Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Update: Still Ill

The fever doesn't seem to quite go away. I feel much better - almost phenomenally so compared to when I was lying in bed flaming with a 102 F temperature. But I still cough when I talk, and my temperature still goes up a degree or two every evening. 


The Guy is much better, and my bosses have been kind, so I'm sitting at home and recovering and working the little I can until the weakness comes on. 


The Guy is here, for a spell. And I wish I could keep him at home a long, long time. I will hate him going away again, after having him all to myself for these days. 


But I have more than a week before he leaves, and I'm going to savour that. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Voices in My Head - 5

On Ex-Boyfriends and a Boy Who Was Just a Friend

Raghav had gone back, and I missed him. For the week that he had been in town, he had lifted my life out of the mundane into the special. I had someone to talk to, to go out with. I had a friend.
But now I was alone again, with nothing to look forward to after work. I was back to what seemed in bad moments like a pointless existence. I loved my work, but it wasn’t meaningful enough to be the purpose for my being. I craved excitement and romance. All I had were deadlines and lonely dinners in front of the TV (even more lonely than usual right now because Divya was on some project that required her to work unusual hours, from 1 p.m. to late at night, so that she was never home for dinner.)
Raghav used to laugh at my love for romance novels. I found that funny, because he was far more romantic a person than I was. He believed in love at first sight and all that jazz. I, on the other hand, read most of the romances thinking they were rather nonsense. Yet I read them because the idea of finding a soulmate seemed so full of hope.
But I wondered sometimes if the heroines in most of the books I read were actually happy afterwards. Wealth and sexual attraction never seemed like the lasting foundation of a happy marriage to me.
My mind went back again and again to Raghav’s declaration of love. I treasured the memory – I hoarded it and brought it out to caress when I was lonely. Raghav was my best friend in all the world – the one person I liked above all others. That he had given me the greatest compliment of all helped to shore up my self-esteem.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Busy

I seem to have so little time to do all the things I want to do. Blog more often, for one. Spend even more time at my job, because it continues to be so awesome and I'm like a lover in the early stage of the relationship when you can't get enough and only rarely feel vaguely resentful that the new love's keeping you away from everything else.  


The Guy is here for some time, and he's promptly fallen ill. I spent the last two days at his side, working from home while trying to take care of him, and the fever's still not going away. I have to go to work tomorrow, with a heavy heart. 


But the GuyMom's in town, and should be coming over to look at him. 


The Mom is here too, and has been cooking and helping me take care of the Guy so that I'm much less tired than I would otherwise be. (That's still pretty much.)


We had one great day together, the Guy and the Mom and I. We went to Lonavala and the weather was amazing and we all went out again and had a lovely evening. Yes, I'll put up some pictures. 


Once the Guy is better. 


I'm so used to me being the sickly one and the Guy being always around, always helping, always strong. This is the first time I've seen him so ill. A Guy who's lying quietly in bed instead of making really bad jokes? It's unfamiliar and a bit scary. 


Send good vibes this way, and hope he's soon up and as annoying as ever!


Added on 24 July: The Guy's much better now, thanks for all your good wishes. But I've caught the sickness from him, and haven't been this sick in a long time. See you soon, and I'll post the next chapter of Miki as soon as I can hold the laptop up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Voices in My Head - 4

