It was in a bookstore, on a sunny October Sunday that he first came across her. Rifling through the autobiography/biography section, he reached for a book just as she did for the one next to his. A chuckle escaped him as he saw the title in her hand: Bossypants by Tina Fey. She turned towards him, looking up into his eyes ruefully. All of a sudden recognition dawned on her. In spite of it, she held her ground.
“Something the matter, Sir?” she asked with mock-politeness.
“No, not at all,” he said, looking at her for the first time properly. Her lips were set, showing the tiniest trace of a smile, while her dark brown eyes held a hint of defiance. She stood a little above his shoulders. “I know Tina Fey personally. A most wonderful woman. Her autobiography is marvelous,” he said, moving a little towards her, feeling a sudden need to explain himself.
“I am sorry if I offended you. She’s a very funny woman, you know.”
Her smile broadened by less than an inch. He didn’t know a look of amusement on someone’s face could make him so happy. “I’m Benedict, by the way. Nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. She took it. He noticed how small her hand was in his. And cold.
What in the name of high heavens is wrong with me, he thought.
“I know. Nice to meet you too,” she said and turned away, with a smile now genuinely polite, and walked off.
Thoughts raced each other in his mind like hunter dogs, trying to catch an early morning prey. He knew he was making a complete fool of himself and for a 37 year old, he had shown surprisingly low wit and clichéd imagination. It struck him that he should get out of there before too many people noticed him. He picked up the book he was looking for – In My Life – The Brian Epstein Story by Debbie Gebler – and walked towards the counter.
She was standing there, waiting for her turn to make the payment. He couldn’t fathom what it was about her that made him stop dead in his tracks. Her dark-blue long-sleeved t-shirt was neatly tucked into her skirt with an ikat-tribal print which reached her ankles. Her sweater was draped around her folded arms, the Tina Fey autobiography in her right hand. Her bag was hanging from her right shoulder and she was tapping her left booted foot lightly – a sign of impatience, he thought, yet her face was serene – gazing into space. Perhaps just a habit, he concluded.
He made up his mind and started towards her, but he had taken not one step when he heard the squeals. He turned around to find two girls in their early 20s running towards him – one with a pen and paper in her hand, the other rummaging through her vast white bag, perhaps looking for a camera. He put on his best smile as they both reached him and started talking at the same time, one of them on the verge of tears. He didn’t register a word they said. He had come to categorize his fans in two categories – the ones who’d appreciate the method actor that he was and managed successfully to live up to the reputation of versatility that he’d been able to build for himself; the others who’d merely swoon over his rugged looks and his deep baritone. He was secretly glad that that girl, despite knowing who he was, had not shown the dog-like eagerness to be around him, a characteristic peculiar to the members of the latter group.
The two girls in front of him definitely fell into the second category. As he signed the piece of paper in front of him, he looked over at the billing counter. She was looking at the spectacle while her purchase was being billed, with that same amused look that had made him reel.
He felt positively giddy with delight. He was astonished, for it was a feeling unknown to him. He even felt kindly towards the two girls, and consented to get a picture clicked.
He had made up his mind for certain now. After shaking the girls’ hands a million times and ducking a wave of potential kisses, he rushed towards the billing counter. She was just heading out the door. He handed the cashier the first note that he found in his pocket – a 50 pound note – and heard a distant shout “Sir, your receipt – your change Sir!” as he ran after her.
She had put on her sweater. Her long black hair was tied in a ponytail. He broke into a stride, then came to an uncertain halt. What am I going to do? What am I going to say? he thought. He started walking again. She wasn’t very far ahead of him. In fact, I could reach out and touch her shoulder, he thought. Which he did.
She jumped as if electrocuted, her package falling to the ground as her hands flew to her mouth to stifle the scream. He could see relief springing into her eyes as she realized it was him. They both reached for the package; she let him pick it up. He handed it to her with a sheepish grin. She must be 21; 24 if you could stretch your imagination.
“Thank you,” she said.
They both stood there – he grinning at her like an idiot, she with an expression of confusion replacing the gratitude.
“Would that be all, Sir?” she asked.
“I beg your pardon?” he said, startled.
“You stopped me for a reason, Mr Templar?” she asked.
“Yes. Yes, I did,” he said, gathering his wits. “I was just wondering….who you were.”
I’m an idiot, he thought, and she knows it now.
She was laughing.
“Why would you want to know that?” she asked.
“Well, maybe if I knew your name, I’d be able to ask you if you’d like to grab a spot of lunch.”
Her face turned solemn.
“Surely you can’t be serious?” she asked. Her eyes now showed….incredulity, was it?
“Why not? I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of lunching.”
A short laugh.
“But, Mr Temp…” she started.
“Please, just let me know your name. Have lunch with me. If you can’t work up an appetite, we could go book shopping. I happen to read a lot.”
That amusement again. Just as he felt he was getting back on his feet, he fell again.
She surprised him by taking him by the arm and leading him into an alley. It was empty. She looked up at him.
“Listen, Sir,” she said, “if this is some kind of a joke or a TV show, then I’ll have you know, with no offence intended of course, that I’m not one to take such things in good humour.”
He nodded earnestly. There was no plea in that voice, no desperation – just a clear stating of facts.
“But if you seriously want to have lunch with me – which I greatly doubt….” a deep breath, “I need to catch a bus back to Brighton in,” a glance at her watch, “3 hours,” she finished.
His lips curved into a big smile.
“I know the perfect little place just round the corner,” he said.
Anushree Kaushal is a Political Science graduate from the University of Delhi and an aspiring spy (okay, maybe not really, but she’s dead fascinated by espionage).
She read her first book at the age of 6, and that love affair has only grown passionate since.
She’s off to London in a couple of months to study International Relations; the first thing she’ll do during the first weekend she gets is find and meet John leCarré.
You’ll usually find her reading or watching Game Of Thrones, and one day she hopes to travel the whole world.