Of course I showed up the next day. I did have a feeling that she was mocking me when she said she’d recognize me. But I also had a feeling that she did not lie. I believed she never bothered to lie. Not to me. Not to anyone, for anything. She didn’t seem to belong to the type who would always tell the truth because they were ready to face the consequences. She belonged to the type who always told the truth because they didn’t care what the consequences were.
It was hardly five thirty in the evening when I reached Opium. I was behaving like a teenager, and I knew it. Somehow it didn’t feel bad. She had given me a reason to laugh at myself, and I liked that. I made a mental bet with myself as I was walking in. If I have to wait for less than an hour, I won’t get drunk. If I have to wait for more than one hour, then I’d get drunk before she arrives. We’ll see how it goes then. I answered the smile from the familiar security guy and walked in, and stopped dead. She was at her chair, looking my way. She smiled a greeting and beckoned when she saw me come in.She looked gorgeous in a black knee length dress that left her shoulders bare.
I was so… overwhelmed, that I tried to do a lot of things at once : smile back, say hi, wave back, walk forward. Of course, I walked into a chair and overturned it. I was mortified. Of all the women in the world, this is the one I want to look smart to, and this happens to me even before I smell alcohol. I straightened the chair and walked over. She was still looking straight at me, her smile hadn’t changed to show any signs of mockery at my stupidity. It still held a welcome.
“Hello there, somebody.” She said as I sat down.
“Hi,” I smiled back weakly as I sat down, “sorry about that mess.”
“You’re early.” She wasn’t going to discuss it. “How come?”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t taking any chances.”
“Chances of what?”
“Of you having to wait.”
The smile was gone in a flash.
“Why is that important?”
“It doesn’t have to be important, it is considered decent.”
“As decent as your first words to a girl being that you want her?”
“I don’t lie.”
She set down her glass on the table and looked long and hard at me. I thought she was going to say something, but she didn’t. She just stared. Her face was cold and remote, with just a touch of anger. I held her stare, with pleasure. This seemed to annoy her even more.
“Well, that’s definitely decent.” She finally said and looked away, after what must have been more than a minute.
Our drinks arrived, along with some food. She had remembered my drink. She was still not speaking to me, so I sipped the liquid gold in silence. Halfway through the glass, I decided to break the silence.
“How come you were here so early?”
“I decided to see how soon you’d show up.” The smile was back, cool, unruffled, naughty.
“You disappointed me.”
“Please, they open the doors at five.”
“I know, somebody, I was here at five today. You misunderstand me. I thought you’d play hard to get.”
“What on earth for??”
“Nothing. So, did you think of a name for me?”
“I tried. Nothing seemed to fit. I guess I’ll have to call you Tuhina, Tuhina.”
“Fair enough.” She said. “Speaking of names, yours is nice.”
She saw the obvious question on my face and volunteered, “The barman called you by name yesterday.”
“Oh.” Of course.
“Lets go” She said, and stood up.
I finished my drink, and silently followed her out. She led me to, of course, a shiny red Honda Jazz. I got in the passenger seat, and buckled up. Something told me she would ask me if I didn’t. She drove carefully within the crowded streets of Sector V. Five minutes and we reached the bridge that marked the beginning of New Town, and she let the car run. The needle reached a hundred and twenty within a minute and stayed there. Interesting, I thought. I glanced sideways, without making it too obvious. She sat straight in the driver’s seat, gripping the steering-wheel with straight, outstretched hands, just like a race car driver. She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, and a ghost of a smile touched her lips, almost as she wanted me to say something. Her eyes never wavered from the road. She didn’t speak a word. Neither did I. I just smiled back and turned back to look at the road. When I glanced at her again, she wasn’t smiling. She seemed angry about something. We reached the end of the New Town highway, crossed the flyover at Haldirams, did a 180, and hurtled down VIP Road. Hundred again, although she had to slow down frequently now because of the bus stops every now and then. I could sense she was disturbed or preoccupied, but I had no idea why. We reached Chingrighata, and she turned left and headed for new town again. Almost a rough square. This time, however, she seemed reckless, and oblivious to the traffic on the road. We sped past cars and bikes with inches to spare, she didn’t seem to notice. We crossed the flyover off the Wipro campus at the same blazing speed continued to the New Town Highway again. A couple of minutes later, she abruptly swung the car into a side road and screeched to a halt.
She looked furious. It was a sight to behold. She actually looked like she would breathe fire any moment. She punched the steering, muttered something that sounded like “OK, that’s it.” and turned to face me. Her eyes were more angry than anything I had ever seen. For a moment I thought she was going to spring at my throat and strangle or bite me.
“Damn you!” She hissed.
“Do you want me to get out?”
“No! and damn you again.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Why don’t you lie?”
“Maybe I do.”
“No you don’t. I could see you were telling the truth. Don’t f**k around. Why?”
“I never see the point of it.”
She seemed to consider this for a moment, although she didn’t look any less angry.
“And why, O truthful one, didn’t you ask even once where we were going? Why didn’t you ask me to slow down?”
“I didn’t need to.”
“Really?” She was sarcastic now, “So you knew we were just gonna go round in circles?”
“No. I mean I didn’t need to know where we were going. I was happy to go.”
“What the F**K is your problem?”
I didn’t try to diagnose my problem or answer her, I just stared. She, apparently, wasn’t finished.
“Why the hell are you so nice? Why can’t you say a single word that would show me you are just one of those disgusting males? why don’t you ever try to peek inside my dress or something? why do you always know what not to say to me? I want you to stop being so correct, so calm, so good, so trusting, so honest. I don’t like it, I don’t want it, I don’t believe it. Just stop being so f**king nice to me!!”
“I’ll leave you alone then.” I said and released the seat-belt, about to open the door.
“You take one step out of this car mister, and I swear I’m going to run you over, twice, for good measure.”
She actually would, I realized in no small amazement.
“Fine.’ I said, removing my hand from the door handle. “What do you want?”
She sat there for a moment, considering this. She was still angry. She appeared to be thinking something over. Whatever it was, it seemed to calm her down. Over the next couple of minutes, the angry set of her shoulders relaxed, her breathing returned to normal, the eyebrows returned to their normal position. After what seemed a long time, she turned to face me, and smiled. It was beautiful, like the sun bursting through after three days of rain.
She smiled a single word in response to my question. “You.”
She started the car with fluid movements of her hands and feet, without looking away from me.
Her smile then turned from bright and pleased to her usual mischievous, and she added two more words, playfully, as she looked ahead, “For now.”