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A single woman, a widow, is encouraged by a friend to sign up for a blind date. What happens? Hope is the theme of this short story for Valentine’s Day.
The bus halted, lights blinking to indicate that it was a stop, and the automatic doors opened with a swish. A couple of people got off, a blind man with a seeing eye dog, and an old woman. Minal waited for someone else to get off, and when no one did, she turned her face away indifferently in the direction of the warm summer breeze. Even after twenty years in this country, she couldn’t get enough of summer. The two months of moist heat passed far too quickly in her opinion. Her face assumed its usual blank expression, deterring anyone from approaching her.
‘I could hang a painting on your face, it’s blank enough,’ Jackie said once, half-jokingly. ‘If you don’t show your emotions, how will anyone guess what’s going on inside? You’re blanking out the world.’
‘And by world you mean, boyfriends,’ Minal retorted.
‘Possibly. You’re forty. Do you want to stay single for the rest of your life?’
‘In the old days, a widow stayed a widow forever.’
‘Don’t be so melodramatic,’ Jackie looked at herself in the mirror as she reprimanded her best friend. She seemed satisfied with her stunning good looks, for she turned around and said, ‘How many times do I have to tell you that this is the United States, not Uttarakhand. Here women are expected to have boyfriends, and hot sex, and…’
Minal raised her hand wearily to stop her friend’s diatribe. They’d had this conversation several times. Everything Jackie said now was a repetition, a tape being rewound from the same place again and again. Goodness, thought Minal, her friend could talk the hind leg off a donkey. And they said Indians were talkative! Jackie especially came into her own when the topic was Minal’s love life, or its lack thereof. Jackie Russell hadn’t been further afield than Kansas City yet claimed to know the world. And in her world, widows who lost their husbands at a young age didn’t stay single. They became available once again, and must use their single status to their advantage.
‘At least go on a date,’ she pleaded with Minal. ‘Wear something nice, some lip gloss and high heels, that kind of stuff…’
‘And then have sex with the man?’ Minal didn’t even try to hide the irony in her tone.
‘Maybe. That wouldn’t be so bad. You might learn to smile again.’
Her friend was being unfair. Minal knew herself to be happy. Her husband had died more than ten years ago. Nobody could remain in mourning for that long. She hadn’t been particularly in love with Kedar, but he was her husband, and when he died, she missed him. That’s all. As for dating another man, why bother? She was perfectly happy being single, thank you very much. Jackie wouldn’t believe her but it was true. She wore comfortable clothes, low-heeled shoes, unfashionably long hair, kept long hours at work because why should she turn away patients when there was no one waiting for her at home, and if occasionally she missed a warm body next to her in bed, she didn’t think too much of it. Sometimes she spoke to Roosevelt, her cocker spaniel, and felt reassured by his answering murmur. What more could a woman want?
This was an utterly far-fetched thing to do, thought Minal with exasperation as another bus trundled past without halting, this not being its scheduled stop. Trust Jackie to talk her into doing something whacky enough to be labeled certifiable. And who came up with these ideas anyway? She fingered her bag, reassured by its brown ordinariness. If anyone looked at her, she was on her way to work, that’s all, not waiting for her fantasy lover.
DATING WITH A DIFFERENCE! Are you single? More importantly, are you bored? Tired of visiting the same old restaurants with supermarket roses and candles? Tired of adding calories without adding a partner? BLIND DATE BRINGS YOU ADVENTURE AND ROMANCE WITHOUT THE TRANSFAT!
It was Jackie, of course, who had come upon this ad in her endless trawling through the Internet for the right fit. ‘Come on,’ she pleaded. ‘Live it up for a change. It sounds like fun! And what’s the harm? You’ll be sitting at a bus stop. There’s no fear of him grabbing you and groping you there,’ she added with dark knowledge.
Jackie was persuasive, and Minal was persuaded. True, she admitted to herself, she hadn’t done anything whacky, not since she walked down Fifth Avenue in the middle of the night, completely drunk, trying to stay aloft the central divider, cars honking at her from all sides. But that was eight years ago, when life still seemed to have a future, and the shock of losing a husband so abruptly still shook her up when she was least expecting it. These days though, she was settled.
She drove her BMW from her house in the suburbs to her clinic in town every day, returned at the end of the day to a glass of wine and the dinner that the Latino maid cooked for her in the morning and stowed away in a microwaveable container for her to reheat when she returned almost twelve hours later, and on weekends, went for a movie and the art class. By now, thought Minal cynically, she should have obtained a PhD in art. She had been attending the same damn class for the last eight years. At the very least, she should have become a teacher. She knew it was no longer a class but a continuing form of therapy. Some of her paintings hung on her walls, and their warmth gave her company on dark winter evenings.
In spite of her loneliness, Minal was glad she had stayed on in the US, choosing to retain the house that she and Kedar had bought a year before his death. It was too large and the heating bills were enough to pay for an African country’s debt, but it was home. It had been hard to explain to her parents this – that this was her home now, not the two bedroom apartment in Surat where she had grown up. They had taken some time to understand her point of view but finally had come round. She had firmly dissuaded them from joining her in the US. She was fine, she insisted, happy with what she had and there was absolutely no need for them to be uprooted. And no, please don’t look for another husband for her. She wasn’t in the market for marriage.