Raghav Goes Back
  
I woke up on Sunday morning when the daily help rang the doorbell. Her name was Kamala. She was middle aged, short and stout, and had a voice that carried well and that she used to good effect when Divya or I dared to criticise her work, pointing out some dust in a corner or the remnants of food on a freshly-washed dish. She swept and scrubbed our floors, did the dishes and – sometimes, if we asked politely and she was in a benevolent mood – did a little cooking. She had asked us more than once if we wanted her to wash clothes – but I preferred doing my own laundry and Divya carried hers off to her parents’ home every weekend to load into the washing machine there.
I tried to go back to sleep, but Kamalabai was banging away in the kitchen and my mind refused to shut down. I finally got up and brushed my teeth. By the time I was done, I found that Kamalabai had vacated the kitchen, so I made us both tea, adding an extra heaped spoonful of sugar in her cup. The tea seemed to improve her mood, and she chattered away, while I nodded abstractly. I was relieved when she left.
I had a headache and lethargy that I diagnosed as a hangover. I spent the day doing my chores – washing clothes and hanging them out to dry in the balcony, tidying my room and the living room, making myself lunch, calling my mom. It was November and getting colder by the day: I drew all my sweaters out of the carton I had stored them in. I kept the TV on to disperse the silence and talked to myself intermittently. I tried to keep serious thoughts at bay. Raghav called in the afternoon, and I spent a nice half hour talking to him. Neither of us mentioned last night’s “serious” conversation.
I went for a walk in the evening and bought some groceries on my way back. I lived in a big colony with rows of white two-storied buildings and a nice garden in the centre, with swings and a seesaw for children. The sun had set by the time I walked home and the lights turned on just as I entered the colony gates. With the lamps casting a dim glow through the faint mist, I felt like I was walking in fairyland. The cold wind lashed against my face and made me feel alive.
But much as I tried to push it away, my loneliness continued to haunt me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Voices in My Head - 3

I Get Drunk – and Get Sober Again



I had never drunk before, other than a little beer at b-school parties. Raghav and some other friends had had sometimes had late night booze parties, but I had never attended because of my hostel’s 9pm curfew. Raghav now proceeded to help me fill this gap in my education.

He ordered drinks for me as soon as I could finish them. “Trust me,” he said when I looked hesitant. And I did. Wasn’t he my best friend? It was when I was on the fourth drink and began to feel queer that I realized that my trust might have been misplaced. I felt light-headed and giggled maniacally at Raghav’s insipid jokes. After some time he went to the loo, and on returning saw me sitting hunched up, elbows on the table, my head on my hands.

“You okay?” he asked, concerned.

I nodded, and winced. “I’m holding onto my head,” I shouted above the music. “It’s trying to swim away.” He was polite enough to try to hold his laughter in.

Once I felt confident of walking across the room without toppling over, I went to the loo. All was well till I tried to unlock the door to get out. I couldn’t.

My hands were trembling and my mind was fuzzy. I went into a panic. I groped at the door in frustration.

In my head, two voices spoke. “What will I do now? What will I do?” cried Mandakini.

“Calm down,” said Miki. “It’s only a door. You’ve opened thousands of them in your life. You can open this one.”

“I’ve never seen a lock like this. What will I do?”

Despite Miki’s excellent advice, I was too drunk to calm down. I had left the phone in my bag on the table, so I couldn’t even call Raghav for help. I hoisted myself up by the sink and sat there, leaning against the wall for support. Someone was hammering inside my head and I felt like I was floating in a mist.

After some time, there was a knock on the door. “Miki?” It was Raghav’s voice. “Are you there?”

“Yeah,” I cried out weakly.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I can’t get the door to open,” I wailed. “I’ve been trying for so long and it just won’t…”

“Miki!” said Raghav sharply. “Calm down. Try the door again. I’ll tell you what to do.”

“Okay.” I got off the sink and walked to the door. “Which way do I turn it?”

“Try right.”

I turned the bolt right. “Nothing’s happening,” I complained.

“Turn it again,” said Raghav. “Turn it as far as it will go.”

I did, and – miraculously, it seemed then – the door opened. I fell out into Raghav’s arms.

“I couldn’t get out!” I held on to him and sobbed in relief. “I couldn’t unlock the door.”

Raghav put his arm around me. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re safe. Come, let’s sit you down and get you something to eat.”

He walked me back to the table and ordered some food for me after I looked at the menu and complained that the letters were moving too fast for me to read them.

Raghav pulled me up by the hand and made me walk around, holding on to his arm. The food came and he forced me to eat. My head seemed to stop trying to float away. After some time I looked up at him and managed a smile. “I’m feeling much better now,” I told him.

