As before, Emily sent me her parts to smush into my recollections, but did not read the finished product. . . (insert evil laugh)
After telling her I had to get to an appointment, and agreeing to meet for dinner, I left her to the tender mercies of the tourists and the sun to make my way back into town. Not one for trusting taxis in many places in the world, I’d asked for and been given a driver, assured the guy was a “good chap.” Now I spotted him sitting cross-legged under a tree next to the parking lot, hacking away at a laptop; on seeing me, he got up and headed toward the car to meet me there, as always smiling brightly when I greeted him with “Namaskar.” It had taken me a while to break the habit, having been taught wrongly to say “Namaste.” For just a moment I recalled the lady who’d first corrected me, during some pillow talk; she’d explained that the literal meaning was “I bow to you, I bow to the divine in you. . . a true recognition that we are all one.” Then I found himself smiling as I realized that girl had looked nothing like the redhead I’d just met. . . variety in a spicy part of life.
Giving time for the car to be air-conditioned properly, we finally got in, with me as always slipping into the passenger seat rather than the back. The drive to town was uneventful, with the driver asking how the photography had gone and me recounting my camera adventures, leaving out the redhead for now. Soon enough we were at the government building, with plenty of time to grab something edible for my very particular taste buds before my meeting began. . .
So it was with a sigh of despair–albeit a bit comical, the driver thought–that I exited the meeting a few hours later and got right back into the car, wanting to go back to the hotel to rest up from the oppressive weather before trying to find out just how much heat Emily brought to dinner. The thought of her brightened me quite a bit, though not enough to remove my mindset from its usual job, in this particular case scanning the surroundings.
A nap in air conditioned comfort cannot be underestimated. Don’t know how long I was out, but I found myself moving a little quicker than usual through the streets until I was sitting at the table the smiling owner led me to, bringing me the soft drink I’d requested as I wondered just how late an American redhead would want to show up. On the walk over I’d noticed the streets were about equally divided between women in Western clothing and those in the traditional garb, so it took me by surprise when Emily joined me wearing a green sari and a huge smile. . . and hopefully a gallon of sunblock.
“I didn’t think the orange one showed my skin off right,” she blushed prettily.
“Orange is my favorite color, but you’re probably right. Any redhead that can’t wear green doesn’t deserve the hair.”
Something about that statement bothered her, but since she couldn’t figure out what, she let it go, brightening when she saw I’d pulled out the chair for her. Being in the perfect position, knowing she was expecting me to look down at her cleavage, I instead ran a hand over the bare shoulder and murmured, “All day in the sun and still porcelain.”
She wondered if I’d notice her lack of freckles. “Sunblock 1000. Probably stop a nuclear accident.”
“They have nukes here, so let’s not find out.”
“Agreed,” she grinned as she watched me walk around and sit across from her. “Have you checked out the menu yet?”
“Waiting for you. Hope there’s something I can stand.”
“Picky eater or picky stomach?”
“Both. If I don’t find anything I can tolerate, or the chef is adamant about being spicy, I can always make do with a couple of jalebi. That’ll put him in his place.”
Wrinkling her nose at the thought of a chef being spicy, she asked just what jalebi was supposed to be, twirling a finger through her sherbet locks absently.
“Think of it as a pretzel-shaped churro.”
“Oh wow! Is it suitable for dunking in chocolate?”
“Only with a really wide mug.”
“True!” she giggled, not bothering to mention it could be broken into a smaller dunkable pieces. Instead she picked up the menu, happy to see it was in English, at least the one in front of her. But as she wondered what she would learn about me next, she glanced up from the menu to see me glaring to the side. She’d noticed it too, but apparently I was more susceptible to the cigarette smoke. She wrinkled her nose in support. “Yeah, I’ve noticed everyone smokes around here. Don’t you wonder how they can afford to eat?”
“Wonder what would happen if I told them secondhand smoke was killing their beloved cows. . .” I mused.
A man a few tables away turned to see what the giggling was about. Of course he was too late for the joke, but that didn’t stop him from looking at the beautiful white woman in the native dress. His family had been all for a vacation, though India had not been their choice. Anything was better than the gloomy weather of Scotland this time of year, but they’d been hoping more for the Caribbean. Instead Dad/hubby had explained that they would be visiting places where their ancestors became famous; he’d studied up to the point of knowing the name of every single battle involving the Highlanders, who no doubt would have rather fought in some place like Russia than this unbearably hot and humid place.
When he turned back, he saw that his son, with that permanent smirk/sneer, had taken the “When in Rome” thing to heart and lit up a cigarette. The Scot, without changing expression at all, slapped the offending carcinogen right out of the kid’s mouth, where it flew across the aisle to stick out of some very dense-looking curry at the next table.
The woman across the way, seeing this new addition to her meal, plucked the cancer stick from the dish and regarded it curiously; though she knew damn well what it was, she seemed to be at a loss at how it had suddenly appeared.
“Was that as surreal to you?” the redhead whispered harshly.
I nodded, rather furiously. “I hope they never saw Twin Peaks, because–”
“That’s what I was thinking of!” She banged herself–gently–on the forehead. Then, realizing she’d given up something she didn’t have to, chirped perkily as she pulled her hair back from her face, “So where are you from?” coincidentally thrusting her chest forward, as though trying to distract me from what we’d just witnessed.
But I was not to be defeated so easily. “Los Angeles, where we keep our foreheads without palm prints.”
“Nice.” Grinning, she saw the food arriving and beamed an extra-strength redhead-powered smile.
An hour later she was gawking around my hotel room. “Glad we came to your place! Much nicer than mine.”
