On a warm, sunny July morning, I was walking down Michigan Avenue, heading to work for an important meeting. The sun felt like the heat lamps in an incubator, not too hot and not too cool either. I felt that this was a good sign for my meeting as I turned left and continued to my bus stop. As soon as I made the left onto Randolph Street, the oppressive stench of garbage hit my nostrils. I felt like barfing, but knew that I could not afford the risk of dirtying my clothes–my light pink silken blouse and my white linen skirt. I had worked for hours the previous night to settle on that outfit because I wanted to make a good impression on my boss. We were going to discuss a promotion. I was so distracted by the scent of garbage and concern for not damaging my clothes that I didn’t notice him. He was tall and gorgeous. He wore what seemed like a well-tailored blue suit. It fit him like a pair of soft leather gloves–amazing. Beneath his suit, a crisp white shirt with starched collars complemented with a blue and red striped tie. I wondered why he was so overdressed in the heat of this mid-summer morning. No time to focus on him. I have a bus to catch. I told myself this and sped toward the crowded stop.
Bodies packed like sardines exacerbated the nausea in my stomach and the heat on my cheeks. I could not wait for the bus to come. I thought, Thank god this commute is only fifteen minutes. Only fifteen minutes. Only fifteen minutes. I repeated fifteen minutes like it was some sort of mantra or spell to escape the oppressive heat and the loud, annoying crowd. Why did the car have to be at the shop today of all days. I don’t need this stress right before my meeting with the boss. I was growing anxious as the minutes passed and the bus did not appear. Five. Ten. Oh no! I can’t be late. Just can’t. Right as I felt I would succumb to an anxiety attack, the bus pulled into the stop. Great! I have one hour to get there and this only takes fifteen minutes. Phew! I’ll be fine. I can relax. The bus made its way to my office building as I listened to soothing music while desperately trying to ignore everyone else. In the solace and comfort of my own mind, I tried to think about the meeting, but his face kept popping up, interrupting my concentration. He seemed familiar–like I had met him before. Somewhere, sometime long ago. Some thing in his face struck a chord in my memory and distracted me. I needed to know who he was and why I felt like I knew him. Perhaps from college? Perhaps a party? Maybe a company outing? Nope. Can’t recall.
The bus driver announced the next stop and yanked me out of my reverie. I had to get off at the next stop: Columbus and Randolph. My clients and my boss could not wait. They were top priority for now. As the bus stopped and I got off, I was thankful to be rid of the crowd. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like forced social encounters. I don’t really like small talk with people I don’t know and won’t ever spend significant time with. A simple, “Hello. How are you,” and I am happy to be on my way. I never liked crowds ever since that day. I don’t like to remember or talk about it. It was one of the worst days of my life. It seriously shattered my self-confidence and utterly ruined my ability to perform in public. I have never been able to give public performances since that day. I’ve always been too scared and too self-conscious. But painful memories aside, time to prepare to blow this meeting away! I may not like crowds but my boss I can handle.
He was a surly gentleman in his sixties, mourning the loss of the good ol’ days. He’d stroll into the office at 10:00 am and took a tea break at 11:00 am like he was still in colonial India. He even dressed like a Victorian gentleman, unwilling to let go of the glory of the former British Empire. His ridiculous handlebar mustache was the butt of many lunchtime jokes and so was his outdated sense of chivalry. Old Mr. Rupert Carouse always stood up whenever ladies entered and left the room. It was a matter of propriety for him. He took pride in holding doors open and removing his hat in greeting. We all thought that he was rather eccentric but none of us had the heart to tell the old man anything. He was endearing with a certain father-like charm that all of the women enjoyed even as they laughed. He had always liked talking to me and seemed very interested in my heritage. Though I respected Mr. Carouse, I couldn’t help wondering why he was so interested in where I came from and who my family was. I felt somewhat put off when he had first broached the topic, but when I found out that his family had a business in colonial India, I understood where his interest came from: he was fascinated by the culture of his second home and I was the only one, in the office, whom he could share that with. My comfort with Mr. Carouse allowed me to be at ease as I waited for our meeting at 11:00 am.