Then we danced.

Dancing with Raghav felt exciting – and weird. We had danced together at college parties, but with other friends around, not like this, just the two of us among strangers. And… dancing seems such an erotic activity sometimes. But after a few minutes my inhibitions wore off, probably helped by the drink. The dance floor was crowded, and Raghav fended off dancers who came too close. I remember him holding my hand and whirling me around, and me laughing in delight. By the time we left the discotheque, I was tired and largely sober.

He drove me home. He had stopped right on the road in front of my house, but I said, “Come on in, I’ll make us coffee,” so he pulled into the parking space where my roommate’s car usually stood.

“I’ve never brought a guy home before,” I laughed much too loudly as I unlocked the door. He refrained from retorting, maybe from his newly-awakened sense of politeness.

We sat side-by-side on the mattress in the living room, sipping our coffee. “Mom was asking about your plans of getting married,” I said in a pathetic attempt at conversation.

“Don’t you think she’s a bit too old for me?”

I laughed hysterically before throwing the pink teddy at him.

“I wish she would think of marriage for herself,” I said after I had stopped laughing. “It would take a load off my mind. Besides, she’d be less bent on getting me married, then.”

“Does she nag you?”

“Well, yeah, she keeps telling me about ‘a nice boy’ some or other relative has suggested, and why don’t I agree to meet him once?”

“I’ll tell her a ‘nice boy’ isn’t likely to be able to keep you in check… And have you suggested she find some nice man for herself instead?”

“You kidding? She’d have a fit if she knew I’d even thought it… She’s so traditional in some ways. But I wish she would. She’s not old yet, and I know she doesn’t like living alone. It makes me feel guilty that I can’t live with her.”

“Why not ask her to live here with you?”

“I do! But she doesn’t like the idea. And I guess it’s not fair, asking her to stay away from her work and her friends. She won’t have anything to do here… But I worry about her.”

Raghav put a reassuring arm around me. I smiled at him over my mug.

“You’ve finally learned how to make coffee,” he said. “Remember that one time you tried to make tea in my house?”

I did not want to be reminded of it. I hadn’t found a spoon for sugar and had just poured it out of the jar, realising much too late that I had poured in about five times as much as I should have. I quickly changed the subject.

“What about you, how have you been?”

“I’m good, kiddo. How’re you? How’s work?”

“Work’s great, actually. I love my job – it’s funny, really, because I kind of just drifted into it – I mean, I just sat for the interview and somehow got through… But I actually do love it. I like the research and making reports and doing the analysis on Excel and then making pretty presentations, and I also love that we work on different projects in different industries and regions, so every project is new and exciting, you know?”

“So you’re not specialising in any one industry?”

“Well, there are these different groups working in different sectors. I have done most of my work for consumer goods – though my current project is in pharmaceuticals – but I think I’ll stick to consumer goods.”

“You’re allowed to choose?”

“Well, you do get a say, but it depends a great deal on where you’re wanted and what your skills are. But I get on well with Nilanjana – she’s the head of the consumer products group, and she asked if I’d like to be assigned to her group once my current project is over.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah! I said yes, I’d love that. I like working with her too – she’s strict, but very smart, and she keeps us all on our toes. That earns her some enemies, but I love how she drives us hard and I learn so much working with her… I’m working with a much more laidback – and popular – manager now, and sometimes I’m frustrated at how slow and umm, sloppy things get you know? I mean, I know we’ll get around to it in the end, but it’s all rather last-minute and inefficient.”

“Aren’t you leading the project?”

“Well yeah, but I’m at the same level, designation-wise, as all the other members, and this guy, Milind, is the actual project manager. I’m just supposed to, you know, drive the team effort, something like that. Which basically means I do the same work everyone else is doing as well as see that they’re doing their stuff right and report to Milind.”

“That sucks.”

