“A beautiful evening, however inappropriate it may seem to be!” I looked out the glass window where the ocean was just few feet away from where we sat. The clear azure sky, the noisy waves, the candlelight at our table and the live jazz at the restaurant, I wasn’t sure how Ajith felt, but it was a heady cocktail for my senses.
“We should have headed to the brewery which was closer to the hostel. You did mention that they had good reviews” Ajith glanced through the menu, clearly discomfited by the setting but trying hard to be cool about it.
The waiter was hovering at our table listing the dinner special about a three course meal, to whom we had requested couple more minutes to decide. He gladly left us.
“Your manager a gora guy I guess?! I doubt a desi manager recommending a waterfront restaurant” I chuckled and glanced at the menu. It definitely wasn’t a place to chug beer with hot wings, which was what I was earlier intending to do, but a three course meal sounded too romantic.
“Yes indeed!” Ajith laughed,”Mr. Leitner must have come here with his love interest.”
“Am sure that would have been the case! Should we try the chicken pasta with pesto? It’s on the second page”, I tried showing him where it was listed.
“Why don’t we do the three course thing that the guy mentioned? You do eat steak, right?” Ajith moved the candles nearer to the glass wall.
“I do, sort of”, I looked at the flickering flame and its light reflecting on the glasses of water at the table.
“What do you mean, sort of? You do or you don’t?!” he brought my attention back to the menu.
“Yeah, let’s do the steak and lobster tail” I looked around to hint the waiter, who promptly arrived at our table and explained the three course meal patiently again and took our orders.
“That guy is sweet” I sipped water from the glass.
“He is gay”, Ajith did the same too.
“I know, it was obvious”, I gave him the silly look.
“Straight guys could be sweet too!” Ajith never misses a chance to tease me.
A year since we had last met in person and hardly any calls in the meantime, but there was nothing amiss in our catch up. He is one of the few people in my life with whom I could just be myself and not put up a façade of curated living.
“Hey, take a pic. Good one, huh!” I handed my phone to him and he clicked couple pictures of me.
“They ok? You aren’t gonna post them in FB I hope”, he handed my phone back to me.
“When was the last time you saw me upload pics in FB?” I looked at him incredulously.
“I know. But what if you got carried away by the moment?!!” it was his turn for the silly face.
“You give this moment too much credit than it deserves” I smiled.
I sure undermined the moment then with him, but it was an evening that would be etched in my memory forever.
“Pragya wouldn’t take it well”, Ajith broke the awkward silence, even though it was hardly a minute that passed by.
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t be posting it anywhere”. He doesn’t realize how much a closed person I’ve become. Not merely private, but closed.
“She knows we are at a restaurant, but not in one like this”, he looked straight at me.
“I understand”, and after a pregnant pause I asked, “This isn’t about Pragya, it’s a general question. Ten years of marriage with a handsome son of four years, do you think there’d be trust issues in a seemingly happy relationship? Am not talking about any random relationship, but yours. You do get my question right, am not trying to judge Pragya here.”
“I know what you mean”, he smiled. “She has a feeling that am attracted to high risk pursuits and an extra marital affair is an enticing option. Not about infidelity or such, it’s just the allure that she thinks I’d be driven to.”
I sat still with a bewildered look on my face.
“Hey she doesn’t think it would involve you.” He hurried to correct my confusion. “She goes by the days of how I pursued her relentlessly when she was in the middle of the divorce from her previous marriage”
“C’mon Ajith, I didn’t think about Pragya doubting me. Please!! But 10 long years’ man, we’ve all evolved as different individuals.” I still couldn’t shake off the confusion.
“True mostly, but sadly she hasn’t changed in certain ways though” he stared
“Hmm” I sighed.
“You’re glad you’re free from all this drama, don’t you? Single all the way!” he segued easily to my life.
“I guess yes”, we both laughed.
“But don’t you feel lonely?” he asked earnestly.
“Of course Ajith, I feel lonely at times. But I’ve lived single long enough to understand that those instances are far and few and most importantly fleeting. They do not compel me to revisit my life choices” I wouldn’t have taken the effort to explain myself candidly to anyone else, I knew clearly that Ajith would understand. After all, we both got acquainted through my ex-boyfriend.
“Hmm, if you say so!” he smiled.
To my relief, food had come by then to our table and the conversation easily slid into critiquing it.
The next day, we waved good byes at the San Francisco airport for his flight to Chicago and mine to Los Angeles.
In the frenzy of work, I hadn’t got a chance to ruminate over the couple days spent with Ajith. But when I did, the memory was vivid.
Idyllic scenes rolled slowly by my window as we detoured to the coastal highway. The craggy russet mountains, the pastoral country roads and the breathtaking pristine coastline, the Pacific Ocean trying to palisade over moss covered boulders, I’ve seen this sight a thousand times by then, but they never fail to amaze me. We took a pit stop along one of the rugged ranges and stood there to bask in the soon to be setting sun. Among the resilient cacti green with purple and blue hues, at the edge of one of the clearings to get down to the shore, we spotted a bunch of odd yellow spring wildflowers and to our surprise there was a cross, like the ones at the cemetery. A chocolate brown cross lined with pink edges marked as Xavier with 1981 to 2016 engraved on it. On it were the Marie Claire kinds heart symbols and stickers with ‘I love you dad’, ‘Hardworking’ and ‘Family’ messages on it. A soul which had left its family behind, maybe a wife and teen daughter, way too early for its age. It was a very sober picture in contrast to the panoramic view of the ocean in front of us where the waves formed, frothing with foam, splashing on the rocks bathing under the sun and not able to keep at it for long, slipped back to where they came from.
We drove back in silence to the hostel where we had booked two bunk beds at a coed dorm for the night. The hostel was a nonprofit dwelling in a discarded light house station, with white picketed fence running along the building. We had picked our coffees and sat at the lawn chairs gazing at the distance. The sunset was ethereal, its lights reflecting on the glass of the light house, the birds chirping and hurrying back to their homes. We gazed at the stars that night, wondering if we were being fooled by some of the flights cruising by. And the next day, we hiked, rather traipsed along the cliff trying to spot whales and later headed to dinner at the seaside restaurant.
May be this whole experience would have been even more exhilarating with a partner, but I’ve long past the days of what-ifs. It didn’t matter if it was with a good friend or a stranger. Those moments, that beauty, the sunset was mine and I gladly took it. I may be alone, but am free! My personality may have an awkward ambivalence once in a while, but am certainly not a cave dweller who vulnerably hopes to be pursued into my cave.