‘My heart is young / And always hard pumping / How old am I? What’s my age? / Remain it a secret, don’t even guess / I know not, in truth, even myself’
These were the words he had penned to me the other night. It was as apt a rejoinder as I would ever get in answer to my question, “How old are you exactly?” It was a question I had asked him repeatedly half an hour into our second meeting. My obsession with his age I guess can only be said to be natural. Here I am- a twenty-year old, pretty as far as the saying goes. Bright, as can be deciphered by the fact that I work as a journalist in addition to doing my graduation, and, in-demand, as is evident from the number of calls I get in a day from suitors of all hues.
Yet, one more Saturday, and here I sit at the corner table at Melina’s Café, waiting expectantly for my ageless wonder to make his appearance. And here he comes now, swaggering across the marble floor, dressed as usual, which is not saying much. I swear this guy doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. Not in the matter of what he wears, nor in the manner of his appearance. But you got to hand it to him, he’s quite good looking and doesn’t look old at all. At the most, about to be middle aged. Of course, he is a bit more than that, this I know since last Saturday.
It had been only our second meeting. “You don’t seem to have any responsibilities,” I had asked probingly. I was attracted to him, sure as there are stars in the sky, and obviously wanted to know more. “Well, I do have a family to look after,” he had replied. “A wife and a daughter,” he had added, anticipating my next question.
“In which class does she study?” I had hoped the question sounded casual enough. He has a mind like a razor and can get to the root of things like no one else. He had given a tight smile and replied, “Class Twelve.” I couldn’t have hidden the look of surprise on my face, I’m sure. And by the way he had looked at me wryly, I knew he had noticed. “I am only twenty,” the words had just blurted out of my mouth.
For the next five days he didn’t call me, nor I, him. I don’t know what he must have been thinking. This much I knew, he seemed to genuinely like me. The way he had looked into my eyes as he spoke, even a fool would know that he was infatuated with me. “I love your hazel eyes,” his words were mesmerizing. “You’re really beautiful. I envy the guy who will marry you.” Needless to say, I had negated his words by saying, “I don’t think about marriage at all. I am only twenty.”
Then he had called yesterday, “Katrin? Hi. Long time, yeh?”
“You could have called,” I had replied.
“I did. You weren’t in.” Well, he had called after all. It was only right that I take a step forward now. I remembered his words from the last time we met, “Kat, sometimes we have to give destiny a chance. Let fate decide the future.”
“Will I be seeing you again? Soon?” I wanted to know where all this would lead to.
His reply had been quick, “Tomorrow? Melina’s?”
So here we are sitting on two sides of a table, having a couple of milk shakes, and trying to fathom the mystery of why two people of such varying ages should be getting along so well. Maybe falling in love. “What does your father do, what type of man is he?” he wants to know.
“He’s into business. He’s the councilor type,” I reply. Then, God alone knows why I say such things, “He’s fifty six.” I look at him as I speak, searching for a reaction.
That look again. Wry. And that tight smile, a curving of the lips. Then incongruously, “I’m sure my daughter would love to meet you.”
“I would like to meet her too,” I reply. However, enough of probing back and forth. “How’s your work going on?”
“What work? Didn’t I tell you I don’t have a regular job?” he says. “But my writing’s going well. Lots of assignments.”
He’s a writer. At least since the last four months, that’s what he told me. Before that, he says he had a business that collapsed because, " business is not for me. Too many hassles. Too mundane."
“If what you say is true then I must say you have progressed remarkably well in such a short time. Editors seem to be supporting you well.”
“I guess,” he agrees. Then, “But one can never know when they will begin to not like me so much. And then?”
I don’t know how to respond to such a statement. Says he doesn’t have a regular job. Has a family to feed. “Yet you don’t at all look worried,” is the best thing I come up with. “In fact, I think you are one of the happiest persons I have ever met.”
“Am I?” A tiny shadow flirts with his face.
“Of course you must be having some worries too,” I say. “But you don’t show it right?”
“Well I don’t let worries affect my life,” he sounds reasonable, even if I know his logic is not. He adds, “cancer, little children dying, these are worries. Rest, everything is nothing. Can be solved. Shouldn’t affect your happiness.”
