The Wandering Lover


Prague Castle. 5.30pm.

“So…will you marry me?” he asks.

She stares at the ring. She stares at his face. She does not smile. She does not blink. 

After about three seconds, she says ---


Two hours later. Hemingway Bar. Also in Prague.

Girl: I’ll have one more of this (points to her empty glass), whatever you called it.

Bartender: It’s called ‘Hemingway’s Gasoline’.

Girl: What’s in it again?

Bartender: Oh, several things. First, there’s a really special blend of whiskey called…

Girl: (cuts him off) You seem like you’re going to give me a long answer. You had me at whiskey. Keep it coming…(reads his name tag)... “Hector."

Bartender: I…sure, madam.

Girl: And skip the whole presentation with the drink hidden in the book and shit, I just want to drink it, I don’t need a show.

The bartender does not appreciate that, but does his job as he must.

After five minutes of careful, precise artistry by a well-trained speakeasy-cocktail specialist, she gets her drink.

Hector: There you go, madam. (using up all the quota-ed politeness for this customer)

Girl: Finally. That last one’s almost out of my system.

She drinks the whole cocktail in one gulp.

Hector does not appreciate when someone shits over his artwork.

Girl: (without looking at Hector) Another one.

Hector: I don’t mean to be rude madam, but I think you’ve had enough. That’s a strong cocktail. We’re not allowed to serve more than 3 of those to a person in a night. You finished three in thirty minutes.

Girl: Fine. I’ll go to another bar.

Hector: As you wish, madam.

A delighted, tired Hector presents her with the bill.

She stares at what he just put in front of her, as if she’s never seen a piece of paper before.

Girl: I’m going to tell you a secret, Hecky. (she leans forward to whisper in his ear) I don’t have any Coronas.

Hector: Our currency is called Korunas, madam.

Hector motions to the bouncer. The Girl notices.

Girl: You ratting me out, Hector? I thought we were friends. You got me drunk. I don’t let strangers get me drunk unless they are my friends. Where’s the czech hospitality, H? Where is it?

Hector doesn’t look at her, as she gets dragged off her bar stool by a female waitress towards the door.

Waitress: Alright, honey, time to pay and leave. What’s your name? Where do you live?

Man: It’s alright, Hector, I’ll pay for her.

The Hemingway Bar is a street bar on a rather small alley, and the man who just said that is standing out on the street, about five feet away from the Girl.

Hector: (to the Man) You know this girl, šťastný-muž?

Man: Ah yes, she’s my...niece.

The Man thanks the pretty waitress, pays the bill, and takes the girl’s hand from her.

Girl: Don’t you touch me, buddhey! (old man)

She lets go of his hand, and given her alcohol content, sways around until she ends up falling into his arms.

Waitress: What did she just say?

Man: Buddhey. It’s the hindi word for dear uncle. (he tries to balance up the girl) I’ve been looking all over for you, silly girl!

Girl: I don’t know y…

Man: (cuts her off) You’ve had too much to drink, young lady. Sorry about this Hector, I should really get her back to the hotel. I’ll see you tomorrow for the lessons!

He hurries out of the bar, and just as the two of them have cleared the bar’s area, she pushes him away.

Girl: Take your hands off me!

He lets go of her, but her jerk motion of forcing him to let go of her makes her wobble out of control and fall ass down on the sidewalk.

Man: Need a hand?

Girl: I’m fine.

She gets back up, although quite slowly.

Man: Sure you are.

Girl: Look, strange creepy dude. Paying for a couple drinks doesn’t give you the right to judge me, so just fuck off, alright.

Man: Couple of drinks? This bill here (pulls out the bill) says you’ve had three very strong whiskey cocktails, and two of something called ‘JAY-GER bombs’. Given your condition I’m assuming they were shots.

Girl: JAGER bombs. Fuck, man, how old are you?

Man: 52. And I’d appreciate if you tried a little harder to not use that language.

Girl: Look, uncle, this whole thing you just did, trying to be the helpful savior because you saw an indian girl and had to jump to be the nice guy because we share a skin tone, I don’t care for that. You paid for me, so give me your PayPal I’ll send you the money tomorrow. End of story. End of interaction.

Man: I think you missed something.

Girl: What?

Man: Thank you.

Girl: Sure. Thank you, for your help and your judgement. Still don’t care.

Man: What’s your name?

Girl: Why?

Man: Well, you owe me about 2,000 Korunas, I’d like to know your name so we can build some level of human to human trust.

Her indifference and irritation start to fade away from her face, and perhaps her mind.

Girl: Yamini. Yamini Khosla.

She puts her hand out to shake.

He just stands there, without responding.

Yamini: Hello?

He snaps back, and shakes her hand.

Man: Prem Shehzad.

Yamini: Prem? That’s quite an old school name you got there.

Prem: I appreciate the emphasis on old, again, thank you for that.

Yamini: Sorry, it’s, just how I talk...

Prem: When you’re drunk?

Yamini: No…alcohol content doesn’t have much to do with my choice of words.

Prem: You’ve got a pretty old fashioned name yourself.

Yamini: Yup. But after 27 years, I’ve come to terms with it. But it does explain my love of old fashioned’s.

Prem laughs, and so does Yamini, giving up her protective demeanor for the brief moment.

Prem: Here’s my card. Email’s on there.

Yamini: Look, I…am sorry for my instinctive behavior at the bar over there. I…uh…appreciate your help. And I’ll pay you first thing in the morning.

Prem: It’s alright. My instincts tell me to trust you on your word, despite your millennialist attitude.

Yamini: Haha. Good-bye, then.

Prem: Good to meet you, Yamini.

Yamini begins to walk away in one direction. Prem stays where he was standing, looking at her. She doesn’t notice. After she crosses half a block, she stops going in any general direction. And seems to slow down, as if she doesn’t really have a direction to go in.

Prem looks back in the opposite direction, where he was initially going. Then he looks back at Yamini, and contemplates what to do.

He decides, and starts walking in her direction.

Prem: Yamini!

Yamini gets startled, and looks behind her to see Prem walking towards her.

Yamini: Please tell me I was right to change my mind about you and that you’re not actually a crazy old creep.

Prem: Again, please don’t hold back on your kindness.

Yamini: What’s up?

Prem: Look, it’s getting late. And you’re still…under some influence. I would feel a lot better if you let me walk you back to your hotel or wherever you’re staying.

Yamini hesitates. Prem senses it.

Prem: Or I could get you a cab and give you the money for it.

Yamini: I appreciate the fatherly behavior - hoping it’s just that. But I...

Prem: You don’t have a place to stay?

Yamini: I do.

Prem: Then what’s the problem?

Yamini: I…just can’t go back there.

Her statement and tone suggests that she doesn’t want to say much more.

Prem: Alright, that’s okay.

Prem looks at the girl, who suddenly looks much younger to him.

Prem: Are you hungry? I was just about to go to this cafe and get some food. And maybe we can get you some coffee?

Yamini: I...

Prem: We’ll add it to your ongoing tab.

Yamini: (with a micro-level smile) Sure, that sounds good.

Fifteen minutes later, at a cafe. 

As Prem and Yamini enter the cafe, the waitress and other staff recognize Prem and say hello. 

The two of them settle on a table next to a window that looks out into the street. Prem orders coffee for both of them, along with a couple sandwiches.

Waitress: Will that be all, šťastný-muž?

Prem: Ano. Děkuji, Silvia. (Yes. Thank you, Silvia.)

Yamini: You speak czech?

Prem: Yes, with my indian accent as you can tell. But I’ve learned some useful words.

Yamini: How long have you been here, in Prague?

Prem: Uh…let’s see…about two months.

Yamini: That’s pretty good for two months.

Prem: I was an english and literature teacher for almost three decades, it’s a force of habit to respect a region’s language and customs.

Yamini: Ah, that explains the whole looking-down-on millennials thing you do.

Prem: I don’t…do that…do I?

Yamini: Trust me, man. You’re a teacher. You don’t know how us students see you. You’re all the same, in a way.

Their coffees arrive.

Yamini: Děkuji, Silvia. (she says with a smile, and winks at Prem)

Prem: Ah! You’re a fast learner.

Yamini: Hey! Here’s a helpful tip - try teaching your pupils without teaching at them. They might learn faster than you think.

Prem: And there’s the expected back handed compliment!

Their food arrives.

Silvia: Tady máš, šťastný muž.

Yamini: You know what? I’m starving. Thank you for this brilliant idea.

Prem: Eat up, it’ll help soak up all that JAY-GER.

Yamini takes a big bite into her sandwich.

Yamini: (talking with her mouth full) What do they keep calling you, this STAT-NEE-MOOZ?

Prem: šťastný muž. It means…happy man. It’s the name some of these locals have given me. For some reason they have had a hard time saying Prem. Even though it has less syllables, so I don’t really get it.

Yamini: Happy man? You’re really likable, aren’t you?

Prem: hah ha. I don’t know about that. I think they all see me as their uncle. Not sure if it’s a compliment.

Yamini: Take the compliment, happy man. (takes another bite) This stuff is delicious. I know I’m still a bit tipsy so I’m not a reliable food critic, but damn this feels awesome right now.

Prem: How about you concentrate on the eating, and we’ll talk after you’re only using that mouth to breathe?

Yamini: Whatever, happy man.

Few moments later, Silvia brings out two glasses of some drink. Looks alcoholic.

Yamini: Ooh! That looks exciting. What is it?

Silvia: It’s our signature wine. On the house for šťastný muž and his lovely friend.

Prem: Yeah, I don’t think she (looks at Yamini) should be drinking that.

Yamini: Uhm, it’s rude to say no to free drinks, sir. Děkuji, Silvia!

Silvia: (to Prem) Don’t you worry. She’s a young girl, she’s probably already sober by now.

Prem: Alright. Thanks, Silvia. But let’s not do another round, okay?

Yamini: Fineeee. (takes a sip) This is so goooood.

Prem: And not a shot so please drink it slowly.

Yamini exaggerates taking a small sip, like she’s having tea.

Yamini: šťastný?

Prem: (smiles) šťastný. (pauses) So…would you like to elaborate on why you can’t go back to your hotel tonight?

Yamini stops smiling, and puts her glass down.

Yamini: Yeah, well, I can’t go back there…because my boyfriend…my ex-boyfriend, is in there.

Prem: You two had a fight?

Yamini: Uh, not really.

Prem: Sure, that makes sense.

Yamini: It’s…it wasn’t a fight. I walked out to avoid one.

Prem: And you can’t go back, because of what, your ego?

Yamini: Hey! It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Prem: But the ego still has something to do with it.

Yamini: I’m not sure. We were having a perfectly nice day. We were at the Prague Castle. It was sunset. It was beautiful. And then he decided to do something stupid.

