“There is someone outside, waiting to see you, Mia,” Tanu announces, as she barges into the green room. I am removing the make-up forced on me earlier in the evening, so I can feel like myself again.
“What? Right now?” I ask, surprised. I’m not some movie actor or rock star, whom people come to see in the green room after a performance. I’m just an author on a speaking engagement to promote her debut novel.
Also, as I look myself in the mirror, I realize I look like a cross between a zombie and a female ghost in a horror movie. Hair disheveled, make-up only half removed, dressed only in a robe. The dark circles under my eyes are visible again- since I have removed the foundation applied earlier to hide them.
“I don’t think I can see anyone in this condition! Who is it anyway?” I ask, removing my lipstick.
“Dev Nagaraj. Have you heard of him?” Tanu asks in reply.
“Dev Nagaraj? As in the son of Dharam Nagaraj, that media mogul? Wasn’t he just appointed the new CEO of Nagaraj Enterprises?” I recall.
Dev Nagaraj is here to see me? What is he even doing here?
“Wow…you do keep up with the world at large. Yes, that Dev Nagaraj. He is standing outside this room, and he asked me if you will see him for five minutes.”
“Is he alone? No personal assistants or any other hangers on?” I ask.
“Yeah, he is all alone. And because he isn’t constantly looking at his expensive Rolex, I think he is patient enough. He wants to see you, no matter what.”
“I can’t believe this! A VIP like Dev, loaded with a grueling schedule, is waiting outside this room, alone! Without his entourage! And he is waiting for me…a lowly writer! Like a commoner. What is he even doing here, at a book signing and speaking event? Doesn’t he have business meetings or high-profile parties to attend?” I wonder, partly in shock, partly in amazement.
“I’m as surprised as you are. This behavior is uncharacteristic of someone like him. But he wants to see you…so he must like you,” Tanu replies, winking.
“Haha, good joke, Tanu! A handsome and rich boy-toy like Dev Nagaraj, who has dated models and actresses, likes me! Me, a somewhat known feminist and a little-known, debut writer. How can someone like him even think of someone like me!” I wonder, laughing.
“You’re not as anonymous as you think, Mia. You’re pretty well-known by now. You are in the media a lot, you have a great personality and you have done a lot for women’s rights. But yeah, even I’m surprised Mr. Nagaraj turned up here. I would have expected him to not come until he was the chief guest or something. He came here just to hear you speak, in person. Something about you has impressed him. I think you should see him,” Tanu advices.
“Maybe you’re right. I’m intrigued by this man. I will see him…will you please go tell him to wait for five more minutes while I get this make-up off me and put on my clothes?”
“Sure, of course. He’s waited this long, he can wait five more minutes if he really wants to meet with you,” Tanu says, and walks out of the room.
Five minutes later, I’m still combing my hair when there is a knock on the door. I look at myself one last time in the mirror and hope I don’t seem as tired as I feel.
“Come in, please!”
The door opens, and a man in black slacks, moccasins and a blue polo shirt stands at the door. He’s carrying a big bouquet of flowers in his hands.
“Miss Santos?” he speaks in a baritone.
Dev Nagaraj looks quite different in person. I’ve seen him, on TV and in the papers, dressed in fashionably tailored business suits and sunglasses or in jeans and tees with weird hairstyles- this dressing down comes as another surprise to me. But he looks as handsome and debonair. Tall, slender and blessed with a sculpted body, strong jaw, high cheekbones, brown eyes and a wide forehead, he looks like a Mills and Boons hero. The kind of man I usually am wary of.
“Mr. Nagaraj…please come in!”
He smiles and walks in, striding confidently. It’s not just attractiveness- he has a confident personality too.
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Miss Santos. I’m sorry to barge in on your evening like this…but I really wanted to meet you. Have wanted to, for quite some time,” he speaks.
I open my mouth to reply, but no words come out. I am at a complete loss for words.
This rich, handsome stud, used to adulation and adoration, has waited to see me for quite some time? And he’s actually thanking and apologizing to me? For barging in on my evening…when he could have been at a high-profile charity dinner or a gala event?
Formation of cogent thought seems difficult for a whole minute.
“I’m…this…I mean…this is quite a surprise, Mr. Nagaraj,” I blurt out.
“I understand that. I mean, I know that most people don’t expect someone like me to be present at a book launch event. They’d rather have me giving photo-ops and drinking expensive champagne at some A-list party somewhere in South Bombay.”
I am unable to speak, yet again.
This man is not just good-looking and smart, but also perceptive. He doesn’t seem to live in the world of self-centeredness and delusion that most elite people seem to live in.
“So…if you don’t mind me asking…how come you’re here?” I ask after about a minute.
“There are two reasons for that, Miss Santos. First is that I actually like reading. Second, I have been following your work in the papers, and on your blog. I really like what you have to say…so when I learnt that you were releasing a novel, I thought it was my chance to finally get to see you in person and meet you,” he replies.
It is almost like he’s been stalking me.
“Really? I…I’m really floored, Mr. Nagaraj. I don’t know what to say,” I confess.
“It should be me who should be saying that, Miss Santos. You are as charismatic in person as you are in pictures and in prose. Hearing you speak today…I would like to confess that I am even more enamored of you now than I was before. You are one of the most enigmatic women I have had the fortune of meeting. I’m actually having my star moment right now,” he says.
Really? He is having his star moment? I never thought men like him were capable of such humility and cogent thought? He finds me enigmatic? Are men like him even capable of feeling, towards women, anything other than entitlement over their bodies and lives?
“I…that is very flattering, Mr. Nagaraj.”
