Sunday, September 7, 2008
Salsa , Harry Met Sally and My Dance with M .........
I don't know when and how it started . And, I surely don't know how it will all end . But , I know exactly the day she walked into my life .
She came to see me on a lazy sunday with her friend right from the gymn - apparently to drop off an application - and as I happened to be there , I asked her if she is willing to sit down for an interview . She readily agreed , and said , If you can excuse the way I am dressed . I have to admit her gymn clothes - black tights and tank tops with a short jacket thrown over - was a distraction the entire time of the interview , but I desparately tried to keep my professional front up and peppered her with questions , Roanoke Virginia ? Tell me about Roanoke , What made you decide to move to California ? Tell me what challenges you faced in your previous position ? The interview was not that long , and as I ushered her out of the office and walking behind her in the hallway , I couldn't help but notice the swaying hips in front of me ! Much much later she would tell me that her friend had called her and said , you should meet this guy who is managing this hotel I interviewed at , he is Indian and cute ! And, she had said , thats impossible , I have to go and see ! And, I am glad she did . Now, before all of you equate me with our beloved Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas , let me categorically say that I never went out with her when we were working at the same place !
And, so the Dance began. Eleven years and counting . In Salsa , the steps are set : the guy puts his left foot forward , the girl puts her right foot back . And reverses in a rhythym : 1,2,Tap,4. When the guy goes forward , the girl moves back. But they never go far from each other.And since that day , we have been doing that dance. When we met that Sunday, I was with C , and she had a boyfriend. And C did not like the fact that I had hired another Kenyan girl ( a fact that I still don't understand why ) , and was constantly telling me that she knows ( by some magical powers usually bestowed on womenkind !) that this girl has a thing for me !
And so she began work and I would see her five days a week . In between watchful eyes of C , we went about working , sometimes talking about something other than work , sharing jokes , and on a couple of times giving her a ride home when she was left stranded by her boyfriend - but always maintaining our undeclared distance . And then , I moved to another company , and started my stint in picturesque Santa Barbara . It is here C and I had a brief fallout . C started a fight over nothing ( she had this uncanny ability to start a brush-fire out of plain thin air ! ) , and unilaterally decide we are through ( via voicemail of course ) and wouldn't answer any of my calls for days ( later I learned that she was going to Chicago and did not want to answer my questions regarding her trip ! ). And here I was , on a Pier in Santa Barbara watching the sunset and wondering what went wrong ! As I was flipping through my cell phone , M's name and number showed up , and I did not hesitate a second and called her . It was great to hear her voice , and it was also great to learn that she had broken up with her boyfriend as well. So, I asked her out that very weekend . She said yes . This is how our journey began - like the winding path by the mountainside - our times of togetherness and our times of being apart .
We went out that weekend , two bruised people , trying to make sense of each other and us . I took her to one of my favorite restaurants close to a movie theatre - Chin Chin in Marina Del Rey and we talked up a storm . About the time we worked together , how both of our relationships did not work out - and in the meantime went through four bottles of Merlot ! She loved Merlot ! Fortunately , the movie theatre was right next door , unfortunately , the four bottles of red wine had made us terribly unstable ! I still don't remember what movie it was - but we were more interested in each other than the movie ! Until, tipped off by an older couple , theatre security came in and politely asked us to leave ! We were happy to oblige . And, went back to the hotel I was staying at for the weekend. That nite was magical , like Eric Clapton with his guitar ! I knew exactly which strings to touch to make the exact desired sound - and we made good music all the way to the morning - as if I had known her for ages and knew exactly what she wanted , and we had put all our hearts and passion in every word of that song ! I had to run back to Santa Barbara in the morning for a meeting , and dropping her off at her place took a long time - she held on to me longer and I really wanted to spend another day with her . Finally, I drove off to Santa Barbara , and everything changed the next day.
It was Monday , and as I came off the meeting , I saw five missed calls from C . C was back , and wanted to talk to me ! Part of me could not wait to hear her voice , and I called her right away. She told me that she had thought things over and wanted us to be back together again . Can I see you tonite ? I kept thinking , should I , M's big soothing eyes , her loving gestures in the morning , her careless fingers ruffling my hair kept flashing before me - "Do you really have to be all suited booted for a meeting ? I still have the keys to the room !" . But , I wanted to see C , and like all the other people in their lives who came up on a fork on the road of life and instinctively made a decision that never lived up to be the right one , I decided to go back to C. "Yes, I will drive up to see you tonite ," I replied .
