[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, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23 & Chapter 24]
Face to face
“Hey. I’m here. Where are you?”
“I’m inside. Where are you?” asked Cute.
“I’m outside. Do you want to come out?”
Cute walked out of the place and tried to spot GWM5420.
The crowd had grown bigger. Someone waved at him and walked towards to him.
“Hi. I’m Fred. Great to finally meet you.”
“Hello, Fred. You look different from your profile shot.” Cute couldn’t stop himself from saying that. Fred looked much older in real life than he did in the photograph he used as his profile shot on the Internet.
“Yeah. That was taken a couple of years ago.”
Cute was sure it was taken like half a dozen years ago but that was no real reason to be mean, so he smiled.
“Do you wanna stay here or go to another place?” Cute hoped Fred would go somewhere else. He didn’t want Richard and Fred to bump into each other when he was with either of them.
“I’m kinda hungry. Shall we go grab a bite first? How about some kebabs?”
Cute followed Fred up the slope of D’Aguilar Street, to a small restaurant called Ebeneezer’s.
The place had tall tables and barstools in place of proper chairs. After climbing onto the barstool, Cute found his feet dangling in the air. There were no supporting structures for him to rest his feet on. It felt as if he was perched on a swing. What a stupid design, he thought.
“So what’s your pick?” Fred asked him.
“What do you recommend? I’ve never been to this place.”
“You’ve tried Kebabs before, right? If you’re not okay we can go some place else.”
“Yes. Of course,” Cute lied. He tried to squint at the menu displayed on a huge board on top of the counter. He could read the strange names but he couldn’t see the accompanying photos clearly. He wondered whether he needed to go for an eye checkup soon.
“I like the Lamb Donor.” Fred said. “Do you like lamb?”
“Not really. It’s smelly.”
“I mean I don’t like the smell of lamb.”
“Okay. So what do you want to eat?”
“How is the Veg. Byanny?” Cute asked. The word was Biryani but he was not sure how to pronounce it.
“A bit spicy, I think. Can you eat spicy food?”
“No. No, I cannot. I don’t like spicy food.”
“Then I think you can go for a Chicken Donor. I’ll tell them not to make it spicy.”
Fred went to the counter to place the order. Cute wondered whether he should take out his wallet to pay for his share. One part of him told him not to bother. Fred was dating him. Let him pay. The other part told him to show some basic courtesy, since this was their first meeting.
Fred returned with the order and put it on the table. The rolls were wrapped in aluminum foil. Cute didn’t make a move. He had no idea how to go for the kebab. He waited for Fred to lead.
Fred picked up the one marked Lamb and tore off one end. Cute picked up the other roll and carefully peeled off one end. Unfortunately, he had picked the wrong end and some sauce poured out onto his hands. It had a very strong smell.
Fred handed him some paper tissues. Cute wiped off the sauce and looked up at Fred for the next step.
Fred took a big bite and he smiled. “Hmm. Yummy.”
Cute took a small bite. His mouth was smaller than Fred’s. The taste was strong but he smiled and chewed away.
“Do you like it?” Fred asked.
“Yes. Thanks.” Cute lied again. He knew it was going to be a struggle to finish off the whole thing.
“I’m sorry about last time,” Fred said.
“Be careful. The foil can cut your mouth. Make sure you tear it off properly. I’m speaking from experience.” Fred winked.
The air conditioner let out a sudden blast of air, which made the tissue papers on their table flutter and take off. One of them hit Cute in the face; part of it went right into his open mouth. Cute forgot what he was about to say. There was nothing else on their table and so he put some discarded foil on the rogue tissue.
“So where do you want to go next? Do you want to have a drink or …?” Fred trailed off.
Cute had no idea what the or meant and he thought it was too early for it anyway.
“Yes. A drink would be nice. How much for the Kebab?” he asked.
“It’s on me, for screwing up last time.”
Fred finished first. Cute was taking all the time in the world. He’d just managed to finish only half of the kebab roll but felt full. It was too heavy for him, especially since he’d had a dinner earlier in the evening.
“You can leave it if you can’t eat the whole thing,” Fred said.
“Yeah. I don’t think I can finish it.”
“Shall we get going then?” Fred asked.
“Yes,” Cute answered feeling thankful.
He jumped off the stool and followed Fred. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“PP,” Fred said.
PP was short for Propaganda. Cute had never been there before but he was aware of its reputation as one of the oldest gay-friendly establishments in the city. He knew it got very crowded on the weekend nights, especially after midnight. It was close to 1 a.m. already.
They made small talk as they walked along Wo On Lane until they reached a sitting-out area that resembled a miniature open air stadium. There were steps along the left wall that led them past a few buildings on to Pottinger Street. They crossed the street and walked a little way up before turning into Ezra’s Lane. It was a narrow alley. Cute would probably have missed it and walked on to Hollywood Road had Fred not been leading the way.
They could see people forming the tail of a queue, which snaked out of the establishment and waved along a tiny part of the lane. Almost everybody was fashionably dressed. Some smoked while others looked a bit tipsy. Most were busy chatting or on the phone. Cute knew some people considered it as the place. Most people preferred coming there with somebody…unless they were very desperate. Cute wondered if he fell into that category. No. He had Fred with him. But he hardly knew Fred. In fact, he didn’t know Fred at all! And yet he had to rely on him.
He was afraid. Was he ready for all this? Maybe he’d feel confident if he were with friends of similar age as him? Cute didn’t like the way the balance was playing out.