Ayera took one glance at herself in the mirror, to check if the pleats of the skater dress were fine, and hurried to get into the cab that was waiting below her flat. She had overslept slightly and anticipated she would be late; and that Abhishek might have reached the venue. Adjusting herself in the car, she ticked off all the essentials in her side bag, while the cab started moving: “lip balm, debit card, cash, keys, an apple if I feel hungry, chocolate if I feel more hungry…pepper spray if it gets late but I have to come back alone…okay, done”
Just then, she got a text from Abhishek ‘Hi Ayera, I’ve almost reached. If I reach before you, I’ll grab a table for two’. “Tch tch”, Ayera said to herself, “poor thing he is almost there. I’ll need at least 20 more minutes to reach..I’ll let him know”. She crafted a brief apologizing text, sent him, and leaned back on the cab seat. As she watched out of the window, she drifted off to another day.
Ayera and Abhishek had been set up by their parents to meet up. “Mom! I joined a dance class today!!” Ayera had exclaimed on phone one day while speaking to her mother, expecting an equally exciting reply from her. She had completed an MBA after her engineering, joined a job, and most importantly, was about to resume her dancing. Ayera’s mother had always wanted her daughter to shine in these. So Ayera was confident her mother couldn’t ask for anything else too soon.
“Good Ayera, where’s the school?” her mother asked.
“Not too far Mom,” Ayera said, “I’ll be going on weekends.”
“Okay! Morning classes?” Mom asked
“No ..they don’t have any Contemporary style batch in the morning. So I’ll be going in the evenings”. Ayera replied while unpacking her bag after her first trial class that day, “I went for the same class today. I’ll be back around this time.”
“Okay, “ Ayera’s mother said, “ don’t be too late in the evenings. Give me calls as soon as you’re done with the dance classes. You know how worried I am about your safety always,” her Mom said
“Why don’t you relax, Mom. It’s Mumbai. It’s never too late in the night for this city!” snapped a slightly perturbed Ayera, as she made her cup of tea in the kitchen.
“I have to be, Ayera. At least as long as I don’t get you married to someone! Then its HIS responsibility to care for your safety…I’ll take a vacation only then," scorned her mother.
“Oh God, Mom, you are again back to that same old discussion,” Ayera cut her midway, as her temper started boiling just like the water she was heating in the electric kettle."I am not going to just...simply....marry someone so that he can take care of my safety! At least be proud of yourself.....you've brought me up to be quite a strong woman...I can take care of myself. I don't NEED someone...I have to WANT someone."
“We have to have this discussion until you don’t reach a conclusion, Ayera. You aren’t seeing anyone on your own, you are not liking someone we are setting you up with. What are we to do?” this time, her mother gushed.
“Mom, give me some time. I’ve not been able to strike a chord with anyone I’ve been set up with so far! What can I do?” Ayera said, pouring her tea.
“Really? You are looking for striking of a chord? In arranged marriage? All the best,” her Mom was now at the peak of her sarcasm.
“You know what Mom, we can have this discussion later. I had an absolutely brilliant evening today. I learned a new dance ..I felt so happy…I wanted to tell you all about that. But we can talk later,” Ayera said, ready to keep the phone.
“Yes, let’s talk later,” her Mom said and kept the phone.
The importance of walk-out in negotiation, huh? Really, Mothers are the live example of good managers.
As Ayera sipped her tea sitting in her room, trying to catch up with the day’s news, she got a call back from her mother, “Hello, Ayera?”
“Ya Mom, tell”, said Ayera, feeling positive that her mother had called now to make it up by talking about her dance class.
“I’m texting you a number of this boy. Your and his father just had a talk. I’ll share his profile, you can check. He will get in touch with you. And yes, check out your dance classes schedule and plan to meet up accordingly on one of the weekends, bye.” Her mother said and kept the phone.
“Hello!! Mom? Hello…!” Ayera kept exclaiming only to hear the beep on the other end.
Even before she could process all the information, she got a text from her mother.
“Well, that was a nice one! I wanted to have a break from checking guys for marriage, and she does this!” Ayera thought as she clicked on the link to his profile on the matrimony site.
Ayera realized she had seen his profile earlier. But she had chuckled and ignored it as the boy looked way too handsome and way too qualified to be a genuine case. “Forget him, Ayera,” she had to pull herself out of checking his profile, “he would turn out to be either a fraud or a narcissist” she had assured herself, based on her past experiences.
