The first time he really talked to her, he could feel heat building up in his body. It wasn’t even the sexual tension, although, with her around, that was always in the air (in his mind). All his googling about the impending encounter had proved useless in the first couple of seconds, as his body took over, and his mind went into reflexive mode. In the excitement of the encounter, and the sense of achievement he felt, he hardly noticed what was said. All he knew was that she had suggested (to his utter surprise and relief) that they meet for a Saturday brunch.
Now, trying to recall the conversation, he remembered it wasn’t she who had suggested brunch. It was he who had mentioned an early lunch or brunch. It suited his weekend rhythm. She had agreed, although he thought she was a bit baffled.
It was going to be lunch, at this rate, he thought, as he checked his watch again.
Just as he was sure that she had played an elaborate practical joke on him, he saw her sporty yellow car screech to a halt in the parking lot. She reversed the car into an empty parking lot making a guy jump off out of her path.
She smiled as she saw him.
“Hi”, she said, as he led her towards the cafe.
He tried to smile back, but all that came out was an awkward movement of the lips that was aborted, even before it could take shape of any meaningful human expression. Instantly, he felt hotness around his ears, and a blush spread on his face. He looked away, in panic.
“I said Hi”, she said, pouting her lips, and in mock anger.
He was glad that he wasn’t fair skinned, for the blush would have been impossible to hide then.
“Sorry”, he blurted out. “I mean, hi, how are you?”
She smiled again, as she answered, “That was cute. Blush and all!”
He desperately wanted to change the subject. She was late, he remembered. Should he ask her what took her so long? No apology had come, either, he made a mental note.
“Stuck in traffic?” he asked abruptly.
“Oh no. It was lovely actually, driving on empty roads. I should get up early more often”
He chuckled. So she was just late like that? he wondered.
There was an option of sitting outside, the waiter told them. The cafe had a small garden. He hated it, because it was on the roadside, and the noise there was significant.
“Yeah we’ll prefer that”, she said.
He looked at her aghast. She was already moving though, following the waiter.
They sat down, in a corner table. At least there is some privacy, he thought, looking at the well manicured bush that separated them from the next table.
She looked a little miffed, and he had no way of knowing if it was because of something he did or didn’t do. Should I have pulled out the chair for her, he wondered.
“It’s kind of late, should we order lunch right away?” he asked her.
She seemed not to take any hint, though. Still no apology, he said to himself.
“What are you humming?”, she asked, as they waited for the food to arrive. The small talk hadn’t survived the first few minutes. She had tried to go on her own, for a few more minutes, and then seeing not much response, she had also stopped talking. If she was irritated, there was no way for him to figure out. Her face seemed quite careless. The silence was awkward, but mainly for him. It was then that he had started humming. It was Jupitar again.
“Jupitar”, he said enthusiastically. Finally something to talk about, without leaving his comfort zone.
“Which group is that?”, she asked.
“Ummm. It’s Mozart’s 41st Symphony. The last moment”, he had said, his enthusiasm weaning as fast as it had built up.
“Oh! That orchestra kind of stuff?”
He felt a stabbing pain. Then he realized he was just wishing it. He wondered if he was overreacting. After all, it was, orchestra kind of stuff, literally. Thankfully, the waiter arrived with their orders, just then, and he didn’t have to answer her question.
What did she read, he wondered. Not Sidney Sheldon’s, he prayed. He was suddenly afraid to ask. She wasn’t.
“How come you eat this early on a Saturday?”, she asked.
“I like to stretch the day by cutting down a meal. I take an early meal, and then just pick up some book and read through the afternoons. Only on weekends does one get time these days”
That was the longest sequence of words he had spoken to any girl, in quite some while. Except for his sister, of course.
It was difficult talking to his sister, too. But for entirely different reasons. First chance, and she’d start listing the litany of her troubles. Household troubles, he sighed. Indisciplined kid, unconcerned husband, meddling mother-in-law … Doesn’t she understand I don’t give a damn, he wondered. And then it hit him again, the dread. Is this what my life would turn into? Is this what all this courtship was supposed to be for?
“Hello?”, her voice got him back.
He looked at her, puzzled.
“I was asking you what do you like to read?”
He wondered what should he say. For some reason, he didn’t want to sound too highbrow. That left out the Kafkas, the Manns, and the Joyces. But then, he wouldn’t allow himself to be seen as having anything to do with the populars. That left out the occasional Ludlum that he enjoyed, or even Richard Bach or Paul Cohello, that he did enjoy a while back.
He settled on Wodehouse. That was a safe bet.
She rolled her eyes. “I tried reading that once. Nothing happens in it!”
He looked away, trying to hide his disappointment in vain. Not because he did a bad job of it, but there just wasn’t much need to try. She wasn’t even looking at his reaction, when she said that.
“I like …”, he held his hand out for the waiter.
Why had she agreed on this date, he asked himself. The answers were hard to find. He didn’t have an inferiority complex about his personality, at all, but he knew he wasn’t the kind of guy that most girls will notice. And she might be extra-ordinary in her looks, but even as he was secretly charmed by her, he didn’t believe for a minute that she was any different. So how had this happened?
“I was surprised you knew me”, he said, as he took a sip of the Merlot. It wasn’t too good, and for a moment he thought of ordering something else. She seemed quite happy with it, though.
“This is lovely”, she said, “I rarely drink wine. “But I like this”.
He decided to endure the wine, too.
“Sorry, you were asking something?”, she said, finally.
“I was saying, I was surprised you knew me at all”
“Everyone knows you!” she said. “You’re our resident genius, after all”
For a moment he looked at her face, to catch a hint of derision or sarcasm. But she betrayed nothing but sincerity.
“I payed you a compliment, you know”, she said, her pout returning.
“I don’t know what to say! Thank you”
He took another sip of the wine. It wasn’t that bad, he thought. It must have been the aftertaste of the starters, that had spoiled the first sip.
“Are you free on Saturday?”, his friend asked, “Lunch at our place?”
“Ummmm”, he hesitated.
“What? You are not going on a date are you?”
His voice almost inaudible, he added, “a blind date”.