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"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in this world."
Meera and Viren are at a wedding reception (that party that happens after a wedding) in a small beachside village in Italy. The night has almost ended, and now everyone in the wedding party is drinking and dancing and eating and drinking some more. Meera and Viren are taking a break from the dancing, and are now sitting unaccompanied, all dressed up, at a round table, one of fifty, possibly having their first international fight. Both are in their late-twenties, and self/cross-sufficiently attractive.
Meera: Are you still upset?
Viren: No, I’m not.
Meera: Then why are you still acting like it?
Viren: For effect.
Meera: Excuse me?
Viren: Maybe I’ve had too much to drink.
Meera: We’re on the last leg of a five-day wedding spectacle in an Italian village, the name of which I can’t even bother to pronounce - we’ve both had too much to drink.
Viren: Yeah, I’m definitely not upset at the wine. Can you believe how cheap this stuff is here?
Meera: We’ve been drinking for free, so I don’t really care if I’ve been drinking a 1,000 euro bottle or 1,000 rupee bottle.
Both of them laugh, pick up their glasses of wine, and do a cheers gesture to the bride and groom, who while dancing with their loved ones a few feet away, acknowledge it from their imaginarily real cocoon of newly invented love.
Viren: You know, I don’t think we’ve really gotten any sightseeing done this whole trip. And now we’re leaving tomorrow.
Meera: What’s the point? Old buildings. Old trees. More old buildings where stuff happened as it always does.
Viren: So you’d rather we just drink and see everything through temporarily-enchanted wine-vision?
Meera: Hey, being here with you, and that beautiful couple, and all these wonderful people - this is a good enough sight to see. There’s no shame in living the present and looking at what’s in front of you. Before we know it, we’ll be the past.
Viren: You’re drunk…and I’m loving it.
Meera gives Viren a kiss.
Viren: Speaking of the past, I’m upset because you didn’t understand why I was upset this morning.
Meera: You sneaky lil’ devil - Not for a lack of trying...is this some sort of upset-inception?
Viren: What’s the point of trying if you don’t accomplish what you intended to do?
Meera: Effort counts. And perhaps if the allegedly-injured party would have done a better job at describing the issue, the defendant could have mediated an amicable resolution.
Viren: Oh my beautiful lawyer to the lawless, I love it when you talk shop to me.
Viren gives Meera a peck on the cheek. She welcomes it.
Meera: And I love it when you distract me with compliments. Diversion tactic or not - your cunning romanticism is always a welcome interruption.
Viren: Alright. Let’s try this, I’ll give you - in one sentence, the summary, NAY, the crux - of why I’m still upset. The caveat - you have to take into consideration the emotion behind my supposed-ridiculousness.
Meera: Geez…just tell me already…because I’d rather we just continue drinking and playing this ‘delayed-gratification’ game till we get back home.
Viren: Meera, listen to what’s in front of you!
Meera: Fine…go ahead...
Viren: Okay, so...
Meera: …I won’t distract you at all...
Meera leans back into her chair with her glass of wine, self-awarely showing off the intended ‘Oh?! This?!' cleavage of her red cocktail dress.
Viren: Thank you for setting the mood. Alright, last night, when we...
A woman - appearing to be in her early-twenties, which she is - interrupts their conversation.
Woman: Hellooo! Sorry! (whispered) Actually I’m not sorry about this at all and you shouldn’t be either - (un-whispered) may I join you?
Same night, same location, same time.
Roy & Giza - two uncaringly pleasing-to-their-eyes individuals in their early-twenties - walk into the wedding reception, laughing and holding on to each other, suggesting a required balancing act commonly witnessed during a drinking escapade.
Roy: I guess we’re doing this!
Giza: Shhhhh (she says loudly, only to laugh out louder)
No one at this villa of love notices these two stumbling into their party. Except a few old folk, who still smile at the stranger-couple, and get back to their drinking and dancing and eating and drinking some more.
Giza: Baby, do you think the word villa comes from village, or the other way around?
Roy: I’m going to decide that from now on whatever you decide to be the origin of a word or phrase - is the universal truth. And I shall scour the Earth for any dictionary - but probably just urban dictionary to save time - that disagrees with my angelic beauty.
Giza: Aww! You don’t have to scour the Earth for me, my love. Just remember to nod every time I say something that sounds un-comprehensive.
Roy: So where to?
Giza gazes into the party, and finds a spot for them to migrate towards.
Giza: First order of non-business - resource allocation. To the bar!
An elegantly-drunk Giza, and a handsomely-drunk Roy, walk over to the bar.
Roy: Garçon! Mon ami! (he says as he tries to get the attention of the bartenders)
Giza: Sweety, that’s french (she says surely). We’re in…Italy? (she asks unsurely)
Roy: I know, baby. I just wanted to announce my intention before borrowing a bottle of wine. You get the glasses!
Roy borrows a bottle of wine from the bar, and Giza makes two glasses disappear while giving a wink to the bartender. The bartenders see all of this happen, and they did hear Roy’s request in their neighbor-tongue, but choose to smile and nod at the young couple instead.
Roy: (walking away and without looking at the bartenders) Merci, señors!
Giza: Grazie, Carlo! (she says to the bartender she winked at)
They both find a standing table next to the bar to pour themselves a drink.
Giza: I love how they’ve decorated the villa - so elegant. I can barely recognize this place. Look at the beautiful couple! (she points to the bride & groom dancing several feet away from them)
Roy: Ah! A wedding. What an apt event for us to crash tonight. (he says without much emotional intent, it’s hard to tell with millennials)
Giza: It’s not like it’s our first time crashing one. And I happen to think it’s wonderful. Two almost-strangers becoming lifelong-partners. Love starts with commitment, and this is the celebration.
Roy: I think that for most marriages love starts - if at all - at first sight. And ends at the first sideways glance. But some pieces of paper keep them blinking till one of them stops looking, or just stops. (looks at Giza) Cheers to not stopping till the final stop.
Giza: You think what you want, there is no greater risk than asking for someone’s permission to bond your soul with them for the rest of their life - in front of all the people you hold close to your heart.
Roy: Look, the way I see it, we all live a fresh and new life every day we wake up from that temporary numbness, so maybe the soul-bonding counter resets every time too.
Giza: Uh-huhhhhh, so what did your rejuvenating first breath this morning tell you?
Roy: That today will be another adventure.
Giza: Was it?
Roy: Night’s still young, sweetheart. And if it’s soul-bonding you’re looking for….
Giza blushes and lovingly brushes Roy’s arms off before they reach certain sections of her body. She notices something happening at a nearby table, and heel-runs towards it.
Giza: (to the man and woman sitting by themselves at that table) Hellooo! Sorry! (whispered) Actually I’m not sorry about this at all and you shouldn’t be either - (un-whispered) may I join you?
Giza sits down at Meera and Viren’s table.
Giza: (to Meera) Darling, you are so beautiful that I need another drink (finishes her glass of wine and pours another from the bottle in front of Meera, finishing it in the process) Is this (looks at Viren, and winks) your boy-toy?
Meera: (excitedly) Haha, well, yeah? (confirming with Viren, then fake-whispers) But he thinks it’s a mutually agreed upon, relationship of equals. Let’s not spoil the fun. Hi! I’m Meera. This is Viren.
Viren: Nice to meet you, …?
Giza: Yup! Gee like a key. Like the Egyptian city!
Viren: That’s a great name! Is there a story there that your parents shouldn’t have told you as a child?
Giza: Well, yeah, like any namesake story goes, it’s the place where they met…
Meera: Oh, that’s so cute!
Giza: …physically! You know the soul to soul connection boom-boom. (she makes the appropriate hand gestures)
They all laugh, as Roy enters the scenario.
Roy: Let me guess…boom-boom in Giza?! It’s my favorite place this time of year!
Giza: Sweety! Where were you? (looks at what’s in his hands, the wine bottle they borrowed) Oh you!
Giza kisses Roy passionately, for quite a few seconds, enough to get Meera and Viren to stare uncomfortably, and then stop staring and look at each other…comfortably?
Roy: (still holding on to Giza by her waist, post-kiss) I see you’ve made some friends.
Giza: Are you surprised? Guys, this is Roy, the love of all my lives. Roy, this is Meera and her husband Viren.