“Well, it’s not so bad. I’m working on my people management skills.” I winked. I expected him to tell me I needed to, but he was quiet. I felt vaguely unsettled: this didn't seem to be the Raghav I knew, but a grown-up, more mysterious version. I spoke quickly to end the silence.

“Anyway, how about you? Are you lonely, stuck in that godforsaken town?” Raghav worked for a cellphone company and lived in Belgaum. That is, he travelled all over Karnataka so that he was rarely home, but he had rented a flat in Belgaum where he spent at least a couple of days a week.

“Yeah, often enough. But work keeps me busy, so it’s okay…”

“You haven’t made any friends?” I asked.

“Not really. I am friendly with my dealers and with my boss, but no, I don’t really have a friend there. I don’t have many options at work and I don’t have time to seek friends elsewhere.” He smiled as if it was no big deal.

“Hmm. I do have some friends in office, but it’s not the same. It seems much more … umm, professional. There’s no one I can open up to…”

“I know. I miss you too.”

I smiled. “We have to find ourselves good partners, now. We’re getting older and lonelier.”

He was quiet for a while and then seemed to change the subject. “Did you know I had a crush on you?”
“What? When?”
“Back when we first became friends.”

“Oh! Why didn’t you tell me?”

He smiled. “What would you have done?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “Been flattered, I guess. I liked you a lot those days. Not that I don’t now, but well, I almost hero-worshipped you then. I used to think you were slightly contemptuous of me.”

“That was just a front. I guess I was afraid of letting you see it.”

I placed my hand on his.

“But… you must have known that you had a good chance if you tried.”

He gave a wry smile. “Yeah, I did. But – well, you looked so innocent, fragile almost. I was afraid of breaking you, of corrupting you.”

For a second, I was stunned into silence. Then I laughed out loud.
“You – were afraid of hurting me? You flirted with every other girl in college – you dated that silly girl for a whole year just because you thought she was hot…”

He smiled. “I know. But you were different. I couldn’t think of you that way.”

I raised a sceptical eyebrow.

“Do you think it would have worked out?” he said, looking away.

“You and I? I don’t know… It would have been good, in a way, we wouldn’t have fallen for those ridiculous people.”

I thought for a moment before saying, “I don’t know, Raghav. I am afraid we are too alike to have been content. We would have cared too deeply, fought too much… I’m glad we didn’t. It would have been difficult to remain friends later. I like having you as a friend.”

He looked at me. “I don’t agree. I think it might have worked. I think it still might…”

Should I have felt something at that moment? Attraction, anger, regret? I realized that if he’d said something like this three years ago I would have been over the moon. But right then, it seemed as insignificant as if he’d asked if I wanted another cup of coffee.

Yet I was tempted, as I thought it over cold-heartedly.

“You are lonely, and you know Raghav well,” said Mandakini. “He’s the nicest guy you know, and your best friend.”

“But what if I accept,” pointed out Mini, “and things go wrong? Our friendship will turn sour, or hollow, and we can never laugh again the way we do now, at our private jokes…”

“You’re only saying this because you’re lonely, Raghav,” I said aloud. “If I agree, you’ll regret it later.”

I stopped him before he could protest. “No. I value our friendship too much to risk it. It’s real. All of that – romance, love – I don’t know how real it is, how long it lasts. But I have this and I don’t want to let it go.”

He smiled and pressed my hand. “All right. I won’t mention it again.”

He left soon after. It was nearly two. I locked the door after him and went to the balcony and to watch him drive away. I stood looking out into the quiet starry night.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

My Sins Towards Gender Stereotypes

Yeah, you read that right. I was tagged by BlabberBlah, but I’m turning the tag around to suit myself. Ever since I saw the tag at IHM’s, I had a vague sense of disquiet. I admire IHM for how she starts and engages in dialogue about feminism and misogyny. But saying “sins” somehow didn’t cut it for me, even though I know it was meant to be sarcastic. Worse, saying that you are against a particular stereotype only causes that stereotype to be brought out again and looked at, and I believe all stereotypes should die quick deaths.