So it was quite amusing for Ayera to eventually get to connect with him.
‘Hi, Ayera, Abhishek here. My Dad got your number from your Dad, via a matrimony site. Let me know if it’s a good time to chat?’ A text came from the guy in some time.
They chatted for quite a while, on a myriad of topics. Ayera had started feeling conscious about having to find something that wouldn’t match between her and him, at least one thing, that would break the insanely high level of connecting she could feel while interacting with him. "This is not happening, he is too perfect to be true", Ayera thought. “ I hope we are not long lost, twins!”, Abhishek had even joked one day, as Ayera’s suggestions of a wooden interior with an extended terrace having sunset-view, and country music, magically matched what Abhishek had visualized for his dream brewery that he wanted to own after retirement.
After a couple of days of constant chatting, Abhishek wrote to her: ‘Can I ask you out this Sunday?’ , “ Can we make it Saturday? I have dance classes on Sunday...I just recently joined so don’t wish to give up on the very next class”, Ayera told, secretly hoping to check if he had anything against his wife continuing dancing.
‘Hey, that’s amazing! Do you dance? Sure! We can meet on Saturday then at…June 3rd, that is. No compromising with your hobbies, Madam ‘ came the reply.
Ayera called up her Mother that night.
“So you both are meeting?” her mother asked.
“Yes, this Saturday,” said Ayera
“Good. Let me know how it goes. You sound happy, though,” chuckled her mother.
“Yes, I take back my words. I do feel connected with this person, for a change,” surrendered Ayera.
“Haha, good going, daughter,” her mother said,” but don’t be too hooked on the positives. Take your time. You have only exchanged a few texts so far. Marriage is hard work.”
“Oh Mom, no one is getting married yet, chill,” Ayera told her mother.
That Saturday, Ayera dressed herself up in her best fitting jeans and shirt. No matter how much she tried to deny, but she indeed had been excited since the night before. She had met other men before, but for none of them she had woken up a bit early to make sure she was ready in time. For nobody else, she had checked repeatedly in the mirror if her hair looked fine. Although she started on time, she got a text from Abhishek saying he was reaching slightly early so that he could grab a table for two.
She rushed to get into her cab so as to not make him wait too long. Adjusting herself in the car, she ticked off all the essentials in her side bag, while the cab started moving: “lip balm, debit card, cash, keys, an apple if I feel hungry, chocolate if I feel more hungry…pepper spray if it gets late but I have to come back alone.”
She got down at Doolally Taproom, a place in Bandra. They had decided on the venue based on convenience and the fact that Ayera had never been there. It was one of Abhishek’s favorite hangout spot. From across the road, Ayera tried figuring out if she could get any glimpse of the man she had been seeing only on photos, through the glass door of the restaurant. He would have a moustache, slight stubble, spectacles. Could he be the one sitting out there on right? No. That one has a beard way too much. Wait, there’s one with his back towards the door….oh okay his friends just joined him, so not the one. Then Ayera could see one man checking out his mobile with a dark beer kept in front of him. He wore a black shirt with sleeves rolled up, baring his fair hand, just the way one of his photos showed. “Ahh got him!” Ayera told herself as she walked up to enter the restaurant.
“Abhi…shek?” she asked hesitantly, having walked up to him.
“Hey! Hi. Ayera, right? “ he said, shaking hand with her,” Please have a seat”
“So? How’s the beer?” she asked, for an ice breaker
“It’s decent,” Abhishek said, with a thumbs-up, “do you want to taste some? We can have a few tasters too.”
“No ..I don’t think so…I anyways don’t like beer. I’ll have some wine” Ayera smiled as she explained.
“Okay,” Abhishek got a bit nervous, “you know, this place only serves beer. Let’s go to some other place then….”
“Hey, no-no. that’s fine! I can have a beer if nothing else is available….no compulsion !,” Ayera had to make him comfortable, “it’s okay! If I have an option, I prefer other drinks, or else I’m fine with beer!”
“Okay…but we can easily go to another place. Let me know, “said a concerned Abhishek, “we also have a few games here, we can play if you want.”
