We are outside a dingy watering hole somewhere in town, Six and I. We bond over Instagram pictures and I simper over his Bengali ancestry and his upcoming PhD in something I don't remember. He looks around and tells me he's never been to a place like this. I think of saying something cliched, like 'There's-a-first-time-for-everything', but I don't want to sound cliched.
'Well, there's a first time for everything.' I usher him inside. At least I can say that I tried.
He peers around the dirtied hallways of the bar. We duck under the awning and walk through a back door towards our booth. The air is heavy with the smell of cheap hair oil, cigarette smoke and used urinal cakes. But my date is clearly intrigued. The waiter walks over with a photocopied menu card, laminated and stained with yesterday's chilly chicken.
The boy's eyes open wider than our melamine dinner plates. He inspects the menu with great interest- he thinks it's kitsch, I think it's the cheapest date money can buy. It's the end of the month, and my money reserves are lower than my morals. We place our orders, equal measures of rum and coke, and their chicken Malai rolls - the bar's best, imported from the Afghan eatery next door. We silently agree that the chilly chicken can be avoided. I attempt small talk till our drinks arrive, it's too dark to discuss our Instagram feeds, and I've already asked him everything there is to ask about the PhD that I no longer remember anything about. Is this going anywhere?
Fifteen minutes later, our first round of drinks are down and we are best friends. He talks fondly of a rich aunt involved in a famous property dispute, and mentions lessons at the golf course post lunch at the club, as I sip my rum in wide-eyed wonder. Just recently he was at a friend's gallery opening, and he got an offer to work as an advisor on the Prime Minister's socio-economic committee - the stories seem larger-than-life for the little tavern, and I can feel our booth bursting at its seams. With all these art do's, luncheons and consulate meetings, how does he get time to unwind?
He laughs like they do on television. There's no scattering applause, or canned laughter. Why don't you have another one, he slurs romantically. I can tell when someone's avoiding a question, but then again, if he's buying, why not?
'I shouldn't have more of these,' he stifles a giggle, 'I'll become fat.' I snigger, what would that make me?
Borderline obese. You can ask a gay man how much he earns, but you can never ask him how much he weighs. Cue for me to fawn over him. My glass is empty, and I wouldn't mind a refill. He beckons the waiter over with his fingers, as I gush sycophantically about how thin he is. The rum pours freely, and I hear three new cubes of ice clink in my glass. That's three reasons why I need to down this glass sooner.
It's not all been child's play, the boy says to me as I play tag with my glass. He's been a cancer survivor thrice over, and there has been no looking back ever since. Somehow downing my drink doesn't seem like a very good idea anymore. It's not deterred him, and now he takes life more seriously (luncheons and art do's aside), spending months in chemotherapy makes you appreciate the smaller things in life. What next?
He moves to Delhi in a month, and is considering taking up the job on the advisory board while he studies three times a week. For an average twenty seven year old, that would be a lot to handle. But he's not your average twenty seven year old. How does he feel now?
He's feeling feisty. He leans over and kisses me on my nose and then gawks at his own foolhardiness. What if someone saw us? Will they throw us out? Do you think the man at the next table is looking at us? Do you think the man at the next table is cute? Do you think I am drunk? Do you think I ask too many questions? I giggle, and tell him he doesn't. Between the seventh and eighth glass of Rum and Coke, he tells me he has something else to tell me. My heart skips a beat, and I almost pull my feet away. What can it be this time?
Is he a spy with the CBI? Was he abducted by aliens as a child? Was he lying this whole time? Does he have to go back home? Am I too fat? Did I say something wrong? Is there something stuck in my tooth? I am sure there's something stuck in my tooth.
As I feel around my mouth with my tongue, he tells me he has royal blood. I give him the once over once again. He has a lanky frame and a sculpted face, and I believe him. He might not be the conventional Disney prince, but he will do. I smile at him. He smiles back. Looks like I don't have to kiss a frog to get my Prince Charming.
We still split the bill two ways.