Viren: Boyfriend, actually. Nice to meet you, Roy.
The boys shake hands. Viren's ‘boyfriend’ sounded like a designation, like when someone says their current job title even though they think they deserve a promotion - Roy & Giza notice this but are inebriated enough to let it go, so as to not make it weird - another feature common within millennials.
Roy: It’s great to meet you both. You’re sure we’re not bothering you?
Meera: No, no. Not at all. Please join us. We welcome all wine-bearers.
All four sit down, as Roy refills each of their glasses.
Viren: So how do you guys know Nicole and Tristan? Actually better question…do you know Nicole and Tristan?
Giza: You mean, the bride and groom? Well, we’re not on a first name basis. But I know them well enough to come and crash their party. My parents own this property. Roy and I just got in a few hours ago.
Viren: Wow! You must love living here. It’s…(he looks at Meera) it’s paradise.
Giza: Oh, haha, well I don’t really live here. But I’ve spent a lot of time here growing up.
Roy: What about you guys, what brought you to this night?
Meera: Viren went to college with Nicole and Tristan. Viren was Tristan’s roommate, and now his best man.
Giza: Is that how you two met too? In college?
Viren: Oh no. We met back in Delhi, that’s where we live. That was about...four years ago?
Meera: Yeah, four years ago. (she says with self-realization)
Roy: Ah, so you’re just here for the wedding?
Viren: Yup, flying out tomorrow. Have to get back to reality and the work that comes along with it.
Giza: Aw, that’s too bad! We just met!
Meera: Yeah, I really wish we could stay. But I have to get back to Delhi, and then fly out to Turkey in a couple days.
Roy: Turkey! Beautiful place. Another vacation for you two?
Meera: Oh, no. Just me. I run an education non-profit for women, and we’re partnering with another one in Turkey for a center we’re starting there.
Giza: That’s wonderful. Roy was just in Turkey…what, couple months ago? He’s a producer for this amazing documentarian who films these stories about people who history forgets.
Meera: That’s fascinating! Are you working on anything right now?
Roy: Yeah. I just finished work on this one doc called ‘The Death of Love’…it's about these artists in Europe who through the ages have been predicting the end of human connection and love through their art...
Viren: So what did you learn...is love really dead?
Roy: Depends on your definition of love. Think about this - a hundred years ago, there were no movies. There were only books and plays and almost all of them had sad, unhappy endings. And people loved it! They went to these plays and read these books and thought - 'Man! I have a great life! I have a loving family or a loving partner or loving kids at least, and clearly there’s people out there who don’t...so good for me! My life isn’t as bad as the ones in the stories. I can be in this story for a few hours and then go back to my life which is better.’ People used to live love stories of their own! Your world was the small town or village you grew up in, and that’s where you found your “soulmates” (he says using air quotes). But now, fast forward to our time, and all real love and happy endings only exist in stories! In real life, we go around from person to person looking for happy endings, but end up writing our own unhappy lives. And screw the location limitations - we can find and date and love and leave anyone on this planet. The world got so much bigger and we can’t stop looking. So now…we’re just a generation of doomed romantics with no happy endings.
The other three just stare at Roy as he sips his wine. After a few moments of pause, everyone laughs.
Viren: (to Giza) And you’re in love with this guy?! (to Roy) Look man, I see what you mean. And I agree to an extent that yes in general movies have over-romanticized life. But I see hope too. I think the romanticism of our generation comes from whatever leaks from the screen or the page of a book. We absorb it and - sure, our expectations rise in the process - but we love..love. More than that, we love being in love and being loved by another human being. I do. I think it’s good that every story has been told a million times, because now there’s hope for something brand new! Love is rare, but rare is good. We love everyone differently, so every new person we meet comes with a theoretical guarantee that whatever you feel for this person has never been felt before. Love is the most unknown emotion we know. You can live a love story today that couldn’t exist a hundred years ago. And now it’s yours - your story (he points to Giza and Roy) can be the greatest love story ever told. (pauses) Perhaps you just have to stop looking, and just look at the person in front of you.
Giza: Geez, V, you’re a die-hard romantic, aren’t you? I feel like we're trapped between two extremes! Is he like this all the time, Meera?
Meera: (laughs, holds Viren’s hand) Sometimes! I haven’t seen this guy in a while though. I guess this vacation has brought this new freedom to his thinking. But I definitely have seen shades of it. Even our first date - which I didn’t even agree to call it that - he...you wanna tell this story, V? (she emphasizes the ‘V’)
Viren: No, no, go ahead. It’s your story as much as mine.
Giza: Aw! I’m excited!
Meera: Okay, so he gets my number from a mutual friend - who was obsessed with you (to Viren) by the way so she really didn’t want us to happen. So he calls me up and he’s like ‘hey, it’s me we met at this thing blah blah - what are you doing Saturday?’
Roy: Nice. Finding the chase and cutting to it!
Meera: Exactly! So I’m thinking, I barely know this person, and he wants me to meet him, alone. I mean, I knew what we wanted…but there was…just something about the way he talked to me…there was this weird combination of patience and sincerity, so I paused…because I’d never expected or even wanted to be in this position. And then, after me not saying a word…and because he’s so perceptive, he says, ‘do you want to say no?’
Giza: No! You really said that?
Viren: I did! I really had no idea how to impress this girl. I talk for a living…it’s always been easy for me to talk to people...and girls too. But her…the first time I heard her voice I was so taken aback. It was like (looks at Meera)…a sound that I had never heard or felt before, and now that I had, I wanted to hear more and more. It felt like - she thinks it’s cheesy but - the sound of happiness. The sound of peace. So back on the phone call, where I’ve asked her this question and she hasn’t said anything for like 30 seconds...I thought - alright, show her all your cards. Whoever you’ve been before this moment - she has no idea who that guy is. There was this change in me that day, in that moment. So I told myself - let her see how vulnerable you are. Be very clear about what you want, and maybe she’ll listen to you. Maybe she’ll believe you.
Giza: (to Meera) I think you’re the luckiest person I’ve ever met!
Roy: (to Meera) So you said yes, obviously.
Meera: Well, I said nothing because I still didn’t know what to say, because I heard none of what he just told you. All I heard was ‘do you want to say no?’ So in my head I’m thinking - I really have no reason to say no. And then, because he really overkills it unless stopped, and since I hadn’t said anything since ‘hello?’, he goes - ‘look, even if you want to say no, come anyway. And…’ (to Viren) what was the rest, Viren? I want to make sure I get the words right!
Viren: (shyly, but with a smile) 'I promise you a memorable day. Even if it’s the only day we ever spend together.'
There is a moment of speechless-ness amongst the table as everyone just sips their wine.
Roy: Damn, man. That’s awesome. Props to you, buddy! (gives Viren a fist bump) You should help me write stuff to say to this one (points to Giza), with a line like that I’d be golden for at least a couple months. She loves this romantic stuff. She's never been to India but she's seen every bollywood rom-com.
Giza: Shhhh, I want to hear the rest of the story! So you met him?
Meera: I did. (smiling)
Giza: And what happened?
Meera: (looks at Viren) You sure you don’t want to tell this part?
Viren: (shrugs) Hey I did all that stuff so one day you’d tell strangers our love story. So by all means...continue.
Meera: Fine. So little bit of back story - I was always quite conservative. I never really had a long-term boyfriend or a relationship, through school or college. I just never wanted or looked for a guy. I was always focused on things I wanted to achieve, to accomplish. I wanted to do more than one person could - which meant sacrifices. And I got used to living that. Maybe it was the way I was brought up. And when I said yes to Viren...
Viren: Actually, all she said was ‘Okay.'
Giza: haha so cute. ‘Hello' and ‘Okay'.
Meera: …So...I put the phone down, and I panicked! I had never lied to my parents - I was about 23 at this time and I didn’t want to start lying now - so I’m thinking 'how do I explain this guy showing up at my house to take me out on a date?’ So I called him back and I told him - 'look buddy, even if it’s just for one day - I can’t lie to my family. What do you wanna do?'
Giza: Ah, you wanted to overcomplicate it to see if he would back off. See if he scares easy. Nice. (winks at Meera)
Meera: Uh, yeah, something like that. But it really was an honest question. And then, and he’s going to secretly love this but blush on the outside - he says ‘I’ll take care of it.’ So saturday comes, and he tells me he’ll pick me up at 9. I wake up in the morning, and to my horror - I find him sitting in my living room, having tea with my parents - at NINE-FUCKING-AM.
