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First pages

Prologue

Long ago an old man loved a mermaid. And she loved him back. They met on the shores of an island. I should call it “The Island” for there were no other islands. And you could address them as “The Old Man” and “The Mermaid” for there were no other. The Old Man lived on the dry island and The Mermaid lived in the waters.

After some time, they missed their own ways of being. The Old Man went back to exploring and The Mermaid returned to her oceanic depths.

The Mermaid met one of her own. The Old Man satiated his desires in other ways.

An invisible thread still connected them. No matter what, The Old Man still looked at the shore wistfully. The Mermaid still bobbed her head eagerly. Sometimes their eyes met.

But The Island gets lonely. The gaze can do only so much. But the gaze reminds one of pleasures once known, of joy once experienced.

The days called and stories retreated. The sun is pleasant as long as it doesn’t heat the sand beneath. Seashells stayed quiet as before, love stories lived in them in slumber. Only if you went near, could you hear the stories within the murmur.

No story is complete, every breath longs for another. We just continue. The black stone beckoned the Old Man to complete the story.

The Old Man walked till he noticed a seagull. He wondered if it came from the same sea that The Mermaid came from—for she had flown from that direction.

Maybe she carried the fragrance of a past that could now safely settle in the present sands of time, with him, here and now.

The seagull, weary after a long flight, nestled into his gaze. It was good to have attention. He was strange and interestingly comforting. Like a wounded bird, hopping with no wings. And not giving up.

The mermaid watched from a distance.

A Forgetting in the White night

The last few hours had been a blur. No, the entire night had been a blur. The flight had landed at the Moscow airport on time. Zehen gazed at Inayat for long. And that long hug. He had wanted to kiss her but held back. He now wondered why.

A moment passed is past.

Zehen looked out as the Sapson, Russia’s fastest train, hurtled along the tracks to St. Petersburg. He was getting sleepy as he had not slept in twenty-four hours. Maybe he could catch a wink now.

But the phone stirred awake. It was Inayat’s message—a smiley.

She had warned him that he might miss his train. But Zehen had managed to transfer from the metro to the train successfully. Although not one sign was written in English, he still managed to reach the Moscow railway station almost an hour early.

He smiled looking at her message. Maybe he should have followed her to Lithuania.

Shaking himself, he looked outside. He should reach St. Petersburg in an hour. Will be at the station on time?

He had met Lyuda in Rio de Janeiro. A doctoral student from St. Petersburg State University, she had been travelling across the Americas for her research study — The Influence of Spanish and Portuguese Conquest on South American Architecture.

She smiled easy, but would sometimes withdraw suddenly and become recluse.

She intrigued him. Put together, she was calm and knowledgeable. She had offered to be his local guide and host in Russia.

Four days in St Petersburg and 4 days in Moscow before he would fly back to India.

Kavya would have been married by that time.

I, the spirit of love stories, continue to be immersed in the journey, like I did when he and Kavya were together.

This that you read is, like before, what I witnessed.

 

Lyuda was at the station. She was dressed casually, donning a red scarf that gave color to her white skin and made her look a tad bit mischievous.

She had a slightly stubby nose, glasses that settled on her nose firmly, a small face, a direct stare, a small frame, and a strange surety about herself as she stood.

She looked at his bag.

“Hmmm. How about depositing that bag and walking straight into town? I live some ways outside Piter.”

‘Piter?’ He wondered to himself.

They deposited the bag at the station and walked into Nevasky Prospekt. He had arrived in Piter during White Nights.

White Nights are when the sun doesn’t set, but kind of lazes for a brief while on the horizon before climbing up again. Sun’s bipolar days when he blazes and blazes till winter nudges him to crash.

Technically White Nights begin sometime in mid-June but the fun and frolic commence in May as nights become shorter and shorter.

Tonight was a White Night in town. Tonight was also a Saturday.

 

Zehen always planned his trips with weekends in mind. In Russia, he would have two weekends.

