She walked into the coffee-shop, her eyes scanning the crowd. She had golden skin, long lustrous hair and a figure that made heads turn.
His first thought was, ‘God! She’s pretty!’ His second was, ‘Is she out of my league?’
She spotted him and smiled widely to hide her disappointment. Definitely not model material. Why was there so much gel in his hair? Was he trying to recreate the well-oiled ‘bechara bachcha’ look? Complete with plastic frames. And who wore a suit to office in Mumbai? And kept it on in a coffee-shop?
Introductory hellos over, a silence fell between them. ‘Was her smile always that fake?’ he thought irritably. ‘Ok, now say something! Say something!’ he chided himself, but his voice seemed to have disappeared.
‘Did he always remain this quiet?’ He wasn’t making any effort, she would have to take the initiative. God! No wonder he was still single. Wait a minute, was that what he was thinking about her?
She asked about his job. He could sense her interest peter down after the third sentence. Of course he couldn’t expect a mere advertising girl to know about hedge funds. Even though they said she was from one of the top B-schools. He tried to be gracious. ‘Of course, my job isn’t as interesting as yours.’
‘No, but it pays a hell of a lot more!’ Oops! Wrong thing to say! His eyes narrowed but the polite smile didnt waiver.
Thankfully the server arrived with their orders, placing their coffees before them-hot and basic for her, cold and creamy for him, signifying perhaps the opposite ends of the spectrum they were in.
Another silence ensued as they hid behind their cups.
Unable to take it anymore, she burst out, ‘So, thursday match huh? Which side are you betting on?’
He groaned mentally. Not another female who pretended to understand cricket! ‘Well, my heart is with India, but my money is on the Aussies,’ he parroted a well-rehearsed line.
‘Really? And how do you think their lack of depth in batting and the absence of a striker spinner shall stack up? They’re relying on a pace attack to defeat seven of the most outstanding batsmen in the world. They crumbled against Pakistan!’
He felt his jaw drop; was she for real? Despite himself, he warmed up to the debate. ‘They had an unbeaten 34 match record. And 70% success rate in the world cup against India. True, the last time they visited was a washout, but this is the world cup. And what seven batsmen? Indian middle order batting just collapses-we lost 5 wickets within 30 runs in the last 2 matches.’
‘Spoken like a hedge fund manager!,’ she retorted coolly. ‘I think this time the middle-order will perform. Yuvi is in good shape, Dhoni always remains cool under pressure and Raina can be dangerous too. All they have is Shane Watson.’
This time the jaw dropped and and stayed there. She was grinning mischeivously. ‘What? You think only guys know about cricket?’ Ha! She congratulated herself. Trumped the I’m-an-investment-banker-so-I’m-soooo-much-better-than-you nerd!
‘Yeah, up until 2 minutes back I did, but, now…’ he shook his head in disbelief, ‘ Wow! Will you marry me?’ he grinned.
She laughed back. Nice recovery. And the grin made him look so boyish. And the fake accent was gone too- there was a distinct tamil twang that she loved.
‘Imagine!’ he went on, ‘I would be the one guy whose wife lets him watch cricket!’
‘And we can do with a single TV!’ she added, her genuine laugh back.
Another silence fell, but this one was warmer. And shorter. Now they talked, her laugh genuine, his accent real.
The phone broke the spell. ‘Damn! Gotta go back to office!’ She felt truly disappointed. She picked her cup and was surprised to see it almost untouched.
He didnt want her to leave. He wanted to know so much more. He wanted to tell her so much more. But he didnt want to wait for someone else to fix it up. Not this time.
‘Manasi, I know this is too soon. I know you hardly know me, but I have to ask.’
She paused mid-gulp, the coffee cup frozen in her hands. Oh no! Was he going to do something stupid? Was he going to propose now? She knew this meeting was arranged but the match could take its time. She put down her cup and tried to escape before the bubble burst, but he insisted.
She braced for the outpour and steeled herself to do the right thing.
‘Would you like to come and see the match with me on Thursday? I have two passes!’
Manasi Iyer later told us that she had no intention of kissing him on their first arranged date. ‘I just couldnt help it!’ she grinned as she waved a much-coveted pass in our faces.