Roy: Hahaha. Sneaky bastard.
Viren, who has been pouring everyone a refill of their wine, takes a bow.
Viren: Hey, I wanted a full day.
Giza: NO EFFING WAY. I’m imagining a scene right out of a bollywood movie.
Roy: No, in a bollywood movie he would have had fought a bunch of guards to get inside to take her away and her dad would either shoot him or offer him money to forget her.
Meera: haha. Well he didn’t, thankfully. Somehow this guy I’d only met once before had convinced my parents to let me go out with him that day. He still won’t tell me how he did it.
Viren: Just know that I was petrified, and her parents saw that and realized that this guy really has no shot with our daughter so let’s just give him his day. Maybe he’ll wear her down.
Giza: Damn, Meera, you really made him work for it.
Meera: (looks at Viren) He…just found his way in. (snaps out of it) And now...four years later…(slight pause) here we are.
There’s another round of silence, as Roy breaks it...
Roy: So when’s the wedding?
Meera almost spit-takes her wine. Almost.
Giza: Baby! (whispers) Don’t make it weird.
Roy: What?! No offense, guys. But lovely story, truly, and Viren, buddy, you clearly believe in this whole love and soul-mates thing. Tell me then - why isn’t there a ring on that finger already? Was this an eloping trip?! Am I ruining a pre-planned moment by saying whatever’s coming to my mind out loud?
Both Meera and Viren get a bit uncomfortable, and are equally at a loss for words.
Meera: Well, it’s...
At that moment, the bride and groom - Nicole and Tristan - come over to the table accompanied by the photographer, take a group photo with the table, and move on to the next one. The party seems to be winding down, as people begin to leave.
Viren: Ah, I guess that’s a signal to end the night.
Giza senses the obvious awkwardness in the wake of Roy’s question.
Giza: No way. This is not how we end this night. I apologize for my idiot here but he’s clearly not using his inside voice and using the wine as a loudspeaker. Isn’t this your last night here? Let’s end it with a bang. Come with us to my beach house. It’s just a little walk up over there (she points to an area behind the reception), and we have a lot more wine. We’ll give you guys a nice send off.
Meera: Oh, thank you Giza, we really appreciate it but we shouldn’t…(looks at Viren) you want to go back to the room?
Viren: Uh, I...
Giza: No, no, no. I insist. Think back to that phone call guys. We just have this one night together, and I’m so glad we met. Let’s not say goodbye yet. Besides, we haven’t even gotten to Roy and my story yet!
Roy: Yeah, guys, it’ll be great. It’s not even midnight yet. We’ll cook up some food, drink a bit more, I’ll apologize for making it weird, we’ll laugh, and live a bonus night none of thought would happen. Let’s do it.
Viren: (to Meera) What do you say, Meera? One more memorable night?
Meera hesitates, and gives in to a smile.
Giza: Perfect! Good job, Viren. Alright, let’s take this bottle with us because one should never waste free wine.
At Giza’s beach house. The lights are out, and the house is in complete darkness. Roy and Viren are outside the house near the back shed, looking for the power generator area.
Roy: (shines his phone’s flashlight) Here. I think I found the problem.
Viren: Ah. Alright. Finally getting somewhere.
Both are quiet, and no one makes an attempt to approach the generator.
Roy: What? I found the problem. You find the solution. I thought you’d know how to fix it.
Viren: Why would you assume that? And shouldn’t you know all this stuff given your line of work?
Roy: Producing documentaries? What do you think I do on a set? Change lightbulbs? You know what - let’s just try to figure it out before Giza comes out and emasculates both of our male-egos. Megos. Haha.
As they fiddle with the generator in the dark...
Viren: So…you and Giza…how long have you two been together?
Roy: Ah. Giza. Isn’t she great? We met a couple years ago. In London. I was studying there at the time, and we met at a party. She was visiting a mutual friend of ours - they went to high school together. It was funny. I asked her for her number and she says - ‘I don’t have one.’ So I think she doesn’t want me to have it, so I stop talking to her and start walking away. Then she goes - ‘so you’re going to let that stop you?'
Viren: Haha. Nice. Zero effort, zero risk.
Roy: Yeah! Although pulling off that attitude is so much work. Anyway, it turns out she literally doesn’t own a phone. She travels so much - being a ‘TCK' - she only uses the internet to stay in touch with people.
Viren: TCK? What’s that?
Roy: You’re kidding, right? How old are you?! T - C - K. Third Culture Kid.
Viren: If you think that un-abbreviating it gives me any clue about what it means...
Roy: Haha. Alright. So Giza’s mom is Indian but grew up in Spain. And her dad is half-Italian and half-Spanish but grew up in London. And on top of that, her parents moved around on three continents through her teens, so much that she doesn’t have a native culture to identify with. Hence - third culture kid.
Viren: I feel like I’ve learned something of absolutely no value to me.
They both laugh.
Roy: So, man, I’m sorry about bringing up the ring thing. I was just curious. The drinking triggered my interviewing brain.
Viren: Don’t worry about it. It was a sensible question to ask…even to strangers.
Roy: Thanks, bro. And I know it’s still none of my business, but given that we are complete strangers who probably won’t see each other again, if you do wanna talk about it...
Viren: I…uh, it’s hard to explain four years of a relationship while in the dark in close quarters with said stranger.
At that moment, the lights come on.
Roy: Did we do that?
Viren: Yeah, let’s go with that.
Roy: Look, man, if you’re going to talk to anyone about it - better a stranger than someone she knows.
They start to walk back to the house.
Viren: I guess that logic somehow makes sense. Well, Meera is wonderful. Amazing. I love her so much. But sometimes, and before this vacation sometimes was happening almost all the time, I felt like she isn’t in love with me in the same way. Don’t get me wrong - our story together - from my point of view - is wonderful. But sometimes I think about what it looks like from the outside - and what I see is a guy who went after this girl and kind of just worked his way into a relationship. And you know what I realized? She doesn’t need me. She’s the same person she was before she met me, and I’m…I guess I’m afraid if anything will really change for her if she wasn’t with me. (snaps out of it) Why am I telling you this?!
Roy: Because you’re a lil drunk, and because you have to let stuff like this out. But listening to this, it sounds less about her and more about you.
Viren: What do you mean?
Roy: Look, from what I’m hearing and seeing here - you're with a smart, independent woman who doesn't expect you to meet unimaginable standards for love and companionship. You should be happy! Why would you want someone to 'need' you? Sounds exhausting. Look, don’t get me wrong, I’ve only seen you two together for a couple hours, but even I - with my rational slash cynical world-view can tell that whatever kind of love she wants, she has it with you. The real question is - are you okay with that? Is that why you haven’t popped the question?
Viren: Ah! The question. Let me tell you, buddy - this question comes with a lot of consequences. And the older you and your relationship gets, the higher the stakes. And I can’t believe I’m saying this to a 22 year old - but even at 28 I’m not sure if she and I are ready to deal with those consequences. I don’t doubt her answer - I guess I’m just not sure if she’s dying for me to ask. That’s kind of why I wanted to do this trip together, to take ourselves outside our...
At this moment, because she’s so good at finding the right moments, Giza walks up to the guys from inside the house as they turn into it. It scares them a bit. They act like it didn’t, but there are some manly squeals.
Giza: You boys done playing scouts? Shall we go pop some champagne and cook some food?
Let’s go back in time a bit to see what Giza and Meera are doing. Code-name for these parallel conversations: 'time-versations’.
At Giza’s beach house. Giza and Meera are in the wine cellar, in the basement, in the dark, with a phone torch (Meera’s).
Giza: Yeah, so then he asked me for my number, and I didn’t have one. So I thought I’d mess with him a bit and I go - ‘so what are you going to do about that?’ He looks at me, moves closer...so close to my face that I could feel his breath, and he says - ‘I see. So you don’t have the one device that can give me a way to find you after tonight. Which means that if I stop looking at you tonight, I’ll lose you forever.’ Then he takes the longest pause ever and goes...'I guess I can’t let you out of my sight then.'
Giza: Yeah, if Roy wasn’t this cute, that would have been super creepy.