Did I mention that he is the most intelligent man I have ever come across? “Aids?” I ask.
“Yes that too is a worry,” he agrees.
I just love the way he talks. I adore his way of communicating. I am in love with this man who is much older than myself. Married. With a kid almost as old as me. Yet how do I commit myself? How do I let go?
“Let fate decide the future, Kat,” his words come out just like that, without me having to voice my thoughts. “Enjoy the present. What if we were to die tomorrow?”
“Yes, what if?” I agree. I wish he would say something more definitive, like maybe, that he has fallen in love with me. Like maybe, we should be a couple. Sharing things, feelings, ourselves. But what about his family?
“My wife is getting prettier as she grows older, you know?” he says. Again, that remarkable insight. “But beauty is everywhere. One has to look for it. I find everything to be beautiful. You are very beautiful. And intelligent too.”
From any one else such words would sound like flattery, but not from him. It’s not even been a month since I knew him, yet he has opened himself so much that I believe I know all about him. The normal things that is, like what he likes, like what he doesn’t, his family, his habits and so on. “Are you thinking of going abroad?” I want to know.
“No, and yes. I really don’t have any fixed plans for anything. If it happens, it will happen,” he replies.
“But why should I want to go? Here I am with a beautiful girl like you, enjoying myself. I’m doing work I like. No.”
Then giving me a deep look, “What about you? What are your plans?”
“Like you, nothing,” I reply.
“You’re deep,” he says. “Mysterious. Don’t change.”
I told you, he can say the nicest things. This is one man who seems to know what a girl wants. It’s evening already. “Got to go home, Dad will be worried.”
“It’s only seven. Is that late?”
“I have to be home by six thirty actually. Rule.”
“Okay then,” he pays the bill and we walk out into the cold air. “I’ll walk you to the taxi stand.”
We walk side by side, as any regular couple would. We haven’t even got to the hand holding stage. I long for his touch yet am afraid of it. I can see in his eyes that he lusts for me as much as he longs for my company. Will we meet again? I can understand now that if he doesn’t call me, it’s not because he doesn’t want to. He’s giving me all the options. He’s letting me go free.
As for myself, how do I let go? And what if I don’t? I am still lost in such thoughts as I check my mail that evening. There’s one from him.
’Know not I where to I travel / Nor how far my needs do take me / Care not I, let it remain a mystery / Winged am I, my heels are feathered / I’m mercury: fluid, cold and slippery / And I daresay, hard to hold.’
Kat’s agreed to meet me again. Let me tell you it’s a great relief because for the last seven days I haven’t been able to get her on the phone. “I think you have been trying to avoid me, “I say. We are having coffee at a fancy café where the coffee is roasted dark or light.
She doesn’t say no, nor does she say yes. If it weren’t for the fact that she’s so young, just twenty, I would think she was using her womanly wiles to keep me hooked. “I don’t really blame you. I understand,” I add. She is obviously going through a confusing phase in her life. “No, it’s just that I have been busy,” she says. “Exams, and all that, you know.”
I, of course, am in a forgiving state of mind as I always am when with her. I’m just happy that we are meeting again. It’s a big ego booster let me admit, to be going out at my age with a college going girl on a sort of date. I have heard about twenty year differences in some love affairs, but most of them have involved the rich and the famous where the guy is a billionaire, or at the very least, a millionaire. I’m neither, matter of fact just a freelancer who’s broke most of the time.
“So, how have you been doing?” I ask my young companion. She doesn’t look at me directly as she speaks. I guess it’s a bad sign. “I’ve been doing well. The usual,” she replies shortly. I don’t know why but today the conversation’s really stilted. Not much of it in fact. The previous times we met, conversation fairly flowed, lots of laughter and mutual flattery. Today, it’s becoming downright tedious, the tête-à-tête I mean. Of course, as I mentioned before, I’m just glad she’s here with me. I don’t ask for much. I don’t really expect much either. And since the last time we met I’ve decided to talk less, listen more. I’ve this grievous habit you see, of talking too much about myself. Now I wouldn’t want this to be a bone of contention with my newfound love.