Prem: Like what?

Yamini: He..uh…asked me to marry him.

Prem: (shocked, mockingly) What?! What an idiot. He really does sound stupid.

Yamini: We both were.

Prem: So, what did you do?

Yamini: I just…looked at him…and said no. And then I walked away.

Prem: Wow. That’s...

Yamini: Cold?

Prem: As cold as a Pilsner Urquell.

Yamini: A what?

Prem: It’s a really famous beer here.

Yamini: Are you happy with that joke, happy man?

Prem: Not anymore. Why did you say no?

Yamini: When did this become an interrogation? We just met dude. Why the interest in how I live my life? It’s not a big deal.

Prem: It is a big deal! And I’m interested because it’s very frustrating and disappointing to see kids like you treat love like it happens everyday.

Yamini: Look dude, I’m not a kid. I’m a grown woman and I get to make my own decisions without caring or being affected by the judgement of...

Prem: Your elders?

Yamini: Indians.

Prem: Ouch. You don’t like your kind?

Yamini: I’m indifferent to your kind. Especially when they want to tell me what to do and how to dress and how to live…and definitely when they want to tell me how to love.

Prem: We just...

Yamini: Ah! See, you were just about to tell me exactly what you think and believe and throw it down on me like it’s the gospel.

Prem: Alright…I…just think that you should have given this more thought than you did.

Yamini: More thought? Why do you think I didn’t? You don’t know me, happy man. So please don’t try to lecture me again like I’m one of your high school students.

Prem: Middle school.

Yamini: Excuse me?

Prem: I taught middle school. Ages 9 to 13.

Yamini: Whatever. We’re a generation apart, in case you haven’t noticed. We don’t have to agree on anything. That’s the whole point. Just because you’ve seen more life doesn’t mean your way of living it is the right way.

Prem: Alright.

Yamini: Alright, what?

Prem: Let’s try to have a nonjudgmental talk about our differing point of views. You are willing to accept other ways of life, aren’t you? Or is that another thing your generation has decided to be (does the air quotes) 'not cool'?

Yamini: By the way, since you’re taking notes...(does the air quotes) ‘air quotes’ are 'not cool'. You want my point of view? Alright. I’ll tell you. I hadn’t thought about marriage. At all. I was happy with him. We were both quite happy. We’ve been together for almost two years. We both talked about this.

Prem: About what?

Yamini: That we were not going to talk about it. Commitment isn’t a requirement. It’s an option. You can be happy with someone for as long as you want without having to seal it into permanence.

Prem: Well, clearly he changed his mind.

Yamini: (sighs) Yes, he did. Idiot.

Prem: And you’re upset because he didn’t warn you that he was changing his mind about the foundation of your relationship.

Yamini: Upset? That’s a small emotion. Am I mad? Yes! Surprised? Hell yes. Disappointed? Extremely. And when he asked, that’s all I could see. How different we were. We were on the same page until he decided to change the book. That’s not right. That’s not a sign of a good path. If this was going to end...then better to it end now, man. Way more stress than I signed up for.

Prem: You know you say you don’t like talking about the future, but from what I’m hearing, you do think about it. You do worry about it. Why do you see marriage and commitment as a bad thing?

Yamini: I’m not…saying it’s a bad thing. I just don’t like to assume something before I’ve even given it a proper thought.

Prem: So your solution to thinking about it was to go and get drunk?

Yamini: I’m sorry, was that judgement I hear again?

Prem: I…am guilty. Alright. Tell me what’s wrong with him?

Yamini: Wrong with him? There’s…nothing...wrong with him. You don’t have to have a con list for not doing something. There needs to be some pros. You don’t just do something because there isn’t something wrong with it.

Prem: Him.

Yamini: Uh, yes, him.

Prem: In the absence of the bad, all that is left is the good.

Yamini: Uff, I don’t want to talk about this. It’s giving me a headache.

Prem: That might be the copious amount of alcohol leaving your brain.

Yamini: Whatever. Tell me something. Are you married?

Prem hesitates.

Yamini: No?

Prem: I’ve been married, yes.

Yamini: Arranged?

Prem: (pauses) Love.

Yamini: haha. I knew it. With a name like ‘Prem', arrange marriage would be too ironical for the linguist.

Prem: (with a straight face) Hah.

Yamini: Okay. So how long have you two been married?

Prem: (with a slight pause) Thirty years.

Yamini: Wow. That’s more than my entire life. Okay. So when you decided to get married, you both knew that this was what you wanted, correct?

Prem: Yes.

Yamini: And how long did you two know each other before you decided to get married?

Prem: About four months.

Yamini: Hmm. Well, that’s not too surprising given the time period. But tell me this, and answer honestly, the entire time you have been together, did you ever doubt your decision? Did you ever have the thought that maybe life would have been something different…perhaps better…had you two not met? Not married? That all this stress that came along with the marriage…and your relationship and all the baggage that comes with that and what life already has you overpacked on…that it could have been easier were you not to be in this relationship?

Prem: I…no.

Yamini: Really? You never fought? Disagreed on things? Couldn’t stand each other’s behavior? Wanted to take a break by lying to her that you’re going to some teacher conference but actually you’re just a few blocks down in a hotel by yourself watching tv?

Prem: Of course we did feel like that…those previous things before the hotel thing. But we had trust. And loyalty. That comes with time. It builds the foundation on which you nurture your relationship. You can’t force it or speed it up.

Yamini: Alright. Now try to put yourself in today’s world. Our time. My time. Would you still be willing to trust someone, pledge your loyalty to someone, that you’ve only known for four months?

Prem: I…I can’t say.

Yamini: Look, man. I’m just trying to say that the rules are different because the game is different. In this time, people don’t even think about going exclusive until after they’ve known each other for a few months at least. A simple text takes careful planning and possible-scenario-analysis over days, if not weeks. Trust has new parameters. Loyalty is completely optional. And love…love hangs in the balance by tiny little emojis.

Prem: Wow. Don’t you find that exhausting?

Yamini: That’s why I block all the shit out. I don’t want to think about something that asks for more attention than I’m willing to give it.

Prem: Well…it’s nice to hear a new perspective. Because from our…I mean, my point of view, most of your generation looks too distracted. Like they think there is sooo much love in them that they obviously can’t give it to just one person. And you use the word forever too much, without really meaning it or even understanding what it means. And most of you just keep going around person to person doing that tinding thing.

Yamini: Oh god. Do you mean tinder?

Prem: That name is just so bile-inducing. It sounds like a rotten tinda.

Prem laughs. Yamini tries not to, but fails.

Yamini: So…why did you come back?

Prem: What do you mean?

Yamini: This whole coffee and food adventure you are giving me. Why help out a stranger?

Prem: I…because you remind me of someone.

Yamini: Really? Who? Your daughter?

Prem: My wife.

Yamini: Oh. That’s…sweet. we look alike or something?

Prem: Well, a little bit. But that’s not the weird part.

Yamini: Oooh. There's a weird part? What is it? Does she also like to drink and not pay?

Prem: Her name is Yamini.

Yamini is surprised.

Yamini: Oh really! That’s a happy coincidence. I guess I should thank her. Where is she?

Prem: She died, a few months ago.

Yamini’s face loses every expression.

Yamini: Oh, I’m so...

Prem: It’s okay. I know. You’re sorry for my loss. You don’t have to say it.

Yamini: Why not?

Prem: Because of that look on your face! That empty, melancholic feeling a person gets when you tell them that your wife is dead. Even when they haven’t met her. I don’t want that to be the first feeling someone has when I mention my wife. Because trust me, if you had met her, you wouldn’t feel any sadness at the mention of her name. She was a wonderful person. And I miss her, a lot, but her absence doesn’t make me sad or sorry. So it shouldn’t make you sorry either.

Yamini: (impressed) Alright, happy man. I totally get why people call you that now.

Prem: Hah. Thank you. I try to stay hopeful. Hope is a…self-aware delusion. Keeps you sane when everything around you gets crazy.

Yamini: So what is this trip for then? Just getting away from the world?

Prem: Mostly. She always wanted to come here. Last year, before she died, I promised her I would bring her on a grand Euro tour for our anniversary. Which is…today.

Yamini: Wow. That’s…you’re a good dude.

Prem: Well, I shouldn’t keep you any longer on my night of walking around. You want me to book you a hotel room? I can loan you the money.

At that moment, Silvia comes to their table and hands them the check.

Yamini pulls out her phone, which has a hidden wallet. She takes out a credit card and hands it to Silvia.

Yamini: It’s on me. Here you go, Silvia.

Prem: You…hah ha…you did have the money to pay for yourself. So that whole thing was just a...

Yamini: (smiling) Just having some harmless fun. I still don’t have any cash so you’ll still have to trust me on the PayPal thing.

Prem: It’s alright. Consider us even.

They step out of the cafe.

Prem: You know…my Yamini, she would have really liked you.

Yamini: Well, she has good taste. (pauses) Listen...thanks for you help tonight. And…I’m still a bit sorry about the beginning.

Prem: It’s okay. I’ve been called uncle enough for it to stop hurting.

They are both quiet for a moment.

Prem: Hey, look, I know it’s not my place to say anything…on top of all my older generation opinions, but would do you me a favor?

Yamini: What is it?

Prem: Would you consider, taking this night, to think about your relationship? I know you must have already thought this through enough…but I would hate it if the end of your relationship was on the same night as the beginning of mine. I know it’s a selfish request. But if you could just lie to me that you would, then I can be on my way.

Yamini: That’s quite a lot of emotional guilt you’re throwing at me.

Prem: I know, I know. But think of it this way. You said you two have been together for two years, right? So would you at least take the night to think a bit more about your decision? And when the morning comes, and you’ll have a better pros and cons list. You’ll be sure. Then do as you wish. I’ll never know. And it won’t be on my conscience. How does that sound?

Yamini looks at Prem, and smiles.

Yamini: Alright, happy man. I’ll give you my word that I’ll think about it. For Yamini.

Prem: I appreciate that. So…good-bye then.

Yamini: Good-bye.

Prem starts to walk away, and Yamini stays standing there. She looks in to the street, thinking, as Prem walks away.

Yamini: Yo! Happy man!

Prem turns around to see Yamini speed-jogging towards him.

Prem: Hey.

Yamini: Hey! (catching her breath) You…you didn’t ask me what I do for a living.

Prem: (smiling) You’re right. I did not. Yamini always said I talk so much about myself that I rarely listen.

Yamini: And you’re doing it again.

Prem: Yes…I am. I’m sorry! Tell me. What do you do?

Yamini: I’m a scientist. A biochemical and biophysics engineer, to be precise.

Prem: Wow. That’s...

Yamini: Quite a coincidence?

Prem: That is…you knew my wife?!

