My company sent me to Moscow last year to attend a summit. Overseas trips are very rare - and I was naturally very excited to visit a place that I would have never figured on my list of holiday destinations otherwise.
I had one day before my flight back home and I was determined to make the most of it. Armed with an English-to-Russian app on my phone and a one-page printout of sights to see from Wikipedia, I set off early that morning.
Around sunset, after spending an hour near the St Basil's Cathedral, I decided to just explore the streets and soak in the colours of the city. I walked for a couple of hours, and decided to have dinner at a busy street-side bistro.
This particular place looked very busy and hip, and I was clearly the only foreigner and the only solo diner. After I ordered a drink, the table next to me with a mixed group of five 20-somethings struck a conversation with me in English. They were excited to hear that I was Indian; their exact response was an excited "Raj Kapoor!" and "Amitabh Bachchan!".
They seemed very nice and friendly, and I accepted their invitation to join them. The guy sitting directly across me on the table had most of my attention - he had these piercing, twinkling green eyes and this wide, brilliant smile. During the round of introductions, he did this very adorable apologetic shrug to indicate that he did not speak English. The others seemed to pull his leg - and he said something in Russian. His voice had this soft baritone, and I felt a very strong sense of awareness and this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.
My love life had always been pretty dull (read non-existent) and I have long suspected my radar to be broken beyond repair. Feeling that instant connection was something I had read about only in those M&B novels I secretly devoured as a teen.
Even as I kept talking to the others, I was aware of his eyes on me. A little later, the others got up to dance and I said I had walked a lot and needed to rest. The other guy stayed behind too - and I suspect his friends made a teasing throwaway remark at him.
After an exchange of awkward smiles, I pulled up my app, typed in: "Why aren't you dancing?", and showed it to him. He laughed and did a twist of his waist and a thumbs down to say he was a horrible dancer. The ice was broken and I don't know how I managed it but we spent the next 45 minutes having a really interesting conversation with sign language that had us in splits throughout.
The conversation ended only because the rest of the group trickled back to the table. They were planning to head to a friend's place and invited me along. I had to go back and pack, and to be honest, the hyper-aware suspicious Indian woman in me did not want to go to a stranger's house in an unfamiliar country and end up as a news item on Times Now TV back home.
As I hugged the group goodbye, the guy stepped aside and followed me out on to the road. He pointed at himself and made a steering wheel gesture, which I took to mean whether I wanted a ride back. Again, no thanks to decades of politeness ingrained into me, I automatically shook my head and said no - of course, I regretted it as soon as I said it. He smiled and nodded, and made a phone gesture - the one where you shape your hand into a phone and place it next to your ear.
I was not sure whether he was asking if I needed to call a taxi or whether I had a phone. I don't know what he thought of the confusion writ on my face because he just smiled, hugged me with a "Dasvidaniya", pecked my cheek and walked back into the bistro.
Meanwhile, a taxi had stopped near me and I got into it in a daze. It only then sunk in: "What if he was asking for my number because he was interested in me?" I wanted him to have my number! I liked him!
But I was too embarrassed to go back and clarify, and I wouldn't even know how to go about clearing the doubt.
It's been some months since this incident but I think of him once in a while with a wistful sigh. Practically, I know it would have led nowhere with neither of us speaking the same language or living in the same place - but a part of me will always wonder: "What if? What if that connection had meant something and it just got lost in translation?"
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Published on Apr 04, 2016