Everyone walks in Nevasky Prospekt or so it seemed. And they walked fast, as if by walking fast they could make the most of sun’s out-of-control brilliance.

There is something about being in a new place that dazes memories, as if each of your sense is cranking up full power to inhale the new environment. We travel to forget. And we forget—especially on a White Night.

They stopped at a lounge for a drink. Natalya joined them—a 6.2’ platinum blonde gal with a you-must-be-kidding figure. Zehen gazed. She was more beautiful than Inayat. Or was she?

Natalya was eager to talk to him. Zehen was from India and she had travelled to India.

“You travelled to India?” He gazed at her wondering how the crowds would have reacted to this tall blonde woman walking their streets.

“Yes! I travelled to Varanasi to learn music, actually to play a variation of Santoor. Oh well...I found my guru there and stayed with him for six months.”

Zehen listened. Lyuda travelled to South America to study architecture and Natalya went to Varanasi for music — women following their passion.

When was the last time he travelled to another country to learn something? Boston. To get a degree for better career prospects. Rio. To learn about entrepreneurship.

“I then stayed in Mumbai for another six months. It was amazing. India is amazing,” Natalya squeaked. Her blue eyes with mascara-coated lashes sparkled. He smiled.

“Here. See these pictures.” She nudged as memories swung her wildly to a time past. “I love love love riding elephants.”

There she was; happily astride an elephant — women following their passion, women embracing adventure.

Travel was his passion. Meeting new people, being in new cultures was his passion. Like now.

He smiled happily.

Behind, the DJ played “Mr Blue Sky.” Yes, in English. Zehen turned around surprised. The walls were plastered by Beatle posters, the ones featuring all four members and the ones featuring only Lennon.

Beatles in Russia. No, Beatles in Piter.

Piter was not like the rest of Russia. St. Petersburg after all had a different history.

Zehen was in a Beatles bar in Russia with a Russian beauty talking about India. A couple of years ago, he could not have imagined this moment. Would his friends envy him?

What was that they said when he had posted a photo with Inayat? “Maa maregi, if you bring a white wife home.”

He smiled to himself. Could he ever have a non-Indian wife?

Lyuda indicated it was time to leave. She was meeting another set of friends in another restaurant for dinner.

On a spur, Zehen invited Natalya to come along for dinner. Lyuda raised a brow and stiffened.

Dang, did he overstep his boundaries? Should he have checked with Lyuda first?

Russia was a few hours old. He did take a course to understand Russians and Russian culture.

But...Culture is one thing, personality is another. When both intermingle, one doesn’t know what is what. A multitude of identities of who we are crisscross each other, emerging and submerging under the waves of time.

Here he was undeniably an Indian—rising to a call that allowed him little space to be any other.

Natalya shrugged her shoulders. “Nahin yaar,” she said slipping into broken Hindi. She already had plans.

 

Later he found out that Lyuda and Natalya had a strained relationship. They were not enemies, but not the best of friends either.

Some friendships are like that—hanging by a thread but not letting go. Something stays connected.

 

The pavements were full of people. They wound their way to the restaurant where they were greeted by a group of Lyuda’s friends.

‘She is popular,’ he thought to himself. ‘Or at least she is very social.’

The restaurant looked nice. Zehen wondered how expensive it was. He was travelling on a budget. It didn’t look as nice as the other restaurant they had passed though.

Lyuda said it was the famous Palkhin. But she didn’t like the place, something about the architecture that was off for her. Zehen wondered about the cuisine.

They ordered a round of drinks. Then the endless chatter continued. Zehen found himself drawn into a conversation with Leo, a serious-looking young man with an almost nasal voice.

Leo worked with Yandex, Google’s competitor in Russia. Zehen was soon asking him about the competition and what it meant to consumers. He also asked about the intricacies of the search engine and issues around privacy. Leo talked and talked and Zehen listened engrossed.

A small salad without meat was ordered for Zehen and then a special extra-large creamy morozhenoe—topped with nuts and swirled in with large dollops of chocolate. Others laughed as Zehen, the vegetarian made his way through the ice cream.