M took the decision hard . The next three months we kept our distance , not only in miles , but also in contact . I felt terrible about what had happened , and the fact that I started something that I was not ready to commit to totally. Between lonely walks on the Santa Barbara Pier , and my frequent drives to LA hugging the Ventura coastline - I thought about her , her big expressive eyes - and missed her . And finally, we started talking again. And gradually became very close in a different way. She accepted the fact that I was with C , and would listen with a chuckle when I would tell her about my ups and downs with her - but she would always be there. Things I could not even mention to C , she would listen with a glee - and soon we would confide in each other like never before . Deep down I felt a "tinge" when she started dating again, but would listen to her and give her my honest opinions.
Everytime I would drive down to LA , I would call M , and meet her for coffee or lunch. And , with every visit to LA , M and I grew closer and closer. I was in Santa Cruz managing a Holiday Inn when I found out C was "not with me ". It was quite devastating at the time . I was waiting for her to finish school , so we can move together to the city she would start her career in - at least thats what I thought. But I found out , she was seeing others while being in a relationship with me . And not as friends . In all fairness, maybe the long distance never worked for her , and she did not know how to get out . So, I had to do what I thought I could never do in my life - leave C and end the pain. We had split apart briefly a few times , never for more than a week , and she somehow knew that if she shows up at my door , I can never turn her away. And she did , drove all the way from LA to Santa Cruz - and showed up at my door . And, we broke up . For the first time in four long years , I felt free - and wanted to see M so badly . I felt , I could right the wrong I had done four years ago , and start again . And I was off to LA that very weekend !
I remember how I had to drop by C's work to drop some of her things she had at my place and she saw the bouquet I was carrying. " Who is that for ", she asked . "Does it matter?", I replied. "Why can't you tell me ?",she kept on. " I have a date ", I said . "Who is it ?" she insisted on knowing. " You know her , its M------," I told her . " I can't believe this ! Why her ? " with those words she took the bouquet from the back seat and started tearing the flowers on the street ! " Are you done ? I don't want to be late ! ", and I got in the car and drove to the next flower shop on my way to pick M up - our first date in four and a half years !
I had looked up this restaurant called " The Little Door " on third and Beverly - it was one of those warm Los Angeles evenings and I had requested a table in the garden , with candles on the table and a starry sky complemented with a great selection of French wines. First few moments , we just sat looking at each other , savoring a moment that each of us never thought would come ! And my phone rang , and it was work. I looked at her , told her it was work , and she softly told me , " Take it , it might be important." "Hello, Raj here ", and my front desk girl started saying ," Raj, sorry to bother you, but I thought you might like to know - we just received a big bouquet of flowers for you ! " "Flowers ? Read me the card , Sofi !" I said. " It says , It feels great to be with you - thank you for the nicest of weekends ! And signed , Love M---- ". I looked up at her , she had a quivering smile on her lips - M has this smile that when she smiles, her eyes smile too . "You do know you are the first girl that ever sent me flowers, don't you ? Thank you , and this is special ! ", I went over to her side of the table , and kissed her on the lips .
And so started our phase of togetherness ! Every weekend I would drive or fly to LA , and in between cafes , beach walks and dinners on the patio at Katana and The Strand on the Sunset strip , we lived up the romance . I loved the fact that she loved to read , and I used to spend my idle time in Santa Cruz looking for books for her ! Every time I heard her voice , I felt like driving to LA ! But, again, something was missing. Something got lost when two best friends became lovers . The guards went up, and we could not be free with each other like we used to . Both of us desparately wanted it to work ,but slowly we were realizing that the past is making the future slip away from us. I wanted to show how serious I was about her , and so I started looking for real estate in Mombasa, Kenya , where she is from . I found this parcel of land close to the ocean , the white sandy beaches of Mombasa with the blue waters of the Indian Ocean nudging it gently , would be the perfect place for us ! I remember my conversation with my father when I put it to him : " Where ?" "Mombasa , in Kenya Dad !" "Why would you want something in Kenya ?" "Well...umm, the place looks great , and....." " Talk to your mother !" " Hi mom !" "Is this true ? You want to put a down payment on a place in Kenya ? " " Yes, its true." "Didn't you tell me that you broke up with that black kenyan girl four months ago ? Your father and I were so happy that we even fed a hundred poor homeless people after hearing that ! " "Well, that was C mom , and I am with M now, she is also from Kenya " " Raj, aren't you in America ? You cannot find girls from anywhere else ? And how many of these kenyan girls are there in the States ?" " Mom, got to go, I will talk to you later !"