Yamini: Yes! I mean, not personally. But when I was a teenager, I was so pissed with my parents for giving me such a retro name. So one day I googled it, and that’s when her name popped up. And my slow alcohol-inflicted brain just connected the dots. Your wife was Yamini Shehzad! She was such an inspiration to me! I bought every single book she wrote. She’s the reason I wanted to become a scientist!

Prem: Wow. That’s…thank you for telling me that. That…really means a lot. Now I’m definitely sure she would have loved you.

Yamini: And I remember reading this thing she wrote…let’s see if I can paraphrase it right…she said that…"Our entire existence, everything that happens to us is all part of a bigger plan, one we just can’t explain yet. There are no coincidences, just random events that connect once you know how the puzzle works." That always stuck with me. Even though life rarely gave me the chance to believe in it. But tonight…us meeting on this pivotal night for both of us…there is more there. And given how you said we were already even, when you asked me for a favor...

Prem: Ah. You’d like to balance the equation.

Yamini: Precisely.

Prem: Alright. That sounds fair. What can I do for you?

Yamini: Don’t spend this night alone.

Prem: I’m sorry?

Yamini: Look, I’m in a weird place right now. And I really don’t want to go back to the hotel to see him just yet or to just sit in a room by myself. My brain couldn’t handle all that. And if we’re both just going to roam around in this foreign city...

Prem: Ah. Well, I do appreciate that offer…but I don’t want you to...

Yamini: Uh uh. It’s not a request. You asked for this. For me to figure out my life in one night. You know how heavy that is? And besides…I want to know more about your wife. So start walking and talking because I’m not leaving.

Prem is quiet for a few seconds.

Prem: You know…I was never really able to understand all the amazing things she told me about the universe. Even in her last days when she was so weak and we both knew what it meant, she was always so hopeful. She used to say that "Prem, don’t ever worry about me. Don’t think that just because I’ll be dead soon that I’ll stop being who I am. Because no matter where I go next, wherever that is in whichever universe, there will be more. Maybe it won’t be life…but there will always be more."

Yamini: Wow. You quote her quite well. But see…what if she’s up there somewhere, in some other dimension, looking at this night…and maybe even having some part in getting the two of us together? You said it yourself, hope is a self-aware delusion. So let’s be delusional. What do you say?

Prem looks at Yamini, and he sees a young girl with hope in her eyes, one he can’t say no to.

Prem: (pauses, then smiles) Alright, miss Yamini. Where to?

Fifteen minutes later. On Charles bridge, which is full of people.

Prem: So your fiancé...

Yamini gives him a look.

Prem: I mean your boyfriend…is he…a scientist or academic as well?

Yamini: Oh, no. He’s…a…musician. Well, technically he’s a composer. He does the background scores for movies and television, mostly tv. He’s quite good, actually. And he found success quite early too. We just moved in to this house a couple months ago. And he set up his studio there. So he works from home! He’s always home…and when he’s always home he’s always there to see how late I come home…so...

Prem: Ah. You two live together?

Yamini: Yes, we do. (pauses) Or did. Is that a problem?

Prem: To me? No. It’s your life. Live it as you please.

Yamini: Are you sure you don’t have any opinion on that? I’m just used to judgmental remarks and stares so feel free to say whatever you want, I’ve heard it all.

Prem: Did I do that?

Yamini: Lil bit, happy man.

Prem: I’m sorry. I mean I know this is how the world works now, this is how relationships work today. But I’ve always seen this from afar. So even if I am able to understand how modern relationships work, it’s still foreign to me. Like how I see this city or any other civilization.

Yamini: I guess we’re all outsiders to any idea we are not used to.

Prem: Exactly.

Yamini: I mean to me, marriage itself is a foreign institution. It’s like marriage is a landline, and what we do now is the smartphone. It’s still the same purpose but this is just more convenient.

Prem: You see marriage as an inconvenience?

Yamini: I mean, no. I mean…when you need a phone…you just need a phone. It can either be in your house in this particular spot, or it can be in your pocket.

Prem: Yeah, I’m losing track of this analogy.

Yamini: That’s because you’re an analog man.

Prem: (laughs) Okay. So, hypothetical reality, if you really do not want to marry him, what will happen to your relationship? Have you given that some thought?

Yamini: Yeah, I’m not sure what’s going to happen once we get out of this limbo. You know right before you came in to that bar, I was just thinking about that. And you know what my first thought was? Are we going to have to break our lease? Will we get our deposit back? How much will this breakup cost me?

Prem is quiet, and continues giving Yamini a supportive, ‘I’m listening’ look.

Yamini: It sounds ridiculous when I say my thoughts out loud. I mean, I should have been thinking about him right? About us? But instead my brain wants to make calculations and conduct scenario-analysis. Does that make me heartless?

Prem: Don’t be so hard on yourself. You were just doing damage assessment. That’s instinctual, especially after a big life changing decision. (pauses) I never told this to anyone, but when my wife died, my first plan of action was all the funeral logistics. It was actually comforting to not process her being gone, because I knew what all had to be done. What’s funny is that I even knew that she didn’t have long. She tried a lot, to prepare me to live without her, but I always avoided those conversations. I figured that whatever time I had left with her should be about her, the living-breathing Yamini. Once she stops breathing, I’m all alone anyway. So why prepare for a future that you know is coming, because I have the rest of my life to deal with it.

They both reach this area of the bridge where there are people gathered around a saxophone player. For a few moments, they both stop talking, and just listen to the music.

After the saxophone player finishes her song, Prem goes over to her and drops some money in her instrument’s case. She gives him a smile and says, “Děkuji, šťastný muž!"

Yamini: Man, does every one in this city love you? Or do you just look like a happy man?

Prem: (laughs) She actually does know me. We’ve never talked though. But almost every night, I come to this bridge, and listen to her. I don’t think she even speaks english. But it feels like we talk, through music. Even though I know nothing about it or her. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy listening to her.

Yamini: That…sounds wonderful.

As they continue walking down the bridge, they cross a man doing a caricature painting, who says something to Prem.

Yamini: What’s he saying?

Prem: Oh, nothing. He’s asking if we want to get a painting. I told him no.

Yamini: What? Why would you do that?!

Prem: Because...

Painter: (to Yamini) Yes, lady! I do a painting for you and your dad. 5 minutes! Fastest painter in Prague!

Yamini starts to laugh.

Prem: That’s why.

Yamini looks at Prem, and then at the painter, who has the widest smile because he knows he has his next customer.

Yamini: Let’s do it.

Prem: No!

Yamini: Not your call. I’m doing it. He can paint us with you standing in the back looking like a creepy dude or you can come and sit down with me for five minutes. Come on!

They sit down for the painting. 

About thirty seconds later...

Yamini: (smiling, and trying to talk through her teeth) Are we just supposed to sit here with a permanent smile for five minutes? That’s not as fun as I thought it would be a minute ago.

Prem: Ha ha. You don’t have to hold a smile. Just sit still and he’ll get it.

Yamini: (takes her smile down a couple notches) Oof. Thank god. I don’t think I am capable of smiling for five minutes. My brain wouldn't allow such an unrealistic phenomenon.

Prem: So now that we’re stuck here for another 4 minutes or so, you want to tell me something about him?

Yamini: What do you want to know?

Prem: Whatever you want to share. I mean a scientist and a musician don’t usually run around in the same circles.

Yamini: Hmm. Well. I guess I can tell you how we met. It was in London, where we both live. I was with a couple friends, and we were at a bar, and someone mentioned that there was this guy in the bar next door who volunteered to play the piano for the band when their original piano player bailed at the last minute. They said he was killing it, so my friends dragged me along to see this. And when we got there, it was this really classy joint, and there he was. Playing the piano.

She stops talking. Prem tries to look at her without turning since both of them are still staring at the painter who is so in the zone that he’s not even looking at them anymore.

Prem: And…?

Yamini: And what? We met. When he stopped playing, my friend went over to him and offered to buy him a drink and then we said hi. And yeah…that’s it.

Prem: Really? That’s it? You kids these days…don’t even know how to tell a story.

Yamini: Excuse me? What did you expect? Some ridiculous meet-cute?

Prem: First, I don’t know what that means. And second, I don’t even know what I expected. What about the moment you both first locked eyes? Nothing?

Yamini: Well, yeah, sure...we did lock eyes actually. While he was still playing. And yes, a part of me thought that his eyes just found me immediately when I entered the room. And he still claims that he did. And yes, maybe, when he said hi, I thought he had a generous smile. Like it was instantly comforting. (drifts off, slows down) And maybe I had this weird feeling that he went from a stranger to someone familiar within a second...just by saying hello.

Prem looks at her.

Prem: There’s your meet-cute thing. Now you have a story.

Yamini stares at him, and right then the painter motions that he’s done. They both walk over to see the painting. In the painting, on the right is Prem, smiling his big smile and looking at the viewer, and on the left is Yamini, looking at Prem with subtle amazement.

Yamini: (looking at the painting, in un-subtle amazement) Wow.

Prem pays the man, who folds the painting and gives it to Yamini in a small cylindrical box.

They both continue walking.

Yamini: You know…you’ve been giving these small gestured micro-taunts to me about how we’re so different and how my generation lives. I’m curious. What else do you not like about how we live our life?

Prem: (laughs) You want an old man’s opinion? You’re not going to like it.

Yamini: I might not. But I’ll still listen. That’s how mutually-respectful conversations work. Just waiting for you to say something I can respect.

Prem: Touché.

Yamini: (smiling) Děkuji! And hey, I agree that the circumstances don’t necessarily show this, but I’m not some spoilt Delhi girl who lives and laughs and drinks her life away. I have four degrees. I have 30 patents to my name. Okay, 14 of those are still pending. But I finished all your wife’s books and several others before I was 12. I’ve dedicated my life to research that will potentially save lives. I’m pretty much a science prodigy…I’m just telling you what people say about me. This is not bragging! So don’t think everything you say will offend my extremely well-regarded brain. Go on. Tell me.

Prem is quiet.

Yamini: What? Surprised?

Prem: Pleasantly.

Yamini: Yeah, yeah. You’re impressed. I get that a lot. So tell me. What’s your diagnosis for my generation’s misdirected love life?

Prem: Alright. Your generation thinks love is all about passion. And you know what? Passion is easy. Passion is momentary. But there is a lot of normal life in between these highs of passion. And isn’t just passion. Passion is important, but it’s just one of the ingredients. But one of the essential, permanent ingredients is compassion. Love is being with someone who doesn’t judge you, and instead, helps you. Judgement comes when the person judging you believes you can’t be helped from whatever they think you’re suffering from. That’s not healthy. Judgement isn’t medicine. It doesn’t heal anything. But if you find someone who sees through your problem, and offers a solution, that’s the person you should keep in your life. That’s a person you should love.