‘Moment when your dinner comprises mostly dessert.’ Zehen grinned.

Some of our food habits hold us; they tie us down. We don’t fight it, but we walk with it. It feels good to walk with it. And others make space and walk around it.

In every country he had visited, people respected his vegetarian diet. But they would be surprised. “How can you live without meat?” some would ask. “Do you eat fish?” And he would shake his head. They would ask, “Do you eat eggs?” He would smile. And they would chase, “Milk?” He would smile and nod.

 

Some would ask, “What do you do for protein?” And Zehen would explain. Some would ask worried, “Would you like to try some chicken?” And then others would enquire, “Is it because of your religion?” And Zehen would respond.

But no one till date had forced him to eat meat.

 

It was little after midnight. They picked up his bag from the railway station and walked rapidly towards the bus stand. Lyuda lived in a small town about an hour from Piter.

Zehen wondered how her home would look like — ‘will it be full of books on architecture or perhaps have photographs of various monuments? Will there be special colors or perhaps special materials used with each artifact, each color holding a story of its own? Will it look Russian enough?’

They reached. Her home was an apartment on the first floor. A quaint set of stairs led up to her door. And inside was a clean, meticulously arranged house — functional and artistic. The curtains were exquisite; not expensive but elegant and feminine. There was a neat bookshelf in the hallway next to her room.

The kitchen was clean, and spices and pasta clearly organized. The pots and pans were of good quality — ‘the lady liked to cook.’ It also smelt good of some recent use of spice. Fruits lay in a bowl nearby.

There were no carpets on the floor like he had seen in Boston. Just wooden floors. The walls seemed to have wallpaper plastered on them.

Lyuda showed Zehen his room. It had a TV and a nice comfortable bed. And a bookshelf.

Every item was in its place, utterly organized just like her — calm and put-together.

It was close to 2:30 am, but the sun was still blazing. She advised him to close the curtains, “The sun would set at 3 am and rise again at 5 am.”

They chatted a bit and then he crashed — tired from time, from geography, from the weight of his being.

 

Next day he woke up and turned to check the time. It was 12:17 pm. Alarmed, he rushed to get ready.

Lyuda was lounging in a couch, in a yellow gown. ‘Yellow suits her,’ he thought. Her hair messy, some strands falling in front of her eyes, her lips pink with the freshness of the morning.

Something about the unruly hair on a calm face in an organized home made her look utterly sexy — as if it was a sign of life and love and passion, as if there was ache and longing, as if there were possibilities.

 

She had to go and see her family; so he was on his own to explore the city.

“Zehen, take the bus to Piter, the one I showed you yesterday. When you return and reach the bus stop here, give me a call. I will give you directions to reach here. And I will keep the key under the rock just at the turn of the stairs. Ok?”

He nodded. The Indian in him did not listen. It said—we will figure out by and by. Flow now, flow as time flows.

Zehen was planning to meet Rohit at a restaurant in Piter. Outside, the sun blazed. Zehen wondered if yesterday had ever ended.

Rohit was the business partner of one of Zehen’s close friends, and he was here to meet his fiancée, an East European scholar.

Zehen had this ability to network fast, to remember people’s stories and their timelines. Friends had often teased Zehen as the walking ‘network hub.’

Zehen also had magic following him. Interesting people intersected. Like this girl he met at the bus stop. He had simply asked for directions. But she ended up walking with him to town, enchanted as many that he came from India. An ice cream further broke ice.

What was it about meeting a stranger, a woman, and wanting nothing that made Zehen breathe easy? Zehen wondered if it was merely an adrenaline rush of meeting a new woman, a new possibility. Or perhaps it was just a sweet moment.

 

Zehen was early for his meeting with Rohit. As he was waiting, he remembered that it was Swati’s birthday. ‘It would be fun to record Russian passers-by at St. Petersburg say happy birthday to her,’ he thought.