Love? Well I’m dreaming I guess. I really don’t have a clue why she’s seeing me again. “How’s your engineer friend?” I inquire. She brightens up perceptibly and with a glint in her eyes, answers, “Oh, he’s fine. Busy planning to go abroad for further studies.” I guess I’ll have to accept that as long as our relationship, whatever name it goes by, lasts, I’ll have to live with the fact that she seems to be fond of this engineer fellow.
“Engineers are boring chaps, you know?” I declare. “Always involved with bricks and mortar. Lifeless things.” Did I mention that I’m deviously cunning? She gives me a querulous glance with a hint of a smile. “Yes, I agree with you,” her response is simple. I press on, “Engineers are much too practical. Not at all romantic.”
“Do you think so?” she asks innocently. “Yeah, I know quite a few. They talk like old daddies,” I press home my advantage. “He’s my childhood friend. He’s quite the liberal sort,” she informs me. I get the feeling that she’s trying to convince herself more than me that this chap is a good catch. Now I am no matchmaker, and in this particular instance, far from it. Of course I don’t want to be a match breaker either. At least not as far as my twenty year old is concerned. I like her too much to try and spoil her life. Suddenly I realize that it’s me who seems to be the confused one. I don’t know where the hell I’m going. Have I fallen in love? Or is she just a huge boost for my deprived ego?” “You know, I like to meet you because you are young and beautiful,” I say. “ But I don’t know why you are seeing me.”
She gives me a rare direct look from her lovely hazel eyes, grimaces a little, and says, “I think you are very intelligent and interesting. I like intelligent men.” Her words give me a slight jolt. Nobody knows better that me how difficult it is to live up to high expectations. Ask my ex-wife. Besides, I don’t consider myself to be as interesting as she takes me to be. “Well, I’m good at making good first impressions,” I admit. I’m actually a bit wary that in due time, shortly, the way things are going even in only our fourth meeting, she’ll see that I’m a self centered, selfish, self indulgent and self gratifying guy who doesn’t look like he’s going to change in a hurry, if at all.
“How are you getting on? And how’s your daughter taking it?” my young date wants to know. “We’re fine. My daughter’s old enough to have taken it in her stride,” I reply. We’re of course referring to my life after divorce. “Actually, you see, I was prepared for this to happen since a long time,” I tell her. It’s true. It’s been only a month since my divorce, yet it seems like a lifetime ago. The very fact that I hardly felt any aftershocks should prove the fact that I am being honest when I say that I was well prepared.
We don’t raise the subject again. It’s a bit disappointing actually. Again, not a good sign. Shows she’s not very interested in my private life. “You look aloof this evening,” I observe. “Something wrong?” “No, why should there be?” she asks. She looks at her watch and says she’s already late and has to rush home. I put her in a taxi and decide to walk home. It’s a long walk but just the fact that I’ve spent some time with her makes me oblivious of the distance and the bite in the cold winter air.
It is in this frame of mind that I take to bed that night. Morning, I awake quite refreshed and can’t help reflecting that my twenty year old love has a most calming effect on my jangled nerves. You see, I’m quite the typical insomniac and most days I wake up feeling I’ve hardly slept the night. So this, getting a good night’s sleep, I credit to my satisfaction at being able to spend some time with my twenty year old. The next three days fly by during which time I come across a couple of smart and pretty young girls. My line of work is like that. I get to enter a lot of establishments and chat up a lot of the pretty young things fluttering around such places. Most times, the knowledge that I’m a writer is enough to open doors that are usually not so easy to open otherwise. And here I am now, talking to a young brown-eyed cuddly sort at a press conference. “You’re Susan, aren’t you?” I inquire. “You are a reporter for Biz World, right?”
Her warm brown eyes give me a surprised look, “Yes, that’s right,” she replies with a smile. I think she knows who I am but that’s people for you, and especially, more so, women. They pretend not to. Naturally I’m not the sort to keep on waiting for such a pretty girl to take the initiative and start a conversation with me. “I’m Amber. I write for your magazine too,” I go straight for the bull’s eye. She can’t pretend now. “Oh yes, your last article was very good,” she says. “I don’t know why I have to take the initiative all the time,” I complain. It’s a part of my ‘good first impression’ charm I think, that I come out honest. “But I always wanted to know you. You write well.” Notice, I start off by appreciating her work, but shortly you’ll see how I move on to more personal compliments. No doubt this will have to be after the initial person to person parries (civilized social behavior they call it), is done with.