Besides, there are stereotypes about every act, every feeling. Women cry. Women are stronger. Women are weaker. Women are more vulnerable. Women are more manipulative. Women are “bitchy”. Women are gentler. Women talk more. Women are more silent. So many of these stereotypes even contradict each other. I don’t, for myself, find much value in bringing out ten misogynist straw-figures and distancing myself from them (or even, setting them on fire).

So what I shall do instead, is what seems to me more difficult and more meaningful: enumerate ways in which I still conform to gender stereotypes that I am ashamed of, and that I hope to change. My feminism is constantly evolving, constantly getting stronger, but I still have a long way to go.
  1.  I am scared of driving. I don't get a lot of practice: when the Guy is around, it seems much easier to just let him drive. The first time I actually started driving alone was when the Guy went away for two months. Now, I usually take the car out on weekends, even if it's just to go get groceries.
  2. I don't like running errands or getting things fixed. I don't like talking to repairmen or plumbers. Part of this is due of course to my introverted misantrophic self, and the rest is sheer laziness.
  3. I don't do much heavy lifting. This is mostly due to the fact that my back, which has almost healed itself in the last couple of years, still reminds me of how it used to be if I try stunts like that. I do chip in when we buy groceries - but the Guy's often carrying the heavier bags. Except when his back's bothering him - then I do more than my share.
  4. I'm not physically strong. I am too lazy (and right now, too busy - though you might take that as an excuse) to exercise. I have low immunity and fall prey to minor illnesses quite often, though I've never yet been ill with anything serious.
  5. I have never played sports. Okay, kabbadi and kho-kho in school, but never with much competence. I played a little badminton at home with my parents, but only for some time and again, I wasn't any good. My school never placed much emphasis on sports either, and I never felt like I missed it. I do now.
  6. I cry. Easily. I am very ashamed of it, and this should come as a surprise to most friends too, because I usually control myself quite well. But to the person I'm most intimate with, I show tears way too often. But I'm improving here, and I hope I'll improve more. I'm not ashamed of crying because it shows weakness; but it does, temporarily, render you unable to function, and I hate that.
  7. I have more clothes and accessories than the Guy. Much less than most women, and I spend next to nothing on grooming and make up. But I like clothes and shoes, and given that the Guy likes shopping for me more than for himself, we end up spending more on them than we plan to.
  8. I wear jewellery. Usually, most days, I have nothing on but the ring on my left hand. But there are days when I hang earrings in my ears (even while thinking how ridiculous it is that we punch holes in our ears just so we can hang things from them) or put a necklace around my neck. I used to wear bracelets or bangles sometimes, but then I regularly take them off and keep them on my desk because I spend most of my day typing, and that tends to be painful. Even earrings often hurt when I put headphones on, or talk on the phone for a long time. It seems that all this points out to me that jewellery is ridiculous.
  9. I am not physically courageous. Or, to put it more succintly, I am a wimp. I refused to go parasailing when the Blade did. I am so averse to pain that I refuse to get anything waxed. (Sorry, TMI.) I have contemplated getting a tattoo (okay, part of me thinks tattoos are ridiculous too, but another part thinks it would be really cool to get one), but know I'd never go through with it - or come home with a tiny dot, just like Phoebe.
And that's all. I couldn't think of a tenth one! Let's hope I pare this list down further as I grow older.