Yamini: Damn, man. I just asked a question to humor you. You didn’t have to go all high almighty on me. What makes you think I don’t have compassion?

Prem: Not you. I just met you. But you do sound like you’re…sometimes...dissatisfied with the cards you’ve been dealt. You have so much…all these things you’ve been gifted with and accomplished with your hard work…but you still sound like you feel that life isn’t fair. Why?

Yamini: Who doesn’t feel like that? It’s ridiculous to believe that just because my problems aren’t the same ones that people who are less fortunate have I should just shut up and deal with it. Life is proportionally and relatively unfair to everyone. But that doesn’t mean I should just ‘deal with it’.

Prem: Yes, life does suck, a lot. But you can’t go around living your life waiting for an apology. Because you’re not going to get it. That stranger is not going to tell you he’s sorry that you have problems. That your life is hard. Because he doesn’t expect you to say the same. But wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we did?

Yamini: No it wouldn’t. Because it would be crazy. That’s what all those hippies think they are trying to do when they offer you free hugs on the street. It’s counter-intuitive. That’s why you want to punch them every time you see them. Punching someone might actually be more therapeutic. Their sign might as well say “Free Punches."

They stop near the other end of the bridge.

Prem: Oh god! You sound so angry. Why are you kids always such quick draws? So emotionally trigger-happy? You see one thing you don’t like or disagree with and bam, you’re ready to wage war with everyone who has wronged you because suddenly every one is the villain in your own personal movie. Tell me. What’s your beef with life?

Yamini: Excuse me…did you just say ‘beef’?

Prem: Isn’t that how you say it? I’m sorry. I’m new to your speak. My wife used to love these american shows. Her last year, we got Netflix. Have you seen that stuff? It’s like a whole new way to speak a language I thought I knew.

Yamini: You keep reminding me that you’re old…(gives him a look) it’s not like I need a reminder. 

Prem: Alright, then, lady. What is your trouble? Why are you at war with the world? Because this whole proposal thing isn’t all of it. It can’t be.

Yamini: Don’t get me started.

Prem: Asked and answered?

Yamini: What do you want me to say? I’ve had an eventful, productive life. I’ve worked hard and reached my milestones. I’ve dedicated my life to science and the next generation of humans. But throughout that time, I kept bottling everything personal into these tiny moment-shaped bottles. My dad died when I was 15. My mom now lives with my brother thousands of miles away and I haven’t spoken to either of them in like a year. And I miss them all every single day...but when it comes to picking up the phone and talking to them, I become a robot that doesn’t know how to compute emotion. But those events and realities aren’t triggers to unhappiness on their own. They are the result of actions. They are consequences to things that either life triggered or I did. And I don’t know how to solve the repercussions. It’s like I’ve been living through a really slow tornado for the past decade and now it’s just…what I’m used to. (pauses) And now I’ve made a small, comfortable home amidst chaos. I used to tell myself that all this stuff isn’t important. Your troubles aren’t as important. Our entire existence as a species - all of humanity - we are living in the last second on December 31st on the universe’s calendar. Literally. On the universe’s calendar, one second is like 450 years! That’s tens of generations! That’s some we’re-so-fucking-small-that-the-universe-doesn’t-give-a-shit-about-our-existence science for you! We’re so terribly small that…it hurts my brain sometimes…but it comforts my heart that just wants answers to questions that are so small given the grand scheme of things. And history, evolution, and progress don't care about my anxiety, my fears, or my insecurities. So I bottled them up. And…(she stops talking)

Prem: And now the bottles are piling up.

Yamini: Yes! And they demand my attention. Is it too wrong? To give myself some time? Because I certainly thought it was. Every time I think about giving my personal life some time I feel like I’m spending a limited currency that could be used for something important. Something with meaning. Something with a tangible outcome. Something that lasts. So I told myself my personal atom-sized problems were irrelevant.

Prem: But they are not irrelevant. You’re not irrelevant.

Yamini: Thank you for saying that. (pauses) You are the first one to say that in a long time. Probably because I've never really said this stuff to another person. 

Prem: So what’s the problem? Give me your most recent one. The one on the top of your head. Right now. Say it out loud.

Yamini: I...

Prem: Look...I’m listening! And if I’m listening, even in my terribly small, atom-sized existence, I represent the universe. I’m a small, negligible, but existing part of this universe you’re carrying around on your shoulders. So tell me.

Yamini: I…am not sure if love is something I should let into my life. I’ve done it. I have…splurged. I have given myself small moments. But I feel guilt. I don’t know how to explain that. It seems so crazy just to say it out loud. But I’m afraid to give myself time. And space. I think it’ll just disappoint me. I’m afraid people will disappoint me. Because they have. Because they will. And I do the same. I am the disappointment in someone’s else’s life. I am the villain in someone’s personal movie. Because it feels reciprocal. Cyclical. Like life is just a fucking sum-zero game. So why should I keep trying? Why should I not keep myself guarded against the meteors that life keeps randomly hitting us with?

Prem: (pauses) That’s not a tiny problem. Those are some macro-sized craters. You are so far from Kansas, Dorothy.

Yamini: Hah…it’s okay, happy man. I don’t expect you to have a perfect soundbyte answer to my question about the whole fucking point of having a life.

Prem: (pauses) What if I do?

Yamini: (laughing) Are you even real? Alright. Sure, give it a shot. We’re already in some weird time-gapped pocket universe it seems. We’re literally on a bridge right now! All these people, everything in this city, it’s just so peaceful and beautiful. I know I should be appreciating it, embracing it, but my brain just won’t stop seeing the matrix. The randomness that made up all this mess of dying atoms. So tell me. I’m all ears. And extremely sober.

Prem: Look, I can’t give you a perfect answer to your life's problems because I’ll never be able to see life from your point of view. But I can tell you what I think. What I’ve seen. What I’ve come to believe. And let me tell you. The questions don’t stop. You think you’ll get an answer to one problem one day. And you will. Believe me, the biggest question…or ‘beef’ you have with life today, you will get an answer to it. But that won’t be the last answer. Because that won’t be your last question. Problems are like milestones on a highway. You can see them coming, and getting bigger and bigger, and at one point they are right there in your face. But then you pass them. You leave them in the rear view mirror. Then they are small again, until there are gone. But that doesn't matter because the next milestone is coming. (pauses) Problems. Troubles. Issues. These ‘WTF’ moments as you kids like to call them. They are not going to quit on you. They will keep banging on your door every day with a new symptom.

Yamini: That’s quaint.

Prem: It is, thank you. But just like life…there’s more. That’s my point. There will always be more. You can’t live life milestone to milestone. You can’t bottle away things every day hoping that you’ll someday get a solution. But you also can't obsess over finding those solutions. Because you can always find answers if you stay in the game long enough. That’s the twist. So perhaps the real trick isn’t to solve everything. To fix everything. You’ll spend your entire life doing that. The real trick is to be okay with having unanswered questions, to be okay with new questions that put the earlier questions to micro-level shame. To be okay with new problems. New destinations. Because you’ll have to find tiny moments of peace with every answer you find. You’ll have to remember and remind yourself every day why you’re on the highway in the first place, and where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there. No one can really be your guide through your life because no one can understand it and see it like you do. You’ll have to be your own life boat...and...

Yamini: Wait...what's a life boat doing on a highway?

Prem: I...guess I mixed up my analogies. Just imagine your own version of a life boat.

Yamini: Hmm. The flying carpet from Aladdin.

Prem: I...sure. So you'll have to be your own...flying carpet. 

Yamini: Aladdin used to call it "Kaaleen" in the hindi-dubbed version on TV.

Prem: Fine your own "Kaaleen". Can I get back to my point?

Yamini: Jeez...sorry, uncle!

Prem: (ignoring the uncle part) My point is...just like every moment that passes you by, nothing is permanent. Everything passes. Pain passes. Joy passes. But do you know what stays?

Prem starts to smile again. It annoys Yamini, but not as much anymore. And because his joy is infectious, she starts smiling too, instinctively.

Yamini: Given the repetition of this as an answer so far…I’m going to make an educated guess…love.

Prem: Just because it’s the same answer, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Life isn’t a multiple choice test in school where you fill out the answers and start doubting yourself when you see that the same option is the right call in most of the cases. Sometimes the right answer is just the right answer.

Yamini: Alright. I’ll bite. You say love stays. Love binds everything together. Love keeps you breathing until the next moment. But give me a beat by beat. What do I do when something scary is around the corner? Something I know will become bad, even though it isn’t bad today. Tell me what do I do then? Knowing that even if I am comfortable and happy in this moment…knowing that I still am fully, un-ignorably aware that this moment will self-destruct. Tell me...what do I do then?

Prem: Being scared of the future doesn’t mean you’re weak and that this is something you need to fix about yourself. Being scared means you value your present. And yes, every new moment does mean the death of the last one. Time isn’t your enemy. Time doesn’t have a personal grudge against you. I’ll tell you my truth. I mourn time. I mourn the time I didn’t get to spend with my wife. The thirty years we were supposed to have, the ones I spent the last thirty years working and saving for. I even mourn the time we did spend together because just like her, it’s dead. It’s gone. Forever. Just like her. But let me tell you what I do when that happens. When that feeling won’t leave me. I let time pass. Because even if we miss a moment gone by, do we ever mourn the last moment that just passed? We do ever really miss that thing that just happened a minute ago? We don’t. Time and pain have the same expiration date. Because we’re meant to live the present, we’re meant to live reality, every second of it, second by second. That’s the brutality and beauty of time. It knows we’ll miss a time gone by, but it also knows we won’t have the time to miss it all the time. That’s why we have memories.

Yamini: (laughing) You’re right, happy man. You are. And I wish I could let this blissful speech be the moment I remember…the moment I go to when I’m afraid of the future. But you know I can’t do that. We can’t do that. Self-reflection and self-satisfaction are great checklist items to have. But they are more like new years resolutions, because checking them off is impractical on a daily basis. We don’t live our days in peaceful, blissful solitary bubbles. We’re hustling and bustling through crowds of other equally-if-not-more scared and scary humans.

Prem: Come on. Look around you. All these people on this historic bridge that’s seen generations pass by. These strange, happy people. These legacies of love and loss and happiness and pain. Do they look that scared? Or scary?

Yamini: Not from here, they don’t. But get a glimpse of their life and I bet you’ll see some scary shit. Not everyone is a saint. Rarely anyone is. Good people, actual sincere people, they only exist in isolation. Put a good man to a test in a world unlike his, and you might not like the man that comes out. You can’t just let hope and love be your weapon against what the world is packing.

Prem: Look, this is going to sound rude. You’re not going to like hearing this. But try to see it in the helpful way I’m trying to say it.

