Torrential rain in the evening. The foggy orange halo of the car headlights approaching from the opposite direction lights him up briefly. He walks briskly yet carefully, or he might slip. He carries no umbrella. And he removes his glasses and puts them in his pocket. Glasses are a hindrance in the rain.
Drenched to the skin, he clenches on to a satchel with his left hand, its strap wound securely across his right shoulder. The stuff inside the satchel has to remain dry. Not the rest of him, even though his right hand presses down on a handkerchief spread on his head. His hair is wet and sends down streams of water down his face. A handkerchief offers no protection in the rain and keeps his right hand unnecessarily occupied.
He doesn’t search for a shelter. He is in a hurry.
She stares through the window and thinks of him. It’s her birthday. But the stupid rain is delaying the stupid man. The reservation in the restaurant will need to be cancelled perhaps. Getting late. She calls him up.
His phone begins to ring inside the satchel. But his hands are occupied and it is raining. He cannot answer the phone. It keeps on ringing, much to his irritation. I am coming, I am coming. Can’t you see it’s raining? He yells silently. A wayside tea stall is still open. People huddling under the tarpaulin shed held insecurely by bamboo poles.
He walks in and reaching inside the satchel, he pulls out his phone and answers the call. Without his glasses he cannot read the name of the caller. Have you reached your hotel yet? she asks from the other end. Oh! It’s she, not she, he whispers to himself. Silently again. No, I am stuck. It’s raining hard. Where are you stuck? In a tea stall. Take care, don’t get drenched, you will catch a cold.
He sneezes hard. But you have already caught a cold. No, no … he protests and then sneezes again. This time harder. Why are you lying to me? She sounds suspicious. You had better come back immediately, she orders. Get into your dry clothes here. You don’t have to spend the night in that cheap hotel.
He begins to plead. The dress is still dry inside my shoulder bag. It could get wet if I walked back to your place now. The hotel is closer. What dress? she asks charily. Why, the one I bought for your … He realizes the faux pas and barely manages to hold his tongue. My what? she demands. Silence. My what? she raises her voice several decibels.
Why are you screaming? It’s your dress. The dress I bought for you. When did you buy it? You were here only an hour ago. Did you have it with you? Yes, he says. I mean no… I bought it after I left your home. Another faux pas. You went to buy me a dress in this torrential rain? I wanted to surprise you tomorrow, he replied pathetically. But you said you’ll be away from town by early morning and won’t be back for two weeks. Did I? Sorry, that’s what I told my business partner. To avoid him. Dirty liar! Come back immediately. And keep that dress dry. What colour? He collected himself now. It will be a surprise, wait, just wait. And ended the call abruptly.
The phone began to ring instantaneously. Oh shit! She won’t leave me alone. He rejected the call. But the phone came to life again. He had to answer. I just told you I am coming back. Can’t you believe me for once? When did you tell me that, the voice at the other end inquired. We didn’t speak since early morning today! A third faux pas now. It’s not she, it’s she. Oh, I thought it was the business partner. Sorry. Business partner? Is the partner a woman? No, she’s no woman. A man, but he has the voice of a woman. He’s gay I think. You deal with a gay business partner? What on earth are you up to? You are chatting with your business partner after promising to take me out to the restaurant? Have you forgotten that it’s my birthday today? Are you cheating me? You never told me of a business partner. Of course not, why should I lie? I have even bought you a present. It’s in my satchel. Still dry. I see. What present? A silk saree. It’s a work of art. You’ll love it. What colour? Be patient. It’s going to be a surprise. Anyway, I cancelled the reservation in the restaurant. Your trousers are still in the laundry. Only your sleeping pyjamas are dry here. Can’t wear them to a restaurant. Come back as soon as you can. The rain has stopped, but it can start again. The sky’s still overcast. Yes, yes, will be there in a jiffy. He disconnects and comes out of the shed.
When the phone rings again. What’s it now? he thinks miserably. I just told you I’ll be with you in a moment. What? When did you say that? You hung up on me when I asked you what the colour of the dress was. I wanted to surprise you, he said. You didn’t, you were simply lying. You have something up your sleeve. Come right back here and admit if you have the courage. I suspect you are having an affair.
He stands on the pavement and doesn’t know which way to proceed. The direction he was headed for till now or the one he had come from.
It begins to rain again. He covers his head with the wet handkerchief and presses down on it. Handkerchiefs are useless when it rains.