Who wants to take up the tag?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Voices in My Head - 2

Meet My Best Friend, Raghav

I was so excited about Raghav being in town that I was up at seven on Saturday morning. Raghav was to have taken a midnight flight from Bangalore to Delhi, so I expected him to be in bed and asleep. I waited impatiently for time to pass and finally called him at nine. He answered after a couple of rings.
“Good morning!” I said enthusiastically.
“’Morning,” he groaned.
“You still in bed?”
“My flight was four hours late,” he croaked.
“Oh! You must have been up all night.”
“I think I got to bed a couple of hours ago.”
“Why didn’t you call me when you got in?”
“Sorry. Was too tired to talk. Ma was making me breakfast but I fell right on the bed and slept without even changing.”
“Never mind. Now that you’re here, come and meet me.”
“Mandakini, I’m not driving forty kilometres without any sleep.”
Raghav delighted in calling me by my given name. I always insisted on being called Miki – a name I got in high school and stuck to ever since. Even my mom called me that because I refused to answer to anything else. Raghav called me Mandakini in that slow drawl of his when he wanted to annoy me.
“Okay, I’ll come over and nurse you.”
That woke him up. “No, not to my house! Ma will come home for lunch… I’ll see you in the evening, all right? Let me sleep now.”
He rang off without waiting for me to answer.
As I said, Raghav didn’t really tell his parents everything. I don’t know whether he hid things because his parents didn’t trust him or whether his parents suspected he was hiding things and therefore didn’t trust him… Anyway, his mom had always seemed to suspect that our friendship wasn’t quite what it appeared. I had never let it affect me, but Raghav was careful not to display much affection towards me when his mother was around. 
I wished I had slept in too. I was wide awake now, and I had nothing to do (except to wait for Raghav to get up, which, let’s face it, might easily be a few hours). I settled down on the mattress in front of the TV.
Raghav finally called up around half past six in the evening. “Hi, babes!”
“You idiot! You’ve finally found time for me, huh?”
“Get dressed. I’m taking you out.”
“Out where?”
“We’ll see. I’m on my way. Give me directions to your house.”
I changed out of my pyjamas and sat in the balcony to look out for him. Finally I saw his white Alto turn into the lane. I was out and locking the front door when he raced up the stairs. “What, you’re not going to invite me in?”
“Sorry, I thought you’d prefer to set out right away…” I moved to unlock the door, but he stopped me.
“Never mind, come on. I’ll look in when I drop you back later.”
As I seated myself in his car, I realized we hadn’t bothered to hug, or even shake hands. I turned to look at him closely.
“What?” he said after I’d stared at him for a few seconds.
“You’ve gained weight.”
“So have you,” he said generously.
“You look… different in short hair.” Raghav had worn his hair in long curls that fell almost to his shoulder. His hair was the butt of many jokes in college, but I had always secretly thought it made him look hot. He had cut his hair short before campus placements began, and now it was so close-cropped that you wouldn’t know it was curly.
“There’s a gift for you on the back seat.”
I excitedly reached out and got a silver paper bag. It contained a pink cuddly teddy bear.
“Oh… thanks! I’m afraid I didn’t get you anything.”
“If you hate it, you can say so.”
“I don’t hate it, it’s just that… it’s a bit too pink.”
“Okay, give it back if you don’t like it.”
“I do like it!” I protested, hugging it close. “I’ll hug it to sleep every night, and think of you.”
We both laughed loudly.
He lit a cigarette.
“I thought you were giving up that filthy habit!”
“I’m trying.”
“Yeah, for the last two years.”
“I’ve reduced. And I’ve switched to Milds.”
“Let me see.” I snatched it off him. He promptly lit another.
I pulled down the window and puffed. The cold evening air enveloped my face.
“I think I like this,” I waved the cigarette so that Raghav hastily moved his arm aside. “It doesn’t make me dizzy.”
“You shouldn’t smoke at all if it makes you dizzy.”
“I don’t. That is, I do it so rarely that it doesn’t count… Where are we going?”
“At your service, ma’am. Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know… I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten since lunch.”
