"Lalu da, a couple of lebu chas please..." I ordered the tea, and went to the nearby paan shop to buy her a couple of Gold Flake cigarettes. I don't smoke, but I try a puff or two from her.
"If this is how you light a cigarette, I wonder how you will remove your undies when you get married," laughed the paan shop guy as he lit it for me. I had already wasted a couple of matchsticks, so I thought he had the right to make that dig.
Without informing him that I am very capable of removing my undies and that I have been married for eight years now, I smiled and walked back across the road to Laluda's tea shop.
"There you go," Laluda smiled as I held the couple of glasses gingerly and walked toward the stairs where she was sitting.
She was looking brilliant in a white saree. I've never seen her in a saree before, and if you ask my opinion about sarees, I'd refuse to comment. Better avoided is what I feel about sarees, quite frankly. But this was a different twilight. The sun had set on us, and probably we were meeting for the last time tonight. A saree did not look out of place at all. Maybe you need that much cloth to drape one's unrequited dreams.
"So?" I asked, not finding anything else to start a conversation with. "Why did you call me at all? I thought you didn't wanna meet me again."
She looked up, looked into my eyes and held her gaze for a second longer than usual and looked away. Please, Niks, I don't need sarcasm right now.
"I told you what happened."
"How is it possible? How can anybody show him my letters?" If not you...
"I don't know, Nikhil, he just knows about our plans."
"So how does that change things? Why can't we go ahead with them? Tell him all."
That was all she said. End of discussion, period. Find peace in your existing life and trudge along. The faint light from her cigarette was reflected in her eyes. And there were a couple more reflections that found their way down from her eyes.
Maybe she is really crying, maybe she is just calling it off, maybe I was being too pushy for sex. Maybe she thought I wanted to just sleep with her and never loved her at all? How can I read her mind when I haven't been able to read mine till date?
"Ouch," I scalded my tongue trying the lebu cha! How come it never got cold all this while?
"So, there's not going to be a getaway? No Pondicherry together? I should have known all this while," I tried to sound a little off.
Apart from placing her hand on mine she didn't utter anything. I was supposed to understand everything from that touch, make all my conclusions from her exceptionally dry palm that night.
This is what I think would be our last goodbye, a big lump forming in me, tears welling or perhaps even trickling down to embarrass me even further. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow when we meet?
Only my scalded tongue seems to hurt already.