Why is he having a meeting during his normal tea time? That is slightly unusual for him. He’d push back every meeting that threatened to rob him of his tea. I grew a bit tense as I realized that the meeting might be more important that I had originally thought. Suddenly, I heard my name–
“Ms. Narayan!” “What? Oh, John. It’s you. Good morning.” “Gee. What a way to greet your favorite coworker and here I was bringing you such good news.” “Good news? What good news?” “It’s nothing.” “Oh come on, Johnny. Don’t be like that! I was just worrying about the meeting I have in a few minutes. I just realized that it is during old Rupie’s tea time. And he never misses tea for anything.” “Ouch. I would be on edge too. He even cancelled the partners’ meeting last week because they refused to have the meeting at 11:30. I would not want to be you right now. Sounds like you do need that good news.” “So then tell me!” “On my way up here, I saw a new guy. He asked me if I knew how to get to Mr. Carouse’s office because he has a meeting with someone in there at 11:00.” “What? You’re kidding. Mr. Carouse never mentioned that a third party was coming to this meeting. Damn you, Johnny. You just made me more nervous.” “Well sorry for thinking about giving you a heads up. Sheesh, sometimes I should just keep things to myself.” “Awww, Johnny. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay and talk more. Meeting’s about to begin. Wish me luck.” “You’ll be fine Neeta. Just fine. Rupie’s got a hard on for you and everyone knows it. hahahaha.”
I took a deep breath when I reached Mr. Carouse’s cherry-stained door. After a few moments, I knocked on the door louder than I had intended. The abrupt loudness embarrassed me and I hoped that no one in the room would notice. Mr. Carouse opened the door and said, “Ahh, Ms. Narayan. Come in. Come in. Please have a seat here.” I walked over to the chair that he gestured to and saw that tea and biscuits were in a tray sitting atop the coffee table in the office and across the table was him–Mr. Blue Suit Hottie from earlier that morning. I almost gasped from shock and hoped that he did not remember me. I was so distracted by him that I didn’t hear Mr. Carouse introduce me.
I felt idiotic as Blue Suit stuck his hand out to greet me. “Ms. Narayan, I am Yadav Carouse. Pleasure to see you for the second time today.” “Second time?” “Yes, you walked past me on the street earlier.” “That’s right I did.” Oh my God he remembers seeing me. Hopefully, I wasn’t staring too hard or making a fool of myself. “Ahh Yaddie, this is the beauty that you were telling me about.” Wait. What? What does Rupie mean beauty? Who? Me? This man thinks I’m a beauty? No way. “Yes, father. This is her. Pink shirt, white skirt, gorgeous smile, beautiful silky hair, and piercing eyes. I knew I had seen her before.” That’s right. I did meet Yadav before. We met when I was being recruited to join the company. He was at the welcome party. How could I have forgotten? He sure has changed a lot since then. He got a whole lot hotter! “But son, are you sure that you want to do this?” “Pardon me, Mr. Carouse. What’s going on? Why did you ask me to come in for a meeting today?” “My dear, the boy’s really taken with you. He wants you to be his bride. Not right now, of course. He wants to date first. But he has been telling me that he wants no other bride but you.” “Mr. Carouse, I can’t date a member of your family, not while I am your employee.” “Then, you’re fired. No problem.” “What? You can’t just fire me because your son wants to date me. What am I supposed to do about my rent, my bills, and all that other stuff?” “Dear girl, I will give you a severance and help you get a new job with a different company and that way, if you want to, you can date Yadav. Would that be okay?” I was so overwhelmed by the news that I thought that I must be dreaming. There, looking at me from across the coffee table in his dad’s office was everything I had ever wanted in a husband. Why was I not jumping at the opportunity to have him? “Dad, may I have a moment with Neeta, please?” “Okay, son.”
Mr. Carouse left his office and closed the door. His son came over to where I was seated. “Neeta, I wanted to talk to you the very night that we met, but I was too young and still in school back then. I didn’t think that a woman like you–so beautiful–would ever agree to dating a nobody like me. Since then, I worked hard to be right for you and hoped that you would not be snatched up by another. I am yours and have been yours since then. Please give me a chance to show you that we belong together.” Perhaps it was the way that his eyes sparkled as he spoke. Perhaps it was the melody of his voice. Perhaps it was the measure of sincerity in what he said. Whatever it was, I agreed to date him.