to hear her say something. I told her I was heading to Rangia, and that I was alone. I felt like a politician playing a game of words. I knew my intention was asking her to join my ride.
“No, I shall sit here. ‘I’ m waiting for my boyfriend.” I assumed she would answer that. I thought she was born to smile, for she was smiling ceaselessly.
I hailed the waiter and ordered for chicken rice and a Lassi.
“Aren’t you gonna eat something?” I entreated as if she was an old friend. I knew I would not dare lift my brows on a planned date. She shook her head ear to ear, flailing her tended bundle of hair. The rotating fan from the far corner blew occasionally over our heads. Her creamy Garniered hair colour wafted of sumptuous Faima di Wells soap; and as she sipped lemonade through the straw I felt the sweet-sourness wash my palate. Her lips were painted perfect pink, and a dash of makeups on her rosy cheek and blue eyes was a mark of an excellent makeup artist.
My lunch landed before me, steaming strongly of Sambar. Her gaze invited me for a question again. “Where are you from?” I anticipated she would say she was from Bollywood. I imagined sitting with her in the apple orchard at my village.
“I am from Bombay. I am on a world tour of my own.” That was a perfect answer.
“Bus is about to leave.” I cautioned intent on knowing how she travelled. An expression of complete indifference was an indicatory of her travels at her own convenience. Like a clairvoyant sage I saw a glint of hope for a ride together for rest of my journey. I was travelling alone and I had all the time to spend. It is timeless for a man when a beautiful woman offers her time into a momentary conversation.
My plate of rice and cup of sambar chicken seem to last a century; otherwise, back at home my wife jeered how like a hungry panther I gobbled in minutes.
“The ruby is nice.” It was almost a whisper. I dared to complement on her ring.
“Oh! This?” Her reply sang into my sinews. I wanted to touch it. It did not matter if there were thousand people around us. An excuse a man makes to touch a woman may be an intentional accident or a planned pretext of the highest caliber, that not even a seasoned CIA agent can make an evidential conclusion.
In what was more like a slow motion gesture, I extended my hand to receive her tender fingers. She was not reluctant to withdraw like I assumed. I held her warm delicate hands in mine. A cataclysmic unbridled joy rattled through my veins almost smothering me.
“That is a pretty etchings you have on the ring.” I gasped! She nodded smiling even wider.
“Just right for these slender fingers.” I gasped again, rolling her baby hands in mine.
“Thank you, sir.” I reluctantly, yet gently, freed her.
My plate was empty. The cup had one lone bone. I had not even asked for my usual second serving. I was not sure if I have had my fill for the day. Strangely, her lemonade was still bubbling before her.
I hailed the waiter for the cash memo, gesturing for both of us. I did not realize that the waiter did not bother to look at her when he served me. When he brought the memo, I saw him ignoring the presence of the woman at my table.
“Was she their special guest? Had she reserved the table for herself? Why didn’t anyone say anything all those time?” I felt disillusioned.
The cash memo reflected my own expenses of 120 Rs. I stamped 200 Rs on the table and jostled the chair away and turned round to a surprising spectacle. If the woman was their own guest, I saw I was the only customer at the table. “When have they gone” I fumed irascibly. The waiters looked at me, relieved that I was ready to leave. I felt embarrassed.
As I walked out of the Himalayan Restaurant, I turned and glanced at the table one last time to bid good bye to my mesmerizing friend, a calendar poster of Katrina Kaif dangling in the hazy corner to dangle until its blues and ruby gold fades.
As I left Bongaigoan towards Rangia, I felt like I needed another lunch in another motel on the way again.