Something is happening to me. This man, whom I’ve never met, is making me feel things I never thought I’d feel. Rarely has any man spoken in such good terms about me. I’m finding it difficult to even look at him. I thought I gave up on men forever…he is making me question that. And I’ve had barely fifteen minutes with him.
We both look and awkwardly smile at each other for a few more minutes. Time seems to pass so much slowly sometimes.
“Oh…this is for you…” he speaks, breaking the silence, and holds out the bouquet to me.
“Ah…thanks. This is…there was no need for this, actually.”
“I wouldn’t know about that, ma’m. I know I’m expected to have these things sent over with a note or something…but then I wouldn’t have the chance to meet you like this,” he replies, smiling.
Wow. More humility. What is his game?
“I see. So…did you get your copy of Gore in Goa? Does it interest you?” I ask, just to have something to talk about.
“Well, I am definitely going to read the book after hearing you talk about it. I love the strong feminist tone of your protagonist. But I like that Myra is not just another vigilante heroine dressed in latex. Instead she spends her time solving real problems like domestic violence, sex trafficking and sexual abuse. And yeah, it seems like a highly intriguing crime thriller centered around gender violence,” he replies.
So he really listened to me speak.
“But I didn’t get a copy because, well, I was kind of reluctant to buy one and get it signed by you in person. Somehow I thought that after you signed my copy…you wouldn’t agree to see me backstage,” he replies, seeming embarrassed.
“Really? That’s kind of weird, Mr. Nagaraj.”
“I know. It doesn’t make sense. And please call me Dev.”
Hey…you’re gonna have to buy me a beer before I can get on first name terms with you.
“No worries…the copies we had there all sold out…but I keep a few extra copies. I’ll sign one for you right now. And it’s free.”
“Oh no…I wouldn’t let you do that, Ms Santos…”
“It’s okay. You came here to see me in person. That doesn’t happen a lot, Mr. Nagaraj. It was a nice gesture.”
I pick up a copy of Gore in Goa from the stack of extra copies on the dressing table, sign it and hand it to Dev.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Santos. I am so glad I got to meet you personally,” he says, smiling. The smile throws his features into sharp relief- making his face look even more handsome.
Everything he says seems to be geared to impress me. Why is he trying to impress me? What does he hope to gain by it? Why am I so skeptical of someone when they’re being good to me?
“I am glad to meet you too, Mr. Nagaraj,” I reply.
“If you don’t mind, can I have your number, please?”
I look at him for a full minute before I open my mouth again.
Who do you think you’re dealing with, Dev Nagaraj?
“Oh…I realize what this looks like. I didn’t mean to offend you, Ms Santos. I just thought we could keep in touch and…be friends. At least I would like to be friends with you,” he replies, babbling.
Friends? You and I?
“You really think so? I’m not really good at being friends with people.”
This is true. I have few friends- real friends- and they’re people I have known for several years. I’m not very good at trusting people or making ‘friends’.
“You could give it a try, for once. Not everyone is a manipulative hanger-on, using us for their vested interests, Ms Santos,” he replies.
He is right. Not everyone is a manipulative hanger-on.
Besides, this man went out of his way just to meet me in person, and be nice to me. He behaved in a manner completely unexpected of someone from his social class. It might mean something. Or it might not.
Maybe I’m just setting myself up for a big disappointment.
“Uh…okay. Alright,” I find myself saying.
So we exchange numbers.
“Now I can personally text you my opinion of your book. Although I’m already thinking it’s going to be awesome,” he says, standing up.
“Yes…that would be very nice of you. It is touching to personally hear from readers,” I reply, also standing up. We both are the same height. Almost the same height.
“Well, thank you for seeing me, Ms Santos. I really appreciate this,” he says, and then bends forwards and kisses me on the cheek.
“I had a nice time too, thank you.”
Man this is awkward. I’m not going to kiss him back. Should I?
Is it considered good manners to kiss someone you just met on the cheeks, at the end of your rendezvous, in his social circle? In any case, I’m not kissing him back. I think I already made a big mistake by giving him my number- although I may have another, ulterior reason for that.
I instead shake his hand firmly.
“Good night, Miss Santos. I should take your leave now.”
“Good night, Mr. Nagaraj.”
He walks out of the room and then into the corridor, but not before he turns back once to look at me, and smiles.
What’d he do that for?
An hour later
I’m back home, in the apartment I share with Tanu. We both have our own bedrooms, of course.
I’m sitting in bed, with a cup of chocolate milk. We both make enough to afford a heater for the winters and an AC for the summers- which persist for most of the year.
The room is comfortably warm, considering that the Mumbai weather is still chilly, if not cold.
I have turned off all the electric lights, so only the reading light beside the bed is on and the rest of the room is engulfed in a comfortable darkness. My own little comfortable cocoon, to which I come back at the end of the day. A 24 year old single working woman’s sanctuary, which I never want to leave.
I’m reading Mikhail Bulgakov.
A perfect night after a hectic day at work.
I hear my phone buzzing. Picking it off the nightstand, I unlock the screen.
1 text message from Dev Nagaraj
Seriously? We just met today? What is this man up to?
I open the message.
I apologize if this is improper, Ms. Santos. But I’m reading your novel and I’m simply loving it. Good night.
Oh dear. Why does he have to be so sweet?
Thank you, I’m glad you like it. Let me know what you think after you finish it. Good night.
This is interesting. I’m really keen to find out what he thinks of the book. Also, I’m keen on seeing how far he goes with his flirtation before he discovers the kind of woman I am and stops trying to get into my pants.
PS: If you darling folks want to know what happens next between Mia and Dev, feel free to subscribe to this blog and get a new episode in your mailbox, directly!