What do you do if a man looks at you with frank admiration in his eyes – in an insistent suggestive sort of way that is worth a thousand compliments? Nothing. You do nothing. Because you are a thoroughly bored “happily” married thirty year old housewife sitting comfortably in your favorite rocking chair, browsing through Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, at the Oxford Bookstore at Churchgate in Mumbai.
So you just look down, act as if you have not noticed, and try to read.
But you cannot read – the words just don’t focus in front of you. You think of the man, his lingering look, his eyes curiously languid yet inviting – it’s the first time someone looked at you in such a flattering way.
You feel a tinge of excitement. Maybe something is going to happen. Something exciting – dangerously exciting. At long last. Something that you have been secretly wanting to happen, and thought would never ever happen.
Or maybe it’s nothing. Just your imagination. So just to check. Once. Only once. You quickly look up – a fleeting glance.
He is still looking at you – not furtively, but with waves of yearning flowing out of his eyes. He looks a decisive, hot-blooded and masculine man with his smart beard and piercing eyes.
You feel a flush inside. A tremor. A tremor of trepidation – mixed with excitement. You cannot define how you feel – but it feels good. He looks at you. You look back at him in return. He begins to smile. You quickly look down and bury yourself into the pages in front of you and pretend to read.
But it’s no use. You can sense his unseen eyes locked onto you, burning into you, traveling all over your body and lingering exactly where they shouldn’t – just like a laser beam.
And now, he knows that you know.
What do you do? Best is not to react – just accept the fact of being looked at – ignore him. Keep on pretending to read.
Oh no! That may be dangerous. He may get ideas. You never know these types. May think you are game. But are you? Or aren’t you?
Why not play on – have some fun. Flirt a bit. See what happens. A little excitement to liven up your boring life a bit. So you take a deep breath, brace yourself and start a dangerous game.
You look up from your book, pan your gaze slowly across the bookstore, looking at everything – the shelves of books, the people, the cha-bar, the sales counter - and finally, like a dog that has circled its bowl of food long enough, you look directly at him. Eyes meet. His and yours. Yours and his. His appraising eyes look into yours. And then his eyes travel down and look at the book in your hands.
You spontaneously follow his gaze, and look down at the book in your hands – Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care – most inappropriate for what you have in mind. You quickly put it away into the rack, run your eyes across the shelf and pick up ‘The Art of Seduction’. You turn the pages – nothing registers – so you look up at him almost seeking approbation.
He smiles – a wry smile – as if he knows something you don’t. And suddenly he gets up from the chair, keeps the magazine he is holding in the rack and begins walking towards you.
Your heart stops – you want to disappear, but he is already standing in front of you.
“Good morning Anita,” he says. “I’m Sen. Dilip Sen.”
Anita? You are not Anita. Seems to be a case of mistaken identity – but you are curious, and in a playful mood, so you say, “Oh,Hello Mr. Sen. You’re late.”
“Late? No,” he says looking at his watch, a confused look on his face. “The RV is correct - as planned.”
Now you are really curious. “Why don’t you pull that stool and sit,” you say.
“Not here. Let’s go to the cha-bar. We can talk in peace there,” he says.
“Okay,” You replace the book in its place in the shelf, get up and walk towards the cha-bar. The cha-bar – the tea lounge – it’s the best thing about Oxford Bookstore. An ideal place to relax, browse or have a quiet flirtatious chat over a cup of exquisite tea. As you sip, savoring the fragrance and relishing the rich flavor of premium Darjeeling Tea, you feel a shiver of anticipation. It’s your first time. You wonder what’s going to happen next?
“Well done. Let’s recap,” he says pulling out a pocket diary.
Well done? Recap? You wonder what this is all about. The man seems to be crazy. But you keep your wits about, and to calm down you say to yourself, “Relax. Just keep quiet and go along.”
And to Mr. Sen, you say, “Okay. Sure. Let’s recap.”
“Step 1,” he says looking into the diary in front of him, “you and I independently arrive at the previously agreed upon rendezvous. Your choice is excellent – this bookstore – easy to wait, observe and not be noticed. We just blended in. Much better cover than a railway station, park or restaurant. And the book you chose – Baby and Child Care - easily discernible – so aptly chosen. Perfect for your cover. Looked so natural in your hands.”
“Do I look pregnant?” you snap at him.
“Oh no. I didn’t mean it that way,” he says, taken aback, “ You look lovely. But the book – it suited your cover – as a bored housewife.”
Cover? What’s he talking. A bored housewife! That’s what you are, aren’t you? Husband busy working, kids at school, and you – bored to death with nothing to do.
“I’m not bored,” you tease him with your eyes. Flatter him by looking steadily at him without letting your eyes stray.
“Step 2 – making eye contact. We could be a bit more discreet next time, isn’t it?” he says smiling into your eyes.
Discreet? Next time? What’s going on? Who’s this guy?
“Step3 – the signal. Change of book. Okay. But ‘The Art of Seduction’?,” he looks perplexed, “try something more sober – in line with your cover…..”
He goes on and on but you aren’t listening. You just look at him. A man who looks like a man. Solid, strong, decisive but vulnerable. You fantasize. Your imagination begins to run wild. You feel his touch – he has put his hand in your arm. His touch is electric. A shiver of anticipation rises within you. Suddenly he is shaking you. You snap back to reality.
“Okay Anita. Let’s get on with the tradecraft,” he says, in an almost imperative tone.
“Yes. And make sure you don’t grow a tail.”
“Yes,” he says, “ Be careful. Maybe you’ve already grown a tail – check it out and shake it off.”
“Grown a tail?” unknowingly you move your hand over your behind to check and instinctively shake your bottom.
“Not there,” he reprimands, in a voice a teacher uses to scold a careless student.
“Have you forgotten everything – counter surveillance protocol?”
“Countersurveillanceprotocol?” you ask credulous.
“Come on Anita. Snap out of it. Be alert. They told me you were a seasoned detective. Now get on with your mission.”
Detective? Mission? What’s he talking about?
Oh my God! Fear starts rising within you. It’s getting dangerous. This is for real - no longer fun. It’s time to run.
“Excuse me,” you say, quickly get up and start walking towards the exit. You sense he is following you. So the moment you get out of the bookstore, you deliberately avoid going to your car but walk in the opposite direction towards the Oval. The Clock on Rajabai Tower is striking twelve – it’s noon.
You look back over your shoulder. Dilip Sen is following you. You break into a run, still looking back, and suddenly bang into someone. It’s Nalini – your gossipy neighbor.
“What happened?” she asks, steadying you up.
“Nothing,” you say.
“Hey. Why did you abort?” Dilip Sen asks, catching up with you, his hand clutching your arm.
“Abort?” exclaims Nalini, her eyebrows arched, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
You look at Nalini. Then at Dilip Sen. And then at Nalini again.
Nalini’s roving eyes travel allover you, look meaningfully at Dilip Sen, for that significant moment her eyes focus on his hand holding yours, taking in everything, till her gaze settles down pointedly looking at where it shouldn’t.
Everything seems frozen. In grotesque silence.
And then, Nalini looks at you with envious awe. And you see something mischievously wicked in her large radiating eyes
You know you are sunk. Truly sunk. You break out into laughter. That’s the only sane thing left to do. Life isn’t going to be boring any longer.