Meera: Oh good, I thought you didn’t see that! (laughs, pauses) So you’ve been together for two years then?
Giza: Uh, yeah. Pretty much.
Meera: Pretty much?
Giza: Yeah. Look, Roy and I both don’t have a permanent address - we live wherever life takes us, and most of the time it takes her to separate places. So we make these trips last as long as we can.
Meera: So when you’re not in the same place, you’re not together?
Giza: It’s…the right thing to do. We want to be happy together, when we’re together. When we’re not…we still want to be happy wherever we are.
Meera: That actually…sounds quite practical.
Giza: It is! Being logical and rational is the new romantic.
Meera: About time…(pauses, looks at the wine collection) got to give it to your parents, Giza. This wine selection is mind boggling. There’s like hundreds of bottles here. In fact, I’m pretty sure this cellar is bigger than my living room!
Giza: haha I’m sure my parents would love the compliment if they were ever here. They spent so much money on this place - it was going to be their ‘party slash retirement paradise’ - but they rarely made it all the way here. And now that they’ve separated they’ll probably just end up selling this place before the divorce. (pauses) Most of these bottles are from our private label too. We have a vineyard a few miles inland.
Meera: I’ve had more wine on this trip, than in my whole 20’s. That’s an actual fact.
Giza: You’re not used to letting loose, are you?
Meera: Haha letting loose. I’m not even used to vacations. This is actually the first break I’ve had from work in…more than a year.
Giza: You’re kidding! What do you do on weekends?
Meera: We...work. We actually barely see each other. A year ago Viren made us make a pact - to spend one day together per week, at least. I actually had to negotiate it down to one from three. It wasn’t a romantic conversation.
Giza: God. That sounds exhausting. But you must see each other around at home, even on work nights?
Meera: Uh, no. We don’t…live together.
Giza: Ah, gotcha. Traditional indian values and such. No offense! Hey, grab two bottles of that one (points to a label), I’ll get the champagne.
Meera: None taken. (picks the bottles) And it’s not just about tradition. I love my family. I’m an only child and they need me, emotionally…and financially. And my work keeps me so busy, which is also very important to me - and I'm not going to apologize for it or compromise.
Giza: Hey, I know I can’t relate, but I respect that. And I’m sure Viren does too.
They walk back up into the living room.
Meera: Oh, yeah, he has…never complained. You know even when we concluded that we’d do one day a week together, and even though I knew he was upset, he said ‘No problem. I’ll fit a week’s worth of memories into a day.'
Giza: Oh man. I love him. Seriously.
Meera: Yeah, he’s too nice.
Giza: Speaking of your lover boy - here he comes with mine. Here - put these down (hands her the champagne bottles), I’ll go scare 'em.
Giza sneaks out into the porch area, just as Viren and Roy turn into it. They scream inaudibly.
Giza: You boys done playing scouts? Shall we go pop some champagne and cook some food?
The champagne pops. The four of them are standing in the living room, as Roy pours the champagne into each of their glasses.
Roy: So, gang, what should we make it out to?
Viren and Meera are quiet, standing on one side, not holding hands like Giza and Roy. Giza notices.
Giza: To a memorable night! Cheers!
Music is playing, and the volume is loud enough. Roy and Giza are in the kitchen, cooking. Giza is on the steaks, Roy is on the pasta and the salad.
Giza: I love this song! (she says as she sways to the music)
Roy: Hey (to Giza, trying to not be too loud given that Meera and Viren are sitting in the living room just a few feet away), I think they are sobering up.
Giza: I’m sobering up. Why isn’t this champagne doing the one job it’s meant to do?
Roy: Drink some more, sweety. But don’t you notice a change? They were so alive and excited at the table, but when I was out there with Viren - it’s like he stressed himself into sobriety! How was Meera?
Giza: Well, now that you mention it, there was this moment down in the cellar, she was saying nice things about Viren, but it felt like it was coming from a place of observation, like she was disconnected from it somehow. Really counter-romantic.
Roy: Maybe it’s their age.
Giza: Hey! Old people are still capable of passionate love!
Roy: I don’t think that’s passion in there - just drunken relaxation. But whatever it is, I hope it’s not infectious.
Giza: Roy! Stability is a sign of growth in a relationship. You can’t think people will always stay their same super-horny-selves years into it. There is beauty in vulnerability and sharing that experience with your life partner.
Roy: Life partner?! It’s called being a boyfriend and a girlfriend. I think that Viren is rubbing off on you.
Giza: And I think Meera’s pragmatism speaks too much of the truth you believe in.
Roy: What?! Don’t be upset!
Giza: I’m not upset. Is the salad done?
Giza takes the salad bowl from Roy, and walks into the living room.
Giza: (to Meera and Viren) Hey guys, dig in!
Let’s go to the Meera-Viren side of this real-time conversation. Music is playing, the volume is too loud.
Viren: I have no idea if that song is in english. Or any language I’ve ever heard before. (looking at Roy and Giza in the kitchen, as they continue to flirt with each other with their bodies) Do you remember when we were like that?
Meera: I don’t think we were ever like that!
Viren: Oh, right. I must be thinking of my girlfriend in college.
Meera: Really? And what’s Gisele (she pronounces it Juh-zel, on purpose) up to these days?
Viren: How would I know?! I haven’t spoken to her in years. I was just kidding!
Meera: (looks up Gisele on her phone) Ah, she got hitched. Her profile pic on facebook is her in her wedding dress. How original. Look!
Viren: (sees the photo) Stalker-much?
Meera: You brought her up.
Viren: I brought up a joke. You made it not funny.
Meera: Uff. Yes I did. I’m…sorry. (the ‘sorry’ is almost inaudible due to the too loud music)
There is a pause as Viren doesn’t respond and drinks a gulp of champagne. He refills his glass, and points the bottle at Meera.
Meera: Why not.
He pours her a refill.
Meera: Thanks. (not looking at him) I liked your speech.
Viren: What speech?
Meera: Your best man speech. When did you change it? The things you said weren’t in the one you showed me back in Delhi.
Viren: I…yeah, I just didn’t feel like using that one. When I looked at those two sitting on their table in front of me, I just said what felt good at the moment.
Meera: Acha? I’m not surprised. You’ve always been good with making stuff up on the spot.
Viren: Thank you. (he smiles)
Meera: You’re welcome. (she smiles) That thing you said - about how ‘every day you two live together, is a longer day, a bigger day, a better day, and a beautiful day...’ (looks at him) That was…wonderful. I loved it.
Viren: Wow! You remembered it.
Meera: Lawyer brain. Tends to remember…and appreciate all the important things.
Viren: I appreciate you appreciating the things I say.
Meera: Hey...(looks away from him gaze) we’re okay, right?
Viren looks at her for a few seconds…she still doesn’t look at back him.
Viren: Are you asking me that…or yourself?
At this moment, as now-expected, Giza enters the living room.
Giza: (to Meera and Viren) Hey guys, dig in!
The plates are empty. The second bottle of champagne has been opened and finished. The four of them are sitting together in the living room, sipping the red wine from Giza's family's vineyard. Roy and Giza are cuddled up on the couch, and Meera and Viren are sitting on the sofa across from them. The doors to the porch are open, and the gentle breeze of the ocean has settled into the house.
Giza: Okay! I’ve got a fun story…(looks at Roy) the Berlin one! This was about…what…six months ago? Wow, has it been that long?
Roy: Yeah, it was in February. Super cold.
Giza: Right…so I fly in to freezingly-cold Berlin, and Roy was supposed to get there a few hours before me. And since I don’t have a phone - we all know that by now, right? So because of that, Roy and I play this game where the second one to reach has to go find the other person in three locations in that city...
Roy: (showing the count with his fingers) The oldest pub. The newest underground club. And the third one is a particularly nasty one…when all else fails…we just find each other. Somehow.
Giza: Yeah, we cut the deal with the universe. It's cool.
VIren: haha that’s amazing! And also insane…what happens if the first two locations are a bust?
Giza: That’s the challenge! It is a lot of hit and trial.
Meera: Shouldn't the hotel you’re staying at be on that list?
Giza: Where’s the fun in that! And we don’t book stuff in advance. We usually just find a hotel when we need one...
Roy: Sometimes we don’t even need a hotel! (he grins)
Viren: (excitedly) So what happened when you got into Berlin? Did you find him?
