* Note : Contains Explicit Sexual Content
Zarina and Mallika walked in silence to Mallika’s apartment opposite the Fariyas Hotel in Colaba. Mallika was calling in sick for the rest of the day. She looked wiped out. Zarina wanted to put her arm around her and hold her close. She kept quiet and walked alongside her ex-lover with a weight on her shoulders of having so much to say, but saying nothing at all. A light drizzle of rain fell on them.
Mallika, like Zarina, was a self-made entrepreneur. She had a small publishing firm that focused on art, entertainment and design and that’s how they had met. Zarina had got a reference from a mutual acquaintance and called up Mallika’s firm to discuss a book she was working on. After countless emails and phone calls exchanged over four months they finally met in Mallika’s office in Churchgate.
It was love at first sight, at least for Zarina. From the moment their eyes met, Zarina felt as if she was looking into a deep well. Mallika’s soulfulness countered Zarina’s cool and aloof demeanor. She felt immediately at ease with the woman sitting opposite her, across the table. Mallika had her hair up that day, in a clip with a few loose strands falling around her neck. She wore a smart pair of black-rimmed Ralph Lauren glasses perched delicately on the bridge of her nose and she had left the top two buttons of her white shirt unbuttoned, giving her an air of casual elegance. They talked for an hour about the book project. Mallika had a fresh approach; she was unlike any other publisher Zarina had met. “Finally,” Zarina, remembered thinking, “a publisher who has a vision.”
As Zarina was leaving her office, Mallika got up, leaned over and they shook hands over the table. She moved gracefully away from the table and accompanied Zarina up to the door. Then she did a strange thing. She put her hand gently on Zarina’s shoulder and leaned over and whispered in her ear “I think we have a winner.” She was referring to the book project of course, but Zarina was suddenly paralyzed by Mallika’s closeness to her. The smell of her perfume – Zarina imagined the mysterious expanse of the ocean – made her heart beat three times faster. Mallika leaned back, gave Zarina a wink and bade her goodbye. Her smile, full lips with a light shade of lipstick, slightly lopsided with laughter lines at the corners, stayed impressed in Zarina’s mind. She would always love that smile.
For the next few days, Zarina could think of nothing else. Her pulse raced every time she thought of Mallika and her physical closeness to her that day. Zarina knew she had to be near Mallika again. After three interminably long days, Zarina mustered up the courage to call Mallika and ask her out to dinner. Mallika agreed readily – and on a Friday night! Zarina knew better than to take it as a sign, but she was elated anyway.
Zarina had no idea if Mallika was gay, or even bi, but somehow it didn’t matter. They could be good friends. Zarina didn’t meet many like-minded souls in the city. And she liked the way Mallika’s mind worked. She was not only beautiful but smart and sassy in her own way. Zarina wanted to get to know her better. “It’s not every day you connect to someone who gets you,” Zarina told herself.
On the day of their meeting, Zarina took the day off and went to the spa. She had a long soothing massage, a facial and got her hair and nails done. It had been ages since Zarina had a date. Work had taken over her life and she had put away the trivialities of romance while building her business. One heartbreak too many had made her averse to dating. Mallika was different though. After a long time, Zarina had felt the fluttering of her sleeping heart.
Zarina was determined to enjoy the evening in Mallika’s company. She would be utterly charming, with no expectations. No expectations. She repeated it to herself a few times as she looked at herself in the mirror that evening before she ventured out. She looked stunning. The months of workouts had really toned her body. Zarina saw herself with new eyes. She took a deep breath and moved away the strand of hair that had fallen across her face, and tucked it behind her ear. She wished herself good luck, picked up her house keys from the dressing table and walked out the front door, closing it gently behind her.