“Ummm…me not a games person, Abhishek,” Ayera grinned,” I came last in a lemon-and-spoon race in Nursery. Haven’t been interested in sports/ games ever since”
She looked around for a while and pointed out, “Hey do you see so many people have come with their pets !! Those cats over there…and look at all these dogs !! “
“Ya, they do that here. You love dogs?” Abhishek asked.
“A LOT! I had a pet, Tupsi, who lived with us for fourteen long years. I totally love dogs !! Which animals do you like?” she asked.
“ Okay. I do feel generally affectionate towards animals..but can’t specify like that, really. I don’t think I’m a cat or a dog person”, said a confused Abhishek, still trying to fathom Ayera’s excitement as she jumped up from her seat to cuddle with a golden Pomeranian.
Ayera’s cab came to a halt at the traffic signal, jerking Ayera out of her thoughts. She checked the time again……she would be reaching the venue in another ten minutes. She checked if her dress was fine, and put a little bit of lip balm. As the car pulled along again, Ayera drifted back to her thoughts.
She started recalling those days when differences weren’t limited to preferences for drinks or pets. There were differences that drained both of them, there were days when they fought. There were times when she would have to take up extra projects, work out another hour in the gym; while he would be forced to focus more on finishing his preparation for the next meeting, letting her texts go unanswered.
“Madam, the map’s suggesting this route. The other one would have less traffic at this time. Which one do you want?”, the cab driver asked, jolting Ayera out of her chain of thoughts.
“Whichever you want,” she answered indifferently while checking her watch "I'm very close to the destination now.....route won't matter."
Ayera let down the window glass a bit, allowing the wind to play with her hair. She didn’t have to care anymore about if they looked all pressed and nice when she would appear before Abhishek.
As the breeze blew across Ayera’s face, she recalled something else. She remembered the first day she had got drenched in rain and mist at camping with Abhishek. She had hoped that he would come and take her in his arms and would totally not be able to stop himself from kissing her. Sure, he did come running, but only to wrap her in his oversized jacket saying “please get inside the tent, you’ll catch cold”. Ayera couldn’t help being angry and feeling like laughing at him at the same time. She recalled, how, after they would spend extra hours at work and gym, whenever Abhishek returned home, he would first check if the blanket was completely covering the already asleep Ayera, and would then snuggle right beside her, holding her tight. She realized, although her texts went unanswered during days of heavy work schedule, whenever she had needed him, all she had to do was give him one phone call, and Abhishek would make himself available, no matter if it would be a task she needed help in terms of physical labor, or if she was having an emotional meltdown over something and needed a shoulder to cry on.
“Madam, the drop is somewhere here,” said the driver, stopping his car, "we have arrived”
“Yes yes,” said Ayera, pulling up the window glass,” Sorry I didn’t even realize the journey was being completed. Yes, it’s right across the road, I know the venue.”
Stepping out of the cab, she climbed to the topmost floor of the shopping complex. Standing outside the brewery, she tried to see if she could have a glimpse of the man, through the glass door. Yes! There he was, in a black shirt with sleeves rolled up, baring his fair hand.
A young waitress came and received Ayera at the door, leading her up to the table on the extended terrace, where Abhishek was sitting. It was a brand new brewery, with wooden interiors. “Finally, you’re late one day,” Abhishek chuckled, as he hugged Ayera.” Yes! Abhi…”, laughed Ayera, “after all these years I realized you should make some amendment to coming late every time we had a date, all these years, EVERY TIME! You are always so late Abhi …..I have to have at least 2-3 glasses of wine to be able to wait in a pub for you,” Ayera frowned as she slapped on his chest lightly, still in his hug.
“Alright alright, Ayera….I know! I have always done that …except for the first day we met, right??.I’m so sorry, “ apologized Abhishek, putting a small peck on her forehead,” So that’s why I took care of it. I have included all the good wines in my brewery…..so that you don’t have a problem in waiting for me here when I’m late.”
“Wow Abhi….so generous of you Mister,” laughed Ayera sarcastically," anyways you could have just woken me up before you started getting ready! I would have been on time." She claimed.
"I couldn't. You were sleeping too peacefully," said Abhishek, smiling at her. He kept staring at Ayera. Their table on the terrace overlooked the sunset happening by the sea. It was a surprisingly clear sunset happening that day although it was June, and there had been slight rain earlier. Mumbai was usually cloudy this time. The orange rays of the sun fell on Ayera’s face. Her grey hair glistened in that light. Abhishek caressed the wrinkles beside her eyes with his thumb slowly, as if to match the beat of the country music that was being played in the brewery.
