His name on my phone screen.
There must be 651 species of butterflies in Nepal and all of them come to roost in my tummy.
He wants my class notes. He wants… want… I want him.
“Hi. Ke Cha?”
“Good, good. What were you doing?”
[I was thinking of you.]
“Watering my poppies, and…”
“Listen, do you want to go out with me?”
[Yes, yes, I will follow you to the end of the world.]
“What was that?”
“A movie? Friday night?”
[A movie, a movie!]
“Yes, I suppose.”
[Date, I know he meant to say “It’s a date, then.”]
* * *
But I need to call Trishna first.
“Will you mind if we cancel our Friday plans?”
“Of course, and terribly. I had to beg to be let off work, and I just know I will never be able to do that again. Why do you want to cancel, anyway?”
“Asked me out…”
“How long has this been going on? And why wasn’t I told of it?”
“I called you as soon as he put down the phone.”
“Lucky girl. All right, we will meet some other day, then. But you owe me one!”
“Yes, I know.”
“My God. You can’t keep the happiness out of your voice.”
“You are smiling, aren’t you?”
“That duffer, asking you out two years too late.”
“No, that’s fine…”
“Yes, go on, defend him some more. And by that way, what are you going to do about your interview?”
“But you wanted this so bad!”
“Not as bad as him.”
“I give up.”
“That is the difference between you and me.”
* * *
I am happy merely at the thought of him.
If he were a little less attractive, I would be a lot happier.
There is this thing he does with his eyes — with his eyebrows, in fact. If his heart disapproves, he will never speak out. Instead his eyebrows will knit themselves together, very very slightly. Then this miniscule furrow appears between his brows. I want to reach out and smoothen it so it never reappears. Of course I never do it. One time, we were partnered for a dance, and there was one step I always bungled up. I saw his brow furrowing deeper and deeper, making me nervous and then upset and then so weepy that I quit the event. I haven’t danced ever since. I have forgotten to.
But I have not forgotten to sparkle when he is near me.
I request Lilac Consultancies for a postponement of the interview, and they refuse. I do not care, though.
You could say this is my dream job. The written interview was really tough, and from sixty we were shortlisted to four. Instinct tells me that this is mine, mine. But then, he is my dream man, too. I would forgo a hundred interviews for hundred minutes with him. Hyperbole for you, reality to me.
The interview is in the afternoon, so theoretically I could attend it and then head out for the movie. But what if he calls me in the midst? What if he wants to eat out before the movie? What if the interviewers take too long and I become late and he gets annoyed? And I need to get ready, don’t I? That reminds me, I must buy clothes, something shiny and clingy and absolutely fabulous. I do not have a single decent dress.
“Aama, can I ask you for something?”
“What is it, Nani?”
The words jumble up inside me, and then pour out in a rush, “Iwanttomakeadressoutofyourdhakasari.”
She is not exactly happy about it, I know. Her wayward daughter wants something girlish, and that girlish thing has to be her precious heirloom. But she lets me have it. Mothers always do, at the end. So I take a half day off to go visit this glitzy place, where the person in charge measures me to the last inch, and promises to snip the sari into something extraordinary.
Four days pass, and I think of the dress about a hundred times each day. When I finally go into the store, I close my eyes tight in case it is not what I dreamt of. I touch the neckline, a daring V, just the way I asked for. I slide my hands over the piping on the sides, the puffed sleeve, the hem. The hem is wrong, I can feel it. And then I open my eyes, and it is there before me, glorious and feminine and perfect, except for the hem, which is shorter than I wanted. The bearded designer, who also seems to be the proprietor and the tailor, assures me that the dress is exactly as long as it should be. I come home and try it on and twirl around just as Aama comes in. Thankfully she makes no comment on my giddy gesture. “Never knew it could be so beautiful,” is all she says.
And do you know why I am fixated on that particular sari? Because when we once met at a wedding, he gazed for a long time at the bold prints on Aama’s sari, and then turned to me and asked, “What is that stuff? Quite exotic.”
I am not obsessed. I am just in love. There is not much difference between the two, though.
* * *
Suddenly, his name on my phone screen.
May he not cancel, God, may he not cancel our plans now. I will cry.
The butterflies in my tummy now equal all the species in the world.
I did not hear his bike. I look down from the window, and see that he has brought his dad’s car. A shiny orange, my favorite color, my lucky shade. I find my hands reaching for the hem of the dress, pull them away forcefully, and make my way downstairs. Aama waves me goodbye, and I do not remember if I wave back, because I am already looking at him — his ruffled hair and the mole above his lips, and his perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth. He is smiling at me, and his smile reaches out to me and hypnotizes me and I do not even realize he has opened the door.
I slide into the back seat, still in a trance, and then I see them – the two girls. A random guy whom I have seen in Nawang’s photos grins at me from the front seat. I feel too stupid to smile back. So Nawang meant we were going out to watch a movie, not going out with each other. He was not asking me out, he was just asking a question.
Idiot. Dunce. Fool. The dullard who did not listen to our English teacher explaining the difference between going out and going out with.
But the bigger fool is me, who noted it down and learnt it by heart.
* * * * * *