Stretched out on the deck chair by the poolside looking at the stars, the voice had startled Aparna.
“Is all right if I sit down by you?” The words were slurred.
French, Aparna decided, as the figure swayed slightly. Forty-ish. Tanned and trim, in blue shorts and white halter top. In her left hand a Campari glass.
She lay down on the deck chair next to Aparna’s, placing the drink carefully on the flagstones.
Aparna felt bone tired, even though she had dozed most of the day. In the evening she had gone downtown, by hotel ferry boat and Skytrain, to meet a friend in from Kathmandu.
“So it’s over?” the friend had asked.
“Oh, yes,” Aparna had replied.
They had sat in the pool-cue brawl of Soi 5, downing rounds of ‘Black So’ – Bangkok shorthand for Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey with soda.
“Here?” the friend had asked.
“Here,” Aparna had replied firmly.
Beyond the silhouetted fronds ringing the poolside was a lighted area overlooking the shadowy waters of the Chao Phraya. Snatches of soft Thai from the waiters cleaning up the remains of the party came floating on the warm air. Stacking plates and peeling off tablecloths, the flotsam and jetsam of this illusory world.
“You are by yourself?” she asked Aparna.
The empty room had yawned at Aparna when she had returned. She had wandered down to the poolside.
“Yes. I too. My boyfriend, he was supposed to come here, but…”
A tablecloth by the waterside billowed momentarily like a white sail catching wind on the Mayurakshi.
“He decided… not to come here. He said he was going to Morocco instead.”
“And you?” she asked Aparna hesitantly.
“He left this morning.”
“Why didn’t he come here?”
“I did something stupid,” she replied. A stray bobble of light caught her shoulder as she reached down for her drink, glossy as the staircase banister in the old house Aparna had grown up in
“Yes, me too,” Aparna said. “I did something very stupid.”
“Tell me something about him,” she said, taking a sip.
Above the stars gleamed and winked heartlessly.
“When he left,” Aparna replied after a while, “he took the longer way around the courtyard balcony to the lift. I think he was giving me a long last look at him.”
“You notice that?” Amusement lent a lilt to her voice. Aparna turned her head to look at the pool. Magnolia petals floated on the still black mirror of its surface, lushly karmic.
Yes, Aparna thought, I did notice that. I noticed the stray greys in his hair, the patterns on his ridiculous tie-dye kurta and the coolly appraising glance he could direct at his own tarnished life, the humid wash of his tongue, his white lies…