Giza: Right. So the only rule is that you can’t use the internet. So the only way we find these places is by asking around.
Roy: Which does get tricker for me, because I - unlike Giza - don’t speak six languages fluently.
Giza: Shut up. He loves it. So I get out of the airport. And I’ve spent some time in Berlin before, so I know my way around a bit. So I find the pub, but he’s not there. Then I go to the club, which I got lucky with finding because there were some people at the pub heading there. But he wasn’t there either!
Roy: That didn’t stop her from partying there for a couple hours.
Giza: Shhh I was deep undercover gathering intel. So yeah, I start thinking…I don’t know anyone in Berlin. And Roy has never been here…how the hell am I supposed to find him in this huge city?!
Meera: So what did you do?
Giza: Well, maybe Roy should tell you his side of the story now.
Viren: Damn these cliffhangers! Alright, Roy. Solve the mystery.
Roy: Haha! Okay. So I’m Prague that morning, and I’m getting on a very early train to Berlin. But on my way there...
Meera: No. Way. Please tell me you made it to Berlin.
Roy: I wish I could say that.
Viren: What happened?
Roy: Well…on the train I dozed off. When I woke up, my bag was gone, which had my stuff and the ticket and some other things that I don’t care about anymore. Luckily my passport was in my pocket, but my wallet wasn’t. So..
Meera: You didn’t make it to Berlin.
Roy: I was ‘escorted’ off the train by the staff in this small town called Dresden. I had some change in my pocket so I called a couple pubs in Berlin to check if she was there…and one of them tells me Giza was there but she left. The bartender there gave me the number of the club…but obviously this club is so cool that it doesn’t have a phone that anyone picks up. So now I’m alone in this town…with Giza looking for me…and probably angry…just a couple hundred kilometers away.
Viren: So what did you do?
Meera: (to Giza) Why didn’t you call him?!
Roy: Oh, sorry about missing that detail. My phone was in my bag too. I tried calling it but whoever stole it turned it off. Guy must have been a pro.
Giza: Yup. Despite our rules, I was starting to get worried. He should have been in Berlin around 10am, and by 4pm I still hadn’t found him. And he hadn’t been to either the pub or the club.
Viren: I’m loving this story by the way…only because you two are safe and alive and together right now in front of me.
Roy: So by about 7pm…I’ve talked to my parents and some friends and gotten some money sent…and now I’m sitting at this street bar in Dresden waiting for the money to come in so I can figure out a way to get a hotel and contact Giza. I chose a street bar because for some reason I thought I'd spot her walking around. Weird how geography doesn't really matter when you're looking for a sign from the universe. Also I’d sent her a couple emails but I had no idea if she’d seen them.
Meera: You used the internet! Rule-breaker.
Roy: Yes I did. Because sometimes you have to make your own luck.
Giza: Yeah, so around 6 I got really worried, and we hadn’t talked properly in a few days…we actually don’t talk much between the time we see each other...so there was all sorts of stuff starting to happen in my head. But in my moment of clarity…I went to the train station.
Meera: What? No way.
Giza: Yeah. For some reason I didn’t care that he hadn’t shown up and why that was…all I wanted to do was see him. So I figured that for whatever reason he wasn’t in Berlin…I’d go to Prague and find him.
Viren: Damn. But he’s not in Prague.
Meera: Wow. I know that everything somehow got resolved…but I’m still rooting for you two to find each other that night. You did, right?
Giza: We did.
Roy: So around 8, I was able to get the cash my friends sent. And in my own moment of clarity…I thought…I shouldn’t stay here…Giza is waiting for me in Berlin…I really believed it and wouldn’t think otherwise…so I went to the train station and decided to get on the next train to Berlin.
Giza: Andddd….around 8 I was on the train to Prague, which was about to stop in Dresden…a town I had never heard of before…and as fate would have it…there was this woman sitting next to me with a computer. I asked her if I could check my email…praying that Roy had sent something. We got the wi-fi signal when we stopped in Dresden.
Viren: You broke the rule too! Where’s the randomized rule integrity in today’s generation!
Meera: And you saw the email?
Giza: (smiling) I saw the email.
Meera: And you were there at the train station at the same time?
Roy: (smiling) I was at the train station at the same time.
Viren: Really sounds like you two have been practicing telling this story...
Meera: Shhhhh! So what happened next?
Giza: Well, I got off the train just in time. And I hadn’t had the time to reply to his email so I just wanted to rush and get to that bar he was waiting at.
Roy: And I was running to catch the last train to Berlin.
Meera: Damn it, just tell me what happened before I throw something at you!
Giza: (laughing) Patience! I was running down the stairs off the platform...
Roy: I was running up the same stairs. And I saw her.
Giza: He grabbed my arm. And that was it. (she says happily, assured and reminded of what happened that night)
Roy and Giza kiss.
Viren: Wow. And I thought our story was good.
The cross-over continues. So does the wine.
Giza: ...I couldn't agree more. I love those stories about couples who were set up and got married a few days or weeks later. There’s so much purity in believing that you’ve found the one you want to be around. Say what you will about bollywood movies…they really sell the dream.
Roy: Yeah she gets likes that around indian people. It triggers her inner-believer or what not.
Meera: (to Giza) You really think life should be like a movie? They’re so unrealistic! It's easy to show a lovey-dovey romance in under three hours. Try four years...no one wants to watch that movie. It's basically a lot of plans being made and postponed.
Giza: Maybe we’re too real. And they’re just trying to tell us - in their own exaggerated, metaphor-ful way, that we shouldn’t overthink when good things…and good people…come our way.
Viren: Wow, Giza. That’s a lot of optimism for a 21 year old. I’m just glad to see it’s not extinct in your time!
Roy: I don’t know man, it’s such a huge risk…going the arranged route. How can you find lifelong compatibility with just a few ‘meetings'?
Meera: Blind dates are the same. Instead of ‘arranged’ meetings by relatives…it’s your friends or a dating website. But yeah, there’s no commitment-requirement or pressure. What are your thoughts, professor? (she says to Viren)
Viren: Maybe that’s the problem - if you put the pressure of ‘lifelong’ right away, you’re going to be biased. Reality is a playground to fuck shit up in, not a machine where everything is process and anti-emotion.
Roy: Come on. The best thing about dating is not thinking lifelong. We’re not supposed to put so much pressure on meeting a stranger. It’s the way of the modern-romance. Think about this - say you've lived your first couples decades in the same city. And then one day you decide to go visit the next town over. Would you just stop and settle there forever? Knowing that there is a whole world out there? Is that fair to you, or the world?
Viren: I don't know...maybe this neighbor town is the best of all the worlds out there. And if I just keep on packing up and leave, I'll never be able to come back.
Roy: Hmm, that analogy failed me. I demand a do-over.
Giza: Maybe you failed the analogy...
Roy: Anyway, what I'm saying is that this whole arranged thing really takes away the spontaneity of life. You’re fixing…heck you're manually constructing your future. You can’t believe that’s love. Even if you call it that. It's so limited.
Viren: Love is always an arrangement. The only difference is that for some it’s arranged by someone else, and for the rest of us, well…we’re more impatient during the looking process.
Roy: I’m not impatient…just don’t want to wait around for someone else to decide how I should live my life…and who I should live my life with.
Meera: Aren’t you exaggerating a bit? Viren’s sister’s wedding was arranged, and she and her husband couldn’t be more perfect for each other. It does work.
Giza: What about choice though? A couple generations ago you couldn’t really have much of a say in who you marry…who you have to love. And I may not know much about what’s happening back there today…but you have to think about the reality of how the world works today…people don’t have to rely on old systems when we’re capable of making our own choices.
Viren: Sure, that’s a fair point. And yes, for some it’s still not a choice. That’s a different problem, a discussion for another, soberer time. But for the ones fortunate enough to have choice…it is a double-edged privilege. You said it yourself Roy, what was it…’we’re a generation of doomed romantics with no happy endings’. Maybe there is a thing as too much choice. We have the freedom to dream and to call ourselves dreamers, but that comes with the small complication of not wanting to wake up sometimes. Or forgetting to.
Roy: Alright, but my dreams are my creation. Not something my parents or anyone else gets to have a say in.
