Tamasi was frustrated. She balled the crumpled sheet and dumped it on the chair beside her. She held her head in her hands. She knew that if she had been sitting in any other café, she would have been kicked out hours ago: there were scraps of paper dumped all over the table and on top of the chairs.
Fortunately for her, she had been frequenting the place for the past two years, doing the exact same thing. Everyone knew her here: they knew her favourite coffee, knew not to disturb her when she was in a mood like this…and they also knew that she would come here every single week till she finally graduated out of college—if she graduated out of college. She groaned out loud. Her life kind of sucked. She looked out at the street, through the glass front of the shop.
It was an old, rundown café in one of the quieter parts of Connaught Place, the heart of the once-upon-a-time colonial Delhi. She smiled to herself. She had always had a special love for this part of the city. It reminded her of the numerous closely woven patterns that made India so special. It is, probably, the only place in the entire world, where Romanesque pillars, Islamic architecture and interspersing Hindu temples could coexist so beautifully.
She sighed and looked back, at the scraps of paper on her table. All her life, Tamasi had been searching for the one story—the tale she had been born to tell. Ten years she had spent soul searching but all she had to show for those years were hundreds of discarded drafts.
Her eyes moved to the few occupants of the little shop. It was still too early to be busy. Only three other tables were occupied: one by a boisterous Punjabi family, who seemed to be having a loud happy conversation; the second, by a group of travelers, busy pointing at maps, consulting The Lonely Planet's Guide to India and conversing in what sounded like Italian. One of the older members of the group smiled at her, reminding her of a grandfather sitting happily amidst his brood of grandchildren. She smiled back, momentarily forgetting all about her frustration. The last occupant sat in the corner seat, reading a book on Ancient India. He had dark brown hair, glinting almost golden in the rays of the sun that were falling upon his head. He was dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a grey t-shirt and a black jacket. He seemed to be around her age and she wasn't able to look away. There was something about him that drew her. Suddenly, he looked up straight at her, his blue eyes meeting her brown ones.
Tamasi flushed, embarrassed at having been caught staring. She busied herself, gathering the sheets of her latest discarded story. But, it was nearly impossible to suppress the urge to look at him again.
She peeked at him from the corners of her eyes. He was looking at her, his eyes shining in mischief as he winked at her. Her eyes widened in shock and she immediately looked away.
Don't be silly! He is just having fun at your expense. It is not like he is interested in you. You know how you look!
She probably looked like a homeless person—her hair unkempt (because of the sheer number of times she ran her fingers through it), wearing an extra large green college sweatshirt, and large, rimless 'nerd' glasses, which obscured nearly half of her face.
Yes, of course a guy would check you out, she thought to herself sarcastically. She shook her head to herself wryly, and went back to viciously crossing out sentences from the only page she would be saving from the mess of papers she had created that day. She was so intent on her work that she nearly jumped a foot in the air when a deep male voice spoke to her.
"Hey, do you mind if I sit here?" She looked up. It was him. Her mouth suddenly felt dry.
"Yes," she croaked out finally. "Uh—I mean, wait!"
She hastily cleared the crumpled heap, allowing them to fall on the floor. Tamasi cringed as Preeti, the girl behind the counter glared at her. She turned back to him and felt herself redden when she realized that he was still looking at her with an amused expression on his face.
"Now, you can sit down," she told him.
"So, what's all this for?" he asked, gesturing at the pile of crumpled paper.
"It's just…just some story I am trying to write," she said with a shrug, wishing that he hadn't asked her about it. She had always been a little self conscious about her attempts at writing.
"What is it about?"
"Just a girl. She is trying to find herself," she said, trying to sound casual. She couldn't find the right words; he was making her feel tongue-tied with his intense gaze.
This guy, whoever he was, was very, very good looking and she was quite surprised by his interest in her.
"Ah, much like yourself?" he enquired.
"Heh—Yeah, I guess. A little. However, I am nowhere close to finding even the first thing about myself," Tamasi replied wryly. She wondered if he had a hidden agenda. Could he be a serial killer? Con-man? Just a guy looking for an easy girl?
"What's your name?" he asked her, once he had stopped chuckling over her response.
"Tamasi Mishra," she said. He tried to pronounce her name but it came out sounding so weird that she couldn't help but burst out laughing.
Several cups of coffee and several hours later, she knew that he was a grad school student of History from NYU, here on a field trip with a couple of other friends. But he had managed to get lost at the Railway Station and a result, had missed the train, which at the moment, along with his friends was on its way to Agra. His name was Neil Williams and he was twenty two years old.
"So, you are studying English Literature? Is your college around here?" he asked her.
"English Literature? Wouldn't that be nice?" Tamasi replied, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "No, I am in medical college, studying to be a doctor."
"What?" Neil asked incredulously. "Seriously?"
"Yeah, it is written on my sweatshirt, too. See?" she pointed it out to him.
"So, you want to be a doctor?"
"Ah…no, not really. Parents' dream and the same old cliché. I didn't have it in me to say no," she said sadly.
"Oh. I understand-sort of. My parents wanted me to join the family business, I had never wanted to. I said no and walked out."
"I couldn't do that. I care about them too much to even think of disappointing them," said Tamasi, tucking a lock of her hair that had escaped out of her messy bun. He was looking at her like that again; like he could see deep inside her. She didn't want him to see all that, to realize how insecure and imperfect she really was.
"So, what would you have been doing, if I hadn't disturbed you with all my questions about history?" Neil asked, leaning back in his chair.
Tamasi shrugged. "Probably, I would have been moping about this story for a couple of more hours and then, I would have gone back to the hostel and slept."
"Oh, that sounds—"
"Pathetic? Yeah, I know," she said.
"So…I was thinking…would you please show me around Delhi? If you are free, that is—I mean, I would understand if-"
"Let me just clear the mess I have made in this place," she interrupted him with a smile.