Yamini: Thanks for the disclaimer. Offend-away.

Prem: (pauses) You think your heart is your weakness. That your heart is the one thing holding you back. That just because it causes all these feelings it is somehow responsible for all the bad news. But that’s not it.

Yamini: Sure, and now you’re going to say that my real weakness is my fear of intimacy or abandonment or death itself. Have you been reading therapy books? (pauses) And I just realized how rude that sounds to the guy who just lost his wife so please ignore that aspect of that question.

Prem: I did.

Yamini: Thank you. Wait…did you somehow just manipulate me into apologizing to you while you’re mid-speech into telling me what’s wrong with me?

Prem: Nope, that was all you. But that’s a good cushion. Because my next statement will still sound and feel brutal. Because...your real weakness is your brain.

Yamini: (reflex laugh) Excuse me? You’re hysterical, old man. And not in a funny way.

Prem: See, I just offended your brain. Not your heart. Your brain. Your intelligence. Your ego.

Yamini: You mean all things that keep me employed, fed, guarded, protected, my tools for survival, basically the reason for me being alive. Come on, man. Make a stronger argument. Are you underestimating how smart I am? Do you want to read the reviews for my published papers because I will pull up that list right now. You wanna watch my TED Talk?

Yamini gets her phone out of her jeans pocket.

Prem: No, no, keep your internet holstered. But don’t you feel there is some truth in my observation? You think your brain is your best asset, and I’m sure it is. I’m not being condescending even though your expression right now is telling me that you think I am. Your brain is your problem because you trust it too much. You give it all the big problems to solve. And I’m sure in your line of work it is your best problem-solver. I’ve seen this happen too often with my wife. You’re giving your brain too much credit. Too much responsibility. Too many calculations, some of which are really not within its expertise. And it really is…literally…isn’t that the word you kids love to butcher? Yes, it’s literally filling your head with more contradictions than it can handle.

Yamini: So that’s your solution? To live life with my brain in the back seat? Do you know how vulnerable that is? It has a huge cost. And I’ll be the only one paying it.

Prem: So don’t put it in the backseat. Let it stay in control. But let your heart advise you! It knows you as much as your brain. Why give so much power to an organ that is basically a computer? Do you go to your phone with your personal problems? Do you ask it to make you feel better when you’re sad?

Yamini pulls out her phone, quite cockily, and presses a button.

Yamini: Siri...(she says as she speaks into the phone) I’m sad. Tell me a joke.

Siri: (through the phone speaker) Life, as a I understand it, is sad, beautiful, and everything in between.

Yamini: (giving Prem a raised eyebrow) She sounds just like you.

Prem: That…wasn’t a joke.

Yamini: Mine was.

Prem: Uff! You’re proving my point! You trust computers too much! You’re using your brain too much. Too often. For too many things. You think your life is an equation that needs to be balanced. But your brain can’t handle that calculation alone. It needs help.

Yamini: You know what, this is turning into lecturing territory again, so right now I need a drink to calculate this.

Prem: And there’s the fuel! (pauses) Look, I’m not antagonizing your decision-making process. But if you live in your head…then you’re top heavy. You need to balance your life in your body. God gave you so much real estate and you keep everything in a small attic at the top. Spread it out. Let other parts of you have a say in how you live.

Yamini: Man, you were doing so well! But that last thing. Really not the banger you were hoping it to be.

Prem: Hey, I warned you, you were not going to like hearing this. And I know you’re trying to poke holes in my theory. You’re a scientist. That’s your job. And I won’t say that it’s practical either. I don’t live my life the way I hope to live it. But I do try. Every moment I get, every moment that I can steal from time, I try.

Yamini starts getting a bit frustrated, and then an idea pops up in her head, which gets her excited.

Yamini: AAHH! Alright. Let’s be scientists then. I’ll be the engineer. You be the philosopher. Me, beauty and the brains. You, hmm…a well-meaning optimist with a heart that’s seen some mileage.

Prem: Ah! Alright, Miss Beauty, I deserve some of that. 

Yamini: Yes you do, Beast. 

Prem: Do you reference anything besides Disney?

Yamini: You had to expect that one. Alright, so let’s try a real, tangible problem and we’ll try to apply both of our theories. And we’ll see which answer helps the most. What do you say?

Prem: Hmm. Okay. In the words of… what’s the name of the man from that show about the guy who tells his kids about how he met their mother? I love that show. That actor who was in those Harold and Kumar movies?

Yamini: Oh man, did you just learn about Netflix? Barney Stinson.

Prem: Yes! Him. Alright, as Mr. Stinson said…challenge accepted.

Yamini: You know, you might be the oldest nerd I’ve ever met. (pauses) Okay. Let’s do a random test.

Prem: What do you mean?

Yamini: (looks around her) We’ll pick someone at random, one situation that’s happening around us. Any stranger on this street. And we’ll ask them about their problems. Their most recent, most current beef. And we’ll try to fix it. Advise them. My way. And your way. And we’ll see what works. What actually helps that person. The winner buys the other drinks. Deal?

Prem: More drinks? Really?

Yamini: Chicken? Scared you’re going to lose?

Prem: Of course not. I mean, I already said ‘challenge accepted’. Did I not say it right?

Yamini: Yes, yes, uncle. You said it right. Alright. Pick someone around us. Anyone.

Prem: It’s your experiment, madam. I don’t want to…bias the results. You pick.

Yamini: Hmm, okay. Let’s look around.

Yamini and Prem walk towards the crowd of people, as she looks for the right story. There are families taking pictures. Kids running around. Lovers kissing. Seniors holding hands. Singles taking selfies.

Prem: Everyone has a story. Who are you going to pick?

Yamini: Let me think!

Yamini searches the bridge of people. After a few seconds, she finds the one. She grabs Prem’s hand, and walks over to a woman, who looks like she’s in her mid-to-late thirties.

It’s the saxophone player from earlier. They catch her right as she’s packing up her things.

Yamini: Excuse me? Hello! Do you speak english?

The woman smiles and nods.

Woman: A little bit, yes. I’m sorry I’m done playing here for the night.

Yamini: Oh, that’s not a problem. My…(looks over at Prem) uncle here, and I, have a question for you. If you wouldn’t mind? Do you have a minute?

The woman looks over at Prem.

Woman: Ah! šťastný-muž!

Yamini: Hello, I’m Yamini.

Woman: Véra.

The woman shakes hands with both of them.

Prem: I’m Prem. I hope we’re not bothering you.

Véra: Oh no, it’s fine. How can I help you?

Yamini: Well, this is going to sound a bit crazy and intrusive, but we were hoping to ask you about your life? We’re…uhm…trying to understand the culture here in Prague…seeing how it differs from ours. Would you mind telling us something about yourself?

Véra hesitates, and looks over at Prem.

Prem says something in Czech. Véra listens, and then smiles.

Véra: Okay, Yamini, I will answer your question, but on one condition.

Yamini: (confused) Sure, what is it?

Véra: You both come with me to the Jazzboat. I play there in fifteen minutes.

Yamini: Jazzboat?

Véra: You don’t know Jazzboat? Oh you will love it. Come. It’s..uh..about ten minutes to walk…and talk on the way. Sound good, yes?

Yamini looks over at Prem. He notices the excitement on her face.

Yamini: Well?

Prem: I...don't...

Yamini: (cuts him off) Are you kidding me?! It's Jazz...on a BOAT!

Prem: I...sure, why not.

Yamini: (excited) Yay! Okay...Let’s go!

The three of them start to walk off the bridge, and head north along the river to the Jazzboat.

Prem: So…Véra…my niece here is…a skeptical scientist…and she sees me as the delusional philosopher. We have really differing views on life. So she had this brilliant idea where we talk to a person - you - and ask them about what they are going through right now…and see which one of us can hopefully provide some sort of helpful advice.

Véra is quiet, and stares at both of them as they walk.

Yamini: Uh, does that make sense?

Véra: I see. So you (points to Yamini) are the…how you say…intellectual realist…and you (points to Prem) my šťastný friend…are the hopeful optimist. And you want to see which one can give better advice. Am I correct?

Yamini: (surprised) Absolutely!

Véra: Okay. I’ll think. Hmm. Alright. I have one for you. I am thirty-six. I have two beautiful children. Small, both in school. I have one ex-husband…how you say…asshole. I have little fixed income every month, but I try to support my family. I love music. I teach my kids music. But love and music don’t pay bills, as much as I want. So I have to make choice. Either I go back to my village, with kids, and we live with my parents, work in my family farm. Or I stay here in city, stay with my music, and keep trying until the bills stop becoming problem. Is that good? For your advice?

Yamini is a bit struck, suddenly realizing how this stranger just opened up to them. She tries to say something, but can’t. Prem notices it.

Prem: Yes. Thank you for sharing that with us, it’s very kind of you. Yamini (he nudges her with his shoulder)…what do you think?

Yamini: (snaps back) Uh, yes. Thank you, Véra. I…uh…okay. I think…actually, can I ask one question?

Véra: Sure, sweety!

Yamini: If you move back to your village, does that mean no more music?

Véra: Ah. Well, a bit. Yes. If I go back I give up on my career. That I work on for 20 years. And in 20 years I go big, I go low, I stay still. But going home means I give up. But music…music is life. Music can’t go away. Just become not important. I guess.

Yamini: Well, I…Véra…I was raised by a single mother. My father died when my brother and I were still teenagers. And I…know…she had to make sacrifices. For us. I don’t know…if there was something she wanted to do…to be…before she had us or after our father died…because I never asked her. But now…I think about it…seeing what all she had to go through…the personal cost of raising two children by yourself. I guess what I’m saying is…I’m sure you’re more than capable of figuring out anything. You’re already a rockstar mother to me. So if you chose to go home to your family, you would have more help with your children. To ensure their future, to make it more secure. But even if you stayed here and kept working hard on your music, I have no doubt that you’ll still be the best mother those two can have. (her voice breaks) I…hope that was…not a stupid answer.

Véra looks over at Yamini, stops walking, and gives her a hug.

Véra: Your mother did a good job.

Yamini holds Véra, and smiles with one tear going down her cheek. Her eyes lock with Prem’s, who is smiling right back at her. She lets go of the hug.

Yamini: Thank you, Véra! (to Prem) Alright, happy man. Try to top that!

All three of them share a small, hearty laugh.

Prem: I don’t know how to! But here’s what I will say…Véra…tell me…the way things are now…as difficult and stressful as they seem to get sometimes…are you happy?

Véra: (smiling) You know how happiness works, šťastný-muž. I see it in your eyes everyday you pass by on the bridge. Happiness you say...a gift, but sometimes an....expensive one. We can’t always afford it. But the love of my children, and the love I get from playing my music, it pays me in happiness. It keeps me alive.