“What are you looking at? Did you even notice I wore the dress you had gifted?” Frowned Ayera playfully. “Sorry Madam, I’m bad at noticing all these,” Abhishek confessed. “I know. Anything you are good at, at all?” Ayera asked as she played with Abhishek’s white hair. Abhishek threw his head back as if in a reflex, saying “Ayera, how many times have I told you I don’t like ladies touching my hair? I feel like a kid! I hate it !” Ayera burst into laughter, running her hands through his pure white set of beard and mustache, “Okay then I’ll do THIS!” she said. “Yes, very good, now I feel like a dog”, Abhishek said, giving up.
“C’mon, Mister…it’s almost time. Let’s get your retirement dream inaugurated! “, Ayera said, patting his arm, as she started making a move towards the inner side of the brewery to check if everything was in place. “Ayera, listen,” Abhishek called her, “weren’t you asking me about something I’m good at?” he asked. “Well yes….you care to answer?” Ayera asked.
“Why not?” whispered Abhishek, as he pulled Ayera back, closer to him, and gradually leaned towards her. Just as their lips were about to touch, Ayera’s phone rang. She laughed, pulling herself free of Abhishe’s arms and took her phone out of the bag.
“It’s Ayesha,” grinned Ayera. “Oh man, then you both are not getting done any soon,” frowned Abhishek, “I’ll go check with the waiters. Let me show you my skills later”
“Hey Ayesha !! what are you up to?”, Ayera exclaimed.
“Hello, Mom!! Nothing much with me…you both should say….how’s the inauguration shaping up? I wish I was in India! Isn’t Dad super excited?” Ayesha kept exclaiming in one breathe.
“You bet he is! “ Ayera laughed.
“By the way, Happy Anniversary to both of you,” said Ayesha.
“It’s not even our wedding day, Ayesha. Don’t be silly.” Ayera tried to ignore.
“Yes. Like you chose June 3rd for your inauguration date for nothing !" Ayesha teased her mother, “Now when you both are going to stop pretending you aren’t romantic enough?”
“Relax Ayesha, this was just a convenient date for us, okay tell us about your weekend,” Ayera changed the topic, blushing.
“Mom! I joined a dance class!” Ayesha exclaimed
“Okay, that’s great !! Morning classes, Ayesha?” Ayera hoped.
“No Mom, evening. It’ll get slightly late by the time I return, but it’s a great class! And you know how safe it is in here at Pittsburgh” Ayesha explained.
“Ayesha, I know its safe. But still, do give me a call as soon as your classes get over. And give me the number of your flatmate so that I can check with her when your phone doesn’t connect…” scorned a slightly concerned Ayera.
“Mom…dododon't be so tensed. Relax! I will share the number…. Now go !! Help Dad with all the things, bye” said Ayesha, throwing a small peck for her mother on phone.
“Bye dear,” said Ayera, keeping her phone.
After the formal inauguration, Ayera and Abhishek inspected each table personally as the customers tried out the drinks and food.
Abhishek spotted a young boy checking out his mobile, sitting at a corner table with a glass of beer before him. He walked up to him and asked, “hello there….anything else you want?” The boy seemed to be a bit nervous, and looked up and said, “No thanks, I have always waited for a nice brewery to open nearby..so I came here…the place looks great! Beer is great.” Soon, a girl came up to him and said, “Hi…Rishi, right?” “Ya Hi Ritu! Please have a seat,” the boy said getting up.
“Let me get that”, smiled Abhishek through his white mustache as he pulled the chair for the girl.
“Thank you, “ the girl said, “so? Nice beer?”
“Yes! Breweries are always good for me ..you know! fresh beer, which one do you want?” Rishi asked.
“Umm..not sure, actually myself not too much into beer,” said Ritu, trying to sound polite.
“No worries dear, we got you,” Ayera came, holding the drinks menu, with the wine page open, “Wine, by any chance? We have the best variants!”
“Oh let me see,” said Ritu, pulling the menu,” Actually yes! You do have my favorite red wines. Get me this one,” she said, pointing to one on the menu for Ayera.
“Right away,” said Ayera, as she collected the menu from her, and grinned at Abhishek.