"It's not my fault," I tell him, "This is the way it was meant to be - as corny as that sounds. We both knew that I had to leave."
He nods, and shifts his attention back to the task of preparing coffee, or so he would like it to seem. I can tell there's more. I want to say something more, too, but I can't. Maybe I'll leave it for later, when the vodka is uncapped and the liquor burns our throats.
I'll miss this place, and I say so. He knows it. As much as I may call Gurgaon a dust bowl, I like sitting out here on Tarun's balcony, straddling the banister like I'm doing right now. I've done it for ages, it seems, and I'm going to miss not doing it for a long, long time.
"Are you going to try to come back?" he asks, and I wonder what to reply. It all seems to hopelessly comic at times. We almost seem like lovers when we talk like this. We're not lovers. We never have been. But somehow, it's there. It's been there since the time I was dating his best friend.
"I can try," I say, "But obviously, I won't be able to come back immediately. I'll have to be there for some time. It's a job, you know. I can't leave it just like that. You're better that way. You decide your own work. I don't."
He nods, and I think he's listening to the strains of the music now. We keep quiet for a while, till I feel the urge to dance. That happens to me, whenever I'm drunk and they're playing something in the background. It could be the most god-awful track in the world, but my feet will soon start tapping, my fingers will start drumming, I'll be wishing I could twirl and whirl on the floor. Tarun calls me a social embarrassment; I always knew he loved me.
"I'm going to miss Delhi," I repeat for the hundredth time that evening, and I think the vodka is finally taking effect. Tarun grins at me, I think he's getting a bit drunk too, and he ruffles my head. I'm teetering on the banister, but I wouldn't get off for the world. I'm high, right now, and it doesn’t matter that six months in Delhi have seen me through two-and-a-half relationships and I'm still single. Tarun hasn't been in a relationship for the last two years, and we celebrate our single again-together again status like this, every week, over a bottle.
"You're getting very mushy now," he grins, and I know he's wicked to say so.
"You're wicked to say so. I'm being nice and sentimental. I'm going to miss you, you sodden old cow!"
"I like the way Gurgaon winks at me," I say, leaning forward, my knees pressed together.
"Delhi doesn't wink?" he asks, bemused.
"It's too full of people and buildings to wink. It's bustling and jostling. Or it's empty. It doesn't wink like this." And I spread my hand to show the tall blinking lights from the call centre buildings and MNC towers that glitter in the dark and empty Gurgaon landscape. "A friend of mine once told me, she thought Gurgaon looks like Las Vegas at night, popping out of the desert!"
And he laughs, rich and throaty. "I love your friend! Do you have her number?"
"Save it," I retort, pushing up my left eyebrow in a gesture I do so well, "She's moving to Bombay, with the rest of us." (He shrugs.) "And anyhow, she's not your type."
"She's not the one I saw you talking with, outside your building? The cute, high-brow one?"
I laugh in a cackle. I wonder what my 'high-brow' friend would say, on hearing she's been noticed by him. She's the most darling creature you ever saw, the most unpossessing creature, who finds it so utterly ridiculous to think that there are men in the world who would find her attractive, the kind of women who usually have the most admirers. "No, she's not the one. This one's different. This one is the Big Flirt. Love her, hate her, bitch with her, bitch about her. Like Delhi."
Horrible joke, but we still raise a toast. The bottle is almost empty, I notice.
"I touched your board once," I say suddenly, pointing towards the lighted mini-hoarding hanging from the balcony, proclaiming Tarun's business to the outside world. "I got a huge jolt of electricity. I was surprised at first, and actually touched it again."
Tarun dissolves in laughter. He's pouring himself the last of the bottle's contents, and spills quite a lot on the tabletop. "I'm sure you were so frikkin' high!"
"I was! I was!" It's funny, and I admit that I'd laughed even then, when I'd realised that first time, it was a current jolt through my hand. Realisation takes her own sweet time. Sometimes, I plough ahead, even with her sage advice on my shoulders.
Quiet walks bring reflection; that at least is a universal truth you don't have to be a prophet to discover. Dead of night, and the roads are empty. The bus ride back home to Patel Nagar from Gurgaon has been uneventful. The bus was almost empty, the driver was wrapped up in his private world, and I focused on the quiet trees rustling past the window. We made good time.
I love drives in the dead of night. I love walks in the dead of night. Would I were a wolf, I would howl. Would I were a human, I would hug myself to eternity, as I do now. Trudge in a world that is vastly different from the hustle and bustle of West Delhi that I know so well. This is the world I know best. I'm a pretender at times in my private reverie, and I have learnt to treasure these moments so much, all the more because I know Bombay will leave me so little of quiet moments like these.
Tomorrow (technically, today) I leave Delhi. And like I told Tarun, I don't know when I'll be back. I hate the feeling of not knowing. They say, it's good to not know, and let Fate take her course. I suppose I have an innate dislike and distrust for Fate. She takes me for granted, and the egoist in me cannot handle that. So this is my way of ranting against Fate. A walk in the dead of night, in a Delhi that has gone asleep, the night sky with a mother-of-pearl glow to the east if I crane my neck, and me silently brooding.
It's hard to leave a place where you had your first heartbreak. Love is easy, something tells me. Love can be re-found. But heartbreak teaches you so much, much more. Like when you’re riding on a bike and you pass this coffee shop where you once stood waiting for someone. Like when you're hanging on a bus and hear the song that was 'your' song. What can you do in such situations, but wince once and smile wryly? Heartbreak teaches you endurance, falling in love teaches you to let your guard down. I'm an old dog in an old town, sniffing for something to remind me again that I'm happy with my career move. An internal recorder replays all the things I told Tarun earlier today (technically, yesterday) - It's not my fault, this is the way it was meant to be, it's a job, I can't leave it just like that, You decide your own work. I don't - but it doesn't quite ring a bell. I have my cake, and suddenly I don't want to eat it anymore.
I remember standing in front of the Jama Masjid for the first time, and simply looking up. I stood at the floor of the stairs that led up to the huge structure and watched it awhile. Nothing else. After some time, I made my perambulations, took my amateur photographs, and settled in a corner of the mosque, watching the imam call the faithful to the prayer. It was an exercise in awe. To watch the people stream forth from the four main doors of the mosque and kneel before the great big dome in prayer. It was inspiring. I gave in to the temptation and clicked some more snaps. But then, I watched, patient. And I heard the chants of the faithful. The lone voice in the empty air, followed by the sounds that came from a hundred, thousand, (how many?) people shifting on their knees, their sounds as they bowed before their God. I watched the sun set over that great big dome and wondered at the magnificence of it all. The pigeons at the long trough of water before the Masjid remained as they were, playful, alert, energetic, thirsty, but in some way mindful of the somber occasion encircling them. I stayed till the sun set and then I had returned home.
I think of that first day in front of the Masjid now, even as I stand in a deserted West Delhi street, before the house I have lived in for the past few months. Already, there are signs of activity within, or so my hyperactive imagination tells me. It's time to go. I'm packed. It's time to go. I've said my goodbyes to all my friends. Well, all except this great big gigantic city that has an untouchable soul.