Prem: Then I don’t have any advice for you. I say…the person you are today…is strong enough to find happiness - for you and for your children - wherever life may take you. Whatever path you choose, you will always be Véra, and no one can stop you.

Véra gives Prem a hug.

Véra: Báječně! Děkuji, Prem! (Wonderful! Thank you, Prem!)

They arrive at the Jazzboat, which is unlike anything either of them has ever seen. 

It’s music on water.

Véra: Okay, enough talk. Now we dance. Now we jazz!

Yamini: (with her eyes lit up, looks over at Prem) Shall we, happy man?

Fifteen minutes later. Véra is playing with her band. Yamini and Prem are standing at the bar, surrounded by about 25 people sitting on small tables, listening to the music, talking.

She takes his hand and walks him to the bar.

Yamini: (to Prem) You know, I think you owe me a drink.

Prem: Really? Based on what conclusion?

Yamini: Véra’s reaction! And you said it yourself, my advice was awesome.

Prem: Really? I didn’t hear a scientist talking when you were talking to her. I heard a smart, compassionate woman and a grateful daughter. I don’t think I lost.

Yamini: What?! That’s not…fine. But I have another parameter. She hugged me for like 3 seconds longer than she hugged you. My analysis takes that into account.

Prem: (laughing) Well, I can’t argue with the hug variable. Alright, let’s drink then. What would you like to have?

Yamini: We’re going to start with one of those famous beers you talked about.

Prem: Start with?

Prem orders them two beers.

Yamini: (to the bartender) And two Jager bombs! We’re celebrating.

Prem: Are you sure you’re still not drunk?

Yamini: Yes. But I’m going back. And you’re coming with me. Can’t say no, man! It was your idea to help out this damsel in distress, now you must drink the consequences.

The bartender gives them the beers and shots.

Yamini: Alright. I’m going to teach you how to drink your next favorite drink. Are you ready for this?

Prem: Child, I’ve been drinking liquor longer than you’ve been alive. I’m sure I can handle this concoction.

Yamini: Haha. Let’s see, old man.

Both of them raise their shot.

Yamini: To Yamini and the happy man.

Ten minutes, two beers, and three Jager bombs later.

Prem: (finishing his third shot) Wooh!

Yamini: (laughing) Still with me, happy man?

Prem: (looking at the band, leaning on the bar) I’m loving this music.

Yamini: Can I ask you something?

Prem: No, I am not having another one of those. I…I don’t think you could handle more drinking.

Yamini: Sure, let’s call that the reason.

Prem: You want to dance?

Yamini looks at Prem, as the music slows down. She holds out her hand.

Yamini: Yes, I do.

Prem takes her hand, and slightly wobbles to the center of the boat, near the band, and the two of them start slow dancing. They are the first ones to start dancing, but a minute later, a few more duos join them.

Prem: You had a question.

Yamini: I did? Oh, yes. I did. I…wanted to ask you…how long has it been since...

Prem: Since Yamini passed? About eight months.

Yamini: And how long have you been traveling?

Prem: Uh, let’s see…about six months.

Yamini: Wow. You just packed up and left?

Prem: Well, yes. It was…supposed to be just for a couple weeks. I had already retired once she got sick. So when she passed, and after I got done with all the required obligations, I just bought a one way ticket to any city in Europe that was cheap. And then…time kept passing, and I kept going from place to place, meeting people, making new friends.

Yamini: Didn’t you feel like going back at some point?

Prem: Sure, I miss some things. But my home, died. And we didn’t have any kids. She and I always agreed on one thing from the moment we met, and that was that neither of us didn’t have a good enough reason to bring more people into this world. So when she died, I didn’t see a point of calling that place home anymore.

Yamini: So what will you do next? Where will you go?

Prem: I don’t know. I don’t…think about it. But my visa will end soon. So I will go somewhere else I suppose. But I don’t feel anything calling me back anymore. I only see…the path ahead.

Yamini: But…so…have you thought about…or considered…finding someone..again? Falling in love…again?

Prem: Have you?

Yamini: (taken aback) I…that’s not the same thing.

Prem: I know it’s not. But when he asked you to marry him, you said no. Are you doubting your decision?

Yamini: I’m…I’m still…I just...

Prem: Are you still in love with him?

Yamini: I…I haven’t thought about that.

Prem: What?! You’ve been out here thinking all night, about your pros and cons...and you still haven’t asked yourself if you love him?

Yamini: It’s…more complicated than that. Love isn’t everything. It’s not the solution to everything. There are so many other things to worry about before making such a decision. And when you take all of that into afterthought.

Prem: Are you or are you not?

Yamini: I….am.

Prem: There you go. You’re still in love so of course you can’t think about moving on to loving someone else. That’s my point. Because I’m still in love too. I’ve been in love for thirty years now. With the same person. I don’t plan on changing that fact. That feeling.

Yamini: But…don’t you think…and please stop me if I sound insensitive...

Prem: It’s okay, doctor. You’re just trying to understand a situation. I’m not offended. Because I’m listening with my heart. (gives her a wink)

Yamini: Hah hah, thank you for that reminder. But...I just think…won’t you miss being with someone? Having someone to hold? To listen to you? To be your anchor?

Prem: See…the way I see love…the way I feel it…I’ll always crave some parts of it. We all crave love. But love isn’t just intimacy. Love isn’t just...exclusivity. Love is also…in companionship. Love is also in listening to someone and being listened to. Love is also in company that makes you forget that you’re lonely. It’s having someone to talk to…someone to dance with. Whatever made us, made us hungry for love. And we go wherever we think we’ll find it.

Yamini: I…that’s a lovely thought. And preposterously impractical. But still lovely.

Prem: Lovely and lonely…I just realized that there is just one letter separating those two. Two decades of teaching that language. And still learning!

The song ends. The patrons of the Jazzboat applaud the band and get back to their tables.

Yamini: Alright, old man. You sound like you need a break. Let’s go outside for some air.

Few minutes later. Yamini and Prem are standing on the Jazzboat's open deck, while the party continues behind them.

Prem: Now can I ask you a question?

Yamini: Go ahead.

Prem: What are you running away from?

Yamini: I…I’m not…running away...

Prem: Really? You think I’m going to believe that?

Yamini: Believe what you want, man. I’m not running away from anything.

Prem: Is it just this relationship? This future commitment? Because you don’t seem like someone you shies away from a challenge. There’s something else here. Something you’re not allowing yourself to see.

Yamini: I have no fucking clue what’s gotten into you…I shouldn’t have given you all those jaeger...

Prem: Why are you shutting out love from your life?

Yamini: Oh man, not this whole love thing again…you’re just crazy ol’...

Prem: Why are you shutting out people from your life?

Yamini: (suddenly, slightly loud) Because love doesn’t last! And…people don’t last…so why should I bother? Why should I bring something into my life knowing very well that it will all be taken away from me any day? You know exactly what I'm talking about. Why aren't you angry? The love of your life died! Why aren't you upset? Why are you selling love when you know exactly how it ends?

Prem is quiet.

Yamini: I...look...I'm sorry... 

Prem isn't looking at her anymore. He doesn't look upset. He's just staring out at the water. Yamini stares at him for a few moments, and then also turns towards the water. She doesn’t say anything either.

After a few moments of silence.

Prem: There is a thing about love that you don’t plan for. It’s more of a gift, that becomes a curse if you let it. One of the perks of being loved by someone is knowing that someone is thinking about you. Knowing that even when you’re not near them, you are in their thoughts. That is a fantastic feeling. Knowing that someone outside of your own consciousness is thinking about you. But…when that person is gone, it means that they aren’t thinking of you anymore. You feel that loss of love. That loss of you no longer existing for them. Being loved, and having that privilege be taken away from you, that hurts. It really does.

A tear drops from Yamini’s eye. And then another one.

Prem turns to look at her.

Prem: What’s wrong?

Yamini: My dad...he was always…he was just the best. And when you just said that…it’s like you put into words the loss I felt when he passed…something I’ve never really stopped feeling. He was my rock. He was my guide. And after he died I was so angry. Angry at him. Angry at my mom. Angry at anyone. Because in my ridiculous mind, it felt like an unplanned betrayal. You are born and you grow up with these two people taking care of you…and no one prepares you for the day where they might just vanish. Not when you’re 15. So I just became scientific about all of it. I broke down those feelings until they weren’t feelings anymore, just some days of pain which were now my past. Something I could leave behind and not look back. (wipes off her tears) What’s with all this crying? Must be the alcohol. Some messed up involuntary reaction.

Prem: I’m sure it is.

Yamini: Tell me…happy man…now that you’ve opened this do you deal with grief?

Prem: You know that saying…'life goes on’? Well, in those moments, where I feel alone…where I really feel her loss…I tell myself that “I’m not okay.” Telling myself, saying it out loud, I AM NOT OKAY. It gave me this comfort. Knowing that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Because it’s grim. Darkness is just…emptiness. So when I don’t feel okay, I try to find a metaphorical place in my mind to just sit down and find some comfort in that darkness. In that emptiness. And then I tell myself. That life goes on. And love…love goes on too. She may not be alive, but…I feel her love. She gave me plenty. And through that love I can feel that wherever she is…she is still thinking of me. Because her love…it’s very much here. And I will keep it with me. That was her gift to me. She gave me the gift of undying love. Just like your dad gave to you.

Yamini just looks at him. Admiringly. Her tears are gone, and now there is a fresh new smile on her face.

Yamini: Have you always been like this? This annoyingly zen? Because I don’t buy that. Come on. You must hate some things.

Prem: Hate is a strong emotion…one I’m not immune to.

Yamini: Ah. Interesting. Please elaborate. And please don’t ruin my impression of you by saying you hate the gays or something.

Prem: (laughing) No. But I do get upset at things. It upsets me that my wife isn’t here to see this new person I’ve become in the last six months. It upsets me that she’s not here to see how being with her changed me. Made me better.

Yamini: Really? So you really weren’t always like this? That’s reassuring.

Prem: Oh, if you had met me in my twenties…you would not have the same impression.

Yamini: Ah! Tell me, what were you like in your twenties?

Prem: I was…very much like you.

Yamini: Ah ha. Eureka. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Prem: Ah, you pop-cultured millennial. That’s not how you say that!

Yamini: Whatever, you get the point. So tell me, what was this Prem in his twenties?

Prem: I idiot. Way worse and a lot more stupid. And not just in my twenties. Thirties. Even some of my forties.

Yamini: I’m pleasantly surprised to hear this, and only a little offended. Please do go on.