However, I don’t get the opportunity to second base today since there’s a lot of talking to listen to from the dais full of hot shots. Right after the last hot shot has had his say, she hisses a ‘bye’ at me and hurries off. The following days are ‘confusing thought’ days for me. I can’t decide whether to call Susan or wait till I know where my relationship with Kat has landed. In the meanwhile I’ve come to know another young girl who’s very interesting and runs her father’s hotel. Trouble is, she is as young as the others. Man, I seem to be cursed (blessed perhaps would be a better word), with this twenty year age difference problem. Or maybe it’s just that I’m attracted to twenty year olds. Sometimes I do think that maybe I’m climbing the wrong tree(s). I’ve half a mind to take out a classified announcing my need for a suitable companion. Yeah, that’s right, any respectable shrink would probably diagnose me as suffering from acute loneliness.
After living with such thoughts for a week, Friday morning I decide to call up my 20 year old Kat. A whole Saturday is looming on the horizon and that’s when loneliness hits me the hardest. Sometimes I wonder, is it only me or is it the same with most of humanity? Anyway, there’s no choice but to call up my hazel eyed beauty. If I wait for her to call, I’ll probably have to wait forever. She hardly, if ever, calls me. With a certain amount of trepidation I dial her number. At the other end a woman says ‘Hello?” “Can I speak to Katrin please?” I hope the tremor in my voice goes unnoticed. I can’t forget that a short time ago I couldn’t get her on the line for one whole week. “Kat, it’s for you,” the woman yells.
“Coming,” I hear the familiar voice and the next minute she’s on the line, “Hi, Kat here.” I slump in relief and try to sound natural, “Hi, Kat, it’s me.” “Amber,” I add in case she has forgotten my voice. Talk about loss of confidence! “Oh, hi, how are you,” she responds. I try to detect her mood from her tone. “I’m good,” I reply. Then, “How have you been doing? How were exams?”
“Exams?” she sounds surprised, then, “Oh that? It was okay.” I’m on my guard now, my antenna on high alert. Why do I get the impression that she really didn’t have exams to keep her busy throughout the week as she had said she did? Was she using it as just an excuse to avoid me? Definitely a very bad sign. “What are you doing tomorrow?” I fish. “Well, I have a lot of work to do. Homework, housework, studies, you know,” she says. “Can’t you take out an hour or so and meet me?” I try to sound casual but I can guess I must be sounding like I’m pleading. This is not good, especially since I read an article on the net recently about how older men shouldn’t give the impression that they are chasing their younger girlfriends.
“Well, I’m really very busy in fact. I won’t be able to,” Kat is concise. I don’t know how to respond. There’s a long silence. See, I told you. Communication is going down to zero levels. Worsening of the signs obviously. For something to say, I plead again, “Can’t you spare at least half an hour?” “No, I can’t.” Oh, she can be cruel all right. She sounds so flat in contrast to my enthusiasm. Now I am at a total loss of words. A longer silence. Then, from the other end, “So?” God, I’m on edge now. I don’t know whether I should hang up or hold on. “Well then, that’s too bad,” I manage. A pause again, then I continue, “Something bothering you?”
“No, nothing,” she replies. Silence again. I try to ease it somewhat by commenting, “Why such a deadly silence? You’re mad at me for something, looks like.” “No, why should I be?” she replies. Then, “Listen, can I put down the phone now? Somebody’s at the door.” What else can I do but say, “Okay, bye,” and slump down deeper into my chair. For a moment a feeling of utter dejection overcomes me. Then I analyze my feelings. A moment later realization strikes me. Dejection vanishes like it never was there. I believe I’ve prepared myself for this since the day I met her a month ago. So, no aftershocks as usual for this dashing thick skinned debonaire. In fact now I feel a sense of liberation. Was it that Kat had a binding influence on my personal freedom? I take out my little black book and look down the names. I pick up the phone again and dial a number, “Hello, is this Biz World? Can I speak to Susan please?”
a love story – plain and simple