White nights make everyone agreeable, in a jovial mood. One local couple offered to sing happy birthday in Russian. He stood video recording the song, happy in the thought that soon he would post it on Facebook and his friend Swati would be overwhelmed. His friends in Delhi would click like and wish they had thought about it, and wish they travelled like him.

He was in Russia. White Nights in St Petersburg. Yes, Zehen was here. A sudden movement shook him out of his reverie. Russian police were there. He could hear a jumble of words. They looked threatening.

It appeared that foreigners were not allowed to photograph Russians in public spaces. For a moment his heart fell as they took his phone. He offered to delete the offending video. Locals came to pacify. Police relented with a warning.

For many moments after that, Zehen walked around quietly, suddenly reminded of his foreignness, that he did not belong here. But did he belong to India?

Do the boundaries that contain us supposed to do so?

He looked up at the sky and envied at the never-ending light, a blaze that spread over unevenly, finger-lets of which touched whatever it could on earth.

He felt a need to check-in on Facebook. He wondered what his friends in Delhi were doing?

Ha! Lyuda had posted pictures of them and the gang from last night. It was time to share it on his wall.

Swati was awake. She clicked like. Somehow that click comforted, as if he still had ties somewhere, that he was acknowledged and witnessed in his journey.

He messaged her a happy birthday and a quick recount of what happened. She was pleased and horrified. He smiled as she chided him.

Sometimes affection is most deeply felt in a chide, even in a fight.

 

Rohit arrived at the restaurant with his fiancée, Olga. She was a research scholar, and within moments the three of them launched into an easy discussion on Ukraine–Russia political tensions and its antecedents. The discussion moved to Rohit’s business and Olga’s research. And then to Zehen’s travels. Olga shared her perspectives about differences between Piter and Moscow, and the centuries of old rivalry between the cities. The elegance and splendor of St. Petersburg and the down-to-earth fierceness of Moscow reflected in their bricks and walls, in their roofs and domes.

 

Post the meal, they decided to walk around the area discussing about the Russian literature. From Dostoevsky to Tolstoy to Pushkin to Tolstaya, Zehen listened to Olga’s description of their work with amazement, although also feeling slightly embarrassed at his ignorance about the rich literary culture of Russia. She suggested certain places that Zehen could visit in the evening. He thanked her and hugged them goodbye.

 

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood beckoned. It was here that Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. First his carriage was bombed. But he emerged unscathed and then as he stood surveying damage, the second bomb fell upon him, ripping open his stomach, tearing his limbs out, mutilating his face and his body bleeding slowly to his end. A third bomber was waiting nearby to attack had he escaped this attempt.

The bomber had supposedly said after the first bomb, “It is too early to say thank God.” It was a clear checkmate.

The magnificent church was built on the spot.

Death is so final, so tangible. Then she or he lives; now she or he doesn’t. No stories thereafter, no accidental encounters. No nothing. Just grief.

But how does one grieve for one who still lives? For one who has an address, a phone number, new pictures on Facebook? When do you go down on your knees under the weight of a grief which is yet to find form in words, how does one cry?

How does one erect a church over a brutal assassination of one’s heart?

No, no. Zehen did not remember Kavya. He was too lost in the paintings and intricate sculptures, in the magnificence, created over loss. But in the dark corridors of his heart, grief lingered wordlessly.

He made his way back to Lyuda’s house.

 

“Why did you not call me?”

“Oh, I forgot. I did not have trouble finding the house though.”

“Did you remember to pick up the key from under the rock?”

“Uh ho. No. I am sorry. I will just go pick it up.”

Lyuda stiffened. Zehen was not sure if he had offended her. He flowed like water.

The conversation became easy soon. Conversation was always easy with her. Especially if it were topics she loved. Like movies.

Her voice animated, rising and falling in joy, excitement, her eyes following her voice, her skin flushing, cheek bones turning feminine. Like a cactus flower blooming suddenly filling the room with sweet odor.