Prem: I was confused. Rebellious. Angry. Just like any of you are today. It’s cyclical, like you said. Youth. Luckily, things got a bit less scary when I met my wife. But people don’t just change overnight. When I had my wife, when we were together, I was always the…the long term planner. I would look at everything on the big scale. And we got married very young so it made sense to have a plan for the future. I was always planning for the future. And she was the one who wanted to eat out a couple times a week...or watch a movie every Friday, to enjoy the moment. And I was always the one who wanted to wait for the review or until it came on tv, because I always thought that why give something your attention today without any idea of the benefit, if you can make a better decision tomorrow with more information.

Yamini: You were a calculative person? I’m really shaken by this revelation.

Prem: Do you want me to continue?

Yamini: Yes, please! I’ll stay shush. (puts her finger on her lips, then mumbles) Promise!

They are in the front section of the boat, leaning against the railing, looking into the night, the city, and the water.

Prem: I was always the planner. I was always looking forward to the time in the future where I could do this or we would do that. And every day, when it ended, I would be like…that’s one more step towards that goal in the distance that I can see but somehow still haven’t reached. Goal of buying her that house. Or buying that car. Or going to that weekend vacation. You can’t do much on a teacher’s and a professor’s salary. So we were always trying to save enough money to be a happy retired couple. We would travel the world. I was always insuring my future by sacrificing my present. And why wouldn’t I? That is how I was raised. This was my environment. That was the only way I thought life worked. Always planning for the future. Always living for that day…that...never came. Who was I making that plan for? Why was I wasting my time with her, that I actually had, for this possible time in the future that I assumed I had. And I know…it’s not that I feel guilty. Because that’s where she came in. That’s where her magic happened and did its trick. She would still find a way to keep me grounded. And keep me living in today. But, I was still that guy. I was never fully in the moment. I tried so hard to be the man she would always love, that I sometimes, in my own small way, wasn’t able to become the man that she was loving today.

Yamini continues to listen, quietly, as Prem stares into the water, as if he’s talking to the night, and she’s just there by his side.

Prem: Why was I doing it? I can’t even remember the logic now. But I know it made sense back then. I had this weird, naive belief that time would just happen. As it always did. I mean, it never broke before so why would it start now? I expected it to keep doing exactly what it had being doing for thirty years. Why would we not be at our happiest when we were in our fifties, doing what we wanted to do? And I was a rebel. I wanted an early retirement. I told my school, I told everyone. I am going to retire after 50. And for the next 20-odd years I’m going to take my wife on the trip of her lifetime. We were going to see the world on the other side of the tv screen. And then…(he stops talking)

Yamini: She got sick?

Prem: She got sick. And then the bills started. But that wasn’t the part that made me angry. It was that...I wasn’t able to get her that dream that we promised to each other. I wasn’t. And she died waiting, for me to fulfill one…just one dream. She died waiting for me to keep my promise. She died...waiting for me to live.

Yamini: I…I don’t know what to say.

Prem looks back at her.

Prem: That got a bit too heavy, didn’t it?

Yamini: Just the right amount. Honestly, complaining about anything sounds stupid right now.

Prem: hah ha. It’s alright. We all have dark days. We can’t make ourselves immune to sadness. But we can control how we react. How we move on. How we dream. I learned so much from my wife. And now I get to live those lessons every day. Now I get to go around the world, for her, with her.

Yamini: Spreading her gospel.

Prem: One dream isn’t enough, Yamini. You need more. We all need more. (pauses) She used to say that, except she said Prem where I just said Yamini.

Yamini: She was a very smart woman. I’m glad that I got to know her a bit tonight.

Prem: Look, here I go again talking about me. We were talking about you. I just…I want you to know that being afraid of the future isn’t wrong. Being skeptical of letting people into your life isn’t wrong. Having a beef with life isn’t wrong. But trying to make sense out of the worst way to spend it.

Yamini: So what do you do instead?

Prem: I know this will sound like a cheat answer, but…that’s something that you just learn as you get older. When I was your age - I’ll never get tired of saying that - I was so sure about what I knew. I had strong beliefs, opinions. But now, the older I get, the less sure I become. And that’s freeing. To know that your opinion and your belief towards something bigger than you has no effect on it. You can roam freely throughout the world without feeling the weight and pressure of keeping your shit and its shit together. So I packed my bag and started being free.

Yamini: Ah, the wandering lover, the happy man.

Prem: (laughing) A wanderer? Perhaps. We people, us wanderers, I think we are driven by just two things - facts, and feelings. The sun is a fact. This air we’re breathing is a fact. We all share the same facts. They are the same to you, to me, and to everyone around us.

Yamini: The sun? The air? Uhm, I think the jager is really doing its job. Your mind seems to be wandering involuntarily now.

Prem: (pauses) The warmth I felt when I sat with my wife watching the sunset - or the serenity I felt when I felt her breath on my neck - that’s my feeling. Not a fact. Just a feeling. My feeling. Just mine. And here’s the beauty of feelings - they don’t end. You can keep them. You can keep that feeling alive, even when the person who made you feel it is gone. Love isn’t a fact. Pain isn’t a fact either. You can feel them anyway you want. You can control them, mold them to fit your sensibilities.

Yamini: But what do you do with those feelings? What good are they?

Prem: What do you do with the air? Or the sun? Do you have a plan for how you breathe and feel the air around you? Feelings are exactly and only what they are. You feel them. We shouldn’t try to overcomplicate some things.

Yamini: But things are complicated. Life is full of frustration, depression, anger, anxiety, loneliness. Isn’t it almost living in denial if you think love and another person’s existence can save your own?

Prem: I think it’s about perspective. You’re right, life has frustrations and anger...and that loneliness. You don’t have to tell me about loneliness. But your perspective matters. Life isn’t full of these things. Life is made up of moments. Some are good, some are bad. And love…love isn't perfect just like life isn't perfect. Love is messy just like life. You think that in almost three decades of marriage my wife and I didn’t have some low moments in our relationship? Of course we did. Everything is hard work. Happiness is built on hard work. Because it has rewards. Because sometimes, there are moments that feel like they only belong to you, moments that make you feel like you’ve found a secret to the universe, moments that stop time - those are the moments you live for. Because in those moments, life feels perfect. And love, love is that secret.

Yamini: I really wish I could record you doing this right now, you’re a fun drunk, my friend!

Prem: I’m not going to lie…I like your jager bombs. But listen…you’re a scientist, right? So I know I don’t know as much as you, and that’s good. Because you know more, you can answer more questions about life. The universe. And everything. You, my lonely friend, are to me the smartest human being I’ve ever met. You’re the queen of facts.

Yamini: Are you saying all of this so I’ll call you the king of feelings? Mr. Prem Shehzad? The…king of love. Wait...did you give yourself that name?

Prem: (laughing) No. And Shehzad translates to Prince...but that’s still clever word play, young lady. Where was I? Oh yeah. I watched this documentary once. I mean, yes, Yamini made me watch it. About how the universe was made. About how time and space make up the dimensions we exist in. And they were trying to answer all these wonderful, thoughtful questions about how the universe works. I rewatched it after she passed. And you know what their conclusion was? These brilliant minds from all over the world - know everything they can possibly know about how the universe was made, and how time works, and all the ingredients that made up everything we’ve ever know and will make everything that will ever exist. But you know what their conclusion was? I’m sure you know.

Yamini: I know what you’re trying to say and I will not say it because I have a feeling of where you’re going with this.

Prem: haha alright I will. They said that they know all the ingredients - but one. The one at the center of it all. The one that started everything and exists within every thing. The god particle, as they call it. And you know what I learned that day? I found an answer to a question perhaps no one has bothered to ask.

Yamini: (sighs) And what is that question?

Prem: What if just like time and space - another dimension? And...what if…love is the missing ingredient?

Yamini: That’s! That’s…just...

Prem: Crazy?

Yamini: Yes!

Prem: Can you prove it isn’t?

Yamini: That’s ridiculous! Of course I can’t prove something that doesn’t make sense. I can’t prove God exists or doesn’t exist. But just because you believe in something and feel something - doesn’t mean it could be real.

Prem: How else do you define real? Because It is to me. And it could be, to you, to everyone. Someday. Wasn’t every fact that was ever discovered about the universe just a feeling in some philosopher's or scientist’s head?

Yamini: Ah ha. I see what you’re doing. Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing. You can’t use science to win an argument against it.

Prem: Look, I could be wrong. Terribly wrong. But does that matter? I know what I want to feel. Because when my wife died, my love for her didn’t die. It stayed. It got stronger. All I’m saying is - there could be a scientific reason behind it. Love could be the missing ingredient. The missing dimension that we’re still incapable of seeing. But maybe some of us…us primitives...can still feel it. It’s there.

The jazz music coming from inside the boat gets louder with a new song, and the people inside start waving to Prem and Yamini to come join them. Some of the faces are from earlier in night…the bartender and waitress from the Hemingway bar, and Silvia from the cafe…and a few new faces. They even start yelling…šťastný-muž! šťastný-muž! šťastný-muž!

Prem: Uh…why are they chanting my name?

Yamini: Because I may have mentioned to Véra that tonight is your anniversary…and she called a couple people you may now…and looks like they all really love you…and you may have to give a speech.

Prem: Uh…what?!

Yamini: Look...I think…and this is off the record because I’m never going to repeat this in a scientific circle so you can’t quote me…but (looking at the joyful people inside) I think that your theory is trying to prove itself, happy man. You’ve clearly had an impact on these people, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. Let’s go back inside. It’s almost midnight and we need to celebrate your 30th anniversary to that wonderful woman who was clearly smarter than you…but now I can see why she loved you.

The band is playing. Champagne bottles are popping. Shots are being poured and consumed. People are drinking and talking and having a merry time. Yamini and Prem are in the center, with everyone filling up the space around them. The party has started.

After a few minutes, the volume of the music goes down, as Prem find Yamini and Véra on the stage, holding a mic.

Yamini: Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much to Véra and her amazing band! (applause) Now as many of you know…and I’m sure if you’ve met him you know this…but this man right here (points to Prem) Mr. Prem Shehzad…or as most of you know him…the šťastný-muž! (cheering) He’s here, among us…spreading his smile…spreading his love…and tonight he celebrates the woman who makes him smile…who makes him love…who made him the wandering lover. So please…happy man…come take this mic…tell us a story. Tell us about Yamini!

The intimate crowd cheers. Prem is delightfully embarrassed. He walks over to the small stage, as Yamini steps down and hands him the mic.

Prem: (whispers to Yamini) I…you…(smiling) thank you, Yamini.

Yamini smiles, and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

Prem gets on the stage, and looks at the crowd. For a moment, he just stands there, smiling, overwhelmed by all the people looking back at him. Giving him all this love.

