That night many years ago

The cruise had docked for the night and the air was balmy, but boisterous. There were lights and people a short distance away - melody and mirth coming together in a mad frenzy that could only be a bride in white and a groom in black surrounded by colour and chaos. I was just a hop, skip and swim away from an Egyptian wedding. And it all started when my mother came dashing through my door.

“There is a wedding a little distance away. I know two girls who are going. Quickly! Get ready!”

“What do you mean, get ready? I am in bed. On the Nile. I am in bed on the Nile! Do you realize what a rare luxury that is?”

“Stop being so boring! Get ready and go!”

Truth was I didn’t just want to walk into a wedding in Egypt without an invitation. I wondered how we would be received? Unsolicited wedding entrances was just something I hadn’t bothered to look up before I boarded that flight from New Delhi. But my mother stood at the door, waiting. Suddenly, I could feel her excitement begin to seep into my bones. I got out of bed and into my ensemble for the evening – jeans and a t-shirt. I grabbed some lip gloss, ran my fingers through my hair and stared at myself in the mirror. There was no danger of the bride turning purple with jealousy.

Irresolutely, I walked towards my partners-in-crime. They were French. And spoke just enough English. Which did away with eclectic starts to small talk, given that our short journey to the sewan was peppered with various phrases explaining where we would be sailing to yesterday. I blinked. They consulted. “We mean tomorrow. We will be sailing to Philae tomorrow.”

By this time we were standing before the entrance to the sewan. I took a deep breath and hurried after my co-wedding crashers, and walked right into the middle of the celebrations. There was music and dance and many, many people. Some of them noticed us right away and came to greet us with warm, wide arms. “You Indian?” “You French?” “You blonde?” “You Amitabh Bachchan?”

“I mean, do you know Amitabh Bachchan?”

“Not really. He moves in glitzier circles.”

“Well, we Egyptians love him!”

And with that he grabbed my hand and pulled me in to dance. Everyone had formed a circle around the bride and groom who were holding hands and dancing. But not for long, because they had to be informed about the foreign, exotic trespassers. The French and I went ahead to congratulate them. The groom was most excited to see us, but the bride (and I remember her face all these years down) had eyes only for him. She held onto him and gently swayed. I smiled. They were beautiful.

I will remember that night for more than one reason. I was being welcomed into an intimate celebration of love, welcomed amongst family and friends, welcomed with such adoration in a land where I had arrived only days ago. It was also a night where the French and I received our first marriage proposals. My suitor took me straight to meet his mother. She kissed my forehead and told me I should marry her son. I was worth every camel she could lay her hands on. I smiled apologetically.

Before we left, tired and content with our fill of an authentic Egyptian wedding, my suitor walked up to me. He handed me a coin. “This is for good luck. And because, I always want you to remember me.” I took it, thanked him and turned away.

But I had only taken a few steps towards the cruise, when I turned. I stood under the stars, surrounded by the calm of the night and the secrets of the river. I looked at the coin in my hand. And wondered.

My Man

Why do I love the man that I love? Because, he ran after that Sikh man clad in a half-sleeve shirt in the foggy, foggy nights of the wintry season that was. While I swerved the car into a calmer and lonely spot, my man, he navigated the honking cars and the twinkling headlights to find that Sikh man. I lost my man in the rear-view mirror. But I had lost that Sikh man five minutes before.

As that Sikh man with his trove of incense sticks had approached us, I had whipped out a tenner in a chronic demonstration of magnanimity. But that Sikh man had thwarted my gesture in a sweeping statement that made me stop breathing for a second, but only for a second. He said but didi, I will not accept your charity, buy instead some of my incense sticks. But how could I part with my bunch of tenners when I had others to hand them out to? I needed a second to think! But that Sikh man had handed over a box of sticks, taken the tenner and moved on swiftly while the signal stayed a searing scarlet. My face crumpled.

And amidst my heaving sobs that had eyes from without fixated within (but could they really see into me?) my man, he took a deep breath, asked me to wait for him at the corner, turned, opened the door, and walked out purposefully. I turned and waited in my calm, lonely spot. Headlights whizzed by, and the night sky pressed heavy onto my heart. I waited in anticipation. What might happen? Were more incense sticks destined to exchange hands? Or were they to stay firm in search of a more wanting home? What would I do with them anyway? Maybe part with them as an exotic souvenir? Maybe never light them and forget their purpose entirely? Or was the night sky in favour of that Sikh man? Was he going to end the day with a bolt from the vault? Was he finally going to buy himself some warmth? Or was he too far away already to be found in the crowded, chaotic confusion that surrounded?

My heart was beating, it was impatient. I peered into the rear-view mirror again and I spotted him, my man. He was walking towards my parking lights, he had seen me. But I couldn’t understand what his gait possibly communicated. Incense sticks? That Sikh man? Who won? Who lost? Was any of this really about that?

He opened the car door and slipped in. Handed me packs and packs of incense sticks. Rubbed his hands, it was freezing. I smiled. It was really about this. This very moment that melted my heavy, beating heart in a sweeping show of serendipity. I had my man beside me, and I wanted to stay just a while longer. Forever ,if possible with this kind, loving man that he is. I started the car.

The night sky was on my side.