Viren: And I agree. But we forget that our parents and those of the older generation (points to himself and Meera), have gone through this same emotion before. Everyone falls in love with someone in their lifetime. These days we decide who that is, sure. But amongst this worldwide buffet, we get lost. And when you’re lost, those who’ve sailed through those waters before you can be helpful guides.
Giza: Sure, but who’s to say we’re lost?
Roy: Yeah, what if we like it the way it is? Tell me, you two have a lovely meet-cute story. But you took a big step by showing up at her house that day, meeting her parents on day one. Didn’t you already decide that this was going to be important? Weren’t you playing your own matchmaker?
Meera: He does like doing that.
Viren: Hah ha. But to answer your question (to Roy), yes I did make a big decision that day - I decided to go all in. Something that isn’t an option when we believe that there has to be someone else out there who isn’t like anyone we’ve ever been with before. What if there isn't? What if everyone else is the same, and this person is the only one meant to fit you? You can't get an answer to that question by living a life of half-measures.
Roy: So you think that because we live a life of ‘everyday is an adventure’, we’re missing out on something?
Viren: Ah. Well…(pauses) think of it this way…what I’m saying is…maybe an adventure can….and at some point should…last longer than one day.
There is a few seconds of quiet. No one looks at each other. Giza senses it and takes out a small remote-like device from her pocket.
Giza: Well said, sir. Let’s continue this lecture…with a little music?
Giza presses a button on the device, and music starts to play from the house speaker system.
Giza: Ah! I guess the universe wants us to dance!
Roy and Meera are dancing together on some kind of spanish song that’s a weird mix of slow dancing and tango, and requires a jovial pace.
Meera: Viren really enjoyed listening to your adventures, despite his wise-old-man reservations. He still tells me his college stories.
Roy: Really? For some reason I can't imagine him as a 20 year old! He misses it?
Meera: He loves feeling young. We all do. Side effect of growing up.
Roy: Oh man, don’t spoil the future for me. Sounds doom-ful.
Meera: We all have responsibilities, eventually. Can’t hide from that.
Roy: You can if you’re really good at running. By the way...(noticing her dance moves) you’re really good at this! You somehow lead without being... intimidating.
Meera: Life teaches you harmless ways of letting boys feel like men! Makes things easier.
Roy: Ah, good thing your boy is a man then.
Meera: (sarcastically) You think that’s by chance?
Roy: Tell me, your "love story", is it really the fairytale he described?
Meera: You’re trying to find the trick behind the magic?
Roy: I’m just trying to have an open mind.
Meera: Fairytales have an expiration date that coincides with growing up. Our story wasn’t easy to write, but…he’s a good writer.
Roy: And what of your role in writing it? I find it hard to believe that you let go of any control.
Meera: What! I hope that was partly a joke. (pauses) I just think structure is important. Not everyone can be a visionary, the big dreamer. Some of us have to stay on the ground to execute and connect the small things to make the big thing happen.
Roy: Sounds exhausting. And thankless.
Meera: It is! (laughing) But it gets shit done.
Roy: Yeah, but you can’t always control everything. Even the best of us have to recharge.
Meera: We do. Wine does its job of distracting me, clearly. That’s what vacations are for.
Roy: You should try anarchy sometime. The good kind. It can be fun. Vacation everyday! I'll write you a prescription.
Meera: It works for you?
Roy: I accept the randomness of life in its purity. And I like showing the world the good it can do. Because it does so much bad already…someone needs to shine a light on the happy coincidences.
Meera: Are you making Viren and I your next documentary subjects?
Roy: Haha I don’t know about that. People might get jealous of what you two have. The future has a habit of being uncertain...prone to chance. Sometimes it’s better to let the happy stories stay out of the limelight. Keep it away from the externalities. That way they have a better chance of staying happy.
Meera: Is that what you two do then? Live a love story vacation to vacation?
Roy: That does seem like our thing. Although even being spontaneous is getting harder. Today is the first time I’ve seen Giza since Dresden.
Meera: You haven’t seen each other in six months?
Meera: Why? Don’t tell me you couldn’t find the time. I was almost about to envy your life...
Roy: It’s true! I was off on a shoot for a while, and she had to finish her final year of college. You know...our first year went by so quickly. She was still in college, and I’d go visit her. I’d stay there for a couple weeks. We’d take weekend trips. We’d do our random city trips. It was great. But then...
Meera: But then time started working again and you were forced to catch up to it.
Roy: Yeah, sorta.
Meera: My god! You’re 22! You’re not allowed to be so busy that you can’t see your girlfriend for six months. And now I sound like Viren! (pauses) He has this theory that he loves telling people…about the ‘college cruise’.
Roy: College cruise? Really?
Meera: God, I’m about to agree with him…yes, it’s called a college cruise. He says…and I tend to agree with him on some things…that when you go to college…time stops. It’s like you get on a cruise for four years. Life out on the mainland doesn’t matter on this cruise. You’re whoever you want to be. Whatever you were before the cruise…and whoever you become after the cruise…has no effect on who you are on the cruise. And you can dock the boat on any city during this phase, and time in that city still won’t affect you. it’s like you’re in your own little time machine - but instead of giving you a way to travel through time…it just stops time.
Meera: Exactly. Until the dream ends and you finish college. And for that first year out things are alright…time gives you some time to make you catch up to it…and then bam! You find out that you went in to the cruise as a kid…and now the mainland wants you to be an adult instantly! And by then...the cruise is nowhere in sight. You see it sometime, but it's just like a mirage now...(pauses) he really takes this theory seriously.
Roy: That’s depressing. And it’s making more sense than I want it to. But wait…you don’t sound like you went through the college cruise?
Meera: I really didn’t. I went to law school and it didn’t feel like a cruise at all. The world still spun around me like it always does. And instead of being a series of sparkly party-montages…it just showed me how time really works. And how people work. And how hard it is to make time work for you. And when I got out of college…I saw how the real time machine…the one we experience every moment of every day…is horribly constructed and barely working in our favor. That’s when I decided to stop working for the mainland…and focused my skills towards education. Towards female empowerment. (pauses) Funny…I met Viren right when I stopped believing in...good. Almost.
Roy: Damn. That’s dark. I don’t think the guys who sang this song ever expected people to talk about this stuff while dancing to it.
Meera: Yeah, I think the wine’s wearing off. So back to you and Giza…you had the ‘college cruise’ life and then you graduated and had to experience the post-college crash…and now you’re...
Roy: Now...we’re here.
Meera: And what about tomorrow?
Roy: Tomorrow…(he looks out the window, realizing that dawn is coming soon) well it looks like tomorrow is almost here too.
Meera: Ah. On a normal night I’d stop asking…but given that we’re here and will probably never be here again…can I ask…is here…good?
Roy: (pauses, doesn’t want to say what he’s thinking) Yeah! It's alright (he says unsurely). Meera gets it. We have a working system.
Meera: Are you sure about that? Isn’t a system another form of future-planning?
Roy: Haha...I’m 22, remember? I don’t have to worry about being sure before doing something. If I did I wouldn’t do anything.
Meera: To each their own I guess. But tell me this, if this is your first night together in six months, what are you doing hanging out with two last-generation strangers?
Roy laughs a small laugh to avoid answering the question.
Roy: You guys really seem to have it together though. Maybe this was exactly what was supposed to happen.
Meera: I see. Alright, mr. no-plan. Let me be the external force that tells you your immediate future. You should be with your girlfriend and let her know how important she is to you today...(looks over at Viren)...you can never say that enough.
Roy: Ah, point taken. (he notices her long gaze at Viren) And since we’re imparting adult advice…maybe you should do something spontaneous…like telling him whatever you’re thinking about right now while still pretending to listen to me. He doesn’t seem like a guy who scares easy. He can handle it.
Meera: (snaps back into it) I don’t know what you’re talking about!
Roy: Look, I’d be the first one to agree with your perspective. To tell you that yeah, nothing changes In one night. Absolutely nothing. They're all the same. And people - people can't change. We start the way we end. Everything else is just wishful wanting.
Meera: Sounds like that’s exactly what you’re saying.
Roy: I wasn’t finished...nothing changes in one night…until the right night. The right moment. The right feeling.
Meera: But isn’t that selfish? Swaying a moment to work for you? To go your way?
Roy: Being a little selfish is better than thinking you don’t deserve to have a moment.
