He’s in an open relationship, he tells me after an hour’s worth of banter- ‘flirty insults that we throw at each other’. I smile and snort into my wine. He’s a copywriter from out-of-town, and I don’t think of him as competition. Twenty Six is wry enough not to leave a dry taste in your mouth. I’d gulp him down with a glass of Chardonnay.
We are sharing a bowl of chicken sausages, and guzzling down our glasses of Jack and Coke. He’s an assistant director with dreams of making it big, a stereotypical cut-out of thousands like him. I don’t know whether Twenty Seven, with his intense green eyes, and cockiness and snappy personality, gets to me or gets me. But when you really think about it, it’s the same thing.
Over two large pitchers of beer, and accompanying chicken burgers, suave and charming number Twenty Eight, a Marketing executive at a leading fashion house, tells me of his family, and his hectic job at Kemp’s Corner. Somewhere between his alliterative name and his South Indian lineage, I gush, and think that he likes me. A month and a half later, I realize he doesn’t.
Another architect, another day, another boy, another coffee shop- Twenty Nine has a slightly nasal twang to his voice, the remnants of two years of study abroad, but it’s not grating enough to annoy. I throw a round of questions at him, eager to know how I would be at his age. He later tells me that he thought he was in an interview. I choose not to tell him that he was.
I laugh loudly at one of Thirty’s many anecdotes and am surprised at how genuine it really is. We are at a fun pub in the middle of a weekday, and neither of us feels out of place. The man is quirky, witty, and full of a zest for life. He’s a landscape designer and horticulturist, and he reminds me of someone I know. When I get back home after three pitchers of beer, I realize he reminds me of what I want to be five years from now.
I meet him at the airport bar, for a drink. He’s fresh off a flight, and is in town for a week-long conference. Thirty One has a boring corporate job, and but secretly wants to become a singer like everyone else who has a boring corporate job but secretly wants to do something more exciting. The man is awkward and fidgets with his iPhone, but seems eager to please. He seems lost in transition; I am just lost in translation.
I sip on my sweet lime soda and gingerly nibble on my plate of nachos as I try summing up Thirty Two. He’s averagely dressed, and has a face I would remember in a week, but doesn’t seem to have anything else. I only half-listen as he switches between stories of his times as the HR manager for a company when he was stationed somewhere in rural India, and how he came out to himself when was 28. I exclaim and gush at right intervals, and feign the right amount of interest to not seem suspicious. I sink back comfortably into the lounge arm chair, enjoying the privileges of his exclusive club membership, and suddenly remember why I am here.
It’s Wednesday, and it’s two pm. We are both wearing sunglasses. Aviators, to be precise. Our cold coffee glasses leave rings of precipitation on the Formica tables. Thirty Three is insanely short, but a screenwriter for Indian soaps. I am star struck by his job. I am star struck by his life. I am star struck by his starry friends. Sadly, I am not star struck by him.
Braving a two hundred rupee rickshaw ride in an unknown city that shuts at 11, I greet a bemused Thirty Four, a suave distinguished gentleman in his mid-thirties. He takes me out for a quick spicy south Indian meal; followed by a long drive back home, back the two hundred rupee trail to an unheard of suburb of Bangalore. His eyes crinkle up with amusement as I kiss him goodbye, though I wish the night could have been spicier. I always liked salt and pepper.
He calls me to ask me out for lunch, and says that his company might have some work for me too. I rush through their company profile, and read about luxury homes in the eastern suburbs, as he runs me through brochures and menu cards simultaneously. I don’t know whether this is a business meeting, or a lunch date, and square-jawed, brown-eyed Number Thirty Five is as impassive as they get. Both ways, I enjoy my free Mexican meal and mojito.
His laugh pierces through the diner, and resonates deeply in my ears. The man is a software junkie with a top financial firm, and he seems to be the right combination of brain, and brawn. Thirty Six feeds me a slice of deep-dish pizza, and grins broadly like the Cheshire cat. His smile goes end to end, and reaches his eyes. But unfortunately, it doesn’t reach mine.