But , I was happy. Taking all the information with me I excitedly went to LA to show her the place I had in mind . I even had all the words worked up actually. I don't know where life is going to take us together , but I can show you where it will end . Imagine a little white villa with a thatched roof where you can see the blue waters everyday , walk the sandy beaches every morning , a place just for you and me ! Sitting across the table on the oceanside patio of my favorite restaurant Shanghai Reds in Marina Del Rey , I wanted to tell her all about it . I have something to tell you , I said. Actually, I had something in mind to tell you too , she replied . Well, why don't you go first M ! I looked at her not knowing what was coming , putting the Mombasa folder on my side of the table upside down. I was thinking all this week, I love the way we are spending the time , I always wanted this in a strange sort of way - but , I miss how we used to be , always joking about our lives, the people we meet , everything's seem so serious now, we are afraid to be open to each other , you know ..... With all the unsaid words in her eyes , she looked at me as the last two words - you know , came out of her lips - and I knew , I knew I would never get a chance to tell her about Mombasa , I knew I would never get a chance to tell her how I longed for this to work. And besides , I cannot get over the fact that you left me that morning , and my Mom kept asking me for weeks when are you coming back , because she knew I was with you that night - Raj, I can forgive , but I am a person that never forgets .... I looked away , unable to answer , the feeble light on the boat grew feebler as it made its way from the bay to the deep waters of the ocean , So, its not working for you , my sweet ? should we go back to being friends ? She looked down , and just nodded . I took her hand in mine and said , Its done ! Suddenly, we decided to give attention to the food in front of us , and she finally broke the silence pointing at the folder , What's that ? I replied , Oh its nothing , just some work papers !
And so, we kept close , but apart . We were not together , but never too far away ! The dance was on . Every week , we would talk about people we met, people we went out with, and how we felt .Some weekends we would meet in LA or San Francisco , have lunch or dinner with each of us bringing our partners in tow. And in between passing the plates or the bowls, in between a deep discussion on current affairs or new restaurants , that subtle look of I hope you are okay , that gaze of fondness with a little touch of hands , never left. In between all this , somehow we ended up spending two New Year's Eve together ( so, tell me , was I your plan D or plan E - she would jokingly ask me after showing up for a dinner and a night cap on the 31st ! - and teasingly add - you do know you are still my one night stand ! ) And so time moved along , with us updating our dating fiasco's and chronicles to each other.
And then, one January nite I made the blunder . I had just been to downtown San Jose at my favorite watering hole - Brittania Arms - and driving back past 2am . The worst thing than to Drink and Drive is , low and behold , Drink and Dial ( by the way, I drink very moderately , and I hate hard liquor ). As I was slicing through the cold nite on a lonely freeway , I picked up my cell phone and called her . It went to her voicemail. For the next ten minutes, I left her a lengthy voice message. Coming home , I went to bed until her phone woke me up the next morning at 10am . Her voice was serious , Did you mean what you said ? Hey M, how is your weekend going ? - I was completely blank , and could not for the life of me remember what I had emotionally poured out for a whole ten minutes the previous nite ! Raj , did you really mean what you said last nite ? , she repeated bringing me back on topic. I was thinking hard but nothing was in store on my memory banks , I was gasping for air like a fish puffing out of water ! You can't answer me , can you ? she kept on . Look M , if I said it , then I must have meant it ! I still don't know how I came up with that line . What did I tell her ? Don't tell me I proposed to her or something ? Can she play back the message to me so I can formulate my answer ? I firmly believe , no matter what anyone says , that you say what's inside you , and exactly the way you feel - when you are tipsy or drunk ! So, you don't remember Raj , do you ? Listen, why don't we talk about something else - when are you coming this way ? I tried to change the topic ! Never ! , she replied and hung up .
Even this anger of hers dimmed one day . It was summer approaching with all its vigor when I got a call from her - Hey , my one nite stand , its time to congratulate me ! she sounded excited. Well, congratulations then ! Did you get married ? or engaged ? or are you having a baby ! I teased her. Wild imaginations my dear , always your forte ! I accepted an offer to work for 18 months in Lesotho for a social project there and flying out in two weeks ! The thought that she is not going to be around , the thought that I cannot just pick and choose a weekend and drive five and a half hours and be with her anymore , stopped me completely ! The fact that whenever I am in LA we cannot hang out in Gypsy and Habibi near UCLA and kiss each other again and again before parting , suddenly dawned on me ! When , ahh , when are you coming back , M ? Year and a half ! Save all your stories for me Raj, since I won't have TV there , your escapades are the only things I can look forward to !
And so, she left . Somewhere in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho perched high up from sea level , she is waking up every day, going to her work in the dusty roads overlooking the plains and having an adventure all her own - far away from me . I don't know how much she thinks of me while staring at the sunset behind the mountains , or she thinks of me at all. How our lives have intertwined , how we have tried to be together and how we have tried to be apart - how we danced up close , and how we stepped away but never too far . It leaves you to wonder , how will this end , when the music stops where will we be ? Will we just bow to each other and say , it was a great dance and I enjoyed it immensely but we made all those missteps - maybe we will catch up at another song , and part ways ? Or in one of the coming New Year's Eve we will find each other again and somehow all those scars of life , emotions of hurt will fade away for something new , and never matter again !
For all those souls who always crave a romantic ending , here is the last scene from Harry met Sally ............