Meera: You sound like Viren.
Roy: (realizing it, surprised) Uh, no. I sound like Giza.
Giza and Viren are dancing to the same song, at the same time, just far enough (from Roy and Meera) to have their own side of this time-versation.
Viren: This is a beautiful house. Why don’t you spend more time here?
Giza: It is! And I used to…but since my parents separated the memories have been tainted a little bit. Now being here seems like I’m just walking through history. I don’t think I’ll be able to make any new memories of the happy kind here.
Viren: I’m sorry to heart that! But I certainly hope tonight is an exception...
Giza: (smiling) Yes..it is. I’m glad we met you two. It’s nice to see that love doesn’t have an expiration date I guess.
Viren: Well we do have to work harder to make it look this good...
Giza: Meera is wonderful. I really like her. Whatever you two are doing…you make it look easy.
Viren: You should see us outside of vacation mode. It gets a little complicated when the day only has a certain number of hours and you can’t figure out how to spend them without straining your relationship.
Giza: You’re going into lecture mode again!
Viren: Sorry! Perhaps I should just say that luck had nothing to do with it…but then I’d have to really take a long hard look at myself to figure out why she keeps me around.
Giza: Don’t doubt yourself so much. It’ll make the day seem longer than it is.
Viren: Point taken. I guess I go to default-mode when I get nervous.
Giza: Why are you nervous?
Viren: It’s a side-effect of sobering up. My brain hits the nerve-pot before big moments...(snaps out of it) and around pretty girls of course!
Giza: Haha! Thank you? And I wouldn’t have guessed that you’d ever be nervous around girls…being the heart-on-your-sleeve type.
Viren: Yeah but that only means that my heart is more exposed than ever! You should have seen me around Meera in our first few months together. I really struggled with the imposter-syndrome. It’s basically random moments of self-reflection where you ask yourself 'how did I get here? Why are things going so well?' and then you calm yourself passive-aggressively with 'just keep doing whatever you did that you can’t remember.'
Giza: Jeez! That’s a grim peak behind the curtain.
Viren: Yeah maybe we should talk about something else. Or drink something else. Or both.
Giza: You know…I completely forgot to ask you…what do you do? Besides spoiling that woman...
Viren: haha. It isn’t as exciting at Meera’s or Roy’s passion projects. I teach.
Giza: Really? That explains the natural authority you have in your love lectures. What do you teach?
Viren: This is going to sound even less interesting - Economics. Game theory, to be specific and even more boring.
Giza: Haha. Don’t worry, V. You make boring look good! When you said you teach I thought it would be like literature or something. Like Shakespeare!
Viren: I don’t understand Shakespeare well enough to teach it. What about you? What state of being are you currently experiencing…professionally speaking?
Giza: Ah. Well. I just graduated from college….with a degree in literature, specializing in the works of Shakespeare (smiles). And I’m trained in singing and theater. I’m actually performing Romeo & Juliet in Rome in two weeks.
Viren: With the original shakespearian text?
Giza: Of course! It's the only way to party.
Viren: Now that…is not boring at all. I wish I could see you perform! I’m assuming you’re Juliet?
Giza: Don’t I look the part?!
Viren: And is Roy-meo…your Romeo? But you know…without the stupid ending.
Giza: Haha not in the play. But I know what you mean. I…don’t know. I’m not sure if he wants the job. Besides, I try not to know my future before it happens. Just easier to live life without anticipation. I just don’t like to think about endings, I guess. So right now he’s just Roy.
Viren: Look, I can’t impart any wisdom on this topic without sounding like an old geezer, but you should let people surprise you. Hope hurts…but it works. And when it does…there’s nothing like it.
Giza: Speaking of hope…you wanna show me the ring?
Giza: Come on. You're so obvious. The way you look at her. Your nerves. And look at the setting! You’ve just seen your friends get married, you’ve been around all this romantic energy in this foreign environment, with all this wine to loosen her up. This 'vacation’ screams proposal. Besides...guy like you always has the ring.
Viren: Why does everybody keep saying that?!
Giza: Am I wrong?
Viren: What’s your point?
Giza: I don’t have a point! Look I’m all about love and companionship…but this marriage stuff - that reality is so far away for me that I see it more as fiction. But one night with you guys - and I’m starting to see why it might be right for some people. You should be proud of that - you’re making me acknowledge the dark side. That’s a big deal.
Viren: Fine...(whispers) it’s in my jacket pocket. And no, you can't see it. Not yet.
Giza: Good! Finally some answers. Now answer me this - why isn’t it on her finger already?!
Viren: Look, things work a certain way sometimes that make you take notice of why they happen. I had a plan. But it didn’t go the way it was supposed to. And then the moment was gone. And then today I got busy with the ceremony…and...
Giza: ...You didn’t find the moment again.
Giza: And now you’re wondering whether that’s a sign.
Viren: It wouldn’t be the most irrational thought...
Giza: Here's a rational thought to digest: you’re an idiot.
Viren: Hey! Thanks! So helpful.
Giza: You can’t just wait for life to give you signs! Because you know what - shit happens. Plans don’t work out. You’ll blame the universe for everything then?
Viren: And what about when too many things go wrong in succession?
Giza: Man. I can’t believe I’m about to talk a romantic into seeing the reality around him. Look at that girl (turns his head to face Meera). That is a human being - a spectacular creation of this universe. Humanity at its most beautiful and most intelligent...
Viren: I think you have a crush on Meera…
Giza: Shut up. Now look back at me (turns his head to face her) She’s here with you right now, in the middle of the night, in a foreign land, attending your friends’ wedding, away from her home and family - just so she can be with you and give you a memorable night. Think of all the choices she could have made in her life up to this moment - but she still chose you every day. Now look at her again - do you see the sign now?
Meera is outside the beach house, walking towards the ocean. Viren follows her and tries to catch up.
Viren: Meera? (yells out) Meera! What are you doing here?
Meera: Oh, hey. Sorry. It got a bit stuffy in there…my head was spinning…I thought I’d come out here and take a walk. I need to think…or stop thinking. You can go back inside if you want.
Viren starts to walk down the beach, just a few feet behind her.
Meera: What are you doing?
Viren: Walking back to the house...(looks at her) just taking the scenic route.
They walk down the beach, with Meera walking up front, and Viren following her just a couple feet behind.
Meera: Those two (gestures to Roy and Giza back at the house)…they're so cute.
Viren: Young love. So pure and magical, isn’t it? Although they seem so much smarter than we used to be. I mean, you were always smart, I was always a little...
Viren: Speaking of behind...have I told you how much I love this dress you're wearing? Would you be willing to wear it all the time?
Meera: Ha. You wouldn't like it if I wore it all the time...
Viren: I'd still like you though...
Meera: Young love…(without looking back at him) you know that you’re the only person I’ve ever loved, right?
Viren: Why are you telling me that?
Meera doesn’t respond, just keeps walking.
Viren: Why are you thinking about this? (stops walking) I’m not going anywhere, you know. So anytime you want to let me in that beautiful head of yours...
Hearing that, Meera stops, as she looks at the ocean and Viren looks at her.
Meera: Fine. In your best man speech. At the wedding earlier tonight. You talked like you were missing something, something that the two of them had. And it scared me, so much. And I know why you were upset last night. I know what you were trying to do. I ignored you, I acted like I was too drunk to notice what you were trying to do. I know it’s terrible. I’m terrible. And I know it’s unfair. I’m unfair to you, every day. You should have been looking for someone else, but you found me instead. And because of who you are, you’re always going to stay with me. But you shouldn’t. And I’m sorry. I’ve taken four years of your life and I don’t want you to give the rest of your life to me. You should be out in the world, having and living the adventures you always wanted.
Viren: I guess we’re at that point where we’re saying everything in our head out loud. Good. Anything else?
Meera: I know about the offer.
Viren: What offer?
Meera: London School of Economics. The school you love - your college - wants you to come and teach there! Your mom told me. Before this trip. She thought I knew. Why didn’t you tell me about it?
Viren: Let’s go back inside.
Meera: It’s almost 6. The dream is over. Let’s get back to reality.
Viren: I thought you’d rather live in this ‘delayed-gratification’ mode until we get back home. Wait...is this why you were acting weird last night when I was...