“And what did you have for lunch?”
“I cooked fried rice.”
“You cooked…? I can imagine you’re hungry.”
I banged my handbag on his head.
We drove into the basement of a mall. We walked up the stairs and wandered around, looking for something to eat. I stopped before a movie poster.
“Have you seen it?” he asked. “I heard it’s good.”
“No, it’s only been on since yesterday. I would love to, though.”
“Come on, then.”
“I don’t think we’ll get tickets.”
“Come on.” He grabbed my hand and strode forward.
There weren’t any tickets to be had, of course. I resisted the urge to say, “I told you so!” – maybe I was growing more mature? – and instead suggested, “How about tomorrow?”
“No, my parents will be home tomorrow, and they’ll expect me to spend the day with them. Next week? Can you do a weekday evening?”
“Sure, after seven.”
After we got the tickets, we got some popcorn and sat on a bench. We had a couple of awkward moments as we wondered what to talk about. We hadn’t, I reflected, been talking as much as we used to. We did usually talk at least once on weekends, but that did not seem nearly enough. Back in b-school, we used to talk for hours on the phone even after spending most of the day together.
I asked him if he had found a new girlfriend yet. “Naah. Haven’t met anyone interesting in ages. What about you? Any cute guys in office?”
“Quite a few, actually. But I don’t know if I’m interested in any of them.”
“Oh?”
“Well, there’s one – Vikram. We’ve been working together on a project. But I don’t know him well enough yet...” He didn’t push further. As usual with old friends, the talk turned to old times, of the fun we used to have…
He got a call. He chatted away for some time while I polished off the popcorn and gazed at people walking past.
When he finally got off the phone, he asked, “You still hungry?”
“No, I’ll last till dinner,” I grinned. “I’m not going to let you off with fast food. Who was it?”
“On the phone? Sonali, Amit’s sister.”
“You’re that friendly with your friends’ sisters?”
“Come on. I’ve known her since she was a kid. We were neighbours.”
“You’ve never mentioned her before,” I said suspiciously.
“Well, she’s been rather lonely since Amit went off to the US. They were pretty close.”
“Oh, so you’re being a surrogate brother?”
“Sort of. Do you want to shop?”
“No. I’m almost broke. It’s the end of the month.”
“Go on. I’ll pay.”
“You can pay for dinner, anyway, and you paid for the movie already.”
“I know, I’m lucky. When do you let a mere guy pay for you?”
I upturned the popcorn bag over his head and shook it till powdery spices fell on him. That joke had been directed at Abhijeet, whom I had dated after breaking up with Mrigank. Abhijeet had been notoriously stingy, and I used to pay at most of our dates. Raghav had always made fun of him to me, and I had defended Abhijeet for not being insecure enough to mind a woman paying for him. I finally dumped Abhijeet because he was a bore: all he had ever wanted to do was talk or make out, and he wasn’t particularly brilliant at either. (Though I had thought otherwise at the beginning: he had been very eloquent on my personal charms.)
“Let’s go to the disc,” said Raghav.
“What? Here?” I lived a few kilometres away from the mall and visited it nearly every week, but I hadn’t ever been to the disc. In fact, I’d never been to any disc, barring once – a brief visit with Abhijeet, an (unsuccessful) attempt to prove that he wasn’t as boring as I had insinuated.
Raghav was laughing at me, so I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m this na├»ve small-town girl who doesn’t know what discs are.”
“Well, let’s show you,” he said. “Come on.”
“Am I dressed right?” I asked nervously. I was wearing old jeans and a simple black tee.
“Doesn’t matter. You always look hot.”
“Are you sure Sonali would like to hear you speak to me like that?” I grabbed his arm before he could hit me with it.
As we wove our way through the crowd, I almost bumped into someone I knew.
“Hi, Vikram,” I said, disentangling my arm from Raghav’s. I introduced them and we made small talk.
Vikram was waiting for friends – they were going to see a movie. He asked if we were doing the same.
“No, we’re on our way to the disc,” said Raghav. We said our byes.
“Now he’ll think you’re my boyfriend!” I wailed. “You said we’re going to the disc! And we were holding hands!”
“Shall I go back and inform him of the truth?” Raghav asked helpfully.
“No, you’ve done enough damage. I’ll deal with it.”