I met him at a conference in Mumbai. It was one of those business conferences in a corner of the city, with hundreds of people booked into a hotel for three days. Nothing to do but to...confer, really. And it was so far away from the centre of the city that you couldn’t even hitch a rickshaw to somewhere and then get back in time for all the official dinners and stuff. Worse still? The conference was happening from Wednesday through Friday, and my company had booked me out on the first flight on Saturday. So I wasn’t even going to have a day to explore Mumbai, which I absolutely adore.
After spending an absolutely mind-numbing first evening, I was ready to pack up and go home. Unfortunately, my own session was on day two. Bored as I was with most of the speeches, I managed to do a decent job of my own presentation, I think. People clapped, a few enthu cutlets even asked questions to which I gave intelligent-sounding answers. Then he got on stage. And he was electric.
The annoying thing about having a great speaker follow you is that everyone immediately forgets about your not-bad speech. But I didn't mind. He was so brilliant that I didn't care - I was enthralled. His PowerPoint was unpolished, but his arguments compelling; his hair was messy, but his voice like magic. I, who had not an artistic bone in my body, wanted suddenly, desperately to be able to just...paint him or something.
When we broke for lunch that day, I ate in a daze. I was thoroughly enjoying myself now. Even if I had to drink 40 cups of coffee to keep myself awake through the rest of the conference, I would do so. I wanted to talk to him! I did - and it wasn't even because of my efforts. He just walked up to me and said hi, and that he'd enjoyed my session. He'd wanted to ask me questions, apparently, but he had been nervous about his own speech, so he wanted to ask me now.
Business talk over in half an hour, we started chatting about life. He was Australian, he loved sports, photography and the sea. I was a homebody who constantly found solace in books. And yet we clicked. Through the rest of the afternoon, we talked, talked, talked. Even as the sessions went on, we WhatsApped each other. At the mixer in the evening, I hung out with him and his colleagues. (He'd come as part of a big contingent, unlike me. I was flying solo.) I'd made a special effort to dress up - I'd snuck down to the boutique and splurged on an overpriced cocktail dress.
We drank, we joked. And when the bar stopped serving at midnight and he invited me up to his room to continue drinking, I went willingly. It was only at 3 in the morning, when I was reluctantly preparing to leave for my room, that he reached out and pulled me into his arms.
I had breakfast with him in the morning, at a table away from his colleagues. There was no future to this, obviously. He was going to go back to Sydney at the end of the conference, I was going to go back to Delhi. Distance and time zones would put an end to this - whatever it was. But I didn't care. I was thrilled to have met someone who I liked this much, someone who stimulated me intellectually and sexually.
When it was time to head to the conference hall for the day's sessions, he said: "Fuck this, let's go explore the city."
Yes! I would have a day with him at least.
Feeling guilty as a teenager bunking school, I sneaked out of the hotel with him. We hailed a cab, off we went. We spent the day in Bandra, hopping from one eatery to another, ending up eventually at a somewhat shady bar where we drank more and giggled like kids. I thought briefly what the conference folks were probably thinking about us, and then shrugged it off. Who would miss us? And who cared if they did? This was a day out of time - possibly one that I would remember for the rest of my life. I would leave worrying till later.
I obviously spent the night in his room again. Despite the severely judgy looks from the hotel staff. At 4 a.m., I said goodbye to him. I packed up my stuff and got into the cab. As we headed to the airport, there were tears in my eyes, but my heart was aglow.
I landed in Delhi and sent him a message asking how he was doing. He said it was going badly, he was getting grief from his colleagues.
"Why?" I asked.
"My wife couldn't get through to me last evening and called them."
My world shook. "You're married?"
"Yeah. I thought you knew."
"How would I know that?!" I was in complete and utter shock. "You didn't tell me."
"I thought girls were careful about these things. You must have Googled me...?"
I cried then. I locked myself in my room and cried for hours. What had been my adventure out of time, my embracing the wilder side of me - it had turned to ashes in my mouth. It wasn't a romance, it was just a tawdry affair with a married man. A two-night stand with a perfect stranger looking for an easy lay.
I'd become that hated figure of fiction and of fact - the "other woman".
I'm careful these days. I do Google the people I meet, stalk them on social media if I feel the slightest twinge of attraction. And I've stopped being surprised by the number of men who do walk around looking to score an extra-marital hook-up.
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