Meera rubs her arms with her hands. Viren walks a little closer to where she’s standing, takes off his jacket, and puts it around her.
Viren: (continued) I was upset this morning because I thought you didn’t notice what I was trying to do last night...
Meera: Viren…(looks at him) this is your dream job. If you say no to this because of us…(looks away again) because of me...
Viren: (interrupts her) You know, I heard everything you just said, about what you think I should or shouldn’t do...and at no point did you say what you want. You should try saying that out loud. You never ask me for anything, Meera. I have to keep on guessing what you want. Which is okay most of the time. It feels good to predict what would make you happy. But sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes I get it wrong. So talk to me. Say what you want. Look - I’ll show you…it’s super easy. Meera…I want...you to tell me what you want.
Meera: I WANT US!! I know it’s selfish but I love you and I don’t want you to ever stop being who you are and loving me the way you do. And I also want you to ask me to marry you so we can make this step and stop being afraid of the future. I want us to have one future, together. (pauses) But I ruined it. I’m really not good at this...
Meera: More importantly, I want you to take this job. I want to make you happy. And I want you to stay this patient with me forever, so that I can show you in my own way how much you matter to me. And I want us to live a life together where we’re not afraid to say something to each other. (pauses) And I want to get better at doing that last part.
Viren is quiet.
Meera: (impatiently) Now I want you to say something before I hit you.
Almost sunrise. Roy and Giza are standing at the porch, with Roy’s arm around Giza and her head on his shoulder.
Giza: I think this was definitely in my top five nights of all time.
Roy: Night's not over yet.
Giza: Sun's coming up. I think it's safe to say the night has to end now.
Roy: i have an idea.
Giza: What? Let’s get on a train to Spain?!
Roy: This Christmas, let’s go to India?
Giza: (pleasantly surprised) Really?!
Roy: Yeah! I got a call from my boss this morning that he’s moving there in a few weeks to do a new doc and he wants me to be his producing partner. I’ll be running the whole thing.
Giza: Oh…(she tries to hide her shrinking enthusiasm) that’s amazing. I’m happy for you, baby.
Roy: And…it would be a good time for me to show you the house I grew up in. And the people who live in it.
Giza: I...you mean your parents?
Roy: Yes. And my sister...and our dogs.
Giza: You have dogs?! How did I not know that?
Roy: Two. Baloo and Bagheera. And hey, learning surprising facts about your partner is a sign of growth in a relationship.
Giza: Ah! You dog. Those are my words. What’s gotten into you?! Has this one night really brought a new perspective to Roy?
Roy: I don’t know. Maybe. I’m still me. But I guess I’m ready to step out of the time machine.
Giza: Time machine? Is there some context I’m missing here?
Roy: Haha yea, different story. I’ll tell you about it.
Giza: Whatever it is…I like it…seems like that Viren is rubbing off on you.
Roy: (he looks into her eyes) I think this Giza is rubbing off on me.
Giza: (her eyes reciprocate) You really want to do this?
Roy: What? Us? Hell, yes. Look at those two down there. That looks amazing. I hope we can have something like that. Would you…like that?
Giza smiles that Giza-only smile and kisses Roy on the cheek, as the two of them look at the (almost) sunrise on the beach, and the two people (Meera & Viren) standing a few yards from them in front of it.
Giza: It’s beautiful.
Almost sunrise. Outside the house, on the beach. Meera is down on one knee, holding Viren's hand.
Viren: I did not see this coming.
Meera: Shut up. I'm trying to do something selfless. Or selfish. I can't tell the difference right now.
Viren: Can I take a photo?
Meera: Do you want sand in your face?
Viren: (pauses) I'll take a mental picture. Please continue.
Meera: Viren...will you...
Meera: I haven't finished my question!
Viren: I'll say yes to anything at this point, just to be safe. (laughs, sees that she doesn't find it funny)
Meera: I've always had the power to make you say yes to things.
Viren: (realizes it) Sorry. What is your question?
Meera: Will you take this job?
Viren: I’ll take the job.
Meera stands up, Viren helps her, and continues to hold her hand.
Viren: How about we cancel our return ticket to Delhi...and go to London today? I’ll meet with the university, and then we’ll go to Turkey together.
Meera: Oookay. I can make that work. (smiles) As long as I get to negotiate your contract, days off and all.
Viren: Agreed. Also, we might come back to Italy in two weeks, before going back home.
Meera: Why? That's a lot of spontaneous planning in one go.
Viren: It's a surprise.
Meera: This whole night has been a surprise. (pauses) Alright. Let's do all those things! I have such an adrenaline rush right now. Maybe there's a little testosterone in there too. Is this what you feel like all the time? It's exhausting.
Viren: Shush. Can I do this now?
Meera: Sorry. (like a proper lady) You may...if you want to.
Viren: I want to.
Meera: (smiles) Good.
Viren: So, Meera, will you...
Meera: What?! No speech? I got down on one knee just to convince you to take a job.
Viren: After four years, you still want a speech?
Meera: I mean, it’s not just about what I ‘want’…just seems out of character for you...
Viren: Wait…let me just check something real quick…
Meera: Is this a fake-out? You're going to pretend you don't have a ring or whatever. I don't have a sense of humor when it comes to diamonds, just saying...
He holds her face in his hands, brushing off the hair behind her ears, as her lips extend on either side to give him the smile he was looking for.
Viren: Found it.
Meera: Found what?
Viren: My speech.
Meera: You know it's okay if you don't have a ring...(pauses) right now...
Viren holds her hand in a grip. She tightens it. He turns her to look towards the ocean, still holding her hand as she put her head on his shoulder, as the two of them look into the (almost, almost) sunrise together.
Viren: We change everyday, Meera. Change is constant, just like time. Small things happen everyday to us, with even smaller consequences. Sometimes it’s because of something big, that pushes us in a certain direction. But it all adds up to the person we are at any given moment. The first time I met you, the first time I heard your voice, that first date when I came to your house - all of those days were big moments that changed who I was up until that point. I like to call it pre-Meera and post-Meera but let’s not dwell on vocabulary. Anyway…what really makes me new everyday - better, everyday, are the small things. Every time I look at you (he says as he turns to look at her), I somehow become a little bit better at being me. I don’t know how it works. I’m not complaining.
Viren takes both of Meera's hands in his own.
Viren: (continued) I don’t think we're together because it’s fate or because we’re soulmates. That possibility has no effect on how I feel about you. We took our time to like each other. Loving you is my choice, one I am glad I get to make every day. We've both worked really hard to be together. I don’t want fate to take any credit in this. What I do believe - is that we’re here right now because I got lucky and bumped into a girl who continues to change my life everyday. I don’t care if we love each other in different ways and show it in our own unique way. All I care about…and all I want…is to be with you - to live with you - to create wonderful memories with you - to change and to become better with you - every single day, for the rest of my days.
Viren, in his tuxedo (sans-jacket), gets down on one knee in the sand. Meera, in her red dress and with Viren’s jacket around her shoulders, holds back a smile, but gives in quite instantly.
Viren: (continued) Being with you is better than any adventure out there in the world. (pauses, for effect) So, Meera, will you...finally…marry me?
Meera: (almost instantly) Yes!
Viren: Hmm. (sarcastically) That was easier than I thought it would be.
Viren takes out the ring - the one he’s held on to for the last five days - from the pocket of the jacket he put on Meera.
Meera: You've had that...I've had that...this whole time?!
Viren: I know! Funny how things work, right?
Meera: (looks at him, ignores the ring) Really? You know what I think is funny...the fact that I would have said yes if you’d asked me this question the morning you showed up at my house four years ago.
Viren: (laughs) Liar...
Viren puts the ring on her finger.
Meera: (kisses him) Romantic...
Viren: (after a few seconds of kissing, taking a breath) Speaking of romantic gestures…would you believe it if I told you everything that happened tonight - including those two kids back at the house staring at us right now - was all part of an elaborate plan to give you the most epic engagement story ever?
The night ends…and the day begins.
Author's Note: This story was originally published on April 8, 2016. It turned out to be quite long, so I really appreciate you finishing it. And since you've reading this note, you either liked it or hated it. In either case, you still might like or hate this new thing I wrote called She v/s Him. it's quite experimental and wacky - it's basically an interactive life/love story where you, the reader, are in control of the story. Check it out here.
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