And then that moment, when she withdrew, stiffened and disappeared, like a desert cactus that bloomed for a night—that moment left you aching.

Lyuda intrigued Zehen.

The next day when she left early for university work, he went inside her room. The sight overwhelmed him.

Thousands of music CDs and postcards from around the world were arranged wall to wall in the most chaotic manner. Books were strewn across the floor. Her writing table hosted an unwashed coffee mug and papers all over. Brightly colored clothes peeked through her half-open closet. She did not seem European, but more hippyish.

It was as if in this space, she celebrated her freedom. In stealth, in silence of herself, away from the gaze of others, she funneled into liberty and exploded in carefree joy.

Outside, the house sat well mannered, detached in domestic order. She rustled in him a new-found admiration, an almost crush.

Conscious that he had intruded, he stepped back and went out into the city. He had come to visit Saint Petersburg. Lyuda was incidental to this trip.

The whole day he walked through the histories of the city—the many palaces, estates, gardens, and museums.

St. Petersburg. So often he paused, bedazzled by the beauty and splendor of the buildings. So often he remembered Lyuda and her room.

Do each of these palaces, so utterly beautiful and proper, also hold secrets as crazy and exquisite as her room?

 

We visit tourist spots. We also visit hearts and lives as tourists, sometimes without a visa.

 

The wind blew on his face as the boat cruised through Neva River. Above, the sun blazed unmitigated.

He asked a tourist to click his photo on the boat and uploaded it on Facebook. He then scrolled to check his feed. Swati’s birthday celebration photos sprinkled through. He clicked like on some and commented on others and responded to a couple of messages.

He was happy. Surely he was never happier. Russia had boosted his confidence—right from that moment at that ticket counter at the Delhi airport to the time when he first saw her, Inayat, and to the time of their first conversation.

She must be back in Lithuania. He went to her wall and stared at her profile picture for long.

The boat returned to the dock. It was time to return. He wanted an ice cream first!

 

 

Lyuda was in lounge clothes that were very short. And clearly there was nothing beneath. Her hair was pulled up. She was home.

She invited him to come to her room to chat. She was working on her laptop. He came in quietly and sat next to her. He talked about the palaces and estates he visited during the day. She explained their history, the specific architectural style. He half-understood.

She turned around.

“Zehen, have you been to this room?” Zehen went pale.

“Uh..huh.”

She smiled. “Most people who enter my room are baffled. You did not even raise an eyebrow.”

He smiled politely, wondering if he should be honest or let it pass. “This room is unique, very unique.”

She looked at him and then went back to work. He told her about the boat tour, and his friends in India and his policy consulting work.

She listened as she massaged her shoulders and rotated her head. He slipped behind her and took over. She smiled and eased in.

She had no specific fragrance. But her skin felt unique, like her. He held her around her waist. She fell back enjoying the embrace. The work on the laptop continued, her fingers moving rapidly over the keyboard. Behind, Zehen bent over to nuzzle on her neck. She sighed gently.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly waves of pleasure surged. The laptop set aside, lips found a resting space, tongues a new space to explore, hands visited.

Outside the day continued endlessly.

Was it love-making? Was playing a melody on a piano making love? Or a memory of melodies played, a nostalgic return, music to return to a moment in time, when melodies were love-making…each entering into portals of their own time past, unconsciously, each surging in yesterday’s delight, unaware.

Lyuda’s core, as her room, erupted. Like the thousand postcards from countries far-off, her body sought sensations of distant lands. A daze had settled over.

Later she would brush it off as a need of the moment, a does-not matter sex, an encounter and that’s all.

Zehen was also in daze. Wasn’t he free, unanchored, without a bother to return to? In her bright passionate eyes, the present moment rested—a connection that had no history and no desire for a future, a body that came into being only this evening.

Want What You Have.

Outside, the day blazed on as if today will never end.

Zehen kissed her and rose. Like a sea wave that ebbs away, bodies had withdrawn. Unsaid in the room, unsaid in the moments, a certain distance. Just like the beach sand wet by the waves but desiring to be left alone afterwards. No cuddle, nothing more.

