[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited! Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 & Chapter 10]
Diano sat in the chair facing the door and waited for the doorbell to buzz. Boy, did he feel lucky. Had he not scanned the channels he would not have spotted the painting. It was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. One of his friends, Andy, used it as his display picture on MSN.
Diano had met Andy on a dating website two years ago. He remembered Andy’s cute face from the time they had chatted via webcam. He also remembered Andy’s room. It was big and sparsely populated unlike Diano’s. They had chatted regularly for weeks until Andy got busy and reduced the amount of time he spent on MSN. Diano made new friends and got busy. He had all but forgotten Andy until a few months ago, when his friend had come online again. Andy had moved to Shanghai and was looking for a job. He had given his mobile number to Diano hoping that Diano would look him up when he was in Shanghai next. Somehow Diano had forgotten to look him up and they had not connected in the recent weeks.
Andy had recognized Diano immediately. Diano had explained that he was in Shanghai but flying back on the following day. He had asked if it was too troublesome to meet up in that lousy weather. Andy had promised to come over in 30 minutes.
Finally, there was a buzz. Diano rushed to the door. Out in the corridor stood Andy, looking more handsome than the last time Diano had seen him on a video call.
“Hi!” Andy displayed a set of perfect white teeth.
“Hello.” The dark clouds inside Diano’s head had begun clearing out.
“Can I come in? Or are we ready to go out?”
“Oh, sorry. Please come in. Do you want a coffee? You’re wet.”
“Thanks.” Andy took off his trench-coat revealing some very fashionable clothes underneath. It was a mix and match of D&G and Agnès b.
“Wow, you look great. Aren’t you scared to wear them in the rain?”
“It’s okay. Clothes are for wearing. If I’m gonna get wet, I’d rather look good than bad.” Andy laughed.
Diano had boiled some water beforehand and so he had a mug of Nescafe ready in no time.
“Why didn’t you let me know earlier?” asked Andy, taking the mug from Diano. “I would have planned it out.”
“Sorry. I’ve been busy recently.”
“Ha-ha. That’s okay. We still have many hours.”
“So where do you think we can go tonight?” Diano asked.
“Have you had dinner yet? I’m hungry. So if you are feeling hungry too, we can pop into my favourite Thai place. It’s nearby.”
“I love Thai food. Let’s go now?”
“Good. We can plan over dinner.”
Andy put the mug down and put his trench coat on. They stepped out of the room. Diano locked the door behind them. He had decided against taking his camera. If they went clubbing, it would be a pain to carry it around.
They walked across the lobby to the front door and waited for a cab to pass by. Eventually one did and they got in. Andy told the driver where to go and they were on their way.
The streets were lined up with leafless trees. Beyond the trees, short and old buildings stood out. Natural light was fading rapidly but there was no mistaking the beauty of Shanghai. Winter was still on.
They pulled up in front of a two-storied building that looked like a residential house. The right part was decorated differently and had a small board identifying the Thai Gallery. Diano paid the cabbie and they hurried up the cobbled steps.
The main door slid open revealing a long narrow room that could only be a lobby. It was dimly lit with beautiful red walls. The reception desk stood at the other end of the room. Marilyn Monroe smiled down at them from a poster on the wall behind the desk. In front of the desk stood a lady dressed in a beautiful black dress with red embroidery.
“Good evening. Do you have a reservation?”
“Hello. No, we don’t. Can we have a table for two, please?” Andy asked, stepping into the light from an overhead lamp.
“Yes, sure.” The lady smiled. “This way, please.”
They followed the lady through a narrow corridor that led into the dining area. The restaurant had a bar against one of the walls. The rest of the floor space was divided into two separate sections. Tatami mats lined up beautifully in one of them giving it a Thai-Japanese look. The other section had easy rattan chairs. A staircase led to the floor above.
They followed the lady upstairs and sat down at the assigned table. The upper floor was similarly done as the ground floor but it extended on one side with tables separated from each other by wooden lattice walls to ensure privacy.
The tablecloth was made from paper and had a simple yet beautiful design on it. Andy picked up the menu and handed it to Diano.
“Take a look.”
“Yeah, that’s what I have been doing since we arrived here. This place is beautiful. I love it.” Diano strained his ears. “Is that the rain?”
“No. That’s a small waterfall. There’s a beautiful garden outside. You can see it if you come during daytime. I think it’ll stop raining soon.”
“I hope so.” Diano picked up the menu.
“Let’s order first. Then I’ll call my friends.”