* Note : Contains Explicit Sexual Content
Mallika was already waiting at their table when Zarina arrived at India Jones. She was checking messages on her blackberry and she looked up as Zarina approached. Perfectly mannered, as Zarina would have guessed, she stood up and extended her hand, clasping Zarina’s in it. They gave each other a kiss on the cheek before Zarina sat down, adjusting the crimson colored skirt she was wearing.
“Hi, I hope you like this place,” Zarina said. “I come here all the time.”
“I must admit this is my first time here,” responded Mallika. “I will have to take your recommendation on what to order.”
Zarina was used to ordering – she liked to be in control. She ordered all her favorite dishes, making sure Mallika didn’t have any allergies or dislikes. She called for a bottle of Chilean white wine for them.
Mallika wore a halter neck printed top with a floral design. Her tanned arms were perfectly toned. Her nails done. Zarina was thankful she went through the trouble of going to the spa that day.
The interior of India Jones was warm and cosy that night with candles at the table. There was a good buzz around them, mostly couples and foreign businessmen. A group of Japanese businessmen had already had their fill of alcohol, judging from their ruddy faces and loud mirth.
“So, Zarina, tell me about yourself.” Mallika took the lead. Clearly, she didn’t want to talk business which suited Zarina perfectly.
“Well, where should I start?” Zarina looked at Mallika almost shyly. Mallika smiled back. The warmth of her smile, with the candlelight dancing off her face, made her look like a Renaissance Madonna. Zarina felt like she had come home.
They talked for hours about everything. Zarina learned they had a lot in common: they both had cried for days after reading “The God of Small Things,” loved Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” and thought Angelina Jolie was the hottest woman alive. (Mallika added that Brad Pitt had a cute butt).
“I have to admit I’m a bit of a homebody. I haven’t been out on a Friday or Saturday in ages unless it was for a movie,” divulged Zarina. “I just hate the crass drinking culture in Bombay. I mean I did that so much while I was studying in the U.S.”
“Well, it doesn’t leave you with much to do on the weekend then does it?” asked Mallika. It turned out Mallika was the same way. She added: “Well, let’s just say, I’ve grown fond of pizza and the company of my cats on Friday and Saturday nights!”
They both laughed and polished off their wine. Zarina filled their glasses up.
Well into their third bottle of wine and over a helping of sea bass, Mallika told Zarina about her family, her mother’s death when she was just 14 and how she had struggled with her relationship with her stepmother for years. “It’s the reason I left Delhi and went to Australia to study,” she confided. “I was dying to get out.” She suddenly went quiet. Zarina extended her hand across the table and touched Mallika’s hand gently, almost as a reflex. Mallika didn’t resist her touch. They were both quite tipsy from the wine now.
“And what about you?” asked Mallika. “Tell me more about you.”
“Well, I lived in the States for six years. I went to New York University and then went to graduate school for art and design out in California. I didn’t want to come back to India but my Dad wasn’t well so I had no choice. I’m an only child.”
“Why didn’t you want to come back?”
“I hate this place to be honest. I don’t feel like….” Zarina hesitated.
“Like I can really be myself.” She stopped.
“I know what you mean,” responded Mallika. “I feel very trapped here. I wish I could go back to Australia sometimes.”
“No, well it’s a bit different. You see, I’m…I’m…well, I’m gay you see.” Zarina knew she had just jumped off a cliff but she didn’t care; she was free-falling. She lowered her gaze and took a sip of her wine. This evening is so over, she told herself. Well done, Zarina. You can pat yourself on the back now.
To Zarina’s complete and utter surprise, Mallika burst out laughing.
“Hey, what’s so funny?” Zarina didn’t know whether to be vexed or perplexed.
“My best friend in Australia was a lesbian,” she said. “What is it with me and lesbos?!”
Zarina looked like someone had pulled down her pants. “I don’t know….,” she stuttered, “I guess we all live in the woodwork and come out sometimes!” She relaxed a bit and grinned sheepishly at Mallika.
“Come on now, don’t be so sullen. There are worse things in life. Let’s pay for this meal and go get some ice-cream. I’m drunk and this place is just way too stuffy!”