He dressed up and left for his room.

When he left, Lyuda’s room returned, now aromatic with a memory; she was suddenly yearning for it all again. The body’s sand dried up too fast. Night wouldn’t happen.

It was as if she suddenly didn’t want to be an independent woman, a scholar or anything. But just a fragile woman in a man’s arms. Music sheared the soul.

For long she laid, sad and angry, turning and twisting. Why didn’t they connect? Why did he leave?

Did she appear cold, meticulous, untouchable like the rest of her house—all proper, in place? Her core just an ember that lights up suddenly and goes dark in the next few moments.

She felt uncomfortable, with herself. Zehen had slept off in the meantime.

The next morning he rose. At 12:17pm again. He was planning to visit Hermitage and Pavlovsk Palace. Lyuda was to be home working on her research paper.

She was already in the kitchen, bustling around. He could smell pasta, spaghetti, white sauce and spices that he couldn’t recognize easily.

“Thank you Lyuda for making this. Vegetarian?”

“Of course! You have not eaten anything substantial since you came.”

“Hahahaha...I had bread and some salad the other day. And ice-cream.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, the ice-cream.”

“Hey, it has protein in it and calcium and the nuts have their good stuff.And it is keeping me happy.”

“Haha...yeah, yeah. Now eat this.”

He hugged her gently. For a moment, he wondered if he could bend down and kiss her, but then hesitated. Maybe she would not like it.

Here in the kitchen where everything was in its place, where Lyuda was the splendid cook of the morning, he was just a guest.

He stepped back.

Did her eyes flicker in disappointment? She quickly turned away, tending to her pasta.

He pulled out the chairs, placed the plates and silver and napkins. The pasta was quickly served and they sat.

Eating pasta is a tedious affair, made more tedious when you sit with a non-Indian. How do you explain that you didn’t grow up eating pasta! That twirling of the fork to gather the noodles up is strange, and slurping it in takes effort.

Yes, it was yummy with the taste delicately foreign enough to tantalize and yet not so overwhelmingly foreign to intimidate—warm, slightly sweet, creamy. But vegetables make you squirm. Shouldn’t they be curried or fried some before adding in. Aren’t they half-boiled, weakly salted right now?

‘Food is food,’ he had told himself.

‘Eat. The best thing is you are in a different country, a new place.’ And it gave him an adrenaline rush like nothing did.

“So I was planning on Hermitage museum. You mentioned it the other day.”

“You must, must, must go to Hermitage. It is the best museum in all Europe.”

He smiled at her. She continued.

“You will not be able to see all the exhibits because there are so many. It would take you a year to even glance at most. Every time I need a break, I go there. I have a student pass so it doesn’t cost much.”

“How much will it cost?”

“Hmmm...You are a foreign tourist, so I don’t really know. But I wish you were here on Thursday. It is free that day.”

“Ohhh! No, I will be in Moscow that day. So what should I see in the museum?”

He didn’t really want to know about the museum or its exhibits. But he knew that that was her area of passion and her eyes sparked in delight, the words poured out in a torrent, her spine had straightened, her hands excited and animated—it was, for him, the delight of seeing a passionate soul!

He kept pushing her for more information and watched her smile, lost in the colors and light of the museum, the stories of past contained, the lives of artists—their craziness, and their joy and their love.

 

The past is beautiful. How everything touches and moulds each in its way and gets shaped in return? There are no encounters that leave clean. Each moment carries the tiniest of dust of the other, like the way a bee carries the pollen dust of the flower; the flower changes as a beautiful process begins unknown to both.

Museums archive the stories of bee pollen—on where they began, how they were collected and travelled, and where they came to lie and what happened thereafter.

 

Her skin shook like a flower. Zehen was carrying her into new lands. In that soft realization, she smiled.

“Go, go to Hermitage. There is nothing like that place,” she said softly.

He gazed at her. Did he see something more in her eyes? Those lips, wet, pink and singing.