I look back. Thirty Seven never shows up. I stub my half-lit cigarette on the sidewalk and walk away, hurling expletives.
He’s rich, he holidays every two months, and has families that live in a city that is far away, but still close enough. Thirty Eight is a banker with a prestigious bank – is older, wiser, and calmer, and he plied me with wine and beautiful Italian food. I sigh. I want to be him, but I don’t want to be with him. I sigh again.
I peer into Thirty Nine’s large doleful eyes, behind a mope of shaggy black hair. As we walk down a boulevard with our caramel lattes to go, the software techie tells me he doesn’t drink or smoke. He is compassionate and seems like someone who won’t stray – but then, if I wanted that, I’d rather get myself a dog.
It’s surprising what I am doing here, I wonder as I look at Forty. He’s older, balder and shorter- That, with a high pitched squeal. Running your own branding agency has no merits. Do you want another glass of wine with that risotto, he asks me. I smile and gladly oblige.
Somewhere in the otherwise uneventful month of October, Forty One, entrepreneur and eligible bachelor, calls me home for an exclusive party for close friends. I build us up on the way, filled with new found optimism. I reach there, to find at least ten other boys like me, cookie-cutter replicas of each other. I strangle my optimism in the bathroom.
After an intense eight hour-long coffee date with number Forty Two, a sales executive for a paper company, where we discuss the wills, and won’ts and do’s and don’ts of every hypothetical relationship we’ve had, I say goodbye and seal the deal with a momentous kiss under my yellow umbrella, quite like a television sitcom. I never meet him after, and my sitcom dies a pilot-only death.
Over a hot espresso, and croissants I realize that Forty Three is built like a pixie, small framed and wispy, to the point that he seems like a fantasy. The man is anything but; he’s ruthless and is the producer of a major television conglomerate. I’d want him but he believes in fairy tale endings, and I gave up on fairy tales three years ago.
Over a home-cooked meal of baked fish with parsley, red wine and apple pudding, Forty Four, a French expatriate living in a colossal mansion in the wealthier suburbs of Bombay, tells me of growing up in the vineyards of Bordeaux. He’s compassionate, he’s charming, and he’s a perfect gentleman. He’s everything I could ever want, only twenty years older.
I meet him for a couple of drinks at a popular gay bar in Chelsea, where beret-wearing Forty Five tells me that he is a gynecologist at a New York Hospital. He’s cute, has a manicured beard and is funny, but I sigh, and write him off- simply because this takes long distance an extra mile, pun intended.
He has dreamy eyes and a lop-sided grin, and his dark grey stubble shows the after effects of a six month long sabbatical, with another year to go. Over a cup of coffee, he tells me of his dream to travel the world with someone zestful, someone fun. Forty Six is known to be a Casanova in the circuit – He looks me in my eyes, and tells me he would want to marry someone like me someday. I smile back, and never call him back.
It takes me one expensive meal with Forty Seven to realize that the philanthropist doctor who paints oil pastels in his free time is a catch. The only catch – he doesn’t seem to want me as much as I want him. He tells me that his apartment is close by, but I fail to pick on the obvious hint. Well, at least I got a steak and two beers out of it. Or maybe, that’s what I always wanted.
In a sparse one-bed roomed Bandra apartment, I meet Forty Eight for tea and biscuits. He writes children’s books, he tells me as I bite on my Shrewsbury. And at that moment, I would rather bite him. But I don’t, and I never get a chance to.
It’s a boring Tuesday evening, and I yawn as I look at my watch. It’s 1 am, and I am bored. I stare around the party and spot Forty Nine smiling at me. He’s someone I would do with my beer goggles on, and he’s also the host. He simpers over and asks if he can buy me a beer. Bingo. I take the beer, but I don’t take his number.
I know I’ll fall in love with Fifty. I don’t know what else to do.