June 14 , 2016
Priyanka Mookerjee grew up in India and was educated at Loreto House and the Ohio State University, where she studied Narrative Theory, Film, International Relations, and Popular Culture. She currently lives in Kolkata. Hedon is her first novel.
It wasn’t the right night for a first date, but it was already past eight, too late to cancel.
She walked into the restaurant ten minutes early, cursing the rain, dripping her dark mood onto a rusty steel chair and ordering an overpriced glass of Sula red. The place annoyed her; exposed brick walls, mismatched mason jars, sylvan servers with pale bones showing off their necks, all of them too busy on their phones to notice her trying to get their attention, trying to change her drink order to a stiff Old Fashioned instead.
She recognized him as soon as he came in. He looked just like his profile- downright sunny. Happy. Just like the pictures of him hiking and swimming and beaming a wide grin next to a giant glass of beer. She had messaged him on an impulse, because she had promised herself to try harder (or try at all) and it was one in the morning and he had a really cute smile.
“Hi! Hi! You’re already here! Sorry I’m late!”
“You’re not. I was early.”
“Oh, okay.” He slid into the chair opposite her, looking around. “Hope you’re fine with this place?”
“Mm. Yeah, I guess. Well no, not really. It’s kind of too aggressively cool.”
He laughed out loud, loud enough for the people at the next table to look over, then subsided into a sheepish grin. “My sister thought it would be a nice first date spot.”
She didn’t know whether she softened out of guilt at her rudeness or at the thought of this suited-booted man asking his sister for dating advice, but the only thing she could think to do was offer him a sip of her drink.
“Here, try this. It’s excellent, actually.”
He tried it, nodding appreciatively. “Tell you what, let’s get a couple of drinks here, and then we can go somewhere with real food for dinner. How does that sound?”
They went to Amar Colony, hurrying to get there before the man selling tandoori momos closed shop for the night. He ate four plates by himself, making her give him a thumbs-up in approval, her mouth still too full of hot momo to talk. Above them, the sky rumbled a few warnings, but held off on more rain.
He offered to drive her home, but didn’t insist when she declined, dropping her to a nearby metro station instead.
She couldn’t tell whether it had gone well. Her mood started dampening again as she got off at her station and started the ten-minute walk home, another bout of light rain bittering the winter chill. It brought back her earlier irritation, joined in with the memory of being yelled at in front of everyone that morning, and turned into a thick weight that settled into her face. Experimentally, she tried to smile, just to see if she could even arrange her mouth into that shape. Nope.
Her feet dragged as she climbed the stairs up to her rented barsaati, her body growing impossibly heavy, as it often did towards the end of the day, on the quiet climb that always made her think about the fact that as her days passed underneath the bright lights of the big city, underneath the clean sheen of a new metro and good office espresso, she could feel a weariness creeping into her bones. It would deepen over time (she had the sense, if not the words). It would turn her cautious and worried when another piece of the earth quaked or the kids didn’t come home on time.
As she entered her room, her phone buzzed: That was fun 🙂 coffee tomorrow?
And just like that, her face pulled itself up into a big smile. She sat down on her bed and enjoyed it, enjoyed the feeling of a pleasant ending to a shitty day. That small grain of pleasure blossomed into a greater happiness, and in the delicious aloneness of her cold little room on the roof, she let herself give in to it. She let herself drift off to sleep imagining a happy tomorrow, resting her mind within the possibilities of coffee sparks and dinner talks and who knew what else. Life was never going to be perfect, but it would be a lot more fun with someone to take on the world with.