The dining room returned. He was a guest.

He left. She had given him directions for Pavlosk Palace and Hermitage.

 

Pavlosk was known for its gardens. Emperor Paul’s wife Maria Feodorovna was keen in botany. The chief architect Cameron had designed many gardens, and pavilions and the main palace for her.

Zehen roamed around the gardens and then the palace. Yes, it was enchanting. He was amazed at the creativity and grandeur of all that he saw, that he had been seeing since he reached St. Petersburg.

But Pavlosk held so much more. Like the tension between Catherine the Great and her son Paul who eventually became the Emperor. Like the tension between Maria Feodorovna and architect Cameron. Like the tension between Emperor Paul and members of his court. Like how the palace burnt when Germans attacked.

Like how it was the site to continue a memory. Catherine the Great gave her son the estate few miles from her own home—they say it was to keep him close. Maria, Emperor Paul’s wife wanted structures in the place that reminded her of the palace she grew up in—like how people fought to save the palace as a museum after the Russian revolution, like how it was restored after the German invasion.

It was a site of memory, of fierce spirit, of a need to survive at all costs.

Zehen stirred, sensing history. Somewhere in those once-burnt walls, in the furniture and fireplaces that Maria and Cameron had fought over, he found his own shadow.

He found his own free spirit and how it was bounded by culture and legal geographies and the tension he felt within.

The grounds haunted. He remembered his encounter with the Russian police the other day. That he could not take photographs of Russians because he was a foreigner. That he was a foreigner. That his passport said he was an Indian.

His spirit carried no boundaries. The body was forced to belong.

Outside the sun blazed as bright as it had most of the night. Like a man in his manic phase, a grand overture, a need to seize all, a riding over supreme confidence returned.

He caught the sight of a young girl working at the souvenir shop. Delicate frame, a brunette with eyeglasses and a gentle smile that arose on her face like a morning sun.

No forethought, no decision. It was just a blind moving in. “Hey, will you show me around please?”

Zehen was surprised at his own words. So was she, and impressed. “Sure, I am Svetlana.”

There were no other tourists for the hour. She showed him a couple of exhibits. He didn’t tell her that he had already been there, that he just wanted to walk with her.

No, Zehen didn’t try to reason. He just wanted to walk with her and she was walking. She spoke in broken English, he struggled to understand and respond.

Some kinds of energies feel easy with each other. They feel happy, relaxed.

She looked up—her eyes were not of any great beauty, but the innocence and softness overwhelmed. A certain fragility that makes you gaze for long.

He told her that he was leaving for Moscow that night and if she would show him the way to the platform. She agreed.

They would meet a couple of hours before his departure time and spend some time chatting and maybe dinner.

Svetlana had no clue why she agreed. But the spirit urged her to throw caution to wind.

Zehen went back to Lyuda’s place.

She was wearing tight leather pants and a nice red shirt as if ready to go out.

“So, tell me all about your day.” Lyuda enquired with an eagerness that betrayed a genuine curiosity.

“I went to Pavlosk Palace. What history! What gardens!”

“Oh yeah, that one is a heavy place. And yes, the gardens are lovely. Some of the best.”

“I walked and walked. Got so tired. But your pasta kept me going.”

She smiled. “I have made some more for you for the train. You won’t get anything to eat on train. It is overnight, right?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to take the Sapson. I needed to sleep.”

“Haha of course you need to sleep mister.”

“You know, for the strangest reason every day here I have woken up at 12:17 pm.”

“Some symbolism or what...did something happen to you at 12:17 pm?”

“Not that I know of. But I have woken up exactly at that time every single day I have been here.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I am consultant by profession, advising functional heads in Fortune 1000 companies pre-MBA and politicians in both houses of Indian parliament post-MBA. That's what I do for a living. What I do for MYSELF is that I write and travel. I have published one novel as an indie author, and currently writing my other works. I have solo travelled to all seven wonders of the world, and completed cross-country trips by train in India and in the US.