I joined her at the sofa and handed her a water bottle, this time–unlike when I seated her in the restaurant–taking advantage of the view; her breasts filled the front of her sari when she leaned forward to take it. Knowing exactly what was going on, she looked up to make sure of the path of my eyes, then smiled. “You’ve got a one-track mind, honey.”
“Like you didn’t dress this way to get exactly that reaction.”
She tried to play it innocent, but not very hard, since she knew it wasn’t the easiest move in a redhead’s repertoire. Instead she went with, “Like me yet?”
“So far you’re okay.”
“Thanks loads,” she moaned.
“Drama queen makes me like you less.”
“Gotcha,” she sighed, thinking this would make things more difficult. Or not, grin. . .
Of course she looked up, saw my camera pointed at her, and couldn’t help smiling and posing.
“I told you not to move!”
She had the decency to look abashed, though it didn’t help much, considering my mood.
“You obviously have trust issues.”
She laughed at that, then decided to prove me wrong. “Of course I trust you. Do you know how awesome you are?” There, that always gets them. . .
“I know I’m awesome,” I sighed. “I just can’t seem to convince women of that.”
“You know,” she yawned some long minutes later, “I wanted to come to Khajuraho so much I didn’t do any research on the rest of India. Tell me about it.”
“You’ve got a weird form of date talk, but okay. India has three main regions: the Himalayas in the north, the flat hot plain south of that, and the Peninsular Shield in the south. Since you liked what I said about seasons, the cold months are January and February, with sweltering heat between March and May. The monsoon season is from June to September. South of the mountains it’s hot, dirty and humid throughout most of the year.”
“But the north has to be cool, right? Right?”
I gave her a poke in the ribs for the bad acting, though I would have enjoyed the squeal more had it not been in my ear. “India has some of the biggest cities in the world, but most of the almost billion people live in the country, and most of them are poor.”
“Not that I don’t care,” she whispered, “but don’t bring me down right now. Tell me about. . . languages!”
“The official language is Hindi, but English is second and is widely spoken. All official documents are in English.”
“Not for you. They won’t let you get away with anything. There are eighteen other languages, each with its own script.”
“That boggles my mind too much. Hey, how come there was meat on the menu for you to eat? Aren’t the cows sacred?”
“Hindus are the ones who don’t eat beef, but they do eat other meat. . . except the really strict ones, who don’t even have alcohol. Muslims won’t even touch pork. Sikhs don’t smoke.”
“I like them already!”
She quickly perked up even more when I told her there was a light and sound show in half an hour at the temples. Momentarily annoyed that I didn’t want to spend time alone with her, she nevertheless listened as I explained the show was about an hour long and covered the history, philosophy, and art of the sculpting of these temples.
“It’s held on the lawn at the temple complex, so bring a blanket, unless you want to lie on the grass.”
“Can we hang out there after?”
“Not unless you want to stay for the second show.”
“What?” Quickly she saw the effect her squeak had caused and toned it down, but still glared at me accusingly. “If there’s a second show–”
“It’s in Hindi.”
“Fine! Quick shower, at least?”
“No time, and in this weather, won’t do you much good. Don’t worry, I can assure you you’re not stinky. . . yet.”
She made a rueful face as she bounced off the bed, wrapping the green sari around herself before her feet hit the ground.
“Glad you know how to put that on yourself.”
We were early enough to get a good seat, or blanket placing, which made her glare at me, but only for a second, once she saw my grin. Instead she looked around, realizing that while she’d been here in the daytime, she didn’t recognize anything, as well as finding it spooky as hell. So what? Got a big strong man to defend me, if someone decides to mess with the redhead. . .
Wait! This is not the way for a redhead to act! Hell, I’ll probably end up having to protect him! Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
Luckily the show started and despite it being in English she found herself much more entranced by the sights than the commentary. Still, she didn’t miss it when the announcer, obviously reading from a script, inquired rhetorically, “What is the most important thing in life?”
Shocked by the redhead’s uncharacteristic response to the rhetorical question, I could only gape in her direction; she saw my astonishment and blushed, but also smiled.
Other than tickling her hand when she wasn’t looking, eliciting a yelp that garnered way too much attention for her tastes–she’d thought it was a tarantula–there weren’t any other memorable moments in what turned out to be a frankly boring presentation. Walking out, not at all in the mood for sticking around like she’d mentioned earlier, she noticed the hawkers were still there, doing their best to sell meaningless trinkets to the foreign tourists. She wondered if they expected more sales from the local-language show, then stated, “I can’t get into haggling. Feels like I’m taking money out of their kids’ mouths.”
“You have the heart of a brunette,” I laughed, the put an arm around her shoulder and brought her to me. . . so she wouldn’t be able to punch me as hard. “Don’t worry about them, they make out just fine. They start out way overpriced, probably double. If you’re dumb enough to pay that, they figure it’s your problem.”
“That makes me think more like a redhead again,” she assured me, though adding a nudge in the ribs.
“Counter with half of that, watch in amusement as he screams ‘That is less than it cost me to buy!’ then keep going until you’ve reached a price you can live with. Either you or him will be disappointed, but at least he’ll be entertained. . . and I don’t mean by looking at you. If you’re that worried about it, find something you like, ask around to see what it’s worth–”
“That’s too sensible!” she shrieked. “I wouldn’t want people to think I’m wearing a wig!”
From there I walked her back to her hotel, where to my surprise she acted like she didn’t want me to leave yet. Finally she meekly tried, “One o’clock at your hotel?” closing her eyes to curse herself without me seeing it.
“That sounds acceptable,” I informed her formally, making her giggle and move in for a kiss. Right before she turned away to hippity-hoppety up the stairs, she whispered, “Miss me, bub. . .”
“Already do,” I smiled, though making sure she couldn’t hear it. . . well enough to be sure.