Prem: Thank you. Thank you to all of you for showing up to this thing I had no idea was going to happen. Tonight…tonight marks thirty years since I married my wife. She passed away not too long ago. But if she was here…(pauses) no…she is here. Because of all of you. Because of the love that you’ve shown me in the last two months. And I really appreciate it. You made an old widower feel love…again. (pauses) So what do I tell you about my wife?

Véra: Tell us how you met? Tell us how you knew she was the one!

Prem: Oh, that’s easy. If you had seen her the way I saw her…you would believe in magic. (pauses) Alright. I will tell you that story. Because of this beautiful young girl over here who won’t take no for an answer (points to Yamini)…I’m going to tell you our story. And I promise I'm going to keep it short because you’ve all had this lovely champagne and heard this wonderful music and I don’t want to kill anyone’s buzz by going on and on.

The small crowd laughs and cheers. Everyone holds their glass up to the happy man.

Prem: I’ll tell you about one moment. About my favorite moment from my entire life. This moment that I experienced three decades ago when I met my Yamini for the very first time. That moment that I still live and breathe every chance I get. (pauses) We were both coming out of university in the evening. I was standing at the gate with my bike and some friends. And she walked out the gate. A face I had never seen before. A face I had never imagined before. And she saw me, seeing her. And immediately…I wanted to hide. Because I wasn’t ready to see such a face. To see such beauty. Such innocence. It was all very…melodramatic and filmy. (the crowd laughs) So as I tried to hide behind my bike, looking up to see if she was gone, I get a tap on my shoulder. And it’s her! She asks me what I’m doing. I stammer and apologize. She keeps saying something that sounds like she’s scolding me. But I can’t hear any of it. And the first thing my brain can muster is something I was reading earlier that day in class. Shakespeare. The man who invented and ruined romance. I read something that I believed to be such ridiculous bullshit, that I spent the day arguing with my professor and classmates about how far away from reality these words were. So I look at her, and she’s quite mad, and I say…“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”

The crowd quiets down. The band behind Prem is playing a slow number, building up the tension, as if to match his story as he goes.

Yamini: (impulsively, almost yelling in a small room of people that are all paying equal attention) And then what happened?

Prem: What do you think? She hit me! I mean, just a small, non-violent tap with her bag. Because I was an idiot! I quoted Shakespeare to a physicist who didn’t find it funny or sweet or worthy of her time. So I shut my mouth. And then…a couple minutes later...

Silvia: She came back?

Prem: haha…nope. I went to her. And I said I was sorry. That it was this thing I read earlier today. And that I don’t actually believe in it and was just trying to be…something. And that I am not an idiot...all the time. I basically just said everything I could possibly put together in words that resembled anything intelligible. And then two minutes later when my monologue ended, and I feared that she was just about to walk away or hit me again…she looked at me…and asked me if I could help her with her English Literature class because she wasn’t the best at it. We got married six months later.

The crowd woos. The crowd cheers. The band jazzes.

Prem: On our wedding night. Once we were done with everything and in our room, together and alone for the first time...ever. She said this thing to me that I'll always remember. She looked into my eyes, with those same beautiful eyes that I looked into every day for almost thirty years…she asked me…’did you really fall in love with me at first sight?’ Now I could tell that she was playing with me, so I said, ‘Yes.' Then she says…’Prove it.’ I looked into her eyes, said…’It’s easy.’ She says, ‘How?’ And I tell her, ‘It’s easy when your face is the only face I see every time I open my eyes.'

Prem looks up at the sky…with some of his audience also doing the same, and then looks back at the crowd, scanning it, slowly looking at each and every face, and finally settling on Yamini.

Prem: Every time I open my eyes, I look for love. And everywhere I see love, I see her.

The woos get louder. The cheers get louder. The jazz gets jazzier. Another champagne pops.

Prem: Now before I go…I must share another beautiful story with you all…a story that will make you believe in cosmic love. Because tonight…on my anniversary with the love of my life…another love story has started! My wonderful niece here (points to Yamini in the front of the crowd, who is quite surprised now)…just got engaged tonight! Come on, Yamini, tell us about it.

Prem steps down from the stage, and hands Yamini the mic. She has a fake smile, and whispers through her teeth, into his ears, as she steps up on the stage.

Yamini: What the hell are you’re doing?

Prem: Trust me. Just…let it happen.

Yamini steps up on stage, as the band starts playing her up.

Yamini: Wow. I…don’t know if I can say anything to follow that. But…yeah, my…uh…boyfriend…asked me to marry him tonight.

Yamini is nervous, not sure of what to say next.

The waitress from the Hemingway bar, the one who almost threw Yamini out, says ---

Waitress: How did he do it?

Yamini: Oh! Okay. Well, he…first of all he surprised me with this trip. Just last night, I came home and was really tired and and just passed out. And then this morning…at like...4am…he wakes me up…shows me tickets to go to Prague…and despite my angry face…manages to get me to Heathrow airport, and then a couple hours later we’re roaming around in Prague. We’re going to all the places I’ve always wanted to see. We’re having this beautiful lunch in this amazing restaurant with a beautiful view…he’s gifting me all these things because it’s my birthday tomorrow…well…technically…today…(people start yelling happy birthday) Thank you!…So we have this wonderful day and then he tells me this isn’t it…and that he has a whole week of celebration planned…and then we go to the castle…and then we’re in the gardens seeing a full view of the city…and we’re just sitting on the edge. And then, he just gets down on one knee…(pauses, slows down) and he has this box in his hand…and he starts talking even though my brain has stopped listening because I’m in this shock mode and rethinking every decision I’ve ever made…and I hear him saying things that I’m sure he had written down in advance because they are so precise…I mean…this guy had prepared himself with several scenarios to tackle to make sure I get that he has been thinking about this and to make me feel comfortable so I don’t run away…and then he just says, ‘Will you marry me?' (pauses) And then...

Véra: And then you said yes?

Yamini snaps back, looks at Véra, and at everyone else in the crowd, who are all looking directly at her, with curiosity and hope and positivity filling their eyes. She finds Prem in the crowd, who gives her a ‘it’s okay’ nod with a smile.

Yamini: …Yes.

The crowd woos even louder. The crowd drinks and cheers. The jazz is inebriated.

Yamini steps off the stage, as Prem comes over to take her hand and help her get down.

Yamini: Why did you do that?

Prem: I just…wanted you to have a few moments to live in the reality where you do say yes, just to see what that felt like.

Yamini smiles at Prem, and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

An hour later. The drinking has stopped. The music has stopped. Everyone is gone. Yamini and Prem are back on the riverside, with both of their paths in front of them.

Yamini: So…this was certainly not the way I was expecting this night to go.

Prem: Yes, it became a lot better when you came along.

Yamini: Likewise.

Neither of them talk for a few moments, as both of them look at each other, and the quiet city around around.

Prem: (sincerely) Thank you for…the company.

Prem starts to walk away in the other direction, opposite to the path they took to get here. Yamini stays standing where she is, looks back at the path she took, and watches Prem walk away.

Yamini: Wait…where are you going? (louder) Is this goodbye? You’re not even going to ask me what I’m going to do?

Prem is now about twenty feet away from her. He turns, and looks at her. There is no one else in sight.

Prem: If you know where you’re going next, then that’s good enough for me.

Yamini: (with concern in her voice) And where are you going?

Prem looks at Yamini, and then at the night surrounding them. He smiles.

Prem: To find a new home.

Thirty minutes later. Yamini gets back to her hotel room, and finds him, still looking like the same man who asked her to marry him eight hours ago, sitting on the couch. When he sees her, he gets up, his face signaling stress and relief. He walks towards her, and gives her a hug.

“Hey!” he says, “you’re back! Where…what…do you know how worried I was?! (calms down) I mean...happy birthday! You know it's your birthday...right? (looks at her, concerned) Is…everything…are you okay?"

She sees the ring box on the counter. She looks at him. She looks into his eyes. She blinks. She smiles.



'The Wandering Lover' by Lucy Salgado

Author's Note

I want to thank my dear friend Lucy Salgado for creating the beautiful cover art for this story. She is a ridiculously talented artist and writer who also created a lot of the other story covers you'll see on Launchora.

This story was published on November 24, 2016. I wrote it over the course of one week - between October 21 to 28 - mostly between 2am to 5am every night. That has pretty much been my writing process for everything I've ever written. I don't recommend it unless you want to become me in which case please don't because I like being me exclusively.

Also, in case you're curious, this story is my homage to two of my favorite writer-directors - Yash Chopra, and Richard Linklater. Both of them are old-school romantics and excel at creating strong, flawed, multi-dimensional characters. The song that inspired this story is Challa from Jab Tak Hai Jaan; and the walk-and-talk style and overall "feel" of the story is inspired by Before Sunrise.

So for Prem's character, you can imagine Shahrukh Khan to be giving an Ethan Hawke-ish vibe. And perhaps Anushka Sharma would be a good Yamini? The two of them together would make this a Jab Tak Hai Jaan reunion which sounds pretty good to me. But I am open to suggestions if (when) this becomes a movie. 

So what do you want to do now? You can share this story with your friends, write your thoughts on it below, read other stories, or start writing your own. I suggest doing at least one of those things.

Anyway, thanks for reading The Wandering Lover.

143 Launchers recommend this story
Thank you for sharing this story. I really learned something deep today. Something I will carry on for the rest of my life. To always live my life for today, and not to just focus on the blurry tomorrow. Thank you so much for being an inspiration.
launchora_imgLakshya Datta
5 years ago
That's very kind of you. I'm glad you got something positive out of this experience!
launchora_imgRain V
5 years ago
I just finished your story. And I'm glad I did. As for the poem thing,I hope you and Euphemia will be able to figure something out,because she mostly only writes poetry. But hey,think of it as an adventure! Lol. Good luck to the both of you!!!
launchora_imgMango Fish
5 years ago
this is the first story I ever read on launchora. the description and cover imagr drew me in when I saw it on my Facebook feed. I did not regret clicking on it. your story was a gateway for me into Launchora. thank you so much for your story.
launchora_imgLakshya Datta
5 years ago
Thank you, Mango (great name). I'm glad you liked it!
launchora_imgKodees Wari
5 years ago
thank you for sharing this story.. it was making me read more and more. and I couldn't think of prem as an old man . and I strangely felt good after reading ur story. and jab Tak hai Jaan was my fav movie so at the end, I felt good seeing that. thank you for story keep writing and we will be loving it. the story was heart touching and mesmerising too
launchora_imgLakshya Datta
5 years ago
Sorry for the late reply, Kodees. Thank you for your nice comments on my stories! Glad you like them.
launchora_imgKodees Wari
5 years ago
I'm glad that you replied me. and don't say sorry and all. and pleasure is mine
launchora_imgWhatever Miss
5 years ago
Enjoyed reading this! ❤
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The Wandering Lover

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Part of the Life collection

Updated on November 24, 2016

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