‘Hey Minal! Welcome! And welcome again! We are so glad you’ve chosen to join our show. We have a hundred percent hit rate. As they say, success guaranteed! All you need to do is wait at the South side bus stop on __ between four and four thirty. The first man who comes and sits next to you is going to be your blind date for the evening. He will get off a bus. Now remember, the excitement is in not overthinking this. Just sit and read a newspaper at the bus stop and your man will find you.’
It was hardly the most romantic place for a first date, thought Minal sourly.
‘But you hate that whole candlelight thing,’ Jackie pointed out crisply. ‘Didn’t you say it was too cheesy and artificial?’
‘What now? Shall I do a zoo date for you? Or a top of the lighthouse date? There’s a hot air balloon option…’
‘Stop right there,’ Minal commanded, her head spinning. ‘What on earth is a hot air balloon date? And how can it be blind? Don’t you have to buy tickets for that? And won’t there be other people on the balloon? And…’
‘Look, do you want to do this or not?’ Jackie’s patience was running thin, and Minal became silent.
‘Okay. Just this once. Never again.’
‘Don’t worry,’ grinned Jackie, ‘he’ll take one look at your beautiful face and it’ll be happily ever after.’
So where was he? It was already twenty past four. The blind man had perched himself on the polymer bench and was looking at who knows what.
‘Hot day, huh?’ he said, looking straight ahead so that for an instant Minal didn’t realize he was addressing her.
‘Uhuh,’ Minal nodded and then felt stupid. The man couldn’t see her. ‘Yes it is,’ she said in a loud voice and then felt stupider. He was blind, not deaf, for god’s sake.
The man grinned, probably guessing her thoughts. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m…’ Minal was stumped. She hadn’t thought anyone would ask her this question. Her car was parked a block away. So how did she explain what she was doing at the bus stop?
Not for nothing was she a leading pediatrician in the city. If you could put a colicky baby to sleep, you could do anything. ‘Where are you going?’ she turned and asked.
The man stared in front of him and smiled. He shook the leash of his dog, making her stir a little, and said, ‘Trixie here decides these things for me. You see I’m not leading her, she’s leading me.’
That made no sense. ‘That…’
‘Makes no sense, I know,’ said the man, again guessing what was going through Minal’s mind. ‘But it’s true. Trixie and I have been together for ten years now. I got her when my first dog died. I was heartbroken, didn’t eat anything for three days. Sounds pretty melodramatic, right?’
Minal shook her head, then cursed herself silently. ‘Not at all,’ she said. Her own throat had automatically erected a barrier to food for almost a week after Kedar’s death. ‘It happens.’
‘You speak with authority.’
‘My husband died.’ It sounded stark, coming out like that but Minal wasn’t going to explain any further.
‘I’m sorry to hear that. I got Trixie, though. It was hard. I thought I would never get used to another dog. But Trixie knew me better than I did. And she made me feel better very, very quickly. What about you? Did you get another man?’
‘Umm, no, no I didn’t.’
‘Scared? Of what? Why should I be scared?’
‘It’s okay. I was scared too. It took me a little while to get used to this little darling. Fortunately for me, she knew it.’
‘Yup. She understood that I would eventually love her, but it was going to be a different love.’
‘Did a dog knew all that?’ The man’s ability to complete her sentences both fascinated and angered Minal. It was almost as though he could see inside her brain. ‘I don’t know. All I can say is sometimes love comes from the most unexpected quarters. You should be open to it, that’s all. Trixie persuaded me to love her. And here we are. I reward Trixie by doing exactly as she tells me to. She told me to sit here, so that’s what I’m doing.’ He laughed again. ‘At least I didn’t have to ask if this seat is taken.’
This time Minal laughed with him. ‘So how long are you going to sit here?’
‘How long are you?’
‘Do I know you’re just sitting here?’ This time Minal ignored what she had privately started referring to as his smart-assedness. ‘You have a very restful presence at the moment, as though you aren’t waiting for a bus. Am I wrong?’
‘Yes you are,’ said Minal. She was waiting for a bus, she just didn’t know which one.
‘Hmm, I’m surprised. Well, I’ll just sit here, if you don’t mind. I guess this is where Trixie wants to be. You carry on.’
It was almost four thirty now. Another bus halted. An adolescent girl, ears connected to an iPod with vicious looking headphones, the height of her heels and skirt almost the same, jumped off and teetered down the road, head nodding to the music. There was nobody else, either getting off the bus or within sight of the bus shelter. Minal hadn’t known what to expect, but it hadn’t been this. Getting stood up on her first date, a blind date, was both absurd and annoying. Why would anyone do that? Why not cancel in advance? Why leave her sitting here, chatting to a…
And then it hit Minal. This was the man who had got off the bus, and then sat next to her. Of course! He was her date. And now he was offering her a way out. She could leave if she didn’t like it. He would never know, and nor would she. She sat back, her spine relaxed now. ‘I’ll just sit here,’ she said. ‘I think Trixie wants to know me.’
Pic credit: ttstam (Used under a Creative Commons license)
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